With a team of vanguard engineers at the helm, the Chord Electronics brand is one, which sets such an outstanding precedent, that even the brains of the most discerning ‘self-
With the Toucan modestly arriving in an simplistic blue and white cardboard packaging that supports the internal unit with a firm cardboard shock cradle, the unboxing ritual here is fairly unremarkable where the unit appears to be partnered only by a simple specification sheet, and a branded 12v PowerPak UK AC adapter. It would have been courteous to have seen a complimentary RCA cable bundled in to make a perfect package, but this is no problem at all.
Upon lifting the Toucan from out of dark depths of its cardboard pre-
Personally I have found the construction of this unit to be solid, and has a very nice weight to it that works in conjunction with four pre-
Regarding the colour options, the Toucan appears on various distributors to come in either bare machined aluminum or with a two-
Apart from its super small footprint, the Toucan features two (electronically) independent 1/4" headphone outputs. Although both are controlled by only one central potentiometer, if you have a pair of headphones that are matched in impedance you will not notice any issues. Likewise if you suddenly connect another pair of headphones you won't experience any loss of power. This is an important feature for those in general, but specifically for users with a two sets of headphones in the 250ohm range this is critical. Even when in use in the studio, having an headphone amp that matches the quality of your equipment is something that is often overlooked. Many studio owners settle for sub-
Having tested many dual output headphone amps, we have noticed that when two sets of headphones are connected, the power output is staggered and leaves the audio feeling stylistically insipid. Although already mentioned, this is an ace up Chord Electronics sleeves, and something important to take into consideration when buying any dual-
Upon receiving this unit we were very surprised to find that it features a USB input with a dedicated DAC circuit. You can opt to use the inbuilt DAC by flicking the push switch on the front, and then your analogue signal input is removed from the circuit in favor of its own dedicated DAC circuitry. Without offering too much information into how this complainant operates too early, using the Toucan's DAC is as easy as pie! All you have to do is plug in and play. The device will appear in your audio devices, and can operate incrementally up to 92kHz and 24bit via any USB1, 2 or 3 port without the need for any unnecessary CPU and RAM clogging software. During review we encountered no issues with using the Toucan with various digital players. Obviously we always recommend playing lossless audio files, and there was absolutely no playback hiccups with using 'audiophile' playback software’s such as Sonic Studio's Amarra, Audiofile Engineering's Fidelia, iTunes etc. Personally, I was astounded by how good the internal DAC is, because many headphone amp manufacturers deliberately leave out this component in favor of 'focusing on quality'. To put it bluntly, the toucan is an awesome multipurpose product that feels that Chord Electronics have been every inch on focus during every element of design. Clearly what is on offer here from Chord Electronics is a hell of a lot for your money; even at £900! Now, without further adieu, we shall critically discuss the sound quality.
Okay, right off the bat I am going to say that this is one small unit that packs one hell of a punch. Having tested a variety of headphones with the Toucan, we can confirm that it firmly performs well with any pair that you may own; up to 500Ω. Notably we found that in a studio environment, high impedance dedicated ‘professional audio’ headphones were given the lifeblood that they deserve to optimally perform. In particular we used a pair of Beyerdynamic DT250’s (RRP: £140), and we taken back by the experience that we were presented with. I must confirm that the DT250’s are not the headphones that we used to perform our review, but how the Toucan managed to bring such a dynamic and engaging listening experience to a pair of middle-
However much we were blown away with the performance with the aforementioned headphones, we used a pair of Beyerdynamic T90’s, Grado RS1i’s, Grado PS500’s, and various others to catalogue a performance average. Now that this has been mentioned, it seems relevant to highlight one other arguable feature that is comparable to a ‘marmite experience’; the ‘Crossfeed Filter Switch’. Personally I found the implementation of this feature into the circuit to be a brash. The purpose of this switch is to increase the stereo field for a more ‘immersive’ listening experience, however it seems slightly out of place. I would imagine if you have a substantially bass heavy pair of headphones then this feature might appear as beneficial, otherwise you will expect to find that the stereo field to become unnatural, the bass presence to diminish, and the highs to sound fragile. As this is an additional feature, I have no arguments about its placement; it is an entirely subjective experience that the user can choose to use if they wish, but for the rest of the review I would like to highlight that we have not engaged the ‘Crossfeed Filter’. Likewise the technology that we have used to process this review is: WAV file input from CD using Amarra > Sonic Studio ‘Amarra’ > Prism Sound ‘Orpheus’ > QED ‘J2P’ > Chord Electronics ‘Toucan’ > Various headphones.
Finally… we have reached the apex! Welcome to a biosphere of unmistakable sonic excellence; enter the Chord Electronics ‘Toucan’. Throughout the entire time that I have spent with this unit, I have bonded with its quaint charm in such a freakishly paternal way, and having tested this headphone amp next to some of the best there is no doubt in my mind that it holds a ground of its own. However, it has to be said that this unit does require an exceptionally long burn-
In terms of the stereo image it portrays it appears to be very natural, it hangs in to every genre with a balanced uncluttered focus, yet it has this spacious feel to the presentation of each instrument in its place. However, I love the reason as to why the Toucan performs in this way. It is the relationship between how well it represents fast transients with such brutal accuracy against a liquid soft touch for more subtle instrumentation. Both of these critical elements effortlessly marry to precision-
Anyhow, with the Toucan there isn’t any real favorable EQ applied within the chain, apart from a slight top-
Finally, we shall discuss the inbuilt DAC. To use the digital input on the Toucan I do recommend buying a good quality A to B USB cable from someone like AudioQuest. The reason for this is that this component doesn’t sound like it was just thrown in to the Toucan on a whim; it is much better than I anticipated. I found the DAC to be very detailed, with highs that are controlled, and bass that is reasonable. If you are someone looking at buying both a headphone amp and a DAC then this is the best that I can recommend. Just like the headphone amp on its own, it is detailed, and accurate, but other than this all I can say is that you won’t be disappointed.
The Chord Electronics Toucan headphone amp and DAC is one of the finest out there. It has brilliant connectivity, is engineered to an AAA standard, is beautifully detailed and pure, and will be the only headphone amp that you will ever need. Here at The Pro Audio Web Blog we cannot recommend the Chord Electronics Toucan highly enough, and for this reason we award it with a full five out of five.