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Chord Electronics Qute EX Review

chord electronics qute ex review

TL;DR:

Chord Electronics Qute EX Review. The Qute EX is a beautiful audiophile desktop Hi Fi DAC in the Chordette range. Capable of DSD playback the aluminium clad EX provides astonishing sound quality at a brilliant price.


Review Preface:

Regardless of Chord’s astonishing reputation, in the Professional Audio realm it is exceptionally uncommon to witness a main highflying ‘typical’ Hi-Fi manufacturer, of even the highest regard, to enter the ‘fray’. In fact if, for the moment, we forget the popularity of the resurgence ‘intentional’ harmonic distortion devices and focus on signal purity or transmission, we all know that the digital end of Pro Audio is fraught with never ending hoop jumping.


In any studio with a sensible engineer, more times than not, these trained audiophiliacs will find themselves battling to preserve a neutral linear-response throughout the signal path. The reason for this is that this path can make or break all the records that pass in and out of the doors. A clean signal empowers the musical director to 'musically' sculpt a record that can cross an infinite number of boundaries without hindrance. Oh, and it saves a hell of a lot of time.


Often online, in discussions, and occasionally in print, we see the rhetorical hawking of ill-advised individuals who seem to think that having this same audiophile ideal in a domestic setting is an act of snobbery. So, why all this sidetracked detail? Because purity is everything, and the product that we shall be discussing is so exceptional that I would like to brand it as the perfect porthole between Pro Audio and domestic Hi-Fi music consumption. Actually, the Qute EX makes no distinguishable boundaries between the studio and the consumer. It is a perfect product for the same use in both worlds, as here there is no distinction.


Building upon the success of the multi-award winning original Qute, the EX version is on steroids. It is a DAC that employs the very latest Asynchronous QDB Pulse Array technology designed by Robert Watts to playback staggering 32Bit audio up to 384KHz via USB, Optical, or Coax inputs. It is a unit that perfectly pairs with their brilliant Toucan headphone amplifier and, for the purpose of this review, this is exactly what we have connected along with an Chord Cable Company Signature Tuned ARAY RCA, AudioQuest Forrest USB, connected to a Apple Mac playing our secret lossless review playlist with Sonic Studio’s Amarra. Professional audio conclusions have been confirmed with Pro Tools 9.


Unboxing:

As with the entire Chord Electronics Chordette range, the Qute EX is boxed small. It comes with a driver CD for versions of Windows from XP upward, and Mac OSX 10.4 onwards. It is securely held within the package by cardboard spacers and comes equipped with a branded PowerPax UK 12v regulated power supply. This packaging appears economical, and unfortunately is tricky to reuse. During the review process we have taken the Qute EX out of the packaging a few times and its structure has been rendered to a floppy mess. Fortunately for most users it is unlikely that you will end up fiddling around like we have, and if so you may have already considered Chord's Chordette carry systems.


Build Quality:

Being part of the Chordette range, the Qute EX shares an identical form factor to that of its sisters. If you are lucky enough to have numerous Chordette components, or are looking to start a collection, Chord Electronics have created an excusive carry case for situations such as this, and the Qute EX is more than welcome to become one. However, for all intents and purposes, the exact dimensions of the unit is 6 1/4” in length, 3” in width, and stands 1 ¾” tall.


With only the engraved Chordette engraved signature on a curvy brushed aluminum outer, from afar the Qute EX case design appears to be 'unmistakably' minimalist, yet, as you verge closer, this simple and elegant design comes into its own with an internally lit spherical 1 ½” crystal looking glass. This inclusion is no add-on party trick. Its glowing aesthetical wonder invites the user in to gaze into an previously unfamiliar void and, on an technological scale, connect them with the individual components that inject such deep musical enjoyment into their lives. For us here at The Pro Audio Web Blog we have a hard time not admiring this bold maneuver, it is feels so practical and enjoyable to stare into. Perhaps this novelty will wear off, but it is guaranteed to set the mind afloat with awe during use.


On the rear of this unit, the analogue and coax connectors are 24ct gold plated and are very well seated. There is no wobbling around here, and likewise the optical input is of a very good quality. It has a firm solid weight that holds its composure even when the most substantial RCA or USB is connected. Our final notes are that with it being expertly engineered and outstanding in quality, we hold the Qute EX in the highest regard.


Sound Quality:

Without any need for introduction, the immediate capabilities of Qute EX are stunning and plain to hear. Although it may seem early to say, the Qute EX really is an exemplary DAC. Regardless of sample rate, it exudes a gentle buttery rich vibe that extends down from the lowest lows and right up to the highest highs. Similarly it boasts an excellent transient response that crisp, elegant, and surprisingly crystal that it allows the music to breathe. Even when there is momentary silence the Qute EX does not forget those delicate nuances that were naturally created during the recording, you will hear those beautiful secret sounds, and the wonderful gentleness in which the Qute EX handles such events is exclusive and absolutely free from crunchy crispy distortion. We have found it to hold a very good composure during the playback of classical recordings, where it is guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of your neck by transmitting an lifelike quality.


Throughout the frequency bands the Qute Ex holds its composure. There is no audible evidence to suggest that any frequencies are inflated, especially the bass and treble. Neither does it perform particularly like a typical Hi-Fi unit in terms of delivery. The Qute EX simply has no intention of coloring the audio with warmth or sterility and, on the whole, behaves like a very good mastering grade DAC. If we refer back to our preface, in our books it is clear that in our books this is a great composure to hold. This should not suggest that the Qute EX is not fun, it has bags of the stuff in its raw state, you jut wont get overblown baselines unless you partner it with specific headphone amps. Either way using this DAC will grant you superior versatility to tune your system to what sounds best for your ears or purpose. Furthermore, it is important to highlight the seemingly magical way in which the Qute EX crafts a sense of depth, it is seriously precise. The moment that you place those headphones on your head, or turn those speakers on, you will experience an three dimensional environment in exactly the way that the artist intended. I know that that phrase has been overused in advertising, and for this reason I decided to use my own mix sessions to judge the Qute EX by. First of all, in every single instance, the Qute EX translated my mixes well, and secondly, the environment that I knew that I created (either to sound like the recording was in a concert hall, tight space, and tons of other environments) immediately came across. This is a massive compliment to the EX. It proved to me that it was better at creating a realistic space, that sounded in no way artificial, and was as close as you could get to being in the room with the musicians. To simplify this experience we can just say that there is no thrown frequencies to the far left or right, and equally that the sound did not sound as if it was glued to your head. It is so close to perfect that if you shut your eyes you would be there in the room. There is no digital vibe to it!


Having lasted several hours of critical listening at a time, the Qute EX has been a remarkable device that has not brought on premature listening fatigue. Even after extended mastering or mix sessions, during the crucial intermediary breaks that we religiously took; we always found that coming back to this device was a joy. Certainly, the Qute EX was the critical link in our production chain that didn't mask the work that was being done by our hands; particularly notable when applying EQ because it represented it well, and due to the dynamic nature of this unit compression, in even the smaller ratios, was audible. On a practical level I cannot recommend this device for use during recording as it is not trying to be an audio interface, but in other critical areas I can see that this little wonder can and will act as a critical component.


Review Conclusion:

Overall I would like to say that the Qute EX has finesse. However, for all the right reasons, pigeon holing the sheer dynamic prowess of this beauty and the beast is not in any way fitting. I have been lucky enough to use this unit for quite some time now... As I have said previously, the Qute EX has both beauty and brains. Its build quality is solid. Its performance was mind-blowing. It’s the best DAC that I have encountered (yet)... and, yes it has been awarded with a full five stars. The punch line? We deliver this DAC to you with our highest accolade; the Editors Choice Award. Outstanding.


Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 14th January 2014

US RRP: $1795.00 | UK RRP: £1195.00

Editors Rating:

Five Star Award
Chord Electronics Qute EX
5/5 stars
Chord Electronics Qute EX Review. The Qute EX is a beautiful audiophile desktop Hi Fi DAC in the Chordette range. Capable of DSD playback the aluminium clad EX provides astonishing sound quality at a brilliant price.
Outstanding Award - The Pro Audio Web Blog Editors Choice Award - The Pro Audio Web Blog