Chord Hugo 2 DAC/AMP - Official Thread

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.

Sound:

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.

"Quirks:"

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 …).

Overall:

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.

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This thread is not overly …well…used :slight_smile:

Did anyone have a chance to compare the Hugo 2 (or TT2) to the Busron Audio Conductor 3X?

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Don’t think I’ve quite grasped what “intelligent desktop” mode is yet. My Hugo 2 was left charging for 24 hours and the battery indicator went purple. I unplugged to move the Hugo 2 elsewhere, and an hour or so later re-attached it to the charger again. The battery indicator is now Blue. Is the purple indicator a one off event?
And what happens now - Do you keep the charger plugged in 24/7 , and the Hugo is then only charged until it reaches full power, and then stops charging? If so is there a way you know it has stopped charging?

Thanks

Desktop mode only activates after 24 hours of continuous charging/power. If you disconnect or turn-off the charger that turns off desktop mode, and it won’t reactivate until you leave it plugged in and charging for another 24 hours. So if you’re moving your Hugo 2 around, desktop mode isn’t really relevant.

If the power light is not purple, then its not in desktop mode and is doing it’s normal charging routine.

When the unit IS in desktop mode you’re avoiding charge cycles and not keeping the battery at 100% charge (which are the two factors that most affect lithium-chemistry cells):

  • Unit is powered from the charger, with the battery only getting used if there’s a big dynamic surge that the wall-wart cannot handle on its own (such as if using a lower-current charger than the unit was supplied with).

  • The battery is not kept at 100% charge in desktop mode. It drops to about 80% and is maintained there.

    • If you then want to charge it to full, you have to disconnect the charger, give it a moment or two, and then re-connect it … which takes it out of desktop mode and it’ll charge to 100%
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Thanks, appreciate the explanation. I’ll normally be moving the Hugo at least once a day so will hardly if ever be in desktop mode. Daytime it’s connected (along with 2Go) to my amp/speakers in hifi set up, but for late night listening I move the 2go/Hugo 2 to another room and listen with headphones.
Is there any general advice regards how long you should leave 2Go/Hugo 2 charged? eg Is there any problem leaving it charged most of day, and unplugging at night when I move to another room, and doing this 365 days a year?

Thanks

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There’s not really a problem leaving it on charge

Technically, your battery will be at 100% all the time which reduces its lifespan … but not to the point where I’d spend any time at all worrying about it.

And it’s replaceable anyway.

Personally I tend to run the Hugo 2 off its battery, and typically wind up putting it back on charge when I’m done listening. I’ll disconnect it, if I remember, at whatever point I happen to see that it is finished charging (which is often the next day). Short of running the battery down all the way every time, that’s about the harshest use case for it.

I’ve not seen any issues in the 2.5 years I’ve had mine, nor do I notice any particular decrease in run time at this point.

Which is a very long-winded way of saying “don’t worry about it, use it the way that you get the most enjoyment and least hassle from it, and replace the battery if/when it becomes an issue”.

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Thanks for reply. I’ll attempt to run off battery during day, then recharge for a few hours for night time listening. Sorted! Bottom line is you’ve reassured me, so cheers for that.

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Just curious what other folks do regarding volume levels when using Hugo 2 in a hifi set up. Is it better to let the amp dominate how loud the volume is, with the Hugo at a lower volume setting, or is it the opposite, or perhaps somewhere in the middle?

If you’re feeding an external headphone amplifier, integrated amplifier or pre-amp (in a pre/power configuration), then put the Hugo 2 in “line level” mode (power it up with the X-PHD button held down).

If you’re feeding an external power-amplifier, then use the Hugo 2’s volume control.

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Thanks Torq. Will try tomorrow.

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Cheers Torq, that’s working well in line level mode via integrated amp.

Have you any thoughts on if there is any difference in Hugo’s performance if feeding integrated amp vs power amp? Or are they much of a muchness?

Thanks

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The Hugo 2 won’t perform differently feeding either type of amp.

But since the Hugo 2 has variable output, why put a pre-amp in the chain (i.e. the pre-amp stage in the integrated amp) unless you need to for some other purpose?

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I am bi amping, so that is why I need the pre amp function.

That aside, I guess if I didn’t have a turntable I’d not need the integrated amp, as the Hugo could act as pre amp when playing digital music.

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So I took the plunge and fed the Hugo 2 to the power amp. First impressions are it definitely sounds good, possibly a bit more controlled - eg with bass heavy tracks. Posisbly hearing a bit more detail too. Sometimes it’s hard to know if something sounds better or just different though, and I was very happy with the sound from my bi-amped set up, so will give it a few days to bed in and see what happens.
The only drawback if I do keep this Hugo/power amp setup is that when I want to play vinyl it’s not just as simple as changing the source on the integrated amp as was the case previously, now I’ll have re-instate the pre amp RCA connectors between the integrated and power amp, remove the terminal links from the back of my speakers, and then re-introduce the speaker cable from the integrated amp that aren’t used when using the Hugo/power amp set up. And then reverse all that when I want to go digital again with Hugo!!

Oh well, Hifi truly is a labour of love at times!!

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Hi, fellow Hugo 2 owners! I’ve had my unit for just about 2 months, love it, and am thinking about my next upgrade step. Source is a desktop PC (Roon, USB) feeding Utopias. One route is to grab a 2go, thus theoretically improving the source, and making it into a truly portable player. Another is to grab an amp (almost certainly Phonitor X/XE), and likely a balanced cable to go with it. If anyone has experience with one or both, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how worthwhile these upgrades are, and which you would do. Thanks, all!

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