Chord Launches the DSX1000 Network Player

Rather than debut its new $13,000 DSX1000 Network Music Player in the UK, where the company is based, Chord founder and chief scientist, John Franks (above), traveled to Mountain View, CA on November 8 for the unveiling. The site was the spacious, extremely attractive Northern California showroom of Audio High, one of the high-end dealers in the US that display Chord's top-end Reference products.

Perhaps due to post-election recovery, intermittent rain showers, or the drop from record high temperatures to seasonal norms that required a coat—New Yorkers are undoubtedly weeping at thought of the hardships that Silicon Valley residents must endure— turnout was light. In the 2.5 hours that I hung at the store, alternately speaking with Franks and Chord's North American distributor, Jay Rein of Bluebird Music; listening to the DSX1000 and other Chord products; and petting store owner Michael Silver's adorable and hypo-allergenic 12-year old soft-coated Wheaton terrier, Fiona, the number of press people in attendance equaled the number of consumers. Very strange.

Franks, who founded Chord in 1989 as a hobby, and went full-time in 1992, is not one for speaking slowly. As best as I could scribble down, Chord's top-end network music player, the 24/192-capable DSX1000, boasts the company's proprietary DAC technology. Developed by Robert Watts, who has 30 years experience with DAC technology, the DSX1000 contains the same pulse array 76-bit DAC technology found in the company's top-of-the-line QBD76 DAC. According to the minimal information on Chord's website, the DSX1000's DAC not only reclocks all data, removing jitter in the process, but also replaces conventional DAC chips with proprietary pulse array technology that avoids the leakage and capacitance problems that Franks claims are inherent in tiny chips embedded in silicon, and achieves far greater accuracy and linearity and a much lower noise floor.

"My designs are like a big fighter aircraft that can follow very accurately and zing all over the sky," said Franks, displaying his history in avionics. "They are very stable and fast, and can deliver signals with a great degree of control.

"The bottom line is, we go the extra mile. That's why we have a big installation at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and others at Skywalker Sound and Abbey Road. The BBC had so much trouble controlling the bass in their studio in Maida Vale that they were going to rip it out and start from scratch until they tried Chord electronics and discovered that the cause of the problem was not their room, but rather the electronics they had been using."

The DSX1000, pictured above, can play MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, ALAC and FLAC, and, I was told, will be able to decode SACD once PC programmers get around to writing the application software. The remote-controlled unit, which has a large front panel display, can be operated by a number of uPnP apps for your iWhatever or equivalent smart phone. To these eyes, the display and search features used on phone and iPad during the demo hardly seemed destined to challenge those of the Meridian Digital Media System.


The DSX1000's iPad interface is functional but relatively simple.

With ample time for listening, we shifted from pop to two high-res recordings from 2L, one of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No.32, the other of an Ole Bull Violin Concerto. Perhaps due to the room, the sound of a system that included, in addition to the DSX1000, Chord's CPA 8000 preamplifier ($45,000) and SPM 14000 monoblocks ($86,000/pair), Peak Consult Kepheus loudspeakers ($110,000/pair), and Kubala-Sosna cabling was relatively dry and dark, with a marked absence of overtones. I couldn't help noting that Franks' voice seemed far more alive and wet than the sound coming from the system.

Next, we shifted our seats 90° to listen to a smaller system that included a big name $30,000 CD player (whose provenance I shall shield to protect the hardly innocent), Chord's QuteHD DAC ($1800) and CPM 3350 integrated amplifier ($14,000), Peak Consult Empress loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), and an assortment of Kubala-Sosna cables. First we listened to the stand-alone CD player, then the player was used as a transport feeding data the QuteHD DAC, Neil Young doing the honors. The entry-level Chord QuteHD DAC trumped the competition. Instead of the edgy vocals and thin-sounding, one-dimensional presentation rendered by the five-figure CD player, the QuteHD DAC delivered a far more appealing, richer presentation in which edge was replaced by body and substantial color. The apparent superiority of Chord's DAC technology leaves me eager to hear the DSX1000 in a different context.


Michael Silver (left) and John Franks (right) at Audio High.
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COMMENTS
philipjohnwright's picture

So, a system costing north of £250k sounded less than stellar. And the interface was similarly underwhelming. I can't help thinking of Mr Dudley's recent (excellent) article.

JasonVSerinus's picture

What I have tried to indicate is that since Chord's under $2000 DAC easily trumped a big name $30,000 CD player, the less than stellar sound may have had more to do with the room - more specifically the position of the system in the room - than anything else. Note that the comparison was done at a 90 degree angle. It is quite possible that the 250K system on display would have sounded much better had it been shifted 90 degrees. I just don't know.

Audio High is not the only major dealer in the Bay Area where equipment seems to sound better facing one direction than the other. To cite an example from a completely different context, if you refer to my blog of the Bel Canto / Joseph Audio / etc. system at RMAF, you'll note a brief discussion of Jeff Joseph's decision to position the system on the diagonal in order to avoid the problems with resonance and room interaction that I encountered with speakers in too many other rooms. Resonance wasn't a problem at Audio High. But what was the case is that the speakers were firing into an extremely large space, where the absorptive properties of the open back reception area as well as the ceiliing may have sabotoged system performance. 

This is not to contradict Art's brilliant-as-always essay. It is simply to suggest that more may have been going on than I or anyone was capable of assessing fully in the course of a public demo.

dlaudio's picture

Hi Jason. I've never before written in to any forum, blog, or anything at all. This is my first. I read your comments and I wanted to make a correction for you. Audio High is not the only dealer in the U.S. that has Chord Reference system. We do at David Lewis Audio in Philadelphia, and we were the first to do so. Since John Franks was also at our shop yesterday, I'm sure he can verify that. Hope that clears up any confusion about your comments. David Serota/ President of David Lewis Audio 

JasonVSerinus's picture

Hi David,

I apologize if I have misread or misconstrued. My reference is the Audio High website, specifically this page

http://www.audiohigh.com/vendors/chord.html?utm_source=Leads&utm_campaig...

where you will find the statement 

Audio High is the only store in the USA to have Chord's top-end Reference products on display: the Red Reference III CD player, two SPM14000 monoblocks (seen left), and the new CPA 8000 preamp. 

If Audio High's claim is indeed incorrect, please let me know so that I can request a copy change.

Thank you.

jason 

dlaudio's picture

Thank you Jason. Audio High is incorrect. I appreciate your assistance in this matter. At least I know they have good taste, since this is some of the finest audio made. David

earwaxxer's picture

Wow, $250K and it doesnt sound quite right. Thats inexcusable, I dont care how its set up.

I mean move the speakers around a bit, then make a judgement. I dont care what shape the room is, etc. Proper placement of the speakers can minimize room problems, of course, if the speakers weigh 250lbs then you are not moving them anyway! So much for how much sense it makes spending huge sums on equipment, if you cant make it sound good!

tmsorosk's picture

 Another way to look at it ( earwaxxer ) . It only makes sense spending huge sums of money if your smart enough to know how to set it up.

treehugger's picture

Reviewers are entitled to their subjective opinions. I never listen critically if I'm tired or hungry. Midday I'm too stressed out to actually enjoy things fully. So many factors are in play that it is hard to take this as gospel. Events set up for this type of debut are loaded weapons. New units, untried combinations of components, deadline pressure that cuts off proper evaulation periods. Michael and his team of makers and employees always deliver on the value they claim. If you don't buy in, you won't write the check. 

Ariel Bitran's picture

(nt)

audiohigh's picture

I spoke with the distributor and he says there are now three or four dealers in the country with full Reference systems. We have been a Chord dealer since 2003, and I was told at the time we wrote our web text that it was true, but I happen to know that David Lewis Audio is a wonderful store and has been a great supporter of Chord for a long time as well. I'll update our site and congratulations to the other dealers with good taste! 

As to the comments about the room being dry/dark, all I can say is that I respect Jason a lot (and he's a great guy to boot), and don't have any problem with him liking a wetter space for auditioning equipment. It is true that when you have eight working systems in one room, as we do, you can't always make every system sound just the way you want. As Jason points out, a system on one wall will sound very different from the same system on another wall. We also have three other auditioning rooms which all sound very different. If you are very concerned about this phenomenon, I suggest you come down to the store and purchase a very expensive system then take it home and you can tell us all about how much better it sounds in your living room.  :o)

mrplankton2u's picture

Seems highly unlikely when the prospective buyer is getting so thoroughly hosed in preparation for spending $13,000 for a network player, $45,000 for a preamp, and $86,000 for an amp pair...

This is audio Mitt Romney style...

JohnnyR's picture

......a company that "fixed" the BBC's sound problems couldn't set up their own system in the room provided to your approval? Well that's money well spent hmmmmmm?

Regadude's picture

Johnny, what gear do you use to listen to music? Since you are so knowledgeable about audio, share some of your genius with us. Tell us what you've got, and why you bought it.

Honor us with your review of your own equipment.

JohnnyR's picture

.....for once YOU be on topic Regadude instead of trying to make it all about ME. Thank you very much.

mrplankton2u's picture

I have some Bybee Quantum Purifiers to sell you that will lift all veils, darken your noise floor, sweep all turntable surface noise to the side walls of your listening room, increase macrodynamic hugeness, wet down a dry listening room, establish ideal pace and rhythm, improve soundstage dimensionality, solve the Middle East crisis and global warming.....(running out of breath) - well, you get the idea...

brightonjel's picture

As one of the "two consumers" who Jason mentioned were also there on the night (just for reference, the other Brit in the room), I thought I'd add my comments on the main system to the mix too.

What that system did well it did incredibly well.  It had great sonic control and precision.  The solo piano piece mentioned had excellent definition of what each hand was playing and you could literally feel the weight being applied by the pianist to each key.  Very impressive.  However, I can certainly see (or rather, hear) what Jason meant - and bearing in mind he has infintely more experience of different high-end systems than I - his description does convey something about the nature of what I felt I heard. I listen to a lot of solo piano works (via a Wadia 861 plus Krell 400 cxi through Monitor Audio speakers, in case you are wondering) and can agree that some of the colour, for want of a better word, was lost.  However, both have their appeal and honestly the Chord system was a real, in your face, analytical beast, and if that's your bag then Chord equipment has to be on your "must listen" list.  However, where I felt it came up short, and I think this was indeed a room-effect, was in building a front-to-back soundstage to match the very stable and detailed left-to-right one.  Personally, I'd have to listen to a ton of tracks that I was more familiar with in order to get a better handle on things (and just to be clear, I'd happily move a cot into their listening room and play that reference system for hours on end!) but would completely agree that the other system, set at 90 degrees (the $30k CD vs. new mini Chord DAC) seemed to be better served in that one respect of soundstage dimensionality.

Regardless, thanks to John and Michael (and Jason - pleasure to make your acquaintance and wish we could have chatted more) for a fantastic evening.  If speed, power and clarity matter most to you, Chord delivers like few others.  And even if you incline more towards tubes/class A plus big US-style speakers, it's always good to hear what your are missing, no ?  :-)

JasonVSerinus's picture

Hi all. I've been in the midst of reviewing back-to-back performances of Tosca at San Francisco Opera for two different publications, and also dealing with a second opera: first a double shooting around the corner that sent my gang member next door neighbor to the hospital and left a bullet hole in my windshield, and then an armed robber chase that ended at our wall, which said suspect was trying to scale when he was apprehended. I am not making this up. I live in East Oakland. I'm glad to be alive.

I'm delighted with this respectful dialogue. It's especially wonderful to hear from brightonjel - I'd love to know what led to that choice of handle - and to learn his own take on the sound. It's also wonderful to hear from Michael. 

In the 21st century, it takes many flavors and colors to make a community. Thank you all for making it so.

And now, to tackle poor Tosca #2. Hint: Patricia Racette and Mark Delavan make a delicious duo as Floria Tosca and Baron Scarpia. Until that review is posted to http://www.sfcv.org, you can read my first review, Dueling Toscas Become Triple Toscas, here:

http://www.sfcv.org/reviews/san-francisco-opera/dueling-toscas-become-tr...

After sfcv posts the review I'm about to write, I'll be working on a shorter, combined review with a very gay twist that will appear at http://www.ebar.com next Thurday, or maybe Wednesday, since Thursday is Thanksgiving. Speaking of which, given that I'm alive to type this, I have a lot to be thankful for. A whole lot. And that includes writing for Stereophile.

jason

iosiP's picture

I have a Chord system (not top of the line, but still...) and Raidho C3.0 speakers.

I tried it with a full loom of Kubala-Sosna cables but it didn't sound right (dark indeed, and "boomy"), I tried it with Nordost and it didn't sound right again (dry and without harmonic "flesh"). The only cables that made the system tick were Siltech (and not the top-notch solid wires but the medium-range stranded ones).

These electronics are not easy to set up, but when you get them right, they're great.

And BTW, the Integra legs are not quite a success: I recommend modding them to add spikes. 

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