Disclaimer: The Chord Electronics Qutest was provided to me on loan for this review, it will be returned after publication. Chord Electronics is not affiliated with Headfonia and not a site advertiser. Many thanks for the opportunity to listen to the Qutest on an extended period and to review it!
About Chord Electronics
Chord Electronics is an English manufacturer of amplifiers, digital to analogue converters, upscalers and streamers. They have been active for many years already and are best known in our space of audio for their ground-breaking Hugo FPGA loaded DAC and of course for their massively popular Mojo. A cigarette sized DAC/Amp that surpasses every competitor with its incredible performance. Chord Electronics is seated in Kent and has a team of 27 persons in total.
The Chief Designer and Managing Director John Franks has started out in aviation electronics before he later on founded Chord Electronics. According to the interview we did with him last year, he was greatly influenced by that time, because no mistake was allowed without a perfect fix, no workarounds are accepted. This also is the philosophy of Chord Electronics. Don’t accept anything but the very best possible. That is why their designs are considered as segment leaders. Up to today, Chord has brought us a lot of gear which was loved all around the globe. Their Mojo has to be one of the most sold items ever.
A few years into the history of Chord Electronics, John Franks got in touch with Rob Watts, a DAC designer who made far superior products. Rob Watts is responsible for all FPGA DAC/Amps Chord has brought out in the past years. That includes their ultimate DAC – the DAVE, as well as the super popular Hugo range, of which the product we’re looking at today is a member – the Qutest.
It was at CES at the beginning of this year, when Chord announced their upcoming FPGA based DAC, the offspring of their previous 2Qute – Qutest. It is built on the programming of their Hugo2, which I personally hold very high and which is one of my favourite products of all. Unlike Hugo2 it is a stationary product though, designed to sit tight in your home-audio chain.
When I received Qutest for review, I knew already it would be small, but I was not prepared for it to be this tiny. Qutest fully lives up to its name with its 16 x 4.1 x 7.2 cm (WHD) dimensions. With 700 Grams the Chord sits firmly on your desk and won’t be pulled backwards by the RCA cables. This is something Chord has changed due to feedback they got from the 2Qute owners in the past.
Qutest does not derive power from an internal battery, it sources juice from a 5V micro USB input. In theory you can hook up a power bank to it to get it away from your noisy mains. Qutest is what Chord describes as a pure DAC. It even says „This is pure audio“ on the packaging. Qutest has no built-in amplifier in it, so it spits out unaltered Voltage via its back-sided RCA’s. Depending on the input sensitivity of your amplifier, you can set the output Voltage of Qutest to 1, 2 or 3 Volts. This is a very welcome feature for me, as my integrated amplifier at home can only handle 2 V at its analogue inputs. Everything above causes it to go nuts with distortion.
Qutest has a tap-length of 49,152 taps and uses a ten element pulse array design, just like Hugo2. It supports sample rates of 32 bit / 768 kHz and native DSD up to 512. It has a measured dynamic range of 124 dB (A weighted) and a channel separation of impressive 138 dB (at 1 kHz, 300 Ohms). What can’t be measured though is the Noise floor modulation, as it is so damn low. Total Harmonic Distortion comes in at 0.0001% (1 kHz, 2.5V RMS, 300 Ohms). The frequency response goes all the way from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
Qutest has a total of four digital inputs. All are located on the back side of the unit. There is a USB B, one optical and two coaxial (BNC) inputs. The coaxial inputs can be used in dual data mode, so you can also hook up Chord’s Blu Mk2 upscaler and push the tap-length of Qutest even further.
Qutest comes solely in black colour and will set you back 1,895 US Dollars.
Qutest comes in a very nice and sturdy card board box, that beholds all accessories and of course the DAC itself. The packaging itself consist of three parts, the outer layer, a top and a bottom „drawer“. Flip open the card board box and you’ll be looking at your new DAC. It sits secure in a layer of cut out foam. In the bottom drawer all accessories are stored, that includes the 2.1 A power supply, a manual, a two meter USB B cable and a raw silk accessory bag.
All in all a rather standard packaging, what I’d have love to find was a BNC to RCA adapter or a BNC to RCA coax cable. Though the BNC connectors are superior to RCA, they are not standard in today’s consumer audio world. I was lucky enough to have an adapter myself.
The review continues on Page 2 after the jump