When Chord released the Mojo back in 2015, its incredible sound and unique design quickly made it the most sought-after portable DAC on the market. There’s still nothing quite like it and, two years on, Chord has revitalised its award-winning amplifier with the Poly, an add-on that turns the Mojo into a wireless DAC.
READ NEXT: Our pick of the best DACs you can find in the UK
Chord Poly review: What you need to know
It’s a bit of an odd product, the Poly, so it’s worth a quick explainer on what exactly it allows you to do. Effectively it’s a wireless streaming module designed to let you stream music from your smartphone, tablet or laptop through the Chord Mojo. The Mojo is one of the best portable DAC and headphone amps I’ve ever listened to, so making it more convenient to use is a definite plus.
It allows you to more conveniently use your Mojo as a central part of a home Hi-Fi setup; you can sit back on the sofa and stream to your heart’s content from a laptop or phone without ever having to plug in. And it means you can connect your wired headphones to your phone and experience top-end sound quality while you’re on the move – without having to deal with wires leading from your phone to your DAC and from your DAC to your headphones.
READ NEXT: Chord Mojo review: Make your smartphone sound amazing
Chord Poly review: Price and competition
On paper, this unique combination might lead you to think the Mojo and Poly are the ultimate portable audio solution for budding audiophiles. At £500, though, the Poly isn’t cheap, in fact, it costs more than the Mojo, which itself costs a not-inconsiderable £390.
That brings the total to £890, which is not an easy expense to justify. There’s nothing quite like the Poly, though. No other streaming module will work with the Mojo and there’s no effective competition. In fact the closest rival I can think of isn’t the same type of product at all – the £900 Astell&Kern Kann, an incredible all-in-one portable audio player, but it’s a completely different thing.
Chord Poly review: Features and design
The Poly is built like the Mojo – like a tank. Its black anodised aluminium casing is both solid and attractive. There’s a single black opaque window, which permits wireless signals to be transmitted, but that’s the only blemish. It’s a very attractive thing and it fits onto the end of the Mojo neatly and with solidity.
At 50 x 62 x 22mm it’s smaller than the 82 x 60 x 22mm Mojo and lighter too at 87g versus 178g. But the two together total 265g, which for me makes it a bit of a lump. The £79 Mojo Poly leather case makes it easier to carry on-the-go but adds even more bulk and weight.
There are no funky lights on the Poly like the Mojo and looks rather simple from the outside. It has a microUSB charging port, which can be used to charge both the Poly and Mojo simultaneously, a microSD card slot (with no effective limit on card capacity) and two LEDs used to indicate connection status and battery level. It’s worth noting that, when connected together, the Poly blocks off the Mojo’s optical, coaxial and microUSB ports.
The Poly works over Bluetooth (A2DP-only) and DLNA or AirPlay over 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. It supports Roon – a music player popular among the audiophile community – and it’s capable of creating its own Wi-Fi hotspot for times when networks, devices or countries don’t support tethering.
Thankfully, the Poly doesn’t restrict file support or downsample music over wireless. It handles PCM files at up to 768kHz resolution, DSD64 to DSD256 (Quad-DSD) files and it is also capable of streaming AAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, OGG VORBIS, ALAC, WMA and MP3 files, as well.
Chord claims the Poly and Mojo have a nine- and ten-hour battery life respectively. Both devices can be charged independently or simultaneously through the Poly’s microUSB port. The Poly’s 2,200mAh and Mojo’s 1,650mAh battery each take around 4hrs to charge.
While I wouldn’t dispute that, I do find the Mojo heats up quite a bit when used for several hours continuously. And that means, if you place it in your pocket, it can feel quite uncomfortable.
READ NEXT: Our pick of the best headphones you can buy today
Chord Poly review: Set up, Wi-Fi vs Bluetooth
The Poly plugs into the Mojo effortlessly; unfortunately, the setup is the opposite. At the time of writing, Chord’s own “GoFigure” app (which will be used to ease setup niggles) has yet to be released, which means if you buy one now you’ll have to manually configure the Poly through your laptop’s or phone’s web browser.
To achieve this, you need to dock a charged Poly with a powered up Mojo then prod the recessed config button with a safety pin or paperclip and log onto the Poly’s Wi-Fi hotspot. It isn’t exactly plain sailing, but once you’ve figured everything out, you’ll be ready to roll. Now it’s a matter of finding the right app to stream your music. I found BubbleUPnP was the best to use.
The Poly also has Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity, which is convenient if you’re looking to listen to music through an app, such as YouTube, but bear in mind Bluetooth streaming sounds a little less clean and more compressed than streaming via DLNA, and there’s no support for the higher quality aptX codec, either. (I used Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, a 44.1kHz 245kbits/sec MP3 track for testing.)
Without the Poly connected, the Mojo can be used independently as a portable wired DAC and connects to your laptop or phone via USB, or your Hi-Fi or TV via optical or 3.5mm coaxial S/PDIF. Mostly, this works seamlessly, but if you’re using a Windows machine you’ll need to install special drivers, which you’ll find on Chord’s website.
READ NEXT: Best Bluetooth speakers: Portable, indoor waterproof and budget Bluetooth speakers
Chord Poly review: Sound quality
The Poly doesn’t have its own sound quality per se; it’s a streaming module that allows you to use the Mojo wirelessly. But the Mojo itself is a cracker. For testing, I used my custom P.EAR.S SH-2 earphones, my heavily modified Denon AH-D2000 headphones, the SoundMagic HP151 and the Dockin D Fine via a custom-made Chord Clearway 3.5mm interconnect.
I found the combination simply sublime, there’s absolutely no quality loss over wireless; no matter what I threw at it, the Poly transmits flawless audio and it sounds utterly wonderful.
Listening to Ryan Leslie – You’re Not My Girl, instruments have an excellent separation, the soundstage has great width and depth and imaging is excellent. The mid-bass sounds clean and precise, and high frequencies are delivered with the sort of clarity and purity you’d expect from equipment that costs much, much more than this.
And it’s just beautifully balanced. In Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know (Drop G Remix) mids are forward-sounding and clear; unlike other DACs, such as the Creative Sound BlasterX G5 that have a tendency to push back the mids, the Mojo delivers superb sound across the frequency spectrum.
It goes without saying, it’s better than the audio your phone is going to be able to deliver; the surprise is just how good. Now you might that’s just as well, given how much it costs, but in an industry where it’s easy to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds for very small improvements, even I was shocked how much better this setup sounds than my Huawei P9. The difference is night and day.
READ NEXT: Our pick of the best DACs you can find in the UK
Chord Poly review: Verdict
At £500 for the Poly and £380 for the Mojo you’re looking at an expensive wireless setup; it’s certainly not an impulse purchase. It’s also a bit of a fiddle to set up, at least it is now.
But the two devices together combined deliver such high-quality wireless audio that, even at this price, there’s nothing to match it and, with Chord’s unique technology, I’m not sure we’ll ever see other manufacturers provide a similar product.