What's DAC All About? Chord Electronics Qutest DAC

With the rise of digital devices as source components, the DAC or (Digital to Analogue Converter) has moved from being a rather niche audiophile item to being an important component of a good sounding Hi-Fi system.

The original outboard converters such as the Arcam Black Box and Musical Fidelity Digilog were not particularly versatile devices, but then they didn't really need to be. Back then (in the late Eighties), the input to such devices was mainly provided by CD transports (or CD players) with the occasional requirement to decode the output from a DAT (Digital Audio Tape) recorder so the sampling rates that they could handle were limited to 44.1/48 kHz, and if you were lucky you got a phase invert switch – and that was pretty much it.

As digital technology moved onward and upward, some manufacturers started putting digital conversion circuitry in their amplifiers (thus providing digital inputs alongside the analogue ones) but this approach is generally not optimal as it means it is not usually possible to upgrade your DAC electronics separately from the main amplifier – some amps have DAC boards that can be swapped out but the practice of putting digital circuitry alongside relatively high powered analogue components can be problematic. For the best and most consistent results, moving the digital circuits out to a separate unit is a good thing - even though it does mean that an additional interconnect is required (and digital interconnects can make an audible difference).

Chord Electronics Qutest

Chord Electronics Qutest

So now in 2019 we have a plethora of DAC units available at various prices from a few pounds to a few tens of thousands of pounds and one of the companies which have forged a fantastic reputation in this area is Chord Electronics. This British company (based in Kent) has been gradually getting more and more recognition for its innovative devices, and one of the most lauded products in their fine catalogue is the Hugo 2 portable headphone amplifier which has quickly become a standard recommendation for headphone addicts. It also sounds superb in a static implementation, but as the feature set is largely focussed on portable use, it isn't the perfect unit for use at home. Enter the Chord Qutest.

Qutest - Rear View showing inputs and outputs

Qutest - Rear View showing inputs and outputs

I will refrain from regurgitating the raw specs here; suffice to say that the digital conversion goodness of the Hugo 2 is fully recreated here but some of the features more applicable to portable use such as battery power and adjustable cross-feed processing are removed. This means that the unit has all the essential features and nothing unnecessary.

Qutest - Top View

Qutest - Top View

Physically the Qutest is an unassuming black box (in a rather nice machined aluminium) with a couple of gaily coloured plastic balls inset (the colours change with function but you'll soon get to learn the sequence). Power is provided by a 5v USB power supply and the main feature of note is a switchable filter which you can use to adjust the sound and is entirely dependent upon your own personal taste – there's no right or wrong. One other very useful facility is the ability to set the line output level to 1, 2 or 3 Volts which is a major boon for system matching. Multiple switchable inputs are provided (on optical, BNC or USB connections) and finally the Qutest is compatible with the Chord Electronics M Scaler which can utilise the dual BNC connection to allow sampling rates of up to 768 kHz at 32 bit depth if upsampling is your thing.

Qutest in Full Colour

Qutest in Full Colour

So that's the boring stuff – how does it sound? If I were to sum up the sound of this little box in one word, that word would be 'precision'. It is masterful at placing musical events in context with everything else which makes it superb rhythmically – if you love music which relies heavily on subtle interplays of timing and rubato then this box will delight you. It's no slouch tonally either – the beauty and emotion of Miles' playing on 'My Funny Valentine' is there in full effect – and the tightness and rhythmic acuity of the DAC means you can fully appreciate the mind-boggling brilliance of Ron Carter and Tony Williams in the rhythm section too. The acoustic of Philharmonic Hall is very nicely rendered making for a really engaging experience.

Qutest - connected to power

Qutest - connected to power

In short, whether you need an upgrade for an ageing transport unit, or a state of the art switching device for multiple digital sources which will play all your Hi Res files (including DSD), consider the Chord Electronics Qutest. It can even be set up as a Roon Labs endpoint – but that's a subject for a future blog.

Come along and have a listen and we’ll take you step by step how to set it up and integrate it within your own Hi-Fi system,

Chord Electronics Hi-Fi products are available from the following branches of Audio T: Brentwood, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Enfield, Manchester, Online, Oxford, Portsmouth, Preston, Reading, Southampton, Swansea, Swindon

Linn Selekt DSM. The Ultimate One Box Hi-Fi Solution?

More than 20 years ago, Linn produced, what was probably, the first high end all in one system’. The Linn Classik Music. Priced just short of £1000, it was a tremendous sales success.

Over the following years, Arcam and then Naim took over this mantel, however, Linn are now back, with a product aimed at the very edge of what is capable from a one box system. The Linn Selekt DSM.

Priced from £4000 for a source only version, increasing to £6750 for the top specification Katalyst DAC enabled, stereo integrated model, it represents a serious investment. The sound and build quality, however, more than justify the price.

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Gorgeous in appearance and solid in build, the Linn Selekt DSM possesses a cut glass multi-functional dial (that glows when approached). It can also be App or remote controlled, whatever your preference may be.

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A look to the rear and you will notice the modular input/output construction. This is a product that is designed to be future proof and easily upgradable (both DAC upgrades and multi-channel surround amplifier units are available at present). This is a very well thought out design.

As well as being a top end streamer, it is supplied with a plethora of inputs (including very high quality MM and MC phono stages). Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz are embedded and it is also Roon enabled.

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Linn offer a very effective room correction facility called ‘Space Optimisation’. Unlike other systems, which use a microphone to measure the room, with Linn, you enter the room dimensions and construction. The end results are that, with the loudspeakers in their optimal positions, they will sound their absolute best. Alternatively, the loudspeakers can be moved to a sub optimal position and still sound amazing!

Partnering up the Linn Selekt DSM with a good pair of loudspeakers (we tried the new Dynaudio Evoke 30 speakers). The sound quality is amazing, tremendously detailed, clear and punchy. If you are a lover of classical or jazz music in particular, then this machine will absolutely excel!

If you would like a demonstration, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at Audio T Oxford.

Linn Hi-Fi products are available from the following branches of Audio T: Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford, Preston, Swindon

Time To Selekt. Audio T Bristol Takes A Look At The New Linn Selekt DSM Network Streaming System

Linn have always be renowned for creating innovative and superb sounding 'source’ components. The newest addition is the Linn Selekt DSM, which is a dedicated all-in-one network streaming and upgradeble Hi-Fi system, that can improve and modernise an existing stereo system and offer multi-channel surround sound as well.

The built in space optimisation software feature allows the system to be configured for different types of loudspeaker, which ensures you always get the optimum sound quality for your speakers and listening space. It does this by having a wide range of speaker configurations to choose from, but It doesn't stop there…

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Space optimisation has its own room builder, so you can replicate your listening environment within the easy to use Linn app. The app includes a wide range of variables and settings, such as the build of the room, wall types, windows, doors, height, depth and much more. Space optimisation has been designed to allow you to improve your entire system and get the sound tailored to your preference, no matter what speakers you have or where they are positioned in the room.

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The Linn Selekt DSM is a modular and an upgradeable Hi-Fi system. It has the Linn family trait running through it – a design that can be completely and easily upgraded from the base model to the top spec amplifier with Katalyst DAC.

The base model includes a pre-amplifier, enabling you to connect all your sources, including turntable (MM / MC inputs). Like all Linn products there is always an upgrade option, whether that’s adding the Katalyst DAC to further enhance the sound quality or offering multi-channel surround sound or higher output amplifiers.

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The sleek design is complete with customisable smart buttons to provide immediate access with just one touch. Accessing your favourite playlist has never been easier! Sources range from; the normal streaming services (24bit 192 Khz) from local hardrives or music , internet radio, podcasts, your turntable or Blu-Ray player. This is a fantatstic sounding all-in-one with great flexibility, brilliant design and providing an upgrade path to ensure long term enjoyment of your music collection.

But don’t take our word for it, give us a call or email us to arrange your personal demonstration - Audio T Bristol.

Linn Hi-Fi products are available at the following branches of Audio T: Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford, Preston, Swindon

Primare And The Wonderful Prisma Technology Arrives At Audio T Brentwood

We’ve just received our new stock of Primare equipment and we’re mightily impressed! This Swedish company has been making exceptional Hi-Fi products for over thirty years and always with a beauty of style and sound. They have now launched a new “connectivity and control technology” called Prisma which can be incorporated in their new modular range of separates.

Firstly they’re beautiful!

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And the fit and finish is exceptional.

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The first two models to show are the 35 range comprising I35 integrated amp and CD35 integrated CD player or DD35 CD transport. They sound gorgeous. Appropriately we put a CD of Eivor into the player, the album Slor, and the sense of scale and imagery through the Bowers and Wilkins 805 speakers was breathtaking. The addition of the Prisma technology takes them to another level adding app control, Bluetooth, Airplay, and Spotify Connect. Prisma also has Chromecast built in allowing you to cast from your phone or tablet direct to the Prisma module.

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The I35 has analogue (balanced and single ended) and digital inputs as well making it a truly versatile and comprehensive performer.

Down from that is the 15 range comprising the I15 integrated amp and DD15 CD transport

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These are equally beautifully built and can also be equipped with the same Prisma technology as their bigger siblings.

Sticking with the Scandinavian theme, we put some of Bjork’s most recent Utopia album on playing through the equally Scandi Dali Oberon 5 speakers. This album has an incredibly wide dynamic range which just sang through the speakers being driven by the little I15 (they’re only about 2/3 width).

We are really looking forward to getting to know these lovely components better, why not come in and try them for yourself.

We would like to thank all of our customers this year and wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Paul, Francis, Jason and Boswell

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Primare Hi-Fi products are available at the following branches of Audio T:
Brentwood, Bristol, Cheltenham, Manchester

Winter Sale Now On! Christmas Hi-Fi Stocking Fillers from Arcam, KEF, Rega, Bowers & Wilkins

If you are finding it hard to find to that perfect gift or stocking filler, DON'T PANIC, here at Audio T Preston, we can help with a few ideas for any Hi-Fi or music lover in your life.

WINTER SALE NOW ON!

First up we have the Arcam mini-Blink at just £99 this is a great stocking filler that will fit into any amplifier and let’s you Bluetooth sound from your phone/laptop or tablet.

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Very easy to set up and use, this Bluetooth DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) sounds so much better than connecting through the headphone output even when using a good quality cable, more output and much more dynamic.

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The Arcam mini-Blink comes with all the cables and power supply included, so you can be up and streaming in no time. We recommend downloading the Tunein radio app via the Apple app store or Android Playstore, to give you access to internet radio.

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Keeping it Bluetooth we have the KEF Muo portable speaker.

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At just 21cm wide and 0.94kg this little rechargeable speaker, packs a punch and is perfect for the listener who is on the move.

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The Muo has a battery life of up to 12 hours when fully charged (3hours charging time) and 10m Bluetooth range.

Available in gold/silver/blue and grey at £150 it's a great option.

Available in gold/silver/blue and grey at £150 it's a great option.

It's been another great year for turntables with sales overtaking CD players again, a great place to start is the Rega Planar 1 at just £249.

NOT SUPPLIED WITH PINK VINYL.

NOT SUPPLIED WITH PINK VINYL.

This is a great plug and play record player is easy to set up and it can be up and running in no time, the only thing to check is to make sure your amplifier has a designated phono stage.

NOT SUPPLIED WITH PINK VINYL.

NOT SUPPLIED WITH PINK VINYL.

If you don’t have a phone stage, fear not! The Rega P1 Plus has one built in and all you need to do is connect it to any line level input on your amplifier.

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Both available in black or white.

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If your looking to make that daily commute a little more enjoyable we have the award winning Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones.

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These noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones even have their own app to perform updates and settings to match your environment, they are a closed back design so do not leak out sound and annoy your fellow commuters.

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With a 22 hour battery life they are perfect for that long haul flight and can be wired, just don't forget the adaptor.

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The PX's can be folded up for easy transporting and are supplied with a carry bag/usb charging cable & 3.5mm wired cable.

Available in black or soft gold.

Available in black or soft gold.

These are just a few suggestions, please call in and we will be happy to chat about other options that would make a perfect gift, especially as our Winter Sale has just started!

On a different note (no pun intended ed) a big thank you to all who attended our Classic album evening on 20th November. Having not done one in a long time it was great to see a few familiar faces...and a few new ones too. Thanks for coming along and supporting the event.

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We look forward to seeing you all over the festive period.

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Have a great Christmas and New Year!

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Ian and Gavin.

Believe The Hype! Audio T Swansea Review The Chord Electronics Blu MKII CD Transport

We've waxed lyrical about Chord's DAVE DAC in the past, probably boring the pants off you with the inevitability of it all; talk of digital sound with us, DAVE enters the conversation and promptly ends it. Here we go again then...

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Launching the Blu MK II transport, Chord have not done anything as predictable as move the goalposts; they've picked up the ball and run, inventing a new game to play. This progenitor, this alpha, this improvement over the original Blu (no slouch by any means), is the addition of something called an M Scaler.

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The output from this transport to a DAC, (ideally a Chord Electronics DAVE) is via single or twin AES sockets and single or twin BNCs. Twin BNC is the only way to get the full-fat (or is that phat?) 705.6kHz up-sampled data stream into your DAVE.

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Despite being billed as a CD transport, the Blu MKII has digital inputs (x1 USB B and x1 BNC S/PDIF) enabling the user to access the M Scaler technology from a variety of digital sources. This makes us very happy indeed.

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This is the best we've ever heard from CD by a country mile and its treatment of external sources is sublime.

So what does this partnership do? Everything you'd want. Deep insight, accuracy, speed, remarkable timing and a sense of solid, unflappable control; that calmness you experience with an exceptional vinyl replay system.

But what does it actually do though?

Music.

Come and have a listened and we know you'll be hooked. Thanks for reading. Nic, Adrian, and Chris at Audio T Swansea

Chord Electronics Hi-Fi products are available from the following branches of Audio T:
BrentwoodBrightonBristolCardiffEnfieldManchesterOnlineOxfordPortsmouthPrestonReadingSouthamptonSwanseaSwindon - check with stores for availability as not all products are available from every store.

Chromey Visits The Darkside With Chord Electronics New DAC. Says, "I'm no longer the Qutest anymore".

Chord Electronics have done it again, developing and extracting atomically accurate detail from a respectably priced digital to analogue converter (DAC).

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Utilising the brand new Hugo 2 chip, stripping out the headphone amplifier and battery but leaving the lush sweet sounds we expect from Chord Electronics that will challenge any DAC north of £1000. (But not you Chromey, the Qutest is your friend, read on little guy and we'll explain why).

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Chord Electronics have also added a dedicated audio filter and input switch on the front, more akin to the Mojo and Hugo 2, the previous 2Qute had a switch on the rear panel to change your inputs. The dedicated audio filter is for those who like to tweak the audio a little bit. 

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Ahhh, you see Chromey, we new you would "opt in" in the end. 

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New look, new you! Chord have changed their styling, opting for their signature 'coloured marbles' for the controls, much akin to the Hugo 2 and Mojo, and a much more angular, muscular look. (Yes Chromey, a bit like you).

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For our listening test, we took a modest system similarly priced to the Qutest just to see if we could add a little Chord magic dust to it. We implemented a Qutest into a Rega Brio, Dynaudio Emit 10 and a Bluesound NODE 2

Connecting the Node 2 via Coaxial out into the Qutest and then RCA analogue into our Rega Brio. Playing a mixture of Hi-Res, MQA and 16bit CD with completely mesmerising results.

Dropping the Qutest into our system immediately opened up the soundstage, detail, bass and just made the music "life like" in comparison to hearing it before the Qutest was introduced, we simply couldn't go back to the Brio and Bluesound without the Qutest

You can hook it up to such an array of systems. It sounds amazing with a Rega Brio amp with a pair of Dynaudio Emit's and even better with a Naim Nait XS2 or Rega Elicit-R amplifier paired with Neat Motive SX1's, basically the Qutest is never lost in a system. Moreover, it stands there with it's chest out demanding your attention. 

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Come in and have a listen at Audio T Manchester. Chromey has seen the light...will you?

Chord Electronics Hi-Fi products are available from the following branches of Audio T:
BrentwoodBrightonBristolCardiffEnfieldManchesterOnlineOxfordPrestonReading
SouthamptonSwanseaSwindon

Even in The Qutest Moment - Chord Electronics Qutest DAC

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.

This is where it starts.

This is where it starts.

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.

Stunning finish and build quality as ever from  Chord Electronics

Stunning finish and build quality as ever from Chord Electronics

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.

Lights showing filter, input and sample rate at a glance.

Lights showing filter, input and sample rate at a glance.

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

Outputs are:
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.  

The Ins And Outs of a Qutest.

The Ins And Outs of a Qutest.

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.

Packed in the Qutest of boxes 

Packed in the Qutest of boxes 

Chord Electronics products are available from the following stores

BrentwoodBrightonBristolCardiffEnfieldManchesterOnlineOxfordPrestonReadingSouthamptonSwanseaSwindon

Visit Julian, Paul and John at Audio T Brighton store and hear it for yourself. 

Ahhhh....Oh...Woah! The Qutest Thing.

The new Chord Electronics Qutest DAC, marketed by Chord Electronics as a HUGO2 minus the headphone amp and battery, the dinky Qutest also manages to shed £600 from it's price tag. This has proven very popular indeed with us Audio T staffers.

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Such an animal was suggested when the original HUGO was released, so I'm claiming full credit here! This means we can now enthuse about the Chord Electronics HUGO2 headphone amplifier and DAC performance to those customers who think that £1800 is too hefty a price tag and had no intention to take a DAC out into the wild - so why should they pay for stuff they'll never use anyway?

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I'm happy to report that you don't have to. The Chord Electronics Qutest DAC is terrific.

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Used in between an Arcam rPlay streamer and an Arcam A39 integrated amplifier, with Dynaudio Special 40 speakers, the presentation is wildly improved. AC/DC's Malcolm Young's repetitive rhythm guitar riff on "Thunderstruck" is way more thrilling (I want to turn it up!), deadmau5's synth bass on the track "SeeYah" is faster, tighter and forms a 3D solid roller of sound across the stage. Any digital hardness entirely gone. Initially the presentation appears quieter, then one realises that it's the absence of amplified noise. Norah Jones' voice on "Cold, Cold, Heart" is soft, dusky and alluring. It's no longer a voice in space, it's etched in place and sounds as if it's issuing from a human face (if that isn't too weird). Jones' piano playing is shown to be remarkably gentle; you can feel her just touching the keys rather than striking them. Glorious.  The spacial information in the Scream Team Remix of Massive Attack's "Teardrop", rather than being out to the sides and above the speakers a bit, now envelopes you in sound. Music behind you from just the two speakers? Oh yes. I've only encountered that before in some very serious kit indeed.

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On demonstration right now at Audio T Swansea.

Chord Electronics Hi-Fi products are available from the following branches of Audio T:
BrentwoodBrightonBristolCardiffEnfieldManchesterOnlineOxfordPrestonReadingSouthamptonSwanseaSwindon

Return Of The Black! We Take A Closer Look At The New Arcam irDAC II DAC And Headphone Amplifier

We take a closer look at the Arcam irDAC II digital to analogue converter and headphone amplifier. With the current revival of high quality headphone listening, it was with interest we learned that Arcam's replacement for their much admired irDAC would sport the headphone output stage from their £4000 FMJ A49 stereo amplifier.

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Handily, the digital out socket has been replaced with variable output analogue RCA phonos. This enables the unit to be used with a power amp or a pair of active loudspeakers which are often the choice of the desk bound audiophile. We also lose the USB-a port but keep the asynchronous USB-b port and Bluetooth functionality. It's also worth noting that the Arcam irDAC-II is capable of DSD128 replay.

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Arcam were the first company to launch an outboard DAC way back in 1987 (with the revolutionary Black Box) and they re-entered the DAC market with the rDAC a few years ago. The brief for this unit was to produce an enhanced design that would raise performance and improve ease of use by a significant margin over the existing rDAC. Arcam tell me that their engineers have worked hard to isolate the digital and analogue stages and develop ultra low noise power supplies to reduce digital jitter to vanishingly low levels.

All of the inputs can be controlled through an IR remote control that will also give you transport control of a PC or Mac USB source.

So how does it sound?
Well, very good indeed. We partnered it with KEF's revered LS50 stand mount speakers, Arcam's own very capable A39 integrated amplifier and rPlay music source. It was an immediate improvement over the DAC in the rPlay – itself no slouch. Spacial information was much more apparent, instruments were solid and punchy with a much fuller, fruitier soundstage. It didn't seem to favour any particular musical style, be it the finely etched Laura Marling “Soothing”, Fink's intimate live recording of “Trouble's What You're In” or the pounding beats of Gentleman's Dub Club.

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It's on demonstration in our music salon as we speak. Why not pop over and give it a try? We'll make you a brew while you settle in and immerse yourself in the music.

Arcam Hi-Fi products are available from the following branches of Audio T:
BrentwoodCardiffCheltenhamEnfieldOxfordPortsmouthPrestonReadingSouthamptonSwanseaSwindon