Chord’s new QuteHD DAC sounds superb, can handle 32-bit 384kHz material and replay DSD
files via its USB input. What more could anyone want? Very little, discovers Jon Myles.
hord’s high-end QBD76
HDSD DAC has quickly
established itself as an object
of audiophile desire – and
for good reason. Boasting
the ability to handle material stretching up to 384kHz sample
rates and with DSD playback facility
over USB it’s seemingly future-proofed,
sounds sublime and comes in Chord’s
distinctive industrial-design casing. But
it also comes at the not insignificant
price of nearly £5,000 and as such is
arguably out of the range of a great
number of people. So enter the Chord
QuteHD – a new DAC boasting many
of its bigger brother’s attributes but
coming in at just under £1,000.
Take it out of the box and there’s
no denying the new DAC’s lineage.
Housed in Chord’s traditional bombproof aluminium enclosure it features
their small, round window which gives
a tantalising glimpse of the electronics
And, as it is Chord, those
Playing a top quality 24/192 file the
window of the QuteHD glows blue.
electronics are typically bespoke.
Chief among those are the inhouse designed Robert Watts’ third
generation WTA (Watts Transient
Aligned) digital filter with some 10,240
taps claimed to give better timing and
rhythm, plus more accurate sound
staging. It is followed by the Watts
Pulse Array DAC.
Our Measured Performance
gives an insight into just how good a
technical performance this produces.
And it also gives the Chord one of
the best overall specifications
available at anywhere near the
price. It can handle 24/192kHz
files over any of its inputs,
is 32-bit/384kHz ready over
S/PDIF and as an added bonus
can accept DSD over USB
with a compatible computer
audio player such as Audirvana
Plus on Mac or J River Media
Centre on Windows machines.
OK, so there aren’t that many
384kHz files available as of now
but DSD has a steadily growing
number of on-line sources (see
separate piece) and if you want
something that can handle
both today’s various hi-res
files and whatever may come
in the future then the Chord
QuteHD seems to have all the
bases covered at a sub-£1,000
Here's the QuteHD playing a 24/96 high resolution file: the glow from the
Cramming all these features
window is green.
into the QuteHD means
Chord has had to make a few
comprises compared to the
the sample rate being received; red for available it was tempting to go straight
QBD76HD. Gone are the AES/EBU
44.1kHz Red Book, orange for 48kHz,
for a high-resolution download but
balanced digital inputs and balanced
yellow 88.2kHz, green 96kHz, light
instead I opted to move through the
analogue outputs and there are only
blue 176.4kHz, dark blue 192kHz and
gears – starting with good old CD. It
single S/PDIF inputs via optical and
purple for DSD.
proved just how good the Chord is.
coaxial. The input controls have also
Spinning Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’
been simplified by the expedient of
saw a massive soundstage open up.
getting rid of them altogether.
Bass was deep but controlled while all
In fact, there are no switches on
Impressive as the Chord’s technical
instruments had a natural sense of air
the QuteHD whatsoever. Instead the
capabilities may be, it’s even more
Chord senses the inputs and uses a
impressive when you actually fire it up
and space around them. Music flowed
strict hierarchy to decide which is
and start listening. Put simply, this is
with a formidable authority that just
playing. There is no manual selection
one of the best-sounding DACs I have
seemed right. There’s a large, solid
necessary but there is a priority order. ever heard.
pin-sharp feel about the way the DAC
So USB takes priority over coax which
With all that processing power
goes about its business.
in turn takes priority over optical. If
you connect both the USB and coax
inputs when you play music on the
computer the QuteHD will automatically switch to the USB input and so
anything playing via the coax input will
no longer be sent to the output.
The round window on the unit’s
top lights a different colour to indicate
"Put simply, this is one of the
best-sounding DACs I have
ever heard."
Optical and electrical
(BNC) S/PDIF inputs, a
USB input and analogue
Moving on to 24/96 via USB
and things just got better. Kate
Bush’s ‘50 Words For Snow’
has never sounded better. That
word authority springs to mind
again. In comparison other DACs
can sound lacking in substance
whereas the Chord tracks the
music with a grip that brings
a sense of scale yet conveys
a palpable feeling of ease. The
sound is smooth but never laidback unless it’s absolutely meant
to be.
That confident feeling is
present across all the inputs
– and it’s fair to say the preferred
option is going to be very much
down to individual choice and
partnering equipment. What isn’t
negotiable though is that the
Chord has the resolving ability
to clearly show the differences
between various sampling
Playing CD the QuteHD's window glows red.
As mentioned, DSD
to handle 384kHz and direct DSD
with a superb sense of timing and
files may not exactly be widespread
decoding it represents something
transient response.
in the mainstream but there are
of a bargain at its price-point. Very
Add in Chord’s trademark
an increasing number of online
strongly recommended.
build quality and the fact it’s ready
outlets offering the option. Listening
to the QuteHD you begin to see
why. A selection of test tracks and
albums from America’s Blue Coast
too. Measured performances was
The QuteHD handles 192kHz sample rate
Records and other sources showed
code and all lower values on both optical
exceptional. NK
a delicious, organic feel from DSD.
and electrical S/PDIF inputs, and is rare
Playing the San Francisco Symphony
Frequency response
for managing this through an optical
Orchestra’s rendition of Mahler’s
Distortion (24bit)
TOSLINK connector. Frequency response
Symphony Number 1 provided an
extended to a high 60kHz before rolling
improved sense of flow and detail
down smoothly, our analysis shows.
– as though you can actually hear
Separation (1kHz)
With 96kHz sample rate frequency
into the music and the acoustic space
Noise (IEC A)
response drops sharply at 47kHz, so
it’s recorded in.
Dynamic range (24bit)
the QuteHD offers maximum analogue
Detail certainly seemed stronger
bandwidth, against the more limited
and the whole sound had a much
response of many current designs. These
more palpable feel of scale and
tests lit the window blue for 192k, green
dynamics. That’s not to say the
for 96k, pale green for 88.2k, pink for 48k
difference was always to DSD’s
and red for 44.1k (CD).
benefit. On some tracks highDistortion was very low with
resolution PCM downloads seem
24bit resolution, measuring 0.027% at
to beat their DSD counterparts,
-60dB, our analysis shows, and this
displaying slightly more snap and
was a stable and consistent result at
bite to the sound compared to the
all sampling rates. Unsurprisingly, EIAJ
latter’s slightly softer sound. This
Dynamic Range was a massive 117dB
may be down to a variety of reasons
24bit, -60dB 3V
with 24bit, one of the best figures
– but it’s good that Chord provides
the option for direct DSD playback
USB gave exactly the same results
alongside the PCM alternatives.
Whatever flavour of file you choose,
the new Chord QuteHD is an
absolutely fantastic sounding and
deeply impressive DAC. Its sound
is big and bold and yet displays an
impressive level of detail. It has an
uncanny ability to make everything
played through it sound natural
as S/PDIF, meaning it was quieter than
most and performed unusually well, with
little noise or distortion resulting in an
EIAJ Dynamic Range of 117dB again. It
accepted up to 192kHz sample rate and
gave great linearity with 24bit.
The QuteHD lived up to its name, It
offers full 192kHz sample rate operation
on all inputs, and superb 24bit linearity
DAC £990
A seriously impressive
product. For many it could
be what they need for years
to come.
- up to 384kHz capable
- can handle DSD direct via
- exceptional soundstage
- superb build quality
- limited inputs
Chord Electronics Ltd
+44 (0)1622 721444

Similar documents