This is the spot to discuss the Chord Hugo 2
Ahead of some kind of formal (or, at least, official) review system, I’ll share a few thoughts/experiences I’ve had with the Chord Hugo 2.
The first thing to say is that it’s the best sounding portable DAC/amp that I’ve come across. It’s expensive, especially at the moment (the price fluctuates by several hundred dollars with US/UK exchange rates), and has some minor operational quirks, but the sound quality it realizes is excellent.
The only other portable units I’ve found that offer comparable quality, even if their presentations are different, are the Sony NW-WM1Z and Lotoo Paw Gold digital audio players.
I was, and am not, a fan of the original Hugo. I found it sterile, bright and un-involving. In fact I preferred the output from Chord’s Mojo to their Hugo (despite some lack of low-end slam and a slightly prickly treble in the little guy). Fortunately, Hugo 2 is a marked step forward in listening pleasure compared to both of those units.
Hugo 2 has a neutral, incisive, detailed, dynamic and well-rounded delivery. Bass is nimble, tight, extended, well textured and tuneful with pretty good slam. There’s plenty of air and space in the upper registers, and the treble is very smooth (an obvious improvement over both the original Hugo and Mojo) without losing resolution. And the mid-range is entirely even-handed and nuanced, with no sense of exaggeration or recession - there’s also no euphony or romanticization of the sound here … it’s just transparent without being clinical. Overall tone and timbre are natural and persuasive.
Excepting the Susvara, HE-6, Abyss and LCD-4 I’ve had no problems driving everything I’ve tried from the Hugo 2. Dynamics remain excellent, the low output impedance (and vanishingly low noise) allow it to mate well with full-size cans as well as fussy IEMs (though I don’t like it much with Andromeda … it’s spectacular with the Zeus XRA) and it’ll play louder than is sane with most headphones. To be fair, it’s not bad with the Abyss or LCD-4 … it’s just not showing them at their best … and even DAVE’s direct output isn’t quite grunty enough for me with those particular cans.
As a bedside unit, feeding the Sony MDR-Z1R (with some EQ to tame their bass) it’s an excellent experience, and sitting on the deck with the Utopia it’s as close as I can get to my DAVE without involving additional amps and cables and other nonsense.
When fed via USB, COAX or optical the overall quality remains consistent. The thing also supports Bluetooth (SBC and AptX codecs).
Driving it via Bluetooth from an iPhone X means it uses the lowest-quality codec in the Bluetooth specification, “SBC”, and the end result, even with the phone right next to the Hugo 2, was not impressive. Very audible distortion/grain as tracks from Apple Music would fade out and in low-volume passages (not as audible with lossless material, but still noticeable degraded). You’re better off using the CCK and the USB connection for this.
Via Bluetooth and AptX (from a Sony WM1Z, using the same files) the results were very different and the grain went away completely. This wouldn’t be my preferred way to use it, but it is, at least, still a very good result and in most cases there’s no directly audible degradation absent immediate comparisons with another input option.
Filters and Crossfeed:
There are four filter options on Hugo 2. I prefer the default “white” (so called because that’s what color the filter button glows when it is selected) option. There’s a mode colloquially referred to as “Mojo mode” which is supposed to sound closer to the overall signature of Mojo … i.e. a bit warmer with a little high-end roll-off. I wouldn’t say it actually sounds like Mojo, but it’s audibly different … and useful if you like that sort of thing.
Another useful feature is the inclusion of a crossfeed function. This blends (and delays) the sound form one channel and feeds it into the other. It’s useful in eliminating the “three blob” effect common to headphone listening, and in particular for music with hard-panned mixing. And it works very well in those cases … with selectable levels of crossfeed it’s easy enough to find a setting that works for a given track/album - and it doesn’t mess up the tonality of the music the way some analog crossfeed implementations can.
I would not, as some have done, describe the Hugo 2 as being a “mini DAVE”. While there’s definitely some general “Chordness” to it’s delivery, DAVE is clearly performing on a different level.
As with every Chord device I’ve owned, the charging times and battery life claims always a bit off for me. Using the included 2A charger the unit is claimed to charge in four hours, but usually takes closer to six. And run-time, which is admittedly dependent on headphones in use (lower impedance = more current = faster battery drain) and listening levels, is also closer to six hours (typically Redbook PCM into Focal Utopia, Sony MDR-Z1R or Empire Ears Zeus XRA).
The user interface has proven problematic for some people, also (reading the manual helps). Volume level is indicated by the color of the volume scroller … and progresses through the colors of the rainbow starting at red on the “low” end and progressing to blue/violet at the “high” end. Sample rate is indicated by the color of the viewing glass. Charge level is visible as the color of the power button.
On the go, while the unit is a bit large, the biggest challenge is that your inputs and outputs are likely to be on opposite ends of the unit (USB is, I would assume, the most common “on the go” connection). Similarly, on the desktop you wind up either with cables coming in and out of both ends of the thing, or with the controls at the opposite end of the unit to the headphone connection (perhaps I’m doing it wrong and everyone else likes the headphone jack on the “back” of the unit …).
As I said, it’s the best sounding portable DAC/amp I’m aware of presently.
It is expensive and if you’re not going to use it as a portable/transportable unit I think the value proposition is a bit challenging … an identical sounding (as far as I can discern) unit is available for $900 less, in the Chord Qutest, and you’re also bumping up against the likes of Schiit’s Yggdrasil Analog 2 (which is also usefully cheaper).
If you want the best possible sound on the go, then in my opinion it’s this or a Sony WM1Z. You have to make some accommodations for the Hugo 2 in use, but I think in general it’s worth it if sound-quality is your primary concern and you’re not price-sensitive.