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Amp/DACs item created by Music Alchemist, Feb 12, 2017
Pros - Sound!!! Sound!!!
Cons - Price and Build quality for this price
As always a little something about me, I am 43 year old married man with teenage kids so when I need to "get away" I really enjoy listening to music. Im not so caught up in having the latest and greatest but just having something that I enjoy listening to, which generally comes with a higher price tag. I do not consider myself a an Audiophile in any sort of the word, but like I said someone who enjoys music.
When I first saw the Hugo2 come out after just borrowing a Hugo1 from a fellow headfier for about 3 months I was very excited to compare the two. I really enjoyed the Hugo1 with my Oppo PM3s a lot more than with my assorted IEMs that I have. So here is my simple mans review.
Not sure why everyone gets overall excited about the boxing, just something Apple started, but for me, as long as it secures everything during shipment Im happy. This was done nicely by Chord. All the basic accessories are included to get you up and started.
The build quality seems really robust as it should for this price, however as seen in the picture below there is a gap in the middle but closed on the ends and I read that other had the same issue. Hopefully this is something they will address as this is not acceptable at this price point. Everything else seems great as for build, all the plugins seem tight and able to withstand years of plugging.
I used mainly my Oppo PM3s but also used My Alcair RSMs CIEMs and my new favorites the Isine20s which really do sound great with the HUGO2 as well and I breifly tried my DUNU DN2Kj.
Music was used a lot via Bluetooth from my LGV20 and Tidal Hifi, but also used my Onkyo DPX1 as a source for the HUGO2 as well. I like older rock but also listen to a lot of the newer stuff like Hollywood undead, Rage but also like a lot of country.
Here are some of the music I have listened to many times and my thoughts on it compared to other sources like my Mojo.
Metallica, Holier than thou- Ive heard this song a million times and know it really well, i thing I noticed right away was that there was noticeably more separation between instruments and I could really see where each instrument was. The detail was very precise with not going over board, which generally means that it would not be meant for long time listening.
Dave Matthews, Dont dring the water- Again very detailed. One thing I like about listening to Dave Matthews band is how well all of there songs are recorded, you cen tell it was done at a great studio with top of the line equipement.
Guns and Roses, November Rain- Very detailed and you can really hair the rain in the back ground which with some sources you have no idea that its even in the recording. Everything on the Hugo2 is very balanced and to me on the warm side of Nuetral ever so slightly. To some this will change as it also depends on the headphones and or IEMS you are using as there is such a thing as Synergy between all of the devices in the line.
As for the Filters, they are subtle but noticable, I used white the whole time as this was the one liked the most.
Bluetooth was really good, I could get about 30 feet which is acceptable.
As for sound comparisons I will do them if you ask but to me when you get up in the higher dollar amount everything sounds similar with certain flavors that appeal to your tastes. I could think a 100 DAP could sound better than this because of its sound sig only and thats why this is a wonderful hobby because it only matters what I think (or you, for your own personal opinion).
So if any has questions I will respond below, thanks for reading! for more inforamtional reviews there are plenty on here this is just my personal feeling on this device. If I have the extra money some day ( like after the kids get out) I would definetly buy this with some kick ass headphones to go with it.
Thanks for Reading,
Andy AKA Howdy.
Pros - amazing sound quality, portability
Cons - price
I am very grateful to Chord for the opportunity to spend two weeks with their new Hugo2 DAC (£1799) as part of the Hugo2 UK tour.
I am the happy owner of a Chord Mojo since its release (using my second unit), and I have to say I was hesitating to sign up for the Hugo2 tour as I was a bit worried I might not be able to enjoy my Mojo anymore after I have heard and returned the Hugo2.
It is difficult to talk about Hugo2’s sound in different points (bass, mids, treble etc.), as the listening experience is so coherent, complete, one whole. When you go to a live concert, you do not start to analyse the mids and the treble, you are just enjoying the experience. It is similar with Hugo2, therefore I won’t spend paragraphs explaining these parts separately, but talking about the sound in one bigger section.
Most of my listening was done with my Audioquest Nighthawk (also liked by Chord engineers), and I also tried my Flare R2pro IEM. The source was my computer (+Jitterbug) with Foobar2k bitperfect, mostly Flac files and some DSD.
(English is still not my first language, so excuse me for any unconventional wording.)
Box, package, built quality:
Hugo2 comes in a nice quality box with a generous amount of accessories. (No accessories with Mojo, keeping the costs as low as possible.)
Built quality is exceptional, as you would expect from a device at this price point. Only the plastic remote control (which is extremely handy) felt a little bit cheap compared to the device itself.
The remote control proved to be very useful. It works in wide angle, so you do not necessarily have to point it straight to the device. Having dedicated buttons for different inputs on the remote makes selection much easier than pressing the same button several times on the DAC, often missing the input source you want just to start the circle again.
I also much prefer setting the volume on the remote instead of turning the large marble button on the device which is a bit stiff and changes volume quite a lot for even a small movement.
As I mentioned before, listening to Hugo2 is a coherent, complete experience. Hugo2’s sound is much closer to reality than Mojo’s.
Three things are immediately obvious apart of the more natural sound: 1,the soundstage is much wider on Hugo2, or I would rather say Mojo feels narrow. 2, Much more details are coming through on Hugo2 and 3, the sound has much more thickness, body, weight and impact, especially the bass.
Hugo2 feels much more dynamic with more energy, Mojo sounds light, thin and sometimes lean in comparison. Mojo is not bad at all, still beats pretty much every DAC I heard under £1000, and with its natural sound definitely beats all the portable DACs I have heard.
However in comparison to Hugo2, Mojo feels like it is just trying to be like the new Hugo2. Mojo still does not sound artificial like most other DACs do in its price range, but it feels it is just mimicking the naturalness of Hugo2. Like Hugo2 was the ‘real deal’ and Mojo tried to be like its bigger brother. I have to admit, Mojo does this mimicking job extremely well for £399, but LeBron James’s 9 year old cousin will never beat the NBA star, even if he has some good moves for his age.
Despite of the bigger soundstage on Hugo2 I feel I am closer to the music and to the instruments, therefore it is a more engaging experience. Any distance between the music and the listener disappears. Hugo2 is much more refined than Mojo, the sound is punchier, the presentation much more accurate. I can’t emphasize enough the weight, texture, body and thickness of Hugo2’s sound compared to Mojo. It is much more realistic with much more details.
Bass kicks much harder, and the sound and instruments have a better contour, definition.
Everything feels to be in its place, and I am not just talking about imaging and instrument separation but the whole sound experience. I would not change anything in Hugo2’s sound, it just gives you exactly what you need from bass quantity (and quality) through soundstage to natural voices.
I found the crossfeed function very useful. From the three levels of crossfeed I preferred the medium setting. The lower setting was not enough for me to provide a natural experience, the highest setting sometimes came through as exaggerating this effect, medium setting was just perfect, loved it. (Crossfeed offers a natural, ‘room like’ experience vs. the conventional stereo separation.)
I heard minimal differences using the filter settings (additional warmth, treble roll off). Most preferred the completely neutral setting with my Nighthawk. On brighter headphones however these filters might be useful.
Hugo2’s sound feels very coherent, one whole complete. Mojo in comparison falls apart a little bit into bass, mids and treble sections, almost giving the impression of a ‘W’ sound while Hugo2 is completely linear. (I am not talking about graphs here, but an impression of sound presentation.) Mids on Mojo are more forward compared to Hugo2, and certain instruments sometimes can overshadow the less prominent parts of the music, while on Hugo2 everything is in line, and everything is more equally audible. More space + higher resolution = more details.
In my opinion Mojo’s sound has one advantage over Hugo2, but I have to talk about Hugo2 first to be able to explain this. Hugo2 offers a very complex and very satisfying listening experience, one thinks about words like ‘bliss’ and ‘perfection’, when it comes to describing the sound. This hugely satisfying experience however demands all your attention all the time. When you are listening with Hugo2, you can do nothing else just be with the music. After a couple of hours I felt I had an experience, and my brain needs a little rest. (The way you feel after watching a long but good film.) Hugo2’s sound is not fatiguing at all, it is a smooth and realistic sound, but compared to Mojo it contains much more information for the brain making it a more intense listening experience. With Hugo2 I couldn’t browse the web and listen to music at the same time (which I occasionally do), as it was just too much. Mojo with its lighter and leaner sound is an easier listen, more gentle to the brain. Mojo doesn’t demand all your attention all the time, but you can still be immersed in music exclusively, if that is what you want to do (and most of the time that is what we want to do, with some exceptions).
Hugo2 has more power and dynamism. Bass and everything else feels much tighter. Also the space where the music is happening is much more natural on Hugo2: effortless and lifelike, where Mojo again feels like it is just trying to mimic that space.
The Bluetooth function of Hugo2 worked easily for me, many will find it useful.
The first conclusion of these two weeks is that Mojo performs extremely well for £390, which is only 22% (!) of Hugo2’s price. The second conclusion is what an impressive level of sound quality can be achieved, if money is not an issue. Hugo2 is an obvious step up, another world compared to Mojo but it comes with a hefty price tag. If you can pay £1799 for your new DAC without surviving on bread and water for three months, then buy Hugo2 right now. The rest of us will keep on enjoying Mojo for a little longer.
Pros - A step change better than Mojo
Noticeably better than Hugo1
Amazing retrieval of detail and the natural timbre of the instruments shine through
Cons - It isn't cheap !
I listened to Hugo2 as part of the U.K. Tour for ten days. Subsequently, I decided to buy one and so this review is as a result of listening for around two months now. @Relic has produced the definitive review, so mine won't focus on the machine's specs.
The new interface with the coloured buttons make the unit easier to use. I find the new design slightly too much in your face, but that is kind of the modern way.
The new design makes it easier to set up the unit and use the cross feed function or select the type of source eg coaxial, optical. I used the remote control a few times and it is easy to use and nicely designed.
I don't like the rattle of the four balls/buttons - I think that has an effect of cheapening the design, but that is a very small and ultimately irrelevant point versus the quality of the music that Hugo2 can produce.
Wow! The first thing that I noticed about the Hugo 2 was the unbelievable stunning detail it provides. It doesn't matter the quality of the source or the genre of music, the Hugo2 will extract layers of detail. It didn't matter whether I listened through my 'steady' Sennheiser 600s, detailed Beyerdynamic T90s or my stereo speakers with my Valve amplifier, it just produces musical lushness, combined with that detail retrieval. With my Shure SE 846s, on some recordings the immediate impression was it sounded slightly bright but if you believe what Rob Watts writes that is because of the extreme detail being revealed compared to the 'warm mush' (my words) of other DACs. However, then you realise that any bass that you hear isn't missing any depth. Overall, I was suitably impressed and when I switched back to my Mojo, the difference was like night and day, with the Hugo2 being so much better. I had already sold my Hugo1, but what I find interesting is that it never was a 'step change' better than the Mojo, unlike Hugo2 which definitely is.
Music listened to : Piano & Violin concertos. A lot of Vivaldi. Progressive Rock - Pink Floyd, Riverside, tons of Yes in album , live & bootleg form. Mostly CD, but some Hirez and MP3 (320k).
A few specific examples:
Pink Floyd - Dark side of the Moon on the Introduction to Money is the superb bass and smooth saxophone, and what you can hear better is the different instruments that make up the sound compared to an overall mush of sound. I also listened to the Pink Floyd Friends' version produced by Billy Sherwood. The simple piano solo at the beginning of A Gig in the Sky was memorable.
On Animals, the opening acoustic guitar is right in your face, it could be being played right in front of you. Vocals are crisp & clear.Later on the searing, distorted guitar that wants to cut you in half. Synthesisers that soar effortlessly.Pigs snort like real ones , so realistic that it initially gave me a shock
Love - the Beatles is an interesting album as it showcases songs that you all know so well but subtlety rearranged with tons of musical quirks going on around you. So it's an ideal challenge for Hugo2. The Hugo 2 devours the music and spits it out effortlessly somehow making sense of everything that is going on with beautiful musical simplicity.
Apocalyptica Special Edition - Bitter Sweet : haunting violins/ cellos, followed by the deep bass voice and then the unexpected juxtaposition with the tenor "she's the one that I adore " - the natural timbre of voice is just as if they are singing live to you. And listening through my SE846s, there is no lack of bass.
I have mainly listened to Hugo2 being fed by Coaxial via a DX90, but also via a Sony CD player and Panasonic Blu-ray with digital out. I listened through the headphones mentioned above and also through my valve stereo Sytem, through a Denon unit & mini speakers and through the car stereo systm. Much of my listening has been done on the train with my Shure SE846s.
What I find interesting is that it just doesn't matter what medium you chose or how audiophile it is, the Hugo2 has the ability to make the end result, well, just musical bliss.
Through my Valve Amplier, the combination of the instrument and musical extraction from the Hugo2 and the sublime smoothness of Valves is simply stunning.
Like Hugo 1 ,there is little or no Mobile phone interference on the train unlike the Mojo which does pick up interference from either your phone or other ones around.
The Hugo2 extracts stunning detail and will reveal new layers of sound from all of your favorite CDs. It is able to pick up the unique timbre of every violin, guitar, drum, saxophone, piano etc. and to distinguish the starting and stopping of their individual notes. The instrument separation here is so good that they have a clear edge to them.
A few people have mentioned that Hugo2 is more digital sounding than Hugo1,but I don't find this to be the case. I feel it retains a very analogue sound of its predecessor. All in all it is a musical marvel.
In my old world, the differences between Hugo1 and Mojo or in fact Hugo TT and Hugo1 (when I compared the two on the TT tour), were there, but not necessarily immediate apparent. Hugo2 to my mind is that good that it was immediately clear to me that it would beat those other DACs.
For me, Hugo2 is so good, it doesn't make me want to use the Mojo in its place and in fact I have since sold my Mojo.
So should you buy the Hugo2
1. If you don't own anything remotely equivalent - YES
2. If you own a Mojo - YES (but bear in mind the mojo is portable whereas Hugo2 like Hugo 1 is more transportable, i.e. you can use it when stationary but less easily when walking around).
3. If you own a Hugo1 - YES ( but the upgrade is maybe more worthwhile/apparent in my experience through non IEMs headphones or stereo speaker set up in order to allow you to really appreciate the difference to its fullest extent)
Pros - Highly resolving, transportable, looks very cool
Cons - Price, a bit less of a lush sound than other Chord offerings. May not pair well with brighter headphones
The Chord Hugo 2 is a nice evolution and step up from the original Hugo. If I could only have one DAC/headphone amp, this would be it! The Hugo 2 can be used portably on the go (although not quite as conveniently as the Chord Mojo), or permanently in the home or office. It even includes a remote.
The chassis and overall architecture is definitely not as refined as on my desktop Hugo TT however, and while the Hugo 2 has more digital taps in the FPGA and this can certainly be heard and appreciated, the TT includes things like supercapacitors, galvanically isolated USB and a more beefy chassis and better analog stage, all things which contribute to the sound.
While the Hugo 2 sounds really excellent, I found it's sound signature slightly leaner and less-sweet in the midrange spectrum only, than both the Hugo TT and the Mojo. Hugo 2 is still a great joy to listen to though I did find myself longing for a bit more of that lush, almost tube-like vocals and electric guitars that seem more 'right on' in my other Chord devices.
Vocals with the Hugo 2 sounded a bit less full bodied/lush than with the Hugo TT and even Mojo. That said, the Hugo 2 does have an ever so slightly wider soundstage overall which was noticeable although not dramatically so. It’s like there's a sweetness with the Hugo 2 towards the highs and overall resolution. The different filters that you can set help a bit in making the Hugo 2 a bit more warm and lush sounding, but even the most warm one was still not as warm as my other Chord devices. I also believe it's best to use the Hugo 2 in the most resolving filter setting (White) as that will let you take full advantage of the higher number of digital taps and provide the most detail retrieval, so it's almost like you may as well use that most of the time. (Rob Watts has called this filter setting almost like a mini DAVE!).
I also like the crossfeed feature in the Hugo 2. I use that mostly in the low or medium setting when listening to headphones with my Hugo TT and also tested this with great results in the Hugo 2. The Mojo doesn't have this although I don't miss it that much when listening to the Mojo, it's something that is certainly nice to have.
The Hugo 2 still has impact when called for such as when listening to hip-hop or EDM. I'm happy to report that the sublime Chord sound is there with aplomb. Hugo 2's sweetness however tends to lean towards a more crystalline type of sound signature and therefore sounds a bit more solid state than tube-like than both my Chord Hugo TT and my Mojo.
I really want to purchase the Hugo 2 though I don't know if I can justify it given that I own the other 2 Chord devices.
Equipment and headphones used:
Audioquest Jitterbug (USB input)
iPhone 7 Plus
Only lossless AIFF files or high res/MQA files were played via Roon (Onkyo player app on iPhone)
I also did a video review as well, if you're interested:
Pros - Detailed, powerful, handy remote
Cons - Tonal balance can be lean, filters not a benefit
Firstly, let me thank Relic and Barra for organizing the Hugo2 tours. It’s been a great opportunity to demo and now – my very first formal – review. I’ve been a huge fan of Chord since receiving my Mojo shortly after launch in October 2015. I didn’t demo it but took a chance based on the head-fi thread and other reviews. I said and continue to think that in all my years of audio, it has been the best investment I have made. This is mostly in “bang for the buck” terms, but also generally speaking, as I haven’t felt the need to upgrade or try many other options, as I have with preamps, amps, speakers and headphones.
In December 2015 I heard Rob Watts speak and demo the Dave (he even signed my Mojo!), and it was a revelation. While the Dave was only played through speakers in a room full of people, a Mozart piano piece was played alternately on Dave and another high-end DAC (forget which). It was amazingly apparent to all how much better the Dave was at resolving the piano and the timing of the notes. Better than Mojo, obviously, even from that brief listening. This is what I am looking for in Hugo2. (I have never heard the original Hugo or any other Chord DAC.)
And so, the focus of my Hugo2 review will be “Do I need to upgrade?” This is the question every Mojo owner is asking themselves. If it helps, I’ve been seriously into audio for over 30 years. I didn’t get seriously into personal audio until about 3 years ago, and quickly went up the learning and equipment curve. Most of my listening is done via Roon (Apple lossless and AIFF or Tidal hifi), Mojo, Cavalli Liquid Carbon and HifiMan HE-6s (highly modified). I find it a most harmonious combination. About half my listening is alternative/indie rock from the 80’s to the present. About 20% is classical and jazz, with the balance a bit of everything else (but not much pop or country).
I’ll skip all the unboxing and how-it-works commentary, as these have been well reported already. Photography is not a strength of mine, but I have some comparison shots so people get a sense of the different dimensions. I will say, the Mojo interface is simple and works well after a brief learning curve, and Hugo2 is similar, but with more functions, a bit more confusing. The remote is a gift in this regard, particularly in a desktop application. I would not see using the Hugo2 in place of a Mojo or similarly sized DAC, given its size, cost, and complexity of operation, particularly the volume, for on-the-go use.
SOUND - Headphones
As mentioned, all listening was done using CD-quality files either streamed or directly connected. Streaming was done primarily through Airport Express and optical or from a Western Digital Wireless Duo to iPhone with USB out. I did all the testing using battery power only on all devices. My initial listening was using the HE-6 headphones (quite inefficient) powered by the Emotiva BasX A-100 speaker amp. Hugo2 has great bass impact, with Mojo sounding slightly muddy in comparison. Up top, Hugo2 sounded “brittle” and not smooth, like Mojo does. This was evident on several tracks from 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged album.
In this first session, I also noticed two additional things that held up throughout the listening time: the timing reproduction is so amazing that you get the sense the Hugo2 is playing more notes than the Mojo on the same tracks. It’s a similar effect to getting Mojo from something non-Chord, but more so. It’s like listening to the 1981 Glenn Gould Goldberg Variations and then switching to the 1955 version, when he is younger, playing faster and more technically, and with more repeats in the arrangement. The other observation was that much of the tonal difference was in the midrange, where both male and female voices were lacking some body and fullness, compared to Mojo. I think this is due to some increased presence in the 250-300 Hz range on Mojo (around middle C on the piano) or decrease in Hugo2 and another increase in Hugo2 in the ~1kHz (maybe as high as 2kHz?) range compared to Mojo. I wish we had more details from Rob Watts on how he “tuned Mojo to be warmer.”
In the treble, the Hugo2 has more detail and air. This contributes to the wider soundstage, which was generally also more focused, than that of Mojo. I think of the difference almost like two different rooms or halls. Hugo2 is a performance in a larger, livelier hall, while Mojo is the same performance in a more intimate venue. Along these lines, several times when Mojo was plugged in, I forgot I was supposed to be listening and just got caught up in the music. (Cliché, but it really surprised me and I wrote it down, because I was supposed to be “working”!)
The bass was also deeper and more detailed, faster and clearer on the Hugo2. This is one area where there was clear superiority with no trade-offs, in my opinion. This was apparent on most tracks, but stood out with I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Sweet Jane from the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions, as well as Eric Clapton Unplugged.
After this combo, I tried the Hugo2 directly with the HE-6. Amazingly, it drove them to very satisfying levels with really good results. The most transparent I have been able to hear those phones. I think this is a real strength of the H2. While Mojo can drive almost anything, I would say that the Hugo2 actually can drive anything. It would depend on the type of music, and your listening levels, but for reasonable levels of rock, jazz, and classical music, it was a great experience that you cannot get from Mojo. There may be some brain burn-in by this point, or the Emotiva may be to blame, but HE-6 direct from H2 is a good combo.
Other headphone combinations were HE-6 with Cavalli Liquid Carbon and the H2 directly with the AudioQuest NightHawks, the thinksound ON2s, and the FLC 8S iems. With the LC, the smoothness returned to the top end, removing the brittleness I heard with the Emotiva. But, on some tracks, there was still a bit of glare present. This may be the state of modern recording given the loudness wars, but I was trying to use some of the best-recorded tracks. While the detail was there with the H2, the “I got tubes” feeling with the LC just wasn’t as present when being fed by the Hugo2 compared to the Mojo.
Using the thinksound ON2s, I noted clean sound with no mid bloom, but slightly thin sounding piano on Pink Floyd’s San Tropez (from Meddle), which is a great all-around track for testing out gear. Compared to the Mojo, which exhibited some mid-bass bloom but a more natural sounding piano. Overall, the thinksound’s sounded pretty good on the H2, more clear and detailed than with Mojo, and easier to make out the lyrics in tracks. This is despite the tendency for people to think of these as slightly bright headphones, so go figure.
The AQ NightHawks (I’ve changed the pads to the HM5 sheepskin) are generally full, clean, slightly rolled sounding with the Mojo. With the Hugo2, they sounded faster, with a similar sweet presentation, but with vocals still not quite as full as Mojo. The X-PHD ‘1’ setting (red) seemed to improve this presentation. (More on X-PHD later.) In fact the AQ was the headphone where overall the Hugo2 was preferred to the Mojo.
The FLC 8S (used with red bass filter, grey mid filter, and gunmetal nozzle) were more of a toss-up between Hugo2 and Mojo. In several cases, Mojo could have more balanced and smooth sound, but H2 could also be sweet with more detail and better vocals, if a bit less dynamic sounding. Certainly the Hugo2 was more resolving than the Mojo, even in the bass, but maybe not quite as impactful.
SOUND – Speakers
I got into personal audio because my family – shockingly – didn’t appreciate me hushing them while I blasted speakers throughout the house for hours on end. Now that we’re empty nesters, my wife still doesn’t appreciate it, but I get more opportunities. I generally run the Mojo directly into an Odyssey Stratos Stereo Extreme amplifier feeding Volent Paragon VL-2s. That amp is known as a neutral, powerful SS piece, and the VL-2s (stand-mounted 2-ways with ribbon tweeters) are known for their deep, fast, detailed bass and clean, detailed top end.
The presentation on speakers was similar to the HE-6 presentation with the Emotiva, except lacking much of the noted harshness and brittleness. Where Mojo painted a full sound with intimate soundstage, Hugo2 was larger and more detailed, but a bit leaner. H2 also had more air and treble presence, which seemed slightly lacking on Mojo. For example, on Sweet Jane, through the Mojo you get the wonderful Fender tube amp sound. Through H2, you get more apparent detail but slightly less “warm tubey.” Again, H2 is a bigger room, more detail, but less intimate and less body than Mojo. But in contrast to my primary headphones, it’s a presentation I could live with, trading off the body for the extra detail and air.
FILTERS and CROSSFEED
Others have commented that the filters are not that noticeable. In contrast, I thought they made a big difference (except green), so especially orange and red, the “Mojo” filter. But, while it makes a difference, I did not find that it was anything like the Mojo. It did not restore the body and the balance (increase the lower midrange/decrease the upper midrange, as mentioned above), but rather muddied up the sound and rolled it off, without achieving the same tonality as Mojo. I was not a fan of any filter setting and would not use them.
I tried the X-PHD as much as I could and, as noted above, I did find the lowest setting improved the AudioQuest NightHawks generally. But more often, in other setups, I found that any level of X-PHD sounded harsh or added glare. Just weird to me, with more bass but also added distortion. I may need more time experimenting with different tracks and different levels, but as of this point, I am not a fan.
I have no idea if my recollection of the Dave was accurate, or what it sounds like. But, I was looking for Hugo2 to provide me with that kind of experience, virtually making me upgrade my Mojo (you know how it is!). While the H2 has some technically better qualities than the Mojo (soundstage, detail resolution, power), its overall presentation is not as much to my liking, with my music and equipment, as the Mojo. I will definitely try to audition the Dave in home (at some time when spending that amount on equipment is in the realm of reasonable), or the Hugo2 TT. I could even live with the H2 in my home system, but on balance, I think it would only be a slight improvement, and not in all areas.
Pros - Stunning Sound Quality
Powerful Headphone/Speaker Amp
Battery Power Isolation
Cons - Burn In - Takes a while to sound best
Filters aren't so different
Hugo2 - A Desktop DAC Mini Marvel
Every marketing professional knows that the best way to influence a buying decision is through word of mouth – so Chord’s use of ordinary Head-Fi posters to review a product is a stroke of genius. These reviews are grass-roots opinions from community members who want to be honest, technically accurate and write an enjoyable read. And we’re doing so without monetary or in-kind compensation.
My review of Hugo2 is to focus on its use as a desktop DAC driving a loudspeaker system. I will not be commenting on headphones at all. Nor will I be discussing mobility or nice leather cases – nor emphasizing features. I will focus on sound quality in absolute terms – not coached by ‘value for money’ or ‘based on portability’. I want the best the H2 can deliver so I will be working to extract the best sound quality I can by reconfiguring and tweaking my system. And then I’ll do some comparisons against other desktop DACs.
Thanks to the many posts of Rob Watts and HeadFi’ers, I have come to appreciate what ‘transparency’ can mean, what to listen for, what to avoid and to wean myself off false euphonics. Loudspeaker setups, generally speaking, are more complex than headphones, much more expensive and require more effort to better. At some level, you reach a plateau. Yes …some loudspeakers are more revealing in detail or tighter bass extension and some amplifiers can improve musicality or low end and, of course, cables and power matter. However, I hope I can say my review system was as resolving as I could get it within a reasonable budget – leaving an objective reference to report only on the impact of the H2 and comparison DACs.
These are the system components used:
DACs: Hugo2, DAVE (offsite), DirectStream Jr., Antelope Pure-2, Copeland 215, DragonFly RED
Source: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 1370, Windows10 (Creators Edition), Bitsum Process Lasso
Playback: JRiver Media Center 22, Google Play Music, Tidal HiFi/Masters
USB: Cables: Audio Sensibility Impact, Cleanup: Musical Paradise MP-U1 + Intona Industrial
Interconnects: Analysis Plus Silver Oval-2 (3ft)
Speaker Cable: Analysis Plus Silver Oval-2 (8ft)
Preamplifier: LTA MicroZOTL
Amplifier: LTA ZOTL40 MkII (w/custom Mundorf caps)
DIY Voxativ AF-2.6 – Single full-range driver, no crossover (10ohm,99dB)
Finale Audio Vivace Mini – Single full-range driver, no crossover (16ohm,92dB)
Coherent GR12 – Co-axial driver, inductor + capacitor crossover, (8ohm,96dB)
Power: Nordost QB8 Powerbar, QV2, QK1, QKore1, Qkore3, Heimdall-2 Powercords,
13’x22’. 9’ ceilings. Rug, Fabric furnishings. No sound treatment.
Speakers on the long wall. 9’ – 10’ spacing. Customary toe-in to seating position
A high-end DAC deserves a place of its own on the top shelf of an audio rack but given the H2’s diminutive size it looked lonely by itself so it shared space with an objet d’art.
Hugo2 and Friend
I was not enamored with the H2’s disco lights display but once you get used to the color scheme it’s a distinctive part of the product experience …and it produced quite nice ambient lighting. I faced the row of H2’s lights toward my seating position and controlled volume and filter settings from the remote.
Getting things running properly was not a problem. Drivers loaded on my Windows10 laptop, the DAC was detected and my smoke-test of a low-volume playback all worked fine. I am pretty determined to ensure noise-free/bit-perfect USB transport of music to my DACs and although I understand why people buy dedicated streamers and fuss with digital cables I’ve had great success producing phenomenal sound with ordinary windows running optimized Process Lasso and JRiver. I know that my USB cleanup (MP-U1 + Intona) isolates and removes most any vestige of source analog noise – and this was used throughout the test.
USB to MP-U1 to Intona to Hugo2
My H2 was directly hooked up to my ZOTL40 MkII amp and to my Voxativ AF-2.6 DIY, Finale Audio Vivace Mini or Coherent GR12 speakers. I used single driver speakers in this test to improve imaging and reduce (or eliminate) any cross-over artifacts. My JRiver playback volume was set to ‘disabled’ and I let everything up to PCM 768khz sampling and DSD512 pass directly. The H2’s chassis RCA openings were too small to allow me to secure the connector locks on my Analysis-Plus interconnects – so I undid them. I did not use a subwoofer but if you wanted to its easy to connect the parallel 3.5mm jack to an RCA splitter cable.
RCA openings still not large enough for my interconnects
I prepared my curated playlist of excellent audiophile tracks obtained from both legitimate and dubious sources. I used about 25 tracks for this review – a good mix of Redbook, Hi-res and DSD, including a handful of DSD256 and several tracks in various lossless and lossy formats. When I am critically evaluating for sound quality, I look for specific points in a track that highlight the differences I hear and A/B those – over and over. I also prefer live in-studio or in-venue or in-concert performances over electronic or over-produced content. A partial list of my tracks is provided at the end of this review.
Finale Vivace Mini, Coherent GR-12 and Voxativ DIY
IMPROVING SOUND QUALITY
My first order of business was to maximize the H2’s sound quality and try out the ideas and comments raised in several Head-Fi posts.
Initially, I felt the H2 sounded very bright through my speaker setup - too bright. I was almost ready to return the unit …but after a few days of regular usage it just settled down. Was this burn-in? I was the last of the tour reviewers and the unit most certainly had many hours on it. Was it the connection to my power amp that removed the last vestiges of cobwebs in the output stage? Unsure …but the transformation was real and not a situation of ‘brain burn-in’. The H2 was screechy for a few days then became sublime. So, buyer beware, a longer home audition may be needed for your H2 to become best friends with your speaker setup.
Filters and EQ
Maybe I’m sensitive to these things but I found the H2’s crazy detail to be almost the detriment of a pleasing presentation and dream weaver listenability. I expected the filter settings to dramatically change things but I found it very hard to hear any differences. Every setting still had huge amounts of high frequency, although it seemed like Red sounded the smoothest. With H2 you’re paying for taps and I didn’t want to lose out on the 256fs up-sampling so, in the end, I went with Green and dialed in a touch of JRiver EQ high shelf to tame down my Voxativs. This setting worked very well for all music genre’s and all bitrates.
I noted that H2 revealed so much new information in my reference tracks that they sounded like different recordings. It’s like the H2’s FPGA snuck a few more singers and performers in the back door. I was expecting ‘more of the same only better’ but instead I got doses of unfamiliar depth, hidden voices and instrument nuance – all beautiful. H2 really was transformative to the music and reaffirmed how important accurate sources are when determining what other aspects of your system may need attention.
H2 thru Pre-Amp – Yes or No
Audio pre-amps buffer input/output impedance and provide gain with a volume control. The H2 incorporates a digital volume control more accurately than any pre-amp and has a well-designed output section to allow direct input to a power amplifier. So, easy-peasy, no need for a pre-amp with H2, right? Well yes and no. If you really need a pre-amp to support phono or analog inputs, be aware that I found the H2’s ‘line-level’ setting of 3V RMS to be too high for my microZOTL. I obtained a much more pleasing sound when I dialed my pre’s volume gain to near maximum and set H2’s sound volume to below 2V. I suppose this is something to do with the interplay of DAC/Amp gain/impedance curves. Direct to my ZOTL40 amp the H2 sounded better as confirmed with several back-and-forth tests. I was after transparency so I ran the rest of my review with DAC direct to amp.
LTA microZOTL Pre-Amp
LTA ZOTL40 MkII Amplifier
USB Input – Conditioning Needed?
The H2 comes with a factory USB cable – nothing special – but it does work quite well directly connected to a computer source. Rob Watts gallant attempt with increased filtering in lieu of proper galvanic isolation has really helped. I compared this with my external isolation and listened intently for distortion signatures I know are due to analog noise intrusion to the DAC. I was struggling with confirmation bias but I will say that my external USB isolation may have brought forth a tad more clarity, snap and a smoother sound. So, I’d suggest that after buying an H2, go shell out for your trusted USB isolation solution …just to be sure.
Power & Battery
The importance of clean power feeding a DAC cannot be overstated – as any negative impact on the small signal D/A processing becomes quite audible when amplified. H2’s battery operation definitely gives it a huge advantage here – obviously making it immune to AC noise and ground loops. I got 6-7 hours battery operation and while charging I could discern no difference in the sound. The brilliant engineering by Rob Watts really works to isolate the delicate bits of the DAC from the terrible world of household power. This feature alone has me rethinking the value and importance of floating my entire source chain off the grid: laptop, USB cleanup and DAC. Then I can be assured that my RCA interconnects carry the DAC’s absolute best quality analog signal to my amplifier. Thank-you Hugo2.
My other review DACs all relied on AC power and definitely needed power conditioning to sound best. To offset the H2’s battery-only advantage over other DACs, I tried using a UPS (APC SmartUPS 1500) to provide a maximum of about 90 minutes of power to each of them. This may have helped - although the H2 still embarrassed the lot by dominating in sound quality. More below…
I was fortunate to have demo Nordost QKore ground units during my review. These work to silence spurious noise on the AC mains as well as component signal ground – like sticking a proverbial thumb on the buzzy spot. The H2, being battery powered, was not bettered by improved signal grounding. Other AC powered DAC’s, however, did marginally improve (deeper silence I felt) and were thus configured during my comparisons. Mostly, QKore delivered the best benefit to my AC powered ZOTL40 amplifier by grounding the RCA inputs (and by extension, the DAC’s RCA outputs and analog section).
Nordost Power Conditioning
QKore Ground Units
DSD vs PCM
Rob Watts has made his opinion on DSD well known – and emphasized his PCM-first approach for his DACs. However, somewhere during the development of the H2, the decision was made to give DSD content the same high regard as PCM. Exact details are unclear but I understand it’s a parallel implementation to his PCM approach and the results are very good. DSD playback (64x,128x,256x) plays flawlessly and with the same fidelity as PCM frankly. I looped several tracks for which I have both versions and loved them equally. I’d probably need better ears or a more resolving system to discern the differences.
Lossless vs Redbook vs Hi-Res
Any song played from my Google Play Music subscription (at an “effective” 320kbps resolution) was almost as satisfying as the lossless 16/44.1 version from JRiver or Tidal. Using the H2 to stream background music while trying to answer emails or preparing dinner proved highly distracting to the task at hand. Even at muted volume levels, the bass has wonderful impact and even whisper vocals carried great emotion. High resolution lossless versions sounded impressively more smooth and real …but Rob Watts WTA filters really work well across the source quality spectrum. Still, in quiet, intimate listening sessions (like after 1am with a glass of bourbon in hand), there is no comparison to the joy of 96khz music.
Direct to Loudspeakers
It has been noted that a Chord DAVE can directly drive high efficiency speakers. DAVE provides about 2 Watts of power into 8Ω to deliver the ultimate in transparency – or so go the comments from those few souls who have this kind of setup. I felt I needed to try it with H2 and even though it’s power output into 8Ω is only about 1 Watt it would be enough to drive my ~99dB efficient Voxativ speakers to listenable volume levels. To connect the RCA plugs on H2 to my speaker cable, I used adapters purchased from Amazon - although directly wiring an RCA end on the cable would probably reduce losses.
Speaker wire connected directly to Hugo2’s RCA outputs
UXCELL BNC to Dual Banana Binding Adapter with matching RCA connectors
And the sound is …Holy Transparency Batman! I thought my ZOTL amp was the final word but the H2 directly controlling Voxativ neodymium drivers sounded so much more realistic with authentic echoes from a deep soundstage that transported me to the recording venue. I heard visceral lows, incredibly detailed voices; a beautiful mid-range and effortless highs that just floated off the speakers. The nearly distortion-free linearity of the H2 amp was quite apparent – I noticed a purity in the mids that I found very enjoyable. This was the sound of headphones through loudspeakers. I was transfixed and will join the chorus of persons who say that this approaches the ultimate. For me, it’s the best I have ever heard.
That being said, I did notice a certain thinness in the delivery: less authoritative drum slam and slightly diminished body in general. Also, the digital nature of the H2 was laid bare without any interconnects or tubes to mellow the sound. So, it was gloriously transparent but at the same time …uncomfortably so. I returned my ZOTL to the mix and got back the ‘meat on the bones’ – as they say - but immediately sensed the loss of definition. Hmm. I wanted to go back to H2’s amp but its battery-based power supply just couldn’t provide the power (current) needed to move loudspeaker magnets with aplomb. Oh boy, what to suggest? Just add a subwoofer and call it a day? Upgrade to DAVE? Wait for Chord’s anticipated Digital Amps? For sure, once you have heard this kind of full transparency, there is no going back.
The H2’s ability to accept PCM768 and DSD512 means it can handle software up-sampled music and only the final conversion to analog is done by the H2’s pulse array hardware. The mediocre SoX up-sampler within JRiver easily ran on my laptop but produced vastly inferior audio. HQPlayer is a well-known media player with a very powerful up-sampling engine – arguably the best in the world. The most recent version includes ‘xtr’ filter options to mimic the ‘Chord Sound’ - says designer Jussi Laako. Despite Chord’s claims to the contrary, modern CPU’s are well capable of filtering at high tap counts and HQPlayer’s can run into the millions. Does this mean we can duplicate WTA filters and turn the H2 into a DAVE, or better? My laptop was not the most performant so I limited my tests to the PCM filters ‘poly-sync- xtr-mp’ with standard noise shaping – and these ran in real-time with no problem.
The results were interesting. I’d say that HQPlayer produced files almost as smooth as DAVE and there was a bit more lushness to everything. I found the instruments sounded more natural and I believe I also heard a deeper and wider soundstage. But overall, the HQPlayer up-sampling was not as magical as the H2 on its own. This certainly warrants more experimentation. So, you can consider H2 to be both a fantastic up-sampling DAC voiced by Rob Watts or an excellent D/A output stage that can accept software up-sampled PCM or DSD.
There is nothing double-blind or independently-verified about the comparison below. This is not a shoot-out but rather my considered opinions being as objective as I can.
My first comparison was with the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red. Direct to amplifier the DFR sounded great and is a phenomenal implementation of the Sabre architecture. Say what you will about this el-cheapo, mass-market device, I’d rate the DFR as being about 70% of the H2 for sheer enjoyment. Although the DFR approaches the H2’s musicality, the H2 just dominates it with more and better details and convinces you of a much wider and deeper soundstage. H2 accurately portrays singers, instruments and layers of performers whereas the DFR was muted in comparison. The H2 just sounded more effortless and real. I don’t think I experienced listening fatigue with the DFR but the H2 certainly provided more pleasure and many more ‘suspension of disbelief’ moments.
Next came the Antelope Pure-2. This is a professional grade Burr-Brown R2R DAC with the claim of accurate clocking by heating its clock crystal in a tiny on-board oven. The result was a very good sounding presentation with excellent details and timbre. However, on a busy choral or an orchestral flourish the Pure-2 was not as convincing as the H2 which just stood the music up as the real thing. The Pure-2 is a noble attempt to push the limits of classical audio engineering however I just did not want to listen to it after hearing the H2. Rob Watts has expounded on the challenges of R2R designs – that they have terrible noise-floor modulation and are very prone to jitter. These are words on paper but you can hear for yourself how Rob Watts design prowess allows the diminutive H2 to do more with less. Way more.
PSAudio’s DirectStream Jr is an excellent desktop DAC – made more so with regular (and free) updates to their core FPGA - most recently a ‘Huron’ release – where Ted Smith (DSJ designer) has found, like Rob Watts, that he gets better transparency by removing any and all forms of signal correlated noise and jitter. The DSJ is very close to the H2 and after nearly two hours of back and forth listening it was basically a tie. The DSJ matched the H2 from the lows to the highs and through the details. I’ll raise two comments: (i) the DSJ presented itself as being every-so-slightly harsher with voices and wind instruments and was not as smoothly delineating of layers - whereas H2 perhaps had less low bass. And (ii), my sensitive speakers made the low level digital noise inherent in Ted’s design quite obvious. This is a known and natural side-effect of DSD DACs and perhaps made worse by my ZOTL’s lack of input coupling capacitor. I tried the DSJ gain adjustment but could not get rid of the hiss, hum and swishy sound I heard with my ear to the driver – even at zero volume with no inputs. It took a pre-amp and playing with the combined volume/gain controls to reduce the noise to a manageable level. In contrast, the H2 was absolutely quiet.
The Copland DAC 215 is an well engineered Sabre 9018 implementation with a tube-based headphone amplifier. This is a very nice DAC and the tubes added some nice euphonics to the presentation. The Sabre32 architecture in the 215 is likely as good as it can be made to sound and I’d say that it matched the H2’s FPGA design for extracting detail and staging information. Where it falls down is in just not matching the musicality of the H2. The 215 certainly made a piano solo sound beautiful – however the H2 rendered a real piano. Its uncanny how the H2’s superior timing is able to find subtle nuances in the notes and draw you into the instrument and performer. I would love the 215 if I had not heard the H2.
The Chord Dave was launched in 2015 as a revelation. Rob Watts pioneering work on WTA and noise shaping demonstrated that our ear/brain is capable of incredible discernment. All his knowledge was implemented in the expensive DAVE and I hoped H2, although a significant cost reduced version, had all the best bits. I did not have a DAVE for A/B listening tests but in my recent demo I played the same material through the same source and USB chain. The result? The H2 has many of the same traits but comes up frustratingly short of being in the same league. DAVE is so much smoother, richer and presents a much more expansive soundstage. And perhaps I should add the word ‘addictive’. Occasionally, on certain passages of music, I felt that the H2 might have matched what I heard on the DAVE …but overall, sorry, no, the H2 isn’t a DAVE. In defense of H2, I will say that the DAVE system I heard was probably twenty times the dollar value.
I don’t think audiophiles realize how amazing an achievement the Hugo2 is. It’s a marvel of digital audio engineering in miniature. A transportable cousin to the fantastic DAVE that delivers industry leading sound quality and reveals so much promise for the future of affordable high-end audio. As a desktop DAC replacement, Hugo2 presents a quandary for the interested buyer. Its not a traditional full-size ‘hand-built’ DAC with oversize capacitors and a toroid power supply. It’s a hyper-oversampling DAC in a world where purist NOS seems to be gaining favor. The Hugo2 is impossibly small and its simple glowing balls user interface an affront to the norm. Yet it’s a gloriously good sounding desktop DAC that squashes all and that should alarm the competition – who perhaps will never be able to attain the same levels of performance.
The Hugo2 is not without faults. Even after two weeks of use I feel it’s still a touch bright and on my high efficiency resolving speakers the Hugo2 needed EQ and filter help to sound best. I know the DAVE has wonderfully natural highs and so did my previous 2Qute. And the Hugo2 can sound much less bright when its fed up-sampled content so I think there is a compromise in the design – perhaps to accommodate headphone characteristics. Also, the filter settings really don’t sound different enough – although, yes, the Red was somewhat less bright than the White. Perhaps this is another situation where a headphone electro-acoustical environment reveals more differences.
I like listening to music through headphones but I love the ‘in-room’ loudspeaker experience. Its always seemed that the gulf between the two was characterized by huge differences in space requirements, costs and complications burdening the guy like me. My experiment with software up-sampling an Hugo2 driving loudspeakers directly to sonic nirvana gives me high hopes that my personal system can be simple and sound as good as the very best for a small fraction of the cost. The future of music is streaming and with a product like Hugo2 plus the imminent companion streamer then we’ve nearly reached a point of end game – for the industry and consumer.
-- Daniel Mance
Pros - Amazingly detailed, Sound quality, Power, Solid Built Quality
Cons - Battery life, Filters are not noticeable.
I used both Hugo V1 and Mojo, we all know how successful Chord is on the market. When I first heard the Hugo V1, I rediscovered the meaning of imaging and layering. Hugo V1 was the best portable device I’ve ever listened to. Until now. Chord renewed and improved the legendary model and presented us the Hugo 2.
Before the review shenanigans, I would like to thank to Chord and @Relic for the tour opportunity.
You can read it also on quantumears.com
Specifications & Highlights
● Chord Electronics Custom Xilinx Artix 7 FPGA Chipset
● 10 Element Pulse Array Design (49,152 Tap Length)
● Class A
● Incredibly low output impedance (0.025Ω)
● Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW - 300Ω | 740mW - 32Ω | 1050mW- 8Ω
● It can be considered light for a DAC/AMP! Only 450 grams.
● Earsonics S-EM9 with PW Single Core & Eros
● NocturnaL Atlantis
● Oriolus Forsteni with PW No.5
● AAW A3H Pro v2
Accessories | Box
Just like Hugo v1, v2 comes with a fairly durable, stylish cartoon box. Accessories are good. Here is the list of ‘em!
● Charger (Switchable Plugs)
● USB Cable
● Optical Cables
● Remote! (This one shocked me the most, it’s good touch, Chord!)
Design | Build
The design itself looks very good and build quality is top notch. Although I must say, I am not a huge fan of the ballsy design (pun intended).
One other thing is I really like the little window located in the middle of the device. It’s a great touch and it feels like it’s the engineer’s signature. Rigid contour overall makes it look fierce and wild!
The Hugo2 has this generally neutral sound with a touch of warmth. It’s a quite musical and high-resolution device.
Treble became my favorite section of the audio spectrum thanks to Hugo 2. Very natural, well-spaced and it’s not laid back. You can hear instruments reaching their brightest point on the spectrum and somehow Hugo keeps them out of the “hot” area so no piercing crispness. The treble is smooth. I auditioned AC-DC - T.N.T album with Hugo 2 and S-EM9. It was an incredible experience. It had an amazingly clear presentation and there were no congestions, even in the fastest passages. You can hear every single bit of detail and layer in the timbre. When I listen to music using Hugo V1 or V2, I tend to listen the parts that has the most intense upper frequencies. I found myself listening to Le Trio Joubran, Ibrahim Maalouf and similar artists. Treble is just delightful!
Mid frequencies are tad forward. The note thickness is balanced beautifully. It is neither thick nor thin. I believe this greatly contributes to naturality. Mids are relaxed and they feel realistic. Detail level is really high, it doesn’t skip any micro details. Both male and female vocals are articulate and fluid.. I believe I can listen to Norah Jones all day long… The overall presentation is smooth and effortless, I did not notice any harshness in the upper mid section. I listened to Ibrahim Maalouf – True Sorry (one of my favorite test tracks) with the Hugo2 and violin guitar tone accuracy took my breath away.. I enjoyed every second of it.
I don’t really have any complaints about of the midrange.
Lows are sufficiently prominent, natural, clear and detailed. Also, they are very controlled and tight. The lows are well defined and they are present enough but, honestly I would love to have a little more bass. Well, this is my personal preference of course. Bass quantity, in fact, very near to natural with a touch of warmth.
When you compare bass against the rest of the spectrum, they are not extremely dominant and they do not overwhelm the other frequencies. There is no overpowered boom-like basshead crazy bass. Sub-bass has an average impact field. It does not hit from a wide area and It only goes deep when the track calls for it.
Soundstage, Speed, Timing & Dynamics
Hugo2 has quite a wide soundstage. Compared to Hugo 1, the soundstage is a tad more spacious and wide. Although the margin is small. Soundstage depth is also quite satisfactory. Instruments are scattered widely across the stage and the space between them eliminates any congestion. This helps with the speed and PRAT. Let’s talk about dynamics. Well. I’ve not heard anything quite like this. Maybe LPG. This department of Hugo 2 can be labelled as unrivaled.
vs. Chord Hugo 1
Both devices are musical and technically very capable. Hugo2 is generally better than V1 in almost everything. Better transparency, wider soundstage and resolution... Power delivery is similar. With the S-EM9, I was listening at the “green” level with the Hugo v1. It did not change with Hugo 2. Micro detail revealment is better with Hugo 2, treble and mid section has increased articulacy. Margins are not huge though.
vs. iDSD Black Label
Black Label is a terrific DAC/AMP. Just like Hugo 2. I see them in different fields but I’ll say couple of things anyway. Both of the devices have relaxed, effortless sound with a dark background. iFi’s XBASS is magical. BL bass has the upper hand, it is more impactful and deep. Soundstage-wise Hugo 2 is more layered, more spacious and airy. I think they’re the top contenders of both price ranges. 500$ and 2000$. Both of em’, great buys!
Dynamism and resolution. Both devices are absolutely great at this. Hugo 2 is tad more detailed and tad faster. LPG is a worthy rival but it falls short in mid section. Hugo 2 sounds very effortless and relaxed whereas the mid section of LPG feels stressed and aggressive. Also there is a huge soundstage difference. Hugo 2 has this wide headroom and airiness. LPG does not have this, at all. Depth-wise they’re on par.
I listened to Ibrahim Maalouf - True Sorry with Hugo 2 and immediately I started to play with AK120.(I really love the AK120 and I won’t sell it) but sound was horrible when I listened. Muddy, treble was like a rolled-off, veiled. Of course, I am not comparing with AK120. I just want to know how good Hugo2 sounds when I listened head-to-head. The Hugo2 has a seriously amazing top end when it comes to the high frequencies and I'm afraid that there is no another device that can stand in front of the Hugo2 in portable devices territory.
Hugo 2. Did I like it? Definitely, yes. It is very desirable. Built like a tank, top tier sound quality, and you can use it as DAC on almost all devices.
Still, I have several complaints about the device;
First one is about the filters. Hugo2 comes with 4 different sound filters.
● 1th- Dave/Reference filter (White),
● 2nd - HF roll off (Green),
● 3th - Mojo filter (Orange),
● 4th - Mojo HF + (High Frequency roll off) (Red)
When I tried to change these filters while playing music, I could hardly feel the sound differences between them. The change of sound was very subtle. I auditioned those filters with all the IEMs I have but the result was almost the same. Filters just had subtle differences and unfortunately, I did not find them very functional.
My second complaint is about the battery life. The battery life is about one hour less than the Hugo 1. I think, maybe the new “light-balls” are shortening the battery life. They’re so lit that you can even use the device as a nightlight beside your bed. (or signal the batman, dunno)
Apart from those, there is nothing I’d count as a weakness. I cannot easily say “Throw your V1 into the garbage, get a V2!” Hugo V1 is already a very good device and it can be found at fairly affordable prices.
To finalize, I can say that Hugo2 is a great little product from Chord and it’s definitely a good buy!
Pros - Sound Quality, Naturalness, Realistic Timbre, CrossFeed, High Power Output
Cons - User Interface, Powerful for IEMs, Battery, Design Not Ideal for Stacking
I would like to thank @Barra and @x_RELIC_x for giving me this opportunity to be part of the Hugo2 review tour. I truly enjoyed my time with the Hugo 2.
Chord and their products need very little introduction. Hugo and Mojo revolutionized the portable audio realm with their sound quality and driving power in a small portable package. Hugo 2 is an update to the original Hugo DAC. While the original Hugo was already great in terms of sound quality and power, Chord wanted to push the envelope further by incorporating Rob's new code and bumping the output power. But the Hugo 1 had some areas that could be improved. Chord took the feedback from the customers and has tried to address those in the Hugo 2.
HARDWARE, UI, BATTERY & BLUETOOTH:
As plenty of information on Hugo 2 is available on the internet, I would like to skip the details and go over some key points that I would like to mention/highlight with regards to hardware, UI, battery and bluetooth:
1. The size of the device is smaller than how it appears in the pictures. It weighs close to a pound (500g), but because the weight is evenly distributed, it doesn't feel particularly hefty. While the design works really well for desktop use, it doesn't feel quite ideal for stacking or portable use. Chord has stuck to Single Ended ports (3.5mm and 6.3mm) which helps to not getting into the Balanced ecosystem.
2. The UI is peculiar and may not be conventional. But it is actually quite intuitive once you get the hang of it. But I have to admit that it can be quite flashy and conspicuous when used in the public. The brightness of the lights can be switched between Bright and Dim modes. With the Hugo 2, Chord made sure the Dim setting is actually dim unlike the Mojo's dim setting which was still bright to an extent. Also, unlike the orbs (balls) on the Mojo which rotate freely, the orbs on the Hugo2 are fixed and do not rotate. I was quite skeptical about the rattling that many users had reported. But I did not find it to be bad. I guess I was expecting the worst.
3. I did not measure the battery standby time, but I got around 7-8Hrs of playback using a mix of MP3 and FLAC files. This is one aspect that is a downgrade from the original Hugo, which offered close to a 14Hrs of playback on a single charge. It's good that Chord switched to micro-USB port for charging this time over the DC port in Hugo 1. Although the device did not get overly hot while charging, it did get warm. But listening while charging made the device quite warm and borderline hot.
4. The Bluetooth mode does not have a great sound quality. But it is a nice to have feature during times when you find yourself without a cable to connect your Hugo 2 to your smartphone/PC or you own one of that smartphones that lack the 3.5mm jack and you didn't bring along the adapter to connect the adapater.
Hugo 2 has a very natural sound that is present through out its signature. It is an effortless sound without any stress or congestion. A sound that is easy on your ears and will keep you immersed in the music. But what truly is special about the Hugo 2 is its realistic timbre. Timbre is possibly one of the most difficult aspect to reproduce as it is a culmination of resolution, transparency, tone, tuning balance, speed and timing. Hugo 2 has all these qualities in the right amount which helps the device in recreating beautiful natural timbre. It starts with a balance in tuning without any emphasis or de-emphasis in any frequency range. While the tuning is completely neutral, there is a touch of warmth that originates from the mid-range notes that sets a very natural tone.
The bass on the Hugo 2 is dynamic and powerful. It is the kind of power that originates from its ability to go deep and not relying on the boosted low end. Without prioritizing between sub and mid-bass, Hugo 2 displays great balance in the bass region. And the result is an accurate bass tone. It is also a well articulated bass that provides the required body and warmth to the presentation.
The mid-range is where Hugo 2 sets itself apart from the remainder of its competition. And what helps the mid-range to achieve this feat is the note structure. With sumptuous body and precisely timed attack and decays, the notes sound amazingly right. But what is truly impressive is the way the information within the notes are presented in layers in an effortless manner. It reveals so much information within the note that the mid-range of other devices sound compressed.
This note structure also yields a touch of warmth to the mid-range that keeps the tone alive and beautiful. The result is a timbre that is very realistic and natural in flow. The instruments and vocals carry excellent transparency and articulation without sacrificing the power in the lower harmonics. And so it is a very engaging mid-range which is further supported by the neutral placement of the mid-range.
Treble is the hidden hero of the spectrum, as it plays a significant role in maintaining the naturalness in the sound. Just like the rest of the spectrum, it is linear in tuning with excellent extension. With adequate quantity of treble, the sound is very detailed and airy. And it also has a certain smoothness as it is free of edginess in the notes. By being so, it not only maintains a natural tone but also helps the mid-range retain the note structure without adding any unwanted stress. While it is forgiving for the most part, is a little unforgiving of poorly recorded material due to its high resolution and transparency.
Hugo2's presents a very large stage with excellent dimensions on all 3 directions. With the abundant space and high resolution, instrument separation and layering is a walk in the park for the device. The stage may not be as enormous as some of the desktop amps, but it is plenty big for a portable device. And most importantly, the stage displays excellent coherency without losing focus on instruments located on the far edges of the stage. With a black background and precise placements of the instrument, the quality of imaging is very high.
The White and the Green Filters (Incisive Filters) represent Hugo 2's fullest potential. Going from these filters down to the Orange and Red Filters (Warm Filters) results in a deterioration in overall sound quality. The tone loses its brilliance and the notes get compressed that leads to a loss in articulation. As a result, the timbre is less realistic. The stage becomes slightly smaller and the imaging is not as accurate as on the Incisive Filters. Hugo 2 is to be experienced on the Incisive Filters. Buying the device and using the warm filters will be doing injustice to the device.
Crossfeed was one of the biggest highlights of the device. Once the crossfeed is turned ON and set to Max (Blue), the device merges two disjointed musical pictures (L and R) into a single coherent picture. This is done by bringing the side stage instruments closer to the center stage and merging the instrument images from L and R channels into single images of the instruments. As a result, the imaging gains further precision and the instrument focus is improved. The stage shrinks in width only to expand in the depth and height making the stage more 3 dimensional. As a whole, the musical picture not only sounds very coherent but also becomes easier to follow.
Turning the corssfeed off splits the unified picture into two and it starts sounding less coherent and artificially wide. But those who prefer a panned out stage in the left and right directions may not like the crossfeed effect.
DRIVING POWER & HISS:
I tested the Hugo only with IEMs. All the IEMs I tested (Zeus, IE80, W900) were quite efficient and sensitive. Driving the IEMs with authority was an easy task for the Hugo 2 as the device is very powerful. In fact, the problem was quite the opposite. Hugo 2 was too powerful for the IEMs that, the volume control did not provide enough headroom to finely adjust the volume on the IEMs. The IEMs got louder than 85dB within a few steps on the volume wheel.
Sennheiser IE80 is my tool for testing hiss on devices. When testing with the Hugo 2, I did not hear any hiss on my IE80 under normal conditions. In a totally silent and isolated room, I was able to detect a very feeble hiss when no music was playing.
HUGO 2 vs LPG:
LPG is known for its resolution and its driving power. It is a device that is not to be taken lightly. But Hugo 2 is more than just a formidable opponent. Hugo2 vs LPG is truly a clash of the Single Ended Titans. Both the devices share some similarities in the general presentation, but are also quite different. Both the devices have an engaging character. But LPG has a forward sound and is more aggressive with its presentation. In comparison, Hugo 2 is a bit relaxed with its neutral placement. Both devices have excellent 3 dimensional stages and display similar levels of imaging precision, separation and layering. But Hugo 2's stage is overall more spacious and pulls ahead in the imaging aspect when the crossfeed is engaged.
LPG's signature seems to follow a slight 'U' shape compared to the, more linear signature of the Hugo2. Because the treble on the LPG is prominent, the tone of the device falls on the bright side. Where as, Hugo 2's tone is neutral with a touch of warmth. LPG's bass sounds more authoritative but that is only because it has a slightly enhanced bass. Hugo 2's bass is neutral in quantity and slam. Both devices not only display excellent definition and power in the low end but also have an accurate bass tone.
LPG's mid-range sounds stressed and compressed compared to the effortless and articulated mid-range of the Hugo 2. Hugo 2's mid-range is also slightly warmer and has better transparency. And so, Hugo 2 is able to portray a more realistic timbre than the LPG. Vocals are great on both, but again, vocals on the Hugo 2 is slightly more natural, warm and better articulated. In the treble region, LPG is overall brighter and adds a bit of bite to the sound with the sharp edges of the notes. Hugo 2's treble is not only less bright but is also free of edginess even though it is equally resolved. And so, even on the White Filter, Hugo 2 is more forgiving than the LPG.
In terms of overall sound quality, Hugo 2 is definitely better than the LPG with its more natural presentation and realistic timbre. The choice between LPG and Hugo 2 can also be dependent on other factors. LPG has a world-class built-in Parametric EQ. It also works better for IEMs because of its finer volume adjustment. Apart from these factors, music preference could also play a role. If you listen to the kind of music where timbre is not of high importance but a more energetic sound is needed, LPG may be the way to go. On the other hand, if you listen to classical music or genres involving acoustic instruments and you prioritize timbre, Hugo 2 would be the ideal choice.
UPGRADING FROM THE MOJO:
Many members have stated that the Hugo 2 is a definite improvement over the Mojo in terms of Sound Quality. But there are also other practical things to consider if you are planning on upgrading from the Mojo to the Hugo 2. For one, Hugo 2 is not as portable as the Mojo in terms of size and weight. Also, the battery life is slightly less than the Mojo. But what would be a real deal breaker is the form of the Hugo 2. While the Mojo has a form factor designed to be conveniently stacked on smartphones/DAPs with easy access to volume buttons, Hugo 2 carries more of a desktop friendly design. It wouldn't be as easy to stack devices on top of the Hugo 2 due to the location of the volume wheel on the top surface. Just something to think about.
As I mentioned earlier in the 'Driving Power' section, the device may be too powerful for IEMs. That does not mean that it wont work for IEMs. I would just advise caution and recommend paying attention to the volume level on the device whenever you plug an IEM into the device. And some of those DD IEMs which benefit from that extra power would also work great on the Hugo 2.
Hugo 2 is not too picky when it comes to headphones or music because of its neutral nature. But using a bright headphone may lead to harshness as the device is not completely forgiving, especially when listening to poorly recorded material. As for the types of music, rock, classical, symphony or any music involving acoustic instruments and vocals should truly shine via Hugo 2.
Hugo 2 represents the pinnacle of audio quality in a portable form without the need for an additional amp, as it carries plenty of power under its own hood. But what really makes the Hugo 2 stand out of its competition and its older brothers is, its ability to portray a very realistic timbre. In the past I have struggled to point to a device and say,"this is what neutral should sound like". But I shouldn't have that trouble anymore now that I know that the Hugo 2 exists. Hugo 2 is not just an example for neutrality, but one where neutrality meets naturalness. And for the same reason, it is not just a great device for audiophiles to enjoy their music, but it also qualifies as an excellent reference tool for engineers and artists to be used at the studio.
Pros - Wide soundstage.
Source input options.
Cons - Filters are optimized for DSD playback.
Crossfeed settings are not noticably different.
Color coded balls require memorization of many settings.
I had the opportunity to test the Chord Hugo 2 recently. I would like to thank Chord Electronics for this opportunity, I am not affiliated with the company and am fortunate to be included in a tour. I am not going to mention the specs as they are available at the manufacturer's website.
The Hugo 2 arrived well packaged in foam padding within an outer box with the accessories inside an inner box. Accessories included a charger with multiple international plugs, USB cable, multiple optical cables and remote.
The Hugo 2 is made with an aluminum case and has the construction screws mounted on the bottom. All adjustments and settings are made by way of balls mounted in the case, these rattle a little but are easily pressed. They also are color changing to indicate settings. A clear window in the center allows sample rates to be indicated.
I listened to a range of music most evenings for a week. My system is digital in Apple Lossless stored on my Macbook Pro. I was listening with Oppo PM3 and a Noble 3W iem.
While I listened to a lot of music during the week, I have a list of songs I have listened to many times with different headphones and DACs. They are songs I feel very familiar with. These test songs include:
The Sound of Silence; Disturbed
Hurt; Johnny Cash
Edelweiss; Pink Martini
Just a Little Loving; Shelby Lynne
Starlight; Rachael Yamagata
Crystallize; lindsey Stirling
Around the World; Daft Punk
Toccata and Fugue in A minor; Johann Sebastian Bach
The sound quality was very good. I found it to present a large soundstage, with clarity through out the range. I felt it presented a deep bass compared to my other primary DAC. My Wavelength Proton offered a more neutral sound with a higher range, but less bass definition. I felt the Hugo 2 was also more forward and warm, this gave the music a nice sound making it very easy to listen to for many hours. Music from simple instrumentals to full electronic songs were all clear, warm and easy to listen to.
Some things I did not like are the settings to the crossfeed and filter, both offer 4 different positions. The manual mentions the filter is optimized for DSD playback, as I do not have recordings in DSD, I was unable to test this setting. I do wonder why the filter is not usable with other sample rates. Also, there are multiple settings for crossfeed, I was not able to discern any noticeable difference during my time with it, I tried adjusting this during multiple songs, and never noticed a difference.
The manual is very informative and clearly shows the settings. As the settings are based on color, I did not remember all within the test week, but keeping a photo of the manual on my phone allowed me to easily refer to the colors.
I spend time listening by USB, optical, and bluetooth. I found I mostly used it with my computer using the USB and directly plugging in my headphones. I did not notice an audio difference with USB or the optical between my computer and the Hugo 2. Having bluetooth was a nice option with my phone, but I also used a USB cable between my phone and the Hugo 2, this was my preferred method. I did not use the remote, as the Hugo 2 was always within reach for me to make adjustments.
To conclude my review, I really liked the Hugo 2. The things I disliked about it are personal preference and I do not think they outweigh the benefits it offers. I like all the input options available. I like the soundstage, clear bass, and a warm presentation that allows a comfortable listening session. I easily could hear the music in an engaging way that made me want to listen with it. This, I feel, is the best part of music listening.
Pros - Sound quality is superb,
nice built quality,
relatively small size (compared to cma800i)
Cons - minor con is the filters are not that useful
First off, big thanks to Chord Electronics for providing this tour, great opportunity to try the high-end device. Because English is not my native language, I feel that I am not able to express myself very well to describe all my impressions; let me try my best.
I believe we can all agree that Hugo2 is a beautiful device
I only want to say that despite its metallic appearance, it is actually pretty light-weighted. Although not convenient without bundling together, it is not too awkward to carry it along together with Questyle QP1R in my hand, walking and listening.
My review will focus on the performance comparison between: 1) Mojo and Hugo2 for Fitear To Go 334, using Questyle QP1R optical output as the digital source
2) Hugo2 and Questyle CMA 800i, using laptop USB as the digital source, driving HD800 and Fostex TH900
Hugo2 and Questyle CMA have very similar functionalities (except that CMA will not accept optical input), the major difference is of course the form factor.
I tried different types of music:
1). Also Sprach Zarathustra, the first piece from “Cinema Classics” SACD dsf file;
2) the second piece, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” in “Antiphone Blues” SACD dff file;
3) Carman Fantasy by Perman, CD rip FLAC;
4). Chinese Pipa music from 2015 The Perfect Sound (Hongkong) Demo SACD ISO file, last track.
It is easy to tell the difference between Mojo and Hugo2 with just a little listening (Fitear to go 334), although the sound signature is similar. Hugo2 obviously has more power. There is significant improvement in the sound stage and the resolution (fine details). The bass end is especially enhanced with Hugo2, giving a much larger and fuller sound stage. I have also tried Fiio X5ii Coax output as a digital source and there is obvious improvement with Hugo2. In the past, when I tried Fostex TH900 and HD800 on Mojo, the mid and high were kind of too sharp. Hugo2 drives the 2 large headphones pretty well with portable DAP as digital source.
The performance over large headphones, however, is compared more carefully with CMA 800i through the integrated USB DAC. With probably less than 1/5 of the 800i’s size, Hugo 2 drives the large headphones surprisingly similar to CMA 800i. Of the different music pieces I tested, I cannot easily tell there were too much difference between the two, even at the low bass end in “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and the orchestra opening of “Carman Fantasy”. However, when playing “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” in the Album “Antiphone Blues”, I can feel CMA 800i presented with fuller sound stage (from better bass, I think), Hugo2 is a little thinner overall. On the other end, CMA 800i is somewhat too soft in dynamics, losing some sharpness in the mid and high end. Also, probably because of the enhanced bass, the resolution and fine details are a bit better from Hugo 2.
Overall, Hugo2 is a powerful DAC/AMP capable of driving large headphones like HD800 comparable to the similarly priced CMA 800i with the advantage of portability. It would be really nice to have one put in my office!