Chord Chordette QuteHD (£1,000)
Yes, of course a grand is an awful lot of money to pay for a DAC, even if it looks like steampunk hi-fi and is heavy enough to stun an ox. But when you consider the bulk of the QuteHD tech has trickled down from Chord’s £5,000 QBD76, it starts to look a bit of a bargain.
Get some digital music files flowing through it and it sounds like even more of a steal. The ability to handle ultra-hi-res 32bit/384kHz is admittedly only a theoretical benefit (unless you like downloading stupendously obscure, perversely well-recorded music from special sites like Linn, Naim and Bowers & Wilkins), but give it some 24bit/192kHz stuff to deal with and it’ll rock your world. You don’t know just how good all that computer audio can sound until it’s had the Chord treatment.
And just to put a cherry on it, the illumination on the top-panel window changes colour (red, green, blue) depending on the resolution of the signal the QuteHD is being fed. Awesome sounds and a lightshow. You can’t go wrong, even at this money.
Best for: unlikely value for money
The number of times per second a sample is taken of a continuous analogue signal. Audio CD sampling rate is 44100Hz (or 44kHz) - that means the digital information stored on a CD is built from capturing samples of the analogue signal 44,100 times every second. The higher the sampling rate, the closer to the original music your digital audio should sound - hence why hi-res audio is typically 96kHz or 192kHz. Posh DACs can handle such files, and some even 'upsample' lower-quality files: look out for 24-bit/192kHz-ready ones when you buy.
Burmester 113 (£2,300)
Brace yourself. The Burmester 113 has lossless aptX Bluetooth streaming ability alongside its 24bit//192kHz inputs, you see. That’s why there’s a tooth-shaped light in the middle of the fascia. And it glows blue when streaming that way. A blue tooth. Oh, our aching sides.
Fortunately, in every other respect the Burmester is all business. Though reasonably compact it’s built like the proverbial brick outhouse, and it sounds similarly hefty. If it’s control and authority you want, you can’t go wrong here – the 113 punches like a heavyweight but is as light on its feet as a ballet dancer. It’s a little bit hyperactive, admittedly – even songs that ought to soothe are launched, rocket-like, from the Burmester. But if you crave excitement from your music and want streaming from your phone to be a real event, the 113 has exactly what you need.
Best for: a German sense of humour
Rather than have the flow of data under centralised control of a fixed-rate clock (such as that in a laptop), an asynchronous signal has no global clock. An asynchronous DAC, having far few tasks to undertake, has a better chance of dealing efficiently (and correctly) with the data flow.