Chord Qutest is the latest DAC from the renowned high-end audio manufacturer. The device is based on the critically acclaimed Hugo 2, but since there is nothing superfluous in it (say, a headphone amplifier), there is only a digital-to-analogue signal conversion system, the price of the device turned out to be record low for the company. How will the model show itself in action?
The theater starts with the hanger, and Chord Qutest starts with the packaging. The box in which the device is delivered is, without exaggeration, delightful – such pedantry is inherent, perhaps, in the “apple company”, but in the field of audio, we saw few examples of such an approach.
A two-section box made of thick colored cardboard, a pull-out tray with accessories – “you take it in your hands, you feel – a thing.” The DAC itself is quite miniature – 160 x 41 x 72 mm, but it weighs as much as 770 g – the case is made of milled aluminum with a traditional “window” that allows you to examine the insides, made for “five-plus”. In another compartment of the box you will find a switching power supply (5 V, 2A, Micro USB – replacing it with a linear one will provide an increase in sound quality, but not as radical as you expect), a set of power plugs for different outlet standards and a good USB cable …
As mentioned, the Chord Qutest is a complete stationary digital-to-analog converter. And only he – no sections of signal amplification, there are no options for working in portable mode.
The heart of the system is a proprietary FPGA technology developed by Rob Watts for the much more expensive Hugo 2 DAC (45 DSP chips, 208 MHz each). The body of the device was made “from scratch” and machined from a single piece of aluminum – the “baby” knows how to deal with vibrations and magnetic fields (for example, almost the entire printed circuit board is “packed” inside the slot, so the thickness of the protective walls is very solid). Of course, of the digital inputs there is a galvanically isolated USB-B input, optics and a pair of coaxials (two S / PDIF on BNC connectors).
No less attention is paid to the software – the digital-to-analog converter works on the basis of the same proprietary OS that works in the older proprietary brothers. This system guarantees negligible jitter and drift outside the measurement of its own residual noise. By the way, the Chord Qutest measurements are absolutely stunning – a similar class before, if it was noticeable, then in devices with a price of more than $ 15,000 – 20,000.
Judge for yourself – the signal remains absolutely linear up to PCM 32 bit / 768 kHz, guarantees a reference impulse response and provides 138 dB channel separation! Harmonic distortion, at the same time, goes to -120 dB (that is, it is less than 0.0001%), the dynamic range reaches 124 dB – fantastic. The model can work with signals up to PCM 32 bit / 768 kHz or DSD512 – albeit only in Windows / ASIO environment.
Because of this, the inclusion of Chord Qutest in the path with the Sonore ultraRendu USB / Ethernet bridge and the Roon ROCK server revealed the need to convert DSD signals to PCM. There is enough information on this issue on the network, perhaps it will be solved with the next Roon update. However, in our system (JBL DD67000, Audio Note Ankoru II, Audio Note M6), we did not “suffer” at all because of this feature (about the listening experience – below).
Of the interesting points in the work, four custom settings for digital filtering should be noted – from neutral to warm (we liked listening most of all in neutral format). In addition, the output voltage is also regulated (in the range from 1, 2 or 3 V), so the Chord Qutest can be paired with a huge fleet of equipment.
The installation of the DAC itself, in fact, boils down to setting these options – so that even a child can figure out a two-page manual.
Of course, like all equipment of this class, Chord Qutest requires warming up. Leave the device to work after the first turn-on for at least 6-8 hours – and there will be no trace of the initial hardness of sound. On the contrary, Chord Qutest’s delivery seems to deviate from the brand’s signature – it turns out to be very delicate, in addition to perfect rhythm control and reference pumping of air.
High frequencies never seem to be intrusive – they are silky and natural. The mid-frequency range is striking in its transparency and makes you literally feel the voice of the performers. The bass is very deep and textured – the most critical range for a technique of this class turns out to be thoroughly worked out, confident and powerful. This fundamental approach does not fit in any way with the size of the device – as well as with the memories of the “older brother” Hugo 2. However,
Chord Qutest, of course, has its own style – and it is, first of all, expressed in incredible harmony and mobility of sound. The apparatus can handle any genre – either fortissimo in the finale of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, or Metallica’s Master of Puppets – they “look” excellent. The mercury, very lively and natural sound literally fascinates – and, if you compare the device with a much more expensive technique, Chord Qutest will not hit the face in the dirt, it may only lose in the surgical accuracy of spatial localization. But in terms of timbre accuracy or the transmission of emotional shades, everything will be at the highest level.