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Chord’s Hugo M Scaler gives us what hi-fi shows do not

  • Keeping it honest: comparisons are the cornerstone of a good hi-fi review. Why? Because comparisons are also the cornerstone of the consumer decision process. Our decision trees tell us that it isn’t enough for us to enjoy the sound of a piece of audio gear in isolation. We also want to know if we might better enjoy something else.

    In short: no A/B, no conclusion. No conclusion, no sale.

    At the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Chord Electronics took up residence in the Marriott Hotel’s tower – demonstrating the Hugo 2 TT (info here) with the TToby amplifier (info here) and loudspeakers – and in the CanJam area where the Hugo 2 TT fired directly into headphones.

    How did the Hugo 2 TT sound? The honest answer is this: I can’t tell you because I have no idea. I enjoyed the Hugo TT as part of a headphone system in the CanJam and a loudspeaker system in the tower but in the absence of a DAC swap out, isolating its performance isn’t possible. And so the thought continues to nag: might there be a similarly-priced DAC/headphone amplifier out there that I will better enjoy?

    In short: no A/B, no conclusion. No conclusion, no sale.

    The situation was different for the Hugo M Scaler (£3495, details here). In Denver, it fed the Hugo TT in the CanJam. By switching its furiously complicated circuitry in and out of the signal path and with the single press of a button, Chord Electronics gave us the tools for an A/B comparison and, for some, a purchase decision.

    Engaging and disengaging the M Scaler’s passthrough mode, International Sales Director Colin Pratt says, “And the demonstration is so easy. It’s literally A/B, like that”. For this commentator, the Hugo M Scaler’s audible benefits were immediately apparent: greater avidity combined with a higher dose of ease.

    When the A/B is baked into the product itself, per the M Scaler, we can easily isolate its individual contribution to a hi-fi system.

    The product audition process is none too similar to a visit to the optometrist where we are asked over and over, as the lenses are swapped out, which is subjectively better: A or B? Without a series of A/Bs our new prescription cannot be set.

    At hi-fi shows, most exhibitor systems remain static for the entire weekend. Exceptions are few and, in the main, aren’t done to satisfy a consumer’s comparative thirst but to freshen the vibe. (We should remain mindful that the plural of anecdote isn’t data).

    So why do we continue to ask ourselves (and others) at hi-fi shows about a component’s performance factor when it is one link in a very long chain? And with the idea of a product audition called out as a nonsense, why listen at all? Many exhibitors putting their goods on static display downstairs in the large halls of Munich High-End’s MOC have already answered that question.

    Despite many slabs of hi-fi hardware costing more than a car, we don’t insist on being able to drive vehicles at a car show. We don’t insist on a boat show being an opportunity to sail a boat.

    Perhaps it’s time that we – exhibitors and attendees – were more honest with ourselves: that hi-fi shows are wonderful places for ogling hardware; for asking questions of manufacturers or their representatives; for sharing stories with fellow enthusiasts; for discovering new music; for listening to complete hi-fi systems; but on product auditions that isolate a component’s individual contribution, they come up woefully short. (No wonder the exhibitor grumble about tyre-kickers persists).

    Hugo M Scaler aside, if we want to know how something sounds – to conduct that all important A vs B – we should visit our local dealer or, for manufacturers selling direct, take a product on a time-limited home trial. In these environments, we get to call the shots and orchestrate our own A/B stand-offs. Because comparisons are the cornerstone of the consumer decision process.

    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.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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