I want to come clean with one thing right at the start: I love the design language of Chord’s products. Looking at Hugo2 makes me smile, the curves, the window and the illuminating balls. Their products are very special to me and to many people around the world. Some find them not as appealing as me, but hey, that’s life. One thing everyone will agree on I think though, you will always know in a room filled with gear what Chord products are just by looking at them. Nothing on the market is as outstanding as their electronics.
January 2018. Chord teases new launches at CES. My heart was hoping for the Hugo2 pendant of Poly – the 2Go. Released was another product that I, unknowingly, would love to hear. The Qutest.
Qutest is a stripped down Hugo2. A pure digital to analogue converter. Their purest says Chord. It builds on the Hugo2, yet gets rid of Bluetooth (something I never use), the volume control, headphone outputs, crossfeed settings and internal battery. Something that Qutest can what Hugo2 can’t, is the adjustable output voltage. Qutest can set its output between one, two and three Volts. That is something great for different amplifiers. My integrated amp at home can’t take any higher Voltage than two Volts, anything higher makes it go berserk with distortion. For me personally this was a very interesting and compelling release, because I use my Hugo2 not only as an office DAC/Amp but also as my main DAC at home. The going back and forth, connecting and disconnecting Hugo2 from the mains made it hard for me to get it into desktop mode (bypassing the battery, magenta power-ball).
Fast forward May 2018. Qutest arrived at the Vienna HFN division. Gone are the times of plugging and unplugging Hugo2 at work and at home. Hugo2 stays firmly at my desk at the office, waiting for me each day, while his less packed brother sits at home, feeding my main-chain and headphone amp. Good times.
When I got Qutest, I was downright shocked by its size and beauty. I knew Qutest was small, but I hadn’t thought that even the Astell&Kern SP1000 was almost as big as the new Chord DAC. Of course Qutest is heavier, something that Chord has increased compared to its predecessor 2Qute. And oh boy is the build quality outstanding, it feels so very robust and luxurious.
Before I connected Qutest to my new Lyr 3 amplifier by Schiit Audio, I had it up and running in my main two-channel system. Almost everything had to go through Qutest before it could be released as analogue signal to my stereo integrated amplifier. All audio data via USB, coaxial (BNC) and optical are now fired through Qutest. Now my living room gets a good amount of fresh air breathen into it.
Since Qutest is built on the Hugo2 technology, it was no surprise how great it sounded. Very high resolution, impressive rendering and a mighty sound stage. Something I have not heard in a DAC of this size previously. I have heard other offerings in the same price category, but all were in the 44 centimeter category and didn’t necessarily sound better to me. Qutest is transporting a wonderfully clean signal with a realistically neutral and natural sound, that can take you right into the recordings. Once again Chord impresses me, but for a full break-down we have to wait for the final full length review.