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Article Index
Chord DAVE
page 2
page 3
page 4, sound quality
page 5, conclusion
page 6, measured performance
All Pages

SOUND QUALITY

That Dave acronym might sound like a piece of marketing waffle but the Latin word Veritas (meaning truth) is a pretty accurate description of the new Chord.

It only takes a few minutes to realise Dave has a remarkable ability to convey music with timing, realism and exceptional detail, giving a truly lifelike presentation. This holds true whether you are playing standard Red Book CD or feeding it some of your higher-resolution files.

Playing Keith Jarrett’s Paris/London: Testament, I was immediately impressed at just how well the Chord rendered this instrument - one that is notoriously difficult to recreate realistically through digital equipment.

But using Dave in its pre-amp mode driving a pair of Quad’s powerful QMP monoblocks with Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL X electrostatics there was a body, depth and timbre to the piano notes. Jarrett’s complicated syncopation and his changes of pressure on the keys could be made out.

Soundstaging was precise, layered and I was able to pick apart tracks with ease. The various elements of Led Zeppelin’s dense ‘When The Levee Breaks’ (24/96) were laid out before me - guitar, drums, bass vocals and wailing harmonica each occupying their own space. But it’s not done in a clinical manner. Instead, Dave propels the track along with all verve it deserves, despite the slightly laid-back demeanour of the Quads.

It’s a quality I kept noting throughout the listening period; the Chord always sounds incredibly fast and meaty. It’s undoubtedly a factor of the amount of detail it extracts from files but also the fact that its tonal balance is even-handed with no element of the frequency spectrum emphasised over another. Hence there’s no sluggish bass, no searing treble and a deliciously open and clear midband.

 

 

 

 

A full set of digital inputs on the rear plus RCA and balanced outputs. Interestingly, on the right there are also four co-axial digital outputs which are said to be for use with forthcoming (but as yet unnanounced) Chord products. 

 

 

Those qualities come through no matter what the source material - be it CD, high-res of whatever flavour or DSD. Indeed Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s DSD recording of ‘Mahler’s No 1’ sounded better than I’d ever heard it before. Not only did the Chord deliver the crescendos with complete authority, it also switched between the quiet and loud sections with total fluidity and assurance. In this it becomes one of a select few DACs around that I can honestly say simply lets the music breathe.

 

Turning the digital pre-amplifier off - hold down the left and right buttons on the top to do this - and using Dave as a DAC only into Icon Audio’s new ST-30se single-ended valve amplifier (see review this issue) showed a subtle difference between the pre-amp sections of the two products.  Via this method the sound was creamier and richer with a subtle extra warmth. The guitar on Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’, for example, had a little less bite than through the Chord’s own pre-amp section but was rather silkier. There is no right or wrong here - just what you may prefer.

Switching to headphone mode it was obvious this section is no mere afterthought on Chord’s part. Plug in a set of ‘phones and the main output is automatically muted while the Crossfeed function can be accessed from the remote control, or the buttons on the unit itself.

I’m not usually a fan of this sort of digital signal processing but on Dave, Chord seem to have got it just about right. Playing John Coltrane’s live ‘One Down, One Up: Live At The Half Note’ and moving the Crossfeed setting up to three really did get rid of some of the harsh channel separation in this recording and bring a much more lifelike out-of-the-head experience through a pair of AKG ‘phones.

But that’s the way of the Chord Dave DAC/digital pre-amp/headphone amplifier - whatever you ask it to do it performs in a way only a select few products can match.



 

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