Separate names with a comma.
Amp/DACs item created by Music Alchemist, Feb 12, 2017
Pros - Stunning Sound Quality
Powerful Headphone/Speaker Amp
Battery Power Isolation
Cons - Burn In - Takes a while to sound best
Filters aren't so different
Hugo2 - A Desktop DAC Mini Marvel
Every marketing professional knows that the best way to influence a buying decision is through word of mouth – so Chord’s use of ordinary Head-Fi posters to review a product is a stroke of genius. These reviews are grass-roots opinions from community members who want to be honest, technically accurate and write an enjoyable read. And we’re doing so without monetary or in-kind compensation.
My review of Hugo2 is to focus on its use as a desktop DAC driving a loudspeaker system. I will not be commenting on headphones at all. Nor will I be discussing mobility or nice leather cases – nor emphasizing features. I will focus on sound quality in absolute terms – not coached by ‘value for money’ or ‘based on portability’. I want the best the H2 can deliver so I will be working to extract the best sound quality I can by reconfiguring and tweaking my system. And then I’ll do some comparisons against other desktop DACs.
Thanks to the many posts of Rob Watts and HeadFi’ers, I have come to appreciate what ‘transparency’ can mean, what to listen for, what to avoid and to wean myself off false euphonics. Loudspeaker setups, generally speaking, are more complex than headphones, much more expensive and require more effort to better. At some level, you reach a plateau. Yes …some loudspeakers are more revealing in detail or tighter bass extension and some amplifiers can improve musicality or low end and, of course, cables and power matter. However, I hope I can say my review system was as resolving as I could get it within a reasonable budget – leaving an objective reference to report only on the impact of the H2 and comparison DACs.
These are the system components used:
DACs: Hugo2, DAVE (offsite), DirectStream Jr., Antelope Pure-2, Copeland 215, DragonFly RED
Source: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 1370, Windows10 (Creators Edition), Bitsum Process Lasso
Playback: JRiver Media Center 22, Google Play Music, Tidal HiFi/Masters
USB: Cables: Audio Sensibility Impact, Cleanup: Musical Paradise MP-U1 + Intona Industrial
Interconnects: Analysis Plus Silver Oval-2 (3ft)
Speaker Cable: Analysis Plus Silver Oval-2 (8ft)
Preamplifier: LTA MicroZOTL
Amplifier: LTA ZOTL40 MkII (w/custom Mundorf caps)
DIY Voxativ AF-2.6 – Single full-range driver, no crossover (10ohm,99dB)
Finale Audio Vivace Mini – Single full-range driver, no crossover (16ohm,92dB)
Coherent GR12 – Co-axial driver, inductor + capacitor crossover, (8ohm,96dB)
Power: Nordost QB8 Powerbar, QV2, QK1, QKore1, Qkore3, Heimdall-2 Powercords,
13’x22’. 9’ ceilings. Rug, Fabric furnishings. No sound treatment.
Speakers on the long wall. 9’ – 10’ spacing. Customary toe-in to seating position
A high-end DAC deserves a place of its own on the top shelf of an audio rack but given the H2’s diminutive size it looked lonely by itself so it shared space with an objet d’art.
Hugo2 and Friend
I was not enamored with the H2’s disco lights display but once you get used to the color scheme it’s a distinctive part of the product experience …and it produced quite nice ambient lighting. I faced the row of H2’s lights toward my seating position and controlled volume and filter settings from the remote.
Getting things running properly was not a problem. Drivers loaded on my Windows10 laptop, the DAC was detected and my smoke-test of a low-volume playback all worked fine. I am pretty determined to ensure noise-free/bit-perfect USB transport of music to my DACs and although I understand why people buy dedicated streamers and fuss with digital cables I’ve had great success producing phenomenal sound with ordinary windows running optimized Process Lasso and JRiver. I know that my USB cleanup (MP-U1 + Intona) isolates and removes most any vestige of source analog noise – and this was used throughout the test.
USB to MP-U1 to Intona to Hugo2
My H2 was directly hooked up to my ZOTL40 MkII amp and to my Voxativ AF-2.6 DIY, Finale Audio Vivace Mini or Coherent GR12 speakers. I used single driver speakers in this test to improve imaging and reduce (or eliminate) any cross-over artifacts. My JRiver playback volume was set to ‘disabled’ and I let everything up to PCM 768khz sampling and DSD512 pass directly. The H2’s chassis RCA openings were too small to allow me to secure the connector locks on my Analysis-Plus interconnects – so I undid them. I did not use a subwoofer but if you wanted to its easy to connect the parallel 3.5mm jack to an RCA splitter cable.
RCA openings still not large enough for my interconnects
I prepared my curated playlist of excellent audiophile tracks obtained from both legitimate and dubious sources. I used about 25 tracks for this review – a good mix of Redbook, Hi-res and DSD, including a handful of DSD256 and several tracks in various lossless and lossy formats. When I am critically evaluating for sound quality, I look for specific points in a track that highlight the differences I hear and A/B those – over and over. I also prefer live in-studio or in-venue or in-concert performances over electronic or over-produced content. A partial list of my tracks is provided at the end of this review.
Finale Vivace Mini, Coherent GR-12 and Voxativ DIY
IMPROVING SOUND QUALITY
My first order of business was to maximize the H2’s sound quality and try out the ideas and comments raised in several Head-Fi posts.
Initially, I felt the H2 sounded very bright through my speaker setup - too bright. I was almost ready to return the unit …but after a few days of regular usage it just settled down. Was this burn-in? I was the last of the tour reviewers and the unit most certainly had many hours on it. Was it the connection to my power amp that removed the last vestiges of cobwebs in the output stage? Unsure …but the transformation was real and not a situation of ‘brain burn-in’. The H2 was screechy for a few days then became sublime. So, buyer beware, a longer home audition may be needed for your H2 to become best friends with your speaker setup.
Filters and EQ
Maybe I’m sensitive to these things but I found the H2’s crazy detail to be almost the detriment of a pleasing presentation and dream weaver listenability. I expected the filter settings to dramatically change things but I found it very hard to hear any differences. Every setting still had huge amounts of high frequency, although it seemed like Red sounded the smoothest. With H2 you’re paying for taps and I didn’t want to lose out on the 256fs up-sampling so, in the end, I went with Green and dialed in a touch of JRiver EQ high shelf to tame down my Voxativs. This setting worked very well for all music genre’s and all bitrates.
I noted that H2 revealed so much new information in my reference tracks that they sounded like different recordings. It’s like the H2’s FPGA snuck a few more singers and performers in the back door. I was expecting ‘more of the same only better’ but instead I got doses of unfamiliar depth, hidden voices and instrument nuance – all beautiful. H2 really was transformative to the music and reaffirmed how important accurate sources are when determining what other aspects of your system may need attention.
H2 thru Pre-Amp – Yes or No
Audio pre-amps buffer input/output impedance and provide gain with a volume control. The H2 incorporates a digital volume control more accurately than any pre-amp and has a well-designed output section to allow direct input to a power amplifier. So, easy-peasy, no need for a pre-amp with H2, right? Well yes and no. If you really need a pre-amp to support phono or analog inputs, be aware that I found the H2’s ‘line-level’ setting of 3V RMS to be too high for my microZOTL. I obtained a much more pleasing sound when I dialed my pre’s volume gain to near maximum and set H2’s sound volume to below 2V. I suppose this is something to do with the interplay of DAC/Amp gain/impedance curves. Direct to my ZOTL40 amp the H2 sounded better as confirmed with several back-and-forth tests. I was after transparency so I ran the rest of my review with DAC direct to amp.
LTA microZOTL Pre-Amp
LTA ZOTL40 MkII Amplifier
USB Input – Conditioning Needed?
The H2 comes with a factory USB cable – nothing special – but it does work quite well directly connected to a computer source. Rob Watts gallant attempt with increased filtering in lieu of proper galvanic isolation has really helped. I compared this with my external isolation and listened intently for distortion signatures I know are due to analog noise intrusion to the DAC. I was struggling with confirmation bias but I will say that my external USB isolation may have brought forth a tad more clarity, snap and a smoother sound. So, I’d suggest that after buying an H2, go shell out for your trusted USB isolation solution …just to be sure.
Power & Battery
The importance of clean power feeding a DAC cannot be overstated – as any negative impact on the small signal D/A processing becomes quite audible when amplified. H2’s battery operation definitely gives it a huge advantage here – obviously making it immune to AC noise and ground loops. I got 6-7 hours battery operation and while charging I could discern no difference in the sound. The brilliant engineering by Rob Watts really works to isolate the delicate bits of the DAC from the terrible world of household power. This feature alone has me rethinking the value and importance of floating my entire source chain off the grid: laptop, USB cleanup and DAC. Then I can be assured that my RCA interconnects carry the DAC’s absolute best quality analog signal to my amplifier. Thank-you Hugo2.
My other review DACs all relied on AC power and definitely needed power conditioning to sound best. To offset the H2’s battery-only advantage over other DACs, I tried using a UPS (APC SmartUPS 1500) to provide a maximum of about 90 minutes of power to each of them. This may have helped - although the H2 still embarrassed the lot by dominating in sound quality. More below…
I was fortunate to have demo Nordost QKore ground units during my review. These work to silence spurious noise on the AC mains as well as component signal ground – like sticking a proverbial thumb on the buzzy spot. The H2, being battery powered, was not bettered by improved signal grounding. Other AC powered DAC’s, however, did marginally improve (deeper silence I felt) and were thus configured during my comparisons. Mostly, QKore delivered the best benefit to my AC powered ZOTL40 amplifier by grounding the RCA inputs (and by extension, the DAC’s RCA outputs and analog section).
Nordost Power Conditioning
QKore Ground Units
DSD vs PCM
Rob Watts has made his opinion on DSD well known – and emphasized his PCM-first approach for his DACs. However, somewhere during the development of the H2, the decision was made to give DSD content the same high regard as PCM. Exact details are unclear but I understand it’s a parallel implementation to his PCM approach and the results are very good. DSD playback (64x,128x,256x) plays flawlessly and with the same fidelity as PCM frankly. I looped several tracks for which I have both versions and loved them equally. I’d probably need better ears or a more resolving system to discern the differences.
Lossless vs Redbook vs Hi-Res
Any song played from my Google Play Music subscription (at an “effective” 320kbps resolution) was almost as satisfying as the lossless 16/44.1 version from JRiver or Tidal. Using the H2 to stream background music while trying to answer emails or preparing dinner proved highly distracting to the task at hand. Even at muted volume levels, the bass has wonderful impact and even whisper vocals carried great emotion. High resolution lossless versions sounded impressively more smooth and real …but Rob Watts WTA filters really work well across the source quality spectrum. Still, in quiet, intimate listening sessions (like after 1am with a glass of bourbon in hand), there is no comparison to the joy of 96khz music.
Direct to Loudspeakers
It has been noted that a Chord DAVE can directly drive high efficiency speakers. DAVE provides about 2 Watts of power into 8Ω to deliver the ultimate in transparency – or so go the comments from those few souls who have this kind of setup. I felt I needed to try it with H2 and even though it’s power output into 8Ω is only about 1 Watt it would be enough to drive my ~99dB efficient Voxativ speakers to listenable volume levels. To connect the RCA plugs on H2 to my speaker cable, I used adapters purchased from Amazon - although directly wiring an RCA end on the cable would probably reduce losses.
Speaker wire connected directly to Hugo2’s RCA outputs
UXCELL BNC to Dual Banana Binding Adapter with matching RCA connectors
And the sound is …Holy Transparency Batman! I thought my ZOTL amp was the final word but the H2 directly controlling Voxativ neodymium drivers sounded so much more realistic with authentic echoes from a deep soundstage that transported me to the recording venue. I heard visceral lows, incredibly detailed voices; a beautiful mid-range and effortless highs that just floated off the speakers. The nearly distortion-free linearity of the H2 amp was quite apparent – I noticed a purity in the mids that I found very enjoyable. This was the sound of headphones through loudspeakers. I was transfixed and will join the chorus of persons who say that this approaches the ultimate. For me, it’s the best I have ever heard.
That being said, I did notice a certain thinness in the delivery: less authoritative drum slam and slightly diminished body in general. Also, the digital nature of the H2 was laid bare without any interconnects or tubes to mellow the sound. So, it was gloriously transparent but at the same time …uncomfortably so. I returned my ZOTL to the mix and got back the ‘meat on the bones’ – as they say - but immediately sensed the loss of definition. Hmm. I wanted to go back to H2’s amp but its battery-based power supply just couldn’t provide the power (current) needed to move loudspeaker magnets with aplomb. Oh boy, what to suggest? Just add a subwoofer and call it a day? Upgrade to DAVE? Wait for Chord’s anticipated Digital Amps? For sure, once you have heard this kind of full transparency, there is no going back.
The H2’s ability to accept PCM768 and DSD512 means it can handle software up-sampled music and only the final conversion to analog is done by the H2’s pulse array hardware. The mediocre SoX up-sampler within JRiver easily ran on my laptop but produced vastly inferior audio. HQPlayer is a well-known media player with a very powerful up-sampling engine – arguably the best in the world. The most recent version includes ‘xtr’ filter options to mimic the ‘Chord Sound’ - says designer Jussi Laako. Despite Chord’s claims to the contrary, modern CPU’s are well capable of filtering at high tap counts and HQPlayer’s can run into the millions. Does this mean we can duplicate WTA filters and turn the H2 into a DAVE, or better? My laptop was not the most performant so I limited my tests to the PCM filters ‘poly-sync- xtr-mp’ with standard noise shaping – and these ran in real-time with no problem.
The results were interesting. I’d say that HQPlayer produced files almost as smooth as DAVE and there was a bit more lushness to everything. I found the instruments sounded more natural and I believe I also heard a deeper and wider soundstage. But overall, the HQPlayer up-sampling was not as magical as the H2 on its own. This certainly warrants more experimentation. So, you can consider H2 to be both a fantastic up-sampling DAC voiced by Rob Watts or an excellent D/A output stage that can accept software up-sampled PCM or DSD.
There is nothing double-blind or independently-verified about the comparison below. This is not a shoot-out but rather my considered opinions being as objective as I can.
My first comparison was with the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red. Direct to amplifier the DFR sounded great and is a phenomenal implementation of the Sabre architecture. Say what you will about this el-cheapo, mass-market device, I’d rate the DFR as being about 70% of the H2 for sheer enjoyment. Although the DFR approaches the H2’s musicality, the H2 just dominates it with more and better details and convinces you of a much wider and deeper soundstage. H2 accurately portrays singers, instruments and layers of performers whereas the DFR was muted in comparison. The H2 just sounded more effortless and real. I don’t think I experienced listening fatigue with the DFR but the H2 certainly provided more pleasure and many more ‘suspension of disbelief’ moments.
Next came the Antelope Pure-2. This is a professional grade Burr-Brown R2R DAC with the claim of accurate clocking by heating its clock crystal in a tiny on-board oven. The result was a very good sounding presentation with excellent details and timbre. However, on a busy choral or an orchestral flourish the Pure-2 was not as convincing as the H2 which just stood the music up as the real thing. The Pure-2 is a noble attempt to push the limits of classical audio engineering however I just did not want to listen to it after hearing the H2. Rob Watts has expounded on the challenges of R2R designs – that they have terrible noise-floor modulation and are very prone to jitter. These are words on paper but you can hear for yourself how Rob Watts design prowess allows the diminutive H2 to do more with less. Way more.
PSAudio’s DirectStream Jr is an excellent desktop DAC – made more so with regular (and free) updates to their core FPGA - most recently a ‘Huron’ release – where Ted Smith (DSJ designer) has found, like Rob Watts, that he gets better transparency by removing any and all forms of signal correlated noise and jitter. The DSJ is very close to the H2 and after nearly two hours of back and forth listening it was basically a tie. The DSJ matched the H2 from the lows to the highs and through the details. I’ll raise two comments: (i) the DSJ presented itself as being every-so-slightly harsher with voices and wind instruments and was not as smoothly delineating of layers - whereas H2 perhaps had less low bass. And (ii), my sensitive speakers made the low level digital noise inherent in Ted’s design quite obvious. This is a known and natural side-effect of DSD DACs and perhaps made worse by my ZOTL’s lack of input coupling capacitor. I tried the DSJ gain adjustment but could not get rid of the hiss, hum and swishy sound I heard with my ear to the driver – even at zero volume with no inputs. It took a pre-amp and playing with the combined volume/gain controls to reduce the noise to a manageable level. In contrast, the H2 was absolutely quiet.
The Copland DAC 215 is an well engineered Sabre 9018 implementation with a tube-based headphone amplifier. This is a very nice DAC and the tubes added some nice euphonics to the presentation. The Sabre32 architecture in the 215 is likely as good as it can be made to sound and I’d say that it matched the H2’s FPGA design for extracting detail and staging information. Where it falls down is in just not matching the musicality of the H2. The 215 certainly made a piano solo sound beautiful – however the H2 rendered a real piano. Its uncanny how the H2’s superior timing is able to find subtle nuances in the notes and draw you into the instrument and performer. I would love the 215 if I had not heard the H2.
The Chord Dave was launched in 2015 as a revelation. Rob Watts pioneering work on WTA and noise shaping demonstrated that our ear/brain is capable of incredible discernment. All his knowledge was implemented in the expensive DAVE and I hoped H2, although a significant cost reduced version, had all the best bits. I did not have a DAVE for A/B listening tests but in my recent demo I played the same material through the same source and USB chain. The result? The H2 has many of the same traits but comes up frustratingly short of being in the same league. DAVE is so much smoother, richer and presents a much more expansive soundstage. And perhaps I should add the word ‘addictive’. Occasionally, on certain passages of music, I felt that the H2 might have matched what I heard on the DAVE …but overall, sorry, no, the H2 isn’t a DAVE. In defense of H2, I will say that the DAVE system I heard was probably twenty times the dollar value.
I don’t think audiophiles realize how amazing an achievement the Hugo2 is. It’s a marvel of digital audio engineering in miniature. A transportable cousin to the fantastic DAVE that delivers industry leading sound quality and reveals so much promise for the future of affordable high-end audio. As a desktop DAC replacement, Hugo2 presents a quandary for the interested buyer. Its not a traditional full-size ‘hand-built’ DAC with oversize capacitors and a toroid power supply. It’s a hyper-oversampling DAC in a world where purist NOS seems to be gaining favor. The Hugo2 is impossibly small and its simple glowing balls user interface an affront to the norm. Yet it’s a gloriously good sounding desktop DAC that squashes all and that should alarm the competition – who perhaps will never be able to attain the same levels of performance.
The Hugo2 is not without faults. Even after two weeks of use I feel it’s still a touch bright and on my high efficiency resolving speakers the Hugo2 needed EQ and filter help to sound best. I know the DAVE has wonderfully natural highs and so did my previous 2Qute. And the Hugo2 can sound much less bright when its fed up-sampled content so I think there is a compromise in the design – perhaps to accommodate headphone characteristics. Also, the filter settings really don’t sound different enough – although, yes, the Red was somewhat less bright than the White. Perhaps this is another situation where a headphone electro-acoustical environment reveals more differences.
I like listening to music through headphones but I love the ‘in-room’ loudspeaker experience. Its always seemed that the gulf between the two was characterized by huge differences in space requirements, costs and complications burdening the guy like me. My experiment with software up-sampling an Hugo2 driving loudspeakers directly to sonic nirvana gives me high hopes that my personal system can be simple and sound as good as the very best for a small fraction of the cost. The future of music is streaming and with a product like Hugo2 plus the imminent companion streamer then we’ve nearly reached a point of end game – for the industry and consumer.
-- Daniel Mance
Pros - Amazingly detailed, Sound quality, Power, Solid Built Quality
Cons - Battery life, Filters are not noticeable.
I used both Hugo V1 and Mojo, we all know how successful Chord is on the market. When I first heard the Hugo V1, I rediscovered the meaning of imaging and layering. Hugo V1 was the best portable device I’ve ever listened to. Until now. Chord renewed and improved the legendary model and presented us the Hugo 2.
Before the review shenanigans, I would like to thank to Chord and @Relic for the tour opportunity.
You can read it also on quantumears.com
Specifications & Highlights
● Chord Electronics Custom Xilinx Artix 7 FPGA Chipset
● 10 Element Pulse Array Design (49,152 Tap Length)
● Class A
● Incredibly low output impedance (0.025Ω)
● Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW - 300Ω | 740mW - 32Ω | 1050mW- 8Ω
● It can be considered light for a DAC/AMP! Only 450 grams.
● Earsonics S-EM9 with PW Single Core & Eros
● NocturnaL Atlantis
● Oriolus Forsteni with PW No.5
● AAW A3H Pro v2
Accessories | Box
Just like Hugo v1, v2 comes with a fairly durable, stylish cartoon box. Accessories are good. Here is the list of ‘em!
● Charger (Switchable Plugs)
● USB Cable
● Optical Cables
● Remote! (This one shocked me the most, it’s good touch, Chord!)
Design | Build
The design itself looks very good and build quality is top notch. Although I must say, I am not a huge fan of the ballsy design (pun intended).
One other thing is I really like the little window located in the middle of the device. It’s a great touch and it feels like it’s the engineer’s signature. Rigid contour overall makes it look fierce and wild!
The Hugo2 has this generally neutral sound with a touch of warmth. It’s a quite musical and high-resolution device.
Treble became my favorite section of the audio spectrum thanks to Hugo 2. Very natural, well-spaced and it’s not laid back. You can hear instruments reaching their brightest point on the spectrum and somehow Hugo keeps them out of the “hot” area so no piercing crispness. The treble is smooth. I auditioned AC-DC - T.N.T album with Hugo 2 and S-EM9. It was an incredible experience. It had an amazingly clear presentation and there were no congestions, even in the fastest passages. You can hear every single bit of detail and layer in the timbre. When I listen to music using Hugo V1 or V2, I tend to listen the parts that has the most intense upper frequencies. I found myself listening to Le Trio Joubran, Ibrahim Maalouf and similar artists. Treble is just delightful!
Mid frequencies are tad forward. The note thickness is balanced beautifully. It is neither thick nor thin. I believe this greatly contributes to naturality. Mids are relaxed and they feel realistic. Detail level is really high, it doesn’t skip any micro details. Both male and female vocals are articulate and fluid.. I believe I can listen to Norah Jones all day long… The overall presentation is smooth and effortless, I did not notice any harshness in the upper mid section. I listened to Ibrahim Maalouf – True Sorry (one of my favorite test tracks) with the Hugo2 and violin guitar tone accuracy took my breath away.. I enjoyed every second of it.
I don’t really have any complaints about of the midrange.
Lows are sufficiently prominent, natural, clear and detailed. Also, they are very controlled and tight. The lows are well defined and they are present enough but, honestly I would love to have a little more bass. Well, this is my personal preference of course. Bass quantity, in fact, very near to natural with a touch of warmth.
When you compare bass against the rest of the spectrum, they are not extremely dominant and they do not overwhelm the other frequencies. There is no overpowered boom-like basshead crazy bass. Sub-bass has an average impact field. It does not hit from a wide area and It only goes deep when the track calls for it.
Soundstage, Speed, Timing & Dynamics
Hugo2 has quite a wide soundstage. Compared to Hugo 1, the soundstage is a tad more spacious and wide. Although the margin is small. Soundstage depth is also quite satisfactory. Instruments are scattered widely across the stage and the space between them eliminates any congestion. This helps with the speed and PRAT. Let’s talk about dynamics. Well. I’ve not heard anything quite like this. Maybe LPG. This department of Hugo 2 can be labelled as unrivaled.
vs. Chord Hugo 1
Both devices are musical and technically very capable. Hugo2 is generally better than V1 in almost everything. Better transparency, wider soundstage and resolution... Power delivery is similar. With the S-EM9, I was listening at the “green” level with the Hugo v1. It did not change with Hugo 2. Micro detail revealment is better with Hugo 2, treble and mid section has increased articulacy. Margins are not huge though.
vs. iDSD Black Label
Black Label is a terrific DAC/AMP. Just like Hugo 2. I see them in different fields but I’ll say couple of things anyway. Both of the devices have relaxed, effortless sound with a dark background. iFi’s XBASS is magical. BL bass has the upper hand, it is more impactful and deep. Soundstage-wise Hugo 2 is more layered, more spacious and airy. I think they’re the top contenders of both price ranges. 500$ and 2000$. Both of em’, great buys!
Dynamism and resolution. Both devices are absolutely great at this. Hugo 2 is tad more detailed and tad faster. LPG is a worthy rival but it falls short in mid section. Hugo 2 sounds very effortless and relaxed whereas the mid section of LPG feels stressed and aggressive. Also there is a huge soundstage difference. Hugo 2 has this wide headroom and airiness. LPG does not have this, at all. Depth-wise they’re on par.
I listened to Ibrahim Maalouf - True Sorry with Hugo 2 and immediately I started to play with AK120.(I really love the AK120 and I won’t sell it) but sound was horrible when I listened. Muddy, treble was like a rolled-off, veiled. Of course, I am not comparing with AK120. I just want to know how good Hugo2 sounds when I listened head-to-head. The Hugo2 has a seriously amazing top end when it comes to the high frequencies and I'm afraid that there is no another device that can stand in front of the Hugo2 in portable devices territory.
Hugo 2. Did I like it? Definitely, yes. It is very desirable. Built like a tank, top tier sound quality, and you can use it as DAC on almost all devices.
Still, I have several complaints about the device;
First one is about the filters. Hugo2 comes with 4 different sound filters.
● 1th- Dave/Reference filter (White),
● 2nd - HF roll off (Green),
● 3th - Mojo filter (Orange),
● 4th - Mojo HF + (High Frequency roll off) (Red)
When I tried to change these filters while playing music, I could hardly feel the sound differences between them. The change of sound was very subtle. I auditioned those filters with all the IEMs I have but the result was almost the same. Filters just had subtle differences and unfortunately, I did not find them very functional.
My second complaint is about the battery life. The battery life is about one hour less than the Hugo 1. I think, maybe the new “light-balls” are shortening the battery life. They’re so lit that you can even use the device as a nightlight beside your bed. (or signal the batman, dunno)
Apart from those, there is nothing I’d count as a weakness. I cannot easily say “Throw your V1 into the garbage, get a V2!” Hugo V1 is already a very good device and it can be found at fairly affordable prices.
To finalize, I can say that Hugo2 is a great little product from Chord and it’s definitely a good buy!
Pros - Sound Quality, Naturalness, Realistic Timbre, CrossFeed, High Power Output
Cons - User Interface, Too Powerful for IEMs
I would like to thank @Barra and @x_RELIC_x for giving me this opportunity to be part of the Hugo2 review tour. I truly enjoyed my time with the Hugo 2.
Chord and their products need very little introduction. Hugo and Mojo revolutionized the portable audio realm with their sound quality and driving power in a small portable package. Hugo 2 is an update to the original Hugo DAC. While the original Hugo was already great in terms of sound quality and power, Chord wanted to push the envelope further by incorporating Rob's new code and bumping the output power. But the Hugo 1 had some areas that could be improved. Chord took the feedback from the customers and has tried to address those in the Hugo 2.
HARDWARE, UI, BATTERY & BLUETOOTH:
As plenty of information on Hugo 2 is available on the internet, I would like to skip the details and go over some key points that I would like to mention/highlight with regards to hardware, UI, battery and bluetooth:
1. The size of the device is smaller than how it appears in the pictures. It weighs close to a pound (500g), but because the weight is evenly distributed, it doesn't feel particularly hefty. While the design works really well for desktop use, it doesn't feel quite ideal for stacking or portable use. Chord has stuck to Single Ended ports (3.5mm and 6.3mm) which helps to not getting into the Balanced ecosystem.
2. The UI is peculiar and may not be conventional. But it is actually quite intuitive once you get the hang of it. But I have to admit that it can be quite flashy and conspicuous when used in the public. The brightness of the lights can be switched between Bright and Dim modes. With the Hugo 2, Chord made sure the Dim setting is actually dim unlike the Mojo's dim setting which was still bright to an extent. Also, unlike the orbs (balls) on the Mojo which rotate freely, the orbs on the Hugo2 are fixed and do not rotate. I was quite skeptical about the rattling that many users had reported. But I did not find it to be bad. I guess I was expecting the worst.
3. I did not measure the battery standby time, but I got around 7-8Hrs of playback using a mix of MP3 and FLAC files. This is one aspect that is a downgrade from the original Hugo, which offered close to a 14Hrs of playback on a single charge. It's good that Chord switched to micro-USB port for charging this time over the DC port in Hugo 1. Although the device did not get overly hot while charging, it did get warm. But listening while charging made the device quite warm and borderline hot.
4. The Bluetooth mode does not have a great sound quality. But it is a nice to have feature during times when you find yourself without a cable to connect your Hugo 2 to your smartphone/PC or you own one of that smartphones that lack the 3.5mm jack and you didn't bring along the adapter to connect the adapater.
Hugo 2 has a very natural sound that is present through out its signature. It is an effortless sound without any stress or congestion. A sound that is easy on your ears and will keep you immersed in the music. But what truly is special about the Hugo 2 is its realistic timbre. Timbre is possibly one of the most difficult aspect to reproduce as it is a culmination of resolution, transparency, tone, tuning balance, speed and timing. Hugo 2 has all these qualities in the right amount which helps the device in recreating beautiful natural timbre. It starts with a balance in tuning without any emphasis or de-emphasis in any frequency range. While the tuning is completely neutral, there is a touch of warmth that originates from the mid-range notes that sets a very natural tone.
The bass on the Hugo 2 is dynamic and powerful. It is the kind of power that originates from its ability to go deep and not relying on the boosted low end. Without prioritizing between sub and mid-bass, Hugo 2 displays great balance in the bass region. And the result is an accurate bass tone. It is also a well articulated bass that provides the required body and warmth to the presentation.
The mid-range is where Hugo 2 sets itself apart from the remainder of its competition. And what helps the mid-range to achieve this feat is the note structure. With sumptuous body and precisely timed attack and decays, the notes sound amazingly right. But what is truly impressive is the way the information within the notes are presented like layers of an onion in such an effortless manner. It reveals so much information within the note that the mid-range of other devices sound compressed.
This note structure also yields a touch of warmth to the mid-range that keeps the tone alive and beautiful. The result is a timbre that is very realistic and natural in flow. The instruments and vocals carry excellent transparency and articulation without sacrificing the power in the lower harmonics. And so it is a very engaging mid-range which further supported by the neutral placement of the mid-range.
Treble is the hidden hero of the spectrum, as it plays a significant role in maintaining the naturalness in the sound. Just like the rest of the spectrum, it is linear in tuning with excellent extension. With adequate quantity of treble, it is very detailed and airy. And it also has a certain smoothness as it is free of edginess in the notes. By being so, it not only maintains a natural tone but also helps the mid-range retain the note structure without adding any unwanted stress. While it is forgiving for the most part, is a little unforgiving of poorly recorded material due to its high resolution and transparency.
Hugo2's presents a very large stage with excellent dimensions on all 3 directions. With the abundant space, and high resolution, the separation and layering is a walk in the park for the device. The stage may not be as enormous as some of the desktop amps, but it is plenty big for a portable device. And most importantly, the stage displays excellent coherency without losing focus on instruments located on the far edges of the stage. With a black background and precise placements of the instrument, the quality of imaging is very high.
The White and the Green Filters (Incisive Filters) represent Hugo 2's fullest potential. Going from these filters down to the Orange and Red Filters (Warm Filters) there is a slight deterioration in overall sound quality. The tone loses its brilliance and the notes get compressed that leads to a loss in articulation. As a result, the timbre is less realistic. The stage becomes slightly smaller and the imaging is not as accurate as on the Incisive Filters. Hugo 2 is to be experienced on the Incisive Filters. Buying the device and using the warm filters will be doing injustice to the device.
And now, to one of the biggest highlights of the device; the crossfeed function. Once the crossfeed is turned ON and set to max; Blue setting, the device merges two disjointed musical pictures (L and R) into a single coherent picture. This is done by bringing the side stage instruments closer to the center stage and merging the instrument images from L and R channels into single images of all the instrument. As a result, the imaging gains further precision and the instrument focus is improved. The stage shrinks in width only to expand in the depth and height making the stage more 3 dimensional. As a whole the musical picture not only sounds very coherent but also becomes easier to follow.
Turning the corssfeed off splits the unified picture into two and it starts sounding less coherent and artificially wide. But those who prefer a panned out stage in the left and right directions may not like the crossfeed effect.
DRIVING POWER & HISS:
During my time with the Hugo 2, I only used IEMs. All the IEMs I tested (Zeus, IE80, W900) were quite efficient and sensitive. Driving the IEMs with authority was an easy task for the Hugo 2 as the device is very powerful. In fact, the problem was quite the opposite. Hugo 2 was too powerful for the IEMs that, the volume control did not provide enough headroom to finely adjust the volume on the IEMs. The IEMs got louder than 85dB within a few steps on the volume wheel.
Sennheiser IE80 is my tool for testing hiss on devices. When testing with the Hugo 2, I did not hear any hiss on my IE80 under normal conditions. In a totally silent and isolated room, I was able to detect a very feeble hiss when no music was playing.
HUGO 2 vs LPG:
LPG is known for its resolution and its driving power. It is a device that is not to be taken lightly. But Hugo 2 is more than just a formidable opponent. Hugo2 vs LPG is truly a clash of the Single Ended Titans. Both the devices share some similarities in the general presentation, but are also quite different. Both the devices have an engaging character. But LPG has a forward sound and is more aggressive with its presentation. In comparison, Hugo 2 is a bit relaxed with its neutral placement. Both devices have excellent 3 dimensional stages and display similar levels of imaging precision, separation and layering. But Hugo 2's stage is overall more spacious and pulls ahead in the imaging aspect when the crossfeed is engaged.
LPG's signature seems to follow a slight 'U' shape compared to the more linear signature of the Hugo2. Because the treble on the LPG is prominent, the tone of the device falls on the bright side. Where as, Hugo 2's tone is neutral with a touch of warmth. LPG's bass sounds more authoritative but that is only because it has a slightly enhanced bass. Hugo 2's bass is neutral in quantity and slam. Both devices not only display excellent definition and power in the low end but also have an accurate bass tone.
LPG's mid-range sounds stressed and compressed compared to the effortless and articulated mid-range of the Hugo 2. Hugo 2's mid-range is also slightly warmer and has better transparency. And so, Hugo 2 is able to portray a more realistic timbre than the LPG. Vocals are great on both, but again, vocals on the Hugo 2 is slightly more natural, warm and better articulated. In the treble region, LPG overall brighter and adds a bit of bite to the sound with the sharp edges of the notes. Hugo 2's treble is not only less bright but is also free of edginess even though it is equally detailed. And so, even on the White Filter, Hugo 2 is more forgiving than the LPG.
In terms of overall sound quality, Hugo 2 is definitely better than the LPG with its more natural presentation and realistic timbre. The choice between LPG and Hugo 2 can also be dependent on other factors. LPG has a world-class built-in Parametric EQ, and it works better for IEMs because of its finer volume adjustment. Apart from these factors, music preference could also play a role. If you listen to the kind of music where timbre is not of high importance but a more energetic sound is needed, LPG may be the way to go. On the other hand, if you listen to classical music or other genres involving acoustic instruments where timbre plays a critical role, Hugo 2 would be the ideal choice.
UPGRADING FROM THE MOJO:
Many members have stated that the Hugo 2 is a definite improvement over the Mojo in terms of Sound Quality. But there are also other practical things to consider if you are planning on upgrading from the Mojo to the Hugo 2. For one, Hugo 2 is not as portable as the Mojo in terms of size and weight. Also, the battery life is slightly less than the Mojo. But what would be a real deal breaker is the form of the Hugo 2. While the Mojo has a form factor designed to be conveniently stacked on smartphones/DAPs with easy access to volume buttons, Hugo 2 carries more of a desktop friendly design. It wouldn't be as easy to stack devices on top of the Hugo 2 due to the location of the volume wheel on the top surface. Just something to think about.
As I mentioned earlier in the 'Driving Power' section, the device may be too powerful for IEMs. That does not mean that it wont work for IEMs. I would just advise caution and recommend paying attention to the volume level on the device whenever you plug an IEM into the device. And some of those DD IEMs which benefit from that extra power would also work great on the Hugo 2.
Hugo 2 is not too picky when it comes to headphones or music because of its neutral nature. But using a bright headphone may lead to harshness as the device is not completely forgiving, especially when listening to poorly recorded material. As for the types of music, rock, classical, symphony or any music involving acoustic instruments and vocals should truly shine via Hugo 2.
Hugo 2 represents the pinnacle of audio quality in a portable form without the need for an additional amp, as it carries plenty of power under its own hood. But what really makes the Hugo 2 stand out of its competition and its older brothers is, its ability to portray a very realistic timbre. In the past I have struggled to point to a device and say,"this is what neutral should sound like". But I shouldn't have that trouble anymore now that I know that the Hugo 2 exists. Hugo 2 is not just an example for neutrality, but one where neutrality meets naturalness. And for the same reason, it is not just a great device for audiophiles to enjoy their music, but it also qualifies as an excellent reference tool for engineers and artists to be used at the studio.
Pros - Wide soundstage.
Source input options.
Cons - Filters are optimized for DSD playback.
Crossfeed settings are not noticably different.
Color coded balls require memorization of many settings.
I had the opportunity to test the Chord Hugo 2 recently. I would like to thank Chord Electronics for this opportunity, I am not affiliated with the company and am fortunate to be included in a tour. I am not going to mention the specs as they are available at the manufacturer's website.
The Hugo 2 arrived well packaged in foam padding within an outer box with the accessories inside an inner box. Accessories included a charger with multiple international plugs, USB cable, multiple optical cables and remote.
The Hugo 2 is made with an aluminum case and has the construction screws mounted on the bottom. All adjustments and settings are made by way of balls mounted in the case, these rattle a little but are easily pressed. They also are color changing to indicate settings. A clear window in the center allows sample rates to be indicated.
I listened to a range of music most evenings for a week. My system is digital in Apple Lossless stored on my Macbook Pro. I was listening with Oppo PM3 and a Noble 3W iem.
While I listened to a lot of music during the week, I have a list of songs I have listened to many times with different headphones and DACs. They are songs I feel very familiar with. These test songs include:
The Sound of Silence; Disturbed
Hurt; Johnny Cash
Edelweiss; Pink Martini
Just a Little Loving; Shelby Lynne
Starlight; Rachael Yamagata
Crystallize; lindsey Stirling
Around the World; Daft Punk
Toccata and Fugue in A minor; Johann Sebastian Bach
The sound quality was very good. I found it to present a large soundstage, with clarity through out the range. I felt it presented a deep bass compared to my other primary DAC. My Wavelength Proton offered a more neutral sound with a higher range, but less bass definition. I felt the Hugo 2 was also more forward and warm, this gave the music a nice sound making it very easy to listen to for many hours. Music from simple instrumentals to full electronic songs were all clear, warm and easy to listen to.
Some things I did not like are the settings to the crossfeed and filter, both offer 4 different positions. The manual mentions the filter is optimized for DSD playback, as I do not have recordings in DSD, I was unable to test this setting. I do wonder why the filter is not usable with other sample rates. Also, there are multiple settings for crossfeed, I was not able to discern any noticeable difference during my time with it, I tried adjusting this during multiple songs, and never noticed a difference.
The manual is very informative and clearly shows the settings. As the settings are based on color, I did not remember all within the test week, but keeping a photo of the manual on my phone allowed me to easily refer to the colors.
I spend time listening by USB, optical, and bluetooth. I found I mostly used it with my computer using the USB and directly plugging in my headphones. I did not notice an audio difference with USB or the optical between my computer and the Hugo 2. Having bluetooth was a nice option with my phone, but I also used a USB cable between my phone and the Hugo 2, this was my preferred method. I did not use the remote, as the Hugo 2 was always within reach for me to make adjustments.
To conclude my review, I really liked the Hugo 2. The things I disliked about it are personal preference and I do not think they outweigh the benefits it offers. I like all the input options available. I like the soundstage, clear bass, and a warm presentation that allows a comfortable listening session. I easily could hear the music in an engaging way that made me want to listen with it. This, I feel, is the best part of music listening.
Pros - Sound quality is superb,
nice built quality,
relatively small size (compared to cma800i)
Cons - minor con is the filters are not that useful
First off, big thanks to Chord Electronics for providing this tour, great opportunity to try the high-end device. Because English is not my native language, I feel that I am not able to express myself very well to describe all my impressions; let me try my best.
I believe we can all agree that Hugo2 is a beautiful device
I only want to say that despite its metallic appearance, it is actually pretty light-weighted. Although not convenient without bundling together, it is not too awkward to carry it along together with Questyle QP1R in my hand, walking and listening.
My review will focus on the performance comparison between: 1) Mojo and Hugo2 for Fitear To Go 334, using Questyle QP1R optical output as the digital source
2) Hugo2 and Questyle CMA 800i, using laptop USB as the digital source, driving HD800 and Fostex TH900
Hugo2 and Questyle CMA have very similar functionalities (except that CMA will not accept optical input), the major difference is of course the form factor.
I tried different types of music:
1). Also Sprach Zarathustra, the first piece from “Cinema Classics” SACD dsf file;
2) the second piece, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” in “Antiphone Blues” SACD dff file;
3) Carman Fantasy by Perman, CD rip FLAC;
4). Chinese Pipa music from 2015 The Perfect Sound (Hongkong) Demo SACD ISO file, last track.
It is easy to tell the difference between Mojo and Hugo2 with just a little listening (Fitear to go 334), although the sound signature is similar. Hugo2 obviously has more power. There is significant improvement in the sound stage and the resolution (fine details). The bass end is especially enhanced with Hugo2, giving a much larger and fuller sound stage. I have also tried Fiio X5ii Coax output as a digital source and there is obvious improvement with Hugo2. In the past, when I tried Fostex TH900 and HD800 on Mojo, the mid and high were kind of too sharp. Hugo2 drives the 2 large headphones pretty well with portable DAP as digital source.
The performance over large headphones, however, is compared more carefully with CMA 800i through the integrated USB DAC. With probably less than 1/5 of the 800i’s size, Hugo 2 drives the large headphones surprisingly similar to CMA 800i. Of the different music pieces I tested, I cannot easily tell there were too much difference between the two, even at the low bass end in “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and the orchestra opening of “Carman Fantasy”. However, when playing “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” in the Album “Antiphone Blues”, I can feel CMA 800i presented with fuller sound stage (from better bass, I think), Hugo2 is a little thinner overall. On the other end, CMA 800i is somewhat too soft in dynamics, losing some sharpness in the mid and high end. Also, probably because of the enhanced bass, the resolution and fine details are a bit better from Hugo 2.
Overall, Hugo2 is a powerful DAC/AMP capable of driving large headphones like HD800 comparable to the similarly priced CMA 800i with the advantage of portability. It would be really nice to have one put in my office!
Pros - Significant improvement on Hugo1 and Mojo
Dedicated USB charging socket and desktop mode
Cons - No discernible difference between filters in the real world
These are my gathered thoughts on Hugo2 while listening to Serial Number D00026 for 10 days as part of the UK Hugo Tour organised by Highfell and facilitated by Chord Electronics. Listening has been exclusively via headphones; mostly sharing my time between Audeze LCD-XC and Audioquest NightOwl closed headphones. Digital input has been provided by my iPhone 6S+ supplying CD or greater quality using Tidal, Onkyo HD or FLACPlayer. Listening devices are a pair of 63 year old ears. Music (in no particular order) was by artists such as Disclosure, Chvrches, Lana Del Ray, Kate Nash, Gorillaz, Japanese Breakfast, Pumarosa, London Grammar, Laura Marling, Grimes, Little Dragon, Shura and Bastille. Mostly I chose music I listen to regularly and which I have previously downloaded to Tidal.
I own a silver Hugo1 but I really like the look of the Black Hugo2 I am holding in my hand. I travelled to Bristol and twice to London to listen to prototype Hugo2 (500 miles altogether) so have seen both variants. The silver Hugo2 looks more 1950’s idea of futuristic (Chord Electronics usual style) as all of the detailing and the scalloping can be seen clearly. The Black Hugo2 just sits on my shelf and blends into the background and I rather like it.
I have a Remote Control which is still sealed. The previous trialists have not used it or Hugo’s ¼ inch jack socket. The socket is as tight as a … The manual (an A4 cardboard sheet) does not say what accessories should be included but I recently found this information listed on the Box itself. I have a mains charger with UK/US/AUS/EU adapters, a sensible length USB-A to USB-micro cable, a 15cm USB-micro to USB-micro cable and two optical cables (not listed on the Box). Elsewhere someone reported that the batteries for the Remote Control were Duracell. Mine, still shrink wrapped, are branded “GP Super”. I accept, of course, that I may not have the full retail pack.
Aesthetics / Usability
Black is good! Each end of Hugo2 contains a mixture of inputs and outputs just like Hugo1. The function of each marble is clearly labelled (unlike Hugo1) with the labelling being on the end panel along with the USB and power inputs. I didn’t use the cross-feed options and all four sound filters sound the same to me.
The wheel used to control volume is quite imprecise on this demo model. The shift from red to green seemed quite jumpy and I found it much easier to use the remote control. I could then see that the colours change in exactly the same way as with Mojo’s volume button.
Hugo2 has only a tiny LED on its motherboard to show what sample rate is being received. Coming from Hugo1 with its £1 coin sized frosted indicator and Mojo with its colour changing power-marble I found this a retrograde step. I later realised that the brightness of the sample rate LED is linked to the brightness of the marbles.
After a power cycle Hugo2 does remember which input was last selected and the previously selected volume level. After 15 minutes of inactivity Hugo2 is designed to shut down but I didn’t test this. Additionally after being mains-connected for 24 hours Hugo2 goes into Desktop mode where, according to the Manual, the battery is neither charged nor discharged. However in this mode Hugo2 is always warm to the touch. I don’t yet understand this.
Lastly, the manual indicates that the on/off marble glows blue if a one amp charger is used and white if a 2 amp (recommended) charger is used. I was surprised that the marble on this sample glowed blue when Hugo2 was not in Desktop mode suggesting that the supplied charger is not outputting the full 2 amp as specified on the Box.
I have heard negative comments about the Remote Control being of cheap plastic rather than the credit-card metal version suggested earlier in the year. However I found, with batteries inserted, the Chord-branded RC to feel solid, work well and not look at all tacky as others have opined. Author’s note: I had to get that word in somewhere; Hi-Fi Choice Magazine use it all the time!
My original plan was to listen exclusively to Hugo2 over several evenings and then revert to my Hugo and / or Mojo to see whether I felt disappointment in going back to my previous generation equipment. To date (day 5) I am still on Hugo2. From the get-go I could immediately detect an improvement over Hugo1. Japanese Breakfast was the last thing I had been listening to using Tidal so I continued with her track Boyish. My first thoughts were that the bass came through stronger and the vocal harsher with better separation overall. The harshness surprised me as I was expecting a better top end than with Hugo1. I was even more surprised when I noticed that the previous user of Hugo2 had left the red filter engaged (HF roll-off). I However I haven’t noticed any harshness on other material (quite the reverse) so I’ll put it down to Hugo2 providing a more honest rendition of the original vocal. I made a note that the brass playing on one track sounded remarkably accurate and the rendering of Diving Woman had great PRAT and sub-bass. Kate Nash’s Made Of Bricks was the most recent album I had off-lined using Tidal so was the next up. My first thought was “this sounds thinner than I remember” but realised this was an effect of the better separation causing the music to be presented in a sparser, or wider, context. The piano & cymbals on Mouthwash sounded magnificent. Moving on to Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life I found “Love” gave me tingles and the title track had me smiling hugely. Hugo2 also allowed me to better understand my headphones. The LCD-XC having the better timing (or PRAT), meaning my foot was tapping more, and the NightOwl having the edge on the sound profile I prefer at the moment. Additionally Hugo2 has a top end I prefer over Hugo1 making Chvurches vocals sounding less brittle (than Hugo1 or Mojo) on the likes of Never Ending Circles and Bury It.
While listening I made notes whenever something in particular struck me. For example I wrote
Pumarosa: Dragonfly - sounds scary; Honey – I can understand the lyrics for the first time.
Gorillaz: Phoner to Arizona – just sounds better (than I remember), lower frequencies just better defined.
London Grammar: Rooting For You – so emotional and so integrated/whole/homogenous. Meaning it lives as a piece of music not as individual strands.
Little Dragon: Season High – this album never sounded so good on the XC’s.
Christine & The Queens: Tilted – lower frequencies improved, vocals excel
You get the idea, I’ll move on.
Put simply, nearly everything I have listened to sounded better than with Hugo1 or Mojo although some, I suspect poorer recordings, resisted attempts to improve them. More importantly the sound is much more engaging through timing and presentation. I am listening now, typing this with my laptop on my knees. It is proving difficult at the moment as my head is nodding and my feet want to tap.
On the usability front I still have some niggles with Hugo2. The volume control is more difficult to move accurately (unless I use the Remote), the inputs and outputs are still all over the place and the loss of the frosted sample rate indicator as on Hugo1, or colour changing on/off marble is a disappointment.
Will I buy one? Well, I really would like one but there are lots of other non hi-fi things to spend my cash on at the moment. Hugo2 is a much better companion to my XC’s than Hugo1 so I will be considering my options in the future. Were Hugo1 to die on me tonight then I would immediately order a Hugo2. Actually I wouldn’t since I just remembered that my Hugo1 warranty is good until next April.
Do I recommend Hugo 2 to Head-Fi members as an upgrade? Well, I found the sound balance, delivery and separation a huge improvement from Hugo1 and I found the separation a huge improvement from Mojo. However, to me, the sound balance of Mojo and Hugo2 is quite similar so Mojo owners may find the difference less compelling.
Well! You will read from the Footnote below that I totally missed the main benefit of Hugo2 in the previous paragraph. It’s all about the timing, presentation, musicality etc. I grew into Hugo2 gradually but suddenly losing it has been traumatic.
I spent my full ten day allowance listening to Hugo2 (evenings only) and it is now a full week since I packed it up and passed it on. During the week I have found my Hugo1 and Mojo to be quite disappointing substitutes for Hugo2. I became so attuned to Hugo2 that listening has been far less satisfying this week. If this memory does not fade then I will need to take the plunge sooner rather than later.
xeroian, August 2017
Pros - Small factor
Comparable to the TOTL desktop dac amp
Cons - Price
Filters are not doing the justice
I'm a simple man
I write what I hear and not gonna use any artistic terms
a Chord Hugo 2.
From the image you can see I placed it on a XSabre DAC.
What about my past experience:
I have tons of Headphones and Dac Amp experiences including TOTL eg. XSabre DAC, Mojo, ifi BL, ifi iCan, Heron 5..etc HD800, TH600, HD6xx, 400i, Elear, TH900..etc OK enough with my experience!
This review is gonna be short and straight to the point.
Source: Mostly 44khz and 96Khz from Foobar2000
Comparing with: XSabre>Heron5 and XSabre>iFi micro iCan SA
Pairing: For now I have HD800 and that's the headphones that I do like to find the best dac amp
Lows: High impact, not boomy and it is well controlled (neutral to me)
Mids: Lots of details and im impressed with the size form (can be musical sometimes)
Highs: Not overly extended which I preferred (not the best for HD800 for highly electronic music)
Lows: the lows on Heron 5 is a tad better for HD800 cuz it give a lil more meat
Mids: Hugo 2 shines better which gives better airier mids with a lot of details
Highs: Heron 5 is a better pair with HD800 that roll the treble a lot smoother
Conclusion: these 2 gives different signatures. Hugo2 is more toward musical analytical and Heron 5 is musical enjoyable.
XSabre>iFi micro iCan SA
Lows: Poof the Xbass just blows everything. The Xbass is well design which not making mids sounds bad. Or perhaps a tad killing the mids? but who cares with HD800, you'd really need some lows!
Mids: Compare to Heron5, this has a tad more details (but really small). Hugo2 has kind of the same signature of the mids but with better meat. iCan is like trying to achieve the Hugo2 signature but a bit tinny. Compare to the price? Why not.... XSabre helped a lot though
Highs: Both Hugo2 and iCan is not the best for HD800 but bearable. Not gonna let your ears bleed for sure. Just Heron 5 is a well known with the smooth laid back signature.
Conclusion: iCan could give impressive result with smaller price tag but remember I pair it with $1000 dac.
Hell yeah, this $2k price tag can compete with TOTL <$2k desktop dac amp. If you do really need it to be mobile, yes this is the best shi* you could get but prepare your bank.
If you stay at home, you can try to find other dac and amp combo which actually have tons of variation to make you desktop dac amp shines to your audiophile* life.
So far, HD800 is a better pair with XSabre>Heron 5 that I have. Certain tracks, Hugo2 can give a better Sound Quality, but to enjoy? This Xsabre>Heron5 are the best to keep with if u have HD800.
Also from what I read and listen in a review video, Chord Hugo TT will give you more musical experience compare to Hugo2. So, prepare you bank and get that instead!
One more of the sexy Hugo 2 picture for you to enjoy!
Ps: I deducted one star because of the price which you can get better if you need a desktop dac/amp. I would give 5 if I am a portable type of guy
Pros - Soft Natural Sound, Solid Analog Outputs, Black Background, Input Flexability
Cons - Operates HOT while Charging, Adequate Build Quality, Excessive play in USB Inputs,
Video Reviews, first part is Build second is sound quality. Sound Quality review is time stamped according to what I'm listening to/comparing to. Feel free to jump to what ever impressions your interested in.
Spoiler: Part 1 Build, Operation, Function
Spoiler: Part 2 Sound Quality, Headphone Parings, Comparisons
Being able to integrate with existing solutions has become an important feature for me lately. Plug and play function with my LG V20 and laptop is a large part of why I purchased my Geek Out v2+. That same functionality is a large part of why I enjoyed the Cayin N3 as well. Keeping up with that theme is Chord's Hugo 2. Launched in the Spring of 2017, the transportable Hugo 2 offers an excellent mix of power and quality that is plug and play ready for mobile lifestyles!
Including the remote, the Chord Hugo 2 retails for $2,379. Purchases can be made via a local dealer in your area searchable via the Chord Website. However an little online digging and I found Audio46 as the only Amazon-Payment capable vendor in my area.
Furthermore, I want to thank both Chord and the members of Head-Fi who helped put this tour together, the following thoughts are my own and I was not compensated for them!
What I like about the Hugo 2 build is the weight. It's heavier than it looks which makes me grip it a little tighter when I pick it up. For portable products I like something that has a solid in the hand feel. Super light, super thin, "air" products have never meshed well with me. I always feel like I'm going to lose or crush them. That sense of weight translates over into the implementation of the analog out puts. Each output had distinct grip on my cables with minimal wiggle and just the right amount of resistance when unplugging the cables. As I carried the Hugo 2 around my home during my listening impressions, the cables stayed put.
Chord's unique ball bearing buttons and roller-ball volume adjustment were memorable. While I was not a fan of how much play the individual ball buttons had, I did enjoyed the ease of motion from the volume ball. Unlike the ball bearing buttons, which rattle around when you interact with them, the volume ball had a smooth upward and downward motion. There was no excessive movement or resistance, adjustments to the volume were comfortable. Both minor and major adjustments to the volume were possible with the ball, and I never over shot my intended listening levels. The include remote had a good weight as well, each of the buttons had excellent resistance alongside an audible click. I found my self more often using the remote than the top mounted buttons.
Aside from the noisy ball bearing buttons, the Hugo 2's USB inputs also proved less than ideal. In fact the entire left flank of the chassis on my demo unit suffered from obvious wear and tear or simply adequate build quality. The USB inputs for data and charge had far to much play in them, and there were visible gaps in the chassis around them.
Additionally, the demo unit I had operated at exceedingly hot to the touch temperatures. During the time I had it, I was unable to comfortably keep it on charge for the required 24 hours need to activate desktop mode. Seeing as it was a product I spent equal time with in my hands, as on my desk, I ran the unit almost exclusively on the battery. If I needed to charge it I was only comfortable charging and listening for 2 hours. Usage while charging beyond that 2 hour time frame resulted in the demo unit I had getting hot enough to leave a slightly darkened warm spot on my wood desk for around 20-30 minuets. Touching it wasn't painful, but hot enough to instill a sense of caution. Hence-forth my impressions Hugo 2 were completed from battery operation only. Running exclusive on battery power, I was able to achieve an average of about 7 hours of playback time.
Functionality is straight forward on the Hugo 2, it accepts Optical, 3.5mm Coax, USB Mini Input and Blu-tooth digital in. It features 6.5mm, 3.5mm and L/R RCA analog output, functioning as a head Amp via a series of transistors in the DACs analog output stage and offering a fixed line out. While I noticed no change in the sound quality moving in-between the different analog outputs, the digital inputs each offered significant changes to the overall sound quality.
Specs of the Unit are as followed from Chord's Website:
Chipset: Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA
Pulse array: 10 element pulse array design
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB
Output stage: Class A
Output impedance: 0.025Ω
THD: <0 .0001="" 1khz="" 300="" 3v="" font="" rms="">
THD and noise at 3v RMS: 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ wighted (reference 5.3v)
Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted: No measurable noise floor modulation
Signal to noise ratio: 126dB ‘A’ Weighted
Channel separation: 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω
Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW 300Ω
With only the included hardware, I was able to test USB and Optical Inputs on the Hugo 2. While I do own a Digital Coax source, I did not have an RCA to 3.5mm digital Connector. Nor did Chord include an adapter from digital RCA to 3.5mm Coax, honestly give the price I would have expected them to include ALL necessary digital inter-connectors. Still, they were fortunate to ship the Charging cable with multiple regional cord adapters!
Additionally, kindly take a moment to refresh your self on the meaning of terminology I use to describe sound, also please note that my Audio GD NFB10ES2/Hifiman HM901->PicoPower serve as my current reference point, as such I've grown accustom to a brighter sound signature from my Dac.
As such, I found the overall sound quality signature of the Chord Hugo 2 to be;
Does not exaggerate
Presents a strong from the body timbre
Excellent Micro Detail
Less ambient noise or lacking emphasis of macro detail
Cleaner more balanced transients and resolve of timbre
Micro dynamics are excellent
Macro dynamics are adequate
Very little noise
Internal Amp has some mid range warmth/bloom
Softer relaxed presentation
Excellent depth and airy sound, with a slightly forward mid-range
This basic presentation does not change regardless of the digital input, what the digital inputs changed were the overall blackness of the background and the precision and size of the image as a whole. The worst digital input into the Hugo 2 was still phenomenally black compared to using the same input into my NFB10ES2.
Starting with Optical from my iRiver H140, I found this input to be atrocious, the highs were very hard and the imaging and resolve were hazy. If the world ends and all I have IS my iRiver H140... I'll be content but otherwise there's no situation in which this input is preferential.
USB Input was a BIG step up from Optical. Starting with USB Mobile, there were immediate gains in imaging and noise. USB Mobile presented a more clearly defined image presented again'st a blacker background which allowed transients to resolve more fully. Though USB Mobile still had some emphasis up top, not as bad as Optical but still not perfect.
Moving to USB Desktop, I ran ASIO Output from Foobar 2000 into the Chord Hugo 2. The image as a whole was even sharper, there was even LESS noise than USB Mobile without the touch of emphasis up top. Which resulted in marginal improvements to the resolve of micro detail.
With regards to the analog output, I did find the internal amp of the Hugo 2 had a touch of mid mange bloom to it, when testing it with an LCD XC, my HE 4 and my Nhoord Red V1. The Line Out was marginally cleaner, though the only benefit I found to using the line out was for more power or to pair your headphone with another amp for a better dampening factor.
I actually enjoyed the LCD XC when pair'd with the Hugo 2. A lot of the LCD XC's weakness were compliment or masked over by the strength's of the Hugo 2. Though I was using a WyreWires Red Cable, as the lender who allowed me to barrow this didn't like the stock option and opt'd for me to hear his LCD XC with only after market options!
In particular when enjoying Igor Levit's Take on Aria, the Hugo 2 LCD XC pairing had an excellent mix of tactility and nuance for the piano piece, the more intimate sound of the Hugo 2 help'd give the LCD XC just a little more low body presence.
In Miles Davis "So What" the often overly metallic presentation of the horns on the LCD XC, was more natural. A touch of warm vibrato in the horns especially became more apparent. The softer sound of the Hugo 2 pair'd beautifully with the amazing solid planar bass and cup resonance of the XC. In some tracks, I felt there was a lack of grip, but overall the Hugo 2 brought a much needed relaxing sound to what is other wise a very SHOUTY headphone.
I was shocked at how well the Hugo 2 drove the HE 4 in particular! Ultimately though, the internal amp's lack of power combined with a softer presentation from the DAC it self robbed the HE 4 of the super exciting character I appreciate it for. Losses though in tactility, low end texture and speed were offset by gains in timbre and transient resolve.
This pairing was by far my favorite! The Nhoord Red V1 is a DIY Grado style headphone. Featuring lower bass extension than a typical Grado. The overall sound of this can in particular is most similar to a Grado RS1i. That said, the headphone has a tendency to ring a little, the Hugo 2 presented both a beautiful warm mid range that DIDN'T have the ring I was used to! Overall for this Grado Style headphone, the combination was nothing but pleasant! More so than any of my current in house rigs sadly...
Speaking of, I was very impressed with how the Hugo 2 paired with my ZMF Eikon and Garage 1217 Project Ember II. This was another really beautiful pairing I'd like to try and forget!
Though the BEST sounding combination was from the Hugo 2 was with the Head Amp Pico-Power and my HE 4. The sound was harder, more exciting with the same improvements to timbre and resolve but without a lot of the exaggeration I'm used to! But the combined price of the two units, upwards of $2800 MSRP, makes a situation I doubt any one will realistically find them selves in 2017. As a hard to drive inefficient open back planar from 2011 is not a realistic portable headphone. In the last 6 years, there have been an influx of very efficient open backs as well as powerful portable products to pair them with.
Finally, I took the time to compare the Hugo 2 to a few of my existing Rigs.
Starting with comparisons to my NFB 10ES2. For these comparisons I had the Hugo 2 fed via USB with ASIO Out, and my NFB10ES fed with Coax from a Schiit Etir fed with ASIO Out.
In short, the Hugo 2 Dac section had every edge in it's presentation of timbre. Being very true and focused on the music it self, in contrast yo the NFB10ES2 had to much emphasis on macro detail it often simplified transients. By doing so it creates a great deal of excitement and energy, which when pair'd with it's more expansive sound stage is impressive... but ultimately a little distracting at times. The Hugo 2 was more intimate with a less exaggerated sound and a stronger focus on the music it self, macro detail took a big step back. The combination of a blacker output of the Hugo 2 and more intimate imagine result in micro detail taking a step forward! The only flaw of the Hugo 2 compared to the NFB10ES2 is it's more intimate imaging can be marginally less precise and it sounds very flat. The sound of the Hugo 2 presents minimal vertical space, where as the NFB10ES2 presents an image that has more room up top and down below and all around. In some cases it's closer to reality, though more often than not it sounds over defined.
Moving to amplification, the NFB10ES2 only had an edge when more power was needed. So with the harder to drive HE 4 the NFB10ES2 presented a more consistent sound, where as the Hugo 2 while offering better timbre, because of the lack of power was also at times very hazy with it's imaging and presentation of the low end. The Hugo 2 lacked an accurate sense of time or speed with the HE 4 as well when compared to the NFB10ES2. Other wise, for dynamics and more efficient Planar's the Hugo 2 output was blacker with a less exaggerated more natural sound.
I paired both the LCD XC and my Nhoord Red V1 with the balanced out of my LH Labs Geek Out v2+ for a comparison to the Hugo 2.
Ultimately, while using the white filter on the Hugo 2 and the Green Filter on the GOV2+, I found the Hugo 2 to improve on every aspect of the GOV2+. The two shared a similar sound signature, but the Geek Out V2+ sounds a bit noisy, cramped and exaggerated compared to the Hugo 2. The GOV2+ often simplified lot of transient information like the NFB10ES2, especially in comparison to the Hugo 2, which more clearly resolved audible textures such as the vibrato in the release of many of instruments.
This comparison was a real eye opener for me, I haven't spent much time with my HM901 since I started working full time and haven't had a need for a transportable system that I can listen to. I'm either at home, or on my feet moving, a situation in which if I'm going to drop something I'd like it to be pretty cheap. Though I'm starting on my second degree here in a few days so I'll once again be in front of my laptop away from home for longer period's of time. A situation that's perfect for a transportable dac/amp combo!
In terms of sound the HM901 [Vintage Filter] fed into the Pico Power traded blows with the Hugo 2. The HM901 Pico Power combo had more precise imaging, an equally black background, a smidge of emphasis on macro detail, is marginally less resolving of micro detail but had stronger more clearly defined dynamics and a better presentation of time. It's only flaw being that it can be a bit over sharpned, or over defined. The Hugo 2 while resolving micro detail better, presents more intimate imaging and sounds a touch romantic. It's not as dynamic, and doesn't adapt as quickly to changes in tempo either, very exciting passages of music lacked some energy in comparison to the HM 901 Pico Power combo, especially with Planars. While more natural sounding, it's sometimes a bit to relaxed in comparison to the HM 901 Pico Power combo.
Ultimately different genres play better on one than the other, I grew up listening to a lot of live jazz bands. Listening with the HM901 Pico Power takes me back to my days sitting in the grass listening, the energy they presented and their ability to change and adapt around very unique time signatures always impressed me. The HM901 Pico Power combo embodies that energy, that excitement, that audible sense of speed. Where as on the flip side, my father owned a 12 String Gretsch guitar when I was a kid, listening to Chet Akins or any Spanish guitar Sonata's through the Hugo 2 reminded me of listening to my dad play at night before bed. The sense of intimacy and naturalness is very real, where as the HM901 Pico Power sounds a bit exaggerated with this genre and others like it.
The real question I have now is how does the HM901 Pico Power compare to my NFB10ES2... that's one I'll have to explore that at a later date.
Our last comparison is the NFB10ES vs the Hugo 2 when fed into my Project Ember II driving the ZMF Eikon.
With the Hugo 2, the Ember II and ZMF Eikon were breathtaking to listen to. The Eikon's sound signature is music focused, with a black background, a solid low to mid range response and a tapered top end. It does an excellent job of resolving just enough macro detail to keep things interesting, but always places emphasis on the music, micro detail just pops with this combo! The Hugo 2's DAC output embodies much the same traits, minus the top end tapering. It was ultimately this combination that allowed me to grasp just how exaggerated my reference SABRE 9018 DAC really was. Still, moving from the stunningly beautiful sound of the Hugo 2 back to the more exaggerated NFB10ES2 did give the Eikon a bit more dynamic response with a larger more open sound stage at the expense of total resolution and clarity. Even worse there is a touch of noise on the analog output of the NFB10ES2, so listening above an average of 84 dBs I lose even more resolution. Thankfully, my reference listening level is 85 but still the lack of headroom on the NFB10ES2 get's annoying.
For the price, I don't feel the Hugo 2's sound quality compares well to dedicated desktop solutions. It runs too hot and isn't priced competitively at $2379 MSRP. Though it's closer to and sometimes under $2000 if your comfortable buying second-hand from reputable sources. I feel it compares well to my own portable DAP solution, especially considering that 4 years ago I spent $1500 on a portable dedicated High-Fidelity Digital Audio Playback System.
Being my first Hi-Fi purchase I paid MSRP for my HM 901 back in 2014, an it too suffers from the same excessive play in it's buttons. Plus doesn't even have a remote, and not only that but it's limited to just playing music from the SD card loaded into it. While it fit my life style back then, it doesn't fit into my own an increasingly mobile life style now. The Hugo 2 can plug into my phone allowing me to listen to music, and still take phone calls without having to even remove my headphones. Even better, starting this year my cellular provider allows me to make and receive phone calls through my existing mobile number via a web app on my laptop. With the Hugo 2 and ASIO Output in FooBar 2000, I can be on campus and have access to my music library, have the flexibility to switch right into a YouTube video in my browser, watch and listen to material related to my course work, take a Skype call with my boss or a traditional call from my wife, without having to unplug anything. The Hugo 2 integrates into my life style with all of my existing tech, as opposed to a standalone DAP which serves as a separate system just for music. Thus isolating me from my other technology, forcing me to pick ONE system to listen to. Fortunately my Geek Out v2+ does the same, integrating with all of my Tech, but doesn't offer near the level of quality as the Hugo 2 or my HM901 PicoPower combo. Which means I have to compromise sound quality in exchange for flexibility and convince. In my eyes, based on how I live my life now and moving into the future the asking price for the Hugo 2 is validated. As it does more than my standalone DAP without compromising quality.
In conclusion I can confidently recommend the Hugo 2 as a transportable solution. It's value is in it's portability, if your need a portable solution the Hugo 2 is an excellent choice. It's input flexibility, uncompromising phenomenally natural sound, well built included remote, and surprisingly powerful internal amp allow it to integrate into a variety of portable playback systems. It's a product that integrates well into the lifestyle of some one who's traveling often, either in the air or on the road. Student, working professional or in my case both, it's a one box solution that plugs right into what ever graphic interface your using and has plenty of power to drive most high-fidelity headphones. It's definitely a plug, play, sit back and enjoy experience. Presenting a happy union of convenience and superb sound quality!
Pros - Sound Quality (heavily weighted pro) - Measured Performance - Input / Output Options - Form Factor - Battery powered - Included Accessories
Cons - Battery Life - Charge Time - No Adapter for the Included Optical Cables - No Coaxial Cable included - Casework Fit
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Additionally the unit I tested took about 6 hours to charge with the included wall charger so now there is a recipe for frustration.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
Pros - Small form factor
Crossfeed well implemented
Standard RCA one out jacks
Good input and output options
Cons - Screwy user interface
Bright LED light can be quite bothersome at the wrong angles
Non-standard coax in
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.