Making connections. Kent’s Chord Electronics no longer design DACs with off-the-shelf silicon. Instead of implementing a decoder chip from Wolfson, ESS, Cirrus Logic, TI or AKM et al, Chord take an FPGA and load it with custom filter code written by one Robert Watts.
Watts’ ‘WTA’ filter works its magic via taps which we can think of as memory slots. More taps reportedly improves time domain performance to which our ear-brains are extremely sensitive. According to Watts, the vast majority of off-the shelf DAC chips contain around 20 taps.
Watts’ first WTA model for Chord, the DAC64, ran with 1000 taps. The QuteHD followed with 10,000 taps. The 2Qute and Hugo feature 26,000 taps apiece. Ditto 2015’s Mojo. Chord’s statement decoder DAVE (covered here and here) is powered by a whopping 164,000 taps. Helping the Hugo bros and Mojo along is battery power, augmented by Supercaps and galvanically isolated USB in the TT.
On Chord’s table at CanJam SoCal sat the Hugo TT (reviewed here), the Hugo (reviewed here) and the Mojo (covered here, here and here). I’m a fan of the Watts/Chord decoders’ traits: deep detail excavation, clean layer delineation and superb spatial cue reveal.
Instantly distracting me from a DAVE audition at the Westin hotel was Chord mainman John Franks. He’s the epitome of old-school British formailty and politeness.
Our conversation turned to Mojo almost immediately. “We’ve sold 25,000 already!”, he says grinning. “And we expected Mojo to eat into Hugo sales but it didn’t. Hugo and 2Qute are still going gangbusters!”
That’s surprising when we stop to consider the audible proximity of Mojo and Hugo. The Mojo gets us almost all the way to Hugo performance levels for one third of the cash and without the need for a wall-wart charger. “We voiced the Mojo to be a little warmer than the Hugo,” continues Franks. Interesting.
Mojo life isn’t all chocolate boxes and roses though. It might be the perfect physical dance partner for first gen Astell&Kern players but rubber-strapping a Mojo to a smartphone renders the screen unusable. The Chord portable is too short. Franks is aware and has a solution.
Bringing extra length to the Mojo is Chord’s soon-to-released and as-yet-unnamed extension kit: a near-hollow plastic extender clips onto the Mojo and, plus-sized devices aside (see header pic), better facilitates smartphone strap-on. The extender widget’s internals swallows the larger end of Apple’s CCK or an Android OTG cable.
If you’re wondering, as I did, why Chord didn’t build a Lightning cable into the device, Franks explained that Apple’s MFI programme demands Chord hand over the keys to their encrypted WTA code. Not gonna happen.
A small internal circuit board ensures that a charging port remains accessible without the need for widget detachment. Expect pricing on the Mojo extender kit to come it at around US$45 (which includes rubber bands).
Is that it? A forty-five dollar dongle?
Not quite. The Mojo extender’s physical form sets the tone for a second forthcoming module that promises a whole lot more functionality, which Franks detailed at length over his CanJam table before telling yours truly that said info wasn’t yet fit for publishing. Bugger. The story becomes: got a secret / can’t tell you.
I mean, I could spill the beans but that would spell the end of review units for DAR and definitely put a kibosh on the forthcoming Mojo giveaway competition. My hands are tied. What I can tell you is this more functionally diverse module will obviate the need for any physical connection between smartphone and Mojo but also further cement the Mojo’s present position as the number one goto DAC for two-channel rigs below a grand.
‘Game changer’ is an overused phrase that borders on cliché but this second module promises to be exactly that. However, as with numerous products teased at audio shows, patience is required.
Further information: Chord Electronics