But what proved to be one of my favorite aspects of the Gem was its 3D imaging, which was very much in evidence on Just Like Love. One evening I was listening to the album through a competing USB DAC while also using my laptop to work on a project for AVguide. When it came time to take a brief break, I decided to switch to the Gem before resuming work on the project. Frankly, I hadn’t been planning to turn the evening into a full-on listening session, but as the music started to play through the Gem its sound became so much more three-dimensional than it had been that I had to stop and take notice. Previously, the sound had been clean and clear, but the soundstage width extended only the left and right edges of my speakers while depth was only moderately good. But with the Gem in play the soundstage suddenly broke free of the speakers almost completely—extending far to the left and right sides of my listening room, with depth that extended well behind the rear wall of my room, and not just in the center of the stage but in the rear corners, too. In short, the improvement with the Gem in play was plain as day and surprisingly large in magnitude.
I compared the Gem with the USB DAC sections of two combo integrated amp/USB DACs recently reviewed in Playback: namely, the Bel Canto S300iUSB and the Peachtree Audio Nova.
I found the Gem offered less resolution and detail than either the Bel Canto or the Peachtree, with the Peachtree offering the highest resolution levels of the three. However, the Gem sounded noticeably smoother and more three-dimensional than the Bel Canto, though Peachtree provided stiffer competition (in part because it, too, does a pretty good job of managing upper midrange and treble edginess and roughness).
Of the three, the Gem is the only DAC to provide an A2DP-compliant Bluetooth interface, though the Peachtree offered offsetting benefits in that it provided two S/PDIF and two Toslink inputs in addition to its single USB input.
At the beginning of this article I dubbed the Chordette Gem a “21st Century DAC,” because that’s precisely what it is. In an era where more and more listeners are embracing PCs and Bluetooth devices as their audio source components of choice, the Gem stands as an open invitation for those listeners to take their rightful places at the high-end audio table. While the Gem won’t necessarily suit the listening tastes of all computer audiophiles, its strengths are numerous and they serve the music well.
Chordette Gem High Definition Bluetooth Decoder/USB DAC
Inputs: one A2DP-compatible Bluetooth interface, one digital audio (USB Type B)
DAC Upsampling: 24-bit/96kHZ
Dynamic range: 112 dB
Outputs: one pair, stereo analog (RCA)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 2.76” x 6.3” x 1.57”
Weight: .88 lbs.
Warranty: On year, parts and labor
Chord Electronics Limited