Disclaimer: The Chord Qutest despatched to us is a pattern in trade for our trustworthy opinion. We thank the group at Chord Electronics for giving us this chance.
The Chord proposition has been a compelling pitch because the Hugo crash-landed into the moveable audio scene a number of years in the past. Not many individuals I do know haven’t tried and voiced an opinion on the Mojo or the Hugo variants.
Not as many headphone audiophiles find out about Chord’s much less storied however simply as meritorious achievements on the earth of HiFi going again to the 80’s. That is partly because of the moveable bubble loads of us function in and in addition because of the summit-fi pricing that locations numerous these merchandise past the typical Joe’s price range such because the $10,588 Dave.
The Qute EX and 2Qute DAC have been maybe Chords most accessible desktop merchandise priced at slightly below £1000 and launched in 2014/2015. Based mostly on the Hugo structure the 2Qute was given a essential thumbs up. Now, in 2018, Chord come again with their newest iteration, the Qutest DAC and once more, the worth is extra accessible at £1195.
This time the Qutest pulls quite a bit from the Hugo 2 know-how which grabbed the highest moveable DAC award from us final yr. That needs to be a great signal.
Take every thing you recognize and love about another costly product, strip away the portability and amping elements and depart your self with simply the core DAC and a less expensive worth. Okay, in order that’s in all probability an oversimplification however however, that’s the primary pitch Chord goes for with the Qutest.
The one you already know and should already love is the moveable kingpin Hugo 2 which is sensible given the 2Qute was based mostly off the Hugo 1. The Qutest does away with the Hugo 2’s moveable options reminiscent of headphone amplification, Bluetooth, battery and quantity controls however retains that spectacular DAC.
Chord additionally provides some further distinctive options to the Qutest comparable to voltage management which devoted DAC customers can be very delicate to. That is what Chord calls a “pure” DAC pitched totally for the house or desktop surroundings.
FPGA Digital Audio Conversion
The Qutest DAC attracts on the Hugo 2’s next-generation FPGA Xilinx Artix 7 chipset relatively than off the shelf DAC chips. Going from the 2Qute to the Qutest DAC is identical sort of improve on the earlier 45nm Spartan 6 contained in the last-gen 2Qute DAC.
The idea behind FPGA based mostly engineering design for audio units we went into some element within the Mojo assessment. Primarily, Chord has a a lot larger diploma of management of their engineering course of than lots of their rivals resulting from using in-house FPGA programming.
As I’m reminded from going over the Mojo evaluation of John Franks (CEO) personal phrases over an opportunity dinner in late 2015 in Manila:
“The difference between us and a lot of other audio product manufacturers out there is that they are what we call “users” of DAC chips and we design our personal DAC course of from the bottom up”
The important thing distinction between conventional DAC designs, and the ‘Chord way’, is that the DAC implementation and the heart beat array programming round it are wholly developed by Chord and never “bought” from one other provider.
Higher Digital Filtering
The change to the Xilinx Artix 7 chipset is essential within the context of how Chord measures the improved technical excellence within the Qutest in comparison with the 2Cute and the Hugo 1. The XC7A15T processor is 30% quicker than the older Spartan 6 and purporting to be twice as environment friendly.
The Watts Transient Aligned filters (WTA) tap-length functionality has now elevated from 26,368 to 49,152 utilizing a 10 factor Pulse Array design. The longer the filter (extra faucets), the extra finely the conversion response might be tuned.
Contemplating that the typical off the shelf faucet size is round a few hundred and designed by “someone else” then you’ll be able to perceive the extent of nuanced management Chord has over their capacity to enhance on their very own merchandise within the course they need to go in.
Very similar to the Hugo 2, the Qutest receives an identical smattering of enhanced usability to its options. A few of that is right down to their present buyer suggestions corresponding to clearer button labeling or using their orb colour scheme buttons for enter and filter choice. A few of it’s new know-how such because the filters themselves that weren’t within the 2Cute.
On paper a minimum of the Qutest ought to be a lot simpler to make use of and extra acquainted to the standard digital audiophile or Chord buyer who has been utilizing the Hugo 2.
The Qutest is far smaller than I used to be anticipating. I assume the identify is a little bit of a giveaway nevertheless it didn’t put together me for a way “cute” it truly is. Measuring in at 41mm (H) x 160mm (W) x 72mm (D) and 770g the Qutest weighs barely lower than two Sony 1Z Walkman’s and concerning the size of a mean guys hand.
The emphasis is on discreet with its all-matte black end save for the translucent orb controls on the entrance, the Chord chrome and Qutest motif and the glass bubble in the midst of the entrance plate. There’s something virtually voyeuristic about that bubble. Peering into it you can also make out the “Rob Watts” insignia and a part of the PCB, virtually like staring into the R&D flooring of Chord itself.
In fact, it does far more than easy company titillation. The window additionally permits the Qutest built-in LED arrays to broadcast a viewable coloured glow that denotes the audio pattern price it’s decoding from the purple of 44.1k to the white lights of DSD, very similar to the Hugo 2. If the lights are too brilliant or watching at night time you’ll be able to elect to dim the LED by way of urgent the 2 buttons on the highest panel on the similar time for a decrease beam degree.
A Single Billet
The Qutest is precision machined out of a single aluminum billet and it feels extremely strong. There isn’t a light-weight paneling job on prime of a layer of PCBs and chips. That is rock strong ‘drive a tank over it’ and nonetheless flip it on and use it type of sturdy. Screws are all to the bottom and really deep set to the purpose of invisible. The extent of safety the elements inside have from exterior vibration have to be extraordinarily excessive certainly.
Chord have completed the design off with loads of shock absorbent grippy ft on the bottom. These are absolute musts for putting the Qutest on a glass HiFi rack as a result of with out them I’m fairly positive it might injury the glass.
The contouring on the chassis is deliberate however variable. Across the orbs the aluminum scooping is gorgeous. The cornering is a contact sharper however not overly so. The rear enter and output sockets are correct and well-spaced out. All sockets are gold plated and create a pleasant degree of distinction between it and the black physique end.
The performance labels are all massive, white and really straightforward to see. Regardless of coming with a fairly complicated guide Chord appear to have gone to nice lengths to ensure each button and socket on the bodily exterior of the Qutest is nearly blindingly apparent when it comes to what it does.
The management system on the Qutest might look simplistic to the uninitiated however to long-time Chord devotees, these 2 buttons on the highest do quite a bit.
On a excessive degree, the Filter choices management four totally different sound shaping filters. You’ll know which filter you’re utilizing when biking by means of them by the colour of the orb button. They work on a biking foundation so merely faucet by means of till you discover the filter you want to use. They’re as follows –
- Incisive Impartial (White colour)
- Incisive Impartial HF Roll-off (HF which means excessive frequency) (Inexperienced)
- Heat (Orange)
- Heat HF Roll-off (Pink)
For many, the incisive impartial filter would be the filter of selection given that it’s the solely filer that produces probably the most linear and detailed response out of the 4. The Incisive Impartial setting will come shut. It has the identical degree of decision solely with the high-frequency copy rolled-off barely to keep away from any distortion current within the very higher limits of the FR.
Each Heat and Heat HF roll off are designed to logically sound a bit hotter than the 2 impartial filters with the latter displaying rather less headroom and treble presence. Once more, this can be a choice factor between the 2 as each have comparable decision ranges only a bit decrease than the Impartial Settings.
You’ve gotten 4 several types of inputs by way of the Qutest utilizing the enter orb button. Just like the filter choices, they’re cyclical and also you merely faucet via them to get your required enter supply connection. The connections and their corresponding colours are as follows –
- USB – White
- Coaxial 1 – Yellow
- Coaxial 2 – Purple
- Optical – Inexperienced
Notice that each coaxial 1 and a couple of bodily inputs on the rear panel are BNC terminated. BNC coaxial cables use the bayonet connection precept fairly than the usual coaxial RCA sort jacks. BNC is likely one of the staple connection techniques used on different Chord merchandise so superior methods like the brand new M-Scaler will work seamlessly with Qutest.
Using BNC is extra to do with their pro-audio legacy and the very fact BNC (particularly twin BNC) can supply larger pattern charges than common coaxial. Personally, I do know the place my choice is when it comes to commonplace coaxial cables although the price of a number of BNC terminated ones shouldn’t be that a lot.
There are two features of energy value talking about when wanting on the Qutest performance. The primary is the DC regulated 5V energy provide which is an fascinating selection. The second is the fastened voltage output selector for matching with desktop amps analog inputs.
The second perform additionally reveals one other function of the orb buttons, one that isn’t so intuitive till you learn the guide. By urgent each enter and filter collectively on the similar time when powering on the Qutest you’ll be able to choose a hard and fast voltage setting of both 1V (pink), 2V (inexperienced), or 3V (blue) when hooking up the RCA analog outputs.
Personally, I might stick to 2v for many desktop amps which is probably the most generally chosen voltage setting when hooking up a DAC. 1V I not often see besides on finances line-outs from some DAPs they usually are likely to sound a bit of weak when amplified.
The choice of a 5V DC exterior energy provide could possibly be seen as a little bit of a legacy type the Hugo 2. Definitely, using a micro USB socket would recommend as a lot besides no battery in fact. As an alternative, Chord provide you with a 5V 2A switching energy DC plug which you insert into your mains, AVR or no matter you employ.
Eagle-eyed readers may even spot that a 5V micro-USB may even run fairly fortunately from an exterior battery supply resembling power-bank or one thing extra specialised just like the Kingrex uPower. This provides two issues. The primary is a devoted and clear provide of energy with out the potential of undesirable noise from any shared electrical mains circuit. The second is a smidgen of mobility do you have to be mad sufficient to think about the Qutest to be a cellular and even transportable system.
Because the Qutest deploys the Hugo 2 DAC you get the identical excellent decoding functionality. That features PCM as much as 32BIT/768kHz and DSD512 by way of USB and 32BIT/768kHz by way of twin BNC, (utilizing each BNC inputs similar time, for instance, an M-Scaler connection). Utilizing one BNC coaxial connection will drop it right down to 32BIT/384kHz decoding and optical will max out at 24BIT/192kHz.
These decoding charges are bullet proof although I dare say the MQA lovers might be upset that it isn’t attainable to natively decode MQA by way of the Qutest. Chord are usually not believers within the MQA imaginative and prescient and I’ve had an extended dialogue with them on that earlier this yr in Singapore. You aren’t more likely to see MQA on a Chord product for the foreseeable future.
Naturally, the numbers are the identical because the Hugo 2and that could be very a lot a great factor with a THD of lower than zero.0001% on the highest 3V output setting and a +N of 117dB on the similar degree. Examine that to Oppo’s Sonica DAC at 115dB (similar A-weighting) and NuPrime’s DAC-10’s 115dB and a THD+N at zero.0003% then you definitely understand simply how clear that Qutest DAC sign actually is.
The Qutest is available in a reasonably recognizable Chord sort packaging which suggests skilled however barely understated. Contained in the black well-labeled outer field you’ve got a cut up shelf foam cushioned tray system with the Qutest on the highest shelf and the equipment and Guide on the underside shelf.
Maybe it was a price difficulty however that is the primary Chord product that doesn’t come full of a ton of connector cables comparable to you’d discover within the Hugo 1 and a couple of. Extra just like the Mojo with the charger and USB cable solely, besides the cable is an ordinary 1m in comparison with the brief model contained in the Mojo field. I might have beloved to have seen both an optical or a BNC cable stuffed in there simply to rise up and operating in case somebody just isn’t utilizing it particularly with a pc.
You additionally get a bit material carry bag for the Qutest. Ummm, so yeah. Maybe a touch to the potential for it being transportable? Perhaps. I doubt it provides any type of safety for the Qutest from dropping or the weather. Maybe a shock for Granny on her birthday within the branded good material bag, some mint humbugs or one thing? Pretty.
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