Chord Qutest Home Demo

When I first joined the Naim forum about four years ago after purchasing a DAC-V1, I was quite surprised find the product getting the most praise was made by Chord.  For a good while it seemed as though if you were looking to address any issue with a system, and there wasn't already a Hugo in it, well, there's your problem.  Not really true, but you know what I mean.  I didn't doubt the talents of the Chord DACs, the frustration for me was they didn't make the product I wanted in every sense.  Now though, there is the Qutest.  No batteries, no headphone amp, heavy enough to stay put with hefty cables attached, an output well matched to my Naim amp (SN2), and apparently one of the most advanced and effective DAC designs in the world to boot.  A big tick then, so I thought I'd get one to try.

When you put the Qutest on a shelf next to a DAC-V1, it really does look like a David vs Goliath situation, and its frankly pathetic looking phone-charger-esque power supply and mini USB chord does little to inspire confidence.  Still, I had high hopes, but based on reviews, and even some comments here about the Hugo 2 on which it is based, led to fears that it would be highly detailed, but a bit too lean, thin, and ultimately uninvolving musical experience for me.   

So....is the Qutest a giant slayer?  Well....yeah, it kind of is, and its character is quite different to my expectations.

The hifi-speak section -

(Bear in mind this is the only chord DAC I've spent any meaningful time listening to, and the comparisons are against the DAC-V1, and within my system, I've not heard it in any other configuration.)

Amoung my first impressions were that the bass notes were deeper, but less bloated and much more agile compared to my normal experience.  I wasn't overly surprised by that.  The top-end was smoother and less aggressive, and the upper mids sounded less shouty.  I wasn't surprised by that.  I was surprised that the lower-mids, and upper-bass, were the things I was really hearing much more prominently with Qutest.  All this combined means a weighty wholesome sound; I guess the linear frequency response is not just a spec sheet claim, and really worked in my system.

The dynamics of this little monster are probably the biggest strength.  Whether a track builds gradually, or comes in suddenly, when everything kicks off, the Qutest makes the whole experience really exciting, building anticipation, and delivering real slam when the moment comes.  It is really impressive.  Even when a recording has little dynamic range to work with, it really does seem to extract every opportunity to deliver contrast, and it can make some of the most compressed recordings quite exciting.  While the same talents are evident with the best recordings I know of, its ability to turn mainstream compressed pop and rock recordings into something more engaging is endearing.  It delivers good ol' rock 'n' roll with relentless power and stability, and accoustic jazz with both subtlety and slam as required.  

Then there is the detail on offer.  Make no mistake, despite the punchy, full bodied, and slightly, by comparison at least, recessed highs, the resolution of the Qutest is beyond anything else I have heard by some margin.  I would not describe it as 'airy' at all, but I guess these terms mean different things to other people, and influenced by system, but solid, insightful, and coherent would better words to sum up the performance for me.  

I'd love to ramble on more about what the Qutest brings to individual tracks and albums, but I've only had the thing for a couple of days, and it is due to be going back to my dealer tomorrow.  Therefore, my listening has been erratic to say the least.  In fact, it's only tonight that I've been listening to whole albums and just enjoying it, having made the observations above in a limited time frame. 

The Qutest is pretty damn good though, not 'night and day' vs the V1 in many ways, not 'jaw dropping', its too subtle for that, just supremely competent and enjoyable without showing off.  Yes, I'll have one, thanks. 

Original Post

Wow, I just don’t know how you can dissect the sound in that way and come up with such a detailed analysis! I don’t mean that as a criticism- it’s a great revie: just that all I can ever do is say something sounds better, or more analog-like, or more natural, or has greater clarity. I think my problem is that I can’t detach myself enough, and end up listening to the music rathervthan assessing the sound (and/or am lucky enough to have cloth ears!)

Thank you for the thorough review Songstream although the end let me somewhat down. You provide ample details to suggest the idea that the Qtest is jaw dropping but refute that conclusion in the end. Nevertheless the little device seems to offer extraordinary VFM. I would be interested to know how it compares with Hugo 1and 2. 😀

Chag -

Chag... posted:

Thank you for the thorough review Songstream although the end let me somewhat down. You provide ample details to suggest the idea that the Qtest is jaw dropping but refute that conclusion in the end. Nevertheless the little device seems to offer extraordinary VFM. I would be interested to know how it compares with Hugo 1and 2. 😀

Chag -

Is it not entirely possible and realistic for a product to be better than another in every way, but just not earth-shatteringly so? I think there is too much use of superlatives in hifi comparisons,  night and day, jaw-dropping, wow-factor, etc, when in a great many cases the reality is much more subtle, and maybe even some people would struggle to discern. If onlybthere was an objective means of measuring percentage improvement! 

I have had the predecessor to the Qutest the 2Qute for over a year now and it has all of the attributes mentioned above.  It got quite a bad press on this forum due mainly because of the gain matching issues between it and Naim pre amps, almost everywhere else though it was considered an equal to it's sibling the Chord Hugo.

Personally I didn't want the battery issues of the Hugo and also I didn't need the headphone amp and like the Qutest the 2Qute was solidly built to sit on a rack and not be pulled around by heavy cables.  The way I use the 2Qute now means that the volume can be turned up and down at the source meaning that the volume pot on my 282 can be turned right up to 12 o'clock and beyond.

So if the issue of gain that was a deal breaker for many has been addressed and you do not need the headphone amp then I would urge you to try the new Qutest against the Hugo 2 at two thirds of the cost it could be considered a bargain and also I for one would love to hear from you.

Chag... posted:

Thank you for the thorough review Songstream although the end let me somewhat down. You provide ample details to suggest the idea that the Qtest is jaw dropping but refute that conclusion in the end. Nevertheless the little device seems to offer extraordinary VFM. I would be interested to know how it compares with Hugo 1and 2. 😀

Chag -

Hi - It wasn't my intention to sell the Qutest short, I really do think it is a fantastic listen and great value for money.  In the conclusion though, I wanted to make it clear that, at least when comparing with an already very competent DAC such as the V1, there is not an instant Wow! moment, and my jaw didn't hit the floor.  It is a big step up in detail and musical engagement my view, hence my enthusiastic comments, but it's not a 'hey, look at me.' show off kind of character, not something that smacks you in the face with its undeniable talent.   It just does an amazing job of being brilliant without drawing your attention to it too much.  

Innocent Bystander posted:

Is it not entirely possible and realistic for a product to be better than another in every way, but just not earth-shatteringly so? I think there is too much use of superlatives in hifi comparisons,  night and day, jaw-dropping, wow-factor, etc, when in a great many cases the reality is much more subtle, and maybe even some people would struggle to discern. 

Amen to that. These days, any post I read that contains "jaw-dropping", "makes X sound broken" and all the other hyperbolic terms people are prone to trot out immediately loses my interest.

Good to read this review.  I have been contemplating doing an audition and this has made me decide not to.

I'll carry on enjoying the V1 and see what Naim and Chord bring out.  I'm sure that, like shaving razors around Xmas, Chord will bring out another 'improved' version in 12 to 18 months

What would be more exciting is to see a DAC from Naim that matches the impending Network Streamers in SQ (assuming that the Streamers have better SQ than the DACs).

 

Emre posted:

how you feed it? 

Almost all of the listening was using Qobuz Sublime, running their client app on a dedicated media PC (Windows10), and connected to the DAC via USB.  Aside from using a Furutech Formula 2 USB cable, there were no USB gadgets involved.  

Jude2012 posted:

Good to read this review.  I have been contemplating doing an audition and this has made me decide not to.

I'll carry on enjoying the V1 and see what Naim and Chord bring out.  I'm sure that, like shaving razors around Xmas, Chord will bring out another 'improved' version in 12 to 18 months

What would be more exciting is to see a DAC from Naim that matches the impending Network Streamers in SQ (assuming that the Streamers have better SQ than the DACs).

 

Why would someone elses review make you not want to audition a product you were previously considering? That's like saying I'm not going to try that apple tart because some random guy on a forum said he didn't like the taste of it. 

 

No quarter posted:

I had the Hugo 2 for a month in my system,and my thoughts mirror yours,I hated the small connections,but loved the sound.Now I am looking hard at the Dave.

Hi SongStream: You have my apologies for slightly derailing your thread. ATB Minh

I had a listen to a DAVE/552/Active 500/DBL system and I found it to be rather bright and difficult to appreciate over a long session. If the CDX is affectionately known as the glass cutter, DAVE could be affectionately known as the ear piercer. You may not find it to your liking. On the day of the audition, TonyM (our delightful and gracious host) along with DB, Foot Tapper and JN were 'shielding' ourselves from the carnage. I've never heard a system 'spit' at me to such a degree that I had to cover my ears for protection. The predecessor to DAVE was a delight to listen to in comparison. My response should not be construed as an attempt to discourage you. It's possible that the conditions were not optimal for a fair assessment of the dichotomy. 

I remember reading about that,thanks for reminding me.My plan is to get a home demo soon,before I even bother with it,but I also plan on using it in preamp mode,driving an amp directly.That is how I found the Hugo 2 worked the best,it did not inspire me much just as a DAC between my Core and 272.The digital out from my 272 will go directly into the Dave,then from the Dave I will use RCA cables to feed my Anthem amp,this is how I eventually connected the H2,and loved the results.I did not have the necessary cable on hand to use my 250 DR.

No quarter posted:

I remember reading about that,thanks for reminding me.My plan is to get a home demo soon,before I even bother with it,but I also plan on using it in preamp mode,driving an amp directly.That is how I found the Hugo 2 worked the best,it did not inspire me much just as a DAC between my Core and 272.The digital out from my 272 will go directly into the Dave,then from the Dave I will use RCA cables to feed my Anthem amp,this is how I eventually connected the H2,and loved the results.I did not have the necessary cable on hand to use my 250 DR.

More expensive does not necessarily equate to better. I would suggest that if possible, have a home demo before parting with your hard earned cash. I'd be interested to know whether it works out for you! Try to keep me in the loop: I was also thinking of trading my NDS in for DAVE. It's possible that the circumstances were not conducive to allow DAVE to flourish and reveal 'his' true personality. We may have caught 'him' on a bad day. It's possible that 'he' was not 'himself'. 'He' seemed 'moody' on that day. 

Minh Nguyen posted:
No quarter posted:

I had the Hugo 2 for a month in my system,and my thoughts mirror yours,I hated the small connections,but loved the sound.Now I am looking hard at the Dave.

Hi SongStream: You have my apologies for slightly derailing your thread. ATB Minh

I had a listen to a DAVE/552/Active 500/DBL system and I found it to be rather bright and difficult to appreciate over a long session. If the CDX is affectionately known as the glass cutter, DAVE could be affectionately known as the ear piercer. You may not find it to your liking. On the day of the audition, TonyM (our delightful and gracious host) along with DB, Foot Tapper and JN were 'shielding' ourselves from the carnage. I've never heard a system 'spit' at me to such a degree that I had to cover my ears for protection. The predecessor to DAVE was a delight to listen to in comparison. My response should not be construed as an attempt to discourage you. It's possible that the conditions were not optimal for a fair assessment of the dichotomy. 

That description of Dave does not at all accord with my experience. (What was the source?)

Interestingly, TonyM has more recently reported here that he has tried Dave again and found he likes it.

 

Innocent Bystander posted:
Minh Nguyen posted:
No quarter posted:

I had the Hugo 2 for a month in my system,and my thoughts mirror yours,I hated the small connections,but loved the sound.Now I am looking hard at the Dave.

Hi SongStream: You have my apologies for slightly derailing your thread. ATB Minh

I had a listen to a DAVE/552/Active 500/DBL system and I found it to be rather bright and difficult to appreciate over a long session. If the CDX is affectionately known as the glass cutter, DAVE could be affectionately known as the ear piercer. You may not find it to your liking. On the day of the audition, TonyM (our delightful and gracious host) along with DB, Foot Tapper and JN were 'shielding' ourselves from the carnage. I've never heard a system 'spit' at me to such a degree that I had to cover my ears for protection. The predecessor to DAVE was a delight to listen to in comparison. My response should not be construed as an attempt to discourage you. It's possible that the conditions were not optimal for a fair assessment of the dichotomy. 

That description of Dave does not at all accord with my experience. (What was the source?)

Interestingly, TonyM has more recently reported here that he has tried Dave again and found he likes it.

 

Thank you for updating me. You have my apologies for my prolonged absence: I have not been able to fully catch up on the past three years. It was not my intention to bring DAVE into disrepute. Please forgive my ignorance. 

Hi IB

Minh's description above is an entirely fair and unexaggerated description of what TonyM, Minh, J.N., DB and I all heard when the Chord DAVE was fed by the top Melco solid state server into Tony's system.  I described it as impressive hifi that became downright tiring within 20 minutes.  Substituting the DAVE for Tony's then dac, a QBD76something brought a most welcome return to organic, natural, flowing, lovely music.

Ho hum.

Since then, I have subsequently compared the middle Melco server + DAVE versus a Naim NDS/XPSDR into 552DR/500DR/Wilson Audio speaker system and the Melco+ DAVE sounded considerably more engaging, alive and dynamic, without a trace of harshness.  Tony then decided to give DAVE another try and has ended up buying one. 

Perhaps the one we all tried first time was a bit off?  Who knows but it was nasty.  However, the subsequent auditions with other DAVEs have proven to be very positive.

So there you go, make of it what you will.  Neither Tony, J.N. nor I are anti-DAVE.  Far from it.  It's now our benchmark to beat (providing it's a good one!).

Hope this helps to clarify the apparently conflicting impressions.

Best regards, FT 

Minh Nguyen posted:

Hi SongStream: You have my apologies for slightly derailing your thread. ATB Minh

 

Not a problem, I've pretty much said all I have to say on the topic, go ahead and discuss, knock yourself out.  Not literally, obviously.

I am curious though, that's quite a collection of 'heavy weights' you had there, so did all feel the same way?  It never ceases to amaze me what some like vs my own preferences.  I have no fraim of reference with regard to Dave, I've only ever heard the 2qute and the new Qutest, and both I liked.  Alistair told me when I picked up the Qutest, that someone had demoed the Qutest and Dave, and chose to Qutest, seemingly on VFM logic, but apparently said that the Qutest was over half way to what Dave delivered.  Your perception almost implies that to be a negative.

Foot tapper posted:

Welcome back Minh.  We missed your eloquent and impeccably mannered posts.

Best regards, FT

It is with regret that I was unable to extend my sincere appreciation for all of your informative posts. It was such a pity that the day ended so soon. I would have loved to have been able to have a few more glasses of wine before allowing Tony's system to intoxicate us to the point of inebriation. I'm quietly confident that his system was more that capable of capturing the intensity of a thunderstorm before leaving us in a state of delirium. When it rains it pours. I sometimes need to feel the music to really appreciate the essence. However, it was with regret that I was unable to appreciate the arrangement in its entirety. Tony, we really need your hospitality! I don't mean to be rude but could you choose a day when Mags is not around? I need to hear what you are hearing at a volume I can appreciate. My poor old cloth ears like it loud. Some people may considered it to be a meeting of some of the best musical critics. It was such a pleasure to stand on the shoulder of giants!

Minh Nguyen posted:
Innocent Bystander posted:
Minh Nguyen posted:
No quarter posted:

I had the Hugo 2 for a month in my system,and my thoughts mirror yours,I hated the small connections,but loved the sound.Now I am looking hard at the Dave.

Hi SongStream: You have my apologies for slightly derailing your thread. ATB Minh

I had a listen to a DAVE/552/Active 500/DBL system and I found it to be rather bright and difficult to appreciate over a long session. If the CDX is affectionately known as the glass cutter, DAVE could be affectionately known as the ear piercer. You may not find it to your liking. On the day of the audition, TonyM (our delightful and gracious host) along with DB, Foot Tapper and JN were 'shielding' ourselves from the carnage. I've never heard a system 'spit' at me to such a degree that I had to cover my ears for protection. The predecessor to DAVE was a delight to listen to in comparison. My response should not be construed as an attempt to discourage you. It's possible that the conditions were not optimal for a fair assessment of the dichotomy. 

That description of Dave does not at all accord with my experience. (What was the source?)

Interestingly, TonyM has more recently reported here that he has tried Dave again and found he likes it.

 

Thank you for updating me. You have my apologies for my prolonged absence: I have not been able to fully catch up on the past three years. It was not my intention to bring DAVE into disrepute. Please forgive my ignorance. 

No forgiveness needed - and as FT has noted, your post was not in error, just missing some more recent information.

Bob the Builder posted:
Jude2012 posted:

Good to read this review.  I have been contemplating doing an audition and this has made me decide not to.

I'll carry on enjoying the V1 and see what Naim and Chord bring out.  I'm sure that, like shaving razors around Xmas, Chord will bring out another 'improved' version in 12 to 18 months

What would be more exciting is to see a DAC from Naim that matches the impending Network Streamers in SQ (assuming that the Streamers have better SQ than the DACs).

 

Why would someone elses review make you not want to audition a product you were previously considering? That's like saying I'm not going to try that apple tart because some random guy on a forum said he didn't like the taste of it. 

 

Why bother with a forum, reviews, ads, trade shows , then? 

Jude2012 posted:
Bob the Builder posted:
Jude2012 posted:

Good to read this review.  I have been contemplating doing an audition and this has made me decide not to.

I'll carry on enjoying the V1 and see what Naim and Chord bring out.  I'm sure that, like shaving razors around Xmas, Chord will bring out another 'improved' version in 12 to 18 months

What would be more exciting is to see a DAC from Naim that matches the impending Network Streamers in SQ (assuming that the Streamers have better SQ than the DACs).

 

Why would someone elses review make you not want to audition a product you were previously considering? That's like saying I'm not going to try that apple tart because some random guy on a forum said he didn't like the taste of it. 

 

Why bother with a forum, reviews, ads, trade shows , then? 

Trust your own ears?

Bob the Builder posted:
Jude2012 posted:
Bob the Builder posted:
Jude2012 posted:

Good to read this review.  I have been contemplating doing an audition and this has made me decide not to.

I'll carry on enjoying the V1 and see what Naim and Chord bring out.  I'm sure that, like shaving razors around Xmas, Chord will bring out another 'improved' version in 12 to 18 months

What would be more exciting is to see a DAC from Naim that matches the impending Network Streamers in SQ (assuming that the Streamers have better SQ than the DACs).

 

Why would someone elses review make you not want to audition a product you were previously considering? That's like saying I'm not going to try that apple tart because some random guy on a forum said he didn't like the taste of it. 

 

Why bother with a forum, reviews, ads, trade shows , then? 

Trust your own ears?

I usually do. However, on this occasion, Songstream’s  review is good enough for me, as it is not hyped.

There are so many variables that any review, including my own above, is near enough meaningless. I just wanted to share my thoughts.  It's not advertising, or consumer advice, just my perspective; I literally don't care if anyone else agrees with my assessment, or decides to follow suit.  I might have presented a pretty matter of fact account of the Qutest, but it's just my opinion,  with my electronics, interconnects,, speakers, speaker cable, room, and taste blah etc.  

When I was demoing speakers 6 months ago, a 2qute was used between a laptop and SN2.  I heard the combo sound wonderful, and also chuffing awful. Point is, if you have a system that is delivering well for your own tastes with a DAC-V1, the Qutest is unlikely to be anything other than a marked improvement in my view.  If there are more fundamental issues, such a switch is unlikely to cure them.  In fact, it might emphasize the failings even  more.

Songstream

My advise is, if you buy the chord DAC don’t sell the V1 straight away. After a couple of months using the chord swap in the V1 and decide which you prefer.

I bought a MOjo, ultimately I found it a bit boring, although I must say after I sorted the cables out, with some types of music it sounded superb. I listen to a wide variety of musical genres, and came to the conclusion some pretty old CD players where giving me more musical enjoyment.

 

fatcat posted:

Songstream

My advise is, if you buy the chord DAC don’t sell the V1 straight away. After a couple of months using the chord swap in the V1 and decide which you prefer.

I bought a MOjo, ultimately I found it a bit boring, although I must say after I sorted the cables out, with some types of music it sounded superb. I listen to a wide variety of musical genres, and came to the conclusion some pretty old CD players where giving me more musical enjoyment.

 

I can't sell the V1, it's the only grounded input on my SN2.  The old SN2 gets quite upset if left with the Qutest as the only input, it 'buzzes like a fridge' without it.

fatcat posted:

Songstream

My advise is, if you buy the chord DAC don’t sell the V1 straight away. After a couple of months using the chord swap in the V1 and decide which you prefer.

I bought a MOjo, ultimately I found it a bit boring, although I must say after I sorted the cables out, with some types of music it sounded superb. I listen to a wide variety of musical genres, and came to the conclusion some pretty old CD players where giving me more musical enjoyment.

 

Bear in mind that tge Mojo is the most lowly of the current Chord DACs, well below the top ones - costing a ridiculously low £400 it may be phenominal VFM, but it is only a third the cost of Qutest or the old Hugo1, less than a 1/4 Hugo2 ...and less than the negotiable price drop of Dave.

Nice write up Songstream. I moved from Dac-V1 to Hugo a while back and it was a major upgrade for me in every sense. Without wanting to incite hyperbole, the first track I played on Hugo literally blew my head off with the additional information I could hear. In general though I found Hugo to provide a much more analogue sound (whatever that means!) and a generally easier yet more involving listen with detail and insight in spades. 2Qute didn't hit the spot for me so the idea of the Qutest certainly appeals as I don't need the headphone amp or portability of Hugo. Your review has given me the incentive to at least give it a go at some point

analogmusic posted:

1) Dave is not harsh. 

2) Dave is not the benchmark to beat anymore.

3) Blu2 + Dave - that is possibly the very best digital source on the planet.

I have to agree Analog,I have heard the blu2/Dave combo several times at my local dealers home...never heard digital sound more lifelike/Analog.He just picked up a pair of Dynaudio Contour C20s in walnut,which are replacing Focal Sopra 1s,and I plan to go listen to the Blu2/Dave/Contour combo very soon,and this is when I will pressure him to lend me the Dave for my own home demo.

Mayor West posted:

Nice write up Songstream. I moved from Dac-V1 to Hugo a while back and it was a major upgrade for me in every sense. Without wanting to incite hyperbole, the first track I played on Hugo literally blew my head off with the additional information I could hear. In general though I found Hugo to provide a much more analogue sound (whatever that means!) and a generally easier yet more involving listen with detail and insight in spades. 2Qute didn't hit the spot for me so the idea of the Qutest certainly appeals as I don't need the headphone amp or portability of Hugo. Your review has given me the incentive to at least give it a go at some point

Erm, if it literally blew your head off, the surgeons have done a remarkable job sewing it back on (someone less kind might come to some other conclusion as to where your voice now comes from........

 

Sorry, coundn’t help pick up on your desired avoidance of hyperbole!

I found that the first track of an album always SOUNDED superb with the mojo. But after 3 or 4 tracks I started to lose interest. That's an ideal situation if you like jump from artist to artist. But not if you like to listen to an album from start to finish.

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