Chord Qutest £1195

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Awards 2018 -

Chord claims that its lat­est and most af­ford­able mains-pow­ered DAC is the ‘world’s most ad­vanced’, and as it stands here as our DAC Prod­uct of the Year, it’s hard to ar­gue with that state­ment.

The Qutest’s name seems a nat­u­ral one for a suc­ces­sor to the ex­cel­lent 2Qute (which won the Award at this price point in 2015, 2016 and 2017), and it jus­ti­fies it. That’s not wholly sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing it’s largely based on an­other 2018 Award win­ner, the Hugo 2.

It uses the same DAC ar­chi­tec­ture, soft­ware cod­ing and fre­quency-shap­ing fil­ters, but ditches the head­phone am­pli­fier and recharge­able Li-on bat­ter­ies that make the Hugo 2 por­ta­ble.

The Qutest’s sole pur­pose is to be the dig­i­tal-to-ana­logue bridge be­tween your dig­i­tal source and am­pli­fier, and is no more lack­ing in ei­ther fea­tures or per­for­mance than a Swiss Army knife.

The jour­ney from the 2Qute to Qutest hasn’t al­tered the over­all sonic char­ac­ter, which is crisp, clean, con­cise – not to men­tion ex­plic­itly de­tailed. In 2015 we com­pli­mented the 2Qute for its “al­most ef­fort­lessly co­he­sive and mu­si­cal sound”, and thank­fully those qual­i­ties haven’t been lost in tran­si­tion.

But the Qutest of­fers more res­o­lu­tion here, and its pre­sen­ta­tion is slightly big­ger and more spa­cious too, giv­ing mu­si­cal el­e­ments greater scope to evolve with­out bump­ing into each other.

Dy­namic ex­cel­lence

We play Peter Brod­er­ick’s Eyes Closed And Trav­el­ing, and there’s a new dy­namic fa­cil­ity to our sys­tem. The pi­ano piece is an ex­hi­bi­tion of Brod­er­ick’s abil­ity to shift from del­i­cate to dev­as­tat­ing within a few strikes of the keys, and the Qutest faith­fully con­veys the un­du­lat­ing dy­nam­ics, clock­ing the sud­den surges as well as the sub­tler sim­mer­ings.

Notes have crisper lead­ing edges, carry warmth and tex­ture in abun­dance, and never de­cay pre­ma­turely – even when forth­com­ing notes tum­ble over the top.

Tim­ing is that bit tighter too, which helps the Qutest sniff out a rhyth­mic struc­ture when one comes its way, no mat­ter what the genre. It’s as happy rock­ing out to tu­mul­tuous tunes as it is rolling with clas­si­cal com­po­si­tions.

The Qutest is very Chord-like with its colour-de­not­ing but­tons, which glow white for USB Type-b (ca­pa­ble of ac­cept­ing 32-bit/768khz PCM/DSD512); yel­low for the first BNC coax­ial and red for the sec­ond (24-bit/384khz); green for the op­ti­cal (24-bit/192khz/dsd64).

The two coax­ial in­puts can also be used in dual-data mode, al­low­ing the Qutest to han­dle (up­sam­pled) 768khz files from Chord’s Blu Mk2 CD trans­port.

Which­ever in­put path you choose, the out­put is through a pair of RCAS. Chord an­tic­i­pates the Qutest be­ing paired with a wide range of pre-am­pli­fi­ca­tion, so has made the out­put stage vari­able – you can se­lect 1V (red), 2V (green) or 3V (blue).

Chord con­tin­ues to light up the premium mar­ket for DACS, and the Qutest is the proof. It’s the prod­uct that lesser ri­vals look up to at this price mark – and our favourite of the year.

An­other in the length­en­ing line of trans­for­ma­tive, re­al­is­ti­cally priced DACS from Chord

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