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Chord MoJo

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Pros: Superb audio quality - Very portable - Built like a tank - Accepts a wide array of sampling rates - Full selection of digital inputs

Cons: Included accessories could be better (cables and adapters) - Design may not be for everyone

Chord Mojo Review
 
Disclaimer
 
Chord electronics has recruited me as a 'review captain' for Canada (I'm honoured) for the new Chord Mojo and provided a unit free of charge for review purposes. The unit will go on to other Canadian reviewers in the tour I'm organizing after I publish this review. This review is simply my opinion of the device and I am giving nothing less than my honest opinion. 
 
Off the bat I have to apologize for this slightly long review. If you want to stick trough it I'll try my best to provide as much detail as I can and to articulate what I'm hearing from the Chord Mojo.
 
 
Introduction

 

Pretty much anyone who is in to high end Head Fi knows of the company Chord Electronics. They've been the purveyors of such products as the 2Qute DAC, Hugo portable DAC/amp, Hugo TT desktop DAC/amp, and DAVE DAC to name but a few. Over the last couple years Chord electronics seems to have been on a definite roll releasing highly regarded products to discerning listeners. 
 
Lead by John Franks Chord has always been about uncompromising quality sound and DAC designer Rob Watts has been the leading force in their sound signature as the DAC designer for Chord. Rob takes a different approach to DAC design by forgoing the easy path of using off the shelf DACs from existing manufacturers and designs his own DACs in house (more later).
 
Of note was the release of the Hugo DAC/amp in 2014 for portable headphone use. The Head Fi community embraced the device for its transparent sound and drivability of a wide range of headphones. Since its release the Hugo has become a massive hit but there have been some barriers to its success as a truly portable device. First of all its size was a point of contention and though the Hugo was designed as a portable device many users have been using the Hugo as a desktop DAC. Secondly its price was not accessible to many users. Enthusiasts who would otherwise love to own a Hugo have kept away due to the price of admission.
 
Enter a new product form Chord..... The Mojo (Mobile Joy). No, I'm not talking about the candy I grew up with, or the magic sauce that gives Austin Powers his charm, or even my cat (yes, my cats name is Mo Jo). I'm talking about a truly portable DAC/amp device from Chord electronics with Hugo like sound at 1/4 the cost and a significantly smaller footprint, while still being designed and entirely manufactured in England. Whoah, this is a big deal!
 

 

 

 
 
Physical characteristics
 
   

Truly portable - Mojo continues with Chords unorthodox designs.

 
The Mojo measures just 82L x 60W x 22H (mm) and in the hand is quite small, I would say tiny really. The size however is not in any way an indication of build quality. The Mojo is made out of a block of aircraft grade aluminium and is superbly constructed. To hold it in the hand you feel a certain weight to the unit that defies its diminutive size. I'm still trying to figure out what they've packed in there that gives it such weight. Regardless, the Mojo is very solid and comes in any colour you want as long as it's black.
 

The design is 100% Chord.

 

On the front of the unit there is the Mojo name laser etched in the body with the Chord logo below it in a sculpted cutout. Above the logo there are the only three buttons 'balls' on the unit. The Mojo is designed for ease of use and I find the button arrangement is very easy to use and remember which button does what. There are two volume 'balls' that share the same cutout and the power 'ball' in its own cutout. Very simple and very easy to operate. Of course it wouldn't be a Chord product without the signature coloured button illumination.

 

 

The power button colour shows the sampling rate depending on the input source. There's nothing to set, nothing to change. What the Mojo is fed is what the Mojo reports. 

 

Don't throw the box away. There's important information there.

 
 
The volume buttons change colour according to volume level. According to Rob the idea behind the colour range is related the colour spectrum of light. Red light, being the lowest volume, relates to infrared light which is relatively harmless (like low volumes). The colour range of the volume moves through the light spectrum from red to yellow to green to blue to purple (harmful ultraviolet light) and finally to white.
 
    

Just a portion of Mojo's coloured volume indicator.

 

The nice thing about the Mojo is the volume has more fine steps than the Hugo. This is excellent as it allows the user to fine tune the dB output to their preferred level very easily (more on this later).

 
 
On the back of the unit is the regulatory sticker with the serial number (I Photoshop'd mine out here) and a link to the Chord Electronics website. There are four rubber feet attached and eight screws that mate the top of the unit to the bottom. 
 
  

Groovy lights!

 

 

Output
 

Mojo's got you and your friends covered.

 
On the top of the unit there are two 3.5mm headphone jacks to share your music with a friend. I wouldn't recommend plugging in an LCD-2 along side a pair of IEMs, but for headphones of similar efficiency it's a handy feature if you like to share with your friends and family. The headphone output impedance is a mere 0.075 Ohms so even the most sensitive IEMs won't be affected with the frequency shifting from the headphone output impedance.
 
To use the Mojo as a DAC to feed an external amplifier one only needs to press both volume buttons within two seconds of powering on the unit. This sets the output to a fixed level output of 3V. You can not bypass the amplification stage on the Mojo (same as Hugo) but the fixed level signal is very clean and there is no sense of noise I hear when using the fixed level output.
 
Inputs
 

All digital inputs and USB battery charging.

 
The only way to connect to the Mojo is with a digital interface. On the bottom of the unit you'll find three inputs. I had a hard time hearing any difference between the different inputs and the Mojo handled them all well. It really comes down to what sampling rate and format your source can output.
 
1) Micro USB input - Capable of 44kHz to 768kHz PCM and DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256 in DoP format.
Driverless on Mac, Android and Linux OS. However Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 10 will require a driver which can be found on Chord’s Mojo webpage.
 
2) Coaxial S/PDIF 3.5mm two pole mono input - Capable of playing 44.1kHz to 384kHz PCM (768kHz special operation) and DSD64, DSD128 in DoP format.
 
3) Standard S/PDIF optical TOSlink input - Capable of playing 44.1kHz to 192kHz PCM and DSD64 in DoP format.
 
Obviously Chord wants the DAC to be the focus of the device. Though there are all the standard digital inputs for a mobile stack I must point out that it would have been nice to receive some digital interconnect cables in the box along with the main unit. I could see including an OTG cable, and a 3.5mm mono coaxial adapter or short cable, and a short optical interconnect or adaptor as very useful accessories. 
 
In my opinion the short supplied micro USB cable is a hair too short for my iPhone 5s and camera connection kit (CCK). The bulk of the CCK and thickness of the supplied USB cable make it a bit awkward and I worry about stressing the USB input because of this.
 
I do find the inputs on the Mojo to be fairly solid although the coaxial input doesn't have a very solid click when inserting a cable. Not a huge deal and the plug isn't loose in the jack, it just doesn't have that stiff 'click' when inserted.
 
 
Battery
 

A reminder just how small the Mojo is.

 
Between the optical input and the USB input is the USB battery input. The battery takes about 4 hours to charge and has a run time of 8 to 10 hours. I've found the average run time after charging it 10 times to be approximately 9 hours, right within spec. There is no dedicated USB wall charger included with the Mojo but any smartphone charger or computer USB port or mobile battery pack with a minimum 1A output can charge the MoJo. Note that the included USB cable is ridiculously short to use as a charging cable. I suggest finding a longer micro USB cable for charging.
 

The included USB is very short.

 

I think it's very smart of Chord to have a separate USB charging port. Users may not want to keep their unit constantly at full charge when using as a DAC/amp in their desktop setups. I really appreciate this attention to detail and consideration for different users needs.

 

 

 

The battery indicator light below the battery USB port will change from blue then green on the upper end of the charge and then to yellow then red when the battery gets low. When the battery is depleted the small LED will blink and then the unit will shut itself off. For longer battery life I highly suggest not draining the battery to completely empty very often.
 
 
 
Usability
 

Mojo at home with the iPhone 5s.

 

X5ii with Mojo. Yes, I need a shorter cable.

 

The Mojo is simply a portable DAC/amp. You need a source for your music files and as mentioned earlier it only has digital input. The target audience for the Mojo is smartphone users but its capabilities can integrate well in a portable DAP and a desktop setup as well. It seems as though Chord is planning on making accessories for the Mojo to expand its capabilities but I'll refrain from any details until they officially announce them.
 

The CCK required for IOS devices.

 
For iDevice owners you will need to use Apple's CCK to output a digital signal to the MoJo, and for other smartphone users you will need an OTG specific USB cable to output the digital signal to the Mojo. Make sure your non-Apple smartphone is OTG compatible before attempting to use it with the Mojo. If wanting to pair a DAP with the Mojo you'll need an optical or a coaxial output from the DAP. Astell & Kern players use optical digital out while others like FiiO and Cayin use coaxial. The plug you'll need for coaxial is a 3.5mm two pole mono male cable fed to the MoJo digital coaxial input. For optical the input is a standard optical TOSlink port.
 

I used this adapter to test Mojo's

coaxial input.

 
The operation of the Mojo is focused on ease of use. There are no switches, and the input selection is automatic. The USB input takes priority over coaxial input which takes priority over the optical input. When more than one input is connected the Mojo will automatically select the priority input. Simple, easy and effective.
 
The volume also follows the simplicity paradigm, which is to say Mojo remembers the last set volume and that is all. You can not set a default volume level when turning it on nor can you limit the volume output. At first I thought this may be a negative but in use I find that the coloured volume lights make it very easy to know what volume level is set the moment the unit is turned on to avoid accidentally playing music at harmful dB levels. Chord has smartly thought of the simplest way to use the Mojo.
 
As I mentioned earlier the volume levels have finer resolution than the Hugo and I asked Rob what the volume range is and this is his reply:
 
“Mojo’s total volume range is -70 dB to +18 dB. The low level range is from -70 dB to -34 dB in two steps per colour change (so each colour has two steps).
 
Then from +2 dB to +18 dB it’s in one dB step per colour change for the top level range.”
 
I should point out that in the lower and upper ranges the volume button colours change independently of each other while in the middle range, -34 dB to +2 dB, the volume buttons change colour together. I think it’s a great option to have finer volume control at either end of the spectrum.
 
 
General Information and Q&A with Rob Watts
 
Chords focus on the Mojo is to connect with the 3.5 billion smartphone users in the wild. Mojo is designed and manufactured entirely in England and is produced on a mass production scale to keep costs down. They have a lot of faith in this product.
 
When Chord first approached me to review the Mojo I had a flurry of questions, and seeing as I don't own the Hugo some of them were regarding the differences between the two units. Before the Shard launch event I reached out to Rob Watts with some questions, and although he was obviously very busy before and during the launch he graciously took some time out of his schedule to answer my queries. 
 
Here is how the Q&A went:
 
Q: Were you able to fit the same tap filter length as the Hugo (26, 384 taps) with the same WTA filter in the Mojo?
A: "Mojo shares an extremely similar code as Hugo - the only change is the WTA filter is redesigned to accommodate 768 kHz. The new filter is broadly equivalent apart from this."
(Comment): When I pushed the tap length question with Chord they replied that "it will be a good while in the future before they publish this information, if at all". "The implementation within Mojo is different, but it’s not inferior to anything that we’ve done".
 
Q: In the Mojo presentation draft it mentions “Hugo like sound quality and musicality”. What differences in audio presentation would you say the Mojo has compared to the Hugo?
A: "Bearing in mind it’s use I have optimized the noise performance in order to make it sound smoother."
 
Q: The design for the Mojo began in 2012. Is it safe to say the Mojo R&D led to the Hugo until the technology caught up for the Mojo’s design target? Or, were they completely separate design goals?
A: “The R&D of Hugo and Mojo ran in parallel - the very first prototype (2012) was more like Mojo, then work switched to Hugo. Then I worked on Mojo in the background, with development getting really busy starting in Nov 2014. We built over 50 prototypes, as I had a lot of issues to contend with - thermals, charging, and getting SQ to be identical when charging were major headaches."
 
Q: Does the Mojo deal with jitter with the same DPLL as the Hugo?
A: “Yes, the DPLL is identical."
 
Q: I see the Mojo has an even better THD spec than the Hugo.
A: “Lower noise means better measurements."
 
Q: Is the Mojo analogue section Class A like the Hugo?
A: “The actual OP stage is identical - same OP transistor silicon - but I used 6 small transistors in parallel rather than 3 large devices. It’s biased at the same Class A level."
 
Q: Does Mojo have cross feed?
A: “No cross feed.”
 
Thank you very much Rob!
 
So basically the analogue stage is pretty much the same as the Hugo while the DAC is tweaked somewhat.
 
From this I gathered that the Mojo is designed with Chord's typical focus on the highest quality audio performance with a leaning toward a slightly smoother sound for mobile listening enjoyment. 
 
Did the Mojo live up to this hypothesis? Read on!
 
 
The Technology Behind the Sound
 
Before moving on to the sound impressions it is important to know about Mojo's unique approach to converting a digital signal to an analogue signal for driving headphones. As I eluded to earlier the Mojo doesn't use an off the shelf DAC. What it does use is a brand new Xilinx Artix 7 FPGA chip that is basically a blank canvas for Rob to program to suite his needs (the same approach used with Hugo's Spartan 6 FPGA chip as well as the rest of Chords DACs). This is a far more difficult task than the standard method of buying off the shelf hardware and plugging it in to a system (of course I'm grossly over simplifying here for emphasis). What this means is that if the output from his DAC doesn't suite his preference he has the flexibility (and know how) to change it. The challenge with the Mojo was that the diminutive design spec made it not feasible with the FPGA technology available when the Mojo project began in 2012. Chord had to wait for new FPGA tech that allowed the same performance as the Hugo with much lower power consumption. Chord says that this, and new battery technology, allowed the project to move forward once it became available.
 
 
Sound Impressions
 
The timing of the Mojo arriving at my door couldn't have been better as I have a break in my regular work schedule and was able to put in around 100 hours of listening over the past week. I was literally listening to the Mojo constantly, taking breaks only to compare to other gear and eat and sleep (sorry wife).
 
For the record I've never heard the Hugo so I have no point of reference to compare the Mojo to its larger, older brother. I have heard multiple other DACs, amps, and digital players over the years with many different implementations and I can confidently say that the Mojo sits right up there with some of the best that I've heard. The Mojo to me sounds very articulate and clean with a touch of warmth. There is an obvious attention paid to timing and control which gives the Mojo a laser like focus on the music it reproduces. It's a fast and energetic device with loads of power on hand. 
 
Listening to Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven from his Unplugged Deluxe album I can easily distinguish Eric's guitar from the two guitars being played on either side of him. The vibration from the acoustic strings comes through easily and the imaging is top notch. I hear no blending of notes and each note is well defined. The bells that ring in this track are sharp as a tac and the decay of the sound is pretty much perfect in my opinion. When the backup singers on Eric's right chime in you can hear each singer as distinct voices in the chorus. The Mojo peers deep in to the music and Eric's toe tapping in the track is easy to hear throughout. This is some really good stuff.
 
Norah Jones is a special treat on the Mojo. Don't Miss You at All from her Feels Like Home album starts with a beautiful piano intro and again the clean and focused audio reproduction has me hearing the piano hammer impact and the resulting notes fade through the air in a way that immediately puts me in an intimate jazz club. When Norah begins to sing you can feel a slight rasp to her voice, the emotion behind her performance comes through clearly. 
 
Moving on to more pop tracks with Lorde's Tennis Court from her Pure Heroine album the music is very well delineated. In less capable gear when the bass kicks in it seems to take over the track. Not so with the Mojo. Every instrument has its place and plays well with the other instruments. The initial impact and clarity of the instruments is of particular note when listening to this track. From the same album the track Royals has 'finger snapping' throughout the track which comes through clear as day. Sharp, focused, clear while not overwhelming. I see a recurring theme here.
 
Listening to the Interstellar OST is a pipe organ explosion of deep textured bass complimented with moments of subtlety that just feels right. The blackness of the Mojo's extremely quiet output is really showcased here as there are moments when not much is happening in the various tracks yet it's easy to sit back and lose yourself to the simple sound of a breeze blowing. When the complex pipe organ kicks in there is an abundance of texture to the notes, and a feeling of real weight and complexity. Simply gorgeous sound reproduction in my opinion.
 
The first album I load when testing new gear is always Pink Floyd's The Wall. This is one of those rare albums with such a broad multitude of instruments, background sounds, and emotion. The album is pure genius in my opinion and without writing a veritable essay on it I will just say that I've rarely felt this connected to The Wall's journey like I am with the Mojo. I'm not having to focus on what I want to hear. The multitude of sounds is simply presented in front of me in a such a clear way that I don't have to concentrate, but instead just listen. That's what I'm talking about!
 
I could break down every song I listened to but that would take this review an entire week to read. Needless to say that I am satisfied that the Mojo can play with a large variety of genres and didn't really run in to one song in my collection that I didn't like through the Mojo. Please see my song list at the end of the review. 
 
If I were to break down the bass - mids - treble presentation I would put it like this:
 
Bass - Has good extension while remaining very fast and articulate with good impact when called for. It doesn't sound boomy at all and is very clean. I like the way the bass is reproduced and I don't feel like it's lacking. The warmth of the Mojo is slightly above clinical which suites me fine.
 
Mids - The heart of the music. Everything, and I mean everything in the mids sounds very linear to my ears. I don't find the mids recessed or emphasized. I don't find the mids to be lush or clinical. Depending on the headphone I'm using the upper mids seems to be a bit exaggerated but then I switch to another pair and it's perfect. There may be a slight emphasis in the upper mids, but then again perhaps some of my other gear has a coloured the sound and the Mojo is revealing the true nature of my headphones. In the end I've settled on the latter as to what I'm hearing going back to my other gear. Either way the mids from the Mojo lets you peer deep in to the music and the imaging is precise. It's very addictive.
 
Treble - The treble reproduced by the Mojo is very clear, yet not sibilant. It's present, yet smooth. I love the treble from the Mojo and have only heard this kind of clarity form one other source in my stable of gear, never mind from something so utterly small. I don't know how Rob and Chord have done this but I welcome the Mojo's treble with open arms. There is enough air and presence that it doesn't feel like the soundstage is too small nor is it too holographic. Just right in my opinion and very pleasant.
 
Overall a very well balanced sound with regard to frequency range with a slight warmth, a slight smoothness to the sound. My feeling is the Mojo will play well with a wide variety of headphones and IEMs. The timing on the Mojo is exceptional. Imaging is spot on and while the soundstage isn't huge it still allows the listener to get a sense of space in the recording. In case you haven't guessed by now I'm more a fan of imaging over soundstage by the way.
 
 
Headphone pairings
 

The family keeps growing.

 
The Mojo has impressive power specs and Chord says it can power any headphone with an impedance of 4-800 Ohms. Yes, from this very small device they have included class A biased performance (same as Hugo) for a very wide range of headphones and IEMs.
 
I've come to find that in general, more than other gear I've listened to, the Mojo allows the sound signature of the headphone to show through while at the same time enhancing their sound signature more than I'm used to hearing from each headset. Let me try to explain below.
 
Vmoda M-100 
- volume, double red zone
 

 

I received the M-100 as a gift from a company I was freelancing for and it has never really been my cup of tea. I've always found the bass to be overwhelming and the mids recessed. With the Mojo I can actually tolerate them, no, I enjoy them for what they are. They still sound warm and punchy but it isn't overly fatiguing. The sound is still thick but Mojo helps with its clear timing and clear instrument separation. They still aren't my favourite but when on the go I'll pack them in the bag. Not bad.
 
AKG K550 
- volume, barely double yellow
 

 

The K550 was my second foray in to Head Fi-dom back in the day and they sound very open for a closed can. At times they have some treble issues and can sound a bit harsh. With the Mojo the treble harshness seems to smooth out and the sound is warmer than I've heard them before. This is strange because I was expecting the Mojo, with its mids clarity, to make them sound a bit brighter. This is one of those enhancing shifts I wasn't expecting. The bass with the K550 still remains in the lower registers and the upper bass remains shelved a bit but the treble is an overall improvement with the Mojo. A good listen.

 
Audeze LCD-2.2 (pre-fazor) 
- volume, low double blue
 

 

This pairing was a complete surprise to me. I've driven the LCD-2 with acceptable results from a portable device before but the Mojo really gives them the juice they need to have that, well, special 'mo jo'. The treble is clear and focused, the mids are ever present and frankly euphoric. The bass....... With this headphone its all about the bass. There is endless extension on the LCD-2 (depending on the source) and with the Mojo I find that the bass can go as deep as the track calls for. Instrument separation is fantastic and layering in the music is rather deep. This is one of my favourite pairings and the Mojo makes the LCD-2 sound like it was upgraded with faster drivers. Really impressive listen.
 
Audeze LCD-XC 
- volume, upper double red
 

 

This is where the Audeze honeymoon ends for me. With the XC there is some emphasis in the upper mids and lower treble, and especially on my pair compared to its lower mids and upper bass. With the Mojo it seems just a bit too much and I find the XC to sound overall thin in comparison to being played from my other gear. This is strange to me because with the slightly warmer sound of the Mojo I expected the pairing with the XC to be a match made in heaven. Not so I'm afraid, another unexpected shift. I don't think it's a drivability issue as the XC is fairly easy to drive for a planar magnetic headphone. Still, what I do hear from the thinner, faster driver in the XC (over the LCD-2) is an extremely detailed presentation that really can show me the smallest detail in the recoding. I should also note that when using the Mojo as an external DAC to the Oppo HA-1 balanced out the LCD-XC falls back in line. This may be just a synergy issue. Overall a good listen.

 
JH Audio Angie Universal IEM
- volume, split lower red/blue
 

 

This is where the magic happens for me. Really, I don't think I've ever heard such beautiful music reproduction before, portable or otherwise. Similar to what was reported in the Head Fi MoJo thread with the JH Layla, the pairing with the smaller JH Siren Series Angie is very, very good. I don't know if it's the crossover in the Angie, the multiple balanced armature setup, the JH FreqPhase tech or simply the synergy with the Mojo. I could listen to this setup for hours (and I have). There are times I've needed to give my head a shake and just go to bed. One more track, one more track...... The sound is full yet textured, lush yet layered, clear yet impactful, detailed yet smooth. I love it! An excellent listen.
 
 
MoJo as a Desktop DAC
 

Mojo has no problem filling bigger shoes.

 
Given the Mojo’s clean DAC and detailed output it can easily be used as an external DAC to feed an external amplifier. I used the Mojo with the Oppo HA-1’s amplifier section with great success. The presentation is very detailed while not cold. Every instrument is well defined and there is no sense of sibilance or glare that I sometimes hear with the Sabre ESS9018 DAC built in to the HA-1. The recurring theme is transparency, timing accuracy, while at the same time remaining musical. This theme continues when used as an external DAC in a desktop setup.
 
Comparing the Audio-GD DAC-19(10th anv) R-2R DAC and the Mojo there is the same amount of detail from each unit but it's presented in a different way. The Mojo sounds more forward. Background sounds are a bit easier to pick out, more in focus. The DAC-19 has a sense of a bigger stage, more space and depth in the recording and a bit more timbre*. However the differences aren’t as large as I thought they might be. I wouldn’t say the Mojo is flat, nor would I say the DAC-19 is holographic. Neither is really warmer or colder than the other. It really comes down to a different presentation between the two, but they are close. Overall the Mojo plays louder to the external amp given its 3V fixed level output.
 
In the end I can easily recommend the Mojo as a desktop DAC.
 
* Edit 03/13/2016: Over the past couple months I've come to really appreciate the Mojo more for it's natural music presentation and find that the timbre of notes is more accurate on the Mojo than the DAC-19. This isn't obviously evident at first, but after more varied listening with larger comparison samples and different headphones, and more time with the unit, I've come to the conclusion that the Mojo surpasses the DAC-19 in natural music reproduction. It's difficult to pick out but it's there.
 
 
Conclusion
 
This review has turned out rather long and there is much more to say about the Mojo but I'll let others comment more about things like soundstage depth and height etc. I'm more about timing and imaging with my gear. What I hear from the Mojo is exceptional on both fronts. The presentation sounds effortless and different from most any other gear I've heard and I like it...... I like it a lot. The speed of the Mojo combined with its smoothness is something that I just haven't heard before.
 
Given the diminutive size and the amount of power in this tiny wonder I'm still having a knuckle dragging moment when trying to comprehend how Chord Electronics and Rob Watts have packed so much performance in to such a small device. For portable use I can't think of another device that is this capable of delivering this TOTL performance on the go at this price, and well above. If I were to sum up the Chord Mojo's sound in one word it would be "Veritas", Latin for truth and often associated with beauty.
 
Chord is right.....
 
..... The game has changed.
 
 
 
Thanks for reading!
 
 
Mojo Features
  • -Mojo was designed for the music loving Smartphone owner.
  • -It is powerful, but small and comfortable to carry.
  • -It works with your iPhone, Android or Windows phone... Also DAPs.
  • -Mojo is also compatible with your Mac, PC, or Linux computer.
  • -Mojo has three digital inputs - USB, Coaxial, and Optical.
  • -Mojo charges in just 4 hours to provide up to 10 hours use.
  • -You can use any pair of headphones with Mojo, from 4Ω to 800Ω.
  • -With two 3.5mm analogue outputs you and a friend can listen too!
  • -Mojo plays all files from 32kHz to 768kHz and even DSD 512.
  • -Mojo is fully automatic and remembers its last used settings.
  • -Its case is precision machined from a single solid block of aluminium.
  • -Mojo is entirely designed and manufactured in Great Britain.
 
Mojo Technical Specifications
  • -Output Power @ 1kHz
  • -600 ohms 35mW
  • -8 ohms 720mW
  • -Output Impedance: 0.075 ohms
  • -Dynamic Range: 125dB
  • -THD @ 3v - 0.00017%
 
 
  Gear used in the review: (Click to show)
- Chord Mojo
- MacbookPro 17" - Audirvana+ 2.0
- Oppo HA-1
- Audio-GD DAC-19 (10th anniversary edition)
- FiiO X5
- FiiO X5ii
- iPhone 5s
- iPad (4)
- Audeze LCD-2 - 60 Ohm - 92 dB efficiency
- Audeze LCD-XC - 26 Ohm - 96 dB efficiency
- JH Audio Angie Universal IEM - 17 Ohm - 117 dB efficiency
- AKG K550 - 32 Ohm - 114 dB efficiency
- Vmoda M-100 - 32 Ohm - 103 dB efficiency

 

 
 
Partial list of albums used for listening impressions: (Click to show)
Adele - 21
Awolnation - Megalithic Symphony
Amber Rubarth - Sessions From the 17th Ward (Binaural)
Bassnectar - Mesmerizing the Ultra
Beats Antique - Collide
Bob Marley and the Wailers - Legend
Bon Jovi - New Jersey / Slippery When Wet
Brian Adams - Reckless
C.C. Colletti - Bring it on Home
Depeche Mode - Pretty much all albums
Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
Enigma - MCMXC a.D.
Eric Clapton - Unplugged (Deluxe)
Eric Serra - The Fifth Element OST
Evanescence - Fallen
George Michael - Listen Without Prejudice
Glen Hansard - Most albums
G n' R - Greatest Hits
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator OST - The Dark Knight Rises OST - Interstellar OST
Huey Lewis and the News - Sports
INXS - Listen Like Thieves
Lana Del Ray - Ultraviolence
Led Zeppelin - All albums
Lorde - Pure Heroine
Michael Stearns - Baraka OST
Morrisey - Viva Hate
Norah Jones - All albums
Pig Pen Theatre Co. - Bremen
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon - The Wall - Division Bell - The Endless River
R.E.M. - Various albums
Richard Thompson - Grizzly Man OST
Steve Miller Band - Greatest Hits: 1974-78
The Beatles - Various albums
The Doors - The Very Best of the Doors
The Grapes of Wrath - Now and Again
The KLF - The White Room
The Moody Blues - Days of Future Past
The Tragically Hip - Yer Favourites
U2 - Various albums
Van Halen - 1984
Various Artists - Kill Bill Vol1&2 Soundtrack
Multiple classical recordings
Multiple binaural recordings
 

 

 

 

UPDATE, Feb 21/2016: Chord Electronics has allowed me to keep the Mojo tour unit free of charge. Although I had some hopes of this being the case it was not a guarantee when I did my review. To be honest I would have purchased my own unit if I were required to send the tour unit back. Many thanks again to Chord.

Posted

Pros: High-end sound quality and excellent headphone driving performance at fantastic value in a tiny, solid and well-thought out box.

Cons: Volume change speed is slow. Can pick up noise from smart phones and some chargers. 2A chargers can also cause the thermal protection to shut it down.

 

January 2016 Update: Video review added.

 
When Chord came out with the Hugo, putting the latest of almost thirty-odd years of digital to analogue research by Rob Watts into a portable device, it sent Head-Fi into a frenzy of mixed reactions. Many people who bought one loved the sound, but less loved the weird design with a puzzling layout of unlabelled ports and switches. What is more, at around $2500 the price was in the territory of serious DACs and, not surprisingly, much was expected of it, but not quite everything delivered to everyone’s satisfaction. 
 
The most telling thing about the Mojo is that the people who complained the most about the Hugo: The cost, the HP amp sound, the USB input’s lack of noise isolation, the lack of input selection and volume memory and everything else, had nothing to complain about with the Mojo. It is hard not to be impressed with the technology that went into the Hugo’s DAC, itself better than even the flagship Chord DAC before the Dave. What impresses me is that Rob Watts took ALL the feedback from customers and the forums and put it in the Mojo, and dropped the price right down to a sane level. 
 
Where the Hugo is a somewhat ungainly and oddly-laid-out aluminium brick with funny coloured lights, un-labelled buttons and ports and poor ergonomics, the Mojo is spot-on neat. Headphone jacks one one end, inputs on the other, and 3 buttons on one edge. Those buttons are freely rotating balls that glow with the colour of the LEDs underneath. The first, with a 2-second press powers up (or down) the unit, which happens with a very audible click, after which it glows with a colour indicating the sample rate of the input. The other two buttons, individually held down move the volume up or down, the LEDs beneath changing with the colours of the rainbow depending on volume level. 
 
At first these rolling coloured buttons can cause a bit of concern, but in practice, at least for me there haven't been any issues. If dirt does get in and cause problems, it is trivially easy to unscrew the case and blow out any dirt or dust. Most dislikable about this system is the slow rate at which the volume changes. With the Mojo remembering its last settings, unlike the Hugo, one must be prudent to check the volume is down when plugging in headphones, especially if one has turned it up to line level prior while plugged into another amp. I find that the bright colours appearing at turn-on help as a visual reminder for this. 
 
To account for sensitive IEM users, once the lowest volume has been reached, the “-“ volume button LED turns to brown and the other cycles through the colours once again for even lower volume levels. On the other end of the scale, the “+” button LED will cycle through a few more levels after the “-“ has reached white. Without knowing this at first it can be a bit off-putting, as light bleeding between the buttons sometimes makes it look as if the colours have gone all funny, but it is a good indicator once one remembers the colours of the rainbow and that the cycle is based upon that. 
 
Input selection is now automatic, with USB prioritised highest, followed by coaxial and optical. The presence of digital lock indicated by the above-mentioned power ball lighting up with colour corresponding to the sample rate. Last but not least, line-level volume lock can be selected on power-up by holding down both volume buttons when pressing the power button, though any volume level can be used that is suitable as the electronics used are the same whether line-level output is on or off.
 

 

I could write a bucketload about the tech inside the Mojo, but I'm going to be lazy and encourage you to instead visit Rob Watts’ profile and read his entire post history, as it is all in there, explained in detail. What matters to me more is that he has crammed his tech, which focuses immense computing power into a tiny box, the size of an original AK100, and Chord is charging less than an AK100II would cost for it. If you have a smart phone you’re all set, otherwise pick your choice of DAP with optical or coax digital output. An original AK100 had no trouble feeding the Mojo 192k files with a good Toslink cable. Nor did a FiiO X5 and X5II (though the latter has a weird coax pinout, so a regular 3.5mm TS to 3.5mm TS cable wont work). Lotoo’s PAW 5000 and, of course, an AK240 worked fine as well. 
 
The volume is, of course, Rob Watts’ high-tech digital domain solution which completes the complex FPGA programming that makes up the Chord DACs. That programming, along with the amp inside, generates 1.7W inside the small aluminium box that is the Mojo. Do not thus be alarmed when it gets warm, especially if you charge the Mojo while listening. It doesn’t do more that compete with a regular hand warmer for heat and is completely safe, with automatic cutoff systems built in should it get too warm, which members using high-power chargers of 2A and above have occasionally discovered. The battery is good for about 7 hours of use, the trade-off of having around half a watt of headphone power output (depending on headphones used). Rob Watts did experiment with a lower power output, but it compromised the sound too much.
 
Instead Rob Watts chose to design it as he would one of his speaker amps, using a discrete transistor output stage. That leaves the Mojo as capable as the Hugo at driving headphones and has enough power to drive even very sensitive speakers. While the Hugo sounds a bit on the thin side for preference, the Mojo has been tuned to be a bit warmer-sounding. This isn’t a change of frequency response, more so that the choice of components, all of which have their own noise and distortion profiles, and aspects of the digital filter can be chosen to give what amounts to a different feeling in the sound that comes out.
 
The first thing I noticed was that the Mojo, like the Hugo, works best after it has been running for at least 10 minutes. Before that, at first use the Mojo took me leaving it on all night in my hotel room at the Tokyo Headphone Festival before it started to sound good, initially sounding a bit constricted. It gets nicely warm when in use, especially if it is plugged into a charger, which seemed to help both at the start and during regular use. Rob Watts assures us that it can be left plugged into the charger when in use with no detrimental results, handy if used in a desk rig, though users have reported that some chargers can be very audibly noisy. I feel too like the Mojo has been getting better the more I've used it, the overall presentation improving over time, especially as I go back and re-compare with other devices with which it seems less different than they did at first.
 
A question that has come up repeatedly on the forums is whether or not the Mojo is better or worse than the Hugo sonically. This is made all the more complex by the different tuning of the sound output of the Mojo compared to the Hugo and the varying degrees of sensitivity to input noise of each of the inputs of both devices. Compared to the Hugo, the Mojo from my MacBook Pro/Schiit Wyrd seemed to be slightly behind, but it was hard to tell how much of this was the slight sound shift towards the warm with the Mojo versus the brighter and more open-sounding Hugo. I have my main rig set up just right with the tubes I like to sound nice with the Hugo. The combination with the Mojo was too much of a good thing. I’d probably have to rotate back the more neutral-sounding tubes in the Studio Six to effect the same result. 
 
The best I’ve managed to extract sonically from the Hugo of late has been using a Soundaware D100PRO music server feeding the Hugo by a Harmonic Tech coaxial cable and in turn sending that to my ALO Audio Studio Six which has a slightly “warm” tube set to complement the Hugo’s “lean” sound. To compare to that, I fed the same source into the Mojo with an adaptor and the Mojo directly to my headphones. Since the Mojo has two headphone sockets, I could also quickly switch to using the Studio Six with the Mojo to compare the headphone amplification. At first while I felt the Hugo might have been a tad better as I described above, over time I've felt that less, something I'm going to put down to device burn-in. 
 

 

It would probably do at this point to compare the AK240 with the Mojo. While I do like the AK240 and its balanced headphone drive is unexpectedly good with full-sized headphones, I feel that the Mojo does the job without requiring a 4-pin 2.5mm TRRS plug. To go back a bit, the Hugo and Mojo have the better DAC technology, clearly giving the Hugo the edge on the AK240 from even the first audition and comparison I had with the AK240 back at the 2014 SoCal meet. The Hugo I feel is slightly ahead overall, sounding more natural and the AK240 slightly more bland. The Mojo shares the Hugo’s naturalness and, if anything, slightly enhances it with the warmer tuning. It still maintains a lack of forgiveness towards poor recordings. It’s more a different flavour than anything, more “Let’s relax and listen” than the “Look at what I can do!” of the Hugo. That has me picking it over the AK240 purely from the slightly more natural impression I get from instruments. It trades the objectively-excellent presentation of the Hugo with one that is more about enjoyment, while not, according to Rob Watts, being technically compromised at all.
 
For example, Bill Evans’ Sunday at the Village Vanguard sounds fantastic on all and, being that it involves a piano and cello and has a vast number of ambient cues from the people around the players talking, drinking and moving that is a test of any system. For that the Hugo is a wonderful companion. The Mojo likewise brings a touch of ease to the sound without seeming to lose anything.
 
I have also been enjoying Soundaware’s FPGA-controlled M1 player, the "Analog" version of which is tuned to sound like an old CD player and is thus very warm, without sacrificing detail. Patricia Barber’s albums, which I find to be less than stellar in recording quality (Edit: Turns out they sound fine out of the Mojo and Yggy...must have been my rig!) were lovely on the M1, leaving the Mojo in direct comparison to sound slightly sharper and less relaxed (which just goes to show how what we are used to can affect our perception of the sound that comes from a product). That puts the Mojo in the middle between the Hugo and the M1 in tuning, closer to, say, a Calyx M or FiiO X5 in tone if not in other areas.
 

 
Speaking of DAPs, both the Calyx M and FiiO X5 can be used as a DAC, which meant for some interesting comparisons -- silicon DACs versus the discrete DAC and FPGA programming of the Mojo. I plugged the DAPs one-by-one into a Schiit Wyrd via an ALO Audio Green Line cable (which came with my Rx review unit) and listened with a Pico Power or Studio Six on the other end. Playing back my usual eclectic mix of mostly acoustical music via Audirvana Plus, first without up-sampling, then with iZotope up-sampling re-enforced my previous experiences that the default filters in the internal DACs of the Calyx M and FiiO X5 could both be improved upon by my computer, yet even with carefully tweaked iZotope settings, both DAPs fell slightly short of the Mojo's natural presentation, which doesn't need iZotope to sound its best. 
 
The Mojo’s tuning has been most welcome with my Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors (UERMs), the HE1000s, Ethers and HD800s*, both of which the Mojo seems to be able to handle, if not at the capability of a top-of-the-line headphone amp. The HE1000s weren’t anywhere near as dynamic out of the Mojo direct as they were out of my Studio Six, where their capabilities seem to come through. It was a far closer call with my HD800s, but given that my source for the Studio Six is a Hugo, that is as much a credit to the Hugo as it might be a limitation versus what the Studio Six is capable of resolving. The Ethers were definitely more to my liking out of the Mojo, easily driven to a degree that I could forget I wasn’t listening to my main system.
 
With the HD800s and Ethers it was hard to pick out which I preferred: Using the Mojo direct or using it (or the Hugo with the Studio Six). For me what was most significant about the Mojo is simply how nice it makes music sound. You know when you have a special portable device when it stops you wanting to reach for your main headphone (or speaker) rig. It was that way with the UERMs, Laylas and full-sized headphones or all types, the resolving capability combined with a touch of musicality being just spot-on. This was especially true using the Sennheiser HD800s (which I've re-cabled and replaced the black insert over the driver with rug-liner in the manner of popular mods) which, with a variety of acoustic music, ranging from AC/DC to Ayub Ogada, sounded as fantastic as ever, without my feeling I needed a set of warm tubes to get excellent sonic results. 
 
January 2016 addition: I was asked by a member whether I really thought that the Mojo was as good as a TOTL amp for driving headphones. That was answered most clearly when my Yggdrasil arrived and I ran it in for a week that I had an answer: The Studio Six, and my headphones were brought up a very noticeably greater level with the Yggdrasil feeding it, leaving the Hugo and Mojo as the previous bottleneck in my system, as well as my choice of using a USB transport.
 

 

A bit out of the proverbial left field is the Aclear Porta NXT-2AK "Balanced Drive Headphone Conditioner" which is a super compact transformer in a metal box the size of a portable amp. It is supposed to improve the headphone output of various devices and I'm still in two minds about whether it does anything useful, especially given its ~$400+ price. It seems to bring a slightly more precise image to the HD800s from the Mojo, which is handy as I have a 4-pin 2.5mm TRRS headphone cable tail that sits mostly unused except for the times I want to test full-sized headphones with the AK240. Overall, the close to insignificance of the difference in sound with it added is credit to the Mojo's headphone drive.
 
I have been comparing the direct output of the Mojo with using it with a HeadAmp Pico Power, itself designed to have objectively high performance and which is similar in that it uses a buffer-plus-transistor output stage. With the MrSpeakers Ethers the Pico Power seemed to have a tiny advantage in spaciousness of presentation, but it was hard to tell if it was simply from the sonic signature or actual capability.
 
I also thought it prudent to compare the IEM driving capability with ALO Audio’s excellent Rx amp. In a previous comparison, the Rx had faired dead on equal with the Hugo’s output. The Rx, to me, seems to extend both the treble and the bass slightly compared to other amps, excepting the all-discrete Sound Potion Monolith, itself which has a very slightly smiley presentation in the most pleasant possible of ways. Again, very simply put, the Mojo was a match as far as I could tell for Ken’s best efforts. 
 

 
One of the significant facets of the Mojo's performance is that it has a reported 125dB of dynamic range, outstanding by any measure. The dynamics of the Mojo, after I'd been using it for a while were impressively apparent. Patricia Barber's Café Blue has become one of my favourite albums. I'm particular about instruments sounding natural and real, and "Nardis", with its quiet cymbal solo was delivered with a degree of precision and flow into my HD800s that was a pure delight. Likewise Manha De Carnaval, with the background clapping had the sound of each clap delivered snappily while retaining the delicacy of Patricia's voice. This echoed one of the primary aspects of the Hugo that had impressed me; the ability to deliver even the quietest sounds without lack of impact, much as my Studio Six does with its SET-amp magic.
 
To me as a photographer it is much like the difference between sharpening an image to make it seem like there is more detail, in the manner of how compression is used in music mastering; versus having a higher-resolution camera with a much better lens delivering real detail, which is what better high-res mastering aims to achieve. The Hugo and Mojo to me are like the high-resolution camera and lens.
 
It might be prudent to point out here a significant factor of the design of the Mojo, in that it uses a far simpler output from the all-discrete DAC than what is present in many, if not most DAC/amps. People have also asked why the Mojo (and Hugo for that matter) don't have balanced (differential) headphone drive or a separate "line out" output. Rob Watts goes into useful detail about that in a post about the output, which is fundamentally different to that of other devices:
 
 
On the other end, unlike with the Hugo, I didn’t feel any significant difference between the USB and optical inputs. If it is as much the result of the tuning as improvements on the USB end, then I’m perfectly happy with the sound using my iPhone 6 as a source. That requires, at least until either FiiO or Chord get approval for their new cables, using a rather ungainly Camera Connection Kit and the short micro-USB cable that Chord provide in the box. The USB inputs requires an active 5V power line, not for power, but required to activate the USB circuitry for automatic input selection, which if not present will automatically sleep to conserve power if it is not connected.  Avoiding USB power noise has been implemented via the presence of the separate USB charging port.
 
When another forum member pointed out that the Mojo was the same size as the old AK100, I quickly nabbed a second-hand one from e-earphone before everyone else in Japan figured it out and started buying them to use with their Mojos. While selecting the best rubber band position was a bit of a challenge, the stack looks cute. I’ll miss the larger screen of the AK240, as well as not needing to screw around with scripts to turn my M3U playlists into a format the AK100 can read, but the Mojo is one of those devices that I want to listen with, not just on the go, which was not always the case of the AK240. Otherwise, I'm pleased that I can get fantastic audio via my iPhone without excessive bulk, though I'm yet to decide which app I'll use for my high-res files.
 

 

I’ve seen many people complaint in recent months about the cost of Head-Fi gear going up and fears that things were going to end up like 2-channel audio. With Chord and other companies turning this around and putting their best tech in much less expensive products, I can thoroughly welcome the Mojo as one of the most fantastic products I’ve used to date. What Chord did with the Mojo was to take everything that was good about the Hugo: The computer-level computing power, the high sound quality and headphone drive capability, and fix every single complaint. Most importantly, they put a price on it that nobody could argue with. As a product that was designed with both a subjective and objective goal in mind, there is little not to like about the Mojo. If I was to give out a "Product of the Year" award to anything in 2015, It'd be the Chord Mojo.
 
--
 
My Mojo was provided to me courtesy of John Franks at the Tokyo show without me asking. I had been planning to buy one (at full retail) as soon as I heard the price! I had known that they were planning to make a "smaller Hugo" some time before but not the details, so I've been as pleasantly surprised as everyone else.
 
*Small "s" = plural, Not large "S" for the new model.

Posted

Pros: Robust build quality coupled with a portable friendly design, Price, Drives everything from sensitive iems to power hungry planars, Black background

Cons: Light on accessories, volume buttons prone to scratches and trapping dirt

Chord Mojo - A cure for those suffering from Upgraditis

“Desktop Capable and Wholly Portable, A swiss army knife in all but name!”

 

 

 

Disclaimer:

As part of the Canadian tour I had the Mojo for a little over a week and I received no financial compensation, save for the shipping costs of sending the mojo to the next reviewer.

 

 

 

Introduction:

This is my review of the Chord Mojo, a new portable DAC/Amp from the venerable Chord Electronics.

 

First I want to take this opportunity to thank my friend Craig for organizing the Canadian tour as well as recommending me for the tour. I also wanted to give a big shout out to Chord Electronics for setting up this tour and giving me the opportunity to evaluate their newest foray into the portable dac/amp market, the Chord Mojo!

 

You don’t have to be in this hobby long before running into Chord as a brand, as they are held in high regard and universally lauded by a large legion of fans spanning the globe.

They are a company based in England, whose claim to fame has been making high performance desktop and portable DAC/Amp solutions with a premium price to match the performance.

 

That has been the case until now. Enter the Mojo, a portable entry from Chord Electronics that promises to provide the same high performance their other products, such as the Hugo, are known for but at a much more accessible price point. To say that people were excited to get their collective grubby mitts on the Mojo would be a major understatement. Don’t believe me? Just take a gander at how quickly the official Mojo thread has grown. By the time you finish reading this review, the thread would have gorwn by a number of pages and many posts. No Joke. The Mojo appears to have struck a Chord (hah see what I did there?) with many a fan and not without good reason.

 

 

 

About me:

I want to provide a little background information in the hopes that it can help put my views in perspective and provide some context for the content of this review.

 

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)

Music has always been a huge part of my life, whether it was performing music on stage with my band or more recently, involving myself in this masochistic wonderful hobby of ours.  I have always enjoyed listening to music but I haven’t always paid attention to the quality of headphones because I was perfectly content with included cellphone earphones or cheap earbuds from department stores.  Ignorance is bliss right? This however all changed when I came across head-fi one day, and that’s when things started to go downhill (for my wallet that is :P). It is all too easy to underestimate how large an impact a good pair of headphones can have in the enjoyment of your favorite songs.

 

After getting my first pair of good headphones, I had felt as if an entirely new world has opened up to me musically and I found myself rediscovering music that I have listened to for many years.

 

When it comes to musical taste, I can’t say that I have any specific genre that is my absolute favorite, as I like a little bit of everything. But if I had to be specify, I would say that I love mainstream and Pop music and I consider myself to be an average joe in that regard. That is the approach I will be taking in reviewing gear, for people like me who aren’t all that technical and are not audiophiles in the classical sense.

 

I mostly stream music from the Internet using services such as Spotify and Youtube and like millions of other people, my laptop and cellphone serves as my main media players.

 

So with that out of the way, lets get on with the review!

 

 

 

Build quality, Design and Accessories

After receiving the package from the previous reviewer, I gleefully tore into the out cardboard box. Opening up the box, I was actually taken back somewhat. The actual Mojo packaging was smaller than I was expected, not that it’s a bad thing of course.

 

The packaging was an understated and elegant white box with minimal adornments. Of note, one panel displayed technical specifications while another a palate of colors listing what sampling rate and frequency each color pertains to [On a side note, I wonder if color blind people would have any trouble using the mojo in light of the visual nature of volume control]. The made in England sticker was a nice touch as well.

 

 

 

 

Opening up the box, the Mojo was presented in all its glory, encased in foam and a plastic bag. Inside the box a male micro to male micro USB cable was included for use with compatible portable devices. To be honest I was a bit disappointed given the lack of accessories as I feel that including a few cables and adapters might have been a nice gesture. Again, no manual was included the box but it can be downloaded from their website at: http://www.chordelectronics.co.uk/mojo/manual/Mojo-User-Manual.pdf

 

 

 

 

I was actually taken back by how compact the Mojo was after taking it out of its packaging. I had an inkling from online pictures that the unit will be on the smaller size, but not to this degree. I was able to wrap my hands around the unit easily and it had a reassuring heft to it, something that I greatly welcome. The unit felt very solid and durable to the touch, adding to its portable friendliness. It honestly felt like a tank, as it was so sturdy and durable that if I accidentally dropped the Mojo to the floor I would be more worried if I damaged the floor because that’s how tough it’s build quality is. The volume buttons rotated easily and is not easily pressed by accident, which is important given how much power the Mojo packs (which is quite a bit I might add).

 

 

 

 

 

The unit houses two 3.5 mm headphone out ports (which is perfect for Netflix dates with your special someone :P), which can be used simultaneously.

 

The Mojo also is equipped with three digital inputs:

  1. 1 X TOSLink Optical
  2. 1 X 3.5mm COAX SPDIF
  3. 1 x Micro USB [I do however have concerns about the long-term durability of the USB ports as they appeared to be a little loose and not 100% flush with outer casing. I'm not sure if this was limited to the tour unit but I thought I should point it out.]

 

 

All of this and more make for a VERY versatile piece of gear.

 

 

 

How it works:

The Mojo is a rather strange looking device, like nothing I have come across. Its design is endearing and has rather grown on me during my time with the Mojo.

 

I thought the volume buttons would be static but to my surprise they rotated freely. This of course presents the problem of dirt and dust accumulating, and I did notice a few scratches on the volume spheres on my unit. The unit can be turned on by holding down the right most button until the light starts flashing. Fun fact – by holding down both volume buttons together when switching on the unit, you set the output level to 3V (Line level).

 

The brightness of the volume buttons can be toggled between bright and dim modes by briefly pressing both volume buttons at the same time. As well, Mojo has a memory function that will store the volume level and brightness settings even if the unit is shut down. The only exception to this is Line level, which is not remembered.

 

 

 

How I used it:

 

Sources Used

  • 13 inch Macbook Pro retina via Micro USB
  • Sony Playstation 3 via optical

 

As I touched upon earlier, the Mojo is quite versatile in its capabilities. It is designed to work with everything from cellphones to laptops to gaming consoles and even DAPs (where the dap acts as a digital transport). The Mojo truly is an all in one portable solution, a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of all (if not most).

 

The Mojo fast became an indispensable part of my listening and gaming set up. It was as simple as plug and play with my Macbook Pro, working without a hitch. I used it for everything from listening to music, skype calls and even watching video lectures while studying, showing no weakness in any application.

 

It also transformed my gaming experience while using it in combination with my Playstation 3 via Optical out. Using it in conjunction with the AKG K612 Pro, I really felt as if I was immersed in my games, giving me a cinematic experience unlike anything I have experienced before. Thanks to its fantastic imaging capabilities and soundstage (will touch upon this later), playing shooters such as Call of Duty was all too enjoyable.

 

The Mojo will work with iOS devices via the CCK cable and compatible android devices which support USB audio out. Unfortunately my BlackBerry Z30 didn’t play nice with it (what a big surprise lol) but the mobile capability is there should one choose to use it (which is its primary focus after all). I should note that later on in the review I do discuss a new product from FiiO that all but eliminates the need for those pesky CCK cables, allowing a one-cable solution for iOS devices.

 

The Mojo is like a bull in a china-shop; except it is so delicate and balanced it doesn’t knock anything over. Everything from my most sensitive in ears monitos (which at the time was the Venture Electronics Duke with a resistance of 16 ohms) to my hardest to drive cans (which at the time was the AKG K612 Pro) absolutely sang when plugged into the Mojo. The unit has a large reservoir of power, and this is especially impressive considering the relatively small dimensions of the unit and I felt that it packed more power than my FiiO X7/K5 combination.

 

How it sounds

The Mojo sounds fantastic. Stop reading this review and go out and buy it! Thanks for reading the review….

 

What was that? More details you say? Fine then, let me get a glass of 50-year-old scotch mountain dew and monocles so as to better pontificate the finer subtleties of why the Mojo is an absolute game changer ;)

 

 

All kidding aside, the Mojo has a lot going for it, and it just sounds “right” to my ears, for lack of a better term (I promise its not a cop out!). This probably has a lot to do with what sets the Mojo apart from the rest of its competition. Rather than using an off the shelf DAC solution, Rob Watts (the designer at Chord Electronics) opted to use a customized in house FPGA solution, utilizing 30 years of research, which appears to have solved a lot of timing issues that plague other DACs. To be honest I am not really a technical guy and I won’t profess to understand the technology behind what makes the Mojo so special, but I will say official thread is a treasure trove of information. The best part is that Rob Watts frequents the thread and is very approachable and willing to answer questions people might have.

 

To my ears the Mojo is extremely pleasing and enjoyable to listen to with a warm analogue like sound.

 

I will touch upon soundstage first: Songs being played through the Mojo had a lot of depth to it, positively cavernous even. The soundstage had great depth and width, more so than the height. Mojo appears to have gone for a more accurate and natural soundstage reproduction rather than an artificially boosted one.

 

And part of that is due to how it handles treble. A lot of products use enhanced treble to give a sense of increased detail. No so with the Mojo, which is why I felt it was dark sounding on my initial listen. At that time I was coming from the brighter sounding FiiO X7, so the Mojo was a noticeable departure from that. That is not to say that the Mojo is deficient in the upper registers. It has excellent treble extension and detail, without being forward and strident. In fact the Mojo is astonishingly detailed, which is surprising in light of its warmer analogue like sound. The details are all present, but they are not pushed in your face, making for a fatigue free listening experience. 

 

Mojo has excellent instrument separation and layering with accurate sonic cues. Listening to live classical pieces, it was all too easy to follow individual instruments through entire songs and to imagine where they were located relative to the other instruments. It also helps that it has a pitch black background with an inaudible noise floor, giving a sense of air around winged and string instruments. Listening to EDM tracks, background elements seem to come alive thanks to Mojo’s impressive imaging, truly making you feel as if you are listening to them live at a concert.

 

In fact the Mojo was so effortless and natural, I kept forgetting to analyze the music and kept right on listening to songs. I didn’t stop to marvel at its technical capabilities as I might have with other gears because it’s not a technical performer for the sake of it, but for the end musical enjoyment, which is one of its strongest points I feel.

 

The midrange is where the magic lies for me, with a perfect amount of natural warmth, giving recordings a more analogue and live feeling. It is engaging, detailed and full sounding, giving a nice weight to male vocals, which is perfect for rock and metal music. Distorted guitar sounded sublime with good growl and texture and drum beats sounded natural. It does everything so well that it’s hard to pick a few to highlight.

 

The bass was tight, fast and punchy with terrific control, with no mid bass bloom or midrange leakage to speak of. The bass only came out to play when called upon, and quickly got out of the way. Sub bass was in perfect balance with the mid bass, and exhibited good rumble when present in the song. Bass texture was easily discernable, and immensely enjoyable in tracks like “Before I sleep” by Joy Williams, using stringed instruments.

 

And that’s how I would describe the Mojo’s sonic signature – balanced. Sonic presentation was even from top to bottom, bringing a level of power, finesse and refinement that is very rarely seen at this price point and certainly not in such a portable device.

 

I will however mention that Mojo sounded best with my neutral and brighter sounding gear compared to my darker sounding headphones. For example, the synergy between the VE Zen 2.0 and Mojo wasn’t as great as say the Zen 1.0 or VE Duke. The AKG K612 Pro sounded just heavenly out of the Mojo as opposed to the Sony MA900, which sounded average at best. The Mojo took off some of the edge and bite that the K612 Pro had in the treble region, while at the same time giving more depth and a more holographic presentation, especially for classical music. I am not suggesting this is something universal as YMMV depending on personal tastes and such, but all the same, it is something to keep in the back of your mind.

 

I would however skip the Mojo if you happen to be a certifiable treble head. That is not to say that the Mojo has poor treble extension, but rather a more natural presentation that may seem darker than gears that use enhanced treble to give a sense of increased detail retrieval.

 

Battery Life:

I managed to squeeze out anywhere between 6-7 hours of battery life on average and so it usually saw me through a whole day. For example I might use it all day with my Macbook while working or studying, and then have to charge it again at the end of the day while using it for gaming with my Playstation. The battery life is actually remarkable considering how much power and performance there is on tap, Chord certainly could have done a lot worse in this department.

 

While it is possible to use the Mojo whilst it is charging, do note that it will take longer to charge, which normally should take anywhere from 4 to 5 hours. Don’t be alarmed if your unit becomes hot while charging, this is perfectly normal, especially if you are listening to music at the same time.

 

The online manual does also mention to avoid leaving the Mojo on continuously, which is important if you plan to use it as a desktop solution. Just turn it off once in awhile lol.

 

Looking to the future:

Chord plans to release modular expansion solutions for the Mojo with additional features such as an SD card reader and a more streamlined iOS product compatibility by incorporating the apple CCK cable.

 

 

Bottom line

If you are looking for a class leading dac/amp combo that you can use with your phone, tablets, computers and gaming consoles, look no further than the Mojo. Although it is billed as a portable product, it is more than capable of pulling double duty as part of a desktop setup or indeed, a desktop replacement in and of itself. Chord has proven that you really can take desktop quality music with you on the go, without having to make compromises. The Mojo is something you can enjoy while commuting to and from work, at work, and again at home while listening to music, watching movies or even gaming!

 

All this is at a price that is far more accessible than its performance or feature set would suggest. At a price of $599 USD, it is much cheaper than its sibling, the Hugo, which is priced at >$2000 USD. Kudos to Chord for bucking the recent industry trend of pushing the price envelope.

 

Also, FiiO has recently released the L19 cable that will allow iOS devices to interface with any external dac/amp without having to use pesky and unsightly Apple CCK cables. Take that apple! You can get this cable at: http://penonaudio.com/L19-Lightning-to-Micro-USB   So take any old iPhone or iPod touch (lightning port version) and slap on the L19 cable to use it with the Mojo and voila, you have a very capable portable solution that is also easy on the wallet!

 

With its immense sonic performance and versatility, the Chord Mojo is a comprehensive all in one package that has the potential to replace both your home and portable setups, while at the same transforming your console gaming experience. The Mojo is desktop-capable and wholly portable; A Swiss army knife in all but name.

 

 

Thank you for sticking with me thus far and not falling asleep! I tried my best to pen my thoughts on what I thought about the Mojo but I do still have a lot to learn so I welcome any and all feedback :L3000:

 

 

Happy listening!

Posted

Pros: Voicing, musicality, and engagement factor. Work well with low impedance CIEMs all the way to power-hungry Orthos phones. Excellent build quality.

Cons: Maybe a tad too small?, run warm, and confusing operating LEDs

 

 

Introduction

 

As a long time portable audio enthusiast, I was ecstatic when a Chord representative invited me to participate in the Chord Mojo review program. Given that my review has been long overdue, and others have already thoroughly covered the general operation and background of this unit, I've decided to focus this review on the Mojo's ability to drive the various headphones in my extensive collection. I will also touch on the Mojo’s function as a standalone DAC, and how it stacks up to the top-of-the-line DAPs and mid-price desktop amplifiers that I currently enjoy.

 

Disclaimer:

 

As part of the U.S.A. review team, the Mojo is free for me to keep. I’m thankful to Chord for this wonderful gesture, but would have paid full price for the review sample given how much joy I received from the Mojo during the past several weeks. Additionally, English is not my native language so I would like to apologize in advance if I'm not clear, or in case of any grammatical error on my part. I would also like to thank my friend and a headfi buddy Mulveling for his assistance on grammatical review/editorial work. 

 

Reviewer Background & Bias:

 

I have been heavily into headphone listening since my early teens. My love affair with personal/portable audio began when I received an Aiwa portable cassette tape player as a gift in the early 1990’s.  From that day on, I have been smitten with portable audio and headphones, and in a way I would choose high-end headphones over a high-end speaker system. As you can probably tell, I'm simply a headphone geek at heart.

My musical preference ranges from the usual audiophile titles to classic rock, jazz, pop, folk, and classical. I am a strong believer that a great sound system should excel at resolving inner musical details, and be able to render them realistically in the soundstage. Soundstage depth and imaging are often more difficult to execute properly compared to the width of soundstage.  When these the aforementioned traits are executed properly, music sounds more “alive” and “real”. I am also a recovered bass head (aren’t we all?), and now have a strong dislike of systems with muddy and overly bloated bass response. My listening preferences lean toward gear with a sense of clarity, neutral tonal balance, and a grain free presentation. For example, I gravitate toward the sound of the Sennheiser HD-800 (with upgraded cable) and Stax SR-009 over lusher sounds like the LCD-3.

 

Setup:

 

 

 

 

Throughout my listening session, the Sony NW-ZX2 & ZX1 were used as a high quality digital transport feeding a digital audio signal to the Mojo's USB input, via the Sony WMC-NWH10 adapter. The music catalog consisted of lossless hi-resolution PCM files (mostly FLAC) ranging from 16-44.1 to 24-192. I also utilized the Astell & Kern AK100 as another transport feeding a digital signal to test the Mojo's optical input. However, I never had the chance to hook up the Mojo via computer, so I will not make any comment regarding the Mojo’s ability to handle the DSD playback.

 

The sound of Mojo

 

Generally I find the Mojo to sound exceptionally clean, grain free, and very impressive for a DAC/Amp of this size. The overall tonal balanced is very close to neutral with a slight emphasis toward clarity. Bass hits hard with plenty of articulation and tightness. There is no bloated, over emphasized bass here to speak off. The treble is nicely extended without any apparent harshness that often plagues badly designed amplifiers. Midrange is clean and clear, but could also use a slightly stronger presence. Soundstage is moderate in size with good width and decent depth. Spatial cues are discernable but fall a little short compared to high quality mid-range desktop gear. In short, I find the Mojo to be transparent and musical, with punchy dynamics and a good sense of power behind the sound. In my opinion, the Mojo has been voiced very well and is definitely in line with my sonic preferences.

 

Pairing:  Mojo + JH13 pro FP

 

 

 

The Mojo has no problem dealing with easy to drive and efficient portable earphones such as the JH13 pro. Throughout my listening test, I did not detect any unwanted background hiss/noise coming from the pairing -- but perhaps that's possible for someone with younger, more sensitive ears. The Mojo powered the JH13 with plenty of authority at a fidelity level similar to – or slightly better than -- the headphone outputs of my Sony NW-ZX2, Questyle QP-1R, and a loaner FiiO X7. However it falls a little short in soundstage width/depth and imaging when directly compared to the Sony PHA-3’s balanced headphone output. If you already own a top-of-the-line DAP and primary use IEMs, adding the Mojo to your setup may not be a top priority unless you want to drive full size headphones. However, I think the Mojo will be better utilized for someone who would like to significantly enhance the sound from their ipods and smart phones.

 

Pairing:  Mojo + Sony MDR-Z7

 

A stock Z7 -- Sony's current flagship -- is a decent sounding closed headphone that's exceptionally well built and comfortable to wear. In stock form, I find the Z7’s bass to be loose -- lacking in focus -- and a bit wooly overall. The bass notes also bleed into the lower midrange, affecting lower treble and overall sense of transparency. This results in a relatively dark sound, with somewhat rolled-off treble. I was able to greatly mitigate these shortcomings thanks to the highly regarded Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable. I'm happy to report that the Mojo is able to drive this Sony headphone very well. In fact, it was able to handle the Z7 with ease; in many ways it bests Sony's very own PHA-3. With the Mojo, the bass is tighter and also better defined. Treble energy is more alive, while midrange is cleaner and more engaging to listen to. The Mojo’s sense of power and toe-tapping dynamics really wake the Z7 up in a good way.

 

Pairing:  Mojo + Sennheiser HD-800

 

This Sennheiser dynamic flagship is a favorite of mine. As my go-to critical listening headphone, it's often my first choice to evaluate sources and amplifiers. The HD800 is notoriously difficult to drive properly, and will sound anemic and relatively lifeless out of many amplifiers -- but it is very much capable of sounding world-class with the right amp. The Mojo surprised me at how well it is able to drive the HD800. Out of this little DAC/AMP, the HD800 sounds authoritative and musical. This is impressive, given that I was not able to get the same results out of my trusty Sony PHA-3 and Denon DA-3000USB desktop amplifier. My only nitpick here is that the pairing can get slightly fatiguing on a long listening session, due to a slight emphasis on treble.  This is likely not a fault of the Mojo alone, given that the HD-800 is well known to have an uneven treble response around 6 Khz. The Mojo was nearly able to go toe-to-toe with my Geek Pulse X here, loosing out ever so slightly in width/depth of soundstage and overall sense of refinement.

 

Pairing:  Mojo + LCD-3

 

Many thanks to Mr. Joe Saxson of Headphoneaudiophile.com for lending me the LCD-3 to audition with the Chord Mojo. The LCD-3 is a relatively dark sounding high-end headphone with a smooth, liquid presentation. The sound is more forward, with generous bass output compared to the Sennheiser HD800. This headphone is more difficult to drive properly out of most portable devices, and adding the Mojo to the chain makes a world of difference. The Mojo drove the LCD-3 with a good sense of dynamics and plenty of headroom to drive them to unsafe listening levels (if you so choose). Given that the LCD-3 isn't my cup of tea, I'm not going to delve into fine details; suffice it to say that the Mojo in fact works very well with the LCD-3, and earns my strong praise for its ability to drive this headphone.

 

Pairing:  Mojo + HE1000

 

The HiFi-Man flagship is very well liked by many, and is one of the best sounding headphones currently available. The sound quality is smooth, warmth, musical, and relatively fatigue free. It has a huge and tall soundstage, with a good sense of depth and solid spatial cues. The bass is generous, with good texture but slightly loose for my tastes. It can also sound a little soft and diffused around the edges; it lacks that sense of "focus" compared to the Sennheiser HD-800. In my experience, the HEK must be paired with a high quality solid state amplifier that is transparent and snappy sounding, with a good amount of driving power to address those shortcomings. The Mojo’s sound signature is just that, and it has mated well indeed with the HE1000. I found the pairing very enjoyable to listen to. I personally recommended the Mojo to any HE1000 owners who are looking for a portable solution to drive the HE1000. 

 

Comparison with Headamp Pico DAC/Amp

 

 

 

Back around 2010, Headamp's Pico was the gold-standard for anything portable DAC/AMP listening. The Pico was able to drive wide-range of headphones including my Sennheiser HD-800 surprising well given its minuscule size -- however, these headphones now sound noticeably better and more dynamics on the Mojo. I was not able to identify any area where the Mojo can't outperform the still-impressive sounding Headamp Pico DAC/Amp.  This is quite a treat on the Mojo given that the Pico DAC/Amp has noticeably less driving power & headroom and its internal DAC is only capable of 16/48 signal.  Also the Pico is lacking in features such as a dedicated line out and inability to charge while playing given its $499 pricetag.  Lastly,I have to admit that I still love look & feel of the Pico more but I would take the Mojo over the Pico any day of the week.

 

Comparison with Sony PHA-3

 

 

 

The PHA-3 was my reference DAC/AMP unit before the Mojo arrived. The PHA-3 is a liquid, but relative dark sounding amplifier. Its single-ended headphone output doesn't quite measure up to the Mojo's sense of dynamics and resolution. The PHA-3 was able to drive the HD800, LCD-3, and HIFIman well -- however, it lacks a sense of power compared to the Mojo.  Switching to the PHA-3's balanced output, the PHA-3 still lacks a tiny bit in power compared to the Mojo, but it more than makes up for this in its size of soundstage and imaging. There is a better sense of decay, as well as noticeably more weight to the sound, along with more layering. In my opinion, the PHA-3 was able to render a more "refined" presentation, but the MOJO still rules in clarity and punchiness. Given that the Mojo is nearly half the size of the PHA3, and able to operate while charging, I have to tip my hat to the Mojo. Still, the Sony is able to save the day somewhat thanks to its balanced drive amplification.  So how does the two compared as a DAC?  I personally prefer the DAC output on the PHA-3 by just a hair thanks to its better representation of depth cues and musical details within the soundstage..

 

Comparison with Headamp Pico Power Amplifier

 

 

 

True to its name, the Pico Power is a portable amplifier with enough power to drive both the Sennheiser HD-800 and HE1000 very well. It provides roughly the same level of performance as the Mojo's amp section, but with slightly better resolution, as well as featuring a dead-neutral sonic character. Therefore I would rate the Power as having a slightly better amplification section overall, but note that having to carry another portable amp (as well as spare 9 volts batteries) along with the Mojo will greatly affect the portability factor, and thus is less than ideal in my mind.  Again, the Mojo's do-it-all appeal win me over the Pico Power here as well.     

 

Comparison with mid-range desktop amplifiers with DAC options

 

 

 

The Mojo performed admirably against several mid-price desktop DAC/amplifiers in my possession -- namely the Questyle Q192, Headroom Ultra Desktop Amplifier/DAC, and Geekpulse X. Overall, the Mojo fell just short compared to the Q192 at driving the HD800 -- losing out slightly on the depth of the soundstage, bass impact, and overall tonality. The Mojo's presentation is more upfront and neutral compared to the Q192. However, the HD800 tends to thrive with a warmer/bassier amp, and here the Q192 is able to supplement the HD800 better than the Mojo. After all, the Q192 was designed and voiced for the HD800 in mind.    

 

Next I put the Mojo up against my Geek Pulse X. Yet again, the Mojo didn't get embarrassed next to the more expensive Geek Pulse X. In fact, the Mojo delivers more authoritative bass impact, providing a better sense of speed on both the single-end and balanced outputs with my beloved Sennheiser HD-800. I prefer the Mojo over the Geek Pulse X in single-end operation, but the Pulse X manages to pull away from the Mojo once its balanced headphone output is utilized. With balanced output engaged, the X pulls ahead in soundstage and layering, while also providing a more effortless and laid-back performance. Despite falling a little short compared to these mid-priced desktop units, I still came away extremely impressed with the Mojo's overall sound quality and ability to compete in a higher weight class. The Mojo is the only truly portable DAC/AMP device of this group.  

 

Sound Quality as a DAC

 

 

 

In this test, I compared the analog output of the Mojo against that of the Geek Pulse X, Questyle Q192, and Denon 300USB DAC. Again, the Mojo stood up well to the full-sized desktop AMP/DAC competition. Tonality wise, the Mojo is the most neutral of the group, with the Q192 being the most lush. The Mojo managed to edge out the Denon, due to the former's lack of grain. The Mojo's only shortcoming is its inability to match the depth cues and layering portrayed by both the Q192 and Pulse X. Overall, I found these four devices to be relative close in performance, with the Pulse X & Q192 tied for the first place, following by the Mojo and then the Denon. 

 

Last Words

 

At $599, the Mojo offers tremendous value for the money, given that it surpasses all of the high-end DAPs and portable AMP/DAC in my collection. It works well with a wide range of different headphones, and has proven to stand up well against the bigger and pricier mid-level desktop models in my possession. Sonically, I find a lot to love and very little to fault with the Mojo. Sure, I wish that the Mojo could be a little more resolving, with a better sense of layering, but this is a whole lot to ask from a portable device roughly the size of a cigarette box! Additionally, it can be used as a DAC to feed your secondary system. I think the magic in the Mojo is its voicing and the tremendous work in its DSP. Chord has done it again, and this little Mojo has earned my strongest recommendation – in my opinion it's become a new benchmark in the portable DAC/Amp segment.

Posted

Pros: Beautiful Sound, Small Size, Fascinating and Useful Design

Cons: None

Reviewers often give backgrounds so that the reader is privileged to have a reference point for the reviewer's opinion.  Many are experienced audiophiles familiar with the language of such, which is often not only unique to its own, it is often indiscernible to the non-audiophile.  

 

I am a non audiophile and understand only a portion of the language but do know what I like and what I have hoped for. 

 

Going from average consumer headphones to Beyerdynamic T1 was a "wow!" moment where the product's impact upon me was overwhelmingly positive.  The T1's exceeded my expectations on what quality could come from headphones, and the 2nd generation's removable cable was a great upgrade.  Having raised a large family, I know what can happen to headphone cables wherever children are and this 'security blanket' means that even grandchildren's small feet could cause a tug in the wrong direction, but the headphones will survive.

 

 The sound of the T1 was the "wow!" moment I had hoped for while investing such money into headphones. 

 

Thus began my search for the appropriate amp and dac. I began by "rounding up the usual suspects" particularly using Amazon Warehouse Prime, allowing for open box testing and free shipping both ways.  

 

The Beyerdynamic A20 amp was the best I had heard in the amps, and the Schiit Modi 2 uber bested the Bifrost  4490 for sound quality.  The A20 amp was clearly a well constructed and neutral sounding amp that seemed to go well with the T1.  This was my hone set up and for travel, I simply used the Monte Blanc from Fiio; a good, solid and strong portable amp. 

 

Yet, I was nagged by the Mojo reviews.  How could any product be that good?  If the reviews were to be believed, the Mojo was consistently described as better than anything described costing 4 times as much as the Mojo, with some describing it as good as DACs costing upwards of $5,000 US.  The reviews came in from all over the US, UK, Australia, and the far east and the consistency throughout was note worthy.  Professional reviewers and amateurs alike raved about it.  

 

I had to give it a try.  

 

I knew that my expectation was too high from the reviews; foolish, in fact, because there is really no place to go but down.  The Modi 2 and Bifrost are good DACs and people love them.  The Beyerdynamic A20 amp comes through with beautiful clarity.  Yet, the reviews of Mojo set the bar much higher.  I have gone to movies where people have raved so much about the movie that my expectation meant one thing:  disappointment.  

 

I considered that there could be no possible "wow!" moment for me, as I am at a very good place with my current set up. 

 

I was stunned the first time I heard the Mojo.  

 

Stunned.  

 

The jump in quality from my set up was like nothing I expected or could have predicted.  I was stunned and overwhelmed at what my ears were hearing, and what was being 'thrown at me', so I decided to go to my old favorites; that is, music that I no longer listen to because I have heard it too often for 4 decades.  This included Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" and the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."  I also decided to test some of the more modern Dylan, particularly the vocals from "Modern Times" and "Oh Mercy" with Daniel Lanois' production.  Then, I added Swan Lake, and from another Mojo reviewer, Amber Rubarth's "Sessions" album, with its incredible soundstage. 

 

Wow.

 

The Mojo gave me detail that I have not heard before.  My brain was so accustomed, for example, to every note on "Blood on the Tracks", having heard it and played it on guitar, that I did not think I could ever hear anything new on it.  

 

Stunning. 

 

I heard things on Sgt. Pepper's that I did not know existed.  

 

It was that Mojo brought back my entire music catalog from retirement.  

 

I found myself checking back those reviews, listening for what the reviewer said had most touched him, and sure enough, the scratch of a guitar, the edge of the rim of the snare drum, and the highs of even a flute, were all there, just as marvelously described by both professional and amateur audiophile.  

 

In sharing Mojo with my wife during the day, I  have reached a point where not using the Mojo is disappointing and a bit discouraging; such as, 'maybe I will put the news on for a while rather than listening to music' since she had the Mojo instead of me.  We will get a second. 

 

Chord Electronics has given me and my wife a wonderful gift and something that we could afford.  I do not know how this will work out for them, and how it will impact its sales of Hugo, and I know this must be impacting some other fine high quality companies, too.  

 

For me, I no longer own the desktop amp, the desktop DAC, nor the portable amp.  

 

Something as tiny as the Mojo has replaced all my equipment.  

 

I take it everywhere I go, just as I do my iPhone, just in case I get a spare few minutes and slip on the in-ear headphones.  It is this good. 

 

What has Mojo done to "Pet Sounds"?  

 

Berlin Philharmonic?

 

Southside Johnny's aged bluesy voice on "Soultime"?

 

The Mojo has not only brought my entire music catalog out of retirement but the Mojo reviewers have inspired me to look into new music, and we are like two teenagers, challenging each other to listen to this singer, or that band, and, oh, you must hear this song...as my wife and I share the Mojo back and forth until we end up purchasing a second. 

 

As others have said, it is a real "game changer" product and something that listeners think is 'burning in' and 'improving' over the months, whereas the truth is that our brain's are interpreting new data for us, furthering our musical experience beyond what it was pre- Mojo.  

 

It is now lossless music streaming through the Mojo to beautiful and well built headphones, through a lap top or iPhone.  

 

Chord Electronics has done what it set out to do, and then some.  They may have made it possible for the average iPhone or Android phone owner to hear what only high end, expensive audiophile fans have experienced, at an incredible bargain.  

 

The lights?  Perfect.  I already know what color my wife's level should be, and can even make adjustments in the evening darkness, and it is ergonomically perfect for my hand. I look forward to the modules, especially blue tooth, and to the release of a leather case, though it is made strong enough to withstand anything I may inadvertently throw at it. 

 

Pros?  It gave me the "wow!" effect that I did not think my extreme expectations would have realized.  30 years of Chord research reduced to affordability.  Definition.  Soundstage.  Definition.  Beauty.  Resuscitation of entire music catalog.  Dynamic, living sound.  Dylan in my living room, singing for me.  Orchestra highs, and chest thumbing bass.  Accuracy.  

 

Cons? 

 

 I am simply too thankful to consider any.  

Posted

Pros: Performance well beyond what it’s size and price would suggest

Cons: Accessories and documentation could be improved

Equipment Used

 

Source:

MacBook Air running Tidal, Audirvana +, Amarra 3 and Amarra for Tidal

MacBook Pro running Tidal

Samsung Note 4 running USB Audio Player Pro

 

DAC’s:

Schiit Bifrost Multibit

 

Headphone Amp:

Schiit Asgard 2

 

Headphones:

AudioQuest NightHawk

Sony MDR-Z7

Sennheiser HD650

Sennheiser HD598

KEF M500

V-Moda XS

RHA MA-750i

 

Disclaimer

 

I was picked as part of Chord’s Canadian review tour. Outside of being provided a review unit for a week and shipping costs, I was in no way compensated for writing this review. After the review unit shipped to the next in line I found a (somewhat) local dealer and purchased my own Mojo at the retailer's pricing.

 

About Me

 

I’m a 45 year old UX/UI designer at a small mobile gaming company. I’ve been involved in music and audio most of my life though. Growing up I played many instruments, mainly cello and later bass guitar. In my mid teens I discovered audio. Over the years following I spent quite a bit of time hanging around audio shops, I even had brief stints working in a couple. In my early 20’s I trained as an audio engineer but instead of getting a job in the music industry I moved to the audio industry working for a small speaker manufacturer. In a work lull in the late 90’s I ended up taking a 3D animation course which has evolved into my current job. After the course and meeting my wife, audio fell off the radar for a few years until in 2002 I discovered Head-Fi and along with it a preference for high-end headphones over speakers. I’ve been hanging around here ever since.

 

Sonic Preferences

 

I value all aspects of audio reproduction but I’ll admit certain aspects take precedence over others. While soundstage is important I’ll give up width and depth for well defined imaging. I love hearing all the little details in a recording but not at the expense of good tonality or a skewed frequency response. That said, I tend to lean towards warmer sounding gear because I’m one of those that feels a good portion of high-end phones lack enough bass to give music its proper foundation. I also tend to towards warmer gear because I’m sensitive to vocal sibilance. I don’t necessarily mind treble as long as it’s reproduced cleanly, unfortunately that seems to be a hard find.

 

Introduction

 

I’ll make a confession, I don’t really listen to music on the go anymore. On the rare occasion I do I’ll listen straight out of my phone. So then why did I want to audition the Mojo? It’s about versatility. While I mainly listen at home I’ve always liked having the flexibility to listen anywhere in the house. Unfortunately that typically means either compromises in sound quality or ease of use.

 

I had pretty much given up on the idea of a one size fits all type of product so when Schiit announced the Bifrost Multibit I decided to replace my Resonessence Concero HP with that and an Asgard 2 amp with the idea that I’d find a second, more portable solution down the road. And then a few weeks after I got the Schiit stack Chord announced the Mojo which piqued my interest, although somewhat skeptically given the hype they produced with their “The Game Will Change” tagline used to advertise prior to the release event, after all, it’s just a reasonably priced portable DAC/Amp. Right?

 

 

Design Philosophy

 

So what makes the Mojo different? Over three years ago Chord got the idea to make a cigarette package sized portable DAC/Amp that could be used with a wide range of devices and have similar performance to the larger Hugo but at a budget price. It’s taken until now for them to realize the product because the tech wasn’t there until recently. That’s because Chord doesn’t use readily available off the shelf DAC chips, instead, Rob Watts, Chord’s DAC designer, uses field-programmable gate array’s, or FPGA’s, to program his own. It wasn’t until the latest generation Xilinx Artix 15T 28nM FPGA offered the performance and low power to achieve their goal.

 

So why does Chord design their own DAC’s instead of using readily available off the shelf DAC’s? That’s because Rob feels the most important aspect of recreating the digital signal is the timing of transients which can not only have an effect on the starting and stopping of notes but also can have an effect on timbre, pitch and soundstage. Over the shelf DAC’s just don’t have the processing power to deal with this correctly so Rob turned to using FPGA’s to design his own.

 

It would take a lot more space to delve into this subject further and I’ll admit, I don’t fully understand all the technicalities but luckily Chord has been highly engaged with the Head-Fi community and they are quite open and helpful with regards to explaining their designs. There is a plethora of information within the Mojo thread as well as the Hugo and Dave threads here on Head-Fi.

 

Packaging & Accessories

 

The packaging for the Mojo is both elegant and simple. A white box with the Mojo inside surrounded by foam. Take the Mojo out and underneath there’s a short micro USB to USB cable. That’s it. Although a full manual  is not included one can be downloaded from Chord’s website. The inner box does have useful information on each of its faces to help the new owner get up and running though. I commend this approach as it saves paper that typically end ends up in drawer or the waste bin.

 

The short micro USB to USB cord is a useful addition but as a product designed for use with many different portable devices I would have liked to have seen a few other cables included and a charger wouldn’t hurt either. I understand it would affect costs and it would be hard to cover everyone’s potential needs. It would then also require larger and different packaging for different countries but offering something like this might alleviate a lot of anxiety like has been seen in the forums from some users. Maybe offering a separate official accessories package would be something for Chord to think about.

 

Connectivity

 

Despite the Mojo’s diminutive size it offers numerous input/output options. With a micro USB input, a separate micro USB charging port as well as a coaxial and an optical input on one end along with dual ⅛” outputs on the other it makes for a very versatile product.

 

The Mojo’s micro USB input allows it to not only be connected to a computer but with the proper cabling (and in some cases software) it can also be used with DAP’s, Android and iDevices. Or if you prefer, us the coaxial or optical out of a computer or DAP to connect to the Mojo. It can even be used with a separate amp as a DAC only with a 3V line output when both the volume buttons are held down when turning the unit on. That opens a whole other world of possibilities of it being used in speaker setup.

 

The micro USB charging port allows the Mojo to be used with any USB style charger provided it puts out at least 1 amp, that means in theory it can be charged from either the USB port of a computer or any USB charger provided with a phone, tablet and other electronic device provided it meets the 1 amp requirement.

 

Physical Design and Usability

 

The artist in me loves quirky and unique designs so I’m rather taken with the Mojo’s colored glowing balls and sculpted metal curves. It’s tiny yet it’s weight gives it substantiality. Not everyone will like this design but I personally love the idea of pushing the style boundaries.

 

The physical design isn’t just about looks either, the clever design of the glass ball buttons serve double duty with the on/off switch changing color to indicate sampling rate and the volume up/down buttons changing color to give a visual indication of volume level. There’s a key to the sampling rate colors on one of the panels of the inside box. Unfortunately there’s no such explanation on the box for the volume buttons. It is described in the downloadable manual but as the concept is rather unique it would be nice to see more of a description on the box like the sampling rate. Maybe Chord could make the QR code on one end of the box smaller to accommodate this information?

 

There’s also a small LED under the charging USB jack that changes color to indicate battery level. Unfortunately the placement of this light can be a challenge for the user because it’s difficult to see when a cable is plugged in.

 

Overall though, everything is clearly labeled making the Mojo a fairly simple and straightforward device to use.

 

Sound

 

The tour Mojo was shipped to my work and I was so eager to try it I had to set it up right away. I don’t have an elaborate work setup anymore, there’s just too many distractions, so I’ve ended up using a pair of VModa XS straight from my MacBook Pro. It was this setup that I first heard the Mojo in. Of course nothing ever runs smoothly, the included short cord only intermittently worked and in my eagerness I forgot to make sure the volume was turned down so I nearly blew my eardrums out when the first note played. After adjusting the volume and finding a position the cable would work I ended up only having a few minutes of listening time but the XS sounded like a new headphone. Better balanced yet punchier and more dynamic sounding with a greater sense of depth to the music. The few initial glitches aside, the Mojo made a very good first impression indeed.

 

At home using my MacBook Air and AudioQuest NightHawks the Mojo has continued to make a good impression. The sound coming from the Mojo defies what one would expect given its diminutive size and price. It has an uncanny ability of allowing you to hear further into a recording.

 

I’ve read various people claim the Hugo was too bright for them so I was worried Chord might be trying to use the trick of accentuating treble to give the illusion of increased detail. This is definitely not the case with the Mojo. I’m incredibly sensitive to treble, especially sibilance, and the Mojo has been a joy in this regard. The treble is very clean and refined with good presence and no undue emphasis or smearing. In fact this is a common theme throughout the whole frequency spectrum. The Mojo isn’t the weightiest I’ve heard, nor is it the lushest but it strikes an excellent balance without any one frequency range drawing attention to itself. It’s tight and punchy yet allows the listener to hear the decay of instruments without feeling like it either lingers or is cut short.

 

The soundstage isn’t overly wide but there is more depth than I’ve been accustomed to. Where the Mojo really excels though, is in it’s ability to give each instrument it’s own space. It’s this ability to pull apart a recording and let me see further into it that has really grabbed me. It becomes easier to delineate multiple overlapping tracks and hear more subtle detail from those tracks. Things like slight tonal shifts in an instrument, the emotion and expression a musician plays with, or the simple grit of rosin on a bow become more apparent.

 

In particular, live recordings seem to benefit from this ability to separate instruments because the subtle ambient cues that feed the illusion of being in the recording space are more apparent. On Iron & Wine’s “Live At Wheaton College” recording it’s just Sam Beam with his acoustic guitar. It’s more intimate than other live recordings I’ve heard from him and in numerous parts there is some nice dialogue with the audience. With the Mojo the various voices in the audience are clearer and their placement better defined. The greater overall depth and separation gives a much better sense of the size of the chapel the concert took place in than I’ve heard before. The same can be said for the Cowboy Junkies “Live At The Ark” recording. The music itself is great but it’s the exchanges with the audience that give such a great sense of being there and the Mojo only helps augment that.

 

Denser and dynamic recordings like *Shels “Plains of the Purple Buffalo” or Dadawa’s “Sister Drum” also benefit. In both these albums there are tracks that go from quiet to loud in an instant. The massed instruments and vocals that come in with this dynamic shift can sound compressed or become a wall of sound where it’s hard to distinguish the instruments and vocals. The Mojo handles these types of dynamic shifts with ease and with its ability to separate tracks the overall picture becomes easier to discern.

 

This sense of ease was apparent with all the different headphones I used the Mojo with. The Sennheiser HD650 is probably the most difficult to drive headphone I had on hand but because of the HD650’s clamping force and my TMJ I can only wear them for a few minutes at time. I did try a few recording at different times though and the HD650’s seemed perfectly happy being fed by the Mojo. The same goes for the others like the KEF M500, Sennheiser HD598 and the Sony MDR-Z7 with no hiss from the lower impedance RHA MA-750i IEM’s. Like the V-Moda XS I first used, all these headphones seem get taken to another level when used the Mojo.  

 

Samsung Note 4

 

Connecting the Mojo to my Samsung Note 4 via a generic OTG cable I got off Amazon yielded some interesting results. I used Tidal via USB Audio Player Pro which took a little bit of tweaking to get working but when I did I found I could hear little difference between this setup and that of MacBook Air playing Tidal. If push came to shove I’d say the Note 4 setup is a bit smoother on top.

 

I’d still put Tidal via Amarra, Amarra 3 and Audirvana + from the Air a slight step up on Tidal alone but it’s interesting that Tidal alone sounded almost the same out of both the Air and Note 4. This is precisely what I’ve found compromised in other portable solutions, there’s always been a distinct drop in quality when using something other than my computer. It’s a huge plus that I now feel like I can move around the house without sacrificing anything.

 

With the AudioQuest Jitterbug

 

When I bought my own Mojo I also bought a Jitterbug to try. I’ve done a bit of back and forth and also left it in for a while then took it out. I’d say there is a difference but it’s hard to describe. Things felt slightly more defined but thinner with an edge introduced that I found fatiguing. Every time I switched back to the Mojo alone there was a sense of relief, the sound a bit fuller and smoother. After a couple of weeks I just took the Jitterbug out altogether and put in a drawer.

 

 

Comparison To Schiit Bifrost Multibit & Asgard 2 Combo

 

The Schiit Bifrost Multibit and Asgard 2 combo offers a very different perspective on the music than the Mojo. The Schiit stack has a lusher, smoother and weightier sound but instruments are more congealed. What seems to be a constant in my notes is the Schiit stack seemed overly smoothed over with a dullness to the sound. It lacks the dynamic ability, depth and definition as well as the transparency of the Mojo.

 

Which one prefers will likely come down to priorities. That said, I’ve typically always leaned towards the lusher, weightier sound even at the expense of detail but in this case I felt the Mojo was more correct and a clear step up with it’s ability to see further into recordings in what feels like a very natural manner. Add into that the Mojo’s tiny footprint and it’s versatility and it seemed like a no brainer to sell the Schiit gear and replace it with my own Mojo (which I purchased the day after I sent the review unit on the next in line).

 

Conclusion

 

Every now and then a product comes on the market that redefines the price to performance ratio and becomes a classic. The original NAD 3020 integrated amplifier would be one such product that immediately comes to mind. It’s hard not to think the versatile Mojo, with the level of sound & build quality it has at a reasonable price, is destined to be another of those rare, market redefining classics.


There’s no doubt in my mind that if Chord charged double or more for the Mojo it would still sell like hotcakes and it would still receive accolades from the press. My hat goes off to the team at Chord for sticking to their plan and making the Mojo accessible to a much broader audience. Like the 3020, for many the Mojo may be all the DAC and headphone amp they ever need. It’s small enough and versatile enough to be used in just about any situation while sounding so good I’d expect one would have to pay a significant amount more to get better.

Posted

Pros: Small, Natural/organic reproduction of sound, Incredible resolution and detail

Cons: Lack of included adapters, Lack of case, Battery Issues (I had a warranty replacement)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review Contents

 

 

Introduction

Review Approach

Technical Specifications

Under the Hood

Hands On/Operation/Aesthetics

Charging/Battery

Sound Quality

            Signature

            Depth

            Sound Stage

            Resolution

Mobile

            Mojo’ing on iOS

            Mojo’ing on Android

            Mojo’ing on Mac

            Mojo’ing on DAPs

Protecting Your Mojo

Conclusions

 

Introduction

 

           I am both a stereophile and an audiophile.  I am an audiophile so as to further my enjoyment of the music I consider essential in life.  Life without music isn’t much life at all, when I’m able to hear details I couldn’t hear before in a song I’ve heard hundreds of times or said song is brought to life even more via better reproduction, the reason for seeking higher sound quality and reproduction becomes self-evident.

 

           I have had Mojo since it was released in October 2015-approximately one year ago.  I listen to the Mojo around 5-8 hours a day, everyday.  I have been able to hear deep into the Mojo, I hope you’ll gain some insights into whether Mojo is right for you from my review.

 

Review Approach

 

           I listen to Mojo using either my “old school” 2011 Macbook Pro or my “new school” Samsung S7 Edge.  I used iPhone 5 before I got my S7E, therefore I can speak to using idevices with Mojo as well.  When listening with my Macbook Pro I use Jriver Media Center 21 and a micro-USB to USB cable.  With the S7 Edge I use a micro-USB to micro-USB OTG cable and the excellent UAPP app(purchasable in the Play Store).  I prefer portable setups and use IEMs exclusively, in this review I’ll be using the ADEL A12 CIEMs.  You will find everything you need to know about using Mojo in a portable capacity in this review.

 

 

Technical Specifications:

 

Dynamic Range: 125DB

THD: 3v – 0.00017%

Power Output: 1kHz

Amplification: 600ohms 35mW, 8ohms 720mW

Output Impedance: 0.075 ohms

Plays: Up to 768kHz & DSD256

 

           In my opinion the most important specification for you as an average user is output impedance.  Ensure that your headphones/IEMs match up well with the low impedance Mojo.  Audiophile level sources are low impedance for good reason, per Rob Watts:

 

“…It’s much better if fed with a low impedance source - damping is better, giving a tighter and faster bass, and frequency response variations due to impedance change are better controlled.”

 

           If your IEM’s sound better with a high output impedance source, I suggest you DO NOT look beyond Mojo but instead look to an adapter like the Ultimate Ears Buffer Jack($~10 via UE) or similar adapters that will increase output impedance.  The majority of audiophile level IEMs/headphones will pair well with Mojo-needing no impedance adapter.

 

If you want to geek out, here is a link to detailed measurements/technical specifications:

 

http://ohm-image.net/data/audio/rmaa-chord-mojo-24-bit

 

Under The Hood:

 

           Mojo was designed by Chord as a programmable FPGA, per Rob Watts:

 

"...an FPGA is not a DAC chip, it’s a sea of gates that you can connect together to make any digital device you like. You could make a PC processor out of an FPGA, or a device that controls a rover on Mars, or the digital parts of a DAC. I also create IP and designs for audio to make silicon chips. And my designs could be used to make a dedicated DAC chip, or it could be used to program an FPGA. The benefits you have using an FPGA are considerable, as you can have thousands of times more processing power than is found inside high end audio silicon chips. Indeed, Mojo has 500 times more processing power than conventional high performance DACs."

 

It was designed to have as few components as possible as each component can color/influence sound quality.  Much of the magic of Mojo is in the programming utilized in the FPGA.  This programming creates the unique signature of Mojo and the type of sound people familiar with Chord products call the "Chord sound".  Central to Chords sound and indeed the main focus of their products is addressing the timing of transients.  According to Rob Watts, transients are responsible for pitch, sound stage, timbre and the timing (stopping and starting) of notes. Immense computational power allows Chord to address these timing issues and as a result Mojo sounds more lifelike than anything I've heard before.

 

           It wasn’t until recently that it was even possible to build a device as small and powerful as Mojo, the technology didn’t exist.  When the Xilinx Artix 15T 28nM was released, Chord turned their attention toward completing Mojo.  Mojo is a computational monster, upsampling 2048 times-that’s ~16 approximately times more than their competitiors.  Upsampling eliminates RF noise, noise floor modulation and jitter is eliminated by a factor of 64.  This creates an inky black background unto which Chord creates their signature sound.

 

           Mojo has a discrete transistor output stage, this means it can drive just about any power hungry headphone.  Chord had a battery custom made that could meet the unique requirements of the Mojo.  Using cutting edge chips, customizable programming and innovating where necessary is a hallmark of Chord.  This has allowed Chord to offer novel solutions to recreating a digital signal in analog form; improving sound quality by addressing the timing of transients, THD, noise floor and other technical aspects which cannot be addressed as effectively using traditional industry technology and methods to the extent Chord have using their proprietary progamming and FPGA approach.

             

Hands On/Operation/Aesthetics

 

            Mojo is very small-smaller than a pack of playing cards in fact-yet it is quite heavy: 6.1oz.  Holding it in my hand and pressing down on it with a good amount of force produces no bend or give anywhere in the high quality aluminum housing.  Eight tiny screws hold the case together into a solid block and four solidly-glued bumpers keep the device in place on your listening surface.  None of the bumpers have come off in a year of daily use, that's some serious adhesive!  Holding Mojo gives an impression of durability and quality not found in the hardware of other mobile devices.

 

 

 

 

           Mojo was designed such that it can charge while in use (even from total battery depletion) as there are separate data (middle left in the first image below) and charging micro-USB ports (middle right in the first image below).  This is an excellent feature as you never run out of sound so long as you can plug Mojo in.  The optical port is on the right and the 3.5mm coaxial on the left. 

 

 

 

 Dual 3.5mm headphone ports are on the other side:

 

 

           Plugging into and out of the headphone port creates a solid reassuring click.  The micro-USB ports are also solid but care should be taken to avoid stressing them.  Invest in right angle micro-USB cords and avoid putting pressure on these connections, such as putting Mojo in your pocket while in use.

 

           I’ve recoiled in horror when dropping Mojo or believing I've scratched it, only to find it unscathed.  Rubbing a finger on the hairline scratches caused them to vanish and the solid metal body prevented any damage from the fall.  The finish and overbuilt design are very satisfying. I suspect Mojo is a device you’ll be able to listen to decades from now.

 

           Chord realized many of us will be stacking, thus they cut notches into the corners of the aluminum body creating grooves into which rubber bands can clasp Mojo more securely when stacking.  Stacking will increase RF/EMI interference, I suggest using ferrite devices (discussed later) or to eliminate RF/EMI completely use airplane mode when stacking.  When I'm listening at a desk and cannot use airplane mode I'll attach ferrite chokes as seen below and position Mojo as far away from the phone as possible.  Restricting background data to essential apps only like (text messaging, email, etc) will help reduce RF/EMI as well.

 

           Three buttons sit atop Mojo recessed into the aircraft grade aluminum case.  The lone orb is the power and sample rate indicator orb, the other two are the volume orbs.  The orbs do well to remind you of your listening settings.  Mojo will remember the last settings you were using when you shut it down so you don't have to scroll to your desired setting everytime you use Mojo.  The power orb indicates the sample rate of the music you’re listening to.  Note that the correct light will not be displayed unless the software you’re using is properly configured to output bitperfect data.  Scroll down to the Mobile section to see how you can do this on Android, iOs and Mac.

 

 

Charging/Battery:

           

            When Mojo arrives, open it and charge it immediately with a powerful wall plug charger (1A+).  If charging correctly Mojo will display a solid white LED below the charging port.  If charging incorrectly this LED will blink with a white light.  If it blinks switch to a more powerful wall plug.  Charging will take excessively long with a low powered (.5a and below), for example: Apple iPhone square block chargers or laptop USB ports.  When the charging light shuts off, Mojo is fully charged, taking approximately 4 hours.  Mojo may get hot while charging and playing at the same time, this is not cause for concern per John Franks:

 

“Yes. The Mojo uses 1.7W of power, so it will get comfortably warm during use, and has thermal cut-outs that prevent it overheating, even if charged at the same time.”

 

           Mojo has a built in auto-off feature that automatically shuts it down when a certain temperature is reached.  This has never happened to me and I charge and listen with 12 driver CIEMs everyday, you shouldn’t worry about Mojo shutting down on you.  Mojo indicates battery status via LED under the charging port: blue is fully charged, green is 75% charged, yellow is 50%, red is 25% and blinking red means the battery is critically low.

 

 

           My first Mojo had to be sent back for warranty because I was getting 3-4 hours of use from a fully charged Mojo.  The Mojo I received back is getting 8-10 hours from a full charge as advertised.    Some have reported a buzzing/whining sound while charging Mojo, I have never heard this sound and I’ve used many chargers and cables.  This buzzing/whining was an issue with early run Mojo's that Chord addressed and remedied within a few months of release.

 

Sound Quality

 

Signature

 

            If you look at the website I linked under the Technical Details section you will see from the graphs provided there that Mojo has a neutral/flat signature with the highest highs slightly rolled off.  This echoes what my ears are telling me, Mojo sounds neutral with a hint of warmth.  Very slightly rolling off the highest high’s means your ears won’t get fatigued.  I can still clearly hear the highest notes without attentively searching for them-none of the detail is lost.  I can find no dips or peaks in the Mojo’s signature except the aforementioned sparkle roll off and it is very subtle.

 

            Sub-bass extends quite a long time, doesn’t bleed into mid-bass and punches fast and tight.  It hits with authority when it’s called for and takes a back seat when it isn’t.  There is no mid bass bloat or bleed to speak of.  Mid-bass is easily discernible even while the sub-bass is punching hard.  I can focus on the bass guitar and pick it out of the mix and follow it through the whole song without ever losing it.  The mids as a whole are full, rich and exceptionally clean.  Mid-highs standout nicely from the mid-bass.  Everything is balanced with an ever so slight emphasis toward the mids.  High’s sparkle without being harsh, grating or fatiguing. 

 

            Mojo produces the most natural realistic sound I’ve ever heard.  Upon hearing Mojo for the first time I said to myself:  “Studio recordings sound live! All my music sounds live!”  In my opinion it is the timbre and tone of the instruments as reproduced by the device that creates realism.  Mojo is off the charts with regard to realism.  This high level of realism adds transparency-the sensation of having everything else disappear and only the music remains.  If Mojo sounded unnatural, we would constantly be reminded of using it while listening.  This realism adds an energy and live-ness to the sound that other portable DACs/DAPs I’ve heard do not have and as a result the music produced by these other devices can sometimes feel tired and clinical.  I never get this feeling with Mojo, the energy is always there.       

 

Depth

 

           Perhaps the most striking feature of Mojo is its’ depth of sound.  The layers and complete separation of each instrument is astonishing.  You can sit back and let the naturalness and effortlessness of the song wash over you or you can change powers on your mental microscope and peer into the layers of a song, hearing micro details and sometimes even layers you never heard before.  I have never heard anything like this before; total layer separation without a clinical, harsh or bright signature.

 

           Consider how a dog’s nose functions as compared to human nose.  When a dog smells a vegetable soup it smells every single ingredient separately.  The dogs' nose will single out every single ingredient as its’ own unique smell.  A human nose will smell the soup as one smell we call “vegetable soup”.  This is one of the strongest selling points of Mojo, its’ ability to single out every layer, place it accurately in-stage and get out of the way so you can enjoy the music.  You don’t have to try to separate layers, it’s there for you the same way a dog smells yet instruments won’t stand out and say LOOK AT ME in a distracting way instead they’re presented as “vegetable soup”; naturally and effortlessly with incredible separation imaging and resolution.  I suspect the inky black and utterly silent background in addition to Mojo's impressive computational power and Chords FPGA programming are the reason for this separation effect. 

 

 

 

Sound Stage

 

            The stage isn’t extremely wide or tall in an artificial way.  It’s a moderate stage except for depth which is spectacular.  To me this is perfect as I don’t want an artificially wide stage that is pulling me out of the experience of the music and distracting me, reminding me that I’m listening to a song instead of hearing and feeling it in the moment.  Yet I can still be treated to a good stage when I want to hear it.  For example, when I listen to a track with good sound stage width, it sounds as though the sound is coming from 1”-3” (depending on the track) outside my A12 CIEMs as it journey’s into my head.

            The imaging/separation discussed earlier aids in pinpointing the position of the instruments in the room.  I can tell the drum player is sitting on the back right of the stage or the singer is performing to the upper left front of the stage.  These effects don’t stand out and say LOOK AT ME but they are there as part of the experience and the extremely high resolution and separation of Mojo allows me to laser-beam focus on them if I wish. 

 

Resolution

 

            Due to its’ immense computational power Mojo is able to produce a higher quality image than the competition.  Consider a massive uncompressed image, now imagine compressing it down into a 300x300 cover art image.  When you zoom in and look at the compressed image you will notice much of the detail is gone and the much larger image is much more resolute.  This is quite the accurate analogy for how Mojo renders sound.  You will hear things you’ve never heard before.

 

Mobile:

           

           When using Mojo with mobile devices there three things important points to remember:

 

1. Ensure data is being sent to Mojo bit-perfect (covered in Mobile section)
2. Address RF/EMI interference
3. Choose cables for the right reasons

 

           First when it comes to micro-USB cables, it would seem logical to purchase expensive audiophile cables, but as Rob Watt’s says this can often be counter-intuitive:

 

“Does this mean that high end cables are better? Sadly not necessarily. What one needs is good RF characteristics, and some expensive cables are RF poor. Also note that if it sounds brighter its worse, as noise floor modulation is spicing up the sound (its the MSG of sound). So be careful when listening and if its brighter its superficially more impressive but in the long term musically worse. At the end of the day, its musicality only that counts, not how impressive it sounds.”

 

and

 

“A lot of audiophile USB cables actually increase RF noise and make it sound brighter, and superficially impressive - but this is just distortion brightening things up. Go for USB cables that have ferrites in the cable is a good idea - it may also solve any RF issues from the mobile that you may have too.”

 

           In my opinion, it’s best to purchase cables for connecting to Mojo based on:

 

1. “Does the cable eliminate the need for a second cable?” (increasing transparency)

2. “Does the cable have better durability and reinforcement than cheaper cables?”

3. “Does the cable address RF/EMI interference?” (RF/EMI reduction can also be done by adding ferrite chokes to an un-choked cable)

4. “Will the cable reduce stress on device ports by utilizing a right angle configuration?”

 

           I recommend not putting the Mojo in your pant pocket but instead using a belt holster and rubber bands if you wish to use Mojo on the go and don't want to hold it in your hand, this prevents you from putting pressure on the ends of the cable and more importantly the Mojo ports.  You can even use Mojo at the Gym easily if you’re so inclined:

 

 

 

 

 

           Other than bit-perfect-ness, RF/EMI is the biggest factor that can affect the sound quality of your Mojo setup.  The simplest and cheapest way to completely eliminate RF/EMI is to put your device in Airplane mode.  The next best thing is to put ferrite chokes to the data cable feeding Mojo, making sure to get them as close as possible to the Mojo as you can as seen below:

 

 

           Some report differences between using a DAP or a phone to feed Mojo, I do not hear any differences.  In my opinion Mojo + android running UAPP is top tier mobile sound quality at an excellent value.  If you use a phone to feed Mojo you don’t have to carry around a third device.

 

Mojo’ing on iOS:

 

           In order to connect Mojo to an idevice such as the iPhone you have two choices: an Apple CCK cable, see below:

 

 

or a simpler single-cable approach.  Lightning to micro-USB cables eliminate the need for two cables thus increasing transparency, they can be purchased from forum vendors.  You’ll also need to download Onkyo HF from the App Store in order play HD (FLAC or higher quality) music on an idevice.  You will need to buy the HD version of the app in order to play these HD files.  Once you have Onkyo HF HD, configure the settings accordingly to enable bitperfect output:

 

 

           Now connect the device to your Mac computer via your phones USB charging cable, open iTunes, select your phone and navigate to Apps, select Onkyo HF.  Open a new Finder window, navigate to your HD files and drag and drop them into the box as seen below:

 

 

           If you’re importing Mp3’s or similar non-HD music onto your device simply drag and drop them into iTunes as you normally would and Onkyo will recognize them and store them under the iPod header inside the app. 

 

           Onkyo HF often has difficulty displaying cover art.  I suggest naming cover art as cover.jpg, keeping files below 500x500 pixels for best results and keeping it in the same folder as the music files.

Onkyo HF allows you to send data to Mojo bitperfect, which is essential if you want maximum sound quality.  I don’t use EQ but in playing with the EQ in Onkyo HF I have found it adequate.  Onkyo HF should sound no different than UAPP on Android since they are both sending data bitperfect to Mojo but to me Onkyo HF sounds slightly less alive and a bit more veiled/low energy than UAPP.  Onkyo HF is also quite inferior to UAPP in regards to features and capabilities.  Unfortunately on an idevice-at this time-you are stuck with Onkyo HF.  There are a few other choices like JetAudio or Capricio, but I find Onkyo to be the most neutral and it comes recommended by Chord.

 

Mojo’ing on Android Phones:

 

            If you don’t have a micro-USB to micro-USB OTG cable for your Android device, you will need to use an adapter-again forcing you to use two components.  I use cheap micro-USB to micro-USB OTG cables purchased from Amazon and attach a few ferrite chokes to them as seen above.  I believe this is the best setup you can have with Android.  I have tested many Android music apps with Mojo and there is a huge gulf between the quality of these apps and UAPP.  UAPP is the undisputed king of mobile audio on Android in my opinion.  The sound it produces is neutral like Onkyo HF but sounds more alive.  There’s an excellent 64 bit equalizer and a purchasable parametric EQ as well as a plethora of tweaks, features and capabilities.  You can even link it with some streaming services.  It nearly always recognizes cover art and adding files to it is as easy as dragging and dropping into the MUSIC folder on your Android phone using Android File Transfer as seen here:

 

 

To setup UAPP to send bitperfect data to Mojo simply enable the following settings:

 

 

Mojo’ing on Mac:

 

            I have experience on Audirvana, Jriver and iTunes.  For me, Audirvana was the most intuitive, but lacked a good library-like experience.  Jriver has a steeper learning curve but offered the best sound quality as well as library like experience.  iTunes was my least favorite, being stuck in the Apple jail unable to use FLAC and other formats without conversion was annoying.  Audirvana and Jriver can produce bitperfect output to Mojo and will play anything you can throw at them.  In my opinion the best experience with Mojo on Mac can be had with Jriver Media Center, here are the settings you need to get bitperfect output to Mojo in Jriver irrespective of file format:

 

 

 

 

 

Regardless of which program you chose to utilize with Mac, you will need to configure your Mac’s audio settings as follows:  

 

 

 

Mojo’ing on DAPs:

 

           If you want to connect your Mojo to a DAP you’ll need an optical or coaxial cable, because I do not use DAPs I cannot comment on them.  I have heard them paired with Mojo on occasion and see no use in using them as my Apple iPhone 5 or Samsung S7 Edge sound just as good if not better (assuming all the devices are transmitting bitperfect data).  Choosing a phone instead of a DAP means you don’t have to lug around a third device.

 

Protecting Your Mojo:

 

            Chord now sells official cases for Mojo and they look very nice.  I just use an old camera case I had laying around, many others are using pelican cases and the official Chord case.

 

Conclusions:

           

            Mojo may seem expensive but it is outperforming desktop and mobile setups that cost multiples of what it costs.  I do not think you will find a better price to performance ratio at this time in the audiophile industry.  I have had Mojo a year now and feel no need to upgrade to a more expensive DAC or DAP. 

Posted

Pros: Fantastic sound. Durable build. Small size. Fine volume control. Connectivity.

Cons: No storage pouch. Aesthetics might not be for everyone. A bit pricey.

 

iPhone 5S → Mojo → VE Zen 2.0

 

 

INTRODUCTION

I've been very lucky to hear a lot of great sounding gear this year. Pictured above are a couple of my favorites, the Chord Mojo and the VE Zen 2.0 earbuds. Yes, I'm leading off with the punch line this time. Mojo is one of my 2015 top picks. Why? Quite simply, it has the right combination of small size, durable build, easy connectivity to my iPhone or DAPs, good battery life, and very natural sound. To put this in context, I've heard many portable sources recently ranging from DAC/Amps like the Calyx PaT, Cayin C5DAC, Cozoy Astrapi & Aegis, Creative Sound Blaster E5, and Shanling H3 to DAPs like the Aune M2, Cayin N5 & N6, FiiO X3, X3ii, X5, X5ii & X7, iBasso DX90, Shanling M3 & M2, and Soundaware Esther. I haven't heard all of them together, but I hope this listing gives you some appreciation for the wide variety of portable sources I've put through their paces this year. I was also very lucky to have the Aune M2 and Soundaware Esther Analog DAPs in house along with the new Empire Ears IEM lineup and HiFiMan Edition X headphones, so I got to test out Mojo with some very nice gear.

 

So, Chord. Of course I'd previously heard of them. Who around here hasn't? Their Hugo is famous around Head-Fi for having top notch sound and a unique aesthetic design. However, it's price prevented a lot of people (myself included) from giving it a listen. And given it's largish size, it's more of a transportable solution than a truly portable one. And that design. I wasn't so sure of it, to be honest. But the Hugo mystique was certainly intriguing. I often found myself wishing I could give one a test drive but unfortunately didn't have access to one. So when the Mojo was announced and one of my Head-Fi buddies @x RELIC x came out as a beta tester with many glowing words, it caught my attention and I was lucky enough to get a chance to test one out as part of a small US mini tour. Mojo obviously caught a lot of other people's attention, as well. The Mojo thread started by @Mython is one of, if not the, fastest growing threads on Head-Fi. No doubt about it, Mojo has certainly made waves in this community!

 

 

Before we start, here's a bit of information about Chord from their website:

 

Chord Electronics Ltd is a world-leading manufacturer of high-end audio products. Since 1989, under the leadership of proprietor John Franks, Chord Electronics has been pushing the boundaries of innovation, creating some of the planet's finest hi-fi, home cinema and professional audio equipment. A technology-driven leader, Chord Electronics' philosophy of ongoing evolution and refinement continues to deliver landmark audio products with extraordinary performance and unrivalled design features. 

Born from the highly demanding world of aircraft avionics, Chord Electronics maintains a commitment to exemplary engineering, cutting-edge technology and exceptional build quality. Ingeniously designed for high performance over the long term, Chord products are renowned internationally for their advanced technology which is amongst the best in the world. Since 1996, Chord's collaboration with Robert Watts, a digital design genius with 30 years' DAC technology development experience, has produced a number of advanced digital products that are, quite simply, without equal. 

Chord's achievements have been recognised in the media, too, with magazines and websites from around the world awarding Chord products the highest accolades. Chord's passion for sound quality and exemplary engineering continue to produce audio equipment with exceptional insight into recorded music. Sparkling clarity, unrivalled transparency and huge reserves of high-quality power are trademarks that have become synonymous with the brand. Chord is trusted and admired internationally, and its global customer base includes: the BBC; EMI's Abbey Road Studios (London); Sony Music Studios (New York) and Skywalker Sound to name but a few. 

Why not discover for yourself what Chord Electronics can do for your favourite music? Our web pages can help you learn more about our product ranges and find retailers of exceptional ability, who will take time to help you find the product that's right for the way you listen. Welcome to Chord.

 

USEFUL LINKS

  • LINK to Chord's Mojo page.
  • LINK to the Mojo mega-thread.
  • LINK to the Mojo solutions thread.
  • LINK to the Head-Fi Mojo FAQ.
  • LINK to @x RELIC x's encyclopedic review complete with an interview with Chord's Rob Watts. If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and go read it!

 

 

DISCLAIMER

I was provided with the Mojo as a review loaner. There is no financial incentive from Chord for writing this review. I am in no way affiliated with Chord, and this is my honest opinion of the Mojo. I would like to thank Aune for sponsoring the tour and specifically @AuneAudio for allowing me to participate!

 

 

ABOUT ME

I'm a 43 year old father who loves music.  From electronic (Autechre, Boards of Canada) to modern/minimalist composition (John Cage, Philip Glass) to alternative rock (Flaming Lips, Radiohead) to jazz (John Coltrane and Miles Davis) to metal (Behemoth, King Diamond) to classic rock (Eagles, Rush), I listen to a wide variety of genres and artists. 

 

My portable music journey started with the venerable Sony Cassette Walkman and then progressed to portable CD players, minidisc recorders (still have my Sharp DR7), and finally on to DAPs like the Rio Karma, iRiver IHP-1xx, iPod 5.5, iPhones, and the newer crop of DAPs from Fiio and iBasso. 

 

As mentioned in the introduction, I was lucky to have some very nice earbuds, headphones, and IEM to test out Mojo with. For earbuds, I used the VE Zen 2.0. For Headphones, I used my HiFiMan HE400 and the HiFiMan Edition X I had in for testing. For IEM, I used the Empire Ears lineup. Yes, Zeus got his Mojo on!  

 

As with a lot of people my age, I've got some hearing issues.  I've got mild tinnitus and suffer from allergies, which often affect hearing in my right ear.  I'll admit it, I'm not blessed with a pair of golden ears.  That said, I've been listening to portable gear for a long time and feel confident in assessing audio gear. I just wanted to be transparent up front. 

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS 

Output Power @ 1kHz: 720mW @ 8Ω, 35mW @ 600Ω

Output Impedance: 0.075Ω

Dynamic Range: 125dB

THD @ 3v - 0.00017%

Battery Life: 10 hours

Price: $599

 

 

PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES

As usual, I'll go over this in pictorial fashion with a few brief comments.

 

Front & Back of Box

 

It's super hard to see in the picture, but the Mojo logo is printed in a reflective white on white on the box's lid. Operating instructions are on the bottom of the box.

 

Sides


Sample rate guide (ROYGBIV, yo!), more instructions, and technical specs.

 

Mojo + Accessory

 

You get the Mojo plus a charging cable. That's it, folks. I've seen this listed as a con for some of the reviews, and I just don't agree. Mojo has so many ways to connect that it would seriously be going above and beyond to provide all the different cables one might need. Luckily, cables aren't really that hard to find. A storage pouch of some sort would be nice to slip Mojo inside when not in use to prevent scratches, though. Really Chord, no storage pouch?

 

 

BUILD & ERGONOMICS

As usual, I'll go over the build and ergonomics in pictorial fashion below, pointing out what I like and what I think could be improved. 

 

Top + Bottom

 

Top: Here we can see the main features of Mojo's physical user interface, the three balls. When I first saw pictures of the Mojo with these three balls all lit up, I just didn't get it. I thought it looked just plain goofy, to be honest. However, people I trust said it looked better in person, so I did my best to reserve judgement. Luckily, once I pulled Mojo from the box I was very pleased with what I felt and saw. The aluminum case has a nice powdery soft finish. It's got some heft to it. This doesn't feel like a device that's going to get hurt if it bounces around a bit. Scratched? Sure. Dented? Maybe if you threw it. Seems pretty bulletproof to me. The balls are a very hard translucent plastic, which seems pretty durable although I've read reports of them getting scratched. I didn't notice any scratches on the Mojo I had in for testing even though I was the third reviewer. I'd say that pretty good, since Mojo doesn't come with a case of any sort and I mainly kept it in my man bag bouncing around with my other gear when not in use.

 

Bottom: Built-in silicon bumpers, manufacturing information and serial number, lots of tiny screws.

 

 

Left & Right Sides

 

Just a better view of the volume and power balls. When I saw pictures of Mojo, I didn't realize they would spin. Yup, they spin freely in their settings. It's a bit odd coming from traditional buttons, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Once powered up, the balls all light up. They're pretty bright at first, but you can dim them to a more reasonable level for low light environments. And since we're talking about the balls, this is probably as good a place as any to discuss volume adjustment. 

 

Volume Adjustment: I like Mojo's ability to fine-tune the volume for anything you throw at it from sensitive IEM to hard to drive headphones to full-on line out. Just hold down the buttons and you cycle through the color spectrum from double red for the lowest volume setting to double white for the highest setting. And yes, for you fellow science nerds out there, the volume and resolution indicators really are ROYGBIV. As a scientist, I can appreciate that. I've seen that some reviewers feel the volume change is somewhat slow, and it is if you're going from lower settings to higher settings when rapidly switching between IEM and headphones. However, I don't really see this being an issue in real world usage. If you're switching between different gear, you'll change the volume once, start jamming, and then fine tune a bit for individual songs. Easy peasy!   

 

 

Inputs & Outputs


Left: Mojo has two 3.5mm headphone jacks. I'm not sure how likely it is that two people listening at the same time with different cans are going to need the same volume setting, but it is handy for stacking to have both left and right jacks to choose from.

 

Right: From left to right, you've got COAX IN, USB IN, Charging Port + Battery Indicator LED, and OPTICAL IN.

 

NOTE: Unlike some devices, you can charge Mojo while jamming to your favorite tunes!

 

So now you've had your tour of Mojo. You've seen it all. It's really all pretty straight forward. It really is just as easy as turning it on, plugging it in, pressing play, and finding the right volume level. Easy peasy!

 

 

BATTERY LIFE

Depending on usage, you're going to get 8-10 hours of battery life out of the Mojo. Not too shabby. Given that you can charge while listening, I can see using this during a commute, plugging in at work, using on your commute home, at the gym, etc. and never really have to worry about running out of juice during normal usage. On long flights, you might need an external battery brick, though. 

 

EDIT: I totally forgot to mention the battery indicator LED the first time around, but I was just reminded of it in the main Mojo thread so I thought I'd come back and comment on it. It's also based on the color spectrum, with full charge being blue and then the color changing from green to yellow to red to flashing red when you really, really need to find a charger quick. Nice consistency in using the same basic ROYGBIV color coding across the various functions and so deliciously nerdy!

 

 

SOUND

During my time with Mojo, I basically used it in two main set ups. The first was paired with my iPhone 5S via CCK, and the second was with my FiiO X5 via COAX with FiiO L17 IC. I also plugged in to my MacBook Pro briefly to make sure it worked properly. Being a Mac, it just worked. No drivers needed. No fuss. Same with the other connections, really. Mojo sounded like Mojo to me across all sources. As mentioned in the introduction, I was also playing with the Aune M2 and Soundaware Esther Analog DAPs when I had Mojo and these will be my main sources of reference. They're all very good sources, so it was a pleasure to be able to switch back and forth between them. So what did I find?

 

Mojo has a very natural sound that fit between the more neutral sound of the Aune M2 and the quite full, warm sound of the Esther Analog. In a lot of respects, Mojo and Esther Analog were on par with each other. Both have what I would describe as natural, unexaggerated sound signatures that allow for a high level of detail retrieval without resorting to brightness or an ultra-wide, unrealistic sound field. Where they differed was in the level of fullness and warmth, with Mojo being just a bit on the full, warm side and Esther Analog being quite full, warm. Both have a very realistic placement of sounds in 3D space. I listen to a lot of extreme music, and one thing I really appreciated about both was the ability to handle all of that extreme music without breaking a sweat and making it all very listenable. That doesn't always happen. The Aune M2 on the other hand was more energetic, with more exaggerated lows and highs and a wider sound field than either Mojo or Esther Analog. To my ears, this gave the impression of the M2 having a more dynamic sound but at the expense of sounding less natural.  

 

Here's a quick summary I put together as I was listening to the three, with greater quantity (not quality) on the left:

Warmth: Esther Analog >> Mojo > M2

Fullness: Esther Analog >> Mojo > M2

Dynamics: M2 > Mojo ≃ Esther Analog

Soundstage: M2 > Mojo ≃ Esther Analog

3D: Mojo ≃ Esther Analog > M2

Bass: M2 > Mojo ≃ Esther Analog

Mids: Esther Analog > Mojo > M2

Treble: M2 > Mojo ≃ Esther Analog

 

I found myself being repeatedly drawn to Mojo for its natural, realistic sound. It's a full, mature sound that still left space between sounds. While it didn't have the largest sound field, it sounded very convincing. It is very balanced across the spectrum. Nothing really stands out. What you feed it is what you get. Compared with the Aune M2, you get a more refined sound. Compared with Esther Analog, you get a more neutral (though still very natural) sound. Because of this high level of refinement and lack of exaggeration across the spectrum, I found Mojo to pair very well with all the gear I tested it with. None of my gear was exceptionally hard to drive, though. My earbuds and IEM were kept in the lower range, while I needed to push up to the higher range for my HE400. From what I've read, one reviewer found Mojo lacking with very demanding cans. I can't confirm or deny this. Just be forewarned. 

 

Happy Cans! (VE Zen 2.0, HiFiMan HE400, Empire Ears Hermes)

 

 

SUMMARY

When I first hooked Mojo up to my iPhone and took a listen, I knew it was something special. As I listened to it in comparison with other gear I had on hand, I confirmed this. When I went out for a walk with the Empire Ears Hermes pictured above and Mojo's battery ran out leaving me to plug directly into my iPhone, I can assure you I was not a happy camper. I couldn't wait to get back home and get the Mojo charged up. Midway through my time with Mojo, I started wondering if I should just abandon DAPs altogether and go for iPhone + Mojo. As mentioned in the introduction, I've heard a lot of DAPs this year. I've got a bit of an obsession with them, so for that thought to cross my mind was a bit surprising to me. So, why wouldn't I do this? Well, for starters I have an obsession with DAPs. I also have a large, eclectic music collection and like to have it at hand in FLAC format if possible. I just can't fit it all on my iPhone. So why not just use Tidal, you say? Smartphone + Tidal + Mojo has got to be a killer combination, right? Well, that would be a great solution if a lot of the music I listen to wasn't too obscure for Tidal to carry. So I find myself in the position where I probably need a DAP with two mSD slots as a transport for when I want all of my music with me. I guess that's not so bad, right? Either strapped to my iPhone or a DAP, I think I see a Mojo in my future...

 

If you're looking for one of the best sounding devices your can carry around in the palm of your hand, put Mojo on your shortlist. The hype is very real!

 

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Feel free to shoot me a PM if you've got any questions. 

 

And finally, a big thanks to Chord for making a mini-tour happen and to the tour organizer. I'm glad I could participate and experience this fantastic little device for myself!

Posted

Pros: Versatile, excellent sound, build quality, internal battery

Cons: Design, no analogue input, gets very hot when connected to a PC for longer time

The Chord Mojo was loaned to me by fellow Head-Fier @kvad. Thank you very much for giving me the chance to me hear it!

 

 

 

 

 

The Chord Mojo is available from Penon Audio and numerous other online and domestic (most places) resellers. The price at the time of this review was $599: 

 

http://penonaudio.com/Chord-Mojo,

 

For more information about the Mojo you can also visit the Chord Electronics website:

 

http://chordelectronics.co.uk/mojo/

 

I’m not in any way affiliated with Penon Audio or Chord Electronics.

 

Short introduction to Chord Electronics:

Chord Electronics was established in 1989. It’s a British based company known and appreciated for their upper end audio products for both professional and home usage.

 

This is what they say about themselves and their technology on their website:

Chord Electronics was founded in 1989 by John Franks who had previously held Directorships with Astec, the world leader in high frequency power supplies, Raytheon and AT&T. A thorough mix of graduate level intellect, design experience and dedicated craft persons embody Chords production team, with our sales being achieved through a reputation of technical excellence, reliability and superb sound quality.

 

Years of research and innovation have been invested in the Chord range. From the outset, when Chord started applying the technologies that lifted products from the mainstream, the company has been leading the field. With the watchwords of innovation and uncompromised audio quality, we have consistently invested our products with precision engineering and attention to detail. This is as true for our professional products as the astonishing hi-fi portfolio that continually wins the hearts and minds of listeners and reviewers alike.

 

About me:

Click to show! (Click to show)

I’m a 43 year old music and sound lover that changed my focus from speakers to headphones and IEM’s about five years ago. At that time I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all the different setups that I wanted and still house a family of four children and a wife so my interest turned first to full sized headphones and later also IEM’s.

 

My preferences are towards full sized open headphones and I believe that also says something about what kind of sound signature I prefer (large soundstage in all directions, balanced and organic sound).

 

My music preferences are pretty much all over the place (only excluding classical music, jazz and really heavy metal). My all-time favorite band is Depeche Mode although I also listen to a lot of grunge/indie, singer/songwriter/acoustical stuff as well as the typical top 40 music.

 

I tend to value function over form within reasonable limits.

 

I do not use EQ, ever.

 

I’m a sucker for value for money on most things in life Head-Fi related stuff is no exception.

 

 

Built, accessories and functionality:

The Chord Mojo is a DAC with a variable line out that's designed to drive IEMs and headphones.  

 

The Mojo is available in one version in the color black.

 

Output power is rated to 720mW@ 8Ohm and 35mW@600Ohm, I’ve also read about measurements rating the output to 680mW@16Ohm (@50Hz) but this is not official so take it with a grain of salt. Output impedance is rated at a very low 0,075Ohms.

 

The Mojo is very solidly built at has a good weight to it making it feel very durable. The chassis is covered my some paint like material making it less prone to scratches than bare metal. The physical controls available on it doers also feel very reliable and not loose in any way. Personally I would have preferred a thinner form factor with a larger footprint (if necessary) for easier stacking with a phone or DAP but I can also see the advantage with the currant design for home usage.  The overall impression of the Mojo is still that it’s a very well built and thought through piece of equipment.

 

The Mojo offers one micro USB digital audio input and one separate micro USB power input. It also offers both coaxial and optical inputs. For the output there are two 3.5mm outputs for headphones making it possible for two persons listening at the same time or very convenient when comparing headphones or IEM’s.  I’d like to have an analogue input as well to be able to combine it with other, non-digital sources.

 

The Mojo works very well with Android when connected with an OTG cable and using USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) as music player. Although Android and sound does not have a great reputation the Mojo have worked with every Android device I’ve tried it with (sometimes with the help of UAPP). The internal battery does eliminate the need for power banks or other external power when using it with a phone or tablet, it does also help with power drain that is much less from the hosting device than when using a product without internal battery. For further information about the complex relationship between Android and DAC’s I highly recommend visiting this excellent thread:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/595071/android-phones-and-usb-dacs

 

The Mojo is also supposed to work with Apple devices using the Camera Connection Kit (CCK) but I haven’t been able to test this myself.

 

The biggest advantage of the Mojo may also be its biggest downfall in my opinion.

 

The Mojo support all popular file formats for audio up to DSD512 and 32bit/768kHz files.

 

On the top of the unit you’ll find physical buttons for changing the volume up/down. These have the same design as the indicator showing what sample rate is played (by showing different colors) giving a very neat visual presentation.

 

The accessories included are:

1 USB cord

 

 

 

The specs:

  • Micro USB 768KHz/32bit capable
  • 3.5mm jack coaxial 768KHz/32bit capable
  • Optical Toslink 192KHz/24-bit capable
  • Output Power( at 1kHz):
  • 35mW@600Ohm
  • 720mW@8Ohm
  • Output Impedance: 0.075Ohms
  • Dynamic Range: 125dB
  • THD( at 3v):0.00017%
  • Size:82x60x22mm
  • Weight:180g

 

I’ve used the Mojo for the last eight days and my unit arrived already burned in.

 

Demo list:

Click to show! (Click to show)

Mark Knopfler – Sailing to Philadelphia

Røyksopp (Feat.Susanne Sundfør) – Save Me

Ane Brun – These Days

Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana

Metallica – Die Die My Darling

The Peter Malick Group – Immigrant

Eva Cassidy – Songbird

Thomas Dybdahl – A Lovestory

Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why

Celldweller – Unshakeable

Jack Johnson – Better Together

Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo remix)

Dire Straits- So Far Away

Björk - Moon

Lupe Fiasco - Deliver

Morrissey – Earth Is the Loneliest Planet

 

Sound impression:

I’ve got to be honest and admit that I find it pretty difficult to describe the sound from an amplifier. To me the sound of headphones/IEM’s is more easy to describe than that of amplifiers and DAC’s but I’ll do my best and hopefully the comparison section will also be of help.

 

The first thing that I noticed when I started to listen to the Mojo was the amazing amount of air and space it produced.

 

Bass extension and quality is very good and I don’t feel as if there’s any noticeable roll off in the lower frequencies. Mid- and upper-bass is more subdued contributing to the great sense of space and airiness that the Mojo produces.  Although the impact of higher bass is quite low the Mojo never sound thin in its presentation but rather airy and relaxed.

 

The midrange is liquid and smooth with plenty of details. The Mojo sounds very linear through all frequencies and the midrange is no exception. Nothing stands out and it sounds very natural and makes a very relaxing listening experience.

 

The treble is very well extended, airy and smooth. It adds further to the liquid non-fatiguing and natural overall sound. As a matter of fact I think the treble reproduction is the best part of the Mojo’s sound. I find it really good and it has an almost hazy character (in a very good way) while stil keeping all the details.

 

The overall presentation has great soundstage in all directions and layering is very good as is the amount of air between the instruments. The background does also feel very close to perfectly black. Transparency and dynamics is also easily noticed. The timbre on instruments is also quite good and vocals sound very seductive and intriguing.  All together I’d describe the sound of the Mojo as natural and airy.

 

Comparison:

Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.

 

In these comparisons I’ve been listening through my AKG Q701’s.

 

Both units was connected to a simple switch box through their respectively headphone outputs. This way it’s very easy to switch between the sources in minimal time. I also use a simple Android app to volume match the amplifiers so although maybe not perfectly scientifically the result should still be pretty correct.

 

I’ve been comparing the USB input on both units. Both has been hooked up to two different phones both running UAPP which bypasses the Android sound management.

 

 

Burson Audio Conductor V2+ (1,499) vs Chord Mojo:

The V2+ is the heart of my main system and I really love both its features and sound.

 

Compared to the Mojo the V2+ has slightly less airiness in its presentation while soundstage width is quite similar. The V2+ has better bass presentation with both better impact and higher quality (better layering) this is actually quite easy to hear with the Q’s.  The greater bass quality, I don’t feel that the V2+ adds bass in any way but I do feel that the mid- and upper-bass on the Mojo is a bit subdued, makes the V2+ more dynamic sounding and with better definition while the Mojo is more airy in its presentation. Both are top notch when it comes to detail retrieval. In short I’d say that the V2+ is more dynamic and engaging while the Mojo is more laid back and relaxed.

 

The V2+ of course has some other advantages such as significantly higher power output (4W @32Ohms compared to 720mW@8Ohm on the Mojo), two analogue RCA inputs and both pre-amp and DAC direct RCA outputs. In addition it also has a great quality remote control. The mojo on the other hand has internal battery, is portable and generally MUCH smaller making its usage field larger.

 

Although both these are excellent offerings the overall built and larger amount of connections definitely makes the V2+ the more suitable in a home system. Sound wise it may be more up to personal preference but I’d put the V2+ slightly ahead here as well. The V2+ is a 7 kg brick costing 2.5 times that of the Mojo though.

 

Audinst HUD-DX1 ($399) vs Chord Mojo:

Compared to the Mojo the Audinst has a fuller but also less refined sound. The Mojo feels more effortless and has a wider soundstage with more air in the presentation, the Audinst definitely the warmer sounding of the two. The Audinst unit also has the most bass presence of the two but the bass on the Mojo seems better controlled and bath reaches equally low on both of them. The Mojo has better detail retrieval and is also the more natural sounding of the two while the Audinst offer more energy and attack while still maintaining warm and smooth. The treble on the Mojo is more airy, detailed and natural to my ears.

 

Feature wise the Mojo offers both coaxial and optical inputs in addition to the micro USB input. The Auidinst has an old school USB type B sound input in addition to an optical input. The Audinst also has both optical and RCA line outputs while the Mojo has only the dual headphone out as its only outputs. The Audinst does actually also offer dual headphone outputs but instead of two 3.5mm ones it has one 3.5 and one 6.3mm, this is actually very convenient and you won’t have to fiddle around with adapters. The Mojo also has an internal battery making it more versatile when used with phones and tablets on the go but less so when paired to a computer due to the fact that it runs quite hot in such applications. The footprint of the Mojo is much smaller. Build quality feels very solid on both units with a small advantage to the Mojo.

 

Burson Audio Conductor Air ($499) vs Chord Mojo:

I’ve also compared the Mojo the Burson Audio Conductor Air in my review of that unit posted just a little while ago so instead of doing the same again making it boring for those who might have read both reviews I’ll leave the link for it right here, just scroll down to the comparison section:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/products/burson-audio-conductor-air/reviews/16536

 

Size comparison Mojo and Air

 

 

 

For even further comparisons feel free to visit this thread for breakdown between more $250+ amp/DAC units (this is a work in progress and several other units will follow in the near future).

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/816410/peter123s-250-amp-dac-combo-comparison-thread

 

Matching:

The output impedance of the headphone out on the Mojo is rated to 0.075Ohm. This means that it could pretty much be paired with any IEM’s or headphones out there without concern.

 

In this section I’ve tested how some of my favorite headphones but also one earbud and one pair of IEM’s pairs up with the Mojo.  

 

AKG Q701 ($300):

The Q’s pairs up very nicely with the Mojo. The neutral relaxed sound actually suits the Q’s surprisingly good. The Mojo has no problem at all to power the Q’s to louder listening levels. I was kind of expecting the signature of the Mojo to make the Q’s a bit unengaging but that’s certainly not the case. The treble quality of the Mojo really shines in this pairing and female vocals sound as good as I’ve ever heard them as a matter of fact the Mojo really gives the V2+ a run for its money with them.

 

Philips Fidelio X2 ($300):

The X2’s is also a great match with the Mojo. The full sound of the X2’s pairs very well with the clean, clear and airy presentation of the Mojo. Although the Fidelio’s pretty easy to drive they really scale with a good source and amp and the Mojo gives it enough low end hump without adding any extra unwanted mid-bass.  This combination is really fun to listen to and has a great drive to the music that really makes me forget all about analyzing the sound and rather just enjoy the music.

 

VE Zen 2.0 ($138):

The Zen 2.0 is a 300Ohm earbud that I like a lot and tend to use instead of closed headphones.

 

The soft and smooth signature from the Zen 2.0 works pretty well with the relaxed presentation of the Mojo. The Zen 2.0 sounds very wide and airy when driven from the Mojo but I’ve heard them perform better from sources with a more dynamic presentation. I can help feeling that they lack some dynamics and drive when driven from the Mojo. Not a bad pairing but I’ve heard better ones.

 

Aurisonics ASG-1PLUS ($500):

The ASG-1PLUS is an 11Ohm hybrid IEM (1 DD + 1 BA).

The 1PLUS, being one of my all-time favorite IEM’s, was the first thing I hooked up to the Mojo for an initial listening when it first arrived.  To be honest I was pretty underwhelmed from the experience and although it didn’t sound bad I felt as if I was expecting more after all I’ve read about the Mojo. The presentation of the 1PLUS is actually very similar to that of the Mojo: relaxed, smooth, airy and with a bit subdued upper bass presence. Together this became a bit too much for my preference resulting in a sound that was a bit unengaging and lacking in drive and dynamics.  Like I said: not bad, but certainly not the best pairing either. 

 

Super Audio 6 ($250):

The Super Audio 6 (SA6) is a six BA driver Chinese DIY offering. It has a warm, smooth, intimate and mid-centric overall presentation.

 

The combination of these two makes a stunning listening experience, probably one of the best I’ve ever had with a pair of IEM’s. The full and lush presentation from the SA6 seems to be a perfect match for the amazing sense of space and air that the Mojo offers. The smooth and warm nature of the SA6 is not super revealing and can get a bit overly creamy with a warm source but with the Mojo it’s has more detailed and airy than I’ve ever heard it before.

 

To sum up the matching section the signature of the Mojo does make some of my headphones and IEM’s sound better than I’ve ever heard them before, with some (a clear minority) I do find it to lack a bit of dynamics and drive though. The very low amount of hiss as well as enough power for all my full sized headphones does still make it very versatile in practical use.

 

Summary:

The Chord Mojo is indeed an excellent product. It packs a lot of features such as internal battery, small size, several connection options and combines it with excellent sound quality. It has a relaxed and laid back presentation that works very well with most headphones and IEM’s but not all. Despite being able to do the work in a home system replacing units much larger and potentially more expensive than itself I can’t help feeling that it is an easier recommendation for portable usage. The reason for this is that it does get very hot when being permanently connected to a laptop or computer (which I would believe would be the most common use of it in a home system) combined with the fact that constant charging might not be the best thing for the battery. I’ve also read several complaints about unwanted shut down while connected to a laptop for longer times and although this has never happened to me in the time I’ve had it I’d still be careful with using it in such a configuration.  Ironically enough the same battery is also one of the major reasons why it’s probably one of, if not the best product I’ve tried so far for portable use.

 

Actually the Mojo is the best amp/DAC combo that I’ve come across so far for portable usage.

 

Audio Quality: 5

Design: 4

Quality: 4.5

Value: 5

Features: 5

 

Chord MoJo
By:
Description:

General Information: A contraction of ‘Mobile Joy’, Mojo is a headphone amplifier and DAC (digital-to-analogue convertor) that empowers smartphones to deliver music content at up to studio-master-tape quality. Low-cost, widely available apps, such as Onkyo’s HF player (iOS and Android), now make high-resolution music files playback easy from all smartphones. Mojo connects to these devices digitally, processing the files using the most advanced conversion technology available, to deliver genuinely unrivalled sound quality to up to two pairs of headphones (You can use any pair of headphones with Mojo, from 4Ω to 800Ω. Mojo has three digital inputs; Micro USB, optical, and Coax, and has been designed to work with your iPhone, iPad, Android phone (USB OTG), Android tablet (USB OTG), Windows phone, Windows tablet, Mac, PC, and Linux computer. Despite Mojos ultra compact form, Mojo takes just four hours to fully charge and can deliver up to ten hours continuous use. But, thanks to Mojos separate Micro USB charging port, you can play and charge at the same time. External power banks can be used to charge Mojo on the move so long as they have a 1 amp output. Mojo is capable of playing all of today’s music formats, including the very latest high-resolution standards. It can deliver breath-taking realism from any digital music file: PCM; WAV; AAC; AIFF; MP3 and FLAC. It is designed to work with all smartphones and music players and covers specialist high-resolution formats such as DoP DSD files: DSD 64; DSD 128 and DSD 256. Mojo’s three high-resolution digital input options comprise optical (to 192kHz), plus Micro USB and RCA (mini-jack) which operate at up to an incredible 768kHz. Mojo is entirely designed and manufactured in England. UK RRP: £399 US RRP: $599 CAN RRP: $799 Mojo Features: -Mojo was designed and built for the smartphone. -Its size and design means that it is comfortable to carry. -It works with your iPhone, Android or Windows phone. -Mojo is also compatible with your Mac, PC, or Linux computer. -Mojo has three digital inputs - USB, Coaxial, and Optical. -Mojo charges in just 4 hours to provide up to 10 hours use. -You can use any pair of headphones with Mojo, from 4Ω to 800Ω. -With two 3.5mm analogue outputs you and a friend can listen at the same time. -Mojo plays all files from 32kHz to 768kHz and even DSD 256. -Mojo is fully automatic and remembers its last used settings. -Its case is precision machined from a single block of aircraft grade aluminium. -Mojo is entirely designed and manufactured in Great Britain. Technical Specs: -Output Power @ 1kHz -600 ohms 35mW -8 ohms 720mW -Output Impedance: 0.075 ohms -Dynamic Range: 125dB -THD @ 3v - 0.00017%

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Chord Mojo FAQ on Head-Fi

http://www.head-fi.org/a/chord-mojo-faq

 

 

Links to Reviews, Impressions and much more:

Good link post by Mython from the Chord Mojo - The Official Thread

http://www.head-fi.org/t/784602/chord-mojo-the-official-thread#post_11992416

 

 

Related Media/Links:

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Troubleshooting/Known Issues:

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How To:

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