Gustard R26 - good but not the one

I have owned a Chord Qutest for quite some time, maybe 5-years. I power it with a SBooter power supply and feed it USB from a SoTM SMS200 Ultra with SPS500 power supply. Overall it sounds great. It's been a great purchase.

But 5-year old DACs are getting long in the tooth. As Ferris Bueller said, "digital tech moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

So, I've been looking at new DACs as a possible replacement. It's tough because the Qutest is pretty darn good for it's price and bettering it takes a leap in spending.

The Gustard R26 R2R DAC has been widely praised all over the internet and it went on sale 10% off the other day (8/26/2023). So, I picked it up on Amazon with free Prime Shipping and 30-day free returns.

This was more of a learning experience than anything else. I'm sending it back 3-days later, but I wanted to say it is a fine sounding piece of equipment. IF I had not spent a long time with the Chord Qutest I would have been over the moon for the R26. I did run it continually for the 3-days it was here - not fully bedded in, but close.

It's well built, super sturdy, easy to live with, great sounding and very versatile. There was not a huge difference from the Qutest, but the Chord was just that much better to my ears and I don't want to spend $1,460 to get not quite as good sound quality.

The streamer was super convenient and sounded fine. Not SoTM great, but certainly sounded fine.

It has one flaw. when you switch inputs, and there are lots to choose from, it totally drops the input you've been on. You have to reestablish the entire setup in your player. Using Roon > HQ Player that meant going into HQP's preferences and selecting the Gustard anew.

So, that's my take on the Gustard R26 - very good but not Qutest good.


Great feedback.  Thanks!  If you could, in what areas was the Chord better to you in terms of sonics?

The Qutest is better in overall tonal balance and soundstage. Instruments and voices are separate and placed specifically in space. The R26 had good clarity and decent staging but things were just not as precisely placed.

My speakers (Harbeth P3ESR) disappear with the Chord. With the R26 I heard specific sounds coming from specific speakers.

It wasn't a massive difference and it took 2-days of back and forth to confirm what I was hearing.

No I2s on the Chord. Maybe the x26 pro would have been better for you. Not a fan of r2r, at least the Aries 2 I used to own.

I have the Chord DAVE, also a few years old.  But haven't been tempted to upgrade.  A friend wants me to try Lapizator...maybe someday.  But DAVE is just too good.


I’ve had the R26 for about six months or so and I’ve heard it pass through several different break-in stages. There isn’t just one. I believe there’s upwards up five. Very odd but maybe not for an R2R. Anyhow, overall I think it is a very fine DAC, especially at the price point. Will it be a permanent resident in my system for 13 years like my old Cary DAC? No. Because I’m definitely a Weiss fan and feel that even at that price point, such a DAC is worth it. I just wanted to see how good you could get for sub-2k range so this was merely an experiment. At least, in my system, it is really quite amazing. Lots of playing with the settings and disabling and enabling of features. And it is worth noting I don’t use the onboard streamer. I have an external dedicated streamer (Moon MiND 2) that serves the purpose. It is true that using that tiny, low-cost computer chip for a streamer is absolutely the weak point in the R26. That said, the combined cost easily gets you into the $4k range where other dacs can handle that duty just fine. But I’m not getting rid of my streamer as I am fond of dedicated pieces that serve dedicated purposes. That said, my experience in particular is far better than one would have using the R26 as a sole streamer/DAC combo. Think that in a very important anecdote for anyone considering this particular DAC. It is indeed very good and very well worth it at its price point. And definitely a good one you can use while saving your dimes for a “grail” DAC. Just avoid the streamer and get an outboard piece. 

As for the sound, in my system, soundstage is impeccable. Couldn’t believe what I was missing. There is a slight loss of that analog sound as compared to the Cary. I think it is more of a low end tonal thing where the Cary has an edge up. But the bad response is right, we’ll controlled and brings out everything available in the recording. Don’t downplay this DAC. It is the best one you can get for the money. Not the best DAC by anything means, but if you don’t have $10-15k, or more, for a high end DAC, give it a shot. If you hate it, return it. I ordered mine directly from the supplier in China. Great response times and they got the unit to me in good time. Not super fast, but it made it here in perfect condition and the damn thing seems like it would take a bullet and keep working. Very impressive build quality. If you’re curious, it is worth a shot. 

This is probably the 1st time that I observed a used Qutest dropped below $1k. Grab it while you can if the quality is that gooooooood. Personally, I think the Chord DACs are overpriced for what they are but maybe they are worth every penny given the sound quality.


Great comments.   I am narrowing my DAC choice from my current Atom+ to the Qutest, Mojo, or Bifrost.   

I am not sure id there is that much difference in what I am most sensitive to, (female vocal and false horn edginess) in any of the Delta Sigma ( DO300, E70 etc) over my cheap JDS.   I want to hear how short, if at all, a Mojo is to a Qutest and the basic character difference to the Bifrost. 

Rummor FPLA prices have come down so Chords may drop a little. 

@tiggerfc I do realize that perhaps much more break in could have certainly made a difference. What I didn't think was that 100-200 hours would vault the R26 past my Qutest. And, I didn't want a new $1500 DAC that just was as good as what I've been living with all these years.

I have to admit, I regularly find myself thinking how great the Chord sounds compared to my previous DACs. And this is what makes me wonder about the next step up and what it would be like.

I will agree that for a new DAC with tons of functionality, that the R26 is great value for money.

For years when I've posted about a "next DAC" the Hugo TT2 is most often mentioned to me because of how the Qutest suits me. Perhaps, I'll save up enough to make that happen.

@tiggerfc is correct. Even if you ran it 24/7 for three days, you are nowhere close to stable and final sound quality for the R26. I've owned the Quest with a very good linear supply and I've had a well broken R26 in house connected directly to wired ethernet running Roon in an optimized network. No comparison in my mind; the R26 is by far the superior unit regardless of taste or system.

Personally, I would not publish any digital component review without putting 500 hours on it first.

@vinylvalet I just picked up a used R26 a couple weeks ago and I am very impressed by it. Definite step up for my second system.  What’s your assessment of the on board streamer?  I love the ease of use with it connected to a roon core compared to an iFI zen stream i used prior.  Thanks

Most folks, myself included when I borrowed a well broken-in unit from a friend, prefer the sound quality using the LAN input. I also have a Zen Stream and preferred going directly into the R26; less finicky and slightly better sound quality. Make sure you do all the R26 software updates.

Please keep in mind, I have a highly tweaked network running fiber to, in the case of a unit like the R26 (my much preferred, much more expensive unit is the Weiss DAC501, also with a LAN input), a fiber to wired ethernet converter.

Here's a very long but useful R26 user thread. You'll find help with the software updates on the first page.

R26 Users Thread

Personally, I would not publish any digital component review without putting 500 hours on it first.

I agree, I didn't intend to make a review as such and would not with only 48 hours of constant use.

My comments are solely a reflection of my initial take when compared with a well-used Chord DAC. Nothing more.

I previously owned the Chord Qutest, and recently tried the Gustard R26 a couple of months ago. I would take the R26 over Qutest any day of the week and twice a day on Sunday. However, it does need a solid 200+ hours to open up. That's true for most R2R dacs by the way. It sounded thin an anemic for the first 100 hours or so but opened up quite a bit around the 100 hour mark. After that the soundstage becomes wide and the R2R characteristics (as in organic, slightly warm) kick in.

The OP was too hasty in returning it.

Interesting as I'm looking at trading for a Dave but was worried the older DAC tech maybe long in the tooth as they say compared to newer DAC designs. 

@vinylvalet Thanks for the input.  I will check the software and the Users Thread.  Good to hear you prefer using the R26 streamer.  I like the simplicity and ease of use. It sounds very good to me so far.   I also have fiber optic and LPS on my network👍

@tksteingraber You're welcome. The thread I referenced will answer that question and more. The OP did a great job updating findings from the thread on the first page.

@vinylvalet I did open all the links on the first page and could not find any reference as to how to check your software version.  Instruction for installing the updates were provided.  Yikes…that install process seems like a PITA and I would rather avoid it if not necessary.  Gustard has room to better communicate and improve their update process.  Did you check or do the software update?

No I didn't. The unit I borrowed had the updates installed. Since you invested in the R26, invest some time and work your way through that discussion. You will find the step by step answers to all your questions there. Yes, the Gustard instructions are minimal and the software updates require some effort but, from I understand, are worth it.

@creativepart said, "And, I didn't want a new $1500 DAC that just was as good as what I've been living with all these years." Actually, that is good to know in many ways, considering the glowing reviews of the Qutest. For those of us using sub-$1K DACs, perhaps the R26 is "the one" to upgrade to - especially at 10% off. 

But I do question the fact that a solid-state device has to be "burned in" for several hundred hours before it reaches its potential. I mean, if it does, then I have to ask, does it stabilize at that "good sound" or will it continue to change over time, perhaps in a not so good way? What physics is involved in these non-mechanical devices changing how they sound as they "break-in"?

And shouldn't manufacturers burn them in to begin with and maybe charge another $25 for the electricity used? Why should an end user have to wait a month before figuring out if they like something before they (barely) hit the return window? 

Has anyone used the volume control and/or the attenuation switch on the R26? If so, how would you describe the impact on the sound quality?

no doubt the op did not hear the r26 as it should have been heard (fully broken in, zero volume attenuation)

i love the qutest too, but the two, at their best (qutest with lps), to my ear, are close in absolute sound quality, with the qutest being a touch more holographic but ever so slightly leaner through the midbass, more solid in the deep bass

i love the qutest too, but the two, at their best (qutest with lps), to my ear, are close in absolute sound quality, with the qutest being a touch more holographic but ever so slightly leaner through the midbass, more solid in the deep bass

Yep, that’s exactly what I feel about the Qutest vs the R26.

R26 or Pontus now Cutest in running.

I stream Qobuz on BS Node2i w Geshelli J2 dac.

I like the Node 2i 's Bluos app and overall sound is good. This is my 1st streamer and dac.

My quality recorded lps sound much better. My ears are use to analog sound and love a broad soundstage.

My rig also includes Odyssey Kismit amp and Magnepan 1.7i planar speakers, very transparent and revealing.

As good as reviews are for R26, I do wonder if the streamer can beat the Nodes. 

With above info, any best synergy pairing amongst the 3 conteners? Thanks!






Interesting shoot-out.  So many variables dependent on each system’s synergy with the DAC.  My R26 replaced the Black Ice Audio DSD Glass DAC and iFI Steam.  The R26 is a definite step up on my modest second system.  Go figure 🤔

IMO any attempt to review Qutest vs other DAC's is incomplete if up-sampling isn't a major part of the comparison.

I ended up getting a Chord Hugo TT2 and I'm very happy with the sound improvement over the Qutest. To me, it's a great sounding piece of equipment.

I realize folks didn't like me preferring the Qutest over the R26. I said lots of nice things about the R26, but that did not seem to register to many.

Oh, well. Just posting my opinion and you know what they say about "opinions," they're like... well, you probably know the phrase.

Congrats on moving up the Chord chain. If you liked the Qutest then this is the best path forward.

To be fair, I don't think anyone had issues with you not preferring the R26. It's just that you never gave it a fair chance (i.e. putting more hours on it) to start with. IME, R2R dacs require even more burn in time compared to other topologies. 

I don’t understand how to compare a 5 year old dac to a 3 day old dac. I would guess at 3 days it would sound possibly it’s worst ever. I owned a used Qutest for a few months. I’m not sure it would best a nice r2r dac, at least for my personal taste.

The thing to remember about Chord is that its an oversampling DAC and its built in oversampling is pretty good. To do a real side by side comparison for full potential of an R2R DAC like Gustard R26 one should use HQPlayer at the internal 705/768 rate of the Chord DAC, vs depend on the “comes with” over sampling limitations.