Chord Qutest DAC preview

Oh clichés, you wouldn’t be around if you weren’t so true so often and I’m going to start this little preview for what’s just dropped in at AudioStream with a classic cliché.

“Good things do come in small packages…” There, I said it. I feel diminished, but it is true.

Dan George, of Dan George Communications sent me the Chord Electronics Qutest and while it is diminutive in size, as to be expected for a portable DAC, and diminutive in price as well ($1,895 USD) there’s nothing diminutive about its sound. I certainly cannot relate the scale of the sound field, the tonal color, propelling mid-range drive, or gutsy bottom-end punch to its chassis size.

Find the Qutest.

Straight out of the box and being fed a mix of local high-res PCM and DSD along with Tidal™ and Qobuz™ via USB from an Aurender N10, the Qutest seemed to make itself right at home among some much bigger brethren currently calling AudioStream home.

Chord has packed the Qutest with a lot of technology and it just plain works right of the gate, being compatible with OSX, Linux, Windows, Android and iOS devices I could run it from pretty much anything. Chord has crammed in one of their custom FPGA DACs with variable output available upon startup – I chose the 3v option (2v and 1v are also available) because the bass depth was far deeper to my ears. The filter selection button is easy as pie to use and gives me four options:

  • Filter color white Incisive neutral: Designed for all who wish to hear the full spectrum of audio no matter what sample rate, this option has an ultra linear frequency response. For the technically minded this includes a 16FS to 256FS WTA2 filter.
  • Filter color orange Warm: Designed to introduce a little warmth to recordings, this filter will satisfy. This is a 16FS WTA1 filter only.
  • Filter color green Incisive neutral HF roll-off: Designed for purists in mind, who playback high sample rate PCM recordings, this option has an ultra linear frequency response with a high frequency filter past 20kHz to remove HF distortion and noise from these recordings. This includes a 16FS to 256FS WTA2 filter with the HF filter enabled.
  • Filter color red Warm HF roll-off: Designed to introduce a little warmth to recordings, this filter will satisfy and is ideal for high resolution PCM playback. This is a 16FS filter but with a high-frequency roll-off.

Initial listening has me preferring orange, but I’ll let the unit get at least a hundred hours of burn-in on it before I get into critically listening and noodling about with the filters.

The Qutest has USB 2.0, optical and BNC inputs and unbalanced outputs. As I mentioned, I’m using USB-in and to my ears it sounds like guitar power-chords in your friend’s garage after a couple beers: juicy, authoritative and warm without loss of resolution, oh and drive. I keep coming back to that word because the Qutest seems to push you along with whatever is being played, which I must say I have been thoroughly enjoying.

Some specs off Chord’s site that might be of interest to readers are as follows:

  • Materials: Precision machined aluminium casing with polycarbonate  buttons and glass viewing portal. Available in black.
  • Device Power Supply: 5v 2amp Micro USB
  • Connectivity (input): USB Type B (White): 44.1kHz – 768kHz – 16bit – 32bit 2x BNC Coax (Red): 44.1kHz – 384kHz – 16bit – 32bit 1x Dual data mode input (using both BNC coax inputs together): 44.1kHz – 768kHz – 16bit – 32bit Optical (Green): 44.1kHz – 192kHz – 16bit – 24bit
  • Connectivity (output): 1x stereo pair of RCA (Left and Right) PCM support: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz, 358.8kHz, 384kHz, 717.6kHz, and 768kHz.
  • DSD support: Native playback supported. DSD64 (Single) to DSD512 (Octa-DSD).
  • Variable output: Fixed, but selectable between 3v (blue), 2v (green), and 1v (red) via dual press of ‘Filter’ + ‘Input’ upon startup.
  • Driver support: Driverless with Mac OS X and Linux, driver required for Windows OS
  • Digital designer: Rob Watts
  • Mechanical Designer: John Franks
  • Country of manufacture: England

I’ll be writing more on the Qutest with a full review in the near future as everything breaks in and the DAC review queue gets slowly whittled down here.

Chord Electronics Ltd.
The Pumphouse, Farleigh Ln, East Farleigh, Maidstone ME16 9NB, UK
+44 1622 721444

rt66indierock's picture

I'm looking forward to this review. See you at RMAF?

Rafe Arnott's picture
This DAC, without wanting to sound overstuffed with review hyperbole, punches waaaaay above it's weight.

Yes, I'll be there. Look for the sullen, bearded man in high tops.

rt66indierock's picture

I am especially interested in your views on the filter options.

Cool see you there.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Like I said in the preview, I'll start doing some critical listening with the filters once the unit has some more hours on it. Orange for now though.
Papa Zita's picture

Just when I had convinced myself to get a La Voce, along comes this. Grrr.....

Rafe Arnott's picture
The Aqua and the Chord present completely different sonically. If you love the S3, then the Qutest may not be your cup of tea. It always comes down to personal taste. Is there a way to audition both?
Papa Zita's picture

I'm a pensioner with a penchant for house, disco and reggae and although I appreciate the S3 brings much to the table in the mid/bass, I do wish it was a bit more zesty up top to counteract my unavoidable age related upper frequency hearing loss. Qutest with a Hugo scaler seems to getting some people excited.

Everclear's picture

Some times good things come in small packages ...... Size always doesn't matter :-) ........

Rafe Arnott's picture
I totally agree, with you.

Coming from a tubed-amp, tubed-output CD/DAC, tubed-phono stage, etc. and just being a general 'valve' guy for years, I've gotten used to larger enclosures needed to house large transformers, point-to-point wiring or give headroom and cooling space to tubes or pen-cap sized capacitors.

The Qutest is proof that size indeed doesn't matter.

Ali's picture

I have this DAC for almost 6 month. I absolutely like it. I stay with white filter and 2V output. I like it a lot. Resolution, transparency, lack of warmth/cold coloration, sound stage, bass articulation. Everything about this DAC is beyond any criticism. I am very happy it finds its way here and hope to see part 2 ASAP. And I hate part 1 part 2! It likes having four play tonight and orgasm next month! But thanks for review Rafe. anyhow. I am waiting for orgasm coming soon anyhow!

Everclear's picture

I guess we all have to develop lot of "staying power" :-) ...........

Rafe Arnott's picture
You guys crack me up... The Chord will be done as soon as I can get to it after what's scheduled ahead of it. There's an order to the queue :)