The Chord QuteHD DSD is one of the very few DSD compatible DACs available. It uses the new standard known as “DoP” or DSD over PCM announced last year by the likes of dCS. This carries the DSD signal over a 176Khz PCM connection and includes tags to inform the DAC to treat the stream as DSD not PCM.
As I have a large collection of DSF filess, I was intrigued to find out if the sound was better than with a PCM conversion to 176Khz. I also wanted to compare it with the similarly priced Young M2 DAC that I have owned for well over a year, and can play resolutions up to 384Khz including DXD at 352Khz. The Young can be fed a 352Khz file from Audirvana, converted on the fly from the DSF.
Playing DSF files, the story so far…
For reference I have a Sony SCD XA9000es SACD player. When I play SACDs on this it comfortably out performs the Young M2 playing 352Khz form DSF or 176Khz WAV PCM conversions from Audiogate. Interestingly, the 176Khz WAVs sound better then the on-the-fly conversions to PCM from Audirvana.
So sound quality results
1. Sony SCD XA9000es SACD player
2. 176Khz WAVs converted from DSF by Audiogate
3. 352Khz on the fly conversion by Audirvana of the DSF file
Note that Audiogate’s max sample rate is 192Khz but 176Khz is an equal multiple of the SACD sampling frequency of 2.8Mhz so 176Khz is optimum.
The Sony sounds natural and spacious, with a larger soundstage, voices are realistic with controlled sibilants – like real music in fact. Both of the DAC performances were characterised by “digital” harshness, excess sibilants “edgy” and not very relaxing sound. In fact I had been experimenting with the DAC for several hours, when I switched to the Sony and breathed a sigh of relief – WOW I thought, this is what music should sound like! And of course the Sony plays surround!
The Sony, uses DSD to analogue conversion with no PCM decimization steps involved at all. When playing DSD recorded material it sounds wonderful! However it is 9 years old now, so I am interested to see if a computer – DAC can outperform it. However, so far I haven’t heard a computer DAC combination that does.
Another reference point is my MacBook Pro sound card. When I compare DSD played with “on-th-fly” conversion to 96Khz PCM in software to pre-converted 88Khz WAVs and listen through the headphones, the WAVs always sound better.
The Chord Comparison
Comparing Young M2 at 352khz with Chord at playing DSD direct, required a very short test. The Chord was far more natural, analogue like, real sound with fatter bass lines, improved clarity and less vocal sibilants.
So now to compare DSD to PCM on the Chord. I used DSD recorded material eg. from Telarc and some PCM recordings too.
In all cases I preferred the Chord with DSD over PCM (which Audirvana supports). I found this mode sounded more realistic and natural without any of that compressed edginess that PCM produces. The PCM sounds like a “posh CD” – the DSD sounds like a vinyl record (only with greater S/N and more clarity).
I was unable to compare Sony SACD player to Chord on this occasion as I carried out Chord DAC tests in a shop, Swiss Cottage Sound and Vision in London.
- QuteHD DSD rear connections
- You may have noticed that there have been some cost cutting measures to get the Qute down to a £990 price point. It has no switches at all! No remote switching and no balanced outputs., and no display of sampling frequency – the porthole lows different colours instead. The second is forgivable at this price, but the lack of any way of switching inputs could cause some problems.
- According to the manual, the Chord switches automatically t the active input, but if you have a PVR connected over optical, and your computer via USB and your PVR is recording a programme – so the optical input is active, how does it switch to the computer?
- A highly specialised niche product with a rather idiosyncratic user interface with great sound in comparison to it’s peers. I hope this points the way forward for other DAC and streamer manufacturers to incorporate DSF file playback. Personally I am waiting for more choice to be available, and of course what I’d really like is a multichannel DAC.
- The August edition of HiFi News tests the Chord, and does not come to the same conclusion as I did with regard to the DSD playback. However I notice that they played only PCM derived content and not DSD recorded material as a test, which in my mind completely invalidates their conclusion. He did state that the SPDIF input sounded better (using a firewire to SPDIF interface) than the USB, and I am not able to comment on this aspect.