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Review and Comparison of CHORD Chordette and 2Quete DACs

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed comparison of two CHORD DACs: the discontinued Chrodette and 2Qute. They are both used and on kind loan from our local audio store: Gig Harbor Audio. The Chordette seems to have listed for USD $799. The list price for 2Quete is USD $1,295.

Both units look remarkably similar from the outside with TOSLINK optical, S/PDIF coax and USB inputs. On 2Qute there is an input selector. There is none on Chordette and it seems to autoselect the input.

CHORD Chordette and 2Qute DAC Review.jpg

I first tried to operate the units using USB input but had no luck with my previously installed CHORD drivers. I downloaded the Windows 7 drivers and still had no luck. So for this review and testing I resorted to using the S/PDIF input.

Typical of other CHORD products, user interface is odd with a large lens on top of the units amplifying LEDs of different colors.

Unlike many DACs we test, these CHORD units have custom DAC internally designed and implemented using an FPGA. they are what I call boutique products given their unique approach. Let's test them and see if they deliver or have oddities as many boutique products have.

Measurements
Let's start with the older and cheaper Chordette:

CHORD Chordette DAC Measurements.png


We strangely have high output of 3 volts rather than 2 volts. Not a bad thing but be mindful of comparing this unit to other DACs as it will play louder, making you think there is higher fidelity than there is.

Distortion and SINAD unfortunately are well below average. There are a lot of odd spurious tones in the Fourier transform on top right although the mains noise and second harmonic dominate.

Switching to 2Qute, the picture changes dramatically:
CHORD 2Quete DAC Measurements.png


Distortion drops by almost 20 dB, matching the specified 0.0003% by CHORD. Here is how they rank among tested DACs:

1545857266465.png


2Qute is at the bottom of tier 1 and Chordette in the middle of tier 3.

Due to high output levels, dynamic range is quite good for both:
CHORD Chordette and 2Qute DAC Dynamic Range Measurements.png


Intermodulation distortion tracks THD+N results in the dashboard with new insights with respect to level sensitivity:

CHORD Chordette and 2Qute DAC IMD Measurements.png


Chordette has generally higher noise which 2Qute remedies but both have an odd rise in distortion at around -25 to -20 dB.

Here is jitter performance:

CHORD Chordette and 2Qute DAC Jitter Measurements.png

The 2Qute delivers essentially textbook response with almost no spurious responses. Chordette looks worse compared to it but it is still a very respectable response.

Linearity shows the absolute superiority of 2Qute:
CHORD Chordette and 2Qute DAC Linearity Measurements.png


That is one superb linearity all the way down to -120 dB. I usually allow up to 0.5 dB of error at that limit but the CHORD 2Qute does not need that handicap at all.

The Chordette DAC sadly produces disappointing results, losing all presence to even 20 bit fidelity let alone 24.

Here are 32-tone tests which as usual, mostly reflect the results in other tests:

CHORD Chordette and 2Qute DAC 32 tone Measurements.png


Conclusions
Despite the reputation for excellent engineering, the other CHORD DACs I have tested have not broken any new ground. The CHORD 2Qute changes that equation for the most part, delivering very good results and rankings among DACs tested. The Chordette however, fails to impress across a range of tests.

Quirks of CHORD products remain with drivers that don't seem to work, and user interface that is cryptic although not as much as a hindrance as in their headphone products.

Both of these products are discontinued. In used market, assuming the price is right and you want something unusual, the CHORD 2Qute may make a good purchase.

I hope to test one of the more current CHORD DACs in the future. Given the direction of 2Qute, I am hoping it will deliver exceptional performance showing that custom DACs need not underperform.

-------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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#5
The Chord Chordette Gem only had USB and Bluetooth inputs, so it’s unlikely that is what you tested.
Probably it is an early version of the 2Qute (I think there were 2 or 3 earlier versions).
 

amirm

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#6
Probably it is an early version of the 2Qute (I think there were 2 or 3 earlier versions).
Thanks. I was told it was the older generation of 2Quete. I will edit the review.
 

March Audio

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#7
@amirm can you try setting the output to 2 volts just to show what the difference in SINAD is? Just curious to see the effect, will it equate to a direct 3dB drop in SINAD? This is of course dependant/affected by the distortion levels which may drop if not using a full scale signal.
 
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amirm

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#9
On the 2Qute, I'm interested on how a square wave gets affected by the magic of a ton of taps.
Here is Square Wave response:

1545868178450.png
 

Headphonaholic

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#11
There is no variable analog output. Reducing the digital level on Chordette so that the output was 2 volts made SINAD worse.
Amir, an idea for a different thread, people have expressed concern over digital level attenuation using software. I realize it's been stated that there wouldn't be any ill effects but perhaps if you did a mini study with some measurements showing the effect it could be a good resource to set the record straight. Just an idea :)
 

March Audio

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#12
One thing I can do is compare the results of digital attenuation to that with an analogue pot.

I have a decent Alps pot kicking around and could take measurements at decreasing levels on each.

My measurement kit is not as quite as good as Amir's AP but it will certainly show what's going on in the real world audible range.
 

RayDunzl

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#13
One thing I can do is compare the results of digital attenuation to that with an analogue pot.

When I used a pot between the CD player and the Power Amp, I used one for each channel.

Rebalancing at a new level was easy enough, since the pots were dead center between the speakers.
 

amirm

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#14
Amir, an idea for a different thread, people have expressed concern over digital level attenuation using software. I realize it's been stated that there wouldn't be any ill effects but perhaps if you did a mini study with some measurements showing the effect it could be a good resource to set the record straight. Just an idea :)
That is already on my TODO list. Just have so much to review right now. When I find a gap, I will do that.
 

March Audio

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#15
There is no variable analog output. Reducing the digital level on Chordette so that the output was 2 volts made SINAD worse.
Expected, but what Im alluding to is can we devise a method to normalise the DACs with different output levels?
 
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#16
Expected, but what Im alluding to is can we devise a method to normalise the DACs with different output levels?
Forgive my ignorance: does a higher output voltage confer a significant advantage in SINAD? Does output level disproportionately favor the signal over the noise floor? Would both raise proportionally? And if a higher output voltage results in a higher dynamic range or SINAD, should we be moving to higher power outputs to that effect?
 

Headphonaholic

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#17
Forgive my ignorance: does a higher output voltage confer a significant advantage in SINAD? Does output level disproportionately favor the signal over the noise floor? Would both raise proportionally? And if a higher output voltage results in a higher dynamic range or SINAD, should we be moving to higher power outputs to that effect?
My guess is for consistency and fairness. Though it sounds like there is a possibility it makes a difference.
 
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#18
My guess is for consistency and fairness. Though it sounds like there is a possibility it makes a difference.
Yes, consistency would always be welcome, but be has indicated in some other threads that the units with higher voltage outputs have an unfair advantage specifically in SINAD numbers, plus this:
@amirm can you try setting the output to 2 volts just to show what the difference in SINAD is? Just curious to see the effect, will it equate to a direct 3dB drop in SINAD? This is of course dependant/affected by the distortion levels which may drop if not using a full scale signal.
Why a expected 3dB (half power?) when reducing voltage by 1/3. I'd love to better understand this.
 

Blumlein 88

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#20
Yes, consistency would always be welcome, but be has indicated in some other threads that the units with higher voltage outputs have an unfair advantage specifically in SINAD numbers, plus this:


Why a expected 3dB (half power?) when reducing voltage by 1/3. I'd love to better understand this.
If you reduce the voltage by .707 and noise floor is unchanged, then distortion and noise relative to signal would be 3 db closer or less SINAD by 3 db. 3 volts to 2 volts would be very close to 3 db lower. .67 vs .707 as a ratio.

Now sometimes, when SINAD is dominated by the level of the distortion harmonics, lowering voltage by 3 db might lower harmonic distortion by several db which might leave SINAD mostly dominated by noise actually giving a better SINAD number. If you were using a DAC in your system and never needed it to exceed 2 volts then that is a more desirable result. The higher voltage with less SINAD would be of no consequence to you.

In this case Amir said lowering digitally by 3 db made SINAD worse.
 
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