From UK high-end audio specialist Chord Electronics comes a true crossover product, a digital audio convertor expressly designed to become the missing link between a mobile phone and a stereo hi-fi system.

The Chordette Gem resembles a scaled-down version of Chord's respected QBD 76 digital-to-analogue convertor (DAC). While the QBD 76 - priced at £3000 - uses proprietary conversion techniques to raise its game against strong audiophile competition, the Chordette Gem uses less expensive convertor technologies, and is limited to two types of input connection.

It can accept digital audio either through Bluetooth, using the advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP), or via USB.

Once paired with a mobile phone, Mac or PC, any MP3 or similar music files can be beamed through the aether and received via the Chordette Gem's folding rubber antenna. We found the Chordette Gem's range to extend up to around 8 metres before drop-outs became audible, so should work well in most people's living rooms.

The Chordette Gem unit is milled from high-quality aluminium in a choice of six colourful anodised finishes, and features the company's trademark ‘porthole' window on top, allowing you to see the LED-illuminated electronics within.

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In listening tests, we found sound quality was good, if limited somewhat by the inevitable on-the-fly lossy compression applied to the audio signal before it's transmitted to the Chordette Gem. Beware, therefore, that even pristine WAV or lossless files will carry some hint of ‘MP3ness' to them. As the A2DP protocol evolves, expect to see this improve as better codecs come into use by hardware manufacturers.

Meanwhile, the USB input option has no such limitations, and gave us one of the best quality USB audio playbacks we've encountered. Digital ‘glare' was notably absent, with a smooth, analogue-like richness to the sound that nevertheless replayed detail aplenty.

Chord Electronics Chordette Gem in colours

You will need to set level carefully when playing back from both Mac OS X and Windows, adjusting volume level to around 50% to avoid digital clipping, which is heard as unpleasant overload distortion.

When set up correctly, the Chordette Gem defies its diminuitive size by conjuring up a big, warm sound that will get the best from digital audio from your PC.

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Chord Electronics Chordette Gem: Specs

  • Digital-to-analogue convertor (DAC) with Bluetooth and USB inputs
  • stereo unbalanced audio output
  • Bluetooth A2DP protocol
  • USB type B input
  • compatible with 16-bit to 24-bit, 44.1kHz–96kHz sample frequency PCM digital audio
  • 2V output
  • external power adaptor
  • 112mm folding radio antenna
  • available in natural silver, black, purple, yellow, red and green anodised finishes
  • 159x71x39mm
  • 400g
  • Digital-to-analogue convertor (DAC) with Bluetooth and USB inputs
  • stereo unbalanced audio output
  • Bluetooth A2DP protocol
  • USB type B input
  • compatible with 16-bit to 24-bit, 44.1kHz–96kHz sample frequency PCM digital audio
  • 2V output
  • external power adaptor
  • 112mm folding radio antenna
  • available in natural silver, black, purple, yellow, red and green anodised finishes
  • 159x71x39mm
  • 400g

OUR VERDICT

At around £400, this is not a cheap solution to hearing music from your mobile phone or PC. But aside from a second string to its bow – USB audio playback – it stands as only the world’s second such product that can retrieve music wirelessly from your A2DP Bluetooth-equipped mobile phone. The first is the company’s own QBD 76 DAC, at nearly eight times the price.

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