Chord Hugo 2 - Reviews
Pros: Incredible transparency and detail, very revealing DAC. Will make the entire frequency spectrum so much more transparent on a revealing enough system.
- Breathtaking attack, speed, crispness, and decay.
- Wonderfully clean, airy treble.
- Extraordinary three dimensional sound stage and precise imaging.
- Bass monster without artificial boosting required. With a no compromise system, makes the Stax SR-009 slam home.
- Class A output stage, very good single ended headphone amp even for less efficient planar magnetic headphones like Fostex T50RP and its variations.
- Portable form factor with long battery life.
- Good amount of input selections and three analog outputs.
- Excellent aluminum build quality and aesthetics. Chord makes some of the most gorgeous audio products.
Cons: It's expensive (some will take issue with the price relative to the amount of hardware inside), but I prefer it to some even higher priced DACs.
Not only is the Chord Hugo 2 simply the best portable DAC/amp on the market right now and simply one of the best DACs I've heard to date (tested only with headphone systems), surpassing much bigger, heavier, balanced DACs to my ears.

Reviewing a DAC might seem tricky at first, but I don't believe it will be for the Hugo 2 since I have something to compare it to directly. The improvements it adds to most systems I've used is night and day. I will write about the Hugo 2's sound in the following systems:
  • Standalone portable DAC/amp powering the ZMF Ori and Blackwood headphones.
  • DAC for the following headphone system: Mjolnir Audio Pure BiPolar amp, Audeze LCD-4 headphones (200 ohms version), Kimber Kable Hero interconnects
  • DAC for the following headphone system: Mjolnir Audio KGSSHV Carbon amp, Stax SR-009 headphones, Kimber Kable Hero interconnects
Other DACs of note I have owned are the Bel Canto DAC 3 (used only in balanced mode), Chord Mojo, and Denafrips Venus (used only in balanced mode). An interesting sample set as the Bel Canto DAC 3 represents a high end, more traditional delta sigma DAC, and the Denafrips Venus represents one of the better R2R DACs one can buy and offers both NOS and OS modes.


I will not delve too much into how to use the device; it is button controlled but also has a remote control that I have never used. It has a 3.5mm coaxial input (44.1kHz – 384kHz – 16bit – 32bit), micro USB input (44.1kHz – 768kHz – 16bit – 32bit), optical TOSLINK input (44.1kHz – 192kHz – 16bit – 24bit), and bluetooth (44.1kHz – 48kHz – 16bit). It also supports dual BNC input via adapters using its 3.5mm coaxial input (44.1kHz – 768kHz – 16bit – 32bit). It also supports DSD64 (Single) to DSD512 (Octa-DSD). I have tested only optical TOSLINK (fed by a Breeze DU-U8 level 3) and USB directly from a Samsung Galaxy S9+, and I hear no difference.

The Chord Hugo 2 is battery powered (2x Rechargeable custom Enix Energies 3.7v 9.6Wh Li-ion (lithium-ion (2600mAh) batteries) which is charged using its other micro USB input. You can keep it plugged in without worry of overcharging, the Hugo 2 is a very intelligent device. It will even automatically set itself into a desktop mode if left plugged in for 24 hours, during which the battery neither charges nor discharges and auto shutoff is disabled.

It can be set to line level output which is fixed at 3v RMS, which is ideal if using it only as a DAC. The Hugo 2 features two headphone jacks (1/4" and 1/8") and dual RCA outputs, and the output stage is pure class A.

General Tonality

The Hugo 2 is a neutral sounding device that is extremely transparent and resolving, and capable of great dynamics. Not laid back at all like NOS R2R DACs or the Chord Mojo, it does not refrain from making all details extremely obvious. And it is a bass monster; if you are upgrading to the Hugo 2, expect a new body of bass dimension and much more bass slam to be added.

Of all the DACs I have owned (refer to the significant ones listed above), the Hugo 2 is the bassiest of them all, and it is not artificial bass boost, it is simply not recessing these frequencies. It sounds closest in tonality to the Bel Canto DAC 3, while the Chord Mojo and Denafrips Venus are both notably laid back with 1-2 KHz less treble extension (the DAC 3 also has 1-2 KHz less treble extension but isn't laid back sounding).

Those trying to create a laid back sound system (which is very common among high end audio enthusiasts) will have to plan around the Hugo 2 not being laid back whatsoever. I don't call it bright, it's just not laid back.

So it is neutral, extremely transparent and resolving, and has awesome bass. What else? It also has zero noise floor, breathtakingly clean treble performance when the rest of the system can keep up (this is very important), and incredibly full bodied, weighty, impactful sound for all instruments unlike every other DAC I have owned.

Strings, piano, wind instruments, horns, everything sounds and feels as if there is no barrier between me and them, as if they are right there in front of me and I can reach out and touch them - this is of course with the Stax SR-009, KGSSHV Carbon, and Kimber Kable Hero interconnects. The attack is so quick and crisp and clean, the decay is much faster, adding to the transparency, snappiness, speed, and PRaT. My other DACs sound sluggish and blurred in comparison.


Other noteworthy attributes of the Hugo 2's sound are incredible 3D sound stage and imaging, far outdoing every other DAC I've owned here too. This may all sound like exaggeration, that a DAC can make such huge differences, but I will clarify: the differences are much less pronounced on non-electrostatic headphone systems. But when used with my Stax SR-009 + KGSSHV Carbon system with quality analog interconnects, every aspect of the sound is infinitely better than any other DAC I have owned!

But notice my emphasis on the rest of the system being up to par. If using generic interconnects or Audioquest Evergreen interconnects in the Stax SR-009 + KGSSHV Carbon system, there is notable treble harshness and sibilance. The same would occur if I had a much lower end amplifier I assume. But, insert the Kimber Kable Hero interconnects, and the difference is night and day, pure magic. No more harshness, no more sibilance, so much more airiness and so much better bass slam and body, instrumental impact and weight, sound stage and imaging, attack, decay, transparency, treble extension.

So if you're hearing rough treble, it's not the Hugo 2's fault, it is something else in your system.

The filters do make obvious changes to the sound, sacrificing treble for all the people overly sensitive to it. Crossfeed presents an interesting sound stage that is more centered and in front of you, but with any of these filters I hear some degradation in transparency and refinement, so I use none.

As a Standalone Portable Device

When using the Hugo 2 as a standalone device, it is supremely impressive. Of the three test systems listed above, this is the 2nd most impressive (and I expected it to be most impressive here, but I was wrong). True Hi-Fi sound in your pocket, or bag more realistically. Only in the modern era do we get to carry around a top notch DAC and high end single ended class A headphone amp bundled in one device. For this reason, I have referred to the Hugo 2 as a necessity for any traveling music lover.


The Chord Hugo 2 alone allows the ZMF Ori and ZMF Blackwood, which are inefficient planar magnetic headphones, to truly shine. Compared to the Chord Mojo as a standalone device, I hear the following differences:
  • Less laid back sound signature, upper mids to treble transition is more forward.
  • Significantly cleaner upper mids to treble transition and treble response, better treble extension and a bit more "air".
  • Greatly increased bass slam, bass is now much more full bodied and less recessed (biggest difference to me).
  • Improved transparency.
  • Slightly improved sound stage and imaging but nothing significant here to my ears with this system.
I felt the Hugo 2 was definitely worth the price difference vs the Mojo. Truly high end sound on the go, it's still hard to believe today how good portable sound can be nowadays.

The Hugo 2 also made my Schiit Lyr 3 at the time redundant, so I sold it. Adding the Lyr 3 to the chain with these headphones just slightly worsened the transparency of the upper frequencies if anything, not a big difference though.

But adding a good enough amp will of course come in handy. The Mjolnir Audio Pure BiPolar brought the ZMF Ori and Blackwood to a different level, as my reviews of those headphones describe.

Update: The Hugo 2 can also drive the ZMF Eikon with ease. The Hugo 2 + the Eikon is my new favorite portable system.

As a Standalone Desktop DAC
Before I sold my Stax system to move to speakers, this was the only way I use the Hugo 2 now. I don't even listen to music on the go anymore, because I've been so spoiled by the Chord Hugo 2 + Mjolnir Audio KGSSHV Carbon + Stax SR-009 + good interconnects that I no longer want to listen to anything below this.

But first, let me share my experience using the Hugo 2 with a high end non-electrostatic system, the Mjolnir Audio Pure BiPolar + Audeze LCD-4 using Kimber Kable Hero RCA interconnects with Neutrik RCA to XLR adapters. With this system, I compared it again to the Chord Mojo, and my impressions were... exactly the same as my impressions in the previous section, only less pronounced (and MUCH less pronounced than the differences with the Stax system).


The sound was slightly less laid back again, with improved and more forward upper mids to treble, with more "airy" sound. The bass improvements were still there, but less pronounced - it was a night and day difference before, but now not quite that. The difference in transparency was there but not as huge, sound stage and imaging improvements seemed about the same though.

I don't think the Hugo 2 is worth the price difference when using something akin to the Mjolnir Audio Pure BiPolar amp and Audeze LCD-4 or ZMF Ori/Blackwood headphones, but keep in mind these headphones are deliberately designed to not be the most revealing sound. A Focal Utopia with this same amp would certainly benefit more from the Hugo 2.

With an Extremely Revealing System
I suppose I got excited and already spilled the beans here, so I'll try to just fill out some remaining details. Enter the Stax SR-009, Mjolnir Audio KGSSHV Carbon, and Kimber Kable Hero interconnects (same as above). Some have noticed that I can't shut up about this combination here on Head-Fi. There's a reason for that, never before have I been blown away by an audio system or any audio upgrade that much. Not even when going from a Cooler Master "5.1" gaming headset to the AKG K7xx / Beyerdynamic DT 880, not even when comparing a Sennheiser HD 598 Cs to a Sennheiser HD 800/HD 800 S.

This Stax system is what made me really want to write this review. It makes the difference in analog interconnects and especially DACs infinitely more obvious than any non-electrostatic system.


The Chord Mojo is great for the price, but absolutely ruins this system. With the Mojo, the treble sounds like it's locked away in a cardboard box, all that air up top is trapped. Transparency is way down, many details are far less obvious, bass is gone, sound stage is now flat and two dimensional and seems to extend nowhere. Imaging is blurred and generic, the opposite of precise. And the Mojo is probably the best DAC below $1,000 (pretty sure I'd think so at least).

In this system, the Denafrips Venus sounds like a much better, cleaner version of the Chord Mojo. The Venus is in the same price range as the Hugo 2 and is a beast of engineering: isolated dual mono PSU with two huge power transformers, four 0.005% precision matched resistor ladders per channel allowing for 26-bit PCM and fully balanced 4.4v RMS output, excellent digital processing. Impressive engineering for the price.

But compared to the Hugo 2, it is too laid back, and I believe this speaks for most R2R DACs in the same price range (definitely NOS ones at least), since it is not deliberately designed to sound this way, and it reminds me of how the Holo Audio Spring DAC level 3 sounds but even worse. A lot of people will like this about it, laid back "slow" sound is really popular these days, but I prefer what sounds more realistic to me.

This laid back sound from the Venus not only really lowers treble response (but without ruining it like admittedly even the Mojo does, since this is comparing a $500 DAC to DACs valued at over 5x after all) and extension by 1-2 KHz, it really blurs/soften the attack, slows decay, and oddly/unfortunately lowers bass presence and impact, creating a slower softer sound with less PRaT so to speak.

Plenty of people like this (see all the HE1000 fans), but this reduces transparency. The SR-009 stands out for its speed, attack, crispness and clarity, and is a bass monster with the Hugo 2 and good interconnects. With the Venus, the SR-009's bass is now soft and muddy. With the Hugo 2, it's a rock concert when called for.

Ultimately this system allows the Chord Hugo 2 to shine, demonstrating that it is incredibly transparent with superior treble extension and quality, and compared to every other DAC I've owned, is so significantly superior in bass slam and body, sound stage, imaging, bringing out detail.

If you have not seen my extremely positive review of the Stax SR-009, check it out here, and realize that a Chord Hugo 2 or another similarly excellent DAC that isn't highly laid back is required for that review to be so positive. And so are interconnects at least as good as the Kimber Kable Hero, because even with the Hugo 2, so much of that magic is lost with cheap interconnects!

On a no-compromise system, the Hugo 2 injects layers of transparency into the entire frequency range like nothing I have ever heard before. The way it is able to not only clean up any treble harshness, make the attack much crisper and cleaner, and speed up and improve decay, but it is truly extraordinary how much cleaner and more transparent bass, mids, and treble all become. It opens up a window into the music that was previously sealed shut. Its improvements are hugely evident in all genres, and probably the most impressive to me in metal. Without the Hugo 2, instruments sound so much smaller and softer and less clear.
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alota
alota
thank you. really interesting. i didn´t know this. i thought that Dr. Gilmore amplifiers accepted only balanced input. so i presume that the output voltage of hugo 2(and qutest) it´s enough for the amplifier.
Rhamnetin
Rhamnetin
@alota Definitely, 3v RMS is a fine and more typical value. With the KGSSHV Carbon and SR-009, my volume is always between 9 and 10 o'clock so tons of room to spare. The 4.4v RMS Denafrips Venus had me lowering the volume even more but it didn't matter in the end.
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GreenBow
GreenBow
Since you found more bass with the Hugo 2, I wondered if you ever tried the Jitterbug with Mojo. Without it RFI causes the Mojo to sound bright. Many adopted the Jitterbug, and from that Rob Watts implemented filtering on the Hugo 2 USB input. Meaning the Hugo 2 didn't need a Jitterbug.
Pros: Small transportable. Stellar sound out of any source. Colored light scheme is logical, once you understand. Superb imaging and sound signature.
Cons: The "see-through" of the two halves. Not much else. Somewhat costly for a portable, but once heard....well...
Chord Hugo 2-5.0



Initial impressions:

Upon finding out I was on the tour, I was pretty psyched. I was in somewhat of a lull, review-wise; so the addition of such a lauded component was a definite boost to my repertoire. I anxiously awaited, but was quickly distracted finishing other worthy equipment, in the review department. And as such, life took hold and distracted me mightily from almost any reviews. Thankfully, I am back, albeit in a different form, and with different goals (mostly), thus this may be somewhat a departure from my previous reviews, but the rough-“edge” will still be there…me hopes…



The Chord Hugo 2 retails for $2,379, and with the reputation of the first gen Hugo, and worldwide acclaim of the Mojo, high hopes were anticipated. Maybe not in the Apple iPhone X-genre, but the enthusiasm from the portable/desktop community was just as fervent. A fact I found upon my many readings while waiting for the critter to arrive in Middle America, USA.


Having never heard either the original or the Mojo, I was cautiously optimistic. I am a huge fan of UK stereo equipment, owning the wonderful Arcam AVR350 (called The Answer in some reviews…), which plays through our ProAc Tablette 8’s Signature Series, Paradigm sub (Canadian, I know…) and my Linn Sondek Axis TT. Not TOTL, but enough to make me appreciate the finer aspects of each company. To me my next upgrade, would be McIntosh, plain and simple. So, if you have not figured it out, I do appreciate a warmer signature. My portable gear echoes this, through my Shanling M1/M3s/M5, and iFi iDSD Micro BL/iTubes2/iDAC2. The Hugo 2 would be an excellent chance to add to my listening field, while hopefully garnering experience as to what a TOTL DAC/AMP should sound like. The closest I have come is the ampsandsounds Kenzie, which I would purchase in a heartbeat, had I the space to properly set up such a system. My BL is a quite acceptable substitute in the mean time.


Going back a bit (I hate to say old school, but I did of course throw in Stevie Ray Vaughan), I mainly listened to older Coldplay songs during my time, including the incredible YouTube vid of Technicolor ii. What a visual masterpiece, and throwback all at the same time. The Puppetry is first class and exemplary. Timing, scenery, and visuals themselves are enough to put a smile on Oscar the Grouches face, even with the filming faux pas.





Over and over I listened and watched that wonderful song. Just fabulous, and quite a parallel to the point at which I am in my life right now. PM me, and I might fill you in…a bit…


Follow that with Sky Full of Stars, and I do harken back (again) to my son’s College Freshman year playing soccer. Ahhh…memories. And they are National Champions to boot. Uplifting, challenging music for most anything worth it’s weight, both were exemplary through the H2, and I began to feel like I was becoming indoctrinated into a small fervent, passionate club of aficionados, and I was glad. Glad indeed to be chosen for this, and hope of worthiness, that my review would befit the H2’s sound. It was a good start.


This is what I thought, as I went for my run, a thunderstorm approaching. I delved deep into the lesser knownst of what I do not know of the H2, and all that I had read up to this point. Trying to decipher what I had read, trying to understand what I did not, as the bolts flashed around me. Quickening my pace (a bit), to match the rain, I began to understand the impassioned following of the Chord club. I understood that to purchase and own a Chord product was a major step for some, a “cliquish” thing for others, but most not without thought and questions similar to mine. Will this be all I need? Will this work with what I have? How will it sound with my XYZ2-c headphones? The questions rolled at me almost as fast as rain and lightning. Luckily, I was on the return and did not get too wet. I would not have cared. As I entered the abode known as ours, my wife smiled lovingly at me knowing full well that I had accomplished more than “just a run.” Glad, indeed.





Testing equipment:


MacBook Pro (mainly)

iFi Micro iDSD Black Label

iFi iTubes2/iDAC2 added into my gear, but not tested directly against the H2

Unique Melody Martian

Grado GH-2

Audioquest Nightowl


Shanling M1 (Bluetooth)

iPhone 6+ (Bluetooth)


While I did try portable DAP’s, I decided my main focus should be where I would most likely use the critter in Q, a desktop situation. While I did read a fair bit about Transportability of the H2, and I would most definitely use the H2 in that manner, this would mainly be a desktop situation for my purposes. And a worthy one it would be…


Befuddlement turned to paucity of appreciation at the orientation light-wise on the buttons. Once you realize (Thanks @-RELIC-!) that the color combination works like a light spectrum from “cold” to “hot,” a logical sequence is followed. The Scientist in me should have thought about that, but....





Specs of the Unit are from Chord's Website:

Technical specifications:

Chipset: Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA

Tap-length: 49,152

Pulse array: 10-element pulse array design

Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB

Output stage: Class A

Output impedance: 0.025Ω

THD: <0.0001% 1kHz 3v RMS 300Ω

THD and noise at 3v RMS: 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ wighted (reference 5.3v)

Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted: No measurable noise floor modulation

Signal to noise ratio: 126dB ‘A’ Weighted

Channel separation: 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω

Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW 300Ω

740mW 32Ω

1050mW 8Ω

Weight: 450g

Dimensions: 130mm (L) x 100mm (W) x 21mm (H)

Boxed Dimensions: 220mm (L) x 122mm (W) x 85mm (H)



Music used:


Coldplay- Technicolor ii

Coldplay- Sky Full of Stars

Coldplay- White Shadows

Coldplay- Paradise

Coldplay- Lover’s in Japan

SRV- Mary Had A Little Lamb

SRV- Look at Little Sister

Daft Punk- Give Life Back to Music

Daft Punk- Giorgio from Moroder

Daft Punk- Beyond

Daft Punk- Motherboard



Build qualities/opening:



I was a might bit surprised at how small (but a bit hefty) the H2 was, upon opening the box. A tad heavier than my iFi BL, but not overly heavy in my book. Lighter than a decent Smartphone extra battery charging pack, certainly. As RELIC pointed out, both tour units had slightly mismatched aluminum halves. As such, the “light show” shown through the gap. Not bad mind you, but at this price I would hope the QC would tighten up for production. One aspect I did like was that looking through the RCA connections on the back. You had the distinct pleasure of staring Wall e in the face…to me anyway. And we really like that movie, too.








Also mentioned were the loose fitting buttons on the top end for the main controls. Again, I do not mind that much, but would hope for a bit better fit. That said (and others have, too), the volume wheel rotates tightly and with good authority. Other connections were tight, and solid from the dual RCA connections to the 3.5 and 6.5mm headphone jacks. Even to me, the USB connection on the front was on par with other devices I have tried. Overall, I would rate build/fit-n-finish a “B,” and would hope future iterations attained that “A” level. And we all know the sound is what we are after…that sound. And I can concur with the other reviews right off the bat; the sound is definitely at the head of the class. In fact, this could be considered that star student who went away for the summer, and came back even stronger academically, having spent the summer doing snow-melt research in the Antarctic, or something worthy of their time. Reading parts of reviews, which shared the comparisons between both versions, I can concur only that the H2 is nie-on phenomenal. And if this is a step up from the H1, then that is a certain accomplishment.







Switching between my Grado GH-2’s and the Unique Melody Martian was simply put, a treat. Then throw in the Audioquest Nightowl’s, and I was one satisfied listener. Easily switching between headphones, and listening formats, the H2 did all of that with nary a qualm. Change headphones? No problem. Change from RCA to Coax to Bluetooth? No problem. The majority of my time was spent with the Martian, due to family considerations, but when I was able to open the Grado or Nightowl up, let’s just say, that my wife would not approve of my volume choice! All the while no signs of distress, or overburdening of the H2. No sibilance, no going over the threshold, the H2 just worked. I like devices that just work. No fuss, no messing with hook ups, do your job, behind the scenes, and let me enjoy. The H2 did this with not a hint of argument. Over and over and over I listened and watched Coldplay’s Technicolor ii, gaping at that puppet mastery. Marveling at the doltishness of the adults. The sheer wonder in the eyes of the kids. I found myself enjoying the song through the bespeckled eyes of the young girl in the video. The one who KNEW what a treat this was, and that it was as real as she needed it to be. The adults did not…It was real. It was music, and it was pure. It was marvelous…






A good bit has been written about how the H2 presents a detailed listening environment. And I would concur. The level of detail is such, that one can easily pick out exactly where the instruments and vocals are on stage, or in the studio versions. Presentation from the Engineers product is exactly as it should be…where said Engineer intended it to be. Every breath, every note, every pluck of the guitar, or slap of the drumstick is clear and concise. Detailed, and full of an almost explosive sound. Not the best interpretation, but if you pay attention to the small details in Technicolor ii, then you get it. There are small details (intentionally placed), which one might not actually see, due to the visual appeal of the overall video. But with the H2 going, you cannot miss them. That cymbal falling (and subsequently picked up by the roadie), the conversation details going on behind the show (before the song actually gets completely going, during the India-detailed opening), or hearing the chains move of the “scenery.” All parts are full and detailed more than almost anything I can remember. This is good stuff, indeed.



During Talk, by Coldplay, hearing Chris Martin enunciate syllables perfectly is a fantastic treat to the already wonderful videos. I cannot stress this enough, the level of detail along with the embodied soundstage is extremely impressive. I can honestly state that I have not heard this combination of detail and soundstage before. I could just state that this is the most detailed I have heard the music in which I listen, and end my review right there….right…bloody…there.



But what is the fun in that? One must justify ones position, otherwise ye be knownst as a crackpot. And I hope to dispel that “rumor.” I am becoming enamored with this little critter known as the H2, and am beginning to understand how versatile this is, period.







Running the filters at the various settings, I could not really tell a difference, as some have mentioned. I would state that I thought I could between filter out and setting three, but I cannot logically verify that, so I am calling it a wash; especially with my high-end hearing loss.



Unsure I was hearing the big difference others had heard, I fell back to a standby album Daft Punk’s excellent (and varied) Random Access Memories. A solid bass would be an insulting-way to describe the album’s foundation. Bass, which IS the underlying foundation allows the Moog synthesizer, drums and assorted support instruments (electronic and “real”) to indeed come out and play. Inside the H2’s electronic gismos, I swear I can see the capacitors jamming like a fine German Discotheque. One where all are admitted, you simply sit back grab your drink and enjoy. Tight bass, like no other DAC/AMP I have used defines this foundation to me. While still running that slightly-too-small-for-me sound stage, this can be forgiven because the sound is so pure and clean. BLACK background without ANY hiss is not something to be shy about when mentioning the H2.







That almost blackness of trepidation, or anticipation, or heart pumping like a horror show at what might be lurking around the corner is how I would describe the H2/Daft Punk union. Scary from the outside, but once in, you marvel sit back grab your single-malt scotch, and simply say cooooooll. That smile of now knowing what it is like to be on the inside of one of the best DAC/AMP’s out there, pretty much regardless of price. And let me tell you, that Scotch was darn fine inside that aural psychedelically lit disco. Just incredible, it is.







Finale:



Running through more music fit for the H2, the above-mentioned script holds. SRV’s masterpiece, Mary Has A Little Lamb from Austin City Limits is timeless and nie on worthy of inclusion into that “Disco.” As is the effortless Look at Little Sister, replete with the seamless guitar change. Another Scotch verifies the coooool nature of where you stand in the crowd. The hierarchy of DAC/AMP-ness. It is as if I have been invited into an extremely exclusive club for as long as I want. As long as I can stand the inclusion. All of my other gear gets ignored. Not to exclude them, like they are not worthy of accompanying me, but because I must devote full attention to the H2. After all, I was invited into the H2 abode, without reservation, and without recourse. My other gear understands, knowing I will appreciate them all the more after my night at the Disco ends with a hangover. Not from the Scotch, but the intoxicating vibes of the music provided in that Disco. Daft Punk, SRV, Coldplay and twentyonepilots reverb through my cranial matter for days after. My only recourse is to play my music again, through my gear. A reminder of what we have, what we could have and where this industry has gone. Skyward, while staying underground in discos such as the H2, or Mojo. Not secrets, mind you, but tickets needed. Tickets with which you must be invited. None are exempt mind you, but some will not take that ticket, be they afraid of the cost (most spend more on vacations than this…), or the trepidation (unfounded what with Chord’s history of the Hugo & Mojo, transportable-wise), or the lack of understanding as to what this little Disco can do (more than I could state here, but others more worthy than I have penned such words and experience), or simply for the lack of “need” (ummm…drawing a blank here, what exactly do we NEED in order to enjoy our music; but this would rank at the top of that “need” list). And it would be a shame not to for they miss a night, which would go down in their memory neurons as worthy of imprints upon that gray matter. I had a night in St. Louis like that many moons ago, and I still recall it as if it was yesterday…much like the H2, once it leaves…



As I finish my time with the H2, I play Coldplay (anything and everything…) through my iPhone 6+ and the H2, ending in my Martians. I marvel at how good the music actually sounds. I am awash with mixed feelings…how can something so small sound so darn good? And actually make the Smartphone sound very decent? Awash with the price, too…you certainly pay a premium price for this sound. $2400 US is not small change by any means. Personally, I put together a very worthy iFi system for less than ½ the price, and with as many configurations, too. But for those who marveled at the H1, and the Mojo, they will probably gladly pony up the money, knowing (well before I…) the reputation Chord had for such fine products (home and portable). To those users, they will not think twice. Unfortunately I did, and ended up with the system I more than happily use, without regret or recourse. I would, though take an H2 in a minute, should the finances be available. It is quite good, and well worth a look for those that like the quality sound it presents, and want an all-in-one package.



I want to thank RELIC & Barra for inclusion in this fine tour. I bring up the rear, which isn’t at all bad. I have had the pleasure of reading the thread, and the reviews the most as a result. Plus, my time has extended a bit (oopps!) as an upshot, too. I heartily thank Chord for the use of their excellent Hugo 2, and wholeheartedly recommend the H2. It does cost a pretty penny, but as stated above and here, if we cannot enjoy our music, we have lost part of our soul. The H2 is that top class Discotheque where you go in knowing you must be in a pretty exclusive place, but the patrons do not act that way. They welcome you, fill your single-malt and tell you to sit back and enjoy, like no night you have before. It was worth the dressing up, too.



Pros: World class DAC, in a transportable/portable footprint
Significant step up from a Mojo, and a worthy younger brother to the DAVE
Cost effective way to get the experience of driving high efficiency speakers directly from your Chord DAC
Future proof, with connectivity to integrate with the mScaler in the Blu2 and Davina for 1M taps
Cons: Case design impractical and annoying
Will make you want to buy a Chord DAVE
Disclaimer: The black Hugo2 unit described below was provided by Chord as part of a demo tour, in exchange for posting an honest review when I was done with the unit. The loaner unit has been returned to the tour organizers (thank you @Barra). No other consideration was given nor received.

UPDATE: I did not have my Blu2 in time for this review (I originally wanted to do a comprehensive review of the Chord Mojo to Hugo2 to DAVE to BluHugo2 to BluDAVE), but have since received it, and posted a second part to this review covering all things Blu. You can find it here: https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/chord-blu-mk-ii-digital-cd-transport.22848/reviews#review-19675

Background

After many years of life getting in the way of enjoying high fidelity music, a couple years ago I went through a process of upgrading my two channel system (documented here: http://thingssoimpossible.blogspot.com/2016/10/speaker-quest.html), then diving deep into headphones to be able to take that experience with me (documented here: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/adv...-head-first-into-the-head-fi-deep-end.824351/ )

After spending countless hours with delta sigma DACs of various levels (mostly with my Oppo HA-1) and R2R DACs (mainly Schiit DACs, all the way up to the Yggy), I saw a posting pointing to $400 Mojo’s on the German Amazon site (score!). In my initial research, it had come down to the Oppo HA-1 vs Mojo/Hugo, but I went with Oppo because the Chord DACs were so butt ugly (and didn’t have a remote, but the ugly part makes the story better). $400 was too good to pass up, so I jumped into the Chord world.

On first listen Mojo was awesome, but also disorientating for some reason. It took a couple weeks, but my brain adjusted to the Mojo to the point where it was very difficult to go back to my Oppo or my buddy's R2R DACs. I considered that my Red Pill moment, where I started to hear things in recorded music that I hadn’t heard before. Based on that promise, I ordered a Chord DAVE and preordered a Chord Blu2. Although my left brain was certain those would be good decisions, my right brain was nervous as hell until the DAVE arrived, and my left brain was proven right.

I’m now a convert to the Chord sound, and the intoxicating effect of what I call the Chord Magic: music feels real and physical, and the emotionality of the performance becomes tangible. How does the new Chord Hugo2 compare to its two siblings, and how best to capture and amplify that magic?


Philosophy

Unlike other audio components, I find it extremely difficult to audition DACs, and nearly impossible to do direct A/B comparisons across DAC signatures. For me, the DAC is a critical component in creating the synergy between source material to DAC to analog reproduction to your brain and how it bends and adapts to what it is hearing. It can take me weeks to really become part of the new system and understand what it evokes. If I focus on any particular detail with a particular DAC, unless the DAC is defective that detail will almost always be there in other DACs if you focus hard enough.

What matters for me is how the notes come together to something larger, a resonance that is greater than the sum of its parts. Once I hear that something special, I can look for words to describe it (transparency, clarity, etc), but I find it very difficult to listen for those things a priori. DACs are at that crucial pivot point between a recorded representation of the sounds, emotion, and artistry at a moment in time, and recreating those sounds, emotions, and artistry in a different time and place. In a very real sense, it becomes a proxy for the artist, and the new source of all those sounds, emotions, and artistry. When evaluating DACs, I need to let go of the left brain, and immerse myself in the sounds, emotion, and artistry as I would at a live performance.

As an imperfect analogy of that experience for me, mixing coal + chalk + water + iron filings in ever more precise proportions using ever more esoterically sourced materials won’t result in a child that you will cherish and adore and make the center of your life. Arguing about the purity of the water or where the coal was sourced from and the magnetic properties of the iron changes nothing. The real debate is how they come together, and how it comes alive and becomes meaningful for you.

The Mojo then DAVE have completely changed my experience of music. For the first time I've gone from “listening to music” to “participating in a performance”. Even with DAVE, different recordings evoke different levels of what I characterize as intoxication or euphoria from the performance. Classic recordings from the late 50s and early 60s in particular are remarkable with DAVE. They give a glimpse of transcending even “participating in a performance” to directly “experiencing an emotional truth” (what I think of as the art of the performance).

For me, this echos my experience of being delighted to happily listen to an amateur performance in a coffee shop or a subway that I wouldn’t in a million years listen to as recorded music (style or quality or content of music/performance); being in the presence of a real person expressing themselves through music is a magical thing. How close can you get to reproducing that emotional and artistic experience, and not just those noises?

Chord DACs are the best I’ve ever heard at crossing over from music to performance to even occasionally offering glimpses of emotional truths. I very much appreciate the opportunity to audition the Hugo2, and see where it sits on the spectrum between the Mojo and the DAVE. I was hoping to have my Chord Blu2 delivered in time for this review (to compare BluHugo2 vs BluDAVE), but that was not to be. When my Blu2 arrives, I will update this review with that comparison, with the sincere hope that it will take us even farther on that journey toward experiencing emotional truths.

As always, the chronicle of the journey is long. For those that want to jump to the end, I have a tl;dr section, and a story to sum it all up.


Hardware

Source setup:
  • Macbook Pro and Mac Mini, running latest OS X, content on local SSD, running Roon 1.3
  • Bit perfect either direct USB, or via direct ethernet to a Sonore Sonicoriber SE running Roon Bridge to USB, to the DAC

DAC setup

  • Chord Mojo ($600)
  • Chord Hugo2 (black tour loaner unit) ($2400)
  • Chord Hugo2 (silver) ($2400)
  • Chord DAVE ($13000)
  • MIA: Chord Blu2 ($13000) (hopefully coming soon)

Headphone setup

  • Sennheiser HD800 (with SR mod) ($800 used)

Traditional Two Channel Setup
  • RCA from DAC to Benchmark AHB2 amp ($3000) to B&W 802D3’s ($22000/pair)

Direct Two Channel Setup
  • RCA direct to Omega Super Alnico Monitors ($2000/pair)
  • For Chord DAVE, XLR direct (in parallel) to JL Audio F112v2 subwoofer ($3700), tuned to room and low end fall off of Omegas (~45Hz)
  • For Chord Hugo2, no connection to subwoofer

DAC settings
  • For headphones, crossfeed set to 2 for DAVE and Hugo2 (no crossfeed setting on Mojo), unless recording is binaural (0 crossfeed)
  • Neutral filter for Hugo2
  • PCM+ mode, HF filter on for DAVE
  • All DACs volume matched using a SPL meter
  • For A/B/C DAC comparisons, I put all the DACs in the same Roon zone for synchronized playback and switched headphone from DAC to DAC

Tag alongs for fun
  • Schiit Lyr 2 tube amp ($450) and Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC ($600)
  • Martin-Logan Motion LX16 speakers ($500/pair)
  • Audio Zenith PMx2’s headphones (heavily modified Oppo PM-2’s) ($1800)
  • Noble Katana CIEMs ($1600)
  • MrSpeakers Aeon Flows headphones (closed) ($800)
  • Grado HP1000 (HP2) legendary old skool headphones ($priceless)


Content

My Go-To Chord DAC Demo tracks and what I look for in each:

Pink Noise (mono), from “The Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc” bu David Chesky (Chesky, 24/192 FLAC)
Yeah, its pink noise, but it tells you a lot about a set of headphones as you get oriented to system. For 2 channel, great way to see if your speakers are aligned and you’re in the right spot. Great baseline reference to make sure things aren’t wonky and you’re in a good place (and it is sort of fun to think about all this technology being using to play a 24/192kHz noise file :wink:

Murakkaz Ah Ya Muddasin, from “The Splendour of Al Andalus” by Calamus (MA Recordings, DSD64)
Remarkable recording in what sounds to be a majestic and spiritual centuries old cathedral in Spain. With the right equipment, you are transported to a place you’ve never been to but always want to get back to. When the full group joins in, it is profoundly challenging to reproduce the mids and highs without sounding shrill and congested. When the reproduction is effortless, it is magical (to say the least…my jaw drops every time when it’s “right”) If the sound chain is able to maintain that glorious soundstage, it is off the charts. Todd Garfinkle is a magician behind the microphone.

Noche Maravillosa, from “Salterio” by Begonia Olavide (MA Recordings, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Another gem of a recording and performance from Todd. The precision and clarity of the instruments (particularly the percussive ones) is intoxicating and tangible.

Voglia Di Vita Uscir, fremo “Buenos Airers Madrigal” by La Chimera (MA Recordings, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Todd also is a master at capturing performances in a more orchestral setting. These performances by La Chimera are a joy.

Mahler: Symphony #2 'Resurrection’, 1st movement conducted by Iván Fischer (Channel Classics, DSD64)
Mahler: Symphony #2 'Resurrection’, 5th movement conducted by Iván Fischer (Channel Classics, DSD64)

Near perfect performance with a perfect recording. The dynamics and power of this performance are vivid and real: the orchestra virtually screams with one voice during the climaxes. This recording beautifully captures the essence of horns and low strings, which are very difficult to reproduce. The closest I’ve heard to the experience of the dynamics of a live orchestral performance.

Rimsky-Korsakoff: Scheherazade, 1st movement conducted by Fritz Reiner (Analogue Productions Remaster, DSD64)
The most perfect recording of the most perfect performance I’ve ever heard. Listening to this recording on a transparent system is a life changing experience: you are standing with Maestro Reiner in Chicago as his orchestra reaches for a performance for the ages. A cultural treasure, and worthy of building a world class system around.

Organ Prelude, JS Bach Magnificat by Dunedin Consort (Linn, DSD64)
Motet, JS Bach Magnificat by Dunedin Consort (Linn, DSD64)

A breathtakingly lovely recording! The dynamics and harmonics of the organ can range from a muddy “eh” to “holy crap!” depending on the quality of the reproduction. Standing in the middle of choir is a lovely test of imaging and voice reproduction: the more precise the soundstage the more you can pick out individuals (including depth and height…remarkable).

Handel: Messiah - Chorus. O thou tallest good tidings by Dunedin Consort (Linn, DSD64)
Handel: Messiah - Hallelujah by Dunedin Consort (Linn, SACD)

A magnificent recording, reconstructing the original version of Handel’s Messiah, with a total of 12 singers. The normal complexity of the piece is captured in a way where you can hear each voice in the chorus, and how it comes together into a larger whole. An amazingly intimate performance when the reproduction chain can manage the complexity and dynamics and not have the soundstage become muddy and flat.

Arnesen: Magnificat - Fecit potentiam by TrondheimSolistene (2l, 24/192 FLAC)
This is such a lovely recording at any quality level, but goes from incredible to other worldly as the chain scales up. The orchestra, choir, and church should all have equal contribution to something far greater than the sum of its parts. When it all comes together, you can feel the three core elements feeding off each, creating a profound joy that is sweeps you into euphoria.

Stardust, from “Duets” by Rob Wasserman (16/44.1 lossless)
Every track on this album is a gem, but this one is particular is a fantastic test of sound stage and imaging. At its best, you hear each backing voice precisely in space, but still presenting as a harmonious whole. In real life, detail and precision spatial placement isn’t hard and clinical, why should it be in reproduction?

Oh, Lady Be Good, from Bassface Swing Trio Tribute To Cole Porter (DSD64)
Night and Day, from Bassface Swing Trio Tribute to Gershwin (DSD64)

These direct to disc Stockfisch recordings are extraordinary. Imaging and dynamics FTW. Recordings like these are why we obsess over the things we obsess about. I’m looking to get lost in the music, and the band appearing to be sitting right there. When tonal balance is just right, these performances just jump off the SACD.

Shamas-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja, from “Shahen-Shah” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (16/44.1 lossless)
The first track from what was my surprise 2012 album of the year (see http://thingssoimpossible.blogspot.com/2012/12/2012-albums-of-year.html for that backstory, with the surprise ending). A remarkable supremely spiritual performance by a remarkable man, captured in an “eh” recording. The question for me is what these DACs can do to elevate a middle of the road recording that is worthy of elevation.

Let Me Touch You For Awhile, from “Live” by Alison Krauss (DSD64)
I adore Alison Krauss. Having equipment that can reproduce the wonderful emotion and musicality of these amazing artists is why I spend so much time looking for the right speakers/cans/etc. Their Live album is special, and you can feel the humanity and emotion in this track.

Tenderly, from “While She Sleeps” by Art Lande (Blue Coast, 24/88.2 FLAC)
Cookie Marcenco has a gift for capturing piano, guitar, and voice as if you’re sitting in the room with the artist. If you’ve ever sat next to a wonderfully tuned piano with an extraordinary player, you know how magical that experience can be. The best pianos sing with resonances that envelop you. The best musicians know how to coax beauty and life out of the instrument. This recording from Art Lande captures that magic. The stronger the dynamics, soundstage, and precision of the system, the more lifelike this track becomes for me. I haven’t experienced this track topping out: the better the reproduction chain, the more lifelike it becomes.

One World, from “Session 1” by Sareena Overwater (Blue Coast, DSD64)
One World (Instrumental), from “Session 2” by Sareena Overwater (Blue Coast, DSD64)

Real magic from Cookie. These tracks are wired directly to deeply held memories for me, and the stronger the reproduction chain, the stronger the emotion that they evoke. There are better examples of piano performance and better examples of vocals, but the emotional truth and power of this performance is unmatched. More on this track at the end of this review.

99, from “Blue Coast Special Event 43” by Meghan Andrews (Blue Coast, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Cookie knows how to record guitar too, and Meghan Andrews knows how to bring a performance that is worth catching in a bottle.

Vous et Moi, from “Night and Day” by Willie Nelson (SurroundedBy Entertainment, 24/96 FLAC)
What if Willie Nelson was in a dispute with his label, got pissed off, and invited the best musicians he knew to the studio to record an instrumental album in full surround? Yeah, this actually happened, and it is as awesome as you think it is. The album is amazing in a musical surround setup, but a proper 2 channel system puts you right in the middle of the band. Incredible stuff.

Music in My Room, from “The Folkscene Collection, Vol. 3” by Cheryl Williams (Redhouse Records, 16/44.1 FLAC)
We’ve all had the experience of being in a coffee shop or small venue, when someone with a guitar and something that has to be shared commands the attention of everyone in the room, and you have a moment where the whole room is one. These CDs where engineer Peter Cutler captured intimate in studio performances at KPFK in Los Angeles are replete with those moments, but this performance by Cheryl Williams stands out for me. With a great reproduction chain, the guitar is real and present, and the voice and singer connect at a deep emotional level. A jewel of a moment, waiting for the right equipment to be a moment again.

All I Want, from “After Blue” by Tierney Sutton (BFM Jazz, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Tierney Sutton has a striking clear and present vocal style, and that is on full display on her “After Blue” album of Joni Mitchell standards. I continue to be amazed how ever better DACs extract ever more nuance and subtly of performance from top tier vocalists. It is a joy to hear the depth of craft and art of vocal performance on tracks like this.

Rosa fresca, from “Il viaggio d’amore” by Arianna Savall and Petter Udland Johansen (Carpe Diem, 16/44.1 TIDAL Lossless)
“The journey of love” is a marvelous exploration of love through the ages, from multiple cultures and times. The whole album is a joyous wonder, but the opening track (“Fresh Rose”) of a traditional song from the 1500s is an invitation to join in joy and unbounded hope. The company of players is feeling it, and you do too. When you’re hearing every string pluck in the strums and the voices comes together into something much larger than the sum of its parts, you’ll be glad you accepted that invitation.

L’Amor, from “Bella Terra” by Arianno Savall (Alia Vox, 16/44.1 FLAC)
If “Rosa fresca” makes you fall in love with Arianna Savall singing about love, you’ll want to seek out her “Bella Terra” album. An accomplished harpist and vocalist, Savall is at her best when she brings both together: voice and instrument are one, and evoke marvelous sound and emotional resonances in each other.

Traveler, from “Little Crimes” by Melissa Menago (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)
Airplane, from “Little Crimes” by Melissa Menago (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)

A gem of a recording from Chesky: direct binaural recording, made in a church while it is raining outside. Like all Chesky binaural recordings, you are there sitting with the performers (Airplane), with special magic from the sound of the rain outside of the church (Traveler). Fantastic test of soundstage and spatial detail.

Hold On, from “Sessions from the 17th Ward” by Amber Rubarth (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)
Don’t You, from “Sessions from the 17th Ward” by Amber Rubarth (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)

More Chesky magic. No rain this time, but Amber’s rich voice + violin + guitar + percussion are amazing on any system, but the sense of being there scales beautifully as the reproduction chain improves (it is magical when your system crosses some threshold of transparency…all of a sudden you are there).

Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, from “Open Your Ears” by The Persuasians (Chesky, Binaural 24/96 FLAC)
One last gem from Chesky. There is a profound difference to listening to a recording of a group of people sing, and being with a group of people that are singing. This is another recording that (at least for me), when you cross some magical threshold of transparency, the people become real.

Karamawari, from “Gamushara” by YAMATO the drummers (TIDAL MP3)
Drums are notoriously difficult to reproduce in the way you experience them in person. There is a physicality that is lost in most systems. Hearing a group of percussion masters really bring it on a system that can approximate that in person experience? Amazing.

Get Lucky, from “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk (24/88.2 FLAC)
Another track that transcends pop when played back through equipment that really reproduces the full range and dynamics of the recording. The subtlety and layers on Nile Rodgers’ guitar work is incredible, and the recording is outstanding so you should be able hear it all. I listen for whether it is washed out, and how well I hear all the (considerable) nuances in his playing.

Take Five, from “Time Out” by Dave Brubeck (Analogue Productions SACD)
An excellent test of dynamics at the high end. As an aside, these Analogue Productions remasters are off the charts!

No Love Dying, from “Liquid Spirit” by Gregory Porter (24/192 flac)
Another lovely recording and performance, that on a balanced system hits a resonance that is next level for me (just sounds “right” and get the “wow!”) When things are not in balance or boomy/shrill, I hear it loud and clear.

Beethoven: Symphony #9, 4th movement by Suitner (OG Denon, 16/44.1 lossless)
This was the first CD I ever bought in 1984 (first CD ever made?) I know every second of this movement and every nuance. My current 2 channel setup was the first time I had ever heard the entire movement without a break (every other system I’d ever had/auditioned had some break at some challenging passage).

So What, from “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis (Japanese single layer SACD version)
One of the finest recordings and performances of the 20th century. Always the last track I play during any audition. Until there is a time machine to take me back to March 2 and April 22 1959, I will buy every new remaster of this album, and play it on every piece of high end audio kit I can find.

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Physical Impressions

Yeah, our listening session was a bit out of control (see photo above). From left to right, you have a lovely Scott Radke marionette, my JL Audio F112v2 sub, my beloved B&W 802d3 speakers, Omega Super Alnico Monitors (with some $100 speakers I forgot about sitting on top), Martin-Logan Motion LX16’s, a buddy's Silver Hugo2, a buddy's modest Schiit stack (Lyr2 amp + Bifrost multibit DAC), Black Hugo2 (tour loaner), and my Black Mojo. Heading down, you have my Chord DAVE (with Sonicorbiter SE hiding behind it) and my Benchmark AHB2 amp.

The Hugo2 is (physically) a mixed bag. It was much lighter than I expected (esp. after the Mojo) while still feeling very robust, but the sharp corners seem unnecessary. As a transportable, you’d definitely want a case to protect the unit and protect everything else in your bag. The weight of the Hugo2 was also surprisingly reasonable (esp. compared to that mini tank that is the Mojo). It could easily be an everyday carry device.

Having the silver and black Hugo2 side by side, both were very nice. Chord did a lovely job with the finish on the silver unit, exuding a refined sense of quality and depth. The black is consistent with what I have on my Mojo and DAVE, and my preference to keep everything in the family. I think most people would be delighted with either finish.

I was shocked at how horrifically bad the button/light design/scheme was for the unit. Any modern device where you have to study the instructions and fiddle with garish buttons and obscure color schemes to figure out what the hell is going on has taken designer affectation way too far. The only saving grace was that I had a clear favorite filter (so I could ignore that button), only used USB input (so I could ignore that one), and cross feed has such an obvious sonic impact that it is hard to screw up what setting you’re on. As frustrating as the button/light scheme is, the remote makes everything better. Keep it close and keep your sanity.


Listening Impressions: Headphones

Lets start with the most important question, and settle the debate that has been raging: Silver Hugo2 vs Black Hugo2?

After 40+ hours (maybe it was seconds) of critical listening, I can definitively state that they sound the same (sorry @doody :wink:

With headphones, the comparison between the Mojo, Hugo2, and DAVE is much more interesting. What does each 5x step in price at each level buy you?

I went through my full song list, switching back and forth between the three sibling DACs (see end for my detail notes/impressions). The differences were clear and consistent, regardless of track/genre/etc.

Mojo was very satisfying, and created a better listening experience than almost any other non-Chord DAC I’ve heard, but it only hints at the sense of euphoria and emotional engagement I get from the Chord DAVE and Hugo2. I consider it the best value DAC available anywhere, even up to 5x its price, but the danger is you hear that “something more” and your brain gets that rush of being in front of real musicians, and all sense of fiscal control goes out the window (guilty as charged).

With the Hugo2, those hints of clarity/reality become sustained. Spatial resolution goes WAY up, and individual instruments and people become much more resolved and distinct. Phrasing (vocal and instrumental) becomes vivid, and the musicality and emotion of the performance goes next level. An incredibly emotionally satisfying sense of presence at the performance, and a window into the artistry of the musicians.

With the DAVE, what the Hugo2 does so well goes off the charts. For me, this is the musical crack, tapping right into the emotional centers of my brain. Whereas with the Hugo2 I can hear individuals and their performances really for the first time, with the DAVE I get a vivid sense of how they are feeding off each other and the space they are performing in. Mesmerizing and enthralling, and emotionally vivid. This is an experience I never thought was possible with reproduced music, and like any good junkie, I want more MORE MORE. I can’t wait to hear what the Blu2 will bring to the party.

Some quick summarized impressions from headphone listening:
  • Mojo is better with crossfade, even if no longer bit perfect (bite the bullet and set up the filter in your playback software)
  • Musical congestion (large scale orchestral pieces, etc) really challenges resolution on the Hugo2, but is revelatory when a DAC like the DAVE can keep up (so much power in groups of people expressing music together)
  • As you go up the stack, there is a big difference for nuances in vocals, strings, drums, etc. The artistry really becomes palpable
  • Resonances and ambient reflections make a big difference for reality and balance. Space and mix get so much more natural as you move up the stack
  • The nuance of vocals and performance in a group setting is startling when you are able to start hearing it. I've changed my music listening mix to include far more choral and orchestral pieces than I ever listened to before (from <1% to maybe 40% now)
On my non-scientific impression scale of 1-10, calibrated so the Mojo was at the low end and DAVE at the high end so it is easier to see where the Hugo2 lands in between, the Mojo came in around a 2, the Hugo2 a 4, and the DAVE around an 8. Interestingly, this is close to the ratio of additional bits of temporal resolution as you go up the Chord stack (+1 bit from Mojo to Hugo2, +1 1/2 bits from Hugo2 to DAVE)

On this scale, almost any other DAC I’ve heard wouldn’t even get above 0. Rob’s DACs are in a league of their own. Within the Chord stack, the differences are not subtle, the experience fundamentally different and better, crossing some sort of phase transition from listening to music to being part of a performance. Great stuff, and I can’t wait to hear what the next +2 1/2 bits that the Blu2 gives us.


Listening Impressions: Traditional Two Channel

My perception of what I think of as the Chord Magic is more subtle in my traditional two channel setup. Like most things I’ve experienced with these kinds of high end system, you can move the needle in obvious ways, but very difficult to get transformational changes.

As I went from Mojo to Hugo2 to DAVE, there was progressively more richness and reality, and I know enough of what the rush from that Magic felt like that I’m able to find it easier and easier as you go up the ladder. However, you do need to listen for it, rather that it overwhelming you like the headphone experience.

That being said, this was with the Benchmark amp, which is a particularly fast/low distortion/low noise amp (to say the least). With the Schiit Lyr2 tube amp, the Chord magic was basically gone.

I’m fairly certain that a fundamental transformation of the traditional two channel listening experience will need to wait until Rob’s digital amp becomes available. I’m very eager to hear what my B&Ws can do once the digital amp becomes available.


Listening Impressions: Direct Two Channel

Based on Roy’s (@romaz) recommendation, I’ve long been intrigued about connecting the DAVE direct to a high efficiency single driver speaker like the Omega Super Alnico Monitors. If you can eliminate the power amp and the cross overs and the imbalance between different speaker drivers, could this be close to the ultimate two channel experience?

For this eval, I ordered a set of Omega Super Alnico Monitors (thank you Louis!) so we could try them in a traditional 2 channel setup (DAC to amp to speaker) and direct from the DAVE and Hugo2. During our listening tests, we also discovered the marvel that is near field listening with these single driver speakers. For kicks, we also did listening tests with the Martin Logans (high efficiency multi driver speakers with what should be a fast a ribbon tweeter)

Starting with the Martin Logans, the traditional two channel experience was OK for what you would expect for a modest bookshelf speaker (nothing special here). The Hugo2 (~1W) wasn’t beefy enough to drive them direct, but the DAVE (~2W) was. In far field, imaging was very limited and at best OK. I had zero sense of depth, and very limited spatial resolutions (maybe 4 distinguishable zones, and virtually no height). Dynamics were muffled, with no pop or attack. In general, playback was smeared, with limited detail. Piano sounded like a recorded piano, not a real piano. I’d give it maybe 1/10 (for the price) even driven directly from the DAVE. Not an auspicious start to our experiment.

Near field with the Martin Logans direct from the DAVE was a much better experience. Imaging may have improved to maybe 8 zones, but still no depth. For complex orchestral pieces, the soundstage collapse to seem like it was coming from two speakers. The speakers also lost musicality at low volumes. Maybe 4/10 (for the price). Better, but at best incremental and not transformative.

Net net: the Martin Logans are OK mid to low end bookshelf speakers, and except for brief flashes can’t keep up with the Chord kit, and can’t recreate that Chord Magic. Big miss.

On to the Omegas. With single drivers (no cross over, no concerns about matching the tweeter with the mid/bass driver, etc), and fast and responsive Alnico magnets with a low mass cone, we should get near perfect phase alignment between the channels. So how do the Omegas do? The Omegas were a completely different experience, and one of the finest experiences of music reproduction I’ve ever experienced and enjoyed.

Driving the Omega’s in traditional two channel setup (DAVE to amp to speaker) was incredible: vivid imaging, ultra fast and effortless highs, with amazing spatial resolution. Good resolution for height and depth, and a real physicality for things like horns and strings. The bass extension was surprisingly rich and deep, and highly musical. You can get away without a sub, but the right sub (fast enough to keep up with the Omegas and low distortion) adds that something extra that takes it over the top. Piano now sounds like a real piano, and you can close your eyes and see where people are standing in the choir. Let’s call it 7/10 (for the price, even though the Omegas are 4x the price of the Martin Logans)

Listening to the Omegas near field in a traditional two channel set up was next level again: depth and height imaging became fantastic, with a much more spatially balanced soundstage (esp. for more complex orchestral pieces). The musicality was preserved whether at loud volumes or extremely low volumes (amazing). Left right resolution is excellent, up down OK, and depth resolution very coarse (but it is there). Piano even more real, and voices the same. Call it 9/10 for price. An incredible two channel experience, well beyond anything I had ever experienced before getting the Chord DACs.

With all that, the real revelatory experience was going direct from the DAVE to the Omegas. In far field, soundstage becomes massive (all dimensions) and precise. Scheherazade is everything you dream it to be…you can almost hear individual instruments (almost), violin is angelic and soaring, and you can look in an arc around the orchestra like you’re standing in the conductors spot. Choral recordings cross into real territory, where you don’t have to use your imagination to imagine what the setting was like. Strings much more precise and real, and Stardust is a wonder…the vibrations on the bass are distinct and blend with the voice marvelously (interestingly, the precision of the bass vibrations makes the bass sound like it goes deeper). Much better depth resolution, and height resolution, and piano takes me back to sitting next to a real piano as my daughter is playing it. Cheryl Wheeler on guitar is that coffee shop experience (the humming of the guitar strings is what it sounds like on my guitar). 100/10 for the price…absolutely incredible and an experience that you must seek out.

As incredible as DAVE direct to Omegas is, listening to them in near field takes it to a completely different level: INSANE imaging, depth, height, evenness of soundstage…it is a real world stage. Everything that was awesome in far field made more incredible by the depth and vividness of the soundstage. The low volume musicality is off the charts….you can hear everything and lose no musicality by losing volume. 200/10 for the price. I am restructuring my living room so I can have this experience going forward.

Omega’s driven directly by the DAVE is (without hyperbole) among the finest music listening experience (reproduced or live) I’ve ever experienced. If this is any indication of what we can expect with Rob’s digital amp is available, I am grateful to still have the hearing to be able to appreciate something this amazing.

So what about the Hugo2? Can that tiny little box with <1W output touch that magical experience of driving Omegas directly from the desktop DAVE with its <2W of output? Incredibly, the answer is a definitive yes (with some notable asterisks).

First of all, it is otherworldly to hook up a Hugo2 direct to speakers and hear that kind of volume and music from a tiny portable. It seems like magic and an impossible thing emanating from that tiny box, but you can drive extremely satisfying music levels direct from the Hugo2. The experience is very reminiscent of the DAVE direct experience, but a similar step down as what I heard from the DAVE to Hugo2 with headphones. In this case, going from 100/10 to 50/10 far field, and 200/10 to 100/10 near field is a wonderful first world problem to have to deal with. In the right circumstances, Hugo2 driving the Omega Super Alnico Monitors is dollar for dollar the best musical experience I’ve ever had.

So what are the asterisks and right circumstances and all the caveats clouding the last paragraphs? For less complex pieces, like vocal, small jazz ensembles, etc, this is an ideal pairing. Make sure to be careful to adjust volumes for different albums that are mastered to different levels, since it is easy to over push the Hugo2 and start get some harshness (esp. in far field…in near field with comfortable listening levels, I never had to worry about it). With more complex pieces (orchestral pieces or pieces with driving bass or trashing hard rock), you lose the magic quickly: things just collapse back to “normal” (a very nice normal, but the magic is gone). The poor Hugo2 has limits on the complexity and dynamics it can drive on the Omegas vs what the DAVE can do.

If this is the path you’re going, I would drive direct Hugo2 to Omegas as much as possible, even if it means changing what you listen to. For pieces that overwhelm the Hugo2, get a nice baby amp like the Temple Audio Bantam Gold and swap it in when you want to rock the house, or spin up a large scale orchestral piece. Yeah, swapping wiring is a pain, but you’ll be very very happy. If you can swing the extra expense for DAVE, you’ll be happier still, esp. how amazing large scale orchestral pieces are with the DAVE direct to the Omegas.

For those use to full range two channel setups like mine, what does this mean for you? If you have a highly musical sub (like my JL Audio) that is fast enough to keep up with the Chord kit, low distortion, etc., you’re left with a very very hard choice. The combo of DAVE direct to the Omegas and JL Audio (via DAVE XLR outputs) is breathtaking. Do I really need full range $20k speakers and all the goodies/baggage that come with them?

(Note: I did not try to drive the Omegas and sub directly from the Hugo2, so I can’t speak to whether that impacts how far you can push the Hugo2)

For now, I’m structuring my living room to have a “Direct Chord/Omega” zone, and a separate traditional two channel zone (B&Ws, Benchmark, etc), and waiting to hear how Rob’s work with his digital amp progresses. If Rob can even approximate what I’m hearing from the Omegas direct through the B&Ws, that will be an amazing experience. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

If/when I again have a private office at work, the headphones will get put away and I’ll have some Omegas on my desk in a near field configurations, being driven by a Hugo2. Until then, I’ll be using my close Aeons, driven by my Mojo (pending an upgrade to a Hugo2 once I sort out what the BluHugo2 brings to the party).


Listening Impressions: Scaling headphones with Chord DACs

I did the bulk of my critical headphone listening tests with my Sennheiser HD-800’s (with the SR mod), which I know well and scale nicely with my DAVE. But what about other headphones? How do they scale with the Chord Magic as you go from the Mojo to the Hugo2 to the DAVE?

For this test, I did a matrix comparing AudioQuest Nighthawks to MrSpeaker Aeon Flows (closed) to AudioZenith PMx2’s (modified Oppo PM-2’s) to Sennheister HD-800’s (with SR mod) to Noble Katana custom in ear monitors to a vintage set of Grado HP1000's. I did not evaluate which headphones are best from the usual criteria of tonality, distortion, etc (that is highly subjective, with different tonal signatures appealing to different people). Rather, I listened very closely for that unique Chord Magic of resolution and speed and musicality and physicality. Which cans were able to express the extra Chord awesome sauce as you go up the Chord stack?

To my ear, the Sennheisers were the best (consistent with my experience with my DAVE) with a surprising close second place going to the Aeon Flows. Katanas came in a bit behind, then the Grados, Nighthawks and PM-x2’s. Since Rob uses the Nighthawks in his development of these DACs, that was a surprise to me.

For the Mojo and Hugo2, there were differences, but all the cans were very close. It wasn’t until you got to the DAVE where the differences were more pronounced. I suspect that the Blu2 will do more to help find out where these cans top out.

Based on this test, I am motivated to sample some of the other TOTL cans. If there is anybody in the San Diego area with Hifiman HE-1000 v2’s or other cans that are well matched to Chord kit, drop me a note and we can try to set up a listening session.


tl;dr
  • Source material matters. Try to get as close to expertly mic’ed and minimal mixing as you can, and avoid compression like the plague. High res content is a bonus, but the Hugo2 elevated traditional redbook to high res levels (including lossless TIDAL streaming). Since getting my Chord DAVE, I don’t purchase high res music anymore, and the same applies to the Hugo2.
  • Hugo2 is surprisingly light, but really needs a case to avoid cutting up things. Definitely transportable, and portable for the committed.
  • Hugo2 delivers more of the Chord magic than the Mojo (at 5x the price), but not in the same league as the DAVE (at 5x cheaper). The differences are not subtle, but you’re going from very good to great to world class awesome.
  • Going direct from the Hugo2 or DAVE to high efficiency single driver speakers like the Omega Super Alnico Monitors is a revelation, and everyone owes it to themselves to find a way to hear these things…wow!
  • There is not quite enough oomph in the Hugo2 amp to direct drive the Omegas for complex music (how amazing would that have been?), but a remarkable experience at modest volume levels and more intimate music. One of the best dollar for dollar musical experiences I’ve ever had.
  • It takes surprisingly little of the suboptimal or wrong stuff (Martin Logan speaker, Schiit Lyr2 amp, etc) between the Chord kit and your ears to completely kill the magic. It takes very little for things to collapse back to normal (a very nice version of normal, but no longer transcendent). Minimize everything you can between the output of the Chord DAC and your ears. The more you can eliminate and more you can simplify or lighten, the more the Chord magic can shine through.
  • In theory BluHugo2 and BluDAVE should be very close in audio quality, but I can’t test that theory yet. If that theory works out, a reasonable play would be to put the money you would put into a DAVE into a Blu2 to go with a Hugo2. Stay tuned.
  • For those that have already taken the red pill, the Hugo2 a VERY worthy upgrade to your Mojo, and a great approximation of the DAVE at the office and when out and about. For those that haven’t taken the red pill yet, grab a Mojo if you’re nervous if the hype is real. If you like the hints of what you’re hearing, you’ll love the Hugo2.
  • Headphone experience can't touch the experience of DAVE and Hugo2 direct to Omegas (not even in the same zip code, with even Sennheisers….TBD if other headphones can close that gap, but these are the best Chord Magic headphones I have right now)
  • Winner scenario for sane people is Hugo2 direct to Omegas in near field, with a reasonable amp like the Bantam Gold as a stop gap when listening to more complex/dynamic music. Add a fast musical sub like JL Audio F110 to fill out the bottom and be in awe of what you’re hearing. Down the road, dive into Blu2 and Rob’s digital amp once that dust settles and cost gets better.


A closing story

I’ve shared this story publicly and privately to Rob and Cookie before, but I wanted to share it here to give a sense of why I care about this stuff and what it means for me.

Earlier I mentioned how Sareena Overwater’s “One World” (Blue Coast Records) is wired directly to startingly deep emotions for me. When I listen to it, I’m taken back more than a decade. My older daughter is in college now, but when she was younger she was a very serious pianist. As she began to blossom as a musician (around age 8), we needed to upgrade from our ratty console piano to something more appropriate.

After 6 months or so of looking, I found a used 1924 Steinway in Rhode Island that looked perfect. The woman who owned it had received it new as a gift from her parents when she was around age 8, but no longer had room for it as she moved into the final phases of her life. A miraculous instrument, maintained and played with love. My daughter was and is the second owner, and I am hopeful she too will be able to enjoy it for many decades to come, and pass it to some deserving musician when it is her time to do so.

I spent countless hours lost in the sound of my daughter playing that piano, and know the sound and feeling of that vintage Steinway in my DNA. Cookie Marcenco also has a vintage Steinway in her studio at Blue Coast Records, and she is the most gifted person I’ve ever heard at recording piano. With the Chord DACs, I listen to recordings of Cookie's vintage Steinway, and with some of her musicians I have the visceral experience of going into a time machine and hearing my daughter play piano all over again. It is like catching a smell or hearing something that instantly transports you back to your mothers kitchen: the emotional connection is intense and overwhelming, and the closest I can be to experiencing my daughter's music now that she's at college. The feeling and emotion of my daughter playing her piano is made real in Cookie’s recordings.

My daughters piano is in long term storage, waiting for the day she has her own place and is able to enjoy making music with it again. While I can’t wait to hear her play again, I am grateful to be able to enjoy the echoes and evocations from Cookie’s studio, via Rob’s DACs.

When I first listened to this song (which I knew well and loved as a song) with my Mojo, I felt glimpses of reality in this song and felt the emotional presence of my daughter. It persuaded me to order a DAVE sight unseen, reaching out for that completely unexpected hint that I had felt in the music. Listening to this song with my DAVE, I am overwhelmed with emotion and end up weeping every single time. With Hugo2, while not as intense as with the DAVE, the emotion and sense of connection is very real, and I am swept away in memories and a sense of overwhelming love and pride for my daughter.

Can I put a finger on what combination of timing and taps and noise floor modulation and voodoo and whatever else can take a piece of well known recorded music and turns it into an emotional time machine that brings me to my knees every damn time? I can't, but I am enormously grateful to feel the presence of my daughter and her piano again. An unexpected and precious gift that was hidden in the music all along, without me knowing it was there. Thank you Sareena, Rob, and Cookie for helping me find that emotional connection all over again.



APPENDIX: Detailed Ratings and Notes

Note: these ratings are calibrated so that Mojo is on the low end and DAVE on the high end, so it is easier to see where the Hugo2 falls in between them.

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Andrew DiMarcangelo
Andrew DiMarcangelo
Wow, this review is incredible. Standing ovation.
apmusson
apmusson
Amazing review. Love the comparison and your description of the differences. Also I've added a number of your test tracks to my library.
Pros: Audibly transparent, room-to-room portability, feature rich
Cons: Expensive
Disclaimer: I received the Hugo 2 as part of a the Canadian Hugo 2 Tour put on by Moon Audio and organized by Relix. So thank you first off!

Reviewer Background & Bias

My intentions and where am I coming from: first off, I think its important that I give you a brief on my own biases. I’ve heard great things about Chord, and have read a number of Chord's posts including those in the Sound Science forum that have made me take interest. I have heard top of the line DACs and amps before but mainly for floor-standing 2-channel setups. Mostly Classe and Rotel, but only for periods of hours here and there over a span of years.


In my experience, I feel obsession and gear can get in the way of creativity and enjoyment. Not just for music listeners, but also for the musicians themselves. The long and short of it, if someone was to come to me and want to know what the best audio experience can be had on a budget I would just point them in the direction of a JDS Labs O2/ODAC + HD660S, tell them to listen to quality files (lossless or high bit-rate) and most importantly quality recordings across many genres. I’d also tell them to stay away from these forums and just enjoy the music. I’d assure them, that they would be getting pretty much the best experience in headphone audio possible and that they are best to not go down the rabbit-hole.


Of course, I read similar advice over a decade ago, and here I am.

Overkill

The Chord Hugo 2 is pretty much an outstanding, full-featured unit, that is made to what appears to be very high-standards, by a boutique electronic manufacture. This is reflected in the cost.


I have a friend who is an incredible intelligent electrical engineer. He can build pretty much anything, but mostly makes controls for HVAC systems for skyscrapers. Custom hardware and software. His stuff is more costly than off-the-shelf, but is made to the highest spec. To me that’s what the Hugo 2 is.



Down to the Sound



Well, truth be told, its effortless, and I feel like I can listen to it continuously. It’s audibly transparent as far as I can tell. I feel like comparing it to a known reference like the O2/ODAC will invite either scorn or contempt for my post so I’ll leave it there and I think that says enough :wink:


Again, I’m a skeptic, but I’m open minded to say that although I may not be able to entirely discern or distinguish all the differences, it doesn’t mean that an overall effect is not transmuted to the brain. That would be very difficult to measure. I feel like with the Hugo 2, perhaps I’m drinking the cleanest possible water. Yes, I have water sources that are healthy, but with the Hugo 2 it is near the purest possible. For an audiophile, drinking from the Hugo 2 may bring lifelong benefits. Or not…





It’s Not About the Sound



What? Isn’t this how its marketed? Well, yes, and I won’t pretend to really understand the very basics of electronics. But I do understand marketing quite well. I would say that on sound alone, you may be able to find less expensive or perhaps even more ‘pristine’ options - perhaps even Chord’s Dave. Really, it’s the entire package that is on offer here and is what I think can justify it's expensive. Whether you need all these functions is up to you.



Crossfeed Options


The crossfeed functions are well implemented and I had no trouble distinguishing between the different settings. For those having difficulty, just listen to some earlier jazz recordings where you have some hard-panning. One of my test pieces for this review was John Coltrane Blue Train 24bit 192 khz and all the settings worked very well. This is one of the best crossfeed implementations I’ve heard. In some software based implementations, I’ve heard issues with the bass becoming to overblown and other artifacts.


Wireless

I did have a bit of issue with the wireless setup and my iPhone, it didn't quite sound right. :/ But really, why would one bother with wireless with a DAC like this?

Final Thoughts

For those who need the most functionality for desktop and portable, may find the Hugo 2 hit the sweet spot.

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Pros: Transparency, clarity, output power and remote control
Cons: Price
Thanks to Chord and Craig for organizing the Hugo2 tour in Canada. There have been many excellent photos and reviews on the Hugo2 already on Head-fi. I would like to first provide the context of my review, so that readers can benefit maximally from my comments, and also not to be misled either. I am a late 40s guy who enjoys the headphone experience that have a pretty flat FR, but also enjoy and am probably more tolerant of the more pronounced treble. I am not well-versed in the audio/headfi terminology and tend to use plain language to describe my experience. I have owned and still own a variety of planar, dynamic and electrostatic hps and accompanying DACs/amps, but the rigs I use the most are the HDVD800, Oppo HA-1 and Gungnir (non-multi bit)/Bryston BHA-1. As for headphones, the main ones are the HD800, LCD-XC, and Oppo PM2.

Well, in a word, the Hugo2 is transparent. It does not colour what is coming into it. I tried various combinations of DAC/AMP with the Oppo HA-1 and HDVD800, and at the end of the day, the Hugo2 provides to me more clarity than the other 2 desktop setups. So, in what matters the most, the Hugo2 puts out the most details, and will let your headphones dictate how you want to experience your music. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hugo2 with my main headphones, more so than the Mojo (from memory) that I had before. The Hugo2 is also solid to feel and hold.

For a desktop setup, it is nice and small as you can see from the photo. I am not sure how many of us would truly use it as a transportable, and it is too big as a portable for most. So, I would say it is certainly a desktop replacement for those looking for one. I was feeding it with a Fiio X5 and Sonos connect as well.

As you have heard from others, the controls on the Hugo2 are unique and for some, the lights on it at night may bother some, but they do have a lower level setting. Personally, I did not hear any difference between the filters, but that may be because I don’t have golden ears. The output power was certainly sufficient without any discernible distortion or clipping.

The remote control is fantastic for volume control as I usually listen to my music at night with lights out and eyes closed. That by itself is a great selling point as not all DAC/AMPs have a remote. I did not use the Bluetooth feature, but stuck to optical and coaxial and they worked flawlessly.

The one downside is the price of admission. However, if you are going to replace your desktop rig and space is a premium, look no further…you also then have the ability to transport it at minimum in your house, and if so desired, perhaps to work. I am seriously considering selling my 3 rigs and replacing it with the Hugo2….but honestly, I just like having lots of toys…and so, probably 3 toys are better than 1 for me. Having said that, the rational thing to do is get the Hugo2, save money, save space and enjoy the music.

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Pros: Sound!!! Sound!!!
Cons: Price and Build quality for this price
CHORD HUGO2
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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.

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Boxing:
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.

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Build Quality:
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.

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Sound Quality:
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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.)

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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.

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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.

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Sound:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Conclusions:

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 !
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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.


Design


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.


Initial impressions


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.


Conclusion


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:
Sony MDR-Z1r
Audioquest Nighthawk
Audioquest Jitterbug (USB input)
iMac 5K
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:

Attachments

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

CONCLUSION

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.

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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
Daniel Mance


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INTRODUCTION

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)

Loudspeakers:
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,

Room:
13’x22’. 9’ ceilings. Rug, Fabric furnishings. No sound treatment.
Speakers on the long wall. 9’ – 10’ spacing. Customary toe-in to seating position


SETUP

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.

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

Burn-In
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.


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LTA microZOTL Pre-Amp


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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).


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Nordost Power Conditioning


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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.


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Speaker wire connected directly to Hugo2’s RCA outputs


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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.

Software Up-Sampling
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.


DAC COMPARISONS

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.


CONCLUSION

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


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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.



Testing Equipment

● 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!



Sound Signature

The Hugo2 has this generally neutral sound with a touch of warmth. It’s a quite musical and high-resolution device.


Treble;

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

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

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.



Comparisons



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!


vs. LPG


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.


vs. AK120

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.




Verdict

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, Stage Depth and Lyering, Amazing Technicality, CrossFeed, High Power Output
Cons: Sterile Sound, User Interface, May be Powerful for IEMs, Battery Short Standby, Design Not Ideal for Stacking
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
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.

INTRODUCTION:

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.

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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.

SOUND IMPRESSIONS:

Update to Sound: May 10, 2019:

Since posting this review, I have tried a friends Hugo 2 and have personally purchased a Hugo 2. And both these units sound quite different from the loaner unit based on which this review was written. The unit I own and my friend's unit sound a bit thin and bright. The technicality is still amazing. For example, aspects such as micro & macro dynamics, instrument separation & layering, stage depth, imaging precision, resolution and transparency are still top notch. But what is different is, my unit does not have the natural tone and realistic timbre that was so good about the loaner unit. The loaner unit had a nice balance between technicality and tonality. But my unit priorities technicality and ends up sounding analytical.

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.

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FILTERS:
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:
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.

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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.

PAIRINGS:
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.

CONCLUSION:
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.

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Pros: Wide soundstage.
Source input options.
Included accessories.
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
Thunderstruck; AC/DC
Around the World; Daft Punk
Toccata and Fugue in A minor; Johann Sebastian Bach
Farewell; Apocalyptica

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.







Attachments

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

apparence.jpg

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.

Carry.jpg


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

Mojo.jpg


2) Hugo2 and Questyle CMA 800i, using laptop USB as the digital source, driving HD800 and Fostex TH900

Desktop.jpg


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!
Pros: Significant improvement on Hugo1 and Mojo
Extremely musical
Remote Control
Dedicated USB charging socket and desktop mode
Cons: No discernible difference between filters in the real world
Introduction

These are my gathered thoughts on Hugo2 while listening to Serial Number D00026 for 10 days as part of the UK Hugo Tour organised by Highfell and facilitated by Chord Electronics. Listening has been exclusively via headphones; mostly sharing my time between Audeze LCD-XC and Audioquest NightOwl closed headphones. Digital input has been provided by my iPhone 6S+ supplying CD or greater quality using Tidal, Onkyo HD or FLACPlayer. Listening devices are a pair of 63 year old ears. Music (in no particular order) was by artists such as Disclosure, Chvrches, Lana Del Ray, Kate Nash, Gorillaz, Japanese Breakfast, Pumarosa, London Grammar, Laura Marling, Grimes, Little Dragon, Shura and Bastille. Mostly I chose music I listen to regularly and which I have previously downloaded to Tidal.

Unpacking

I own a silver Hugo1 but I really like the look of the Black Hugo2 I am holding in my hand. I travelled to Bristol and twice to London to listen to prototype Hugo2 (500 miles altogether) so have seen both variants. The silver Hugo2 looks more 1950’s idea of futuristic (Chord Electronics usual style) as all of the detailing and the scalloping can be seen clearly. The Black Hugo2 just sits on my shelf and blends into the background and I rather like it.
I have a Remote Control which is still sealed. The previous trialists have not used it or Hugo’s ¼ inch jack socket. The socket is as tight as a … The manual (an A4 cardboard sheet) does not say what accessories should be included but I recently found this information listed on the Box itself. I have a mains charger with UK/US/AUS/EU adapters, a sensible length USB-A to USB-micro cable, a 15cm USB-micro to USB-micro cable and two optical cables (not listed on the Box). Elsewhere someone reported that the batteries for the Remote Control were Duracell. Mine, still shrink wrapped, are branded “GP Super”. I accept, of course, that I may not have the full retail pack.

Aesthetics / Usability

Black is good! Each end of Hugo2 contains a mixture of inputs and outputs just like Hugo1. The function of each marble is clearly labelled (unlike Hugo1) with the labelling being on the end panel along with the USB and power inputs. I didn’t use the cross-feed options and all four sound filters sound the same to me.
The wheel used to control volume is quite imprecise on this demo model. The shift from red to green seemed quite jumpy and I found it much easier to use the remote control. I could then see that the colours change in exactly the same way as with Mojo’s volume button.
Hugo2 has only a tiny LED on its motherboard to show what sample rate is being received. Coming from Hugo1 with its £1 coin sized frosted indicator and Mojo with its colour changing power-marble I found this a retrograde step. I later realised that the brightness of the sample rate LED is linked to the brightness of the marbles.
After a power cycle Hugo2 does remember which input was last selected and the previously selected volume level. After 15 minutes of inactivity Hugo2 is designed to shut down but I didn’t test this. Additionally after being mains-connected for 24 hours Hugo2 goes into Desktop mode where, according to the Manual, the battery is neither charged nor discharged. However in this mode Hugo2 is always warm to the touch. I don’t yet understand this.
Lastly, the manual indicates that the on/off marble glows blue if a one amp charger is used and white if a 2 amp (recommended) charger is used. I was surprised that the marble on this sample glowed blue when Hugo2 was not in Desktop mode suggesting that the supplied charger is not outputting the full 2 amp as specified on the Box.
I have heard negative comments about the Remote Control being of cheap plastic rather than the credit-card metal version suggested earlier in the year. However I found, with batteries inserted, the Chord-branded RC to feel solid, work well and not look at all tacky as others have opined. Author’s note: I had to get that word in somewhere; Hi-Fi Choice Magazine use it all the time!

Listening

My original plan was to listen exclusively to Hugo2 over several evenings and then revert to my Hugo and / or Mojo to see whether I felt disappointment in going back to my previous generation equipment. To date (day 5) I am still on Hugo2. From the get-go I could immediately detect an improvement over Hugo1. Japanese Breakfast was the last thing I had been listening to using Tidal so I continued with her track Boyish. My first thoughts were that the bass came through stronger and the vocal harsher with better separation overall. The harshness surprised me as I was expecting a better top end than with Hugo1. I was even more surprised when I noticed that the previous user of Hugo2 had left the red filter engaged (HF roll-off). I However I haven’t noticed any harshness on other material (quite the reverse) so I’ll put it down to Hugo2 providing a more honest rendition of the original vocal. I made a note that the brass playing on one track sounded remarkably accurate and the rendering of Diving Woman had great PRAT and sub-bass. Kate Nash’s Made Of Bricks was the most recent album I had off-lined using Tidal so was the next up. My first thought was “this sounds thinner than I remember” but realised this was an effect of the better separation causing the music to be presented in a sparser, or wider, context. The piano & cymbals on Mouthwash sounded magnificent. Moving on to Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life I found “Love” gave me tingles and the title track had me smiling hugely. Hugo2 also allowed me to better understand my headphones. The LCD-XC having the better timing (or PRAT), meaning my foot was tapping more, and the NightOwl having the edge on the sound profile I prefer at the moment. Additionally Hugo2 has a top end I prefer over Hugo1 making Chvurches vocals sounding less brittle (than Hugo1 or Mojo) on the likes of Never Ending Circles and Bury It.

While listening I made notes whenever something in particular struck me. For example I wrote
Pumarosa: Dragonfly - sounds scary; Honey – I can understand the lyrics for the first time.
Gorillaz: Phoner to Arizona – just sounds better (than I remember), lower frequencies just better defined.
London Grammar: Rooting For You – so emotional and so integrated/whole/homogenous. Meaning it lives as a piece of music not as individual strands.
Little Dragon: Season High – this album never sounded so good on the XC’s.
Christine & The Queens: Tilted – lower frequencies improved, vocals excel

You get the idea, I’ll move on.

In summary

Put simply, nearly everything I have listened to sounded better than with Hugo1 or Mojo although some, I suspect poorer recordings, resisted attempts to improve them. More importantly the sound is much more engaging through timing and presentation. I am listening now, typing this with my laptop on my knees. It is proving difficult at the moment as my head is nodding and my feet want to tap.
On the usability front I still have some niggles with Hugo2. The volume control is more difficult to move accurately (unless I use the Remote), the inputs and outputs are still all over the place and the loss of the frosted sample rate indicator as on Hugo1, or colour changing on/off marble is a disappointment.
Will I buy one? Well, I really would like one but there are lots of other non hi-fi things to spend my cash on at the moment. Hugo2 is a much better companion to my XC’s than Hugo1 so I will be considering my options in the future. Were Hugo1 to die on me tonight then I would immediately order a Hugo2. Actually I wouldn’t since I just remembered that my Hugo1 warranty is good until next April.
Do I recommend Hugo 2 to Head-Fi members as an upgrade? Well, I found the sound balance, delivery and separation a huge improvement from Hugo1 and I found the separation a huge improvement from Mojo. However, to me, the sound balance of Mojo and Hugo2 is quite similar so Mojo owners may find the difference less compelling.
Well! You will read from the Footnote below that I totally missed the main benefit of Hugo2 in the previous paragraph. It’s all about the timing, presentation, musicality etc. I grew into Hugo2 gradually but suddenly losing it has been traumatic.

Footnote

I spent my full ten day allowance listening to Hugo2 (evenings only) and it is now a full week since I packed it up and passed it on. During the week I have found my Hugo1 and Mojo to be quite disappointing substitutes for Hugo2. I became so attuned to Hugo2 that listening has been far less satisfying this week. If this memory does not fade then I will need to take the plunge sooner rather than later.

xeroian, August 2017
Pros: Small factor
Comparable to the TOTL desktop dac amp
Cons: Price
Filters are not doing the justice
I'm a simple man
I write what I hear and not gonna use any artistic terms

This is...

a Chord Hugo 2.

From the image you can see I placed it on a XSabre DAC.
What about my past experience:
I have tons of Headphones and Dac Amp experiences including TOTL eg. XSabre DAC, Mojo, ifi BL, ifi iCan, Heron 5..etc HD800, TH600, HD6xx, 400i, Elear, TH900..etc OK enough with my experience!

This review is gonna be short and straight to the point.

Source: Mostly 44khz and 96Khz from Foobar2000
Comparing with: XSabre>Heron5 and XSabre>iFi micro iCan SA
Pairing: For now I have HD800 and that's the headphones that I do like to find the best dac amp

Lows: High impact, not boomy and it is well controlled (neutral to me)
Mids: Lots of details and im impressed with the size form (can be musical sometimes)
Highs: Not overly extended which I preferred (not the best for HD800 for highly electronic music)

Comparing:

XSabre>Heron5
Lows: the lows on Heron 5 is a tad better for HD800 cuz it give a lil more meat


Mids: Hugo 2 shines better which gives better airier mids with a lot of details
Highs: Heron 5 is a better pair with HD800 that roll the treble a lot smoother
Conclusion: these 2 gives different signatures. Hugo2 is more toward musical analytical and Heron 5 is musical enjoyable.

XSabre>iFi micro iCan SA
Lows: Poof the Xbass just blows everything. The Xbass is well design which not making mids sounds bad. Or perhaps a tad killing the mids? but who cares with HD800, you'd really need some lows!
Mids: Compare to Heron5, this has a tad more details (but really small). Hugo2 has kind of the same signature of the mids but with better meat. iCan is like trying to achieve the Hugo2 signature but a bit tinny. Compare to the price? Why not.... XSabre helped a lot though
Highs: Both Hugo2 and iCan is not the best for HD800 but bearable. Not gonna let your ears bleed for sure. Just Heron 5 is a well known with the smooth laid back signature.
Conclusion: iCan could give impressive result with smaller price tag but remember I pair it with $1000 dac.

Conclusion:

Hell yeah, this $2k price tag can compete with TOTL <$2k desktop dac amp. If you do really need it to be mobile, yes this is the best shi* you could get but prepare your bank.
If you stay at home, you can try to find other dac and amp combo which actually have tons of variation to make you desktop dac amp shines to your audiophile* life.

So far, HD800 is a better pair with XSabre>Heron 5 that I have. Certain tracks, Hugo2 can give a better Sound Quality, but to enjoy? This Xsabre>Heron5 are the best to keep with if u have HD800.

Also from what I read and listen in a review video, Chord Hugo TT will give you more musical experience compare to Hugo2. So, prepare you bank and get that instead! :p

One more of the sexy Hugo 2 picture for you to enjoy!


Ps: I deducted one star because of the price which you can get better if you need a desktop dac/amp. I would give 5 if I am a portable type of guy
Pros: Soft Natural Sound, Solid Analog Outputs, Black Background, Input Flexability
Cons: Operates HOT while Charging, Adequate Build Quality, Excessive play in USB Inputs,
Video Reviews, first part is Build second is sound quality. Sound Quality review is time stamped according to what I'm listening to/comparing to. Feel free to jump to what ever impressions your interested in.




Being able to integrate with existing solutions has become an important feature for me lately. Plug and play function with my LG V20 and laptop is a large part of why I purchased my Geek Out v2+. That same functionality is a large part of why I enjoyed the Cayin N3 as well. Keeping up with that theme is Chord's Hugo 2. Launched in the Spring of 2017, the transportable Hugo 2 offers an excellent mix of power and quality that is plug and play ready for mobile lifestyles!

Including the remote, the Chord Hugo 2 retails for $2,379. Purchases can be made via a local dealer in your area searchable via the Chord Website. However an little online digging and I found Audio46 as the only Amazon-Payment capable vendor in my area.
Furthermore, I want to thank both Chord and the members of Head-Fi who helped put this tour together, the following thoughts are my own and I was not compensated for them!



What I like about the Hugo 2 build is the weight. It's heavier than it looks which makes me grip it a little tighter when I pick it up. For portable products I like something that has a solid in the hand feel. Super light, super thin, "air" products have never meshed well with me. I always feel like I'm going to lose or crush them. That sense of weight translates over into the implementation of the analog out puts. Each output had distinct grip on my cables with minimal wiggle and just the right amount of resistance when unplugging the cables. As I carried the Hugo 2 around my home during my listening impressions, the cables stayed put.

Chord's unique ball bearing buttons and roller-ball volume adjustment were memorable. While I was not a fan of how much play the individual ball buttons had, I did enjoyed the ease of motion from the volume ball. Unlike the ball bearing buttons, which rattle around when you interact with them, the volume ball had a smooth upward and downward motion. There was no excessive movement or resistance, adjustments to the volume were comfortable. Both minor and major adjustments to the volume were possible with the ball, and I never over shot my intended listening levels. The include remote had a good weight as well, each of the buttons had excellent resistance alongside an audible click. I found my self more often using the remote than the top mounted buttons.

Aside from the noisy ball bearing buttons, the Hugo 2's USB inputs also proved less than ideal. In fact the entire left flank of the chassis on my demo unit suffered from obvious wear and tear or simply adequate build quality. The USB inputs for data and charge had far to much play in them, and there were visible gaps in the chassis around them.

Additionally, the demo unit I had operated at exceedingly hot to the touch temperatures. During the time I had it, I was unable to comfortably keep it on charge for the required 24 hours need to activate desktop mode. Seeing as it was a product I spent equal time with in my hands, as on my desk, I ran the unit almost exclusively on the battery. If I needed to charge it I was only comfortable charging and listening for 2 hours. Usage while charging beyond that 2 hour time frame resulted in the demo unit I had getting hot enough to leave a slightly darkened warm spot on my wood desk for around 20-30 minuets. Touching it wasn't painful, but hot enough to instill a sense of caution. Hence-forth my impressions Hugo 2 were completed from battery operation only. Running exclusive on battery power, I was able to achieve an average of about 7 hours of playback time.

Functionality is straight forward on the Hugo 2, it accepts Optical, 3.5mm Coax, USB Mini Input and Blu-tooth digital in. It features 6.5mm, 3.5mm and L/R RCA analog output, functioning as a head Amp via a series of transistors in the DACs analog output stage and offering a fixed line out. While I noticed no change in the sound quality moving in-between the different analog outputs, the digital inputs each offered significant changes to the overall sound quality.

Specs of the Unit are as followed from Chord's Website:

Chipset: Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA
Tap-length: 49,152
Pulse array: 10 element pulse array design
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB
Output stage: Class A
Output impedance: 0.025Ω
THD: <0 .0001="" 1khz="" 300="" 3v="" font="" rms="">
THD and noise at 3v RMS: 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ wighted (reference 5.3v)
Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted: No measurable noise floor modulation
Signal to noise ratio: 126dB ‘A’ Weighted
Channel separation: 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω
Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW 300Ω
740mW 32Ω
1050mW 8Ω
With only the included hardware, I was able to test USB and Optical Inputs on the Hugo 2. While I do own a Digital Coax source, I did not have an RCA to 3.5mm digital Connector. Nor did Chord include an adapter from digital RCA to 3.5mm Coax, honestly give the price I would have expected them to include ALL necessary digital inter-connectors. Still, they were fortunate to ship the Charging cable with multiple regional cord adapters!
Additionally, kindly take a moment to refresh your self on the meaning of terminology I use to describe sound, also please note that my Audio GD NFB10ES2/Hifiman HM901->PicoPower serve as my current reference point, as such I've grown accustom to a brighter sound signature from my Dac.

As such, I found the overall sound quality signature of the Chord Hugo 2 to be;

  • Natural
    • Does not exaggerate
    • Presents a strong from the body timbre
  • Excellent Micro Detail
    • Less ambient noise or lacking emphasis of macro detail
    • Cleaner more balanced transients and resolve of timbre
  • Smooth Dynamics
    • Micro dynamics are excellent
    • Macro dynamics are adequate
  • Black Background
    • Very little noise
  • Internal Amp has some mid range warmth/bloom
  • Softer relaxed presentation
  • Intimate imaging
    • Excellent depth and airy sound, with a slightly forward mid-range
This basic presentation does not change regardless of the digital input, what the digital inputs changed were the overall blackness of the background and the precision and size of the image as a whole. The worst digital input into the Hugo 2 was still phenomenally black compared to using the same input into my NFB10ES2.




Starting with Optical from my iRiver H140, I found this input to be atrocious, the highs were very hard and the imaging and resolve were hazy. If the world ends and all I have IS my iRiver H140... I'll be content but otherwise there's no situation in which this input is preferential.



USB Input was a BIG step up from Optical. Starting with USB Mobile, there were immediate gains in imaging and noise. USB Mobile presented a more clearly defined image presented again'st a blacker background which allowed transients to resolve more fully. Though USB Mobile still had some emphasis up top, not as bad as Optical but still not perfect.

Moving to USB Desktop, I ran ASIO Output from Foobar 2000 into the Chord Hugo 2. The image as a whole was even sharper, there was even LESS noise than USB Mobile without the touch of emphasis up top. Which resulted in marginal improvements to the resolve of micro detail.

With regards to the analog output, I did find the internal amp of the Hugo 2 had a touch of mid mange bloom to it, when testing it with an LCD XC, my HE 4 and my Nhoord Red V1. The Line Out was marginally cleaner, though the only benefit I found to using the line out was for more power or to pair your headphone with another amp for a better dampening factor.




I actually enjoyed the LCD XC when pair'd with the Hugo 2. A lot of the LCD XC's weakness were compliment or masked over by the strength's of the Hugo 2. Though I was using a WyreWires Red Cable, as the lender who allowed me to barrow this didn't like the stock option and opt'd for me to hear his LCD XC with only after market options!

In particular when enjoying Igor Levit's Take on Aria, the Hugo 2 LCD XC pairing had an excellent mix of tactility and nuance for the piano piece, the more intimate sound of the Hugo 2 help'd give the LCD XC just a little more low body presence.

In Miles Davis "So What" the often overly metallic presentation of the horns on the LCD XC, was more natural. A touch of warm vibrato in the horns especially became more apparent. The softer sound of the Hugo 2 pair'd beautifully with the amazing solid planar bass and cup resonance of the XC. In some tracks, I felt there was a lack of grip, but overall the Hugo 2 brought a much needed relaxing sound to what is other wise a very SHOUTY headphone.




I was shocked at how well the Hugo 2 drove the HE 4 in particular! Ultimately though, the internal amp's lack of power combined with a softer presentation from the DAC it self robbed the HE 4 of the super exciting character I appreciate it for. Losses though in tactility, low end texture and speed were offset by gains in timbre and transient resolve.




This pairing was by far my favorite! The Nhoord Red V1 is a DIY Grado style headphone. Featuring lower bass extension than a typical Grado. The overall sound of this can in particular is most similar to a Grado RS1i. That said, the headphone has a tendency to ring a little, the Hugo 2 presented both a beautiful warm mid range that DIDN'T have the ring I was used to! Overall for this Grado Style headphone, the combination was nothing but pleasant! More so than any of my current in house rigs sadly...




Speaking of, I was very impressed with how the Hugo 2 paired with my ZMF Eikon and Garage 1217 Project Ember II. This was another really beautiful pairing I'd like to try and forget!

Though the BEST sounding combination was from the Hugo 2 was with the Head Amp Pico-Power and my HE 4. The sound was harder, more exciting with the same improvements to timbre and resolve but without a lot of the exaggeration I'm used to! But the combined price of the two units, upwards of $2800 MSRP, makes a situation I doubt any one will realistically find them selves in 2017. As a hard to drive inefficient open back planar from 2011 is not a realistic portable headphone. In the last 6 years, there have been an influx of very efficient open backs as well as powerful portable products to pair them with.

Finally, I took the time to compare the Hugo 2 to a few of my existing Rigs.

Starting with comparisons to my NFB 10ES2. For these comparisons I had the Hugo 2 fed via USB with ASIO Out, and my NFB10ES fed with Coax from a Schiit Etir fed with ASIO Out.

In short, the Hugo 2 Dac section had every edge in it's presentation of timbre. Being very true and focused on the music it self, in contrast yo the NFB10ES2 had to much emphasis on macro detail it often simplified transients. By doing so it creates a great deal of excitement and energy, which when pair'd with it's more expansive sound stage is impressive... but ultimately a little distracting at times. The Hugo 2 was more intimate with a less exaggerated sound and a stronger focus on the music it self, macro detail took a big step back. The combination of a blacker output of the Hugo 2 and more intimate imagine result in micro detail taking a step forward! The only flaw of the Hugo 2 compared to the NFB10ES2 is it's more intimate imaging can be marginally less precise and it sounds very flat. The sound of the Hugo 2 presents minimal vertical space, where as the NFB10ES2 presents an image that has more room up top and down below and all around. In some cases it's closer to reality, though more often than not it sounds over defined.

Moving to amplification, the NFB10ES2 only had an edge when more power was needed. So with the harder to drive HE 4 the NFB10ES2 presented a more consistent sound, where as the Hugo 2 while offering better timbre, because of the lack of power was also at times very hazy with it's imaging and presentation of the low end. The Hugo 2 lacked an accurate sense of time or speed with the HE 4 as well when compared to the NFB10ES2. Other wise, for dynamics and more efficient Planar's the Hugo 2 output was blacker with a less exaggerated more natural sound.



I paired both the LCD XC and my Nhoord Red V1 with the balanced out of my LH Labs Geek Out v2+ for a comparison to the Hugo 2.

Ultimately, while using the white filter on the Hugo 2 and the Green Filter on the GOV2+, I found the Hugo 2 to improve on every aspect of the GOV2+. The two shared a similar sound signature, but the Geek Out V2+ sounds a bit noisy, cramped and exaggerated compared to the Hugo 2. The GOV2+ often simplified lot of transient information like the NFB10ES2, especially in comparison to the Hugo 2, which more clearly resolved audible textures such as the vibrato in the release of many of instruments.



This comparison was a real eye opener for me, I haven't spent much time with my HM901 since I started working full time and haven't had a need for a transportable system that I can listen to. I'm either at home, or on my feet moving, a situation in which if I'm going to drop something I'd like it to be pretty cheap. Though I'm starting on my second degree here in a few days so I'll once again be in front of my laptop away from home for longer period's of time. A situation that's perfect for a transportable dac/amp combo!

In terms of sound the HM901 [Vintage Filter] fed into the Pico Power traded blows with the Hugo 2. The HM901 Pico Power combo had more precise imaging, an equally black background, a smidge of emphasis on macro detail, is marginally less resolving of micro detail but had stronger more clearly defined dynamics and a better presentation of time. It's only flaw being that it can be a bit over sharpned, or over defined. The Hugo 2 while resolving micro detail better, presents more intimate imaging and sounds a touch romantic. It's not as dynamic, and doesn't adapt as quickly to changes in tempo either, very exciting passages of music lacked some energy in comparison to the HM 901 Pico Power combo, especially with Planars. While more natural sounding, it's sometimes a bit to relaxed in comparison to the HM 901 Pico Power combo.

Ultimately different genres play better on one than the other, I grew up listening to a lot of live jazz bands. Listening with the HM901 Pico Power takes me back to my days sitting in the grass listening, the energy they presented and their ability to change and adapt around very unique time signatures always impressed me. The HM901 Pico Power combo embodies that energy, that excitement, that audible sense of speed. Where as on the flip side, my father owned a 12 String Gretsch guitar when I was a kid, listening to Chet Akins or any Spanish guitar Sonata's through the Hugo 2 reminded me of listening to my dad play at night before bed. The sense of intimacy and naturalness is very real, where as the HM901 Pico Power sounds a bit exaggerated with this genre and others like it.

The real question I have now is how does the HM901 Pico Power compare to my NFB10ES2... that's one I'll have to explore that at a later date.



Our last comparison is the NFB10ES vs the Hugo 2 when fed into my Project Ember II driving the ZMF Eikon.

With the Hugo 2, the Ember II and ZMF Eikon were breathtaking to listen to. The Eikon's sound signature is music focused, with a black background, a solid low to mid range response and a tapered top end. It does an excellent job of resolving just enough macro detail to keep things interesting, but always places emphasis on the music, micro detail just pops with this combo! The Hugo 2's DAC output embodies much the same traits, minus the top end tapering. It was ultimately this combination that allowed me to grasp just how exaggerated my reference SABRE 9018 DAC really was. Still, moving from the stunningly beautiful sound of the Hugo 2 back to the more exaggerated NFB10ES2 did give the Eikon a bit more dynamic response with a larger more open sound stage at the expense of total resolution and clarity. Even worse there is a touch of noise on the analog output of the NFB10ES2, so listening above an average of 84 dBs I lose even more resolution. Thankfully, my reference listening level is 85 but still the lack of headroom on the NFB10ES2 get's annoying.

For the price, I don't feel the Hugo 2's sound quality compares well to dedicated desktop solutions. It runs too hot and isn't priced competitively at $2379 MSRP. Though it's closer to and sometimes under $2000 if your comfortable buying second-hand from reputable sources. I feel it compares well to my own portable DAP solution, especially considering that 4 years ago I spent $1500 on a portable dedicated High-Fidelity Digital Audio Playback System.

Being my first Hi-Fi purchase I paid MSRP for my HM 901 back in 2014, an it too suffers from the same excessive play in it's buttons. Plus doesn't even have a remote, and not only that but it's limited to just playing music from the SD card loaded into it. While it fit my life style back then, it doesn't fit into my own an increasingly mobile life style now. The Hugo 2 can plug into my phone allowing me to listen to music, and still take phone calls without having to even remove my headphones. Even better, starting this year my cellular provider allows me to make and receive phone calls through my existing mobile number via a web app on my laptop. With the Hugo 2 and ASIO Output in FooBar 2000, I can be on campus and have access to my music library, have the flexibility to switch right into a YouTube video in my browser, watch and listen to material related to my course work, take a Skype call with my boss or a traditional call from my wife, without having to unplug anything. The Hugo 2 integrates into my life style with all of my existing tech, as opposed to a standalone DAP which serves as a separate system just for music. Thus isolating me from my other technology, forcing me to pick ONE system to listen to. Fortunately my Geek Out v2+ does the same, integrating with all of my Tech, but doesn't offer near the level of quality as the Hugo 2 or my HM901 PicoPower combo. Which means I have to compromise sound quality in exchange for flexibility and convince. In my eyes, based on how I live my life now and moving into the future the asking price for the Hugo 2 is validated. As it does more than my standalone DAP without compromising quality.

In conclusion I can confidently recommend the Hugo 2 as a transportable solution. It's value is in it's portability, if your need a portable solution the Hugo 2 is an excellent choice. It's input flexibility, uncompromising phenomenally natural sound, well built included remote, and surprisingly powerful internal amp allow it to integrate into a variety of portable playback systems. It's a product that integrates well into the lifestyle of some one who's traveling often, either in the air or on the road. Student, working professional or in my case both, it's a one box solution that plugs right into what ever graphic interface your using and has plenty of power to drive most high-fidelity headphones. It's definitely a plug, play, sit back and enjoy experience. Presenting a happy union of convenience and superb sound quality!
Pros: Sound Quality (heavily weighted pro) - Measured Performance - Input / Output Options - Form Factor - Battery powered - Included Accessories
Cons: Battery Life - Charge Time - No Adapter for the Included Optical Cables - No Coaxial Cable included - Casework Fit
Introduction

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Disclaimer: This review is of a production Chord Hugo2 unit as provided free of charge from Chord Electronics Inc. for the purposes of this review as part of the Head-Fi Hugo2 tour. The Hugo2 has since left my possession and is in the hands of the other tour members. The unit will be going back to Chord once the tour is over.


I don't think many people in audiophile land need an introduction to Chord Electronics, but for those that aren't familiar Chord Electronics Inc. is a small company based in the U.K. that produces high end DACs and amplifiers which are used in many recording studios and enjoyed by many consumers around the world.

My first introduction to Chord Electronics was when I was approached by Chord to head up the Canadian leg of their Head-Fi Mojo tour. Before that time I was aware of (and curious about) the original Hugo's unique implementation compared to other DACs but I never really paid much attention to it given its price and availability in Canada. The audio path I was previously on was heavily toward R2R gear for DACs and I was seeking the best bang-for-buck gear I could find. The Mojo changed all of that. I was completely smitten with what I heard and I couldn't figure out how the device could offer such sound quality with that amount of headphone drive in such a small package. Given my inquisitive mind I proceeded to find out as much as I could about how Chord's resident DAC designer Rob Watts implements his designs.

Digging deeper in to the unique implementations of the Chord DACs has led me to sell most of my other gear and acquire a Chord DAVE, their top flight DAC currently available. When Chord announced the Hugo2 and Rob shared his presentation slides and measured performance of the Hugo2 on Head-Fi I just couldn't resist being a part of the Hugo2 Head-Fi tour. Unfortunately, supply chain issues resulted in many delays and anticipation was high but the wait was long. So, now here we are, I have had the chance to demo the Hugo2 and I will report on what I've heard, compare it to the Mojo and the DAVE and hopefully be able to help clear up some questions regarding what it is and what it sounds like. There's a lot to talk about so let's get in to it.



What's Included?

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The large well padded box that the Hugo2 was delivered in included:

- The Hugo2 DAC/amp unit.
- Instruction manual.
- One micro USB to micro USB OTG cable.
- One long Optical TOSlink cable.
- One short Optical TOSlink cable.
- Remote control.
- 2A wall charger with different adapters for different regions.
- One USB B to USB micro cable.

This is an improvement over the limited accessories that came with the Mojo or even the DAVE, and a very welcome addition. I think the 2A wall charger is brilliant with its changeable socket plugs and I can see it being very useful not only for sales in different regions but for being covered when travelling as well. The remote control is simple and gets the job done but it's nothing to write home about. The micro OTG USB cable works well and I had no issues using it with the FiiO X5 III or AK240 as a source.

One gripe I have is the optical cables provided are TOSlink on both ends and given that most portable devices that would connect to the optical input would have a 3.5mm optical out you can not use the provided cables without a TOSlink to 3.5mm adapter. It would be best to not use adaptors as they often limit the output to 24/96kHz, but at least one can get going right away if it was included if someone only had a 3.5mm optical source. My other gripe is that the coaxial input is 3.5mm and there is neither an appropriate cable or adapter included.

All-in-all though the included accessories are welcome and definitely a step in the right direction from Chord.



Design

As it says on the box, the Hugo2 is a transportable headphone DAC/amp. I would agree 100% with the transportable moniker as it's slightly too big to be called strictly portable. The unit measures 130mm(L) x 100mm(W) x 21mm(H). It's perfect for taking outside and lounging on the deck, or using on a sofa away from one's regular listening station. However, unless taking a backpack, a coat with roomy pockets, or wearing trousers with very ample pockets I wouldn't really consider it a portable device.

Chord has a thing for using a unique design and the Hugo2 is no exception. It follows some design cues from the original Hugo while adopting some design elements from the Mojo. It now uses illuminated balls for input selection, power on/off, and filter and crossfeed selections. The rotating ball for volume control remains the same as the original Hugo but is now raised slightly from the rest of the chassis.

I'd like to point out the out of the two units that I have sent along on tour (black and silver) both of them have a small gap between the top and bottom pieces of the chassis. This is most evident on the USB input side where one can clearly see the illumination from the LEDs shining through the small gap. I didn't mind it but it should be noted for a device at this price and caliber.

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Love it or hate it the design and controls are uniquely Chord.

Chord has also kept the window for peering at the device's innards and this window also displays the incoming signals sampling rate colour with a coloured LED, which changes depending on the input signal.



I/O - Controls - Features

I/O

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Digital Inputs

First and foremost the Hugo2 is a DAC, and this is evident in the fact that you can not input an analogue signal in to the Hugo2 (more on this later). For inputs there is a micro USB input which is capable of 32bit/768kHz sampling rate PCM, a dual coaxial input capable of 32bit/768kHz sampling rate PCM (dual coaxial is for use with Rob's M scaler tech which brings the Hugo2's TAP count to a whopping 1 million actual TAPs), a 3.5mm optical input capable of 24bit/192kHz sampling rate PCM, and AptX Bluetooth which is capable of 16bit/48kHz sampling rate PCM.

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USB Input.

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Coaxial Input.

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Optical Input.

Chord specifies that the Hugo2 can handle Octa (8x) DSD but they aren't clear on the input limits of using Octa DSD. I would presume that only USB can transfer such high data rates and coaxial and optical are limited to DSD128 and DSD64, respectively. If I find out further information I will update the review.

On the USB input side there is also a micro USB port for charging. I think this is a good move from the original Hugo as it lends itself to more charging options rather than being shackled to a dedicated charger.

The USB side also has two small holes to accommodate a future add-on currently called the 2go. This will be similar to the Mojo's add-on named the Poly which has streaming functionality and a microSD card slot to access your music, while all being controlled from your smartphone. This will hopefully be a one stop solution as a source for music to feed the Hugo2, but currently the 2go features and specs are not announced and there is no release date announced at this time.

I was surprised at the range of the AptX bluetooth as I was able to get a stable connection at 30ft away with the FiiO X5 III as a source, as long as the Bluetooth window was not covered and there were no walls in the path.


Analogue Outputs


On the opposite side of the USB inputs is the analogue outputs along with the digital optical and coaxial inputs. For analogue outputs there is a 1/4 inch headphone out, a 1/8 inch headphone output and L/R RCA outputs. All the analogue outputs share the same signal path and nothing is bypassed when using the RCA outputs. Huh?! I'll explain more on this later. Just know that when using either the headphone ports or the RCA out you will be getting the same quality of sound.

The output power of the Hugo2 has been bumped up from the original Hugo and the Mojo (both of which are identical). Now you can expect to get 1050mW in to 8 Ohms, 740mW in to 33 Ohms, and 94mW in to 300 Ohms. The Hugo2 is capable of peak output Currents of 0.5Amps. Chord states that the Hugo2 will drive 8-800 Ohm headphones and I find that the power output from the Hugo2 is ample.


Controls

To operate the Hugo2 you'll want to go over the manual. Everything is controlled through illuminated balls and the colour of the ball indicates the current function or setting. The idea behind the colours is analogous to the spectrum of light. Red is a lower frequency and has less energy while ultraviolet is a higher frequency and has more energy. So, red is lower volume and ultraviolet is higher volume. Blue is full charge while red is low charge. Get it? You will but it takes a little getting used to.

To turn the unit on you press and hold the Power button until it begins to flash through a sequence of colours while it boots up. Once fully booted up the Power button displays the colour that represents the state of charge. For the volume control you roll the ball on the top of the device (the last volume is remembered except for the line-level volume preset). The rest of the functions are changed by pressing the balls and the setting will be represented by the corresponding colour. Yeah, read the manual.

So, even though all the feedback is through colours, and it takes some getting used to, I also really like this scheme as it is quick to know what you're settings are once you do adapt to it. You can see below some of the different colours for incoming sampling rate signals which is easy to register once you know what they are.

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I won't sugar coat it though... this control and feedback scheme may not be readily accepted by everyone and it does take some getting used to. If you are coming from a Mojo or the original Hugo it will feel very familiar. For those that want a numerical display you're out of luck.


Features

Filters

New to the Hugo2 is the idea of filters. To really understand about the filters one needs to understand Rob's WTA filter and his approach to designing a Digital to Analogue Converter. I'll cover this in the section about the internals later. Rob has decided to include the filters as a way for owners to hear a difference between the first stage 16FS WTA filter (as in the Mojo) and a second stage 256FS WTA filter that he's implemented in to the Hugo2.

I'll admit that when I first tried the different filters I heard no difference between them whatsoever, but like pretty much all DACs the devil is in the details. The filters don't change frequency response like a tone control on an amplifier, or like an equalizer. What the different filters do is change the timing and the perceived tone through the implementation of the filter. The idea is that when the timing is not tightened up then the perceived timbre of the notes will be off. With the 16FS filter (Red/Orange) the notes can sound more loose and less defined leading the listener to have the impression of a slightly softer and warmer tone. While the 256FS filter (White/Green) is more precise and incisive leading to the impression of more attack and a slightly brighter and wider presentation.

When I listened for overt frequency response tonal changes I couldn't differentiate between the filters. When I listened for timing changes I could hear a slight difference between the filters and it became more consistent as I spent more time with the Hugo2. I guess that's how my brain is wired and I suspect many will have difficulty picking out the differences between the different filters.

Quick a/b comparisons did nothing to my perception of the differences. Listening to the Red filter for a while and then switching to White was the best for me. The sound expanded more on the White filter and wasn't quite as collapsed/intimate as the Red. almost like turning on/off a subtle version of the old wide button one may find in old audio equipment from the 90's.

Just know that using the White or Green filter is using the full capabilities of the Hugo2, and the Green filter is 256FS with a high frequency roll-off filter to deal with high frequency noise typically found in high resolution recordings. The Orange is using only the first stage WTA filter at 16FS and Red is 16FS with the high frequency roll-off filter.

Rob explains the technicalities much better than I could in this post he made in the Head-Fi Hugo2 thread - Link -. The linked post also has measurement results from the APx555, and they are impressive.

Crossfeed

Apparently the Crossfeed feature is the only thing that is the same as the original Hugo. The Crossfeed is good and not over done in my opinion. What I found interesting is that it's noticeable and useful if the song has hard panning, but unlike other Crossfeed implementations I've heard it doesn't seem to have much effect on some songs. I reckon that depending on the stereo mix you will hear more or less benefit. For a more modern example besides the likes of older songs from The Beatles, Scared by The Tragically Hip is a song that I couldn't tell much difference at all between full Crossfeed and off. Yet, Boots or Hearts by the same band NEEDED Crossfeed to help with the panning and it was quite noticeable with this song. I like the Crossfeed when it's required and would likely use it often if I had the Hugo2.

Dimming the Lights

If the lights on the Hugo2 are too bright - and they do illuminate the ceiling when at full brightness - you can dim them to a much more friendly low light level, like you can with the Mojo. When dimmed the illuminated lights become invisible in bright outdoors and are barely readable in normal household lighting conditions, but are great for dimly lit rooms. The dimming function reduces the illumination further than the Mojo's dimming.

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Battery Life

The battery life on the Hugo2 is one of its biggest weak points. I was only able to get around 7 hours while using it (timed 2 different times), which is what Chord advertises, but I wanted at least 10 hours. It just seemed too short to me. You can see the variance in time between each charge level. Lap 1 is Blue charge level, Lap 2 is Green charge level, Lap 3 is Yellow charge level, and Lap 4 is Red charge level. After that it goes to blinking Red which means head for the charger now.

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Additionally the unit I tested took about 6 hours to charge with the included wall charger so now there is a recipe for frustration.

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Desktop Mode


The Hugo2 has a desktop mode that will bypass the battery charging circuit when left plugged in for more than 24 hours, indicated by a magenta colour for the power button. In this mode one should be able to use the Hugo2 plugged in to the wall indefinitely with no detrimental effects on the battery life. This should be a welcome addition for those that want to use the Hugo2 in a desktop scenario exclusively.



Technology Inside

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This section of my review is probably the hardest to write and may be the most difficult to understand. How do I go about explaining complex design challenges and unique implementations to a general audience when I am not an engineer, or anything close to one? Well, I don't. What I can do is touch on the implementation in a basic way that will hopefully highlight what sets the Hugo2 apart from other conventional DAC/amps that are available in the wild.

In the most simple terms, the Hugo2 is a unique DAC with a discrete analogue output tied directly to the DAC. Similar to what conventional DAC's would label their line-out, and the volume is controlled digitally. There is no analogue volume pot and the sound of the analogue stage can not be separated from the sound of the DAC. It is about as transparent as one can get to the DAC with as little components as possible. On the flip side, because the analogue output is tied directly to the DAC without a separate amp like in conventional designs you can not input an an analogue signal from another DAC.


DAC

Starting with the DAC stage Rob Watts has chosen to forge his own path in DAC design foregoing both the typical Delta Sigma chip design and an R2R design. The Hugo2 uses and FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) chip to handle code for the volume control, battery charging scheme, Crossfeed, etc.. The FPGA also handles the DAC filters and runs the latest WTA filter (Watts Transient Aligned filter) which has been completely redesigned based on knowledge he's gathered from developing Chord's flagship DAC, the DAVE. As alluded to earlier, there are two WTA filters in the Hugo2. The first one is 49,152 TAPs (true TAPs) in the 16FS filter. The second WTA filter goes from 16FS to 256FS which further improves timing reconstruction accuracy as the WTA filter recovers timing to 81nS resolution. I don't expect many people to know what what I'm talking about here. Just know that the Hugo2, technically and measurably, is a large improvement over the original Hugo.

Moving from the FPGA for the DAC filters there is the discrete 10 element Pulse Array DAC, which is a significant improvement over the 4 element Pulse Array DAC in the original Hugo. What's a discrete Pulse Array DAC? This is Rob's DAC that he invented which uses flip flops to convert the digital signal to an analogue signal. Again, it's very complex to explain the functionality and again, I'll let Rob's words speak for themselves in this Head-Fi post from the DAVE thread HERE and from his Head-Fi Watts Up? blog HERE if you were interested in digging deeper.


Analogue Stage

The analogue stage in Chord DACs is very short and direct by design to reduce components in the signal path to help maintain transparency to the source. The analogue stage has no coupling caps and there are only two resistors and two capacitors in the signal path. However, the active part of the analogue stage is not simple as it employs the analogue second order noise shaper topology which corrects for non-linearity in the output stage.

When I asked Rob about the output stage in which he explained the above he also replied with this remark:

"The main source of distortion and sound quality problems when driving headphones is the output stage; this is where crossover distortion occurs, which sonically is extremely serious. Now, we can reduce this problem by increasing the Class A bias; but this only helps, it does not eliminate the sound quality and measurement issues. So to solve it I use the analogue second order noise shaper."

He provided far more technical information, but this gives the gist of what he was saying.

To set the output to line-level mode you would press the Crossfeed button while turning the device on. This will set the volume to 3Vrms and will not be remembered when the device is powered down. Line-level mode is nothing more than a volume preset and nothing internally is bypassed in this mode.

The only reason I mention the technicalities in such depth is because the implementation is very different from other designs in the wild and I feel it's worthwhile knowing how different it is.



Sound Reproduction

Here we are at the important part... The sound. All the techno-babble means nothing if the sound falls flat. I used a wide variety of tracks for my listening test from Eric Clapton's Unplugged album, to multiple binaural recordings including Chesky's Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc, to Metallica and AC/DC, and Opeth. Classical music was also a big part of my test tracks and I have too much to list, but a large part of the tests were from Decca's 50 CD set.

To my ears the sound from the Hugo2 sets a new benchmark for a transportable device. The sound is incisive and detailed. There is no bloom or extra reverb or tipped up treble to my ears. What I was taken aback with was the sense that the Hugo2 was very honest to the recording. It seemed very easy to hear if the recording was mixed heavily, subtly, or if the recording was a simple mic'd setup left untouched. I only heard this level of reproduction from the DAVE before and was surprised to hear it from such a small device.

Overall the sound is similar in tonality to the Mojo and DAVE, in the same family so to speak. It also doesn't feel bright or too warm to my ears and I can't say objectively neutral either. Neutral is completely relative and unless comparing directly to a live performance no one can say exactly what neutral is. The best we can do is gauge the sense of realism when listening to audio gear based on our own perspectives. Compared to most gear I've heard that would be called neutral I would say the Hugo2 falls in the slightly warm category, but like I said, this is completely dependent on one's preferences and point of view regarding what their neutral is. Frankly, I find a lot of 'neutral' gear to be bright and hard sounding.


For the ability to reproduce detail I would say the Hugo2 does wonderfully. There's a sense of small nuances that I haven't heard before except from the DAVE. While not quite at the same level of performance as the DAVE there is so much low level detail. So much dimension and depth within each note, each sound. I'm not talking about overall macro soundstage size or the ability to recognize depth in the recording. I'm talking about individual sounds have more dimension to them. Guitar strings have ample nuance from the pluck to the overlapping and decaying reverberation. With drum hits I can hear the warble of the skins after the initial impact in some tracks. Piano finger positions, key impact strength, sustain, are all reproduced beautifully and clearly. Vocal inflections are easy to pick up and that draws me in to the performance. I didn't find complex orchestration to get confused and enjoyed clearly hearing strings, brass, and percussion playing together well.

Of course, all of this is dependent on the recording mix and mastering, but on my best recorded music the fidelity is superb.

Imaging from the Hugo2 is also very good. I didn't get a sense of sonic 'blobs' in the presentation. Everything seemed to be in its place and occupy each space appropriately as far as I could tell without being at the recording session. Using Chesky's Ultimate Binaural Headphone Demonstration Disk I could clearly hear the depth and height from the test tracks. It's always wonderful to listen to a sound travel from the floor to 8 feet in the air and accurately place it with just headphones. Listening to voices call out from in front and behind the mic was spot on and I had a clear picture of where the performers stood with the Hugo2.

Similarly, if the recording was mixed flat with no spacial information then that's precisely what I heard. The Hugo2 can be brutally honest to the recording. In the end all we really have are measurements compared to the input to tell us what is transparent to the source and how far it deviates from the input and the Hugo2 measures very well in this regard, but, measurements aside, I really enjoyed what felt like a lifelike and natural presentation from the Hugo2.



Comparisons

As I mentioned in the introduction I ended up selling most of my gear when I acquired the DAVE so my comparisons are limited currently to the Mojo and the DAVE.

Hugo2 vs Mojo

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On the Hugo2 vocals can be more forward or more spacious compared to the Mojo depending on the track and how it was recorded. Again, the differences in how a recording was mixed plays a part here and I feel the Hugo2 highlights this aspect better than the Mojo. With the Mojo it was like listening to baSS/MIDS/TReble in comparison. The Hugo2 has more of a overall cohesive and balanced presentation than the Mojo. The Hugo2 paints a more accurate picture of the recording and has finer nuance and fidelity.

Overall the Hugo2 has a bigger, wider, deeper presentation than the Mojo and is also more detailed and layered. The sense of 'being there' is much stronger with the Hugo2. I'm getting a bit repetitive. Going back to the Mojo seems more claustrophobic and congested.


Hugo2 vs DAVE

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The DAVE is another level up from the Hugo2, no question there. What surprised me was it wasn't 10 levels up. The Hugo2 is close in tonality to the DAVE but feels a little brighter overall. The DAVE has more oomph in the bass, more impact, more gravitas. The DAVE also has even more space than the Hugo2 and feels even bigger yet in its overall presentation compared to the Hugo2. Detail is also slightly easier to perceive with the DAVE but yet very analogue sounding, a smidge more than the Hugo2.

The takeaway for me from this comparison was that indeed the Hugo2 is a lot closer to the DAVE than it is to the Mojo but definitely not on the same level.



Headphone Pairing

In general, I found the Hugo2 to have a similar effect as the DAVE regarding headphone pairing. That is to say that the character of the headphone is high-lit more than from other gear I've owned / tested. I've found that the more transparent the source gear the less of its own flavor it will add to the headphones and you are left with the naked truth regarding the headphones and the music.

Overall the Hugo2 had far and away more power on tap to drive all of the headphones in my collection and I never found the need to go much above the Red volume range, if at all for my average listening level of 80-85dB in a quiet setting (at times I did really rock out though).


Noble K10

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The K10 sounds good from the Hugo2. Overall balanced and spacious sound for an IEM, if not slightly warm. Detail retrieval was really good and it didn't feel like I was missing anything with the K10. I heard a slight amount of hiss with the K10 but it was only when listening for it with no music playing.


JH Angie

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The JH Angie is somewhat mid-centric and very engaging to my ears. Detail retrieval was good and because the Angie has an adjustable bass pot it was easy to dial in the preferred sound to my tastes. With the Hugo2 I ended up increasing the bass attenuator from 2:00 to 2:30. I think this was because of the overall more spacious sound from the Hugo2 vs the more closed in Mojo, which has been my usual listening source for the Angie. There was some hiss with the Angie, but like the K10 it was nothing offensive and only with no music playing when actively listening for it.


Audioquest Nighthawk

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The Nighthawk is a love-it or hate-it type of headphone. I purchased it when it was half price and I love it for it's unapologetic warm, smooth, low distortion sound. I think it's a great headphone with the Hugo2 because it offsets some of the Hugo2's unapologetic presentation. This is the headphone that I relax with. The Nighthawk are a very low distortion headphone and play well with the Hugo2's measured performance. Incidentally it's one of Rob Watts favorite headphones as well and I can see why with the Hugo2.


Audeze LCD-2 (Pre Fazor 2014)

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The LCD-2 had no problems at all being driven from the Hugo2 and they are a great pairing. It's easy to hear a little bit of graininess in the treble on these with the Hugo2 but overall the tonal balance and speed from the Hugo2 gave them a boost. However, I liked them more from the Mojo than the Hugo2 as the Mojo's mid-centric and smooth presentation seemed to play better with them.


Audeze LCD-XC

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The LCD-XC didn't fare as well as the other headphones for me from the Hugo2. Drive-ability is not the issue. The issue is that my LCD-XC have emphasis in the upper mids / lower treble that made them sound harsh and fatiguing with the Hugo2. Naked truth. I like them from my Cavalli Liquid Gold but that's more about synergy and tonal balancing with gear. Moving on.


MrSpeakers ETHER Flow C

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This is a full sized closed back headphone that pairs well with the Hugo2 to my ears. It's a little bright overall but the lower bass is phenomenal and the low distortion characteristics of the ETHER Flow headphones play well with the Hugo2. There is a great soundstage for a closed back and the listening experience with the Hugo2 is engaging and fun, especially for EDM and electronic music. So clean.


MrSpeakers ETHER Flow (open)

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If the ETHER Flow C is a little bright with the Hugo2 then the ETHER Flow (open) is a little warm. They both sit just on either sides of the neutral fence for me. The Ether Flow (open) has a little bit of emphasized mid-bass that is clear and present when played from the Hugo2. The Hugo2 livened them up a little compared to the Mojo but didn't resolve as much as the DAVE with them. Overall a great pairing that has taken a lot of my head time when I had the Hugo2.


Focal Utopia

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This is the one I've been waiting to talk about. The pairing of the Utopia and Hugo2 is nothing short of amazing to me. There are dynamics to spare, details to suck you in, pinpoint imaging, a soundstage and depth (if it's in the recording) to get lost in. Yeah, I tend to gush with this headphone and while I think the DAVE has a more analogue presentation with the Utopia I find the Hugo2 doesn't make me miss the DAVE as much as the Mojo does when not at my listening station. The tonal balance and sense of 'being there' is top notch. Really, I can't think of a faster and more dynamic and impactful listening experience from what is a very transportable TOTL pairing.


Desktop DAC

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For its part the Hugo2 on its own is very well tuned and has plenty of drive for the headphones I own. However, there's always that lingering question... How does it sound with a desktop amp? I can say it sounds fantastic with the Cavalli Liquid Gold. I'll never say an external amp is more transparent to the source, that's not possible objectively. What I can say is that the Liquid Gold adds its sweet tonality to the Hugo2's incisive and detailed technical prowess that you get the best of both worlds. Although I typically listen to the DAVE direct, as I likely would with a Hugo2, I love plugging in to the amp from time to time for some of that sweet tonality.

I would recommend that when using the Hugo2 as a DAC for an external amp to set the Hugo2 to the line-level 3Vrms volume preset and then with the remote click the volume down 4 times to get a less hot 1.9Vrms. Some amplifiers can't handle a 3Vrms SE input without distorting. Just be extra cautious as this adjusted volume will be remembered the next time you turn on the Hugo2 and it will likely be far too loud for most headphones.



Conclusion

Well, that was a long review! I have to admit that I was surprised by the performance of the Hugo2. Even after seeing Rob Watts's presentation slides and seeing his APx555 measurements for low distortion, jitter, and the usual suspects, I was still tickled with the sound that I heard. Is it at the DAVE level? No, even though there are many things Rob has learned with the DAVE that have gone in to the Hugo2 it's still a notch behind. What the Hugo2 is to my ears is probably the best transportable device you can buy right now.

Chord has a great device with the Hugo2 and with improved design elements over the original and improved technical capabilities I have no doubt that it will be popular among enthusiasts that have the money to purchase one. It isn't cheap but it does perform in my opinion. I may have to acquire one for myself for those times I don't want to sit at my listening station with the DAVE and not feel like I'm missing much.

Thanks for reading!



Specifications from Chord:

Chipset: Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA

Tap-length: 49,152

Pulse array: 10 element pulse array design

Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB

Output stage: Class A

Output impedance: 0.025Ω

THD: <0.0001% 1kHz 3v RMS 300Ω

THD and noise at 3v RMS: 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ wighted (reference 5.3v)

Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted: No measurable noise floor modulation

Signal to noise ratio: 126dB ‘A’ Weighted

Channel separation: 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω

Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD:

94mW 300Ω

740mW 33Ω

1050mW 8Ω

Weight: 450g

Dimensions: 130mm (L) x 100mm (W) x 21mm (H)

Boxed Dimensions: 220mm (L) x 122mm (W) x 85mm (H)


Edit: Edited for clarity and grammar.
S
sasaki99
A decent review sir, I do have some question here.
So, as my understanding from the reading, the H2 is not really recommended to use as a standalone dac because it mixed the amp section to the sound? I just bought the H2 and starting to wonder what would be the sound of the Qutest tho, the stand alone one without the amp, or all chord products work the same way, the different is only to put the amp into the product or not.
Pros: Small form factor
Crossfeed well implemented
Standard RCA one out jacks
Good input and output options
Battery powered
Cons: Screwy user interface
Bright LED light can be quite bothersome at the wrong angles
Non-standard coax in
Bluetooth. why.
No case included
I'm lucky in the that I cannot hear most of the fine detail others seem to be able to hear, so for me a piece of gear has to really add significant value to be in my chain. Also, I will disclaim that I received the Hugo 2 on a free tour.

The unit feels a bit heavy in the hand, which is to be expected for such an expensive piece of gear. I wouldn't want to use it while walking around or anything, but if you needed to take it home after work in a backpack, or take it with you on travel to set up a rig at your destination, that would work.

The LEDs are bright, but there is a dim option. There's a bare LED inside the device that changes color based on the input kind, and that LED can shine right in the eye at certain angles. This is quite bothersome.

The whole colored interface is silly IMHO. I suppose if I had the devices all the time I might get used to it, but there are 34 different ball/color combinations, not including the volume colors. While the colored balls is innovative, it's not good innovation.

There's a remote. I didn't use it. I suppose if you used the Hugo 2 as DAC with amplified speakers, the remote might be useful.

Bluetooth is only for streaming to the DAC. Again, not sure when this would used for people with a $2100 DAC, but maybe with power speakers on travel? But who brings nice powered speakers when traveling.

As for the filters, they do nothing for me. I had a friend with much better ears (he's a musician and sound mixer) and he also could not hear any difference with the filters.

The crossfeed is well implemented, but all the "on" settings for the crossfeed sound the same to me. It should have been an on/off switch.

I suppose the battery is there more for control over power rather than for portability. That's cool as charging it is easy, and it has all sorts of tech to allow it be charged while playing with no ill effects. I understand it can be plugged in all the time, also with no ill effects.

Sound wise, let's start with the Sennheiser IE80 IEMs. I compared the same music, in ALAC format between the Hugo 2 and my iPad, and I could not hear a difference. I played all my audition songs that I know very well. Maybe the IE80s aren't resolving enough. Maybe I am not sensitive enough. Maybe my ears aren't trained well enough. Meh.

My main solid state audio chain is a Mac, USB to a Bimby, RCA to Auralic Taurus Mk II. This is what I compared the Hugo 2 to. I used a Utopia for most of the listening. Some was with the TH900.

Both headphones sounded wonderful out of the Hugo 2, but I felt I squeezed a tad more detail from the Bimby/Taurus, while the Hugo may have a slightly larger sound stage and was a little less punchy or fatiguing. Differences were small--tiny, which is a testament to the Hugo 2 as the other two "full sized" items retail for about the same price.

Just as a DAC, with the Hugo 2 feeding the Auralic Taurus II, comparing to the Bimby; very hard to tell for me, but the Bimby seems a tad smoother than the Hugo 2. The reverse might be that the Hugo 2 has a bit more extension into the upper range. Not harsh at all, and possibly a bit more detailed, but hard for me to tell. The difference becomes more apparent with a piano solo. Since the Taurus is considered a very neutral amp, the shift is perception between the DACs was interesting.

Finally, I compared the Hugo to the Bimby & Mjolnir 2 with some great WE396a tubes. I definitely preferred the Schiit stack, as did my buddy. Obviously, YMMV.

I enjoyed my time with the Hugo 2, but it's not for me. I'm not sure what the market for it is. It's too big to compete with the Mojo as a portable, and priced too high to compete with a desktop stack that can drive harder to drive headphones better. It drove the Utopia very nicely, but I prefer a tube amp. As a DAC, the much less costly Bibmy was just as good, to me, and there are many fantastic DACs available for way less than the Hugo 2. I suppose the market would be people that want a great set up at home and at work (or on travel), and are willing to carry between. Also, anyone with easy to drive headphones that need a very very small rig would benefit.

I also suppose you could have active speakers, or a speakers and an amp, and the Hugo 2 and a source, and you would have a nice system. The remove might be useful there.

I think if you look at the Hugo 2 as a $2100 DAC with some extra features, it makes more sense. It's a $2100 DAC that can drive IEMs and some headphones when needed, is portable, has a remote, and has the ability to switch between four inputs. It's a pre-amp/DAC plus.
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