John Franks, founder and CEO of Chord Electronics, was on-hand at a special dealer event last week at Audio High to personally debut Chord’s DSX-1000 network streamer and showcase other exciting DACs and electronics from the company. I was looking forward to meeting John and attending this event after hearing a system in the Audio High room at the California Audio Show with Chord Electronics gear driving KEF Blade loudspeakers. As I reported, that system “helped the marvelous KEF Blade sound better than I’ve heard it sound at any show, yielding terrific soundstaging, natural music timbre, remarkable coherence (for a multi-driver system), and well-controlled deep bass.” Well, based upon what I heard the other evening, the new offerings from Chord Electronics may be even more impressive!
The newest addition to the Chord Electronics Reference Series is the DSX 1000 network player ($13000), which combines the unique digital technologies found in the company’s reference CD player (the Red Reference MkIII) and DAC (the QBD76 HSDSD), as well as some of the technology found in the CPA8000 reference preamplifier. For example, the DSX 1000 uses the same analog volume control circuit found in their Reference Series preamplifiers rather than the digital ones that are found in most network players. This results in highly accurate volume adjustments without the associated (and typical) reduction in resolution. The DSX 1000 can be operated via the front panel, remote control, or iPhone/iPad/Android and plays MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, ALAC, and FLAC with 24/192 support. It also offers both volume-controlled and line-level analog outputs, featuring balanced XLR and RCA phono connections.
As Mr. Franks explained during his presentation, the streaming engine of the DSX-1000 is coupled with Chord’s unique DAC technology. Like other Chord Electronics Reference DACs, the network player doesn’t use the small, standard DAC chips such as those from Burr-Brown, Analog Devices, etc. but uses it own large, propriety FPGA chip to construct the waveform more accurately. “We go the extra mile,” said John. To remove jitter, the DSX-1000 re-clocks all the data, and to maintain accuracy and reduce distortion, the four piece pulse array resides outside the chip. With more than 18,000 digital taps, this proprietary DAC results in “100,000 times better linearity than your average DAC,” according to John. He states that the Chord Electronics network player and its higher end DACs are linear down to 140dB, whereas the average DAC is only linear to 95-100dB.
While the technology behind the DSX 1000 is impressive so is the sound. In a system featuring Chord Reference Series electronics, (the CPA8000 preamp and SPM 14000MkII monoblocks) and Peak Consult Kepheus loudspeakers, the DSX-1000 excelled. My initial impression of this system was very favorable: the noise floor was astonishingly low and let subtle details emerge, bass was solid and controlled, the leading edges of transients were incredibly quick without any blurring, and the system was able to track wide dynamic swings remarkably well. Soundstage width was expansive, but with somewhat foreshortened depth, in the very large dealer showroom. The overall sound was quite relaxed and natural-sounding—a hurdle that many digital front ends do not clear. From a sonic standpoint, the Chord Electronics DSX-1000 is one of the most musically satisfying digital front ends I have heard.
A Chord Electronics product in another system at Audio High also attracted my attention, because of its stellar sound and attractive price. The Chordette QuteHD DAC ($1795) was coupled with a Chord Electronics CPM 3350 integrated amplifier ($14,000) and some smaller Peak Consult Empress loudspeakers. Because the QuteHD also uses the same FPGA chip technology found in Chord’s Reference DAC (the QBD76 HSDSD), the sound from digital had many of the same engaging sonic attributes I heard in the larger system. Additionally, when compared with the DAC in a very expensive CD player, I preferred the sound of the QuteHD. The sound was more open, with better soundstaging (particularly in the depth dimension) and less digital artifacts. I hope I get a chance to spend more time with this little sonic wonder. It seems like a terrific value.
The seminar was sponsored by Audio High, a high-end audio and home theater dealer in Mountain View, California in conjunction with Bluebird Music, the distributor for Chord Electronics in North America. Jay Rein from Bluebird answered questions about the Chord Reference Series, and Michael Silver and Jez Hildred were among the Audio High staff hosting the seminar. All seemed truly excited, and quite knowledgeable, about the new Chord Electronics DSX-1000, the Chordette QuteHD DAC, and the Reference Chord electronics.