Chord Electronics Ultima Pre 3 - Review

Chord Electronics Ultima Pre 3 - Review

BOB’s BLOG: – The New Chord Electronics Ultima Pre 3 Preamp

Introduction and Technology – Just a few short months ago Chord Electronics released their new £6,000 Ultima Pre 3 Preamp with its first UK outing at Nintronics open day in September. Now that we have had our demo unit for a few weeks and put a good few hours use on it I thought it was time to have a proper listen to how it’s performing.

I have reviewed the Ultima 3 power amps before but that was using the Ultima Pre 2 preamp and in a different system, so this is my first proper listen to the Pre 3 and I decided this time to use a full Chord Electronics setup, see images and descriptions below. The Pre 3 continues the great light show that many Chord Electronics device put on including for the first time in a preamp the central illuminated power sphere and this makes it a better visual match to the Ultima 3 monoblocs than the Pre 2 which in terms of looks is a better match for their top end Ultima monoblocs.

The ULTIMA PRE 3 is an all-analogue design with no digital inputs or outputs and is an all-new ground-up-design from Chord who says “the UTLIMA PRE 3 takes advantage of the very latest developments in advanced low-distortion power supplies”.

It’s smaller than the Pre 2 at 480mm wide x 340mm deep and just 130mm high with the Integra legs fitted (as our demo unit) and weighs 12.7kg. Power consumption, very important in these days of high energy pricing, is just 40w. The front panel has an illuminated volume control knob on the left, a central ‘power sphere’ that doubles as a push on/off knob and a balance control / AV bypass selector on the right but I expect most users will use the comprehensive remote control instead of the front panel. The rear is busier with 2 balanced inputs on XLR and 3 unbalanced RCA inputs. Outputs are via XLR or RCA with one set of each being provided. There is also a 5v charging USB Type A port which seems to be appearing more often these days. Here it is designed to charge a Chord Mojo, Qutest or Hugo 2 DAC without the need to use the supplied power pack but it can also be used to charge smart phones etc.

The Volume knob has two purposes, as a rotary volume control and if you push it in it will select a source, the coloured ring around the volume control changes colour depending on which input has been selected, I guess you get to know what each colour means after a while but to start with you will need to check the manual (page 24). Mute is only accessible via the remote control as is the dimmable display lighting. The same user interface applies to the balance/AV knob where you turn it to alter balance and push it to select AV Mode. But be careful here because selecting AV mode is easy to do and if your connected AV amp has its volume set high it could damage your front speakers. Again, light colour changes confirm you have selected AV mode.

It also has 12v trigger in/out and although I didn’t try these, I know from experience of doing so with the Pre 2 and the Ultima 3 monoblocs that it causes the monobloc ‘power spheres’ to

glow bright red when in standby, and I mean really bright, runway landing lights bright. Hopefully the Pre 3 has done something about that but I wasn’t able to check.

Review Components used in this mainly UK based system:

Preamp: Chord Electronics Ultima Pre 3 (subject of this review)

Power Amplifier: Chord Electronics Ultima 3 Monoblocs

Digital Sources: Innuos Statement Streamer – Next Gen version

DAC: Chord Electronics DAVE

Streaming Sources: Tidal with Roon Management

Speakers: KEF Blade 1 Meta

Cables: A mix of Jorma Design and Chord Company mains and interconnect leads with speakers bi-wired with Chord Company Signature cables

Performance – The whole system as used in this review shows just how far Chord Electronics has moved towards a more relaxed and enjoyable sound with the Ultima series without losing any of the detail and openness that it has always majored in.  This is a system that is easy to live with and encourages long listening sessions and it’s virtually all British apart from the streamer.


Stockfish records always produce great music that is well recorded, and I listened to ‘Caruso’ by Christian Willisohn on their Closer to the Music Vol 2 album which highlighted the smoothness and openness the Chord system is capable of showcasing.  But don’t take this as sounding far too relaxed because it’s still full of detail, dynamics and shear listening pleasure. It can also punch out and hold the rhythm of electronic tracks with lots of bass such as the Jean-Michel Jarre Equinox Infinity Remixes EP and this ability to hold the beat sets this system apart from many other high-end offerings and makes it a real joy to listen to, especially for those longer evening or weekend listening sessions.  None of that brittle and fatiguing sound that some listeners tend to wrongly associate with Chord Electronics.

Conclusion – Ergonomically a much better match to the Ultima 3 power amps than the Ultima Pre 2 and sounding just great the Ultima pre 3 is remarkable value for money when considering its musical capabilities and input flexibility. In a system with their top of range DAC, the DAVE, and some revealing speakers this is a system right up there with the best at this price point and it is definitely a system worth coming to Nintronics to hear. Strangely enough the Pre 3 is by far the most affordable component in this system, but it performs admirably in this company and will do so in any system in which it finds itself.  

I loved it and I think many of our customers will too.  If you want to hear what a largely UK based system is capable of these days, then do call us for a demo.

Bob at Team Nintronics

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