Chord QBD76 DAC

The Chord company has always been well-known for highly advanced aesthetic design in addition to advanced circuitry, and their QBD76 is no different.  A small but densely packed box with a unique shape, one of the QBD76’s claims to fame is the myriad of inputs it puts at your disposal.  While it features a pair of coax SPDIF inputs and a pair of Toslink optical inputs, there is also a USB input and a pair of balanced AES inputs (so that you can use the QBD76 in Dual Data mode).  But perhaps the most intriguing feature of the QBD76 is its Bluetooth input – that antenna you see is not for a wifi connection.  It allows your smart phone to transmit its digital music stream straight to your system.

This diminutive DAC feels even heavier than its 15.5 pound (7kg) weight spec would suggest.  Made from a solid billet of aluminum, the QBD76 has the same high level of quality that all Chord products share.  It is available in a standard polished silver finish, black anodized and a “brilliant” finish as an extra-cost option.  Described on the Chord website as “Audiophile jewelry for the home,” this finish looks as if the DAC has been chrome plated.  Very attractive, if that’s your thing, but also very susceptible to fingerprints.  MSRP on a standard finish QBD76 is $6,295.

Chord, of course, claims that this is “the World’s most technically advanced DAC,”  pointing to their use of field-programmable gate arrays (as does dCS) to perform the digital processing via software and much higher processing power than a standard, off-the-shelf DAC chipset would provide. This is a great approach because as digital technology upgrades, the processor will only need a software upgrade, making it ultimately less prone to becoming outdated.  They also claim that this is the only DAC to offer eighth-order noise shaping, resulting in better dynamics and 2,608 times oversampling and digital filtering.


On a few levels, this piece of gear is almost too Zen for its own good, and as is typical with way too much expensive HiFi gear these days, the instruction manual is equally cryptic. I thought my dCS stack was a bit tough to get around with the small type on the front panel, but at least it has a large LCD panel on each of its four boxes.  This is not a piece of gear that you will be able to operate right out of the box without first reading the the manual.

Looking directly overhead at the top panel, there is a large, round window that lets you peer inside the QBD76, which has a very cool, blue glow.  There is another, smaller round window that lets you see the various functions as you choose them with the unmarked buttons.  Should you be the type of user who plugs in a source or two and forgets about it, you will get over these minor quirks easily.

The sheer number of digital inputs is a nice touch because as more audiophiles gravitate towards computer playback of some kind, the DAC is rapidly becoming the central hub of their system, much as the preamplifier used to be.  Also impressive is the QBD76’s ability to drive two systems, one through the XLR outputs and one through the RCA’s, so  you could use it as a source for two systems without issue.

All of the inputs automatically sense the bit depth and sample rate of the incoming signal and adjust accordingly.  There is no option to bypass the oversamping and just play the digital signal in its native form, so this may be somewhat off putting to some digital purists.

I made it a point to run the QBD76 through its paces with everything from my dCS Paganini transport all the way down to my iPhone and aging Denon 3910 universal player to get a feel for its performance with a wide range of digital sources.  At least half of my listening was done with the Sooloos and Naim music servers, with a variety of files from 16/44 all the way up to 24/196.  While on loan from dCS, I also made it a point to play some 24/192 files with the dual-channel configuration.  As with my reference Paganini, this provided the most lifelike digital reproduction.

Though I am not usually prone to much tweaky system tuning with cables, etc., the QBD responded more to this treatment than any other piece of digital hardware I’ve used in recent memory.  This one definitely responded to power conditioning and a good power cord, so consider at least upgrading the stock cord on this unit and you will be rewarded. Though I used Shunyata’s Python CX power cord for most of my listening, even upgrading the stock power cord to their $125 Venom 3 made a very worthwhile improvement in HF smoothness and timing.

A highly resolving component

Massive processing horsepower under the hood certainly made for an impressive amount of data retrieval.  Having quite a wide range of digital hardware at my disposal, I was instantly impressed at this aspect of the Chord’s performance.  If I were going to make an initial comparison to the analog world, the Naim CD 555 is more like a Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, the dCS Paganini like a Dynavector XV-1s and the Chord like a Clearaudio DaVinci.

Especially when listening to high-resolution source files, I was intrigued with the tiny nuances available from the Chord, and I would highly suggest investigating the buffer options; I felt the maximum buffer made for the smoothest sound, but your mileage may vary.  “Still…You Turn Me On” from Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery had a degree of texture in the low bass that I’ve never heard in my system to this extent.   I noticed that extra bit of bass texture in a few of my favorite Naim 24/96 downloads and the Mickey Hart Planet Drum and At The Edge CDs.  Again, making a quick comparison with the analog world, the Chord DAC’s bass characteristic reminded me of the Continuum Criterion we reviewed in 2008; there was a level of texture in the bass response that was simply stunning.

In terms of comparing the Chord to a few of the world’s top digital players (all costing considerably more than the QBD76, but if you are going to claim you make the best box, it’s fair game to compare with the big boys), it still falls short in terms of the ultimate weight possessed by the top players from Naim, Wadia and dCS that I had on hand.  Think of the QBD76 as a hyper performance 600cc sport bike, not a 1-liter bike.  An experienced rider can get it around the track almost as fast as the big bikes, but you’re working the bike 100 percent all the time.  Listening to full-scale orchestral pieces from Mahler and Shostakovich, I was able to hear well into the hall and get a great read on its acoustics, but the big crescendos left me wanting a little more. But again to quantify more accurately, my GamuT S9’s are solid down to 17 hz.

In all fairness to the Chord, if I were merely comparing the WBD76 with other examples I’ve heard in the equivalent price range, it would be tops in class. But when compared with the five-figure players, I knew there was more “oomph” to be had.

The double edged sword of high resolution

The other aspect of the Chord’s performance that will either be a perfect fit or the straw that breaks the camel’s back is its ultimate tonality combined with all that resolution. I’ve been accused of liking a tonal balance that’s slightly on the warm side of neutral, so any potential buyer should take this into consideration when reading my evaluations.  Even in my second system, which currently consists of a vacuum-tube version of the McIntosh MC500 preamplifier and the MC1.2k power amplifiers, I still always felt like I was listening to a digital source.

Though I found the Chord visceral and exciting with excellent pace, in my reference system, I could never relax and forget that I was listening to digital, as I have been able to with a few other top players.  I didn’t really see this as a negative for the QBD76, as I’ve never experienced this level of playback in any digital player below the $12k range, so it was not a disappointment.

Where I did find the Chord to be a perfect match was when I swapped the solid-state MC1.2kw’s for the vacuum-tube MC275 power amplifier in my third system, which consists of all vintage CJ gear, and it definitely voiced on the warm side of the fence and actually somewhat romantic and lush, if  you will.  Where a lot of other digital players sounded veiled and grainy, the Chord was a nice match, with the extra helping of resolution a solid plus.  Two of my other staff reviewers who are predisposed to liking a bit more detail in their presentation were absolutely smitten by the QBD76.  One of them regularly referred to my Naim CD555 as “dark,” so the beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

Other features

I must admit that being able to mate my iPhone to my HiFi system without any wires and let my friends do the same is very cool, so the Bluetooth access of the QBD76 was very useful.  This feature is by far the perfect ice breaker at a party because friends always want to hear their own music when they drop by.  I would love to see this functionality in everyone’s HiFi system.

As I mentioned earlier, the multiple inputs on this DAC make it extremely easy to use the QBD76 as a digital hub and for comparing multiple sources.  Near the end of the review, I had one computer connected via USB, one via Toslink and two transports connected to the SPDIF inputs.  Those who have a modestly priced CD player will be instantly impressed at how much more performance they can get from their system should they not want to abandon physical media right away.  I was having a ton of fun using a Rega Planet CD player and a Mac Mini running Amarra through the QBD76.


As with any component at this price point, I would suggest a demo in your system to make sure the tonality is synergistic with your system.  Warm and romantic it isn’t, but it isn’t harsh or grainy either.  The Chord QBD76 will not embellish the more raggedy-sounding discs in your collection, but it will reveal some pleasant surprises in your best recordings.  Highly recommended.

The Chord QBD76 DAC

MSRP:  $6,295


North American Distributor:


Preamplifiers Burmester 011    McIntosh C500    Conrad Johnson ET3SE
Power Amplifiers Burmester 911 mk. 3    McIntosh MC275    McIntosh MC1.2kw Monoblocks   Conrad Johnson MV50-C1    Octave ME130 monoblocks
Speakers GamuT S9    MartinLogan CLX    Estelon EX    Harbeth Monitor 40.1    B&W 805D (w/Gotham Subwoofer)
Cable Shunyata Aurora I/C    Shunyata Stratos SP speaker cable    Cardas Clear I/C and speaker cable    Audioquest Wild Blue Yonder I/C and speaker cable
Power Running Springs Dmitri and Maxim PLC’s    RSA and Shunyata power cords

Chord Electronics Chordette QuteHD DAC

“Open the pod bay door, Hal.” As I unbox the Chord Chordette QuteHD DAC, I cannot help but recall that famous quote from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The Cordette is indeed reminiscent of the HAL 9000 computer from the movie, complete with a large, round eye, which offers a view into the internal circuitry.  This window emits a variety of colors from the device’s internal LEDs, and the red glow, which appears when the DAC is converting a 44.1-kHz signal, is eerily HAL-like.  Other colors appear at higher bitrate conversions, and the Chordette is capable of handling a whopping 32-bit/384-kHz signal.


The Chordette measures only 6 inches wide, 3 inches deep and 1.75 inches tall, which allows placement on a shelf or next to an existing piece of equipment on your audio rack.  The anodized aluminum exterior has nicely rounded edges and is available in a variety of colors, including blue, black, and silver.  The DAC’s power arrives from a thin-wired wall wart.  For those seeking a minimalist audio solution, the Chordette provides a welcome form factor.

“It can only be attributable to human error.”

Setup proves very straightforward, with the Chordette offering one option for the analog output: a stereo pair of single-ended RCAs.  Users do have the option to connect it to digital sources via USB, optical or coaxial inputs.  It’s important to note that the coax input is in the form of a BNC connector, not the more common RCA variety, so those wishing to connect a source using this input will need the appropriate cable.  BNC connectors are great for their ability to transfer a signal and physically lock onto their receptacles, but I’d like the option to connect both types of coax inputs.  Luckily, I have a Stereovox XV2 digital cable on hand that offers BNC on one end and RCA coax on the other.

Installing the Chordette is simple and seamless, with the packaged CD containing drivers for the USB setup.  Once I place the disc in my PC, connect the USB cable and power up the Chordette, Windows 7 has no problems recognizing the DAC and activating the needed drivers.  Mac users need only go to their control panel and select the Chordette as their digital output device.

The Chordette is a black-box solution, meaning there are no buttons, switches or knobs to control it.  Simply connect your digital sources and the DAC takes care of everything else.  Without an input selector, the Chordette prioritizes incoming signals when multiple inputs are connected simultaneously.  For instance, if coaxial and USB cables are both connected to the unit the default priority is the USB input; optical is the lowest priority.  When I pause the USB source material from the computer, the Chordette begins its search for the next-ranked input source, which in my case is the coax connected to a CD player.  After about 20 seconds, it resumes playing the second source automatically.  For those with a single digital source this could not be simpler.  For those with multiple sources, it’s mostly a matter of stopping any source you don’t want to hear.  Even when unplugging the USB cable in the middle of a song, the DAC makes a quick search and, after a pause, it moves on to the next available connected source.

“I’d like to hear it, HAL. Sing it for me.”

With the Chordette, joys are many and quibbles are very few.  It creates a supplemental “drive” to the music.  It doesn’t actually speed up a song, but it creates a subtle sense of urgency that pulls in (and holds) the listener.  Attack on guitar plucks and drum beats in Gipsy Kings’ Ritmo de la Noche commands attention, but it never overpowers the big-picture musical experience.  Yet, on smaller-scale solo performances, the Chordette still accentuates delicacy and nuance, making this DAC a great option for all types of music.

The Chordette provides a nicely balanced presentation across all frequencies.  Highs are realistically and enjoyably rendered; mids are smooth and lifelike; and bass presentation is punchy, full and deep.  One small experiential variance from my usual reference, in the form of “Otherwise” by Morcheeba, reveals low bass notes pushing upfront in the virtual stage and competing a bit with the vocals.  Admittedly, I enjoy a little extra heft in some recordings so this aspect will prove a non-issue for many listeners, especially those with smaller speakers.

This DAC also provides a stellar level of detail across all sample rates.  Even a 48-kHz translation demonstrates audible improvement over a standard 44.1-kHz CD.  A CD of the Connecticut Early Music Ensemble performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons puts a shiver down my spine during a few passages—an experience I don’t have too often.  With ribbon tweeters, a small amount of perceivable sharpness emerges at times in lower-resolution digital recordings, which can detract from the musical experience.  But this DAC really draws me into the musicality of a song rather than simply evaluating the equipment producing it.

When I use the Chordette’s coax connection to a CD-quality source, the sound is marvelous.  However, the perceived width of the performance has some limits.  Air’s “Venus” provides a good test for this.  With some other DACs, the musical experience extends well beyond the speakers’ limits and remains there.  The Chordette is reined in a bit and does not exceed the physical speaker boundaries to the same degree.  I do find some improvement in this regard when using the USB connection, or when using a dCS Purcell to upsample to 96 kHz.

What the Chordette creates between the speakers is both dramatic and convincing.  Johnny Cash’s cover of “Danny Boy,” recorded late in career, reveals the age in Cash’s voice.  There’s an emotional undertone in it that transcends the song itself, especially when accompanied by the distant-sounding pipe organ.  For those wanting to experience every nuance up close, in a front-row seat, this DAC enables that experience.  Those who prefer to sit further back at a performance may find the detail a bit much.  But even for those listeners, I expect many will enjoy the change of seat location as the Chordette ushers them toward it.

“Road to Hell: Part I” by Chris Rea sonically simulates a person driving a car down the highway in the rain.  On this track, the Chordette does an incredible job recreating front-to-back depth and layering.  Windshield wipers scrape from side to side, the radio switches between various news stations and many cars drive by in the distance with a whoosh.  The portrayal of these elements though the Chordette is exciting:  The passing cars sound well behind the speakers, with their tires rolling over a wet road; the wiper blades appear ahead of the listener, as though clearing rain from a pane of glass between the speakers (you can hear that the driver needs to buy some new blades); and the simulated radio stations, with news updates panned left and right, have a sound one would expect from old car speakers.

“You guys have really come up with somethin’.”

When asked about its status, the HAL 9000 replied, “I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think any conscious entity can ever hope to do.”  While obviously not conscious, the Chordette QuteHD certainly puts its skills to the fullest possible use in a home audio system.  The team at Chord Electronics has done an outstanding job designing and voicing this amazing little DAC.  It offers flexible input options, a very small footprint and extreme ease of use, as well as adaptability for both low- and high-resolution digital sources.  Combining these attributes with wonderful sound, this DAC proves a marvelous addition to a stereo setup.  For those evaluating DAC options around the Chordette’s $1,700 price range and who enjoy feeling like they are in the front row at a musical performance, the Chordette is a fantastic option.

Chordette QuteHD DAC

MSRP: $1,700

Chord Electronics


Speakers Piega P10
Amplifier Mark Levinson 335
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G1-A
Digital Sources Audio Research CD3 MKII    dCS Purcell processor    EAD 9000 MKIII DAC   Genesis Technologies Digital Lens
Cables Jena Labs Valkyrie and Symphony interconnects    Jena Labs Twin 15 speaker cables
Power Conditioner Running Springs Audio Haley
Power Cords Cardas Golden and RSA Mongoose
Accessories Mapleshade SAMSON racks and shelves    ASC TubeTraps    Cathedral Sound room-dampening panels