Chord Electronics Anni Review
David Price sasses up his home office with this compact new desktop integrated amplifier/ headphone amp…
Anni Integrated Amplifier
One of the most happening things in hi-fi over the past five or so years has been the ascent of portable and/ or desktop audio. 'Head-fi' is what we seasoned campaigners used to call headphones and Walkmans – plus a new breed of compact DACs, preamps and/ or headphone amplifiers that purport to do what grown-up hi-fi used to but is now apparently too large for.
Chord's new Anni is a case in point – it's a multi-purpose mini-sized amplifier that drives headphones and speakers to limited volumes but in high quality. This makes it perfect for near-field use, often sat next to or behind the computer on your desk. It's part of the company's so-called Qutest range of dinky audio products, designed to work with the Qutest DAC and Huei phono stage and sit in the company's QSS (Qutest Stand System) modular equipment rack. Neat, as Americans used to say.
Although more famous for DACs these days, Chord Electronics was originally an amplification specialist, so the company has put its know-how to work when designing this. It uses Chord's dual feed-forward circuitry and boasts a claimed power output of 10W RMS per side into 8 ohms. That's not very much, but let's not forget that the original 1983 Naim NAIT integrated amplifier had only 13W – and that was taken seriously as a proper, grown-up hi-fi amp back in the day! Also, thanks to more efficient modern speakers, 10W goes further than it used to. And that's quite a lot for something measuring just 160x46x97mm and weighing 625g.
I suspect many will use the Anni primarily for headphone duties. The manufacturer claims it can drive any headphone load with “error-monitored and compensated amplification at all times”. It sports both 3.5mm and 6.35mm headphone sockets and 4mm banana speaker sockets – plus two RCA line inputs. The volume control doubles as an input selector, and there's a two-stage gain control for loudspeakers for wider compatibility with speakers of differing sensitivities. Juice comes from an external 15V DC power supply; usefully, there's a 12V DC output to aspirate a Huei and/or Qutest around the back.
Despite its diminutive dimensions, this little gizmo is built well. The CNC milled, anodised aluminium casework is as lovely as any other Chord product in this series, but the volume control lets the side down just a touch; it doesn't feel quite as nice as I'd hoped. The case's many ventilation holes also let the Anni's biggest issue slip – it runs hot. With this in mind, you'd best give it some free space to let the internal cooling fan do its job.
Powering a pair of Cambridge Audio Aero 6 floorstanders – with a sensitivity of 90dB – the Anni was able to create a surprisingly large and impressive sound in my main listening space, let alone in my smaller office room. The secret here is, of course, to use efficient speakers that go loud with just a few watts; don't expect it to drive the likes of a BBC LS3/5a mini monitor to high levels. It displays Chord Electronics' characteristically clean and spry nature, with lots of dynamic get-up-and-go alongside a fine soundstage too. Tonally it's on the clean side of neutral, being not as plush as the larger but still compact Cyrus ONE HD integrated, for example.
Driven from a Chord Qutest DAC, the sound was snappy and engaging. Whether via speakers or headphones, it made a fine fist of the thumping nineties techno of Manix's Feel Real Good and the dry, sparse indie guitar rock of REM's Perfect Circle. In both cases, there was lots of detail and a surprisingly three-dimensional take on things; it's certainly much more than a toy. Indeed it proved a cracking headphone amp – making everything from my Sennheiser PX100s to Oppo PM-1s sing. With speakers, it is limited by a lack of power; however, the aforementioned Cyrus ONE HD rather put the Anni in context – it has strong niche appeal but isn't a master of all trades.
This dinky little amp makes best sense as part of Chord's own Qutest system but is easily capable enough to be used outside this in various applications. If you're looking for a great-sounding, super-compact hi-fi amplifier, this fits the bill perfectly, but it isn't the greatest value on the market if its diminutive dimensions don't matter quite so much.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.
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