in ,

Norddeutsche Hifi-Tage 2017: Chord Electronics Hugo2

  • “I go where you go” → “You go” → Hugo. Chord Electronics’ transportable DAC goes to work with (and for) you on the desktop at work with your favourite pair of headphones (6.4mm and 3.5mm sockets) and then comes home for line-level main system hook up (via twin RCAs). In between, Hugo’s internal rechargeable battery makes in-transit usage possible but not necessarily convenient; strap it to a smartphone if you’ve the pocket real estate, otherwise an in-flight tray table will suffice. 10ish hours’ runtime from a full charge will see most people across Europe, the USA or the Atlantic.

    Whether used on the road with headphones or in a full-size loudspeaker setup, few DACs at its £1400 price point would come close the ultimate resolve of the Hugo, its digital filter coded by one Rob Watts and loaded, fully encrypted, onto an FPGA. No off-the-shelf D/A chips here.

    One could argue that the Hugo’s runaway success set Chord Electronics on a entirely new and perhaps unexpected upwards trajectory.

    It was this commentator’s original intention only to report on the Poly from the Norddeutsche Hifi-Tage in Hamburg the weekend before last but reader emails asking for more on Chord’s showing forced my hand: “What about the new Hugo2, John?”.

    Before we get to that we should acknowledge that no product is perfect. Niggles about the original Hugo were predominantly reserved for its in-set micro USB socket that red carded many deluxe USB cables and – for this user – its reliance on an external wall-wart for recharging.

    Both of these issues have been resolved with a recently announced second generation update. At £1800, the Hugo2 is more expensive than its forerunner.

    Helping us see additional value in this second generation unit are USB-fuelled recharging – bye bye wall-wart – and auto power off. The micro USB sockets – one for recharge, one for audio – now sit flush with a revised aluminium case that dispenses with the rounded corners of the original.

    On the sound quality front, user selectable filters promise “warm and soft” (Mojo-like) or “transparent and incisive” (Dave-like) presentations. An improved output stage and the latest in Rob Watts’ WTA digital wizardry reportedly ensure the Hugo2’s distortion is the lowest to date.

    More crucial for those who want to use Hugo2’s 3V line-level output in a main system – and there are many of us out there – comes the addition of a remote control. No more hauling ass to change digital input or filter. Perhaps less popular with end users will be Chord’s decision to move the coaxial input over to 3.5mm (a la Mojo).

    From the floor of Norddeutsche Hifi-Tage 2017, Chord Electronics’ Sales manager Colin Pratt explains why:

    Perhaps this 3.5mm coaxial socket will be Hugo2’s imperfection? Perhaps – time will tell….but if this DAC/headphone amplifier is anything like the original when it comes to audible performance, only the most stubborn of refuseniks will stay away. Their loss.

    Further information: Chord Electronics

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Still no sign of MQA with Chord. Nor have I heard an opinion about MQA from Chord. I guess the choice not to include it speaks for itself?

      • Indeed. Their silence on the matter is perhaps all we need to know for now. Besides, I think a little patience is required: to see how many more DAC manufacturers jump aboard and, more importantly, how much new MQA content appears on Tidal and at what rate.

          • Remember though: a ‘better’ DAC can lift one’s subjective enjoyment of ALL music, not just the select few titles given MQA treatment over on Tidal.

          • MQA is a technology to carry more sound into small file and this is the main marketing point , and improve the sound on the other hand.
            Chord DAC is doing the impossible in sound quality and if you feed it a better file it will shine.
            With MQA in Tidal my chord mojo is receiving 24bit combine with Mojo DAC its sound so good.

          • i agree….i’ve emailed them on this…let them know your thoughts on this then: [email protected]
            i’ve asked a number of times…the more that people request such, the more
            they’ll get the message and hopefully then do something about it.

    2. Looks like this product struck a Chord with your readers. I am eager to listen to this in person here in USA.

      • Sigh – there’s always one, isnt there ? You probably have one hell of a good time showing the Schiit product pages to your colleagues down at Mirth Central 😉

        John, as a former Hugo owner, I wouldn’t buy another simply because I got sick of forum 0 know-it-alls (lead by a ‘messiah’ with a clear agenda) slamming it for the ‘Fisher-Price looks’ and the nagging suspicion that I should have opted for a desktop DAC with a larger power supply. In true Chord fashion, it would appear that they’re not going to shy away from their aesthetic choices anytime soon – I just wish it didnt distract from the solid engineering that Rob Watts and the Chord team are putting into their current DAC lineup.


        • guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder…i think it looks fab..
          like something cool from Star Trek

    3. Hi John,

      thanks for your insights from the show. As a German reader it is great to get another perspective on the Norddeutsche Hifi-Tage. Did see any German products that stuck out to you as noteworthy?

    4. I’m asking as it seems that on this show the percentage of native companies is somewhat higher than in Munich.

      • Mark – I didn’t work this show as I do a Munich or an RMAF. I wandered around and visited a few rooms that I knew and a few that I didn’t. The Hifi-Tage vibe is dealer/distributor dominant so we see/hear a lot of mixed systems at work which makes it very difficult to isolate a single manufacturer as a standout. Maybe next time…

    5. I had a very bad experience with hugo very very very bad for the price , mojo wash that sadness.
      I won’t fall for the same trick again , hugo 2 only is a better version of mojo .same taps l think near 50k.
      Chord should focus on desktop ver. of Hugo just like TT but with 100k taps so they won’t kill Dave hype train . Davina is what I’m aiming to get this time .
      my 0.2 $

      • Could you elaborate on precisely what your issues where with the Hugo – ‘very very very bad’ just isnt doing it for me. There were no ‘tricks’ – its possible that you had a defective unit or cotton ears, but if you want Dave, I’d suggest you pony up the cash instead of indulging in idle fantasy.


    6. I’m sure the Chord digital wizardry is there, but at the $2K+ price point I just feel entitled to a power supply the size of small ham, sufficient weight to harm an intruder if necessary, and some overture toward big-boned discrete parts- like transistors bolted to the sides or glowing tubes.

    7. would be great to eventually see a DAC slamdown in the 2-3k range:
      schiit yiggy
      sim 280D
      something from benchmark
      etc etc

    8. Still not into their styling, but yeah, the first Hugo was a decent bit of kit. Ultimately a tad too bright for my tastes with the gear I paired it with at the time, but no doubting its sheer resolving power. Poly + Mojo would be more up my street because of the connectivity options and DAP-via-MPD capability.

    9. I wish Chord implemented a dual battery bank switching system a la Vinnie Rossi to keep mains electrical noise out of the equation. I use a Hugo as a desktop unit. Removing the wall wart until the battery drains is a game I won’t play even though I notice an uptick in sound quality. And in some installations such a game is not feasible. At this price, I do not want to be forced to buy an external baterry supply like a Sonore’s LPS-1.

    10. John:

      Any chance you asked about the power on state? My pet peeve of my personal Hugo is that every time I power it on in my home stereo I have to adjust both input and volume.

      The lack of setting stickiness makes it an unfriendly device for guests, and a PIA for me. If the sound were not so fabulous at the price point of acquisition (I haven’t personally heard better for a desktop DAC at the to-me price of $1300USD) I’d already be moving on.

      Thanks kindly.

    11. Has anyone compared this to the 2Qute? Is that just a Hugo without the battery pack and therefore cheaper? And will there be a 2Qute2 in line with the Hugo going to 2?

    Get Innuos! Music server/streamers at Norddeutsche Hifi-Tage 2017

    KIH #43: Feeling so real