Chord DAVE - DAC/Amp/Pre-Amp - Official Thread

Launched in early 2016, UK-based Chord ElectronicsDAVE DAC, headphone amplifier, and pre-amp - the latest in a line of such units designed by Rob Watts, has quickly gains a substantial and enthusiastic following, and almost invariably is included in any discussion about truly high-end digital music-replay.

In Chord’s own words:

DAVE is the most advanced DAC we have ever made. It features the very best conversion technology available, using proprietary techniques never seen before, making DAVE the most advanced DAC/preamp amplifier in the world. DAVE stands for ‘Digital to Analogue Veritas in Extremis’, a moniker that best reflects the product’s capability; a device so advanced and with so few compromises, that it is absolutely truthful in the extreme — a standard that all other DACs on the market simply cannot hope to match.

Specifications

  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz flat within +/-0.1dB (HF filter off)
  • Tap length filter: 164,000
  • THD + N: 127.5dB (AWT)
  • Channel separation: >125dB @ 1KHz
  • Dynamic range: 127.5dB (AWT)
  • Sample frequencies: 44.1Khz – 768Khz (16 – 32bit) and DSD64 to DSD512 native DSD + DoP (input dependant)

Digital inputs:

  • 4x 75Ω S/PDIF BNC Coax – 44.1kHz to 384kHz
  • 1x AES XLR – 44.1kHz to 96kHz
  • 2x Fibre Optic TOSLINK – 44.1kHz to 96kHz
  • 1x USB Type B – 44.1kHz to 768kHz (16 – 32bit) – PCM and DSD

Analogue outputs:

  • 1x Stereo Pair of Unbalanced RCA
  • 1x Stereo Pair of Balanced XLR
  • 1x ¼” TRS Jack Headphone Output

This is the spot to discuss the Chord DAVE …

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Can anyone review their experience with a Chord DAVE DAC/preamp headphone amp please? I’ve yet to meet anyone that owns one of these but Chord’s description is truly inspiring.

Chord states “DAVE is the most advanced DAC we have ever made. It features the very best conversion technology available, using proprietary techniques never seen before, making DAVE the most advanced DAC/preamp amplifier in the world. DAVE stands for ‘Digital to Analogue Veritas in Extremis’, a moniker that best reflects the product’s capability; a device so advanced and with so few compromises, that it is absolutely truthful in the extreme — a standard that all other DACs on the market simply cannot hope to match.”

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I can, since it’s what I use in my primary headphone rig (see below), but it’s not something that I can rattle off in a few minutes. I can probably post some high-level thoughts a bit later today, but a more comprehensive treatment will take longer.

But I can start by saying that, in conjunction with either the Blu Mk2 (M-Scaler & CD Transport) or the Hugo M-Scaler, it’s the overall best sounding digital source I’ve heard. And I’ve compared to it most of the immediate, and relevant, alternatives, all the way up to big dCS and MSB stacks (both of which are excellent, but were more “just different” than “better” … at least for me).

More to come …

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I definitely like the finish of your setup to the silver metallic look. I dunno, the silver one looks like something from the set of Mike Jackson’s “Scream” video haha.

Do you primarily use CDs?

I am not a fan of the silver finish on Chord’s stuff … but it is more popular in the UK.

As for CDs … I buy them ONLY when I can’t find a lossless downloaded digital copy for sale at a sane price … but they get ripped, the jewel cases tossed, and then put into storage.

The CD transport on the Blu Mk2 only gets used if I have a stack of new CDs to rip and I want to listen to one while ripping the others. Which is pretty rare.

So, despite having having thousands of the bloody things, I don’t actually play the discs anymore and just play them from my my server.

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Got ya… I was wondering since you had the Blu Mk2. Was curious how you organized them all, etc. if you did :grinning:

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It just looks better in the stack than the Hugo M-Scaler (which I moved to my office rig to feed the Hugo TT 2).

My CDs are all in those big 480-disc “folders”, with their inlays/booklets, and stored offsite!

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So … this will be very preliminary, a bit random, and not very complete … in fact I think this is going to require a proper review …

But I’ll share a few thoughts/impressions here, as I get a chance, so as to try and be useful and not keep things “in suspense” …


I’ve said that the M-Scaler-fed-DAVE is the best digital-replay I’ve heard. To be fair, DAVE on its own (no M-Scaler or Blu-Mk2 fronting it) is also a superlative performer/listen. But it takes the addition of the M-Scaler to transcend from “different” to “better”, in comparison to the best units I’ve heard.

And I’ve heard a lot (that’s a very incomplete, and out of date, list at this time).


Without an M-Scaler in the chain, then if cost/value be damned, the latest iteration of the Linn Klimax DSM (v4 I think now, I’m too lazy to fire up Konfig and check) is on the same level, maybe a bit more incisive but also a bit more “technical”. And the big dCS stack and MSB “Select” are right there … both being a bit more engaging, but also as much as 10x the price.

With an M-Scaler feeding the DAVE … I haven’t heard anything “better”. Different, yes, but not specifically better. And in general, an M-Scaler-fed-DAVE exemplifies the most enjoyable, engaging, as well as technically proficient non-live musical experience I’ve had.


Now, from an enjoyment perspective I can get very close for a lot less money. A Schiit Yggdrasil Analog 2, at 1/8th the price of an M-Scaler->DAVE combo, or 1/4 the price of DAVE alone, is extremely satisfying and engaging (it remains in my top 5 DACs even though I no longer own one). DAVE may edge it out on technical grounds, and overall capability, but as to how enjoyable they are, that’s a personal call.

As my system evolved I found a few things about DAVE that I preferred, even given that in prior systems Yggdrasil had taken the top spot.


As a DAC, DAVE is hard to improve upon …

Detail extraction and resolution isn’t bettered anywhere else that I’ve heard. Tone is essentially perfect. So it timbre. Though for reasons I can’t explain Yggdrasil Analog 2 does a more convincing job with my own piano recordings (of my own piano), until you add the M-Scaler to the chain and then it favors the Chord combo. Transient response is beyond reproach … with as much impact and speed as I’ve heard anywhere outside a live (unamplified), acoustic, performance.

There are other units that have a bit more “character” at similar, and lower, prices, but nothing I’ve found that is quite as consistently engaging and impressive. In no particular order, the Bricasti M1 (stay away from the entirely laughable gold version …), some older multi-bit DACs, Yggdrasil Analog 2 are good examples. And if you want raw objective performance, the Matrix X-SABRE Pro (MQA) is worth looking at (very capable, if not quite as engaging … which is entirely subjective anyway) …

As a headphone amplifier

It all depends on what you’re driving. DAVE will drive most headphones extremely well and to excruciating levels. But it does not have enough grunt to properly satisfy things like the JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266, HiFiMAN Susvara, HE6 or HE6SE, and is borderline with the Audeze LCD-4.

99% of the time, when I don’t want to fire up my tube amp, I run my headphones straight out of DAVE’s headphone output. Only the afore-mentioned models require additional amplification. It’s fairly rare I engage an external solid-state amplifier when using DAVE as my source - anymore.

As a pre-amp/source

Bear in mind that DAVE is innately single-ended. The balanced-outputs use phase-splitting and while excellent, don’t offer anything above/beyond the RCA outputs (excepting a high voltage differential). Consider them a convenience feature, not a qualitative one.

The native “DAC” mode operates at -3 dB (so some software/digital volume attenuation is at work) and still has a somewhat “hot” output, so if you are using an external amplifier you want to make sure it has the input headroom to not clip (or you’ll want to run the DAVE in “pre” mode and dial the output down to -6 dB or so).

More to come … this will be a bit stream-of-consciousness … until I get a chance/motivation to do a formal review.

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Dave and Mscaler is an excellent Dac and Dap to drive HD 800S which is not an easy one with high impedance.

I received new HD 800S headphone on Monday.

Without any break-in, it did not show any hard edge.

Some IEM like Hifiman need more than 100 hours of break in before harsh treble is gone.

But after playing it for few hours, it seems to show more details and bass resonance.

From some review, I had expected HD 800S to sound bright and be prepared to apply equalization using Lyngdorf 2170 presets.

But driven by Chord Dave and Mscaler, it sounds neutral without any equalization.

I had played Chesky Jazz Sampler and Test disc to test soundstage width and depth.

It shows very sharp and precise focus but falls short of my 2 channel system in soundstage width and depth.

But placement of instrument is more precise with HD 800S than my 2 channel system of Lansche 4.1 driven by Line Magnetic 508 SET.

When I play “Surround Sound Demonstration CD” by Telarc, HD 800S gave very exciting presentation with fast and tight bass and precise focus without any hard edge.

I have two headphones and one IEM to compare with HD 800S.

The first one is 1MORE Triple-Driver Over-Ear Headphones sold by Drop at 130$.

This is light, pretty efficient and excellent value at 130$.

But compared with HD 800S, 1MORE Triple gave loose bass, less details and not precise focus.

1MORE Triple is no match at all with HD 800S.

The next one is Empire Zeus IEM sold by Drop(1k$ and 14 drivers in it).

Zeus IEM gave more sparkle with nice details.

But without equalization of 3db down at 6khz, Zeus sounds too bright overall while HD 800S sounds neutral without any eq…

Nice thing of Zeus IEM is very high efficiency to be driven by regular cell phone like Galaxy Note4.

Thus I will be happy to carry Zeus IEM out of town.

The placement of each instrument is slightly more precise with HD800s.

I will prefer playing HD800S to Zeus IEM at home.

The last one to compare is Stax 009S driven by KGSSV Carbon amplifier.

HD 800S gave wider and deeper soundstage than Stax 009S with more precise focus.

But Stax 009S give more musical sound with nuanced details, nice decay , more bass slam and texture.

HD800S give very tight and fast bass but not matching the authority of Stax 009s.

It bass sound like one note without texture.

The conclusion is that it is fun to listen to HD800S driven by Dave and Mscaler with sharp focus, wide and deep soundstage and tight and fast bass.

But HD800S falls short of either Stax 009s or my 2 channel system in musicality.

I will keep HD800S for at least one year to enjoy its precise imaging.

Thomas

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I also include my subjective grading of Dac that I had auditioned from 2018 to present.

I had given 85 points to Dave and Mscaler.

My first serious audio system was Garrard turntable, Fisher Int(SS), ADS bookspeaker bought on 1978.

I bought Technics CD player on 1984.

It sound harsh and bright compared with vinyl.

I gave up vinyl when I moved from Berkeley to Chicago on 1988 since I had no room to carry in my small car.

I upgraded to California Audio Mark2 on 1989.

It was way better than Technics CD player with refined treble and better dynamics.

I had used passive pre, Krell KSA 150 to drive Apogee Duetta Sig.

On 1999, I upgraded to DCS Elgar and upsampler using CEC Tl0x transport.

Wow, I got the feeling that it could match good vinyl system.

But after using DCS Elgar for 6 years, it got out of order and I gave it up with uncertain repair cost and shipping to UK.

CEC Tl0x transport also had kept failing to read some CDs.

Thus I had changed to Accustic Arts CD transport and Dac which was a downgrade from DCS Elgar and upsampler using CEC Tl0x transport…

On 2010, I had got EMMLab Dac2 to replace Accustic Arts Dac.

It had excellent dynamics, details and soundstage which made me enjoy the music again with Lansche 4.1 speaker and Silbatone 300B SET amp.

On 2018 I had got Jay Audio CDT2 and Lyngdorf 2170 to use it as Room correction, Dac.

But after using it for 4 months, I found that Lyngdorf 2170 falls slightly short of EMMLab Dac2 on bass slam and details.

Thus I had auditioned several Dacs to upgrade from EMMLab Dac2.

Point 100
There is nothing to criticize over MSB Select II except its high price around 100K$.
It has magical relaxed texture similar to top grade vinyl.

Dynamics, details, soundstage are all excellent.

Point 95
Kalista Dreamplay transport and Dac
It is excellent matching MSB Select II on almost every aspects.

The only down side is that it does not have relaxed texture similar to top grade vinyl although it still sounds silky.

Point 91.
Trinity Dac
This one is also all round player with hard to criticize.
But it falls slightly short of MSB Select II on details and relaxed texture.

Point 90
Lampiziator Pacific Dac
I had auditioned this Dac with same setup with MSB Select II.

This one is also all round player with hard to criticize.
It falls slightly short of MSB Select II on dynamics and relaxed texture.
But this one has a nice bloom and full bodied sound,
which make some people prefer this one to MSB Select II

Point 85
Chord Dave and Mscaler(or Blue II transport)
This one give transparent and 3D soundstage with excellent details.
But it need good system matching.
It could sound analytical or hot coupled with bright combination of speaker and amplifier.
Without upscaling using Mscaler, its sound is mediocre around 75 points.

Point 84
MSB Premier with one more basic power supply
I had auditioned this one side by side with Lampiziator Pacific Dac.
It matches Pacific Dac with Dynamics, details, soundstage but fall short of Pacific Dac in magical bloom and full body.
With improved power supply or clock, its performance have room to improve further.

Point 80
Formula XHD Dac
I auditioned this one side by side with Trinity Dac
This one is a very musical player with full bloom.
But it falls short of Trinity Dac by one notch in dynamics and bass slam.

Point 79
TotalDac 6 tube version
This one is also a very musical player.
But from the point of audiophile, its dynamics, details, soundstage are all one notch below the standard set by MSB Select II.

Point 78
MSB Discrete Dac with one additional basic power supply.
This one has similar sound signature to MSB Premier
But it is half notch below MSB Premier on dynamics, details, soundstage.

Point 75
EmmLab Dac2
I paid 9K$ for this on 2010.
It matches Chord Dave and Mscaler on dynamics with slightly more bass slam.
But Chord Dave and Mscaler give more transparent and deeper soundstage than EmmLab Dac2 while soundstage width are comparable to each other.
This one has slightly fuller sound than Chord Dave and Mscaler.
It is still working fine after 10 years of use.

Point 73.

Lyngdorf 2170
This one has Dac, pre and power amp, active crossover and room correction functions.
It’s Dac sounds very similar to EmmLab Dac2 but with slightly less details and bass slam.

There are many Dacs to audition but I could not audition all of them.

I had bought Chord Dave and Mscaler late May.

Recently I play musicals and operas very often enjoying excellent 3D soundstage.

But I do not believe that I can live with Chord Dave and Mscaler for my life.

If some innovative Dac better than MSB Select II come out under 50K$ in the future, then I will upgrade to it.

Otherwise, I expect to use Chord Dave and Mscaler for 3 years or longer.

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Wow you had some fantastic gear. Your thoughts on your iem and headphones were a great read too.

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