Chord Qutest impressions

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Vtory, Jun 2, 2018.

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  1. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Product page: https://chordelectronics.co.uk/product/qutest/

    I couldn’t find many discussions or impressions about this product. So, start a new dedicated thread.

    Heard Hugo 2 several weeks ago, and a bit surprised. Thought all Chord products except Dave sounded like a crap, but H2 didn’t. It sounded rather quite good. But for desktop use only, the price was still unacceptable.

    Very recently heard Qutest. More surprised at its sound quality. It’s still pricey (US MSRP $1,800) but 1) there is room to negotiate; and 2) the current UK price without VAT is roughly $1,300 (very close to Gungnir Multibit).

    Got a chance to carefully compare Qutest with ADI-2 DAC and Gungnir Multibit yesterday. Verified that these three performed in the same league. I believe Gungnir Multibit-level or semi-Gungnir Multibit-level DS alternatives are worth paying attention, due to the inherent advantage of “transportability” (not sensitive to super-long stabilization time). I love my ADI2D also because I can easily bring it to any local meets and auditions.

    Gears used
    • Qutest, ADI-2 DAC, Gungnir Multibit (usb gen 2)
    • Lyr 3 (TS new, high gain)
    • HD800
    • No SW/HW DSPs
    • No USB decrapifiers
    • No LPSU for Qutest/ADI2
    • “SD Slow” filter for ADI2D / “Incisive neutral HF roll-off” filter (green lamp) for Qutest

    Non-sonic thoughts
    • Qutest was very lightweight, even lighter than ADI2.
    • Qutest looks and feels like a "cute" luxury toy - less childish than Hugo 2. I prefer ADI2’s sleeker and more professional looks better though.
    • Qutest must be more transportable than ADI2 because there are various USB external batteries satisfying 5V/2A requirement.

    Major findings (sound-wise)
    1. Gungnir Multibit easily beat the other two in holographic staging and layering. More believable instrument placements. Qutest and ADI2 were flatter by comparison. Among these two, ADI2 was a smidge better in separation while Qutest rendered slightly deeper stage. Note that both Qutest and ADI2 were indeed top-notch among DS implementations.
    2. Clarity and black-groundness went to ADI2, closely followed by Qutest. Gungnir Multibit was relatively grayer.
    3. Resolution was nearly on par. There was no such a “Heard X in Dac 1 but not in Dac 2” thing. However, interested to see details were differently resolved. Gungnir Multibit is doing this in a very natural way. Very smooth sounding but resolving. On the contrary, ADI2 kinda magnifies and exaggerates small details and dynamics so that nuances immediately sounds evident. The analogy between real view and well-taken photo might illustrate this difference. Qutest was in between, but closer to Gungnir Multibit.
    4. Tonality was the warmest with Gungnir Multibit, and the coldest with ADI2 (both neither overly nor annoyingly). Qutest sounded the most neutral.

    IMHO Gungnir Multibit was still an overall winner in this price range, but the other two were also close. I also found my specific combination (Lyr 3 + HD800) favors Qutest over ADI2. If I don’t use rich set of DSP features, I would take Qutest over ADI2 any day. Not a big difference though.

    For anyone who are on the market of Gungnir Multibit or that level dacs, I recommend to include Qutest on your short list.

    PS. Also it’s worth reporting that to my ears, Qutest sounded subtly better and more refined than Hugo 2. Is this because of better usb implementations, less internal power conflicts, or just placebo? I dunno..

    PS2. As Chord claims, Qutest = Hugo 2 - Built-in amp + Galvanic isolation
     
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    Last edited: Jun 2, 2018
  2. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    Gears used
    • DNA Sonett 2
    • Eddie Current BW
    • Eddie Current Super 7
    • Headamp Gilmore Lite mk2 (loaner)
    • Schiit Bifrost Multibit
    I'm in a similar situation, seeking a transportable source. My goal is to have a couple of one box, no fuss, yet still interesting to listen to amplifiers (would quietly like to ruffle a few feathers, and resurrect the Mid-Fi Renaissance that was so strong a few years prior). My concern with Yggdrasil/Gungnir Multibit is these require the additional UPS to transport. Bifrost and Qutest have no transport issues. The amplifiers are all single-ended, so that's a factor too.

    I was on the loaner for the Hugo 2. I enjoyed it, but only through direct headphones. I tried to connect it to a few amplifiers, but could not enjoy the sound through any I owned (i.e. Sonett 2). THIS IS KEY - similar to what you heard. I did not enjoy the Hugo 2 then. I do enjoy the Qutest now. Also I have read that the output topology of the Qutest is more like Mojo, not like Hugo 2. Mojo was another DAC, I could enjoy connected to a few amplifiers. So while the internals are Hugo 2, the output stage is Mojo.

    Though when I compare Qutest to the Bifrost, I still prefer the Bifrost stage. Holding out hope that an analog upgrade is destined for Bifrost. I could hear the Bifrost noise (gray) through the Gilmore Lite. Qutest is cleaner and working well for now.
     
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  3. JWahl

    JWahl Acquaintance

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    I haven't posted in awhile, but since there's few impressions on here, I'll add a few of my observations.

    Background: For a while I was using my Torpedo III with the Mojo, but eventually felt like my Mojo was bottlenecking the amp. Since I couldn't justify having both, I sold the Torpedo III to help fund the Qutest, and auditioned the iFi iCan Micro SE and Massdrop CTH. I have previously owned the Gungnir MB and Yggdrasil, but long enough ago that I am reluctant make detailed direct comparisons between the Qutest and Schiit DACs. All current listening done with sorbothane modded HD-650

    As expected, it's an all around improvement over the Mojo, especially in regard to instrument separation, timbre and bass depth. In rough memory, I still think the Schiit DACs offer better sound value for money, if that is your top concern. I personally like what it is able to accomplish for its size. As much as I love the sound of the Gungnir Multibit and Yggdrasil, they are still fairly large for a compact desk setup, and I'm afraid the Bifrost Multibit or Modi Multibit may be too warm for my tastes. The Gungnir Multibit is about as warm as I'd like to go. Tonality of the Qutest lies more in the direction of the Yggdrasil than Gungnir Multibit, from memory, though without either Schiit's ultimately authoritative bass.

    There is one major Caveat I will add to contrast with the OP. I did most of my listening with an iFi nano iUSB 3.0 feeding the power and USB signal of the Qutest. When I went back to the stock adapter and direct USB, I was very underwhelmed (within the context of the smallish difference in DACs in general). I don't think this is as much because of jitter or whatever, but the filtering of RF noise on both lines. For whatever reason, the Chord DACs seem to be really sensitive to RF line noise relative to other DACs. It was kind of frustrating because that adds another $220 on top of an already pricey DAC. But I will say, with the iUSB, it was worth keeping, whereas without it, it would not have been worth keeping for me. Without the iUSB, the sound/image seems to be more flat and tonality seems a little gray and hazy.

    I liked the combo enough that I'm temporarily going ampless for a few months to meet some short term financial goals and justify keeping the Qutest long term. In a few months, I may go with either a Monoprice Liquid Platinum, or Gilmore Lite Mk. 2 to pair with the Qutest.

    @sheldaze Did you find the Gilmore Lite Mk. 2 and Qutest to be too aggressive or sharp? I'm using HD-650, so I figure it could be an interesting and compact combo.
     
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  4. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    Strangely, I found this setup to enhance the Gilmore Lite. I was initially hearing either some grain or "gray" that I disliked with the Bifrost Multibit gen 5 source. When I switched to Qutest, it went away, and I could more clearly what the Gilmore Lite was capable of.

    I too find it a strange pairing, but I can only write what I heard. It helped eliminate the last bit of what I disliked, and start to hear the sound of the amplifier.
     
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  5. willsw

    willsw Friend

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    @sheldaze Have you tried any other power supplies? I have a Chinese 5V linear that I don't use; I could send it over for an extended loan. I might also have the parts available to throw together a higher-end one.

    I have a weird relationship with the 2qute, as we've discussed, but couldn't deny its positive attributes. I'm also thinking about miniaturizing my home system and the Qutest is appealing.
     
  6. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    @willsw I am not hearing a difference between say using battery to power the Qutest and the provided power supply. However, it stopped working with my Black Widow. That means it is sending DC, according to Craig. I'm still experimenting, which is why I have not posted. I only asked the question (perhaps picked the wrong thread) in the All Purpose Advice thread. On battery, I was able to get in a long listening session. On wall-wart, there is no sound in one of the channels.

    So despite Chord's assertions that the provided wall-wart is sufficient (and I cannot hear a difference) there is a measurable difference. I plan to measure (voltmeter) this weekend.
     
  7. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Acquaintance

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    I remember the Qutest being better than the Gungnir DAC that Dan of Mr. Speakers brought for his Voce and Blue Hawaii SE setup when listening to that particular combination. I didn't ask whether it was the multibit or standard version though.
     
  8. jeeperbge

    jeeperbge Rando

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    Anyone find that they have a preference between the USB vs optical implementation with Qutest? I've been comparing them all wee and I'm still a bit torn. There are aspects of the sound i'm getting from each that I enjoy. USB sounds more dynamic, more depth and instrument separation. Optical is a very smooth, cohesive and slightly warmer presentation, but lacks a little treble energy.

    I haver the iFi iUSB3.0 and i'm trying the Qutest both with and without the iFi in the chain as a filter and/or power source.

    The good news is every way I hook it up it sounds great so far. Just having a thought time determine which is my preference.
     
  9. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    Has anyone compared the sound of the old 2Qute DAC to the new Qutest. Just wondering if I should upgrade my 2Qute.
     
  10. iDesign

    iDesign Almost "Made"

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    The warmer, smother sound you observed via optical is likely because of increased RF from your USB source. What source and USB cable are you using?
     
  11. data.noodle

    data.noodle Acquaintance

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    I've owned the 2qute for years and owned the quetest for about 4 months now, the difference between the two is massive. The 2qute sounds a thinner, brighter and is a bit more smooth / has less texture to the sound. To my ears the qutest is more resolving and clear but may also have less treble extension, while I wouldn't say the qutest sounds compressed I do find more parts of the mix to be noticeable similar to the effect a studio compressor can have. Staging and positional cues don't seem very different to me personally, those have never been strong areas of these DACs in my opinion.

    I may get a ton of dislikes for mentioning this, but the 2qute did sound better (primarly in bass response / attack) with an aftermarket power supply however I couldn't tell a difference with the quetest. The power requirement differences are potentially interesting in this context. Both of these dacs also have a pretty noticeable roll-on/roll-off effect which may bother some people. I've been comparing to the adi-2 and onyx in my setup w/ a hp-1 or zana deux s w/ utopias primary.
     
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    Last edited: Jul 27, 2019
  12. limesoft

    limesoft Facebook Friend

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    I've just received the Qutest, been testing it side by side with Apogee Element 24. If I'm honest I was expecting to be floored by the improvements. I tested it using ifi iUSB 3.0 for power and USB audio, also tried with Chromecast Audio and Element optical out.

    Very very early impressions - no burn in yet:
    The Element sounds a little less "processed", positional cues and reverb tails are easier to hear, there is a feeling of more calmness in the background and I can hear/feel the room where the instruments were recorded better. The tone of the Apogee is a bit warmer/smoother (not necessarily rolled off), but it's not less vivid or exciting than the Chord, just sounds a little more mature and calm in the way it conveys the details to me. Also the mids of the Apogee are pushed more forwards and bit more euphoric.

    The Chord is throwing a wall of details but I'm not convinced it's real... it's almost like it's deconstructing and reconstructing the information, like seeing a very impressive holograph/vr vs the real thing.. the VR can be much more exciting and in your face, but after some time one craves the real world.

    Both DACs are actually very neutral, neither strays significantly towards brightness or warmth, so in this sense they are similar.

    This is of course me being very critical and very early impressions, I will give it more time and maybe the coin will flip, in the meantime I will continue to toot the Element's horn, I'm now convinced the value for money is immense as it's comfortably competing with more expensive popular DACs at 3 X price and it's also an AIO with a good headamp and ADC.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 23, 2021
  13. Baten

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    Sounds like Chord all right ;)
     
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  14. limesoft

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    Using the Qutest as is ( it's own power supply and no usb/digital decrapifiers) the glare is too much, it's too excitable and tiring listen.

    There are things that improve as discussed before - better power or battery, and I started using an iUSB to M2Tech Hiface 2 USB to Coax converter which helps the Qutest calm the f**k down; it gets quite a bit warmer and more analogue sounding, like 20-30%... the hiface 2 almost always brings improvements to the table - love that usb stick.. Obv not so happy that trinkets are needed for listenable improvements to the Chord - the Apogee for example doesn't care what I plug into it or what power is used, I could fart into it's digital input and it would convert it to a 96khz classical concert. When paying this much dosh the power/digital section needs to be rock solid.

    Anyway, lets see if I can get on with it like this... there is material I can work with here I think. But makes me think I maybe should have got the Holo Spring when I had the chance..
     
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  15. limesoft

    limesoft Facebook Friend

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    There's no way around this, the Element is the superior DAC here even it's touch brighter sounding.. As my mistress said during a sanity check - Element is both clearer and easier to listen to. All the instruments are easier to place and have better density, there's clearer space between them, it's almost possible to hear the silence.

    Not sure I want to go down the rabbit hole of power supplies trying to eke out more performance from Qutest, or just ditch it at a loss.. Those nice glowing balls though..

    If the qutest cost half the price it would be comfortable I think.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 25, 2021
  16. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    I had the Cord 2Qute and felt the same way about it. "If the qutest cost half the price it would be comfortable I think."
    I sold mine and bought a Matrix Sabre Pro MQA. A much better DAC for my computer / Tidal system.
     
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  17. limesoft

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    Perhaps the Element is such an exceptional performer my expectations might be unrealistic - to be fair I've never before heard a sabre dac sound so sweet and free of digitus/grain. I never heard Matrix dacs , but I assume they also know their stuff on sabre. I read an interview with one of Apogee's designers - he said it's all about creating the perfect home for the chip and not so much about the chip itself, and they put a massive focus on this; from reclocking to cleaning the digital signals, to power filtering all tailored for the sabre chip, treating it like a king essentially.

    I'm always cautious with Sabre dacs, many implementations can easily screw things up but when the implementation is right it can scale very high, probably higher than AKM.

    Chord did catch me once before when I purchased the Mojo - I was trying to convince myself it's mind blowing but quickly realised an ifi nano idsd for half the price sounded better and more natural. Seems to be the deal - valued about twice the price to, yet they've amassed a large fanatical following.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2021
  18. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    They as a company were and are very successful in the whole ORFAS "High End" marketing/review space. Try to find a "review" in Audiophiledom that is not gushing. I dare you, I double dare you ;)
     
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  19. limesoft

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    I haven't managed to find one. Even reviewers that I kinda respect are gushing over it - I almost started believing maybe I need to train myself to better hear this angelic Chord sound. Perhaps the Qutest is good but the reviewers haven't heard the Apogee which might be the overachiever here..

    Apogee suck at marketing, no one in the audiophilia has heard an Element but I'm willing to put a dollar that if they start advertising their fighter jet overclocking pulse technology (ifi wink wink) and their dual filtered twin rails power supply, with gold crystal audiophile solder, they will do well. I can't help but admire that they don't really care about audiophilia world at all and engaging with it, pro business must be good enough for them - and this is kind of reflected in the sound; top studio producers need to be able to make critical decisions with a very honest but still non fatiguing sound; there's no wiggling out of it with zillion taps and special sauce.

    Oh wait don't Chord have the mScaler thingie for few thousand dollars which oversamples? MAybe I need to buy that to improve the Qutest. :confused:
     
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    Last edited: Jan 25, 2021
  20. gsanger

    gsanger Rando

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    It's a bit of an old thread, but I thought I'd throw some of my thoughts out there on the Chord Qutest. I've been trying to put together a system I can live with the last year and a half, and when I struck on Schiit Multibit, I was very happy - started with a Modi MB, and then bought a Bifrost 2. To me, the Bifrost has a sense of "rightness" that just sucks me in and keeps me listening. Before that, the only DACs I'd earnestly listened to were a Massdrop Grace SDAC and the built-in DAC on a Cambridge Audio CXA60. Because I don't want to become a monolithic shill for Schiit's multibit DACs, and because an opportunity came up to get what it seems a lot of people claim is the "DAC to beat under $2000" - I decided to grab the Qutest and give this D/S DAC a chance to broaden my horizons.

    All listening was done on a stereo system, consisting of a Schiit Freya+, Decware Zen SE84UFO and Klipsch RB-61 speakers. I was able to directly compare the Qutest to the Bifrost 2 and the SDAC. Any comparisons to the Modi MB or CXA60 built-in DAC are based off memory. The Qutest and Bifrost were only fed a S/PDIF signal from an Allo Digione, while the SDAC was fed and powered via USB. Qutest was with the stock power supply.

    As for the Qutest, the biggest thing that jumps out at me is its intensity in the upper frequency range. I don't want to say it's bright, because I don't think it's just ramping up the high frequencies, but there is definitely an excessive amount of information in this range, that makes elements stand out. Cymbals on drums in particular - if the cymbals are poorly recorded, or mangled in the mixing/mastering of a track, the Qutest will absolutely let you know. Any auxiliary percussion with high frequency content also stands out like a sore thumb. It's almost as if the Qutest is Christopher Walken demanding, not just more cowbell, but more castanets, more guiro, more glockenspiel, and absolutely, 100% more cymbals!

    All that emphasis in the upper range does give vocals a particularly alluring quality, though, almost as if imparting a "high quality studio recording" feeling to all vocals. It can be fun at first, but eventually gets a bit tiring. In contrast, the Bifrost makes vocals sound more "present, in the flesh" that is easier to listen to for a long time. Between the two, it's almost as if the Qutest is like listening a band playing in studio - you're in the control room and there's a wall and glass between you and the performers. It sounds good, but not lifelike. The Bifrost, on the other hand, is like listening to your favorite band in a real live venue - a bit less refined and elevated, but more real, like some drunk guy next to you might drunkenly spill his beer on you at any moment.

    Reverb (natural or artificial) also seems to get lost with the Qutest. The built-in DAC in the CXA60 did this, too. Unless reverb is tails exist in some wide open space between notes, the Qutest just kinda swallows it, and the ends of reverb tails feel truncated. The Bifost is the best of this bunch at rendering spatial ques, and the SDAC actually surprised me as being similarly competent. Not the Qutest, though. That's perhaps my biggest complaint about this DAC is that it makes everything feel closer to you, without a natural sense of space (again, creating that "in a studio sterile" sensation).

    In a similar vein, the Qutest also struggles with busy and complex music, especially big rock'n'roll tracks with lots of distortion and such. Separation between instruments starts to weaken, and the whole presentation starts to sound more like sonic soup, with everything blending together (not in a musical way of blending, like when artists listen to those around them, and know when to take a moment to shive vs. when to step back and support those around them, but in more of a mushy "here's everything all happening at once" kind of way.) The Bifrost, by contrast, is really able to keep each instrument separate, no matter how busy a mix gets, and in a way, this feels more honest to the intent of the musicians. The SDAC surprised again, and seemed to hold its own when songs get busy. To the Qutest's credit, it seemed to do just fine with lighter mixes and smaller groups, it's just once the mix gets big and busy that the Qutest kind of falls apart.

    When it comes to transients, the Qutest feels like it hits just a bit softer than the Bifrost and SDAC, but was much better than the CXA60s built-in DAC in this regard. Drum hits (snare, kick toms, etc) are reasonably punchy on the Qutest, but hit just ever-so-slightly harder on the Bifrost and the SDAC.

    To give the Qutest credit, it does present a smoother sound than the Bifrost. With the Bifrost, there is just a touch of grain to its sound that isn't there with the Qutest. While this is kind of enjoyable with the right kind of music, especially anything laid back or relaxed, it can rob the energy from a more aggressive mixes.

    So, all that to say, the Qutest is not for me. I listen to a lot of rock and metal, and the Qutest just makes everything sound like a lugubrious mush, and the elevated detail in the high frequencies really does my Klipsch speakers no favors. I could see the Qutest working for someone who prefers more relaxed styles of music with stripped down instrumentation, and has a warmer system.

    Other than the elements I mentioned here, the Qutest seems to be a competent DAC, but it never really stood out as being better than any of the other DACs (except the built-in CXA60 DAC. I really didn't like that one.) in any particular way, and for the price, I don't think I would ever recommend it.

    So, while I set out to try and challenge my perceptions of D/S dacs based on some cheap ones, the Qutest did not change my preference for Schiit Multibit DACs. Surprisingly, though, I found the SDAC to be rather enjoyable. I had never actually put it into a decent system (it's been my desktop DAC for almost as long as I've had it), but I could easily listen to it for hours, while, with the Qutest, I couldn't listen to it for more than five minutes before I wanted to change the DAC.
     
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