As reported in the News Section I didn't have much chance to listen to some music when developer Rob Watts visited me with the Chord DAVE. But fortunately I didn't have to wait too long for a second chance, as I could pick up the first DAVE available in Germany in the AUDITORIUM store in Hamm.
This happened two days before Christmas, and hundreds of miles away from my private listening room. And, rather understandably, Leonhard Schwarte of German distributor G8 & Friends wanted to have the device back soon in order to familiarize himself with it. So the time DAVE could spend in my home in Gröbenzell was very limited, and there was another problem. Leonhard had put a large blue sticker of his favorite soccer team on the box! I grew up in the same area but that does not necessarily mean I share Leonhard's preferences when it comes to soccer. Quite on the contrary. But if I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to be the first in Germany to test the DAVE I had to swallow my pride …
As we've come to expect from Chord, the DAVE's casing is made from solid Aluminum and completely ignores design conventions other manufacturers adhere to. And there's the inevitable 'porthole', too, located in the middle of the device and slightly angled. But contrary to other Chord products, the porthole here doesn't offer insights into the DAC's interior but instead houses a color display. This informs the user about the active input, the sampling frequency of the incoming signal and the current volume level. Three of the four available layout options also use colors to visualize sampling rate and volume, much like other Chord DACs as the Mojo, Hugo and Hugo TT do. Another block of information show wether the DAVE is working in PCM or DSD optimized mode. Both formats can be transcoded into each other on the fly but there is a huge benefit in sound quality when DAVE is set to the mode that matches the actual input format. The current absolute phase is also shown here, as is information about the state of the integrated high frequency filter (can be activated to protect components further down the chain) and which display layout option is currently active.
The third block of information in the display shows the make and name of the DAC and the current operation mode. Because of its integrated lossless digital volume control, DAVE can be used as a digital pre-amp or as a pure DAC with fixed output level. In addition, when a headphone is plugged into the jack at the front, all other outputs are automatically muted and the DAVE works as a headphone DAC/amp combination. The device always 'remembers' the last volume level set for each mode. When used with headphones, DAVE can drive loads between 8 and 800 Ohms so it is unlikely that there are no headphones in existence that will pose any problem for the Chord. All options can be set either using the supplied remote control or via the four buttons surrounding the rather striking volume control knob. Generally speaking, operation is simple and intuitive, although the special 'two finger push' needed to switch to DAC mode might require a look into the manual. Everything feels very solid and there's nothing left to wish for in terms of build quality. The only small complaint I have is that using a font without serifs for the display readouts might increase readability and would in my opinion better suit the DAVE's otherwise perfect looks.