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    Chord Electronics Poly Review | Poly Come Home

    Polly Come Home

    Alison Krauss, Robert Plant

     

     

    If the wild bird could speak

    She'd tell of places you had been

    She's been in my dreams

    And she knows all the ways of the wind

     

    [Chorus:]

     

    Polly, come home again

    Spread your wings to the wind

    I felt much of the pain

    As it begins

     

    Dreams cover much time

    Still they leave blind

    The will to begin

    I searched for you there

    And now look for you from within

     

    [Chorus]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    A little bit of history

     

    When I worked at an office with a lot of people around and found it almost impossible to work with all the conversations in the cubicles around me, most days I listened to music to be able to think. People did not know what to think about the crazy guy with headphones on in the 1990s. I even had to use over the ear headphones because people did not see the IEMs!

     

    I wish I had pictures of the gear I used to carry or the count of hours searching for the right solution. Over the years I have used multiple headphone amps, DAPs, and other devices to improve my portable music listening experience.  I still have the spinning disk iPod that you could make changes to the wiring inside to improve sound...


    Today we have pocket computers that can deliver file-based audio from anywhere into a stream of digital bits! That last 4ft from the Smartphone to your ears is getting interesting.   We really can have HiFi in our pockets!  

     

     

    What came before:  3.5mm jacks and the Apple Lighting to headphone “cable”


    1.jpgI know there is a DAC / head-amp in there.

     

    First, we had the 3.5mm headphone jack with all the DAC/Amp bits inside the mobile device.  Then the little lightning headphone adapter that works but it just does not sound great.  Yes, I have used it but only in a pinch. 

     

    I use Apple AirPods just so I do not need to hold the phone in my hand, mostly for podcasts or phone calls.

     


    What we needed was a little “Mojo”


    2.jpgI sort of lust after Chord products.  The Dave is a dream DAC for me, although I have never heard one. So when Chord announced the Mojo, I was interested.  The Mojo looked like a perfect device battery powered, pocketable DAC + Headphone amplifier. When I had the opportunity to listen to the Mojo I bought it on the spot.  Everything sounded good on it.  I have used the Mojo in my primary system as the master DAC.  I have traveled with it. I take it with me to the library when I study or work.   

     

     I carry a Lightning to USB adaptor with me for my iPad or iPhone and the new high power USB adapter that lets me plug the kit into AC power.  I can listen and work for hours, and the sound quality is excellent for the use case.

     

    I have been pretty happy. However, now there is something MORE!

     

     

     

     


    “Poly” Come Home


    Spread your wings to the wind
    I felt much of the pain
    As it begins

     

     

    When Chord announced the Poly and I knew I had have to have one!  No more cables.

     

    It took so long between the announcement and the release I was worried that something was wrong, plus the price was a little bit daunting.  So I watched, waited, and dreamed.  Out of the gate, there were many firmware issues and user confusion.  The internet forums were full of users just trying and in some cases failing to make it work right. “LOTS OF YELLING”  The announced iOS app kept getting delayed. 


    If the wild bird could speak
    She'd tell of places you had been
    She's been in my dreams
    And she knows all the ways of the wind


    Throughout 2017 into 2018 new firmware versions kept being released out improving and fixing things. Chord rejiggered the control system (reset switch) to add some new features.   What is even cooler is that the Poly is now “Roon Ready.” Finally, the IOS app is out and working. 

     

     

    ??? NOW ???

     

    Think about this; we have a handheld battery powered DAC + Headphone Amplifier with an attached streamer that has local storage on Micro SD card for MPD, Roon Ready, DLNA, Bluetooth, 2.4Ghz WiFi, Airplay, DLNA, up to 768 PCM and DSD 256.  Holy Portable HiFi Batman!

     


    Dreams cover much time
    Still they leave blind
    The will to begin
    I searched for you there
    And now look for you from within

     

     

     

     

    • The time is right.
    • Let the fun begin!
    • Will it sound better?
    • Does the Software work?
    • Does it make life harder?
    • Do I need better IEM’s?
    • Will I just carry my HD800?
    • What Apps should I use?
    • Should I have gotten the 512GB iPhone?
    • How big of a Micro SD card can you buy?
    • What music should I put on the card?
    • Will SoundCloud work?
    • Is the battery life good enough?

     

     

    “Poly” Setup: The Revenge of Firmware

     

    My Poly arrived, and I was all set to start playing music.  Getting connected has been less than a fun experience.   With a little help from the internet, I found out that the Poly speaks to you when you push the setup pin through your attached headphones.  It would be cool if the manual sort of mentioned that?  The Go Figure app is fussy and would not connect!  Well to be fair after some fussing I found out that my Poly was on version 1.0.5 firmware.

     

    There is this process; you set up the Poly your network. You wait 20 min for the firmware to update.  I am not sure where the 20 min comes from but, wait 20 min.  Then power it off, back on, switch to hotspot mode and check.  OK, I am now on 1.0.6.  Wait this thing might be at 1.0.26?  That is a lot of 20 min waits.  So I  repeat, and now it is on 1.0.10.  Well, that is progress.  I then tried it again because I saw something about 1.0.16?  Nope, it went to 1.0.17.  OK, more progress.  Now it connects with Bluetooth to my phone (after three failed attempts), but the Go Figure app talks about 1.0.21?

     

    Finally I am on 1.0.26; the Go Figure app works, but it is odd you do not go into Bluetooth settings and pair the Poly, the app does that all internally.

     

    This process has been maddening.

     

    Recently I found the FAQ on the Chord website, and there are necessary version information and release notes here: LINK

     

    I am glad to find this now even though it was after my tribulations! 
     

     

    “Poly”: Please Play For Me

     

    Just as things were settling down the Poly seemed to stop working.  I sent the Poly back to be checked out. What I have found is that there is a note in the FAQ about Poly not getting power until the Mojo is “hot.”   I have been testing the hardware this fall, and I have found that if they are sitting in my basement office at around 65F my combo takes over 3 minutes to start up.   I averaged startups around my house a few hours apart, and over three startups spaced over four hours testing my patience for a total of nine minutes and 45 seconds.

     

    PRO TIP:  keep the Mojo/Poly in your pocket, startup time is around six seconds.  


    So now things are pretty settled in.  I have the latest version software, and I can charge/power-up the Poly/Mojo correctly.  What is the “best” way to run the pair?  There are a lot of options.  You can run music servers on your network, and you can stream from your device, set up to run them as a Roon endpoint.   I have a 400GB microSD card in the Poly with music on it.  I run the music player app “Glider” on my phone as the controller.  

     

    There is an exciting way to run the Poly with an iPhone where the music stored on the microSD card in the Poly.  Setup the Poly in hotspot mode where it provides a network presence.  Then connect the phone to that network.  Then you edit the connection to the Poly to turn on Auto-Join but turn off Auto-Login.  Finally, change the connection parameters to remove the default gateway from the connection allowing the iPhone to connect to the cellular network for data as well as talk to the Poly for selection and playback of music.  

     

    NOTE.  There is a great “unofficial” Poly reference Wiki published on the internet by Jeremy Laurenson - LINK


    Jeremy has developed a set of videos along with the Wiki that show various operations and setup methods.  It is a great resource.

     


    ———

     

     

    “Poly” How Do You Sound?

     

    I have been using the Chord Mojo for over a year.  This little DAC/Headphone amp has always made me very happy.   The size is excellent, the battery life has been on specification.  I have been using it directly out of my devices to play into my headphones.  Recently I updated my desktop system with the Schiit WYRD USB cleanup device.  The WYRD helps the Mojo by taking some off that “edge” that the iMac causes in the sound.  Not a lot but it is there. 

     

    I use Roon as my primary music playback system.  Adding the Poly to the mix is an interesting problem as Roon has not certified the Poly. The Poly plays just fine, but Roon warns about it.  For my use cases out it in the world, I cannot use Roon anyway!

     

    I have five headphones I swap between; Audeze, LCDi4, Sennheiser HD800, HD6xx,  Shure  SE535, and Etymotic ER3SE.  I have been using the Chord Go Figure app with playlists stored on the MicroSD card and the Glider app for general MicroSD card playback.  

     

    I have re-listened the Mojo by itself on my Mac using Roon as a baseline.  I also use my Schiit LYR 3 Multibit as another reference.  ( we will not talk about tube rolling today). I am also playing with a NUC with Audio-Linux as a Roon endpoint to the Mojo.  I will have a lot more to say about that soon.

     

    There is something different about how the Mojo and Poly sound together when the music is playing off of the MicroSD card.  I hear detail that I miss on other playback systems I have.  Listening to the BT (Untitled) album the track Omega there is detail in there that I have noticed before.  There is a richness to the sound that stands out.  There is not that fatiguing edge we sometimes get.  On the new Loreena McKennitt album “Lost Souls.” Loreena's voice is more; well MORE present, engaging.  The fingering on the stringed instruments is more noticeable on the track “Ages Past, Ages Hence.”

     

    When listening to the title track to this review “Polly Come Home” from Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss there is a quiet strength to the track that is enriched by the Poly/Mojo.  The track “Please Read the Letter” duet vocals are entirely engaging.

     

    I think the feeling I am looking for here is the spaces in the music are blacker, and the area around the music is more distinct.  I am trying to use descriptive language but not overstate my case.  To my ear, the combination of the Poly and the Mojo playing music from the MicroSD card in the Poly is a bit better than playing the Mojo by itself or streaming to the Poly.

     

    I worry that I am overstating my case.  Am I just concentrating on the music more, do the pretty colored lights enamor me?  No, I can sit and relax anywhere and listen to selections of my music.  And that is what I really wanted.

     

     

    3.jpg

     

     

     


    “Poly” is this just a fling?

     

    Here is where the rubber meets the road!  Does the Poly measure up? 


    The Good:    Sound quality, portability, elegance
    The Bad:    Networking and firmware, startup when cold
    The Ugly:    Software/apps for control and playback


    I think I have outlined my love for the Mojo and my infatuation with the Mojo/Poly combo.  I have never had something this capable and portable. 

     

    But, the networking is not that great — the methodology of switching is funky.  The user interface with the pin reset switch, light, and audio feedback is not user-friendly.  The GoFigure app fixes some of this.  The documentation is just bad. Chord’s website is lackluster, and their FAQ is just plain ODD and in some cases wrong!  The worst part for me is the 3-minute startup time for the hardware if the temperature is cold.  Finally get one of the cases to hold the pair together as they come apart!


    The GoFigure app is OK, confusing, sometimes non-responsive.  It needs a lot of UI improvements and user help.  The music playback part of the app requires specially built MPD playlists. For simplicity, I purchased MPDeluxe app to generate playlists.   I use the Glider app for most of my playback.  The Glider app does work but fails in odd ways regularly.  It rescans the card every time it starts, further delaying music playback.  Sometimes the scans are not right, and I see multiple copies of albums with partial track listings.  The app crashes too often.  Sometimes I get long pauses in the music or dropouts during playback.  The user interface is just slow.  I am on an iPhone Xs MAX so I know I have the needed computing power.

     

    I have not tried any streaming music, radio stations or Bluetooth connections.  There is too much friction.

     

    My needs for portable music are not what the were when I was working in the cubical land of corporate  America.  Today I go to the library, coffee shop, sit outside and am more relaxed in my needs.  Today I want high-quality playback with me.  I do not want to spend the first 5 minutes getting set up to play music while I work or relax. I am not happy about fussing with network settings on this little black box.  I will not wait for 3 minutes or longer for it to warm up. 

     


    BUT!

     

    I am not rushing to judgement here.  Yes, I am frustrated by the operational issues I have with the Poly, yet the sound is compelling.  I have not even explored all of the features.  There is more to learn and plenty of time to listen.  

     

    The paring of the Audeze LCDi4 with the Mojo and Mojo+Poly has been revolutionary for me.  In combination, these three devices have fulfilled my quest for the quality and portability I have been chasing. While this setup is not for the faint of heart it is one of the most amazing stereo systems I have ever heard.  

     

     

    End Notes:

     

    I want to shout out to Etymotic for their ER3SE headphones.  They hit one of the sweet spots for price and performance.  


    It looks like Chord may have a second generation of streamer in their hearts.  The new Hugo2 appears to have a way of attaching something to the side of the device.  Chord needs to learn a lot from the Poly and do a better job with the eco-system around their great hardware.  Client-server software is hard, mixing all this hardware and services together is harder. 


    Bob Fairbairn

     

     

     

    Additional Information:

     

    Product: Chord Poly

    Manufacturer: Chord Electronics

    Price: $749

    User Manual: PDF (825 KB)

    Configuration Manual: PDF (6.8 MB)

     

    Required: Chord Mojo ($500)

    Optional: Mojo Poly Premium Leather Case (199)

     

     

     

     

     



    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Bob,

    Thanks for the review. I've been thinking about the Poly plus Mojo too. I'm fairly convinced about the Mojo but on the fence for Poly. Mostly for portable use, commuting in planes, etc. 

    I understand you can store flac/wav files in the SD card in the Poly and control it from a phone thru bluetooth. Does this work well?

     

    Regards

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    Having a mojo/poly combo myself I have to say your experience matches mine 100%.

     

    Easily the best ‘portable’ streamer/dac setup I’ve heard... but not for the faint of heart, or technologically lacking. Unfortunately the user experience let’s it down currently, making it way too cumbersome and inconvenient for me to recommend to ‘mainstream’/‘normal’ users

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    On 1/12/2019 at 5:54 AM, deathdisco said:

    Having a mojo/poly combo myself I have to say your experience matches mine 100%.

     

    Easily the best ‘portable’ streamer/dac setup I’ve heard... but not for the faint of heart, or technologically lacking. Unfortunately the user experience let’s it down currently, making it way too cumbersome and inconvenient for me to recommend to ‘mainstream’/‘normal’ users

     

    I agree with all of this wholeheartedly, but there is one observation any future readers of this should be aware of. As the Poly, like the Mojo is an FGPA device, in April 2019 Chord Electronics released a ground-up rewrite as FW2.0. Machines now ship at this level.

     

    Dot releases since have taken us to 2.0.4 and nearly all of the functionality promised has materialised. While still tweaky to master, the Poly is now much more performant in areas including WiFi, Bluetooth, DSD, Gapless and the addition of native (slightly flaky) Tidal and Qobuz support.(Please contact me if you want any tips on what works, particularly in the area of the best MPD/DLNA client software for the lossless streamers).

     

    For the naysayers, it deserves a reassessment..

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    I completely agree with Patrick. I love my MojoPoly.  The upgrade of the firmware to 2.0 fixed all of the remaining problems for me. It's great to have a portable dac/amp that can stream Roon to me anywhere in my house.

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