Home Amps/DACS Chord Hugo 2 Review: Audio Excellence At A Price?

Chord Hugo 2 Review: Audio Excellence At A Price?

by Stuart Charles Black

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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

I didn’t have a dedicated review for the Chord Hugo 2 and wanted to delve into the inner workings of this rather expensive Amp/DAC.

Is it worth the asking price? Let’s dive in and find out.

In the realm of high-fidelity audio, the Chord Hugo 2 stands as a prominent figure, revered for its exceptional digital-to-analog conversion capabilities and sophisticated design.

As technology continues to redefine how we experience music, this DAC and headphone amplifier has garnered both acclaim and discourse for its unique feature: an exceptionally low output impedance.

This characteristic often praised for its ability to enhance control and accuracy in audio playback, has also sparked discussions about its potential impact on the sonic landscape.

In this exploration, we delve into the realm of output impedance, its advantages, its implications on tonal characteristics, and the ongoing debate surrounding whether a purely clinical reproduction can inadvertently extract some of the soulful nuances that make music a deeply emotional and personal experience.

The interplay between engineering precision and the subjective realm of musical enjoyment comes to the forefront as we examine the Chord Hugo 2 and its potential effects on the essence of recorded sound.

All specs will be at the end!

Design and Build

Chord Hugo 2 ReviewThe Chord Hugo 2 boasts a sleek and stylish design, featuring a compact and portable aluminum chassis.

The device has a unique spherical volume control on its top surface, which not only serves as a volume adjustment knob but also displays various colors to indicate the audio source’s sample rate.

Speaking of, the Hugo 2 is capable of up to 384kHz PCM and DSD256.

The device’s construction and craftsmanship are often praised for their premium feel and attention to detail.

Button Layout

The button layout of the Chord Hugo 2, while functional, has been observed to present a potential learning curve for some users.

The arrangement, while not overly complex, might feel a bit awkward to navigate initially.

The device’s compact size contributes to the placement of buttons in close proximity, which could lead to accidental presses or require some precision when interacting with them.

Users accustomed to more traditional layouts might find themselves taking a short period to adapt to the Hugo 2’s control scheme.

The multi-function button, in particular, tasked with menu navigation and settings adjustment, could require familiarization to optimize its use effectively.

This learning curve might be a minor point of consideration, especially for those seeking an immediate and intuitive interaction with the device.

Despite this potential hurdle, it’s important to note that once acclimated, the button layout becomes second nature to many users, and its idiosyncrasies might blend seamlessly into the overall experience.

As with any piece of technology, the interaction with the Chord Hugo 2’s button layout tends to evolve with usage, often transforming initial awkwardness into an intuitive routine.

Technology

The Hugo 2 incorporates advanced technology, including a powerful FPGA (field-programmable gate array) chip that performs the digital-to-analog conversion.

Chord’s proprietary technology, such as the “WTA” (Watts Transient Aligned) filter, is designed to reduce distortion and improve transient response.

This technology contributes to the Hugo 2’s reputation for delivering a lifelike and engaging listening experience.

That said,

the company’s distinctive approach to audio engineering has garnered both praise and debate among audiophiles and enthusiasts.

Chord Hugo 2 Review

Here’s an overview of Chord’s proprietary technology and the points of contention surrounding it:

WTA Filter Technology

As just mentioned, one of Chord Electronics’ most notable proprietary technologies is the “WTA” (Watts Transient Aligned) filter.

This technology is used in their FPGA-based DAC designs, including the one employed in the Chord Hugo 2.

The WTA filter is designed to minimize distortion, improve transient response, and provide accurate time-domain alignment of audio signals.

Upsampling and Oversampling

Chord’s DACs often employ upsampling and oversampling techniques to improve the accuracy of digital-to-analog conversion.

These techniques involve increasing the sample rate of the digital signal before conversion, which they say can result in improved detail, reduced distortion, and enhanced sound quality.

Points of Contention

Chord Hugo 2

Left to right: Hugo 2, Mojo, E10K (top), HA-2. Headphones: Sennheiser HD600

While Chord Electronics’ proprietary technology has gained a dedicated following and numerous positive reviews, it has also sparked debates and disagreements among audiophiles.

Coloration vs. Transparency

Some audiophiles argue that Chord’s proprietary technology, including the WTA filter, can impart a distinctive sonic signature that might not be entirely transparent.

This has led to discussions about whether Chord’s DACs add a particular coloration to the sound that might not suit all preferences or types of music.

Do keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily indicative of the Hugo in particular as it aims for ultra-transparency.

Preference for Tradition

On the flip side of the argument, Audiophile communities often include individuals who value traditional audio engineering approaches and believe that certain colorations or imperfections can contribute to a more natural and musical sound.

Chord’s technology (at least in the case of the Hugo 2), with its emphasis on precision and transparency, might not align with this preference.

Personal Listening Preferences

Like all matters of audio quality, personal preference plays a significant role.

Some listeners might appreciate the clinical accuracy and transparency of the Hugo 2, while others might prefer something much less sterile.

After all, the Hugo 2, while boasting an astronomically low output impedance, may be too transparent for some – bordering on cold and lifeless.

Others question the “technology” altogether, claiming that Chord doesn’t actually provide any details or insights into how they implement the methodologies apparent in their products.

In other words,

they have been accused of being very hush-hush about their business practices.

Connectivity

Chord Hugo 2 Review

Even so, the Hugo 2 provides a variety of connection options, including multiple digital inputs (USB, coaxial, optical) and analog outputs for use with separate speakers or monitors.

This versatility makes it suitable for various setups, including headphone listening and integration into a larger audio system or gaming setup.

I used the Hugo 2 via its optical input with my Playstation 4 and found it to be a pretty satisfying experience for the most part.

Headphone Amplification

Apart from being a DAC, the Hugo 2 also functions as a headphone amplifier.

It has enough power to drive a wide range of headphones, from sensitive in-ear monitors to high-impedance over-ear models.

Users often appreciate its ability to reveal the true potential of their headphones by providing ample power and accurate signal conversion.

Portability

Despite its advanced technology and high-quality sound, the Hugo 2 is relatively compact and portable, making it suitable for both home and on-the-go use.

Its built-in rechargeable battery provides hours of playback, allowing you to enjoy high-quality audio wherever you are.

Price

It’s worth noting that the Chord Hugo 2 is positioned at a higher price point, which might be considered an investment for serious audiophiles or professionals seeking top-tier sound quality.

With that, let’s delve a bit more into its output impedance and explore its effect on sound.

Output Impedance and The Hugo 2

Chord Hugo 2 Review

The concept of output impedance and its impact on audio equipment is an important consideration when evaluating the sonic characteristics of devices like the Chord Hugo 2.

Output impedance refers to the internal impedance of an amplifier or DAC as seen from its output terminals.

A lower output impedance is generally preferred as it ensures better control over the connected headphones or speakers, particularly when dealing with varying load impedance.

Pros of Low Output Impedance

A low output impedance can have several positive effects on audio reproduction:

Improved Damping Factor

A low output impedance ensures that the amplifier exerts better control over the drivers of headphones or speakers.

This results in more accurate and controlled movement of the diaphragm, which can contribute to tighter bass response and reduced distortion.

Minimized Frequency Response Variations

When driving headphones with varying impedance characteristics, a low output impedance can help in maintaining a consistent frequency response across different headphones.

This is particularly important as some headphones might exhibit impedance-related resonances that could alter the intended frequency balance.

Reduced Interactions

With lower output impedance, there’s less likelihood of impedance-related interactions between the amplifier’s output and the headphones’ impedance.

This can lead to a more transparent and accurate sound reproduction.

Cons and Subjective Perception

However, there’s also a potential downside to very low output impedance, and this often relates to the perceived tonal characteristics of the sound:

Tonal Balance Alteration

Some audiophiles argue that a very low output impedance can result in a more analytical and “cold” sound.

This can be particularly noticeable when using headphones or speakers that are designed for a slightly higher output impedance, where a touch of impedance-induced coloration can add warmth and fullness to the sound.

Loss of Musicality

A sound that’s overly clinical and sterile might be perceived as lacking the emotional engagement and warmth that many listeners associate with a more “musical” experience.

The nuances and imperfections that contribute to the emotional impact of music can potentially be diminished in such a setup.

Product Mismatch

Some headphones are designed to work optimally with amplifiers that have a specific output impedance.

If a headphone has been tuned to compensate for a particular output impedance, using a device with a significantly lower output impedance might result in a deviation from the intended sound signature.

Subjective Nature of Audio Perception

It’s important to recognize that preferences for tonal balance and sound characteristics are highly subjective and can vary widely from person to person.

What one person perceives as “lifeless” or “sterile,” another might perceive as “neutral” and “accurate.”

Furthermore, the impact of output impedance on sound can also depend on the headphones or speakers being used.

That said, the Hugo’s output impedance is significantly lower than anything I’ve tried, and I did notice the negative effects almost immediately.

Put into context, amps like the ATOM (0.7), Objective 2 (0.2), DragonFly Red (around 0.7), etc. all aim for an output impedance below 1.

They all strike a perfect balance of neutrality without going overboard.

The Hugo 2, by contrast, has an output impedance of less than 0.025!

To me, this is a bit too extreme and a great example of lower not necessarily equating to better.

In other words,

listening to music out of the Hugo 2, in my opinion, is not an enjoyable experience and that’s just my honest take.

I found it to be a chore. The music seemed completely devoid of, well, what makes music, music. It was lifeless, dry, and papery sounding.

As if someone removed an important component that gives the sound its uniqueness.

So imagine a track being produced by a machine rather than a human and you can start to understand what I’m trying to convey (hopefully).

Closing Thoughts

In the intricate world of audiophile equipment, the Chord Hugo 2 stands as both a testament to innovation and a catalyst for spirited discussions.

Its low output impedance, while celebrated for its precision and control, has also ignited debates about its potential impact on the soulful qualities that make music a deeply moving experience.

This interplay between engineering excellence and the emotional resonance of music underscores the complexity of crafting audio gear that resonates with individual preferences.

For those seeking an alternative that addresses some of the concerns expressed about the Hugo 2, the Chord Mojo emerges as a compelling option.

The Best Headphone Amps & DACS

Design: HomeStudioBasics

The Chord Mojo retains Chord Electronics’ reputation for exceptional sound quality while providing a different flavor of musicality.

With its versatility, slightly higher output impedance, and a unique character that resonates with many listeners, the Chord Mojo offers an avenue to explore the world of high-fidelity audio without compromising on warmth and emotional engagement.

For those who cherish an immersive, emotionally resonant journey through their favorite tracks, the Chord Mojo beckons as an appealing avenue to explore.

With its approachable character and the ability to evoke the essence of recorded sound with its distinctive but warmer overall tonality, the Mojo invites audiophiles and music lovers alike to uncover the intricacies and emotions woven into their favorite tunes.

Plus, it’s miles cheaper than the Hugo 2 and a much better overall value.

In the diverse landscape of audio equipment, the Chord Mojo emerges as a beacon of thoughtful design and artful sound crafting, promising an exploration of musicality that may resonate deeply with those seeking a rich and fulfilling auditory adventure.

Is it perfect? Not quite, and we’ll delve into all of that as well.

Learn More:

 

Specifications

General

  • Type: Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) and headphone amplifier
  • DAC Chip: Custom FPGA (field-programmable gate array) DAC
  • Output Power: 0.725W RMS per channel at 8Ω, 0.73W RMS per channel at 16Ω
  • Output Impedance: Approx. 0.025Ω

Supported Sample Rates:

  • PCM: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz, 358.8 kHz, 384 kHz
  • DSD (via DoP): DSD64, DSD128, DSD256

Inputs:

  • 1x Optical TOSLink (up to 24-bit/96 kHz)
  • 1x Coaxial RCA (up to 24-bit/384 kHz)
  • 1x HD USB Type-B (up to 32-bit/768 kHz and DSD512)
  • 1x 3.5mm coaxial power jack for an external 5V power supply

Outputs:

  • 1x 1/4″ (6.35mm) headphone jack (front panel)
  • 1x 3.5mm headphone jack (front panel)
  • 1x Stereo pair of RCA (line-level output, rear panel)
  • 1x Coaxial BNC (for use with other Chord Electronics devices)

Battery and Power:

  • Built-in rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery Life: Approximately 7 hours (under typical conditions)
  • Charging: Battery charging via Micro USB port

Dimensions and Weight:

  • Dimensions: 130mm (W) x 21mm (H) x 100mm (D)
  • Weight: Approx. 450g

Other Features:

  • Four-function switch for menu navigation and settings adjustment
  • Color-changing sphere on top for indicating sample rate and other status information

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Chord Hugo 2 Review and came away with some valuable insight.

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

What are your experiences with Hugo 2? Is it overly cold and sterile sounding? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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