Chord QuteHD DAC Review

Hi Guys

I got one of the new Chord DAC's a while ago to check out.

I found that a linear power supply made a big difference with this DAC and asked a tech I know, Clay, to build me a linear supply for it which he did.

What follows is some listening impressions with this new supply and DAC. I have posted it on Computer Audiophile and Steronet out here in Australia but have got a few private mails from people here on Audiogon who may not have seen my stuff on those forums so I thought I would post it here as well. My apologies to those that have read it elsewhere.

Just got back from Clay with the new power supply, Chord DAC and a proper RCA to BNC SPDIF cable for the Off-Ramp.

OK - popped it into my system with the new power supply and Off-Ramp.

I really like it - playing one of my standard test tracks Dianna Krall - Case of You - the coughs in the opening are heard clear as a bell. Her voice sounds very alive and present - perhaps even more than my reference DAC - a PDX - very smooth but the detail seems to not be constrained by that smoothness - it's there when required. Slightly different to my PDX - it has a 'thicker' sound - more like a Killer DAC - but not quite as full rich and voluptuous - but that may be the systems I have heard the Killer on which were along those lines. The piano sounds real and alive. Very good separation and imaging both front and back. Sibilance seems natural as well. The real test for that will be Ella and Louis which has some sibilance from Louis Armstrong that can cut you in half if not handled correctly. Really enjoying what I am hearing so far. I think I might like it a bit better than my PDX - Mike - the maker of the PDX - has a tough task on his hand getting it better than this thing - but is trying with tube rolling and such - he was really impressed when he heard it and it started him looking for improvements. Listening to Ella and Louis - the sibilance is handled well - but no better than other good DAC's I have heard - good but not a step above. The real standout quality seems to be the wonderfully natural and beguiling way Ella's voice is handled - very nice. Next up some Harry Belafonte - Live at Carnegie Hall. Again the same real live and present vocals with a wonderful voluptuous quality. This DAC really seems to have an affinity for vocals - oh yes and the bass - really strong. In fact some of the best I have ever heard. Playing some Casandra Wilson - Travelling Miles which has some strong bass - reproduced very well - deep clear and controlled. Playing my old standby Peggy Lee - Fever - again vocals quite voluptuous - but clear clean and detailed - very nice. Peter Paul and Mary - Puff The Magic Dragon - again very nice, natural vocals - the word that keeps popping into my mind - voluptuous. Celine Dion - Live In Las Veges - At Last - wonderfully clean clear - and that word - again - I am sure you can guess it - voluptuous - warming - embracing - you feel like you want to curl up with a hot toddy on a winters day in front of a fireplace. Playing Fever from the same album which has a lot of dynamic detail - produced effortlessly - flawlessly - that's the other word - effortless.

Anyway enough of that - I will see what happens without the Off-Ramp.

Starting Celine Dion At Last again. The voluptuousness dropped away - the treble became harder and more analytical - far less sweet and detailed - not in the same class of enjoyment. In fact the whole presentation is a bit more glarey and harder. Can't say I really like it that much compared to the other. This is exactly what I remembered hearing at a GTG I took it to after I first got it - when we removed the Off-Ramp - it was not really a competitor to the PDX - and some other top DAC's that were there - nor is it now. Sorry guys I am afraid with this thing you really do need something like an Off-Ramp or Audiophellio. That's the bad news - the good news is a guy out my way who posts as Kdoot on our forum here in Aus has been doing some testing with my Off-Ramp and his Audiophellio and found them quite close - as some have reported with using integer and direct mode in Audirvana. But the real finding was instead of direct injecting the Audiophellio (it has a connector to direct inject into a SPDIF input rather than use a cable) he used a quality SPDIF cable and found then he couldn't really tell a difference with the Off-Ramp. This means its not the $2k required for the Off-Ramp to lift this thing - but only $600.00 for the Audiophellio. Combined with about $350.00 for the power supply depending on the one you get a bit under an extra $1k on top of the about $1.7k for the Chord - all up about $2.7k but it can take on and best more expensive DAC's like my PDX and Playback Designs. Of course that's on my system and to my taste - these things vary of course with personal preference and system synergies.

Oh - my system - Lenehan ML3 Reference, NAKSA 100 amp, Ribbontek and Ribbonflex cabling, DAC direct connected to the amp using a Mac Mini with Audirvana and its volume conytol.

OK - What happens when I removed the power supply next.

Can't notice an increase in hardness but definitively more glarey in the treble - not as sweet. Sibilance on Ella and Louis definitively worse - now its entering the territory of cutting you in half - not as bad as I have sometimes heard it though. Doesn't really seem to affect the bass which is still strong. The coughs on a Case of you are not as clear. A more metallic sound. Not sure if I would say it made a bigger or worse improvement than the Off-Ramp. I thought before at the GTG the power supply made a bigger difference than the Off-Ramp - now not so sure - to me its about the same. I think you really need both to lift this thing.

Ok - for comparison a modern DAC in about the same price bracket - a NAD M51 via its USB.

Dianna Krall - A Case Of You - coughs not as distinct as the Chord - doesn't seem as resolving overall - but I cant hear the slight hardness or metallic glare of the Chord without the Off-Ramp and power supply. Sibilance control about the same. A slight honeyed quality - slightly syrupy in comparison. Evidently that is a known issue with the NAD and the new firmware update supposedly fixes it - Clay mentioned it today when I picked the power supply up - he is authorized to service NAD gear. Playing some Casandra Wilson - bass not as strong - the Chord kills it in that area. Its actually fairly close overall though - a lot closer than I remembered via memory. But my NAD has an upgraded power supply and is definitely better than stock. Overall I would give a slight edge to the stock Chord and maybe even equal if that slight syrupy sound is fixed - BTW that character is not annoying in any way but I prefer its absence.

The NAD and Off-Ramp

Definite improvement with the Off-Ramp. Clearer with sweeter treble and more detail. Not as voluptuous or as inviting as the Chord with both the Off-Ramp and supply. Bass not as good. But doesn't have the metallic and slight hardness of the Chord without those options. I have heard this a few times with others and its as I remember it - like the Metrum fed with an Off-Ramp some may prefer it to my reference PDX - I didn't - but I suspect some would. I am actually going to put it ahead of the Chord without the Off-Ramp but the upgraded supply. But I prefer the Chord with the Off-Ramp and supply - much more seductive and inviting for me. But again this NAD has an upgraded supply.

A bit later I will check out DSD but for that I need to put the Truth in as my pre-amp - you cant use the software player's volume control and direct connect like I do with PCM.

Now the comparative listening is over I can mention some interesting stuff when I picked up the power supply. Clay took me out the back and I had a look at the oscilloscope readings of the switch mode power supply. With the gain on the scope turned right up you could see a saw-tooth wave. When attached to the linear supply it was pretty well dead flat - all you saw was a little bit of random noise.

It has a separate power transformer which actually is the same as the one used in my PDX DAC - and is there to circumvent the need for approval which you need to sell mains stuff here Australia - but also helps with reducing stray hum from the transformer.

Thanks for this posting article, this DAC is getting a 5 starts reviews here in the U.S.A. I just

order one for my self, so. I, am looking forward

to share the news of how it sound, thanks again. Juan.
Thanks for the the review plus countless other posts on various forums @Bhobba. I ordered one of these DAC based on your finding - it doesn't disappoint and blows away the internal DAC in my Cary 306/200.
Bill, do you find the Chord presents a somewhat forward perspective, such that, for example, vocals are pushed further forward than many other DACs? That was my impression when I had one at home for a few days. I loved it otherwise.
how is this dac for DSd- will it run a native dsd signal- I am looking to add a DSD dac to the system and do not want to spend a bunch of $$ on it- thnaks
Thanks for the thoughtful and well written review. I look forward to reading your thoughts on DSD playback.

I have the Audiophillio 1 with Pure Power and have always wondered whether the Off Ramp was better as some have claimed. The Off Ramp is 1k higher in price than the Audiophillio with Pure Power and I am quite pleased with the improvement that the AP1 w/PP brought to my Anedio D2 DAC. It seemed unlikely that $1k would be worth the switch to the Off Ramp. I am glad now that I didn't switch.

That being said, I am going to sell the Anedio D2 to purchase a DSD capable DAC, such as the Resonessence Invicta Mirus or the Benchmark DAC2. I love the sound of DSD!

Phillip, the Audiophillio designer states that the model 1 and 2 will pass DSD when it is DOP - DSD over PCM. I don't really know what that means exactly, as my Anedio doesn't playback DSD. If I download a DSF file, will that playback on the Chord/Benchmark/Resonessence through the Audiophillio? Anyone know?
I'm a Chord QuteHD owner and have it set up using an Off Ramp and the upgraded power supply from MCRU. I would say that the Chord by itself is Excellent sounding, but when you add the OR and MCRU it becomes Sublime!

To answer your question about DSF files, it does play them without a hitch. I typically use Amarra, but had to switch over to Audirvana to be able to listen to the DSF files.
Hi guys. Thinking of getting this DAC. Can you please be more specific about what power supply you are using with this from MCRU? I assume MCRU is Mains Cables R Us in UK?
Hi Guys

Sorry I haven't been following this thread since I posted it and missed replying promptly to some of the posts.

To Drubin - yes indeed it does make vocals sound forward and I would say that's part of its appeal. As people who have heard my system know it is a very forward sounding in your face system and its what I like. This DAC is along the same lines so its not something I can particularly tell on my system anyway. But when I heard it in another system I did notice that.

I have checked it via PCM and DSD with a $17K Playback Designs MPS5. Sorry guys, I would like to say it was as good or better than this DAC. It isn't. Not shamed mind you which considering the price difference is very good - but the PD was clearly better - cleaner, clearer and purer.

DSD was better than PCM and closer but the PD was still better.

Tboooe, look here for the Mains Cables R US unit designed for this DAC: