To Chord’s credit score, a superlative was actually the one means it might go when naming a successor to the wonderful 2Qute.
And with Chord claiming that its newest and most reasonably priced powered DAC is the ‘world’s most superior’, the Qutest carries such lofty expectations it might nearly be embarrassing to not meet them.
If a DAC might ever be excused such assured coolness, it’s this one. In any case, the Qutest is basically based mostly on the five-star and What Hello-Fi? Award-winning Hugo 2.
It makes use of the identical DAC structure, software program coding and frequency-shaping filters because the Hugo 2, however ditches the headphone amplifier and rechargeable Li-on batteries that make it transportable.
The Qutest’s sole objective is to be the digital-to-analogue bridge between your digital supply and amplifier – identical to its predecessor the 2Qute, which the Qutest replaces in Chord’s five-strong DAC vary.
The shortage of options displays its lower cost (the Hugo 2 is £1800, $2495, AU$3800) – though the phrase ‘lack’ can solely be used throughout the parameters of that particular comparability. The Qutest isn’t any extra missing in both options or efficiency than a Swiss Military knife.
It takes fairly just a few hours of operation for the Qutest to lose its out-of-the-box midrange hardness.
As soon as that’s executed, we swap out the Chord 2Qute sitting between our reference Naim NDS/555 PS streamer and Gamut D3i preamplifier, and put the Qutest as an alternative. We play Gregory Porter’s Holding On and instantly hear features in readability, precision and subtlety which have us gently pushing the predecessor to the again of our rack.
The journey from the 2Qute to Qutest hasn’t altered the general character. In 2015 we complimented the 2Qute for its “nearly effortlessly cohesive and musical sound”, and fortunately these qualities haven’t been misplaced in transition.
A soundstage filled with crisp, clear, concise – to not point out explicitly detailed – instrumentation fills the area between our ATC SCM50 audio system, with the singer’s lush, down-tempo jazz association having equal elements sinew and sparkle because of the Chord DAC’s familiarly impartial tonal steadiness.
However the Qutest presents extra decision right here. Better texture and nuance cling to the wheeling cymbal, double bass plucks and Porter’s honey-thick vocals, all of which have loads of room on the Qutest’s expansive canvas.
Its presentation is barely larger and extra spacious than that of the DAC it replaces, giving musical components better scope to evolve with out bumping into one another.
We play Peter Broderick’s Eyes Closed and Touring, and there’s a brand new dynamic facility to our system. The piano piece is an exhibition of Broderick’s skill to shift from delicate to devastating inside just a few strikes of the keys, and the Qutest faithfully conveys the undulating dynamics, clocking the sudden surges in addition to the subtler simmerings.
Notes have crisper, extra distinct main edges, carry heat and texture in abundance, and by no means decay prematurely – even when forthcoming notes tumble excessive.
Timing is that bit tighter too, which helps the Qutest sniff out a rhythmic construction when one comes its means.
With Biffy Clyro’s My Restoration Injection, it not solely captures the dissonance of that stinging lead guitar but in addition the way it coalesces with the strolling bassline and slicing cymbals.
That rhythmic mastery is additional revealed as we play Spoon’s Pink Up. The spectacular drive, for which we’ve all the time rated the 2Qute, propels the disco-flavoured psychedelia on its unerring journey, and response to shifts in tempo is slick and pure.
From the soundstage-filling shakers to the xylophone melody and glitchy vocal, all the pieces orbits the monitor’s strong metric beat. The Qutest is as comfortable rocking out to tumultuous tunes as it’s rolling with classical compositions.
The sonic improve served by the Qutest isn’t stunning when you think about it implements the bespoke FPGA (Discipline Programmable Gate Array) digital-to-analogue conversion know-how present in each different Chord DAC.
Whereas most DACs use customary off-the-shelf chips, Chord designs its ones from the bottom up. By making a digital circuit that’s extra customisable, Chord has better management over all the pieces from filtering to conversion.
The software program within the Qutest shares similar audio code with the Hugo 2, leading to claims of ‘similar’ jitter efficiency and ‘no measurable’ noise ground modulation (residual noise that happens from adjustments within the music sign).
The 4 filters are the identical and, whereas they don’t make the world of distinction, they’re price experimenting with.
‘Incisive impartial’, ‘incisive impartial HF roll-off’, ‘heat’ and ‘heat HF roll-off’ are selectable by way of the Qutest’s filter curler button, which lights up in a special color relying on the chosen filter.
The one different button glows in varied colors to suggest the chosen enter. There’s white for USB Kind-B (able to accepting 32bit/768kHz PCM/DSD512); yellow for the primary BNC coaxial and crimson for the second (24bit/384kHz); inexperienced for the optical (24bit/192kHz/DSD64).
However there’s no blue hue for Bluetooth. Whereas wi-fi connectivity is a characteristic of the Hugo 2, which is sensible contemplating its portability, it’s left off right here. It’s a disgrace maybe, however removed from a deal-breaker.
The 2 coaxial inputs may also be utilized in dual-data mode, permitting the Qutest to deal with (upsampled) 768kHz information from Chord’s Blu Mk2 CD transport.
Whichever enter path you select, the output is thru a pair of RCAs. Chord anticipates the Qutest being paired with a variety of pre-amplification, so has made the output stage variable.
Maintain down each the enter and filter buttons throughout the first 16 seconds after the Qutest has powered up – then you’ll be able to choose 1V (crimson), 2V (inexperienced) or 3V (blue).
By way of the small round window is one other multicolour show representing the sampling frequency of the file being performed – crimson for 44.1kHz, inexperienced for 96kHz, darkish blue for 192kHz, purple 384kHz, white for DSD.
These with no photographic reminiscence might have hassle remembering the aim of every color, however the rainbow show actually makes for a definite design.
So happy are we with the enhancements accompanying the Qutest, we ask ourselves (as we did with the 2Qute): the place subsequent for Chord’s ‘funds’ powered DAC line?
We don’t know the reply, and even what such a successor could be known as. Qutester doesn’t work. However, from expertise, we reckon Chord may (in a 12 months or two) discover one other strategy to hoist the benchmark one other notch. No stress.
Till then, or till a superior DAC from one other model comes alongside, the Qutest occupies the hole within the pecking order between the Chord Mojo and Chord Hugo 2 because the DAC which lesser rivals look as much as at this value mark.
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