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Review and Measurements of CHORD Qutest DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of CHORD Qutest DAC. It is on kind short-term loan from Gig Harbor Audio. I previously tested a the older generation, Chrodette and 2Qute DACs so naturally members were curious how the current product line performs. The retail price of the Qutest is USD $1895.

As I have noted before, CHORD uses a custom implemented DAC instead of using an existing DAC chip. The design sports very long tap filters as to better approximate an ideal low pass filter required for all digital to analog converters.

The unit is similar to older generation but feels a lot more hefty. It has the new iconic bubble light controls of other CHORD products:
CHORD Qutest DAC Review.png.jpg

Regular readers of the forum know that I am not a fan of this interface. While it is less confusing to use than some of the other CHORD products, I still can't fathom spending so much money on a DAC and then trying to decipher colors of LEDs which by the way don't match the manual. What is said to be white color for example seems bluish to me.

I had to get into the obscure settings for changing the output level to 2 volts as the default is oddly 3 volts as with the rest of the line I tested.

Another issue is lack of balanced output. In this price category, that is a mandatory feature and one that can come in very handy to remove ground loops.

Anyway, let's see how Qutest DAC does on the bench.

Measurements
Per above, I set the output to 2 volts so that it better compares with other DACs tested. Performance is essentially the same as 3 volts (Chord actually rates the unit at 2.5 volts):
CHORD Qutest DAC Measurements.png


This is exceptional performance. We only have a second harmonic and nothing else to the right of our 1 kHz tone. There are some mains related noise on the left which would have been absent if we had balanced output. Fortunately they are not an audible concern.

Needless to say this type of performance puts the CHORD Qutest at the top of the class of DACs tested:
CHORD Qutest DAC SINAD Table Measurements.png


Let's look at intermodulation distortion:
CHORD Qutest DAC IMD Measurements.png


Very clean although not much different than the much cheaper Topping DX3 Pro I leave in there for reference.

Dynamic range is very good just the same:
CHORD Qutest DAC Dynamic Range Measurements.png


There is exceptional rejection of jitter and spurious tones other than aforementioned power supply leaks:

CHORD Qutest DAC jitter Measurements.png


Linearity is textbook perfect too, indicating accurate reproduction to 20 bits (limit of measurement):
CHORD Qutest DAC linearity Measurements.png


Distortion versus frequency is very well behaved as compared to the $100 Khadas Tone Board:
CHORD Qutest DAC distortion vs frequency Measurements.png


For those of you who like the 32-tone test, here is the outcome of that:

CHORD Qutest DAC Multitone Measurements.png


The noise floor rises at low frequencies (relative to Khadas Tone board for example). Otherwise, the rest of the distortion products are all comfortably low.

There are four filter settings, crudely documented in the manual as such:

1546376484406.png

I tested a couple of them using square wave but it was not revealing of any differences:
CHORD Qutest DAC Filter Square Wave Measurements.png


So I resorted to zoomed frequency response tests, first at 44.1 kHz:

CHORD Qutest DAC Filter Measurements.png


We see a pair of them having rolled off high frequency response and a pair without that. I doubt whatever Rob Watts is saying about differences on the overlapping ones to be audible.

The outcome did not change at higher sample rate of 192 kHz:

CHORD Qutest DAC Filter at 192 kHz Measurements.png


Full Nyquist bandwidth of 96 kHz is not maintained but this is fine and common.

Conclusions
From pure performance point of view, the CHORD Qutest nails all the tests I threw at it, garnering the top spot in DACs I have tested. On that front it should get a recommendation from me but I am hesitant to do so for a DAC costing so much but not having balanced outputs. If that is not a bother to you and you can afford it, the CHORD Qutest will provide exceptional performance and transparency to your audio system.

The CHORD Qutest shows that boutique/custom need not come with the heap of distortion as many others I have tested do. On that front, designer Rob Watts needs to be congratulated by not sacrificing measured performance for some unverified audiophile notion. Then again, I wonder how good of a DAC Rob could design using an off-the-shelf DAC chip. Likely would be just as good and cost a lot less....

-------------
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Headphonaholic

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#3
That interface is so appalling... why do they insist on it? I guess this being a dac and not an amp it makes little difference. It does look a bit like a toy with the silly colored buttons.

If they released the next top of the line amp for $300 and it had this interface I wouldn't buy it.
 

JJB70

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#4
In terms of cost, this one is in that grey zone where most normal people would see it as being crazily expensive at the same time as the real hard core audiophiles probably see it as bargain basement. It's a funny old world the world of audio. However, it is nice to see this one performing so well.
 

amirm

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#5
In terms of cost, this one is in that grey zone where most normal people would see it as being crazily expensive at the same time as the real hard core audiophiles probably see it as bargain basement. It's a funny old world the world of audio. However, it is nice to see this one performing so well.
True dat.....
 

Veri

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#6
The CHORD Qutest shows that boutique/custom need not come with the heap of distortion as many others I have tested do. On that front, designer Rob Watts needs to be congratulated by not sacrificing measured performance for some unverified audiophile notion.
Love the honesty :D and while the SNR is really quite beautiful on this DAC I also don't understand how it does not have XLR output.
At near $2000 I'd kinda expect that for noise reduction purposes.. imagine running into a ground loop on this expensive thing!
 

amirm

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#7
It is possible his architecture doesn't produce balanced output as DAC chips do. He has it on higher end products like Dave but we are talking $12,000 then!
 

Veri

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#8
It is possible his architecture doesn't produce balanced output as DAC chips do. He has it on higher end products like Dave but we are talking $12,000 then!
Dear lord I never realized Chord DACs even went that high. I can see how is this is a "bargain" now ....
 

JJB70

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#9
That interface is so appalling... why do they insist on it? I guess this being a dac and not an amp it makes little difference. It does look a bit like a toy with the silly colored buttons.

If they released the next top of the line amp for $300 and it had this interface I wouldn't buy it.
I must admit that the coloured marble thing isn't my thing either. I guess it's different but a UI should be simple and intuitive which to me the Chord system isn't. I also prefer regular, stackable, casing to the sort of casing used by Chord.
 

pos

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#11
You are being a tough crowd here, IMHO! :oops:
That 1kHz measurement looks really impressive: only 2nd order harmonic, and 120dB down at that.
If you look at other measurements here like the DAC3, UDP205, ADI2, or SMSL D1, none of them presents such a well behaved HD behavior.
Hard to beat for someone looking for an unbalanced DAC.

@amirm, could you please test the spdif input (SINAD and jitter)? :)
 

Sylafari

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#13
I might be the one loner that likes the look and doesn’t mind the LEDs. It is unfortunate it has no balanced outputs for that price. Also I’m wondering how many people are going to use the BNC inputs (maybe BNC is more popular than I think it is?).
 

VintageFlanker

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#14
Also I’m wondering how many people are going to use the BNC inputs (maybe BNC is more popular than I think it is?).
It is not a big deal since BNC is only 75ohms coaxial SPDIF with a different plug shape. You can buy a coax to BNC adapter for 5$.
I was using this on my Qutest.
 

Milt

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#15
Amir, maybe I'm blind but in the SINAD graph in the last several measurement articles I don't see the Oppo-205 listed.
Is the Oppo in a different class\category?
Is it a formatting issue?
Happy New Year.
Love the site.
 

Sylafari

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#17
@amirm , on their webpage it says the inputs are galvanically isolated so maybe the ground noise loop problem is averted? I still would like balanced but something to note anyways.
 

Milt

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#19
Amir, like me may be watching the Huskies getting their asses kicked by Ohio State in The Rose Bowl.
Or smoking some animal flesh
 

VintageFlanker

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#20
On that front it should get a recommendation from me but I am hesitant to do so for a DAC costing so much but not having balanced outputs. If that is not a bother to you and you can afford it, the CHORD Qutest will provide exceptional performance and transparency to your audio system.
I still don't regret to have sent mine back.

ADI-2 DAC still a much better value for 500€ less IMHO, even if I use only unbalanced outputs.

Here in France, the ADI-2 is 989€ and the Qutest 1495€.
 
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