Chord Electronics DAVE


500+ Head-Fier
My wallet is trembling but I can't stop smiling
Pros: Near-unmatched separation, excellent resolution, tonality and timbre is exceptionally natural and convincing without hiding any details or excitement
Cons: Aesthetics are very polarising, without the MScaler the staging is much less impressive, cost, headphone amp could be better
This DAC is not mine, neither is the M-Scaler. Both were loaned to me for a couple weeks to spend some time with them. All thoughts and opinions are my own and unbiased.
All opinions were formed with the combination of DAVE+Mscaler, not the DAVE alone.

I have posted a video-review here:

Equipment Used:
- Hifiman Susvara, HD800-S, Hifiman Arya
- Benchmark AHB2
- Goldpoint SA2X
- Focal Alpha 80

The aesthetics are.....not my cup of tea. I'll be honest chord dacs do not do it for me in terms of looks, and the fact that this is even more "out there" isn't helping.
The build itself however is solid. Solid metal chassis, lovely materials used everywhere (The XLR ports on the back feel incredibly satisfying....give me those on all of my equipment please!).
The only thing I really think should be changed is the buttons. The buttons are actually balls that roll and it feels awful compared to a fixed sphere like on other chord products.

House sound:
The chord dave is a slight departure from the chord "house sound" in many of their lower cost dacs. I have a qutest which I was able to compare side by side, and the qutest was a noticeably more 'polite' and warm DAC. The DAVE strives for transparency, and usually I hate using that word, because I do not believe that any component is truly 'transparent', but the DAVE simply works so well with absolutely every genre, every track, and every transducer that its hard to find a better description for it.

It is noticeably more neutral than other chord dacs, without EVER coming across as lacking in any manner. Its neutral because it CAN be, and it can do it right. Rather than needing to add flavour to cover up shortcomings in performance.
The resolution the dave offers is incredible, and combined with chord's signature separation, and the excellent timbre, it creates an addictingly engaging result.

Bass on the DAVE is very impressive, never does it feel like it is imposing itself over or bleeding into other parts of the mix. It always remains distinctly separate without losing any force, weight, depth or timbre.
"It's all so incredibly loud" by glass animals is a track that on mediocre dacs sounds claustrophobic and 'busy'. But on the DAVE it remains distinctly separate, defined, and STAGED. Very few dacs can stage and present low-end elements as convincingly as the DAVE is able to.

Midrange on the DAVE is smooth, refined, beautiful. Vocals sound warm and engaging with incredible resolution, allowing you to hear every subtle nuance, the reverberations of the guitar within the room, and all of it without ever sounding forced or coloured in any manner. It does not sound like this DAC is TRYING to make things sound good, it just is. Nothing is made warm, or made cold, everything is presented to you as-is, with all the resolution and space required to make it sound real.

Treble is excellent. I've mentioned the resolution and have to do so again. Cymbals are fast, responsive, clear without being aggressive. Sibilance is beautifully tamed without ever sounding smoothed over. This DAC has an incredibly refined signature and strikes a great balance between being honest and being musical. Bad masters will sound bad, but great masters will sound phenomenal. It is not trying to "fix" music like the Qutest at times did, it is simply presenting it to you.
The air and space that the quality of the oversampling provides goes a long way to making upper treble elements sound all the more fantastic.

Headphone amp:
The headphone amp does in my opinion let this DAC down. Its ok, its fine, but its nowhere near the calibre of this DAC and it would be a shame to buy this with the intention of using it as a combo unit.

Its quite powerful, and won't have any trouble driving pretty much anything (other than susvara which really did not sound as they should), but the actual quality of the amp leaves it in a position where its nice to have, but would NOT use it as your daily driver.

To M-Scaler or not to M-Scaler?
The difference the M-Scaler makes is not small.
It takes the DAVE from a great DAC which I would say probably isn't worth the money, to an exceptional DAC that its hard to think of reasons not to want.
The staging expands massively, and resolution increases by a not at all small amount. The issue I faced is that without the MScaler, it was quite difficult not to focus on what was suddenly missing. The staging, detail, and even a bit of separation, the MScaler just turns all of that up to 11 and once it was gone it was tricky to get excited about the DAVE alone.

The MScaler makes such an improvement that i'd say the DAVE may not be worth it at its price standalone, but in combination with the MScaler it is truly fantastic. And you'd need to look at high end R2R or a dCS vivaldi to beat it. barring simple flavour preferences.
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@n2413 A couple years ago, I would have agreed with you completely. But, as someone who just bought a Sonnet Morpheus, well, we all go a little mad sometimes. Of course, $3200 is a lot less than $15000, but still...
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What was missing on the Susvara? Sadly I auditioned them on the Dave and didn't like them... time to go back!
Don't forget there's the Nagra Tube DAC + PSU


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Does everything Right, True High End DAC.
Cons: price could be cheaper.
i have tested my headphones on other rigs before such as Hugo TT and Cavali Audio Liquid Gold. So i am reviewing DAVE based on the difference i have heard coming from my previous setup.
also keep in mind that few parts like the Hugo TT vs DAVE is totally based on my needs and preference and my point of view, nothing to do with price or hype, just being dead honest which what should reviewing be all about.
so in case you had a different needs or preference and goals toward a setup, keep in mind that we are all different, and might be looking for different needs on the same product.
DAC: Chord DAVE, Headphones: Focal Utopia and V-Moda M100.
Overall sound sig:
DAVE is the definition or Neutral, you get what the recording is suppose to give you. There is no added "fun" or "coloration" and above that there is absolutely no lack in Treble's Extension nor on Bass quantity, the control is superb and world class, and the musicality is second to none.
its everything that a SS amp should be like. its not bright nor warm, its dead neutral with superb musicality that sacrifice nothing in the over all frequencies. that being said its not a boring or flat sound sig, its show you what is your headphone is capable of doing and will push it to the limits.
Sound stage:
Coming from LAu which arguably got the biggest sound stage among headphones amplifiers, DAVE is slightly behind it, which alone is shocking enough for me. yet the pretension put you in the middle of the song, and its honest to the recording big time, unless you are using a headphone that tend to be forward or laid back.
The sound stage didn't feel narrow, tall or sphere like,  it was 3D and focused, injecting the music into you and nothing is over done, it didn't feel faraway as if you are using HD800, no it was as if the sound stage is wrapping around your head and i liked it more than any DAC i have ever used before.
Musicality & Forgiveness:
The Musicality of DAVE got me stunned, i mean i have spent five years looking for one SS DAC/AMP combo that will do no harm to the musicality and excel on Bass/Treble, and i have found no perfect setup Till i got DAVE. its Musical like Class A amp but not as warm, the female vocals and mids make me feel like i am using this on a different setup but no, i am on DAVE.
While being this Musical it never affect the Treble or Bass like typical SS amps with superb Musicality, there is always the "But" yet not with DAVE, i couldn't be happier knowing that i can enjoy the music to its fullest without worrying about Musicality. 
Regarding the forgiveness on poor quality records, it varies from a recording to another. Some of my songs always sounded bad or with problems or "Shhh" in the background which was only not around on a warmer setup that eliminate this issue at the price of some treble or bass, with DAVE i was shocked that this was gone on few tracks and i was able to enjoy these certain tracks, i never thought that i will see this happen or thought its impossible to begin with, DAVE is indeed a different kind of DAC.
that being said you will notice the recording mistakes and errors yet (depend on the track) it will not be as harsh as it will be on other TOTL Neutral DACs. Also i want to mention that the volume range on DAVE is superb! i go from -40 to -20 dB without feeling like its harsh on my ears. in fact i brought my brother and he kept saying its ok increase the volume even that it was his first listen on DAVE, i really liked how DAVE is easy on the ears.
The bass is fully controlled, never bleed into the frequency even a bit, its punchy like Thunder  and never harsh on the ears even on a higher volume than usual. that being said there is no boos or added coloration, its dead honest to the recording. the bass had superb details as well and the bass note is as clear as the day.
preference wise i like punchier than this, yet keep in mind i am a person who enjoy added coloration and fun. that being said the Bass on DAVE never let me lusting for more, it was superb and spot on.
The mids of DAVE what truly separates it from any SS DAC on the market, and the hardest part to achieve while having a fully extended treble and thunder like bass abilities. its super musical as if you are on a Class A amp, yet its not overly warm or sound like less of a SS Neutral amp.
while being this musical it was also giving me the feeling that i am still listing to a SS Neutral amp mids which was so weird for me, its actually shows that DAVE is still honest to the recording and shows you how it is 100% yet still manage to show you musicality to its fullest. this is not 10/10 here this is TOTL Reference quality and high end.
again coming from many setups for the last five years, never ever i was able to see such mids quality on a DAC that have such bass and treble in the same time, this is what i been searching for all of these years, and DAVE was the answer.  
The Treble is extended to its fullest, never i heard the Treble extends as much. it was smooth, very smooth, yet so sparkly and extended and same as the bass its honest to the recording. as a Treble head i didn't feel like i would want more, it was a spot on even for me. even that DAVE is super musical it didn't lose any Treble detail here or there.
Focal Utopia:
Utopia on DAVE was superb! i know why a lot are going for this combo. its Neutral and balanced to the max!! Utopia tend to do what DAVE do, which is achieving balance and musicality while trying to stay dead Neutral and without sacrificing any frequency. almost every other user who own this combo agrees that together they create what a i would call the world best pair.
The bass wasn't as punchy as it was on LAu, because as i said DAVE doesn't add and stay honest to the recording. which isn't bad ofc unless you are after coloration or added fun element. that being said the bass was always fun and thanks to being honest to the recording i was able to get more balanced sound sig from Utopia.
the mids on the other hand was so lush and musical that i felt like i wont lust after coloration on a tube amp or Class A amps which is usually the case when i have a dead Neutral setup, yet not this time. Treble wise its the same as the Bass case, and it showed me the true treble of Utopia which is extended and smooth without losing a tiny bit of extension ofc.
V-Moda 100:
i never reviewed a portable headphone on a TOTL rig, because they don't scale and feel the same on a DAP or any TOTL amp or slightly different. on DAVE it was not the same case,
i really was shocked that V-Moda's mids sounded musical to a big extent, and the Treble was extended and sparkly to its fullest, even that every previous combo i had for the past 3 years didn't do it this way!!
while the vocals had some issues since this is the weakest point of this headphone, it sounded the best that this headphone can do. i am surprised about the scaling, including the sound stage itself.
Vs Hugo TT:
i had Hugo portable, and Hugo TT, coming from the TT i was worried that i will lose Bass/Treble epincness since i enjoy the brighter side of the Hugo line since its the brightest compare to any Chord product, that being said not bright ofc, i am saying its the brightest among its brothers.
DAVE is far more musical, it didn't leave me wanting more musicality, specially with the female vocals, as was the case with Hugo TT which is why i was pairing it with LAu. the being said Hugo TT sound superb with LCD series because of the synergy yet when paired with a bright can then its another story. with DAVE i can plug any headphone without worrying about it.
DAVE sound different yes, yet its not lacking anything nor make me feel like adding external amp, maybe a cable change or to will help adjusting some warm cans to fin my preference and thats about it. 
sound sig wise DAVE got bigger sound stage, and the Treble got higher quality, and the Bass is quantity and quality is on another level, i can say its a whole upgrade yet you get something that is more musical and less brighter than TT. yet again i don't miss the TT a big and all my fears coming from TT were gone.
Price wise you could go for TT and another amp that will suit your preference yet i had WA5 + Hugo TT before and still the Hugo TT's mids as a DAC can't be even as half good as what can DAVE do, you could pair DAVE for fun yes and i think the result will be epic in case you are someone like me who like to enjoy external amp flavor from time to time. 
long story short DAVE can beat Hugo TT alone and also can do the DAC Job better thanks to its superb musicality.
Note: a lot of people are fine with Hugo TT alone with even TH900, again its all about what you want in a setup, and not what it can do right or wrong. its all about preference and needs.
DAVE is a True end game DAC, if you are after a dead Neutral setup which reflects the recording as it is, while not changing the musicality in the favor or Treble/Bass, then DAVE is the way to go, keeping in mind that you will also enjoy a super quality and quantity on both Treble and Bass. its a new Reference int he Solid State game.
i was always looking for a SS setup that will make me enjoy the bass and treble to its fullest yet somehow if possible give me all the musicality, it though it was impossible but DAVE proved me wrong.
While being really expensive i could  say this is the price of getting everything in one pack, while nothing sound that it need an upgrade or external help, indeed its everything or nothing with DAVE.
I think that Dave/Utopia combo is one of the very best setup on the planet... May be simply different, but I prefer Headtrip/Abyss ...
wow just googled it, and my wish list be increased by another beast xD thanks for the info. how are the mids on this combo? i think the Bass/Treble is super ofc , Abyess FTW.
Your review is as accurate as Dave, i have the same experience as well with Dave/Utopia and it's comparison with TT2

Frank I

Columnist/Reviewer at Headphone.Guru
Pros: Analogue Sound
Cons: Expensive
Chord has been on a roll over the last two years introducing ground breaking digital products. The landscape for digital products has made a significant leap in sound quality over that period of time. The introduction of the Hugo portable amplifier and digital to analogue converter was a game changer. Listening impressions of the Hugo had people ecstatic with the purity and the analogue sound of the music. The Hugo was a groundbreaking design from Chord”s legendary Rob Watts.   Rob is the creative genius that keep pushing the boundaries in digital design. The  partnership between John Franks and Rob Watts over the years have been creating stellar products that have in my opinion been not only creative, but also groundbreaking and have established new industry benchmarks in digital design.  

John Franks is an innovative thinker. He challenged Rob Watts to create a product for the mass market that would be close to the sound of the Hugo but it also had to be more affordable. John and Rob both envisioned the need for a product that could change the sound of portable music devices. The introduction of many portable music players and Iphones and android devices created more listeners with music on the go. The challenge after the Hugo was to create a product that the mainstream could buy, yet still offer sound that would be reference quality.  The Mojo priced at $599 was  introduced to the mainstream audio world. Once again Chord brought a product that would redefine portable audio. The  affordable price was now within the reach of many more listeners and brisk sales have been the norm for the little Mojo. Fast forwarding to 2016 brings us with another top of the line no compromise design from Rob Watts and the Chord team. DAVE has landed and the next chapter begins.

Listening to the DAVE at CES in Las Vegas with the  Audeze LCD 4 had my full attention. The DAVE was giving me  satisfaction that over the years I had previously struggled to achieve with digital devices. I knew then that I wanted to spend some time with the DAVE in my system and see what Rob Watts’s new design was capable of producing. John Franks and I spoke and he graciously gave us the opportunity to review this world class product.


The DAVE is based on the Spartan 6 field programmable gate array, which was used in the other DAC’s manufactured by Chord. . The main difference is the LX75 is used at the heart of the DAVE. The new design incorporates a huge version of the Spartan 6. The DAVE while using this bigger version of the Spartan 6 delivers music according to Chord with unmatched reality and musicality. DAVE is a preamplifier, headphone amp and world class digital to analogue converter in one well thought out chassis. The specifications are mind-boggling.

The DAVE does uses a USB style input and has a range of 44hz -768HZ and not only does DXD but also Quad DSD. Pricd at $13000 without the optional stand which adds an additional $2500



Lee Shelly took pictures of the DAVE for Chord and delivered it to my house when he completed the work for Chord. Once the DAVE arrived my anxiety levels starting to climb. Remembering those early listening sessions in Las Vegas I was anxious to get it into my system and start listening to music.  Using Nordost excellent Heimdall USB cable inserted into the Imac computer provided  me with a enormous amount of music to stream through both headphones and also use as full near-field reference system.

The DAVE was also connected to the system with the Rogue Cronus Magnum 11 amplifier and Cavalli Liquid Gold headphone amplifier so it could be used as a DAC in a full stereo system with the Fritz carbon 7 monitors. The cables used were all Nordost Blue Heaven interconnect and speaker cables.

Music sources from the iMac included DSD and high-resolution download files using Aurdirvana and iTunes. Music coming from Tidal’s lossless streaming library gave me an endless CD quality library to listen too. The Dave was ready to be fired up and the anticipation of music coming out of the system put a big smile on my face.


Once the DAVE was fired up and ready to play music, I put on familiar tracks to get the feel of the music. Primarily using the DAVE with  the Audeze LCD4 brought me back to that magical day in January when I fell in love with the DAVE. The sound coming from Holly Cole’s “The Train Song” had me completely consumed with her intoxicating vocals. The sound coming from the system was very transparent and musical. The sound of her voice was alive and more realistic than I have heard it reproduced previously. Listening to headphones is a personal experience and it sounded as if Holly was singing not only to me but for me. The delicate and seductive sound of her voice gave me the chills. Imaging was exceptionally real with Holly in her own space and standing out with each musician also well defined within the sound-stage.

Instruments were also outstanding with the DAVE. The tonality of the bass guitar on Patricia Barber’s Company from “Modern Cool” had the juices going. The LCD 4 reproducing the bass was thunderous and the DAVE was able to reproduce the stellar sound from Michael Arnopols bass with detail and extension. There was no abnormality in the sound. The sound was live and more importantly nailed the tonality of the instrument. The headphone amplifier never called any attention to itself and was always at peak performance. The sound coming from DAVE was beyond anything that I had experienced with any digital converter that  has been in the reference system. The DSD recording came to life and it was as if everything just disappeared except the music. There were no boundaries. The system evaporated and music was focused with imaging and sound that was as good as any analogue system I had heard regardless of price.

DAVE was convincing musically. The tonality of the instruments was spectacular. Listening to Bernstein’s Candide with the HiFiman flagship HE 1000 headphones was a revelation. The tonality of the instruments sounded realistic but it also had delicacy reproducing the violins on the Candide Suite. The Reference Recording engineered by Keith Johnson with Eji Que conducting the Minnesota Orchestra put me in the hall. I could hear the room acoustics clearly.

The layering of the orchestra in its proper location and sound staging was wide and deep with air and space between each section of the orchestra. The DAVE just played music. The sound was more like listening to a analogue record without any of the drawback that you would get listening to vinyl and had the explosive dynamics and range that only digital can provide. The DAVE sound was not digital in any way. The musicality and tonality were exceptional.

Argento’s Ring of Time from Valentino Dances also featuring the Minnesota Orchestra is a special piece of music. The chimes in this recording with the right equipment is an incredible listening experience   The DAVE nailed the extension of the chimes and you could hear not only inner detail but the hall reverberation in the recording as well. Jaw dropping sound with musicality and tonality that was realistic and alive. The Dave was able to reproduce this track better than I had heard it reproduced in the system, indeed the sound coming from the DAVE had my complete attention and had me in long and deep listening sessions. Amazingly after full days with long hours of listening, it was all without fatigue.


Switching to the Liquid Gold, my reference headphone amplifier and using the DAVE fully balanced, made little difference in the sound. The stand-alone amplifier increased the soundstage minimally. The Liquid Gold can deliver high current with more power but I noticed no difference in musicality or tonality using the Gold over the DAVE’s internal amplifier. The strength of the Liquid Gold is soundstage and bass , and the DAVE as a source was more thunderous and had slightly better staging . I could hear more even more extension and slam but the silky smooth sound of the stand-alone DAVE left little to be desired. The unit was performing flawlessly in the listening sessions and the sound was spectacular.

Intrigued with headphone listening, using the Ether C closed reference headphone from MrSpeakers was a terrific synergistic match for the DAVE. Jeff Buckley’s vocal with his opening whisper on the “Hallelujah” track brought me directly to the recording studio. The delicate sound of his guitar coming from the DAVE and Ether C was a revelation. Buckley’s vocal sounded as if I was in the studio booth with him. I could hear the room acoustics and not get distracted listening to Buckley’s vocal.

This is one of the best renditions of the Leonard Cohen’s tune and has not been surpassed with any performance since Buckley recorded his version . Emotion in the recording was felt with the DAVE and the sound was sublime, yet involving and it sounded spiritual. The delivery and performance had me captivated. I could only hear Buckley’s crystal clear vocal located  in a defined space with razor sharp imaging and envision the studio room where he recording this majestic tune. Wow maybe there is a God above  lyric started to come to life for me. Listening to Buckley sing it was as if he was empowered from that God above.


Removing the headphone I switched to the system and replayed the track through the Rogue Cronus Magnum 11 with the Fritz Carbon 7 speakers. Immediately upon playing it on the system, my wife hearing the track left what she was doing and came into the room. She asked what unit was is in the system and thought I playing a vinyl record. I told her it was the DAVE. She told me she never heard the system sound like that before. She sat down and we both started listening together, something we hardly ever do together.

The Rogue Cronus Magnum 11 was synergistic with the DAVE and the Fritz Carbon 7’s. The entire system disappeared and all we were left with was Jeff Buckley in the room. The sound was as if I was playing the best vinyl, but missing was any noise or anything that would distract us from the music we were playing. Buckley’s vocal was a spiritual experience in this system. I could feel as if he connected with me  while he was singing this song. Amazingly I was lured into the performance and never wanted it to end.

The DAVE in the 2 channel system continued to excite me with its sound. Using other DACS in the system never had me this excited. Switching to Duke Ellington’s “Back to Back” and listening on the system without headphones had my total attention.  Johnny Hodges’s sax on “Wabash Blues” had Johnny coming out of the right channel and the speakers disappeared and the sound was to die for. The musicality and rhythm of the music brought these musicians to my listening room and had Paula and me completely in tune to the performance. She was amazed at how good the music sounded and kept telling me this was the best the system had ever sounded.


Ellington’s piano came to life and the rhythm section was  in tune with the music. It sounded as if they playing in the room. Instruments all sounded as they should and the air and space was beyond reproach. The imaging and detail was all evident on this recording. Air around the performers was among the best I had heard. Hodges sax was floating in its own space and every part of the band had its own  defined space and you could hear inner details, like brush strokes on a cymbal clearly. Each instrument solo had its own space with excellent imaging and focus. The DAVE never called attention to any of these recordings that were streaming lossless from Tidal. The performance from Duke Ellington was breathtaking,

Final Thoughts:

When DAVE entered my system I knew that music listening would never be the same once it left. The musicality with the DAVE in the system was the best I have heard from any digital unit has that been in my system. The only digital to analogue converter I have heard that  comes close to competing with DAVE is the Spectral 19K SDR-4000 SL, which is also a CD player and converter, minus the preamplifier and headphone amplifier.

The DAVE used as a headphone amplifier competed with my Cavalli Liquid Gold and also  functioned as a world class stand alone DAC in the 2 channel system. Listening in my system I was not prepared for how good it would perform as a source and left astonished. Listening with my non-audiophile wife Paula, we both agreed we were hearing the best digital system in my listening room. The sound coming from the DAVE was in another class and at the top of the heap.

Analogue sound has always been a priority in my 2 channel systems. The DAVE made me forget about the analogue and digital debates and stay focused with what is most important to me, which is the music. The DAVE is like adding a fine musical instrument. The $13K price is not inexpensive,but the sound coming from the DAVE is beyond and above anything I have experienced in a high end component.  Flawless and near perfect, the DAVE delivers musicality and resolution like no other digital product I have experienced. The sound and tonality of piano and acoustic instrument is beyond realistic –it is real music.

Violins sounds so delicate and yet refined with the DAVE. Body and tonality were what I hear in acoustic halls every time I attend live concerts. Listening with headphones like the LCD-4,Ether C and the HE-1000 made me realize how good the DAVE amplifier was in conveying the musicality I so much crave. Never once did I feel the need to use any other headphone amplifiers other than to make comparisons. The DAVE is a special musical instrument that captured me and had me completely in tune with the music.

If you can afford to write the check or have a system that is looking for the final source to bring all of your music to life,the DAVE can be the answer. For me, sadly I could not figure a way to keep the DAVE. Not that  I did not try, especially when Paula (my wife) told me it was the best she heard the system sound. Even after me continuously reminded her of that, I could  not convince her to let me write that check. I would have had to streamline my system down and sell of chunks of it to buy the DAVE.  If I had the funds to buy the unit I would without question have most definitely written that check.

When DAVE was here, my listening sessions were more involving and musicality soared. Sadly I had to return it and the loss of DAVE has created a void in my listening room(and life). Rob Watts has hit it out of the park with this design and John Franks the innovator and master behind the scenes at Chord keep raising the bar and Rob Watts always delivers and exceeds the goals he sets for himself. Chords team is gifted and talented and continues to keep changing the benchmark of what products should be. DAVE I will miss you and look forward to our next encounter. Highly recommended

Photography by:

Music Alchemist
Music Alchemist
I remember reading this review when it was first published on back in April. :)

Those are such gorgeous photos! The silver version looks even better, IMO.
Since this review you have auditioned the Goldmund Telos 2 dac/amp.
I read that it competes with the DAVE.
What is your feeling?
Frank I
Frank I
The DAVE does speakers and the amp in better in my opinion. I purchased the DAVE so that should say it all. I get mine this week. For me the decision was easy because I want it to use in my speakker sytemm as well.
Pros: Amazing sound quality. Very good headphone drive. Measures outstandingly.
Cons: Very expensive. Generic remote control. Unattractive user interface.
When I was a child in the '80s, one of my neighbour's kids, a gloriously goofy-looking guy of the era, was always out on his driveway fixing his motorbikes, then later, his car, a vintage Ford V8. Amongst the memories of grease, gears and the like was his response to questions of how to fix any problem. "Use a bigger hammer" he'd say, jokingly, something anyone of that era who did their own mechanics can appreciate the humour of. 
That expression stuck in my head since then, and came to mind once again listening with the Chord DAVE. With the many different, and seemingly conflicting approaches to digital music reproduction, the one problem that manufactures come up against is the Nyquist theorem itself, which, while perfectly logical, requires the impossible to completely implement. To perfectly reconstruct an analog signal, according to Rob Watts, one needs an infinite tap-length filter. While that would require a warping of the laws of physics to create, what Rob has managed to do is use brute force computing power to implement as many taps as he can get into a single FPGA (in the case of the Hugo) and dual FPGAs (in the DAVE) to do this for him. Use a bigger hammer, as my friend used to say. Yet we're 30 years on and the hammer in question is a chip with what used to be house-sized super computing power back then.

This computing power is used to bypass the limitations of ordinary digital to analog conversion: The DAC chip itself, which is a piece of silicon that Rob Watts says has serious noise problems that DAC manufacturers spend a lot of engineering resources attempting to overcome. Instead of attempting to overcome those problems, Rob gets to work on overcoming the very central issue to digital-to-analog conversion itself: Getting as close to an accurate reproduction of the original analog waveform as possible.
The DAVE is only 33 cm wide by 14 cm deep, and like other Chord DACs, generates a fair bit of heat for its size, the manual requiring 5cm of clearance on all sides, except the bottom.  As well as the usual plethora of inputs and RCA and XLR outputs, a headphone socket adorns the front. Plug in your headphones and the pre-amp/DAC output is shut off. The DAVE remembers what volume you had both pre- and headphone amps set at, so plugging and unplugging will leave you where you left off before. 
The rather basic-looking user interface is controlled via four metal button balls, the central knob being the volume control when turned, and mute when pressed.
The BNC digital inputs and special digital outputs can be used with other Chord transports and amps, something which I wasn't able to test and is, regardless, beyond the scope of this review. 
One issue I came across with the DAVE was that my active monitors would buzz when the headphones were plugged into the DAVE, which shuts off the pre-amp function. That required me to to shut off my speakers when I was using headphones.

Within a minute of plugging my HD800s into the DAVE and beginning to listen I knew immediately I wanted one.  I also knew that any language I'd used to describe DACs before was useless. Normal questions about the sound, such as those relating to tone, texture, detail and distortion, do not exist, as what I felt I was experiencing was something else entirely from what I'd experienced before.
I recall an episode of Top Gear where Jeremy Clarkson test drives a Lotus track car that is almost, if not quite F1 race-car fast. He wasn't driving it fast enough to get enough downforce to go through corners properly. The problem, he described, is that he had driven cars with that much power before, and ones that could accelerate that fast before, and handle that well, but not a car that was capable of all those things at once. 
I feel a similar way about the DAVE. I have heard DACs before that impressed me as being as detailed, DACs that sounded as natural and "organic" in presentation, DACs that seemed to disappear and just let the music through, and carefully constructed systems that had incredible depth and dynamics, but never any single component that could deliver all of that at once. The best analogy I can come up with to describe what I'm feeling is that it is as if the music has been injected into my blood. Take the liquid beauty of the sound from an excellent vinyl rig, the instant delivery of the best SET amp, and the detail from the best digital and combine them, but without the compromises of any of those components.
Further listening and attempting to discern what I was experiencing has lead me to believe that the DAVE's electronics have a transient response on a level at which it can reproduce the underlying harmonics of instruments that are too subtle to make out as distinct aspects of the sound. It is more than simply that there is more texture being reproduced, even more than the feeling of perceiving the feelings of the player when they were playing the note, but underlying substance of the texture of those notes.  Every time a guitar note was plucked, or a note hit on a piano a strange sensation came over me making it almost hard to breath, let alone type this description. Cymbals, for example, were ... transcendental, reproduction exceeding what I had previously considered excellent in other DACs. 

I decided to give the DSD version of Whites Off Earth Now by the Cowboy Junkies a go using both PCM+ mode (which decimates DSD first) as well as in DSD+ mode (which doesn't decimate first). The differences were subtle, but I felt that the DSD+ mode brought out the DAVE's magic more. The Gotan Project, on the other hand, seemed softer-sounding when I played the DSD version back. It is hard to know how much that is a result of the mastering and how much of the format.
Friday Night in San Francisco is my usual go-to to test speed and overall performance. It is arguably more a test of amplification than anything. However I wasn't concerned by this stage of performance, but more so trepidation in listening to this highly intense album through a device that was already giving me a huge degree of sensory overload.
One of my complaints about the Hugo was that the headphone out wasn't able to deliver the dynamics I felt the music deserved, so it was only appropriate that I compared the headphone output of the DAVE with the Studio Six.  With a complement of tubes that aim towards as uncoloured as possible - GE and Mullard essentially, it was a tough call, but the Studio Six had a tiny edge in dynamics of presentation, but if I was to have bought a DAVE, I wouldn't bother buying a separate headphone amp of any kind, unless I intended to drive headphones that were too demanding, such as the HE-6 or LCD-4, and then only if I felt there were shortcomings.
What I had previously thought was air and blackness between notes on other DACs I can't help wondering if it was detail not being reproduced. In the past, when I'd audition better and better DACs, they seemed to be getting better at bringing out the black between notes -- the less noise, from the electronics, that the reproduced, the more of the actual music seemed to be reproduced, or so it seems, each subtlety delineated yet more. What I believe was going on is that it was only ending up revealing the limitations of the silicon used in the DACs themselves and that blackness hid essential information. While you might have a more "black" background, in that "black" was the ultra-subtleties of the music that was missing due to the limits of the converter. With the ability to resolve sounds down to -350dB, I believe that all that was missing in the "black" has suddenly been made present, and that is what was causing the sensation of being overwhelmed with detail. 
It is as if all the dark matter of the universe suddenly lit up, or our vision suddenly extended to included infra-red and ultra-violet. If either happened, we'd suddenly be overwhelmed with visual information. 
To a degree, I felt some of this was happening with Schiit Audio's Yggdrasil, as if the electricity in the air as the musicians were playing was coming through. With the DAVE it was this, but so much more. Instead of more black, it is more music.

While I am happy to admit that I don't have a large amount of experience with high-end gear and that my perspective might have been different if I had, and, not to mention, I cannot try the DAVE on a decent speaker rig, I still feel that there is something magically capable about it.  Around a decade ago a handful of people bought what turned out to be poorly-made tube headphone amps for $14000, and that before the source was considered and the Sony MDR-R10s were the only truly high-end headphones. If the DAVE seems expensive relative to what else is available, it is certainly exponentially better than what was available 10 years ago for that amount of money, and no other components are needed to use it with a computer and headphones.
@FiftyKilo, it depends on what you mean by bloom.  The DAVE adds no harmonics to the sound like tubes would.  Can it power the Abyss sufficiently?  Yes, with my Abyss, I rarely have to go beyond -10dB.  At 0dB, it is ear splitting.
Music Alchemist
Music Alchemist
@romaz I am aware of the technical info related to the DAVE. But all I care about is how much better it sounds than the Yggdrasil. Torq told me that it's literally only a few percent better, so I'm not sure if that would be a significant enough improvement for me to spend so much more on it. I'd have to spend time with both to know.
@Music Alchemist, yes, I would never consider buying anything as important as a DAC without hearing it first, especially something at this price point and so hopefully enough opinions have been expressed to suggest that an audition is worthwhile.  While one person will say they barely hear a difference, another recent comment just a few days ago suggested the DAVE wiped the floor with the Yggy.  You can't account for personal tastes and the quality of the recordings that you listen to and the equipment you have will matter. 
In my view, the purpose of a DAC is to be faithful to the recording and so the best that a DAC can sound if you value transparency is to have no sound.  If you were to travel to Timbuktu and you didn't speak the native language but had an interpreter with you, during the course of a conversation, are you interested in having the interpreter provide you an embellished and flowery interpretation of the conversation are or you interested in an accurate portrayal of what is actually being said.  If you are looking for a warmth or a certain organic bloom that isn't in the recording, the DAVE won't provide it.  If you're looking to extract the rich detail and depth that is in the recording and you have the equipment to reveal it, I don't think you will be disappointed.
As for the value of the DAVE, only the individual listener can assign a value to a component and the DAVE certainly isn't for everyone.  Is the DAVE 5.8x better than the Yggdrasil?  No, but is the Yggdrasil 23x better than an AQ Dragonfly?  Unfortunately, this is the nature of this crazy hobby.