Upscaler

Chord Blu Mk. 2 M Scaler CD Transport Review – Digital Dressed in Analog

Performance

Contents

Compact Discs

I’ll be honest, I rarely touch physical discs. My entire collection was stolen from my car years ago and I never went back. That said, I was able to pick out a few familiar albums from Brook Berdan’s stash.

Shota Osabe Piano Trio – Willow Weep for Me

  • The bass plucks during the intro were so palpable and tactile. I didn’t know how good this recording was until I heard it on the BluDAVE.
  • With just the DAVE, the bass plucks just aren’t as organic or convincing. Leading edges of the piano also aren’t as clear. With the BluDAVE, you could almost imagine the fingers hitting the keys.
  • The BluDAVE was beautifully rhythmic, smooth, delicate, and every nuance is easily perceived. It truly sounds like a live performance.

Natalie Merchant – The Letter 

  • The BluDAVE is more dynamic and expansive. There are much more roundness and deliberation in her voice.
  • Piano just sounds absolutely superb on the BluDAVE.

Metallica – …and Just for All

  • Solo DAVE sounds a bit crowded and smeared. BluDAVE breaks apart the players and provides a very coherent and headbanging inducing experience. You’re able to hear the speed and force of the guitar.

Jimi Hendrix – Ultimate Experience – All Along the Watchtower

  • His guitar riffs just float across the room
  • Smooth, engaging, infinite depth, and ridiculous imaging
  • His voice sounds as smooth and real as ever
  • With the solo DAVE…it’s just not a Jimi Hendrix Experience. 🙁

This FPGA-based upsampling CD transport will take your CDs into another realm. It’s startling how lifelike these recordings sound. These filtering and upscaling algorithms are working some crazy magic on those bits. Everything just sounds more open and inviting.

TIDAL

Anette Askvik – Liberty

  • Effortless, supreme layering, especially the first 15 seconds, all that nuanced sound,
  • If the creaking door sound in the beginning of the track doesn’t startle you, you ain’t listening to a BluDAVE.
  • Her voice has gradations and dynamics cues I’ve never heard on any system. Palpable and sweet.
  • Makes me think “Are these really TIDAL streams over Wi-Fi?”
  • The background is naturally black. Some digital devices reduce the noise floor in an artificial way. I don’t get this with the BluDAVE.
  • There’s so much individualism with all the tidbits coming in and out of this song, her voice maintains composure on the Blu MK2. Every knock, exertion from the saxophone, her voice can’t get any smoother.
  • tip of the tongue. extension, dynamics, elevation is smooth. have to listen to the whole song. The harmony between two vocals and piano entry is just seamless. The saxophone has a natural incisiveness to the sound.
  • Solo DAVE:
    • Lacks a bit of tonal density and an enormous amount of depth.
    • The door creak doesn’t extend forward and back at nearly the same amount.
    • It’s sonically connected: there isn’t good individualism between the acoustic tidbits and her voice. Worse of all, her voice doesn’t have that same presence and body and air. Not to mention detail.
    • Saxophone falls flat, dynamics are lacking across the board. There’s this digital overlay over the entire sound. Just not as engaging.
    • There’s a lot more sonic smearing especially when the two voices overlap.
    • The background isn’t quiet, the tidbits get mixed in with music.
    • BluDAVE has much meat around the brass. Cymbals are in a tighter space and don’t shine naturally.
    • The solo DAVE loses control towards the end with the drum and sax, while the BluDAVE keeps things in line and remains musical throughout.
    • The DAVE dynamically hits a wall far in front of you but the BluDAVE has infinite acoustic headroom. The speakers and room disappear.

Marian Hill – Same Thing

  • I actually heard this song on a high-end vinyl rig. I’ve never heard a digital source reproduce her voice so smoothly and found it to be just as convincing as that rig.
  • That “ring” has this detail I didn’t know existed (perhaps…it doesn’t exist). This is interesting because a lot of these notes are synthesized via a keyboard but the Blu2, at this point, seems to be generating artificial elements. Notwithstanding this, it sounds incredible and made this track a lot more fun to listen to.
  • The BluDAVE takes what we think as “coherence” to another level. It takes it to the realm of reality.
  • I get no hints of digital with the BluDAVE. The snapping sounds eerily real.
  • The bass hits hard with a definition I didn’t know was in the recording (once again, might’ve been artificially generated).
  • Solo DAVE
    • I didn’t know the intro had this much depth and low-end detail. More mid-bass presence, better gradation, a realistically lingering decay. Is this artificial or real? I don’t know.
    • Piano decays never interfere with her vocals with the BluDAVE. It’s always in control. Solo DAVE loses its grip and sounds loose in comparison.
    • I’ve seen them live and yearn for some of that organic sound. With solo DAVE, it’s not quite there. With BluDAVE, I don’t think it could be any more analog sounding than that.
    • There’s low-end detail in the beginning that doesn’t even come close to that of the BluDAVE. Whether this was detail intended by the artist or not, it sounded great.
    • Vocals are a bit more forward on the solo DAVE.
    • Solo DAVE is flatter, fuzzier, narrower, and doesn’t have blacks as deep as the BluDAVE.

Eva Cassidy – People Get Ready

  • You could clearly hear the drummer’s position in the back with the guitarist towards the front. With DAVE, this isn’t at all apparent. BluDAVE adds an finite number of layers to the music.
  • There are a calmness and smoothness to the BluDAVE. An easy, effortless, and enjoyable listening experience.
  • Excellent individualism and separation. There’s no clashing between the players.
  • Tonally correct. Perfect timbre.
  • Floor to ceiling and front to back wall, BluDAVE just fills out the listening space in a natural and enveloping way.
  • She just sounds real, like a person standing there and not a recording.
  • Her emotion is conveyed in a very physical way. You could almost visualize her exertion.
  • Bass extension is much deeper and weightier.
  • Solo DAVE
    • Much less depth. Compressed dynamics.
    • When the climactic drums come in towards the end of the track (2:50), it doesn’t pull you in with just the DAVE. With the BluDAVE, you’re wide-eyed from the impact.
    • Her extension isn’t fully realized on the DAVE, It sounds like it gets attenuated and rolled off.
    • A bit of digital grain. The dips in her voice and minute gradations just don’t exist with solo DAVE.
    • Bass is extremely well controlled and detailed. Doesn’t sound like the same source vs DAVE.

Cannonball Adderley – You’re a Weaver of Dreams

  • Infinite depth and extension.
  • Bass plucks are very well defined. Just sounds real.
  • Realistic notes carry and decay properly into the acoustic space
  • Cymbals are lifelike. As real as it freakin’ gets.
  • Much more gradation, fast transients, quick and effortless. Streamed music benefits greatly from this technology.
  • Solo DAVE
    • The saxophone doesn’t extend its reach into the room. Stops short.
    • The BluDAVE warms up the sound of the DAVE, which was much-needed IMO.
    • DAVE tries to be real but BluDAVE embodies it by giving each player substance and a visceral physical presence.
    • DAVE doesn’t breathe nearly as freely as the BluDAVE
    • The tone and timbre of the sax are much better with BluDAVE. I didn’t even notice the piano in the back with the DAVE.
    • The imaging capability of the BluDAVE is so good…it sounds like a different recording on the DAVE.

Rickie Lee Jones – Chuck E’s In Love

  • Solo DAVE
    • Sonic smearing and fattier sound.
    • Poor delineation
    • Lacks roundedness
    • There’s a calmness, smoothness, lifelike nature of the BluDAVE
    • Recording vs lifelike to another level. It’s undeniable.
    • More congested while the BluDAVE is unequivocally unrestrained in all directions.

Candela – Buena Vista Club (live)

  • The crowd, in the beginning of the track, sounded so real.
  • Solo DAVE
    • Bass is very loose and bloaty.
    • Vocals have a bit of digital edge to them.

Thurman Green – Minor blue

  • Holistically relaxed
  • Every pluck of the bass is distinct and tactile
  • Fantastic timbre and tone.
  • Bass plucks, transitions, all coherent and seamless. You could hear the way the air comes out of the instruments and the physical effort made by the musicians.
  • Solo DAVE
    • Out the gate it lacks the roundness, body, and depth. The pieces of the sound disappear too quickly.
    • In comparison, it’s like a flat image vs something 3-dimensional.
    • Less dynamic, just doesn’t sound as lifelike.
    • Fuzzier background

O-Zone Percussions – Jazz Variants

  • Drums are quick and convincing
  • Reverb and decays are so accurate. It’s amazing.
  • Very rhythmic and clean with life-like articulation.
  • The individual metal jingles of the tambourine could be heard. I know it sounds crazy but…it is.

Come Fly With Me (Live at Sands) – Frank Sinatra

  • Never heard the reverb from the announcer before. Extends across a much larger space than I realized.
  • Coherence and tonal shadings are at a completely different and analog world.
  • Sounds like a real live performance.

Egyptian Fantasy – Bria Skonberg

    • All brass just breathes freely in articulate and musical fashion.
    • Bass plucks are extremely well delineated and realistically defined.
  • Solo DAVE
      • Doesn’t come close to the level of layering or depth, timbre, or articulation.
      • DAVE sounds quite compacted in comparison.
    • DAVE doesn’t give the instruments its own space to breathe.

Gregory Porter – God Bless the Child –  Be Good

    • Talk about being in the acoustic space. The DAVE falls flat but BluDAVE paints an entire picture of recording. Those reverbs don’t really exist on the DAVE while the BluDAVE trails so realistically.
  • There’s more critical musical information, nuance, and micro-details. You could hear how Gregory carries his voice with a smoothness and intricate detail that is otherworldly.
  • You’re able to visualize Gregory there from the sonorous sound of his voice.

Mozart & Beethoven: Violin Sonatas – Ji Young Lim – No. 21 in E Minor, K 304 II Tempo di Menuetto 6:11

    • The addictiveness of the accurate and deeper tonal density cannot be denied. All instruments have weight and balance. Piano notes are delicate and clean while the violin articulates with proper weight and vigor.
  • It’s really difficult for most systems to relay in this amount of layering.

Takeshi Inomata – Alone Together

    • Cymbals have so much presence and natural timbre and speed.
    • Sax is dead center, piano between far left and left forward on the right side. The imaging on the BluDAVE is incredible.
    • Repeated piano notes are coherent, delicate, and beautiful.
    • Drums have an unintrusive punch that doesn’t disturb the other instruments.
  • So much articulation and weight, density. detail, and speed.

Lamet – Youn Sun Nah

  • Drum smacks are delicate but carry intent and force. Sounds like something Bruce Lee would say.
  • Vocal exertion (seems to be the theme of the BluDAVE) is fully perceived. You could visualize her throwing her chest out while she belts out some of those notes.
  • Solo DAVE
    • The differences are stark. With just the DAVE, it sounds fine but less meaty and colored. Dave is flatter in the intro, but once her voice comes in, it’s a bit of a hot mess. Layering just isn’t there, lyrics aren’t comprehensible and there’s lots of bleeding across instruments. (sigh)
    • Her voice has obviously much less gradation and body. It’s not as coherent or separated. When the other instruments come in, her voice gets a little lost, and so do the details.
    • BluDAVE never loses control, although the difference in layering isn’t apparent until A/B. Mid-bass and lows are just more compelling.
    • Drums in the intro have a lot more snap, definition, and impact. It’s punchier and more granularly defined. One sounds perfect (BluDAVE), the other sounds like it needs help (DAVE). Topped with truly analog vocals and you have something extraordinary.

Chris Botti – When I Fall in Love

  • Having just heard him at the Hollywood Bowl, the BluDAVE reaffirms its capabilities with this track. You are teleported to the Boston Symphony Hall. The entire acoustic space is revealed and the amount of layering and air just blows the DAVE away. Listen to this track with the BluDAVE if you ever get the chance.

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Jay Luong

Mr. Audio Bacon himself. An open-minded electrical engineer and software developer by trade. I have an obsession with the enjoyment of all things media - specifically in the realm of music and film. So much heart and soul (and money) go into the creation of this artistry. My aim is to find out which products get me closer to what the musicians and directors intended.

View Comments

  • Hey there Jay,
    Nice review, even though this means the endgame is even further away from my reach.
    I recently sold my car to clear funds for HUGO2 :D

    Speaking of Hugo2, did you try the Mscaler with H2? Rob Watts recently said, that this combo will also bring the tap count to one Million.
    I guess this didn't even cross your mind, for understandable reasons...but maybe you can give it a try and report.

    He also recommended using generic digital cables of 2 meter length rather than audiophile cables to make the connection of Blu2 and DAVE. He said that a pair of 2 m generic cables sounded better than a pair of 1 m audiophile cables...and suggested that even longer cables like 5 m might sound even better...so I am a little confused about your cable recommendations for short cables???

    Maybe you can experiment with longer cables a bit as well.

    BTW did your dealer already tell you when you can have a listen with the 2GoMscaler ;)

    Cheers

  • Hi Jay,
    Thank you so much for your thorough and complete review of the Chord Blu2. I knew when I called you to tell you that we had one here at the store for you to hear that it was a special unit, but it took a talented and knowledgeable reviewer to put it into words that properly and precisely describe the unit.

    In reference to the above comment, to the best of my knowledge, the DAVE is the only DAC that can process input through a pair of digital cables. With one cable the maximum bandwidth limits the resolution to 384Khz. It takes 2 cables to carry the bandwidth up to 768Khz and utilize the maximum resolution of the DAVE. To use the Hugo2 would limit the resolution to 384.

    Chord has been delayed bringing thier new products to market, there is no time frame on the 2Go.

    Thanks again Jay!
    Cheers

    • I suspect the not user selectable Coax Dual Data mode and a custom cable might bring the Mscaler to the full 768Khz upscaling capabilitys with H2.

      Cheers

  • Hi Jay & Ken (from Brooks Berdan),
    This is a really thorough review which is so difficult to come by these days, but i do have a major question.

    As a Dave user I am battling with the idea of selling my uber preamplifier so i can buy the Blu2. Had you listened without the Jadis pre-amplifier in the chain and how did it compare? In my case, my preamp adds a dimentionality and depth to the sound of my Dave with only a touch loss in immediacy (probably caused by the extra cabling?).

    My question is, notwithstanding power amp matching issues did the M Scaler's level of fidelity in the area of depth and dimentionality now overcome the need for a preamp.

    • Hi Kamil21,
      As you have read in the review the Blu2 revolutionizes digital music in a way we have never heard before at this price point. As a lover of the sound of tubes, I understand and appreciate the want to keep the preamp in the system. I do believe that the level of improvement offered by the Blu2 would far outway anything that your preamp would accomplish. In Jay’s words, quoting his review: “The Chord Blu MK. 2 is the embodiment of what all audiophiles are striving for: A compelling and accurate reproduction of the original recording.”
      If we can help with an audition please contact us at the store. I think that you’ll be amazed.

  • Hi Jay,

    This will seem an absurd question, but did you have a chance to try BluDave with your Abyss or Utopia headphones? Does headphone listening also benefit to the same extent, particularly imaging/soundstage?

    Thinking of going the SOtM trifecta route, but it sounds possible that Blu Mk2 may obviate this to some extent.

    Thank you

    Bill

    • I'm quite sure headphones will benefit from these qualities, although I didn't get a chance to test with headphones. Typically if the 2-channel sounds good, the headphones will sound good (at least on DAVE) but obviously not the other way around. I'm curious as to whether the trifecta is necessary as well. We'll find out soon enough :)

    • I am currently using the Abyss Phi with the dave/blu2 combo and it is wonderful....I am the opposite of the review in that I haven't yet had a chance to hook up to my loudspeaker system....with the Phi I sometimes feel like i can see inside the misic,almost a part of it.....simply fantastic

  • Nicely written marketing piece, what gives it away is your description of Fly me to the moon on Tidal which is an awful mastering that no digital playback system could save.

    • Listening to the track on Tidal on my current right with just the DAVE, and I completely agree with you. The 192/24 version I've been using for other reviews have a much better sense of realism and resolution but the Tidal version with the Blu2 is a completely different beast, especially in the way of depth and focus. Just listen for yourself.

  • So basically Blu does to Dave what Dave did to TT, huge improvement. Except for this time instead of Blu replacing Dave, it completes Dave.

  • I just added a Blu Mk. II to my DAVE setup and agree with everything Jay has stated in his outstanding review. The BluDAVE combo is an absolute game changer! I am overwhelmed at the increase in image depth when Blu2 is added to DAVE. It has to be heard to be believed! The transparency, imaging, and bass quality are also improved significantly. These improvements apply equally to my speakers (KEF LS50) and headphones (Focal Utopia). The BluDAVE is an engineering masterpiece. I can't wait to see what Chord has in store in the future with the M Scaler technology.

  • Hugo2 is not limited to 384, because it can accept a double coax as well. The difference between Bluhugo and BluDAVE is not night and day, I could live with Bluhugo, but not without Blu2!

    • So you've heard both BluDAVE and BluHugo? The main draw for BluDAVE for me is the 2 watts @ 8 ohms. If I had higher efficiency speakers, BluHugo may suffice.

    • Dave is far superior to Hugo 2 and there are good technical reasons to support this apart from my own ears.
      I was considering buying Hugo 2 instead of Dave to partner Blue 2 and an SPM 1050 mk.ll. I wanted to keep the upgrade costs down, in the end I just had to spend the extra for Dave and have no regrets.

  • So many things to consider when you buy that expensive mk2 blu.. interconnects, power supply, power cables, usb cables, usb regenerator, and eventually what NAS/streamer you will go with. Yep... it all adds up so those of you that have Dave dac and want to go this route... open your wallet.. large....!

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