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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

    Written by John

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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