Chord Elec­tron­ics Chordette nu­teea AAC

NOVO - - PRODUCTREVIEW - Phil Gold

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

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