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Review: CHORD HUGO 2 by ZHIYU

Discussion in 'Portable Source Gear' started by mosesed96, Mar 8, 2017.
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  1. mosesed96
    This is an early review of HUGO 2 DEMO unit
    DEMO unit from CHORD's Chinese local partner
     
     
    Background
     
    Before CHORD first announced HUGO, people have no idea how big it is, until John Franks took ‘the thing’ out from his pocket. YES, from his POCKET: that’s the most advanced DAC in the world but in a transportable size.
    The first impression about HUGO, just like many others, was just probably a “better HP-P1” made by a British Hi-END company. What we didn’t know at the time, is how this product could be the new benchmark of portable Hi-END system.
     
    As the technology develop and people’s needs change, Hi-Fi industry is in the middle of a massive transition. In many countries (especially Asian countries), the major consumer groups have move more towards to transportable system. Many users now more prefer a personal space to enjoy high quality music in different scenes without disturbing others, even at home or on the go. CHORD noticed this and set its new goal of using the most advanced technology to create a device that allows you to enjoy high quality music playback “wHerever yoU GO”, that’s how HUGO was born.
     
    TITAL.jpg
     
     
    The most advanced DAC?
     
    We learned about the idea of HUGO was originally came from DAC 64, which is the first DAC CHORD created 20+ years ago, they were not happy with any DAC chips at the time, thus they used 4 massive high power consuming Xilinx FPGA units running at 3.5V inside DAC 64, the power requirement for that machine was about 45 watts. So, it runs very hot. However, it made DAC 64 an overkilling 64 bit DAC (at the time). If we use battery to power the DAC 64, the battery will be more than 200lbs alone! (LOL) In that way, how could HUGO reach the DAC 64 level performance?
     
    Technological progress is sure to support the necessary components. Moore’s Law, which holds that the processing power of a single computer chip roughly doubles every 18 months, it applies to FPGA chips too. From DAC 64 to HUGO, it is more than 20 years of time, which means the FPGA processing power inside HUGO is 8000 times stronger than the FPGA units inside DAC 64, with much less power consuming. It allows HUGO being able to reach (even outclassed) the DAC 64 performance with much smaller size. (DAC 64 has 4 DSP core, HUGO has 16, and DAVE has 166…)
     
    In 2015, CHORD announced MOJO, it stands for “MObile JOy”, with an unbelievable size and performance in a very reasonable price. MOJO has the same output level as its bigger brother HUGO, with even lower distortion. We guess the secret is Xilinx Artix 7 FPGA unit inside MOJO. It gives stronger performance and more efficiency than Spartan 6 inside HUGO. At the MOJO launch event in AVSF San Francisco, Rob Watts claimed that MOJO is now the most advanced DAC in the world. (Most advanced does not mean the most good sounding, lol) Rob also talked about timing and Tap-Length, and how WTA technology made HUGO and MOJO great sounding.
     
    Now you may think HUGO and MOJO really got something interesting.  
     
    L1000580.jpg
     
     We may feel little disappointed with CES this year, but CHORD really got something on the show, they bring us HUGO 2 and POLY. These were 2 big surprise. After 3 years, let us see what they got inside this little magic box.
     
    Well, CHORD put a new generation FPGA Xilinx Artix 7 into HUGO 2 almost with no doubt, chip model is XC7A15T, we can get info from Xilinx’s official website, it’s using 28nm technology compare to 45nm Spartan 6 inside HUGO, new chip offers 30% faster processing power and 50% less power consumption. (that’s the reason why MOJO has the same power level with a much smaller size) Also, the DSP core of HUGO 2 increased to 45.
     
    CHORD also upgraded WTA technology on HUGO 2, Tap-Length increased from 26,384 (MOJO) to 49,152! HUGO 2 also carrying Pulse Array and almost all functions of 1st Gen HUGO. At least from technical side, HUGO 2 definitely has huge upgrade from 1st Gen, and to be the TOTL portable DAC nearly with no doubt.
     
    When we see the technical spec of HUGO 2, with more powerful and more efficient FPGA chip but 30% less battery life? Really? You can start imaging the performance of HUGO 2 now lol.
     
    L1000576.jpg
     
     
    Technical Spec: (Like a monster :p)
     
    1. Chipset : Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA​
    2. Tap-length : 49,152​
    3. Pulse array : 10 element pulse array design​
    4. Frequency response : 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB​
    5. Output stage : Class A​
    6. Output impedance : 0.025Ω​
    7. THD : <0.0001% 1kHz 3v RMS 300Ω​
    8. THD and noise at 3v RMS : 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ wighted (reference 5.3v)​
    9. Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted : No measurable noise floor modulation​
    10. Signal to noise ratio : 126dB ‘A’ Weighted​
    11. Channel separation : 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω​
    12. Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD : 94mW 300Ω, 740mW 33Ω, 1050mW 8Ω​
    13. Weight : 450g​
    14. Dimensions : 130mm (L) x 100mm (W) x 21mm (H)​
    15. Boxed Dimensions : 220mm (L) x 122mm (W) x 85mm (H)​
     
     
    Design and Build
     
    Once my friend talked about HUGO, he said: “That stupid ugly English brick, lol” Well, to be honest, HUGO is definitely uglier than it showed on poster or magazine. There are lots of details make no sense at all. There is no any signifier around any button or ports, it results huge possibility of maloperation. We can hardly see any CHORD design language on HUGO except its “open window”. Even MOJO’s design is more interesting than 1st Gen HUGO. HUGO 2 seems to be inspired by MOJO a lot. We can easily find MOJO’s design element on HUGO 2. Button setting using classic glass ball design also used on MOJO. Overall dimension of HUGO 2 is almost as same as 1st Gen, surface edge is shaper than 1st Gen, but still friendly for holding. Signature “open window” is not like the perfect circle on 1st Gen, but a square semi-circle. Volume wheel part is highlighted and has much smoother touching than 1st Gen. The glossy black located top left corner is the Bluetooth antenna. (Same as HUGO TT, it allows HUGO 2 Bluetooth communication distance up to 40m compare to 10m on 1st Gen) Generally saying, HUGO 2 has much more solid design than 1st Gen HUGO.
     
    The build quality of HUGO 2 is definitely amazing, metal surface is much smoother than 1st Gen, we can finally find some graceful Hi-END elements on HUGO 2, and finally have some signifier, lol. Also, charging port is now changed to micro-USB port for users’ convenience. 4 glass ball located on left hand side are Power, X-PHD, INPUT and FILTER. (Will talk about X-PHD and FILTER later) Headphone jack 1/4 and 1/8 located on the other side alone with RCA out, 1/8 COAX and OPT port. Overall ports layout is much more reasonable than 1st Gen. At least you will have no trouble with a TOSLINK cable anymore on HUGO 2. (OPT port on 1st Gen HUGO is like XXXX)
     
    L1000570.jpg
     
     
    HUGO 2 is outclassed HUGO on design and built quality aspect. It almost has nothing to bitch about, but we my still want a signifier on volume wheel, because we always turning it to a wrong direction, lol. Well, about packaging, we did not see it yet, because the one we reviewing is still a DEMO unit, but, I suggest do not expect much on CHORD’s packaging design and accessories lol.
     
     
     
    Sound
     
    Well, this time allows me to say the conclusion first, if you doing a quick switch listening side by side between HUGO 1 and HUGO 2, you can easily find out HUGO 2 is better in few seconds, unless you have some trouble with your ears. HUGO 2 has wider sound stage and smoother treble, with quieter background and more vivid sound signature. (MOJO HF+ mode) I’d say, 1st Gen HUGO is already a great sounding device, but comparing to HUGO 2, in same condition (same source, cable, headphone) HUGO 2 is better in almost every aspect.
     
    HUGO 2 have a core function that 1st Gen does not have is FILTER. User could select different sound representation mode by pressing FILTER button. There are 4 preset FILTER modes, when button shows white color, it’s “HUGO” mode, it has overall same sound signature of original HUGO, which have most detailed sounding. Green light is “HUGO HF+” mode, same with HUGO mode sound signature but with high frequency roll off, it can give you smoother treble sounding. Orange and red mode actually excited us a lot. We prefer MOJO’s sound signature over HUGO even HUGO has better overall performance (Soundstage, detail, clarity etc.) MOJO is warmer, smoother, and more relaxing sounding. This time, HUGO 2 offering 2 filter modes based on MOJO’s sound signature.
     
    Orange is “MOJO” mode, with little more smooth and vivid sounding, and Red as “MOJO HF+” mode offering MOJO sound signature with high frequency roll off. Actually, “MOJO HF+” is our favorite mode when we test most genres of music, it’s most relaxing sounding that you can find on HUGO 2.
     
    L1000590.jpg
     
     HUGO 2 offers 4 different filter modes to make user have more possibility and playability. Another function button called X-PHD, it follows “Crossfeed” function on 1st Gen HUGO. Same as 1st Gen, with 3 selectable crossfeeds. It’s using DSP to adjust soundstage for simulating the nature soundstage created by HiFi loudspeaker. Simply saying, it adjusts the soundstage moving ahead by 3 different levels, Red-Low Green-Medium Blue-High, it sounds almost as same as 1st Gen HUGO, and we found if on strong stage feeling music such as live Jazz, orchestra and opera, blue mode (high) will offer the most natural soundstage presentation.
     
    We also did a test using HUGO 2 as a pure DAC plug into Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon to build a small desktop system. All the excellent performances of HUGO 2 (comparing to HUGO) showed in this system as well. Besides, X-PHD and FILTER function also work when HUGO 2 running as a pure DAC.
     
    L1000598.jpg
     
     We’ve tested full size flagship HD800 (SN 11xx), T1 2nd Gen, T5p 2nd Gen, K812, Z1R, PS1000e, Dharma D1000 as well as IEMs like UM Mason V2, Campfire VEGA, AKT8ie/XELENTO on HUGO 2. They are all working very well on HUGO 2. Some flagship known as hard-to-drive, like HD800 and T1, HUGO 2 can excellently drive them, especially HD800 impressed us a lot. What we did not have chance to try is the planar magnetic, the only one we have is Ether C, is currently under upgrading to Flow version.
     
    So, does that mean HUGO 2 is unbeatable in certain price range and user scenario? Ofc not, WA8 Eclipse from Woo Audio is the strongest rival of HUGO 2. They are in a similar price range ($1,799 vs $2,195), and both are multi-scenario DAC/Headphone Amp, battery powered, and class-A amplifier. We found overall performance WA8 is still little better than HUGO 2 when driving HD800, WA8 sounds fuller and “more authoritative” with HD800. WA8 sounds warmer than HUGO 2, those do not mean WA8 is “better” than HUGO 2 as a battery powered DAC/Headphone Amp.
     
    L1000618.jpg
     
     HUGO 2 has a lot of ports for different playabilities while WA8 only has USB and 1/8 input. And we think main user scenarios are also different. HUGO 2 is more suitable for portable while WA8 is more for home use. Also, HUGO 2 is more about a great DAC while WA8 is more about a great amplifier, and the DAC inside WA8 does not support DSD. Now you may ask me, why not use HUGO 2 as a DAC plug into WA8? Haha, maybe you should try it. :)
     
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    HUGO 2  Overall Score  8.6  AMAZING
     
    Notice: Score Ratio, Design/Bulid 10%, Output Power 15%, Tonal Signature 20%, Overall Sound Quality 20%, Battery Life 10%, Music Range 10%, Expandability/Playability 5%, XAze/Portability 10%
     
     
    When designing HUGO 2, CHORD must have much more clear user scenario and persona. HUGO is designed for multi-scenarios use, people want to use it both indoor or outdoor, we guess CHORD studied feedbacks from 1st HUGO user, that’s why they made decisions like cutting off the battery life and extending Bluetooth range. From market perspectives, HUGO should never be the opponent of Astell & Kern or SONY portable player. In its own user scenario, HUGO is already a great product, HUGO 2 is just even BETTER! What we need to do is just wait it to be available, well, it’s only few days left. :)
     
    L1000593.jpg
     
     
     
    Q&A:
     
     
    I already got HUGO, should I upgrade to HUGO 2?
     Hmmm, if you ask, I’d say, YES, HUGO 2 is a huge upgrade comparing to 1st Gen. And, don’t you think HUGO’s price will drop soon once HUGO 2 is available? :p
     
     
    When will HUGO 2 available? How about price?
     CHORD official website shows it will be available late March, and Moon-Audio has already started presale, and will be available on early April I guess, Official price is 1,800 GBP, and Moon-Audio price is 2,195 USD.
     
     
    How does MOJO filter on HUGO 2 compare to MOJO itself?
     The tonal signature is very closed to MOJO, but over sound quality (Soundstage, imaging, detail, clarity etc.) is much better than MOJO. But we still say MOJO has better C/P ratio.
     
     
    How about POLY? Have you guys try them yet? Will there a HUGO 2 version of POLY?
     Not yet, well, POLY is not cheap (629 USD while MOJO just drop to 499 USD), bigger POLY? I hope CHORD made one for HUGO 2, @Rob @John
     
     
    What source is good match for HUGO 2?
     Astell & Kern player using TOSLINK or USB as source is good, by my own experience, HUGO 2 and MOJO are both sensitive to digital source and TOSLINK cable.
     
     
    How does HUGO 2 perform comparing to HUGO TT?
     Our opinion is, HUGO 2 sounds better than HUGO TT, and more fun.
     
     
    Only considering sound quality, WA8 and HUGO 2 which should I choose?
     SQ wise, you should get them both and use HUGO 2 as DAC plug into WA8 lol. For only answer your question, it depending what can you have, if for HD800 maybe WA8 is better. (well, but WA8 has poor output power & battery life..Huge body..etc. lol.)
     
     
    NEXT?
     You ask me. :)
     
     
    Notice: x RELIC x noticed us about HUGO drives headphone directly from DAC's analogue output. Technically said there is no 'Pure DAC mode' on HUGO. :p
     
    Quote: (from x RELIC x PM) "the Hugo2 doesn't technically have a separate amp section (confirmed by Rob Watts). It drives headphones from the DAC's analogue output. It has one output stage (I/V conversion from the DAC) for all of it's outputs, including the headphone out. There is no Buffer+Filter+Gain stage in Chord DACs (like in conventional DAC/amp designs) and volume is controlled digitally. They can get away with this because of the incredible performance of the DAC and are also able keep the output impedance very low, much lower than most everything portable available at 0.025 Ohms. Essentially, what you are hearing with the Hugo2 (and all portable Chord DAC gear) is the DAC itself as there isn't a separate headphone amp inside. Notice you can not input an analogue signal to the Hugo2."
     
     
    Update: This DEMO unit do not come with Rob's newest code that he recently finished on HUGO 2, so the final version available soon should sound different with this one. Well, the final retail version should definitely better. :p 
     
     
     
    About US:
     
    We are a audiophile review team from China, this is our first English review on Head-Fi, apologize if our English expressions confuse you. Send us a PM or an e-mail if you have any questions.
     
    LOGO.jpg
     
    ZHIYU REVIEW TEAM  Mar 2017
     
    zhiyuworkshop@163.com
     
  2. psikey
    Thanks
     
    How did you get this to test?
     
    At a show, as part of a Tour or given a review sample?
     
    Did it have final Rob Watt code.
     
  3. mosesed96
    Hi, This is a DEMO units that I received from local dealer in China, and we have been test and review it for about 3 weeks. :)
     
    And there will be a show this weekend in Shanghai, and this unit will be there ;p
     
    psikey likes this.
  4. dezispop
    Would like to know the comparison between Sony wm1z or AK380 combo vs HUGO2 ~~
     
  5. Peter Hyatt
    lots of laughing out loud, lol.  
     
    interesting review.  lol.  I think the design is unique and exciting but it is the dynamic that I look forward to.  I am glad 
    to know it is so well built and will withstand accidental drops.  Another great product from Chord. 
     
    I love comparisons to DAVE and it will be interesting to hear Hugo owners who buy Hugo 2 post reviews.  
     
  6. jmonty
    Thanks for the review and comments!
    Did you try/compare the quality of the inputs (optical/Coaxial/USB) ?
    Do you know if that demo unit contains the final code?
    Despite it is only a demo unit and commercial units will change, did you had some cables/adapters (specially a coaxial adapter)?
    Thanks!
     
  7. psikey
    A+
     
  8. Peter Hyatt
     
    For your first English language review here you did a great job.  It is not only exciting to read about the Hugo 2 release, but the review is fun to read.   I look forward to more from you!  
     
    bixby likes this.
  9. czy6412
    The output of WA8 may not be regarded as great in the specs, but it is definitely a portable amp that has much higher gains than my Mytek Brooklyn. I think the power is enough (as a tube amp) for HD800. I tried WA8 with my ZMF Atticus (300 Ohm Headphone) and it sounds great, will test that with my HD800 once my WA8 arrived.
     
  10. Hooster
     
    You had to copy and paste the entire article?
     
    Deftone and RJson like this.
  11. AndrewH13

    Haha. Worse for me I bet, on a cruise with poor WiFi, waiting for page to load :)
     
  12. Knipester
    Surely if the units been in hand for 3 weeks it wouldn't have the final code as rob has posted only recently that he was finalising it ready for production. Hopeful the finished versions will exceed the demo unit.
     
  13. Deftone
    The only gripe I have with Hugo 2 is that it does not have a USB C connection in terms of sturdyness, micro USB still worries me with each use.
     
  14. Deftone

    Yeah your right he has very recently said he's finishing the code and I think a few things have changed and refined so I wouldnt not class this one as an accurate review so far.
     
  15. PhiQuanTu
    Thank you for the early review, Op!

    People PLEASE! Don't quote the entire review in your reply. It's a PITA to scroll through half a page just to see your "thank you".
     
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