Chord Hugo 2

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  1. x RELIC x
    5.0/5,
    "Chord Hugo2 Review - Incisive"
    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

    Logo.jpg


    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?

    Included.jpg

    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.

    BallVolume.jpg
    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

    USBSide.jpg
    OutputSide.jpg

    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.

    InputUSB.jpg
    USB Input.

    InputCoaxial.jpg
    Coaxial Input.

    InputOptical.jpg
    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.

    SamplingRateRed.jpg SamplingRateYellow.jpg SamplingRateGreen.jpg SamplingRateBlue.jpg SamplingRateWhite.jpg

    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.

    BallsBright.jpg BallsDim.jpg

    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.

    IMG_4866.JPG IMG_4877.JPG


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

    IMG_4879.JPG


    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

    MojoSize.jpg

    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

    DaveComparison.jpg

    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

    IEM_K10.jpg

    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

    IEM_JH-Angie.jpg

    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

    HeadphoneNighthawk.jpg

    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)

    HeadphoneLCD-2.jpg

    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

    HeadphoneLCD-XC.jpg

    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

    HeadphoneETHER_FlowC.jpg

    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)

    HeadphoneETHER_Flow.jpg


    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

    HeadphoneUtopia.jpg

    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

    LiquidGold.jpg

    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.
    guerph, AndrewH13, bidn and 26 others like this.
  2. Allanmarcus
    4.0/5,
    "Good, but hard to see the fit"
    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.
  3. miko64
    5.0/5,
    "Hugo 2 vs Hugo 1 and AK 240"
    Pros - - Better than Hugo 1, in particular sound and user interface
    - Much better than Mojo
    - Very versatile
    Cons - - can it drive LCD 4 adequately? (need to test later)
    - The dedicated USB 1 input is gone, this was useful in the office where USB2 is blocked
    1 Context

    I have been asked to write a short review comparing H1 and H2 and I have also included AK 240. To be honest, I have bought H2 because I was fed-up carrying always the 12V power adaptor with me, given I am travelling a lot, always carrying H1 and LCD-X with me (or alternatively LCD 4). I was not really happy with he sound of Mojo vs H1 because it was not structured enough. So my expectations vis a vis H2 were increentally not enormous. (Note: I did not have my LCD 4 at hand and will test later)

    2 User Interface / Usability

    The most important area of progress wrt H1 is clearly its usability and user interface. The fact that I can charge it on my lap top is highly aprecated, and in contrast to mojo, it shuts off when not used. To some minor degree, its form is nicer and it does not have (the agruably typical British) oddities of H1, as for example the power switch of H1. It is also nice that H2 remembers its input after switching off and it has also a remote (which I firat disregared, but must say it is handy)


    3 Test Set-up

    I have used Cowon Plenue P1 as input via optical and was comparinh H1 and H2 using both LCD 2 and campfire vega. The set up means that both devices get the same digital audio stream via optical input. In a first step the two Hugos were calibrated (i.e. same sound level). I used several of my favourite sound tracks to test, such as

    Mozart - Le Nozze: either Kleiber or Currentzis both 24/96
    Mozart - Don Giovanni - Giuliani 1961 or Currentzis both 24/96
    Meistersinger - Karajan 16/44
    Rinaldo - there is a very nice (very high quality recoding) with Cecila Bartoli 16/44
    Tamerlano - Xavier Sabato 24/96
    Verdi - Rigoletto w Pavarotti 24/96

    I think it is worth noting that the type of Music used (i.e. Classical opera) consists generically analog sound and song and you can quite easily compare reproduction with original (going to the Opera such www.roh.org.uk). On the other hand a lot of operas are sound wise quite "crowded" which means you can easily see how well the DAC/head-phone can resolve this. As an interesting side remark: some of the above records have been recorded in the late 50' to early 70', analog R2R in a very high quality)

    4 Sound

    The most important question: is there a material difference been H1 and H2 - no. The difference between the two is not huge, certainly smaller than between H1 and Mojo, but it is clear that H2 sounds objectively more neutral (whilte filter), which manifests in a better timing and more accurate expression. It is also slightly less harsh. Again the difference between H1 and H2 to AK 240 is very materal, as can be found in many reviews.

    I havee also read through the other reviews and largely share thenic characterisations, hence I will not repeat them. Overall I am very satisfied with Hugo 2, even more so since it is easily transportable.

    5 Conclusion

    H2 is great, but if someone owns H1, the sonic difference between the two is not material enough to necessarity upgrade. On the other hand when travelling much and always forgetting the 12V plug, this is really an option you should consider. Side remark, both Hugos are clearly better suited to drive LCD 2 than the AK 240. The difference with Campfire reduces but is still material.

    6 Teaser

    IMG_1260.jpg
    ChrisLN likes this.
  4. edwardsean
    4.0/5,
    "Hugo2 Tour Review"
    Pros - Fabulous flowing sound
    Detailed and natural sounding DAC
    Cons - Lacking in amplification qualities for full desktop home use
    [​IMG]


    Soundstage, D/A, Amplification, Space/Time, and Why I Won’t Be Buying the Hugo2


    Background: My Subjective Perspective

    This is my Hugo2 Tour review. We’ve been rightly cautioned against making our Hugo2 review about other gear, but at the same time I know we’d all agree that it’s important to give context. If we say the Hugo sounds transparent or lush it’s helpful to have points of reference. Also, writing more broadly gives the reader some insight into the psychology of the reviewer so the reader can evaluate their evaluation. I open this way because I feel I may get into a little bit of trouble with this review. So….

    I’m not someone who gets excited over new gear and then starts to cool on it as the novelty wears off. Case in point, two new pieces of gear recently came into my system: the Audeze LCD-i4 and the Hugo2. I’ve gotten to know the Audeze pretty thoroughly by now as it’s reacquainted me with large sectors of my music library. I loved it from day one and I still think: the wheel, sliced bread, the i4. I used the i4 exclusively for this review as it is the most talented, revealing transducer I currently own, especially with the Uber Too cable. However, my path with the Hugo2 has not been so linear (foreshadowing).

    When I first plugged In the Hugo2 my immediate thought was “Oh no. I’m in trouble.” I think many of you know what I mean. I knew I was in trouble because somewhere in my head I clutched the Hugo2 and took off running. Running from what, you ask? Also in my head are voices of sanity that routinely plague my thoughts, voices that say horrible, nasty things like: “You don’t really need this.” You already have great gear.” “You just bought the LCD-i4.” “You can’t buy every new thing?” Even as I listened to the Hugo2 I was desperately trying to get my hands on a unit of my own and drafting a letter of complaint to Chord. “Why can’t you all just produce a bad piece for once? Can’t you guys just be cool like that and let us have money for other things?” However, after comprehensive testing, I regrettably won’t be buying one.


    The Hugo2 Is More than a Pretty Face

    Don’t get me wrong the Hugo2 is spectacular. If all I did was listen to it and review it In isolation I would just gush effusively. It is capable of inflicting upon you an audio amnesia that temporarily makes you forget that other gear exists. First of all, the casing design and machining is gorgeous. If the Hugo1 was mocked by some for its Fisher Price “My First DAC” aesthetics, the Hugo2 suffers no such ridicule. It remains true to Chord’s unmistakable design language and conveys it with premium quality and covetable appeal (my unit had no bad gap tolerances). The Hugo1 did engender some resentment for making you learn its operation instead of conforming to your sense of familiarity. The Hugo2 is likewise controlled by unmarked marbles that you navigate by remembering ROYGBIV from 4th grade. So when I volume match I have to remember 63.4 on my other DAC is blue-indigo on the Hugo2. You forgive this conceit because, well, it’s just so darn beautiful. (Of course you chastise yourself for being shallow and remind yourself that good looks aren’t what’s essential. But, the Hugo2 is “really really good looking.”)

    How sad would it be if it were just pretty face with nothing inside? The Hugo2 sounds better than it looks. How good is that? A good point of reference would be to put it up against the already impressive Hugo1. This is a simple comparison to make. The Hugo2 is very much like the Hugo1 except better in every way. It carries the same house sound and philosophy (more on that later), but improves tonality, transparency, dynamics, and especially soundstage. When the first Hugo was released you could readily identify it by its effortlessly natural and flowing presentation. The Hugo2 improves on these characteristics and betters it by throwing a larger more incisive image. If you only compared the Hugo1 and Hugo2 you would think the latter just sounds spacious and vast.


    Soundstage, D/A, and Amplification

    I have to offer here that personally I’m a soundstage addict. Soundstage gets weighted for me disproportionally over against aspects others seem to care more about. I describe myself as an addict because I don’t understand headfiers that say that certain gear like the HD800s sounds too large. Again, compared to what reference? If you were there at the studio or venue the singer would not sound as if he/she were in between your eyes or the bass as localized somewhere between your throat and upper chest. For me, when I listen to music I want to close my eyes and be “taken there” immersed in sound in front of the stage. So, I’m a soundstage addict. I can’t get enough. Too much is never enough. The Hugo 2 is not enough. I doubt many will share this assessment and so I’m comfortable sharing this as a “minority report.”

    So to back up, going from Hugo1 to Hugo2 I thought: “vast,” and would’ve continued thinking this if I did not move to the Simaudio Moon Neo 430HAD. When I did I immediately thought, “Oh, not vast. I forgot. This (the 430HAD) is vast.” I should add that I’m running the Moon balanced with a Synergistic Research USB cable and an Audiophilleo USB to S/pdif convertor. The Audiophilleo does the DAC in the 430HAD quite a few favors one of them being expanding soundstage. Contrary to expectations, the Hugo2 was also not immune to its charms, and the Audiophilleo aided both units with its re-clocking and galvanic isolation. (6moons has a great article on why re-clocking convertors help reportedly jitter-free devices http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews2/audiophilleo/1.html.) Even so, the 430HAD presented a more open soundstage with greater air and separation between instruments/voices. I went back and forth again and again, checking and re-checking levels, and this was verified for me over days across various genres and instrumental/vocal arrangements and recording venues. The Hugo2 made the throughly capable Hugo1 sound a bit claustrophobic and now the 430HAD made the Hugo2 actually sound compressed. The dimensional layers did not unfold dynamically and find distinct architectural placement as with the Moon Neo.

    Now, the first thing that should jump to mind is the fact that that 430HAD is twice the price of the Hugo2. This is not exactly a fair shootout, but it is informative. Firstly, because it’s not just a matter of comparative costs and components but distinctive design philosophies. Chord has repeatedly stated that the Hugo, 1 or 2, functions best when used without additional amplification. The gain stage is not a separate discrete module that can be bypassed but is integral by intent. Without understanding the technicalities involved I have to respect this approach as the results speak for themselves. At the same time this limits the ability to use the Hugo2 as a DAC and compels it to be compared with other high caliber DAC/amp combos. Among portables I can’t help but think it rules the roost, but I can’t agree with those that claim it can replace full home units.

    In terms of D/A conversion, I think the Hugo2 performs about as well as anything short of the topmost tier of DACs, and far away better than the prosaic D/A of the 430HAD. However, at least to my ears, it cannot equal the dynamics and soundstage brought into play by a great fully differential desktop amplifier like the 430HAD. Compared to the Moon, the Chord is also missing some high end sparkle in the brilliance/air frequencies but it’s not just a matter of tonality. The well delineated sonic layers of the Hugo2 pump and breath in a more condensed, coalesced way whereas the individual elements rendered by the 430HAD are able to move independently and expand freely. Moreover, there is a transparent clarity to the Moon Neo that makes the creamy transparency of the Hugo2 seem ever so slightly cloudy by comparison. The Chord’s sound is more digitally delicate, detailed, and nuanced but the Moon Neo provides an invisibly crystalline amplification. As for imaging, the Hugo2 finds its sonic components by pen light, in comparison, the 430HAD by a pinpoint laser.

    Again, I understand this is not an apples to apples comparison, but the Hugo2 is not just a portable all-in-one. It is a superb DAC, which is by turns equally impressive and frustrating to me. Even at half the price the Hugo2 is worth comparing to the Moon Neo 430HAD because this brings its weaknesses into sharp relief and also its strengths. As easily as the Moon outstages the Chord with the benefits of its world class amplification, the Hugo2 obviously outclasses the 430HAD in the digital realm. The 430HAD employs a lovely implementation of an off the shelf delta sigma chip, but its nothing special like the proprietary genius of the FPGA in the Hugo2.

    Going from the Moon to the Chord is like going from video that is shot at 24fps to 60fps. It’s not that the 430HAD stutters in deciphering its samples. The sonic images are perfectly smooth and flowing listened to on their own. The Hugo2 however produces images that are beyond perfectly smooth and move with an almost impossible fluidity. Switching back to the ESS chip in the Moon you now find a slight “temporal granularity.” What I mean is that there is a comparative roughness as your mind finds a graininess from missing frames of sound you previously thought were traveling by too fast as to be perceptible. As a result the Hugo2 fleshes out sonic elements in way that makes the 430HAD sound slightly degraded, less substantial, and less detailed by comparison. It sounds as if in any given bar of music the Hugo2 is simply decoding more information and rendering a fuller portrayal because, you know, it is. The thing is the sound of the Chord flows like digital water but it doesn’t have the analog air of the 430HAD. The 430HAD is better at filling the “space,” and the Hugo2 is superior in terms of filing the “time.”


    Space + Time = Peanut Butter Sushi and Why I Can’t Get a Hugo2

    Well, you might think the answer would be to combine the two and take the signal out of the Hugo2 and amplify it with the 430HAD. You might think that if you’ve never read a Chord thread where many voices including Chord’s own recommend you not do that. I’ve verified this before with the Hugo1 but of course I have to try again. I keep premium silver wire from a top cable builder on hand for just such purposes. It’s the caliber of wire they don’t sell you. O’ sure they’ll sell you the copper and the silver-plated copper, but their OCC pure silver secretly sourced from aliens crash landed in Shangri-La, they understandably keep for themselves. So a while back I resorted to cannibalizing an expensive custom made cable. I reterminate it with top-tier connectors and Mundorf silver solder as I have need to test gear. This is to ensure that the cabling is not where the comparison is falling down.

    So I spent a day making.a pristine connection between the Hugo2 and the 430HAD and testing it out. You know two great tastes that go together to make something even better like peanut butter and chocolate. This was like peanut butter and sushi. I happen to like both but not together. Rob Watts and everyone is right; amplifying the Hugo2 works like whatever the opposite of synergy is. I could still parse out the wonderful sound that the two units bring to the equation but you end up losing the great sound of them both. You can bypass the DAC on the Moon but you can’t bypass the amp on the Chord. As mentioned before, there is nothing to bypass. I know some headfiers are using the Hugo2 with an external amplifier, but to my ears I seem to lose vital degrees of transparency on both components. My frustration in this review is that I really wish I could’ve found a place in my system for this unit I really want, but can’t.

    I freely admit I don’t understand any of the engineering decisions that make the Hugos a uniquely integrated unit that don’t give themselves to being used as a DAC only. I accept that for my part I cannot seem to successfully pair the Hugo2 with an external amp. I do wish then that Chord would make a Hugo2-TT with all of its prodigious digital talents integrated with a balanced amplifier that had an equal amount of resources expended upon it. I would pay the double price for such a unit. Alternatively, if I needed a hifi portable instead of a grab-and-go portable I would choose the Hugo2 without a second thought. As it stands I’m looking to optimize home gear these days and, so sadly, reluctantly, I’m going to unclench and let go of the Hugo2. What do you know I am able to listen to those horrible voices of reason in my head.
    Whazzzup, ChrisLN and x RELIC x like this.
  5. Whazzzup
    5.0/5,
    "Chord Hugo 2 versus Chord Hugo 1 and Chord Hugo TT"
    Pros - Better design more detail, smoother presentation sophisticated portable.
    Cons - rattle of the balls, filter an unnecessary distraction
    IMG_4777.jpg
    IMG_4778.jpg

    Caveats for testing preferences

    1) Although I am a Chord fan from the launch of CH1 and TT, I am not an extensive audiophile with 4 dacs, 8 HP, 4 amps etc..May not have golden ears either.
    2) I am doing this review from the perspective of what interests me. Is Ch2 worth the upgrade from CH1 and was all the hype mean for my TT
    3) I will be fair and honest but I am picky so what gains or not gains my desk space depends on audio experience primarily and dollars secondary.
    4) What i like or dislike may have little bearing on what the reader likes or dislikes.

    Methodology and equipment used for evaluation.

    Studio

    Furman Linear power supply SM2>iMac 5K roon core> audio quest jitterbug> audio quest cinnamon modified for Hugo> Ch1 or ch2> Full modded La900 or Double Helix Cables V3 type 4 litz 8 braid cable> Noble encore

    Outdoor

    Iphone 7 Plus 256 gig I tunes>CCK> CH1 or CH2> DHC V3 type 4 litz 8 braid>Noble Encore or fully modded LA900

    I did test Hd800S using double helix Compliment 4 SE cable and susvara production SE, but this was for curiosity as I use Hugo as a portable and find encore and La900 the perfect easy to drive monitors for it.

    Would like to start by thanking Chord and Xrelic for putting together this program Tour. Much appreciated and valued.

    Methodology. Genres tested where electronic, jazz, vocal jazz, R&B soul, Classical and Ambient. Examples are Ruff Cherry, james Hunter, cecile mclorin salvant, The headhunters, Peter Gregson, Biosphere. In order of genres mentioned. Frankly the song list was extensive at over 40 hours so lets just leave it at that.
    I would listen to a track complete for CH1 then CH2 Then TT focus 20 hours on noble encore, 10 hours on La900, 5 Hours on Hd800S and an hour with Susvara. I Only tested TT via hd800S for a few hours as Conclusions were drawn fairly quickly that its a desktop and will remain my main desktop. It was important to get back to CH1 and Ch2 as a portable. I then went exclusive for hours of CH2 on its own, to let it sink in what I was hearing and yes it did grow on me.

    Build. although the balls rattle and the volume wheel can spin without effect until pressure is just right. ( its not a problem) but ch1 balls are way tighter if thats a good thing.
    The build in every way is better on Ch2 from the volume being memorized to the micro c input sturdiness to the overall look weight and feel.

    Filters. My gosh why? used white only and don't use cross feed on any chord device although roon does have some in its software that I modified to be less.

    Conclusions. At first i found it difficult to understand the differences between Ch1 and Ch2. Ch1 rougher edges or distortion or whatever having less pulse arrays and taps does, gave me the perception of more bass impact, edgier mids and more distinct vocals and keyboards. This given a lot of the genres I like, was not really negative. But as listening went on I started to get the nuance, the tighter bass had a bit more colour and depth, the distinct mids gave a pinch more width and the smoother presentation and gave the notes a more rounded feel, smooth vocals became appealing and detailed. Is it a night and day difference, no. Chord did a very good job on the original. But it is a smoother less edgy more colourful wide presentation, albeit subtly so. The longer I listened to ch2 the more i liked it, then again the longer I listened I listened to CH1 the more i liked that as well. CH2 I had to conclude was my preferred dac over time.

    La900 was scrumptious under Ch1 and Ch2 with the same subtle differences that I noticed with encore. Hd800S was the same as la900 and encore with the subtle differences between CH1 and CH2, TT played hd800S best.

    While I can't speak for anyone else but concerning the burning question of should I upgrade from CH1? Well it depends on how easy one can part with 3 G CAD, how much the smoother detail is desired or the edgy colour of ch1 bothers you. Myself I will not for now, but every black friday or boxing day sale where i can get 20 or more % off I will think about it, so don't be surprised if my signature changes from ch1 to ch2 in the future.
    Concerning new customers from no Dac or Mojo or whatever, just do CH2 and be done with it.

    Concerning TT well Im sure CH2 will find its way on to desktops as a portable replacement, more than CH1 has, but TT will stay as my desktop until TT2 is launched. It was just better for the job all around, course I'm not sure if it was as refined but it was preferable for the job of playing my full size cans, period.

    Now i can go back outside and enjoy my Encores through CH2
    ChrisLN, Pokemonn, Currawong and 2 others like this.
  6. Barra
    5.0/5,
    "New SQ King of Transportable Listening"
    Pros - SQ, SQ, SQ, dual outputs
    Cons - Price, Color Coding
    The reason that I wanted to be part of managing this tour was to be able to compare the brand new Hugo2 with my Calyx M and Sony WM1A DAPs to know that I was getting the most performance possible out of my CIEMs. Well…….the Hugo2 squashed them like bugs. Side by side, the SQ comparison wasn’t even close……… darn it. Now I have to rethink my mobile listening strategy.

    As a point of reference, I was luke warm on the first Hugo a couple years ago when auditioning it for a week. I found it interesting, but only good SQ and not great enough to justify the expensive price tag in terms of normal pricing a few years ago. Everyone else’s prices have caught up since so pricing is less relevant now. The Mojo came in at a better price point, but not better SQ than what I already owned – and that was pre-Calyx M, my favorite source/DAP now by far. Given the back story, I wasn’t expecting to have the new Hugo2 beat the Calyx M and by such a margin. Perhaps I just have better equipment now to allow the Hugo to scale.

    Use Case
    I listen to music primarily at night in bed – where my CIEMs come in handy not to disturb my wife. A large desktop system on the side of the bed is out of the question as is full sized HPs so I have primarily been using DAPs/CIEMs. The star of the show for me has been my A18s with my Calyx M. Night time listening with the kids in bed and my wife asleep has the highest potential for quiet quality listening so I cherish this time and use it to review new equipment as well.

    While I love my desktop system – the Havana2 > Eddie Current Black Widow >>> HEX/LCD2/HD700, it gets very hot and it chains me to my desk. Having just moved to AZ in the middle of summer, it will not be hooked up for a while in fear of raising the temperature in my office during the warm days. The Hugo doesn’t match that level of performance, but is close enough to make me not miss it. My HEX performance through the Hugo2 is reasonably good where I could justify leaving my desktop setup boxed.

    Hugo2 Signature
    Audiophile as a label doesn’t mean much because of its versatility in meaning, but when you hear it, you know it. The Hugo2 is an audiophile type signature and you can clearly hear this when you first listen making my other DAPs sound pedestrian which is a paradigm shift for me. The Calyx M had that audiophile feeling until I compared them directly.

    The Hugo2 gets out of the way of the music without any particular definable signature. Its strength is in its coherence in sound stage giving lifelike weight to all in the instruments and distance between. But more so, it is about how it holds this sound stage firm making other DAPs sound unstable. The clarity and blackness between instruments hold firm locking positions providing a desktop like coherence that none of my DAPs can come close to, even the Calyx M. The Hugo2 has a strong grip on the music giving it a natural strength.

    The Hugo2 is on the fast side without any tubey decay, adding to the clarity. The bass hits hard, but the decay is short for better definition, but not the most fun bass. The treble is etched but smooth providing an analog-like feel. When you add this all up, it doesn’t provide that immediate wow that a flavored tuning provides, but it grows on you constantly as you listen to more of your library. By the time it was time to ship it on, I was heartbroken.

    Usability
    The Hugo2 is transportable at best and not incredibly intuitive which is its key weaknesses. For my use case of stationary in bed, or if I was looking for a mobile desktop for travel this works fine. If you are looking for a mobile solution that doesn’t require a backpack, this may not be the best solution for you. Here is what I found:

    • Transportable: This is not a DAP, but a transportable desktop unit that requires a source. At a 7 hour battery, this unit lasts a work day for most, but it and a source will need charging. He unit is smallish but not going to fit in anyone’s pocket, and it is awkward at best to manage both the Hugo2 and a DAP source when not sitting at a desk. It becomes a monster to manage when taped together into a mobile package, but can be done. I was constantly concerned about scratching up both the Hugo2 and my DAP when playing them in bed as they slid around.
    • Bright LEDs: With a short time to audition, I didn’t get too much time to worry about the functionality, but there was no intuitive way to get the lights to shut off. As is, the Hugo2 is lit up like a Christmas tree at night in bed enough to wake up my wife. An intuitive push of the power button did not turn the lights off as I had hoped, so I put it into a pillow case which doubled as scratch protection.
    • Non-Intuitive: For those that have not used a Hugo before, the UI is based on a color system that you have to memorize and is not very intuitive. For example, you can figure out that the roller ball on the top that stands out is the volume button with a little awareness, but red meaning quiet and white meaning loud was not clear until blowing out my ears. This made me concerned each time I started the player until discovering/memorizing friendly colors. In addition, the source doesn’t seem to always be detected so I spent a long time going through the input color options trying to find one that would work only to find that the player didn’t register the signal. This required me to pull the wire and try again a few times until it took. Personally, I like readable labels better – but the Hugo2 is pretty all lit up like a Christmas tree.
    • Swiss Army Knife: My favorite thing about the Hugo outside its SQ is the two outputs that allow me to audition two CIEMs/HPs back to back. I didn’t take advantage of this during the audition as my focus was on the Hugo, but I would like to have this ability.
    • DAPs: it didn’t occur to me that my Sony and Calyx didn’t have a digital out until I tried to hook them up. Luckily, I didn’t get around to selling off my AK100ii yet which does have a digital out or I would be stuck auditioning from my desktop. I didn’t test the wireless options as I am not a fan of them. With the exception of minimal desktop testing from the digital out on my computer, all my testing used the AK100ii as a source through optical using the provided optical cable.
    Comparisons
    Getting back to my main intent for the tour, the audition was to compare my Sony and Calyx to the Hugo2 for total SQ performance. Here is what I found:

    • Sony WM1A: The Sony has a warmish signature that sometimes has a fun low end with slower speed and longer decay. In comparison to the Hugo2, the Sony sounded underpowered and muddy. Sorry Sony fans, but I am not having a love affair with the Sony so far in comparison to my Calyx M that IMO is a league above. To be fair, I am not using the balanced out due to a cautionary stance on rolling CIEM cables after a Hidition cable pin disaster. I do use the balanced out with my HEX, but have not heard enough of a difference to justify further investigation yet.
    • Calyx M: The Calyx M was my power and sound stage king before hearing the Hugo2. I like that the Calyx M is a little more intimate than the Hugo, but the Hugo coherency and power just leave it behind in the dust. The only advantage the Calyx has is the all in one packaging for mobile use and the magnetic slider volume control which I have grown to love.
    Pairing
    My main concern was to pair with my CIEMs, but was interested to hear my full sized too. I may do some more full sized HP pairing when I get the Black Hugo2. Here is what I found so far:

    • HEX: The HEX was a quick check and it sounded great, but my main interest was the CIEMs. As you would suspect, my desktop scales the HEX further, but to be fair, this is from memory as I do not have it set up for a side by side comparison. What I enjoy on the desktop that Hugo doesn’t provide may just come down to tuning as the EC BW has a very tubey sound quality to it that I find very appealing. The Hugo is very focused on clarity where the BW is focused on the romantic.
    • 64 Audio A18: This was an ideal pairing with the 18 that made me cringe going back to my old favorite. The 18 is a stand out CIEM that compares with full sized exotics so it is fun to hook it up to something that allows it to scale. And scale it did, sounding better than my full sized HEX, LCD2.2, or HD700s bringing out the reasons that I love music.
    • Hidition NT6pro: The new tuning on the pro makes it a great pairing providing a tubey SQ to the lower end while taking advantage of the clarity both possess in the top end. The 18 is obviously a step up, but the pro is more fun for EDM and other bass focused music.
    • Dita Dream: Receiving the Dream tour unit in time for the Hugo2 audition allowed me to check this pairing as well. The Dita Dream is all about coherency and clarity so they both play to the same drummer again making them a fun pairing. The Dream was fuller and bigger when driven by the Hugo2 making me believe that it likes power.
    Conclusions
    The Hugo2 is likely to be a large win for Chord as it easily defeats the DAP SQ champions. Those looking for a desktop replacement, a travel companion, or a stationary listening station like me will likely be delighted by the SQ performance. Its quirky UI takes some time to get used to, but not a deal breaker by any means. With the competition having caught up in pricing, the sticker shock is now gone. So there you have it, for those that can afford the best SQ who are looking for the use cases for which the Hugo2 excels, this is an easy purchase. I may just have to end up with one myself in the near future.
    ChrisLN, UELong, csglinux and 3 others like this.
  7. Sonic Defender
    5.0/5,
    "Deftly musical and truly engaging"
    Pros - Deep well controlled bass, lovely balanced voicing, non-fatiguing highs, rich and expressive midrange, excellent build quality, user controls
    Cons - None that I noticed
    First I have to thank x Relic x for inviting me to join the Canadian leg of the Hugo2 tour and for I'm sure a great deal of work behind the scene coordinating things. I of course must also thank Chord Electronics for making the tour possible. I own the very capable Mojo and after being shocked at the sonic capability of that little gem I just had to spend some time with the Hugo2 and spoiler alert, I wasn't at all disappointed.

    What I elected to do for my review time was essentially use the Hugo2 as default as possible. I left the filter on the default neutral presentation and I didn't use cross-feed. For me, I expect the super stereo effect of headphone use and frankly rather enjoy it. I use and love 2 channel audio so when I want the true stereo effect of speakers, well, I use speakers. That isn't meant at all to disparage those who use and enjoy crossfeed, I'm sure it can be very well implemented and enjoyable. For me, knowing my leaning toward non-crossfeed listening I felt the best use of my time with the Hugo2 was simply to use it like I do anything I own.

    I don't think I need to post the technical specifications or elaborate unboxing pictures, I have little doubt others will do so and I enjoy those type of reviews as well. I did take one picture of the Hugo2 kit as I received it.
    Hugo2 Spread.jpg

    My photography skills leave a little to be desired so such as it is this is what I ended up with. As you can see, the Hugo2 retail package comes with several cable options to allow you to bring in a digital signal. I elected to use USB and for my review that is the input method I used exclusively.

    I did test the Bluetooth functionality of the Hugo2 and it was excellent. I am a huge fan of Bluetooth and I commend Chord for such a solid implementation of Bluetooth. The pairing was swift and remained rock stable throughout.

    I elected to not spend much time on Bluetooth as in my mind as great as Bluetooth is, the vast majority of those interested in the Hugo2 would not be using wireless in all likelihood. However; Chord, please, continue to implement Bluetooth in all of your products moving forward, it is a very worthwhile connectivity feature, in fact, I would consider it essential and expected in the contemporary marketplace. I hope anybody who does use the Hugo2 would at least tries out the Bluetooth functionality as it most certainly deserves to be appreciated.

    The build quality, fit and finish was nothing less than impressive. Holding the Hugo2 in hand was a pure pleasure and as silly as some may find such an observation, it kind of matters. We experience our gear on multiple levels and the tactile details are an important part of things. I actually really like the interface controls.

    For those who care about such things, the retail packaging is very nice, functional and adequate without wastefully allocating resources the buyer will pay for into less than needed packaging bling. I like the sensibility displayed by Chord here, put the money into the product, not into opulent, but ultimately fairly useless packaging.

    When I first started reading reviews about Chord products I thought the little colourful (Canadian/British spelling of color) rolling lights were interesting, but I dismissed them as mostly marketing and gimmicky. I have actually grown to appreciate the controls and find them extremely easy to use and frankly rather intuitive. I don't think I need dwell on this much as anybody seriously prepared to welcome a Chord product into their system is probably already aware of the control choice.

    So from a usability perspective the Hugo2 was nothing short of excellent and I actually rather enjoyed the controls so two thumbs up. One caveat is that the included USB cable attaches very snugly on the computer port, perhaps too snugly, but I did not have any problem besides having to hold my laptop from moving when attaching and detaching the cable.

    I had no driver compatibility issues with my Windows 10 system running JRiver Media Center 20 and when I used Tidal for streaming there of course was also no issue at all using the Chord driver.

    I elected to use my Audioquest NightOwl headphone throughout as I have recently acclimated to the signature and frankly really enjoy it so my sound impressions of the Hugo2 are a reflection of that pairing and your results will vary depending on the headphone(s) you use.

    The Hugo2 is a very impressive sounding piece of kit. The background has that rich dark silence that I like. There just did not seem to be anything out of balance in the sonics. The sound stage was very nice and natural. Not too narrow, nor exaggerated, just well, right. I did do some comparison to my NAD rig which features the very competent and well received M51 DAC and for amplification I connect directly via a speaker tap cable to my NAD M3.

    I mention this as when I look at the comparatively tiny Hugo2 you almost expect there to be a difference. I have to say there wasn't. I did my best to level match and I only used a few very familiar test tracks of mine and damn if the Hugo2 didn't hold it's own perfectly which in my mind is quite a feat from such a small footprint device. Certainly gives you pause when you wonder why we buy much larger footprint kit, but I digress.

    There were a few things that really struck me about the Hugo2. It is an agile sounding device with fantastic and natural sounding decay that really helped with the bass response and allowing transient notes to be expressed, but not exaggerated. I have played drums off and on for over 30 years and I also have attended many live shows of all sizes and flavours, and as such I have heard many instruments in many settings. The tonality of the Hugo2 is very natural and accurate. Sorry to use such a vague descriptor, but yes it is a very musical and very easy to listen to.

    I have a favourite test track Bye Bye Blackbird from disc 2, volume 6 of the spectacular Saint-Germain des Pres-Café collection. This track has it all, simple slow passages, rumbling string bass, wind instruments, fantastic percussion and cymbal work, topped off with female vocals that are closely miked. The Hugo2 simply nailed every aspect of the presentation. Cymbals had that proper cut through quality without brashness or glare, the percussion was tight and authoritative with drum heads sounding like drum heads. The upright bass that can be very powerful and with some pairings I have heard it through, almost over-powering, but with the Hugo2 it was spot on and tight. The wonderful breathiness of the wind instruments was as well done as I could imagine or have heard to date.

    That is a Segway into another aspect of the Hugo2 sonics that really stood out for me, the grip and control of the bass frequencies. The decay and speed of bass is just excellent and timbre and tonality again are sublime to my ears. I also listen to a fair amount of better quality electronic music where speed and driver control is important and on many occasions I just had to smile as challenging passages of bass intensive information were handled with aplomb and precision. The micro edge details were really present, but as importantly the scale of the notes and the power was never sacrificed at the altar of detail retrieval.

    I think vocals may be presented ever so slightly forward, but I say that feeling it is a positive attribute. The all important midrange, like the bass, is treated with respect and authority. I actually think that if I had to say anything about the comparison with my NAD rig, I may actually give the edge in vocal presentation to the Hugo2. It was vivid with a hint of warmth which really is required in my mind in the midrange. I listen to a fair amount of female vocals and I enjoy listening to the micro details that really make a recording of a vocal performance sound less processed.

    Again, I have to say that I could find no fault at all with how the Hugo2 presented midrange information, or frankly any sonic information. The Hugo2 just sounds solid and poised, yet with an inviting and subtle liquidity to it, a hard to define character that I think many of us identify as musical and involving.

    Unreservedly I think the Hugo2 is an exceptional sounding device, shockingly so for such a small footprint. If I didn't need to power speakers or at times power hungry headphones, I could easily have the Hugo2 and be done with it. It checks all my boxes, fast and deep bass with great control and tactility, fabulous detailed and non-fatiguing treble that lets me hear the nuances of cymbal hits from bell to body, and perhaps most importantly a rich and inviting midrange where so much of the music lives.

    I won't even begin to make any kind of is it worth the cost statement, that is just so subjective, but I will say this, if I could afford the Hugo2, I would not feel I overspent if I was able to acquire this lovely device. I hope that you the reader have an opportunity to listen to the Hugo2. The team at Chord voiced an engaging and technically very competent and sophisticated device that fits in your hand. I was very sad to pack this little gem up and thoroughly enjoyed every second of my listening time.
    reddog, jscmd2000, emptymt and 8 others like this.
  8. ruthieandjohn
    5.0/5,
    "I'm SOLD! Even better than Hugo (1)!"
    Pros - Improved sound (over Hugo 1); much-improved convenience overcomes the quirks that the Hugo 1 user had to endure
    Cons - Unfamiliar coax input format required jury-rigging; unit rattles, likely due to ball switches (no effect on operation)
    CAVEAT! head-fi.org crashed and trashed my review when 90% in and offered no way to reconstruct. This iteration is being entered incrementally and may not be complete. Instructions give a minimum, but not a maximum, limit.

    ABSTRACT


    The black Chord Hugo 2 was received on loan as part of the Official Chord Hugo2 Canada/U.S.A. Tour, described here. In short... I'M SOLD! Chord has taken an exquisite product, the Hugo, improved its sound, and even more so, improved the quirkiness that Hugo owners had to endure for the pleasure of using the Hugo.

    PHYSICAL/ELECTRICAL COMPARISON TO HUGO 1

    The Chord Hugo 2 is very slightly larger (broader) and heavier than the Hugo 1. The following pictures compare the two Hugos.

    IMG_3720.JPG
    Fig. 1: Chord Hugo 2 (black, bottom) moves many of the lights and switches scattered around the Chord Hugo 1 (silver, top) to a neat row.

    IMG_3721.JPG
    Fig. 2: Chord Hugo 2 (black) is about 1/8" wider than Hugo 1 (silver) and has sharp, rather than rounded, edges and corners. Connectors on the Hugo 2 are flush with the surface of the chassis, rather than recessed as on the Hugo 1, and power is provided by a standard USB charging port on the Hugo 2, rather than a round wall wart plug.

    IMG_3722.JPG
    Fig. 3: Chassis openings around the jacks on the Hugo 2 (black) provide enough clearance for most large-ended jacks, unlike the Hugo 1. Special cables are no longer needed for the Hugo 2.

    IMG_3723.JPG
    Fig. 4: The Bluetooth port on the Hugo 2 (black) is larger and more sensitive than on the Hugo 1, allowing operation from across the room.
    IMG_3724.JPG
    Fig. 5: The Chord Hugo 2 fits, though tightly, into the Chord Hugo case designed for the Hugo 1. Both the greater width and the raised volume control surround make the fit into the case tight.
    IMG_3725.JPG
    Fig 6: The new design of the buttons/lights on the Hugo 2 allow in-case access by simply pressing the edge of the case.

    There are a number of improvements in convenience that the Hugo 2 makes over the Hugo 1. Indeed, to my mind these are even more of an improvement in the Hugo design than the improved sound. The differences of the Hugo 2 include:
    1. Easier "On/Off" switch... a simple finger-sized button rather than a recessed microswitch requiring a fingernail;
    2. All jacks are at the surface of the chassis, rather than buried deep into a recess. Hence, the cables with special small ends that Hugo owners have had to buy are no longer needed for the Hugo 2;
    3. USB ports are inverted in position;
    4. Optical connector opening is covered (and not recessed);
    5. Volume control and its surrounding housing protrude a bit from the chassis, rather than being flush, and the volume control ball is bigger;
    6. Hugo 2 is 1/16" thinner, 1/8" wider, and 1.25 oz heavier (13.5 oz vs. 12.25 oz) than the Hugo 1;
    7. Hugo 2 has sharp corners and edges; those on Hugo 1 are rounded;
    8. Hugo 2 adds a four-position switch to tailor the reconstruction filter. The Hugo is known for its long reconstruction filter, said to be key to its sound, particularly for transients. The original Hugo had a filter of over 26,000 taps, while the Hugo 2 has over 49,000 taps. This switch adjusts the high frequency roll-off of the filter (little difference in sound as far as I could tell);
    9. Charging proceeds through a standard USB port rather than a dedicated wall wart and round plug that the Hugo 1 has;
    10. USB input is only one jack, combining the driverless USB (for tablets/phones) with the high-data-rate driver USB plugs on the Hugo 1;
    11. Coax input is unfamiliar, at least to me... instead of the standard RCA input of the Hugo 1, the Hugo 2 uses a multi-ring miniplug, and figuring out polarity from the coax output of the FiiO X5ii player used below was hard;
    12. Hugo 2 has a remote control, aiding its use in a desktop system;
    13. Hugo 2 has a charge-while-running operation and intelligent charging system, again to help use in constantly-plugged in desktop systems.
    14. Bluetooth receiver of the Hugo 2 is more sensitive, supporting longer-range, across-the-room usage (rather than the close-in, airplane-mode-friendly short distance of the Hugo 1).
    SOUND

    I have performed three types of tests:
    1. Three-way comparison of the Hugo 2 to the Hugo 1 and iPod Touch 6 Gen, and three way comparison of the Hugo 2 to the Lotoo PAW Gold digital audio player and the Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC with Schiit Lyr 2 amp;
    2. Blind test, using a second person more skilled than I in hearing subtle differences;
    3. Variety test, using several different headphones, music types, and bit rates to determine whether preferences of the Hugo 2 vs. the Hugo 1 maintain in the face of these changes.
    It is perhaps interesting to review the current prices on many of these systems discussed here:
    • Chord Hugo 2 - $2195 (Moon Audio)
    • Chord Hugo (1) - $1,995 (Moon Audio)
    • Lotoo PAW Gold - $2,399 (Diane Edition - The Evolution of Sound)
    • Schiit Bifrost Multibit & Lyr 2 - $1,048 (Schiit Audio)
    • Apple iPod Touch Gen 6 - $399 (Apple)
    THREE WAY COMPARISON TEST - METHOD

    I have used this test method many, many times on many headphones, as can be seen by the tables here and the links to over 50 individual tests therein.

    I used four songs, all encoded in Apple Lossless Format at CD quality (I actually bought the CDs and ripped them... no internet download involved) and played by my Apple iPod Touch 5th Gen. Because each of the 10 acoustic tests used a limited segment of music (2 - 10 sec), an infinite loop was used to repeat the appropriate segment of each song while DACs were switched in and out.
    • "You're Going To Miss Me When I'm Gone," by Band of Heathens, from their album One Foot In The Ether (used for fidelity of drum sound, positional resolution of two vocalists, and ability to discern pitch of string bass passages);
    • "Spanish Harlem," by Rebecca Pidgeon, on The Ultimate Demonstration Disc of Chesky records (used to assess female vocals, transparency, the attack of finger on bass string, and high resolution discrimination of differences in shaker shakes);
    • "Symphony No. 3 in C Minor Op. 78 (Organ Symphony) - IV" by Camille Saint Saens played by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (used to assess the "ripping" sound of well-rendered lower brass and organ reed pipes, and the ability to hear a very small entrance amidst a bombastic chord of orchestra and organ at full tilt);
    • "Throwback" by B.o.B. on Underground Luxury (used to assess ability of a bass tone, specifically lowest C on piano at about 32 Hz, to pick me up by the throat and shake me!)
    The 10 tests were as follows:
    • Transparency: What is between me and the music? A felt cloth? A "Sennheiser veil?" A frosted window? Dirty window? Clear Saran wrap? or nothing? At its best, makes me forget I am listening on headphones and am in room with musicians. [I use the 12-second segment 0:00 - 0:12 of "You're Going To Miss Me," which is kick drum, guitar, piano, and cymbal for this test]
    • Width of sound stage: How far to the left and to the right, (yes, AND up and down in best cases) does it seem the musical sources are arranged? [I use the same 0:00 - 0:12 segment of "You're Going To Miss Me," which starts with kick drum center, guitar #1 right of center piano far right, guitar #2 far left, to see 1) to what extent am I among rather than in front of the musicians, and 2) how wide an angle do those positional extremes of instruments form?]
    • Positional resolution: Can I distinguish a difference in position of two singers in Song 1? [I use 0:30 to 0:38 of "You're Going To Miss Me," where one vocalist ends a verse and a second vocalist, standing next to him, takes up the next.]
    • Bass visceral: Does the bass in third verse of Song 4 actually shake me? Or do I just hear it? [This test uses 0:31 through 0:33 of "Throwback, " where the bass drops to the lowest C on the piano.]
    • Drum "twang": At start of Song 1, do the bass and tom tom drumhead have a tone and a pitch, rather than just a thump? ["You're Going to Miss Me" 0:00 - 0:12]
    • Bass pitch perception: For the complicated bass runs in Song 1, do I hear a pitch with sufficient accuracy to sing or transcribe the part? ["You're Going to Miss Me," 1:02 - 1:23 to see if I can hear the pitch of not only the bass glides and accented notes, but also the grace notes]
    • Bass finger pluck: Do I hear the actual impact of fingers on the bass string just before hearing its sound on Song 2? ["Spanish Harlem," 0:00 - 0:04, listening most carefully to the repeated 3-note pattern to see if I not only hear an initial attack but some structure immediately following, before the finger leaves the string and the sound just rings)
    • Shaker variation: In Song 2, verse 3, do the various shaker shakes sound a bit different from each other, as they should? ["Spanish Harlem," 1:40 - 1:47: there are clearly loud and soft shakes, but how many more volume levels of shakes can I distinguish, and can I hear structure within each shake as the seeds hit the shaker wall?]
    • "Ripping" of organ / brass: In Song 3, is there the sensation of hearing each vibration of the French horn and low organ reed tones (sort of the tonal counterpart to hearing a "pitch" from a drumhead in Test 5); ["Organ Symphony," initial chord from 0:00 - 0:04 and French horn passage 0:06 - 0:12]
    • Discern added chord: About 1:38 into Song 3, after the full orchestra and organ hold a chord at the top of a passage, can I hear a small number of orchestra instruments join in, as sort of an echo, in the second measure of that chord? ["Organ Symphony," in the passage starting at 1:08, how well can I hear the small additional chord added at 1:16 on top of the full strength organ/orchestra chord in progress? Clearly enough to have noticed it if I weren't already listening for it?]
    THREE WAY COMPARISON TEST - RESULTS

    The table below gives a first place (blue, 3 points), second place (red, 2 points) and third place (yellow, 1 point) rating to each of the three systems compared to one another on each of the 10 tests. Just for fun (nearly meaningless, though, for supreme-level systems such as these), I added the points across all 10 tests to see which was overall highest scoring, second, and third. Since these are rank orders rather than absolute scores, and since I can make mistakes in comparison (though I tried to assure that any differences I declared were large enough that if made to repeat in a blind test, I could... hence, there is at least one feature that has a three-way tie), scores of 3 or larger are significant.

    I used the HiFiMAN HE1000 as the headphone in the following test, because earlier tests of other DACs showed me that it was the most sensitive of my headphones to differences in DACs. Here is the result of comparing the Hugo 2 (center column) to the Hugo 1 (left) and iPod Touch 6 (right):
    Hugo 2 Hugo 1 iPod.jpg
    Fig. 7: Hugo 2 (center) outshines the Hugo 1 and iPod Touch 6 in areas of treble detail and sound stage; Hugo 1 and iPod Touch 6 were comparable in total score, though different in strengths.

    The similarity of the iPod Touch 6 to the Hugo 1 has been the subject of multiple threads (here and here), with opinions ranging from "I can't tell the difference, either" to "I hear a clear difference on all music" (and I fear an unspoken "What's wrong with you?") .

    As I am an aficionado of Grado headphones (I have over 25 pairs!), I have often talked with Grado Labs, and they have recommended both the Schiit Lyr 2 and the Lotoo PAW Gold as excellent for Grado headphones. Hence, I compared these two systems with the Hugo 2 in driving the Grado PS1000e headphone, as follows:

    Hugo 2 Lotoo Schiit.jpg
    Fig. 8: Lotoo PAW Gold provides slightly better sound than the Hugo 2 or Schiit Bifrost Multibit / Schiit Lyr 2 for the Grado PS1000e.

    BLIND TESTS

    In these tests, I arranged the connections into the various systems while my wife Ruthie (of "ruthieandjohn," my screen name) listened to the pieces shown. She is consistently able to discern differences in headphones and amps better than I can. One of these was performed with the low-cost Grado SR125e ($150), the other with the high-end HiFiMAN HE1000.

    Blind Test Chart.jpg
    Fig 9: Blind test comparison of Hugo 2 to either Hugo 1 and iPod Touch (top row) or Lotoo PAW Gold and Schiit Bimby/Lyr 2 (lower row) shows Hugo 2 excelling in sound quality.

    In the test against the Hugo 1, the Hugo 2 was said to be "clearer and cleaner." Instruments seemed better separated and did not blend (thought the blending of the Hugo 1 sound was regarded as very pleasant. Even modestly-priced headphones can benefit from the Hugo 2 (of course, they ARE Grados, so what would one expect?)

    In the tests vs. the Lotoo and the Schiit components, the Hugo 2 was regarded as placing the listener more into the middle of the music, which surrounded the listener more.

    VARIETY TESTS

    Some folks on the Hugo 2 Tour thread have expressed interest in the Audeze Sine 20 IEM. While I don't have that, I do have the highly excellent AKG K3003i IEMs, one of the best universal fit IEMs, so I performed comparisons with it between the top performing Lotoo PAW Gold and the Hugo 2. In similar vein, I compared my three top headphones, the HiFiMAN HE1000, the Sennheiser HD800, and the Grado PS1000e, using several examples of music types and playback resolutions, from the 44.1 K, 16 bit samples of lossless CD to the 192 K 24-bit samples of high resolution. Here are the results.
    Song Performance Chart.jpg
    Fig 10: For a top-end IEM, the Hugo and the Lotoo PAW Gold work equally well. For close-mic'ed solo piano music ("Goldberg Variations"), the solo piano was just a bit more realistic with the Lotoo. The Hugo 2 outperformed the Lotoo for the Sennheiser and Grado headphones and was equal for the HiFiMAN.

    SUMMARY

    The Hugo 2 is a winner! Despite having close to 50 pairs of headphones, about 8 portable DACs (including the Hugo), perhaps 5 portable amps, 6 desk-sized amps, one desk-top DAC, and other associated gear, I hope to be able to purchase one in the not-too-distant future. In addition to providing the best sound I have heard from any DAC, portable or desktop, the Hugo 2 has added a supreme amount of convenience with its physical upgrades. I would be most interested in how it compares to the Schiit Yggdrasil as perhaps one of the best DACs ever.

  9. musicday
    5.0/5,
    "Chord Electronics Hugo 2 review by Musicday"
    Pros - The sound is capable of reproducing, native DSD512, remote control, fantastic build quality.
    Cons - none I can think of
    Chord Electronics Hugo 2 Review by Musicday


    Note: this unit is my own and not a review tour sample.


    Introduction :

    There is really no need for an introduction when comes to Chord Electronics. They are a well known British company that design and manufacture high end audio equipment, and few years ago they started to concentrate on the portable audiophile market. First it was Hugo transportable DAC, that was a massive success and after, they introduced the Mojo portable DAC that is much smaller and very convenient to carry anywhere you go.

    Based on the massive success of previous Hugo, Hugo 2 was created to deliver as much as possible pure audio in similar small package. In this review i will mention the portable DAC Hugo/Hugo 2 and not discuss their flagship DAVE as it is in his own class, mains operated. Let’s have a look what are the main technical differences between the two Hugo:


    Chord Hugo ( original ) : 26,386 taps , 4 Element Pulse Array design, supports PCM up to 384 KHz, Plays DSD64 and DSD128.

    Chord Hugo 2 : 49,152 taps , 10 Element Pulse Array design, supports PCM up to 768 KHz, Plays DSD64-DSD512 ( Octa DSD ). Indeed future proof.


    This are only few improved features from the previous model and i will try and cover all the others as i go along writing this review. You don’t need to be an expert to realise this is a major improvement, both internal and external.


    Unboxing and accessories:

    Hugo 2 arrived in a rather large box very well protected , covered in bubble wrap. Even in case of an accident everything inside would have been intact. The guys at Chord Electronics know how to pack when shipping their products.


    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg

    Very big box isn’t it? For how small Hugo 2 is, but safety in transport comes first.

    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg

    Included in the box are:

    -2 amp USB charger, -IR remote control and batteries , -1.2 m USB to Micro USB,

    -15 cm Micro USB to Micro USB OTG cable, owner’s manual. All that is included is more then enough to get you started and most likely new owners have all sorts of cables at home ready to try.

    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg





    Design:

    Hugo 2 is beautiful DAC to look at, and the design and build quality is per Chord Electronics, very high quality. Hugo 2 has a much sharper, lower profile design compared to the previous Hugo, with four spherical polycarbonate control buttons .Aircraft grade aluminium been used for the casework.

    You can have it in a choice of two colours : silver or black. Photos don’t do any justice and you have to see it in person to appreciate the look and the feel, really superb.

    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg


    Connections :

    Inputs:

    • 1x Optical TOSLink 24-bit/192kHz-capable
    • 1x RCA coaxial input 24-bit/384kHz-capable
    • 1x HD USB input 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512-capable
    • 1x aptX Bluetooth (extended range)
    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg

    Outputs:

    • 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
    • 1x 6.35mm (¼ inch) headphone jack
    • 1x (pair) stereo RCA phono output
    In the near future Chord Electronics are planning to release an add on module called 2Go, that will attach to Hugo 2 to allow wireless streaming capabilities and maybe SD card storage. More details are not available at the time of writing this review.

    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg

    There is more user control with the added filters.

    Hugo (Ultimate Reference) (White)

    Hugo HF+ (High Frequency roll off) (Green)

    Mojo (‘Smooth’) (Orange)

    Mojo HF+ (High Frequency roll off) (Red

    After trying them all the filters ,i personally use only the white one which suits my listening mode.

    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg

    A quick look at the high quality paper print manual will show you how to use and adjust the Hugo 2 DAC, very easy and simple setup, far better than previous HUGO IMHO. Turn on the filters mode to fine adjust the sound according to your listening preferences.

    Is great to see there is a remote control included in the box that makes operating this DAC so much fun, no matter if you use it with headphones on the move or in your audio system at home. Plain and simple and easy to operate. And there is DIM : press that button and the lights will dim , a very pleasant visual experience in the evening especially in the contrast with the black unit.

    upload_2017-7-4_10-28-8.jpg



    Gear used to test Hugo 2 in this review:

    Source: Samsung Edge 6+, LG Flex, Shanling M2s, Asus N58V.

    Headphones: Meze 99 Neo, Koss Porta Pro modified, Audio Technica ATH-CKR10, Venture Electronics Monk+ Cappucino earbuds. I have been listening to jazz, blues, rap, classical music. Hugo 2 really delivers in a a special way your music.



    Sound quality:

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    Hugo 2 is a very detailed DAC that can reproduce the good recorded music in a way never heard before in such a small package. I didn't hear any hiss with my IEMs, and that's because of the very low Ohm impedance : 0.25 milliohms to be precise. With ATH-CKR10 the bass is tight and punchy, mids blend nicely in and the vocals are very clear. Is really nice to have so much power volume to play with when you want. My IEMs are back to life and are taken to a higher level, with a much more wider and detailed soundstage. Just feed it with quality signals to get the best out of it. I find it being more neutral, with darker background then both Hugo and Mojo, things really have changed not just the package.

    Another headphone that I really enjoy with Hugo 2 is Meze 99 Neo.

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    A very easy to drive headphone and the synergy between the two was great. Hugo 2 can really make this rather inexpensive headphone shine, taking it a whole new level. Slightly warmer sounding headphone, I can hear the micro details. The soundstage is not big but is wide enough and precise to give you a nice and comfortable listening .

    Among other things I really like the fatigue free sound Hugo 2 can reproduce. One can enjoy hours and hours of pure audio bliss without any problems ( headaches ). Also using Hugo 2 to watch movies is a great experience with immersive sound and deep powerful bass when called for.

    Either using Shanling M2s, my laptop or mobile phone as a source feeding Hugo 2 the results was always great. I would suggest that everyone who will eventually get to hear or own Hugo 2 if possible to experiment with cables, sources, Hugo’s2 filters to get the most off it.



    Final words and my conclusion:



    There is no doubt that Hugo 2 has no rival at this price point in the DAC world. Is small enough to taken anywhere you go, is future proof with DSD 512 native playback, and also the 2 Go module later to be released for streaming .

    Has lots of power to drive the most demanding headphones and is very detailed and sublime sounding. The music will come back to life with Hugo 2 and you will hear your music more lively, more realistic.

    Try to hear one for yourself, the hype is real IMHO. I would like to thank both Rob Watts and John Franks and the team at Chord Electronics for putting time and lots of effort to create such a wonderful DAC . Even the most demanding audiophile needs will be satisfied.
    1. Music Alchemist
      "There is no doubt that Hugo 2 has no rival at this price point in the DAC world." So how does it compare to the Schiit Yggdrasil? I would like a detailed description of how they differ in sound, please. Surely you know, given that you have made such an impressive statement about how it has no rival at its price point.