The Chord Electronics Qutest is the latest in an exceptional run of class leading DAC’s that are fast becoming the industry standard that all other DACs are measured against.
The Chord Electronics Qutest, having evolved from its predecessor the 2Qute itself having not long won the 2017 What Hi-Fi? best DAC £500 - £1000, is already turning heads having being a star of The Big US Technology Consumer Show CES 2018.
The Qutest is designed as a stand alone DAC to be used in home audio and desktop hi-fi systems and once again has that unmistakable John Franks design about it.
It’s fair to say Chord Electronics stand out from the competition in looks alone. Precision milled from a solid aluminium billet the Qutest is no different, whilst it retains the circular porthole where you can peep into the workings of the circuit board and confirm through a range of colours the sample rate you are using, the actual functionality of the DAC has been improved enormously by the addition of colour changing fascia control spheres as used in the latest award winning incarnation of the Hugo 2 . These allow input and filter changing at the push of a button. No more tiny pin head buttons that my fingers always seemed to struggle with.
On the rear inputs include:
1 X Galvinically isolated USB-B input 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512 capable.
1 X Optical TOSlink 24-bit/192kHz capable
2 X BNC coaxial input 24-bit/348kHz capable
1 X Pair of stereo RCA sockets that can be set to output at switchable voltages of 1,2 and 3V RMS to match other sources plugged into your system.
Power is via a Micro USB power supply that is permanently plugged in as unlike the Hugo 2 and Mojo portables has no battery on board.
Whereas the other mains powered Hugo TT and Dave double up as digital pre and headphone amplifiers the Qutest has concentrated on the one job of decoding your digital sources be they from a streamer, CD transport or indeed being used to improve your television’s audio performance.
Using technology from the latest Award winning Hugo 2 DAC and losing the headphone output and recharging capability has allowed substantial cost saving giving a performance and build quality unmatched in this price area, indeed if this is a permanently placed DAC in your system why pay for extras that are not required.
So what are they putting in the water in Kent that makes Chord Electronics DACs continually win award after award? Well, it has to be something to do with the Rob Watts FPGA (field programmable gate array) custom chip set.
Unlike almost all the competition who buy off the shelf OEM Chips then apply in house technology to make them work in their DACs Chord use their own custom coded chips that somehow sound different to any other in the market place.
Whether you think Chord DACs are better than the competition is probably personal taste but they do sound different. The best way I think I can describe them is to me they don’t sound digital, forget how much treble or how much bass they may or may not have or whether they are forward or analytical all words when describing other DACs.
This DAC gives the impression of having an insight into the music without the digital hash that is often present with other DACs. We can use words like detail, clarity, coherence, dynamic range, timing as many customers and reviewers alike have when eulogising about Chord DACs but there is more to it than that.
We used our tried and tested dem track Duke’s Place from the Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington album The Great Summit a recommendation incidentally.
This track is testing in that Louis sings close to the mic and can exaggerate sibilance in a forward sounding system and the Double bass can appear overblown in an over exuberant bass heavy system, not with the Qutest though, even when playing with the filters which whilst can subtly change the tonal balance was never caught out.
I also tried it connected directly to the digital output of a Naim Uniti Core over many hours and no matter the type of music from the Latin Rock rhythm of Los Lobos, Colossal Head to the Chilled Out beats of Bent The Everstanding Blink and through Tori Amos Night Of the Hunters showing all the subtleties her vast vocal range, it just sounded right and not once drew attention to itself.