Chord Electronics Chordette nuteea AAC
England’s Chord Electronics is one of those few firms that travels its own path, completely ignoring conventional wisdom. Among its many innovations are high frequency switching power supplies, MOSFET transistors made exclusively for Chord Electronics by a UK semiconductor manufacturer, staggeringly original casework which includes glass portholes to view the exquisite circuit layout and unique digital filtering and digital to analog conversion technology. You won’t find this company buying in the latest commercial DAC chipsets like most of its competitors. You might think all this would come at a price, and you’d be right. In 2009 I had the gorgeous Chord QBD76 DAC in for an extended audition and found it to be an extraordinary piece of work. It listed for $6,495 US and I felt it offered strong value for money at that price. Today the latest version of that unit, the QB76 HDSD has traded in the Bluetooth option in favour of DSD and other hi-res streaming through its USB port, making it even more desirable albeit at a significantly increased price.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could bring us something that sounds exactly the same but costs a small fraction of the price, say $1,795. Ideally it would retain the stunning looks and that signature porthole. Is it possible? Probably not, but I’m here to tell you, you’ll need to work extremely hard to tell the new QuteHD DAC from its big brother sonically. There are differences, but so slight they are almost immaterial. And the looks are still impressive, if not quite the same high zoot level. How has Chord done this?
The QuteHD is based on the same architecture as the QBD76 HDSD. At the core is a Xilinx Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chip that allows Chord to configure the hardware architecture within the chip, making updates and design changes easy. This chip handles the digital receivers for each input, input switching, clocking, Isochronous USB timing and digital Phase Lock Looping (PLL), WTA interpolation filtering (a Chord exclusive), DSD over USB support and the proprietary Pulse Array DAC. A separate FPGA chip handles asynchronous USB communication and isolates the DAC clocks from the computer. Each sample rate clock is generated discretely using highly accurate crystal oscillators for optimum performance and ultra-low jitter performance. As the signal frequency changes, different coloured LEDs light up the interior, visible through the porthole.
The two models differ in the number of inputs (down from 7 to 3), and the QuteHD lacks balanced analog outputs and provision for user selectable RAM buffering or phase selection. Some items are simplified, such as the use of a single outboard power supply instead of separate power supply stages for each section of the unit. The QBD76 HDSD has its output constructed from 32 stages compared to just 8 in the QuteHD and big brother’s conversion stage implements a far more complex algorithm with a longer tap length. The new chassis is also smaller and less rigid, while all controls have been replaced by automatic selection algorithms.
Like all the products in the Chordette line and unlike almost every other DAC out there, the QuteHD can be partnered by a matching rack or carry case, along with a range of similarly packaged components.
The serious reviewer accumulates some tricks of the trade to enable him to differentiate between closely matched components. He will have multiple sets of matched power cords, interconnects and speaker cables for example, and multiple copies of the same excellent recordings, often repeated again in multiple formats. An amplifier with a digitally calibrated volume control (in dB) and holding separate settings for each input is a huge advantage. Multiple unbalanced inputs are often available, but how many listeners have access to more than one set of balanced inputs on our amplifiers? You also need an accurate sound pressure meter such as the excellent ATI SLM-100 and a test disc such as the Nordost System Setup and Tuning Disc. You also need extremely well-resolving, wide-bandwidth components across the board and a vast repertoire of music from small scale to