Chord Electronics has been a great source of enthusiasm for me over the last few decades regarding my HiFi and personal listening habits with a few of their DAC's gracing my listening room and also some amplifiers. Rob Watts and John Franks are very highly regarded in the world of HiFi with their ability to push the envelope in regards to sound quality, the FPGA custom DAC design approach offers more and more power to the end user and a level of refinement which seems to be quite the norm, this is what keeps Chord Electronics at the top of their game.
With a handful of reviews, this will be my fourth review of a Chord Electronics product with the 2Qute and HugoTT under my belt, and only recently the Poly which makes portable streaming a reality for the brilliant Mojo DAC. All of these products have excelled when it comes to quality and most importantly sound. So when I got the chance to review the new Hugo2 it was an easy decision to make. The original Hugo was a huge hit for Chord and has been a driving force in how quickly they reacted to the demand in the market for portable headphone DAC's and amplifiers, and so the R&D has moved on from the previous generation of hardware and improvements to not just hardware but also aesthetics for the new Hugo2 has been implemented.
Features and Build Quality
The features list on the new Hugo2 is certainly a highlight with many areas of technical performance improved upon over the older Hugo and packing in more or less double the amount of number crunching power available. The latest FPGA custom DAC technology and WTA (Watts Transient Aligned) filters have been implemented into the design of the Hugo2 increasing the overall resolving power with improved timing accuracy, dynamic range, headphone amplifier powerand better noise reduction. The casing of the Hugo2 has been completely redesigned with the softer more rounded look of the original Hugo now gone and a sleeker better-looking case now adorning the Hugo2.There are now four spherical main buttons which are all nicely labelled for ease of use and light up just like the main digital volume control does. The level of finish and build quality is simply flawless and has to be one of the nicest looking DAC's/Headphone amplifiers on the market, Chord has really nailed the design and ergonomics of the Hugo2.The level of connectivity is brilliant for a unit which is so small, offering 4 digital inputs Optical, Coaxial, HD USB and extended range Bluetooth. File playback goes all the way up to 768kHz with Native DSD support up to DSD512 (Octa DSD)available via its HD USB connection, analogue outputs include 2xRCA plus 3.5mm and 6.35mm headphone outputs.Battery life is very good with 7 hours of playback from a full charge, featuring 2 modes of charging fast and slow with an indicator showing battery and charging status. It comes in brushed black and silver finish and even has the luxury of using a remote which is so handy for volume control and filter changes on the fly. Inputs
• 1x Optical TOSLink 24-bit/192kHz-capable • 1x RCA coaxial input 24-bit/384kHz-capable • 1x HD USB input 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512-capable • 1x aptX Bluetooth (extended range)
• 1x 3.5mm headphone jack • 1x 6.35mm (1/4 inch) headphone jack • 1x (pair) stereo RCA phono output Technical features
• Advanced digital volume control • Crossfeed filter network • Four-stage frequency-shaping filter • Fast-charging batteries via Micro USB giving around 7 hours operation • 49,195K tap-length filter (near double the original the Hugo)
For this review, I am using my Audeze LCD-XC Headphones, Kimber Cables AXIOS and the iSine10 In-ear headphones which offer fantastic playback quality with the LCD-XC being my reference headphones.I currently use a Schiit Audio Jotuneim Headphone amplifier and the Meridian Explorer2 as the DAC, this combination gives me fantastic performance but now I have the Chord Electronics Hugo2 slotted in taking over both amplifier and DAC duties. Connectivity has been HD USB and Optical input from my Cyrus CDi player. The Hugo2 does a splendid job at reproducing a sound that is totally dynamic and refined with all types of music files and also CD, but with a very even-handed tonal balance across the whole frequency spectrum.Nothing seems to stand out in any type of music with its bass reproduction being nice and punchy and the treble rolling off at the top end with not a hint of harshness, and the mids are just as good with detail and colour in the tonal palette as accurate as some of the best DAC's I have listened to.The filters can be used to the users taste with very subtle but noticeable differences in sound. The X-PHD filter also gives a more spatial effect to the sound, this is something that Chord have researched and worked hard at getting right and it shows in the performance which gives a wider and expansive sound field.
Listening to thealbumWardby theRichard Koch Quartetin high-resolution 24bit 96kHz sounds simply divine with excellent timing and dynamics with a completely natural sounding timbre to all the instruments.The trumpet section has a great sound that never once sounds harsh but instead is rich in texture and hits some massive dynamic peaks which any lesser DAC would struggle with but not the Hugo2, it gives a sterling performanceand makes my Audeze LCD-XC perform in a way that I have not managed to hear until now, they have simply come alive and are finally being allowed to perform to their full potential.Trouble is when music sounds this good anything else just will not do.Track 7 Der Herbst is probably one of my favourite tracks on the album with a great bit of music that has so much energy, again the trumpet work is stunning and the piano and percussion sounds wonderfully engaging, the Hugo2 allows the music to be heard without anything added from the electronics, instead you get the whole picture and an abundance of pleasure. This is a firm favourite of mine since I started listening to it through the Hugo2.
One of the strongest points on the Hugo2 is the higher you go in resolution, the higher the resolving power and finer details that it manages to squeeze out is simply amazing. Listening to the DSD album of Holly Cole by2xHDis an experience and eye opener to how good these recordings are getting as the layers of detail and lavish sounds that can now be experienced is now better than ever.Track 2 Your Mind is on Vacationsounds sublime with a crisp and very natural sounding presentation, the tonal balance is again evenly balanced with a snappy percussion and the beautiful voice of Holly Cole melting through my headphones.The Hugo2 has the incredible power of bringing out the best in music. Track 9 Everybody Loves Somebody makes me lose myself in the hypnotic sounds as every piano key struck resonates through me with a lifelike sound that is as realistic as it gets and the double bass plucks are as tangible as ever, It is hard not to be impressed by the Hugo2 with this simple yet so involving piece of music. Yet again Holly Cole's voice is just fabulous.
On to a CD that I have not stopped listening to over the last few weeks while the Chord Hugo2 has been with me, and that is by Calibro 35 and the brilliant album DECADE by Kudos Records.This has to be one of the best Jazz Funk albums that I have listened to, period and that is made even more possible with the power that the Hugo2 has in resolving the best possible sound from this beautiful silver disc. Track 2 SuperStudio has it all with a foot tapping sound that draws you deeper into the music, with exceptional timing and rhythmand dynamics that the Hugo2 handles with aplomb. The whole album just cries out to be listened to at higher volumes than normal such is the musical goodness of this album with the Hugo2 and Audeze combination, it does not disappoint.
Using the Hugo2 as a standard DAC in my main HiFi system with McIntosh Labs amplifier and Wilson Audio Yvette speakers, connected with Transparent RCA cables the Calibro 35 album once again delights with a performance that is captivating.Although great as a stand-alone DAC the new Chord Electronics Qutest would be a better option as it has the same processing power as the Hugo2 but without the Headphone amplifier, so if you cannot stretch to the £1,800 asking price of the Hugo2 the Qutest offers similar performance at a cheaper price. But it goes without saying that in any guise the Hugo2 tech is just stunning for the price and Chord Electronics really have struck gold with this latest and greatest Hugo2.
Conclusions and Final Thoughts
As you can probably tell I am totally bowled over by the performance of the Hugo2 and as a DAC/Headphone amplifier it does not get much better than this considering its asking price. The beautiful styling and aesthetics of the unit make it an absolute pleasure to use and an easy item to live with every day.Chord Electronics has pushed their headphone amplifier and DAC technology even further with this offering and the Hugo2 is now only bettered by the much more costlier DAVE DAC.
Another hit for Chord Electronics and an Outstanding Product awarded for the new Hugo2.