Hands-on review: Chord Electronics’ Poly audiophile music streaming device
High-end audio on the move from top British brand Chord Electronics.
Poly is an audiophile portable music streamer and player that’s designed to work with the Chord Mojo digital-to-analogue converter (DAC). In fact, it’s designed exclusively to work with the £399 Mojo and is useless without one.
Thus, the price of entry for high-end music on the move is just shy of £900. For this, you get high-end, audiophile engineering from one of the best British hi-fi brands and a gadget with outstanding build quality.
Poly effectively adds Wi-Fi wireless streaming (DLNA, AirPlay and Bluetooth) and Micro SD card playback capabilities to Mojo. It also pairs with a smartphone via Bluetooth but that’s best used just for controlling listening.
Poly is high-resolution audio-compatible, with support for the latest studio-quality files; PCM data up to 768kHz resolution and DSD64 to DSD256 (Quad-DSD). Supported file types include ACC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, OGG VORBIS, ALAC, WMA and MP3.
We were immediately impressed with the Poly’s industrial design. It’s made precisely to clip onto Mojo, with two Micro USB plugs slotting into Mojo’s sockets and plastic pegs slotting into the co-ax and optical inputs, just to keep everything solidly aligned.
Together, the two devices have a footprint slightly smaller than a smartphone but thicker (around 2cm). The devices connect reassuringly firmly, but there’s no mechanism per se to lock them together. Instead, you ideally pop them into the new Chord carry case that’s designed to take the two of them together. This is slim and rugged on the outside with a soft lining on the inside to keep your devices pristine.
What Poly doesn’t have is a display. Or any buttons. Mojo has just three buttons and Poly has none. This is a device designed to do the heavy lifting of music playback, but you must use your smartphone to control it.
As ever, the Mojo’s three buttons light up as power and bitrate indicators: telling you the quality of your digital files. There’s a spectrum of ten colours, ranging from red for a puny 44.1kHz, right through the rainbow and ultimately white for DSD lossless audio at the top of the tree. Poly itself only has two tiny dots of light, to indicate power (it boasts a nine-hour battery life) and Wi-Fi pairing.
The cute little paper user manual suggests that setting up Poly is simple, but it certainly wasn’t a breeze on an Android phone. It took a chunk of time to master turning the Poly into a Wi-Fi access point so the phone could log into it. Then we had to pull up a web page to further configure Poly by typing in the phone’s name and password as a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can also type in the name and password for a Wi-Fi router.
At this point, you can use the phone’s web browser to connect Poly to a home Wi-Fi router or mobile hotspot and then stream music via DLNA. Once the Wi-Fi is up and running you can also use the web page to pair it as a Bluetooth device – although note that Wi-Fi offers a superior wireless connection, so it’s far better for playing lossless audio.
The instructions suggest using a Chord Electronics app called GoFigure (iOS and Android) which make it easy to set up and use Poly, but this was not available at the time of review. In theory, this should make the best use of Poly’s built-in Bluetooth, not for inferior quality streaming but for straightforward smartphone control.
All the audio heavy lifting should take place within Poly and Mojo, playing files from Micro SD or using Wi-Fi for streaming, whether that’s on a home network or by using a mobile device as a portable hotspot. Your Bluetooth-paired phone simply acts as a controller.
We tested Poly and Mojo using the Android DLNA app BubbleUPnP on an HTC U11 phone through Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones. BubbleUPnP makes it easy to stream Hi-Res Audio from online services including Qobuz and Tidal.
Sound was punchy and precise, with admirable levels of detail that proved to be absent when the same files were played a second time through the phone alone. The Chord devices therefore made a very convincing case for the benefits of better bitrates and decent DACs.
The combination of Mojo and Poly isn’t cheap, though. If you already have Mojo then it’s a no brainer: it’s well worth investing in Poly to add the extra music streaming and playback features. Together, the combo is a compelling buy for well-heeled music lovers on the move: portable audio has never sounded so good.
However, while Mojo and Poly can also be hooked up to a home hi-fi system, if you’re looking for a device solely for home listening, you’d be better off with a dedicated home network audio player that does the same functions in a more living room-friendly package.
iFi nano iDSD Black Label
This portable DAC is similar to Mojo without Poly. It makes the most of digital audio stored on your phone, supporting PCM up to 32/384kHz and DSD up to 256x the sample rate of a CD.
Cambridge Audio CXN Network Player
Hi-res streaming, twin high-end DACs, colour display and a slick user interface: this network music player makes the most of digital files and streaming at home.
Cyrus Audio SoundKey
This petite DAC, the size of a USB stick, offers an instant upgrade for digital listening on the move. Works with laptops, tablets and smartphones.