Chord Electronics Hugo: Reference Stuff

Disclaimer: One thing lead to another and here we are finally reviewing the HUGO AMP/DAC. The Hugo was given to us for a period of one month, directly from Chord Electronics in the UK.

 

box HFN Lieven round kader

 

You Go

The Hugo is made by the UK based Chord Electronics, a name that should ring a bell if you’ve been following the development of digital audio over the last few decades. On the Chord website we read:

“Chord Electronics was founded in 1989 by John Franks. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of our ground-breaking and game-changing DAC 64, we have launched Hugo – the world’s most advanced DAC/headphone amp. Based on the same FPGA DAC technology that has helped establish Chord Electronics as an authority in digital audio, Hugo is a reference-level portable – a world first in audio history”

The Hugo – HuGo – YouGo (Yes, it’s that simple) as said above is a high-end portable DAC/Amp unit built especially for headphones but it doesn’t stop there. The Hugo isn’t new as you all know and it was launched somewhere in 2014 if I’m not mistaken. We’re just a tad late to the party I’m afraid. A couple of years ago when Headfonia wasn’t an established review website yet, I –as a newbie- tried getting hold of the famous Chordette. Logically I got denied review samples but a few years later a lot of things have changed and in the mean time we’ve built up a very good relationship with the people from Chord. It was about time we had an official closer look at one of the most talked about products in our headphone world. A review that’s long overdue.

As probably 95% of our readers probably already know what the Hugo can do I’ll try to keep it to the point.

Versatility

The Hugo doesn’t come cheap. Its official price is $2495 – 1679€ – £1399 but in exchange you get a whole lot, and then some. One of the strengths of the Hugo is its versatility; there hardly are any devices on the market, especially portable ones, that offer the number of inputs and outputs the Hugo offers. You do have to look at portable more as in “transportable” though. The Hugo measures 100 x 20 x 132mm and weighs 0.4kg. That’s just a bit heavy/tall to carry around in your pocket but Chord has a handy carrying solution for that. The “Hugo Jacket” (I got mine from Custom Cable in the UK) not only is very handy but it looks very sexy too (see pics). The Jacket not only makes the Hugo easily portable, it also protects your device and on top of that it can also “hold” your DAP. Call me a fan.

headfonia

The Hugo has 5 Inputs: Bluetooth, one Optical TOSLink that’s 24-bit/192kHz-capable, one RCA coaxial input that is 24-bit/384kHz-capable, one driverless USB input that is 16-bit/48kHz-capable (designed for tablets/phones) and one HD USB input 32-bit/384KHz and DSD128-capable (for computer/laptop playback). It also has 4 outputs: Two 3.5mm headphone jacks, one 6.35mm (1/4 inch) headphone jack and one (pair) stereo RCA phono output. You can use the Hugo with Android devices, iDevices with a CCK, sources with a TOSlink, etc. You just can’t use it as an AMP only.

Going over that list you wouldn’t imagine the Hugo to look good but it does. The casework, just like the AK240, is made from aircraft-grade aluminium and it has a hard-anodised finish. The Hugo is now available in two colours: “bright silver” and “satin black”. Just a few days ago pictures started popping up of a full gold version of the Hugo but I’m pretty sure that version won’t go for $2495. All the in- and outputs have been placed on the side of the device and are easily accessible. On top of the device you’ll find the volume dial, the sample rate display and a small see-through window showing the battery status, the selected input and the cross feed level.

I just love how pretty the Hugo looks. The volume button (digital) changes colour based on the volume, the sample rate display changes colour depending on the bitrate it’s receiving from its source and the LEDs on the inside change colour based on the selected input, the battery status and the cross feed level. You might think that’s way too much colour for one device but Chord actually managed to make it look beautiful and easy to use. Build quality is excellent and besides a flimsy power button on the review unit, I had no complaints what so ever. When I contacted Chord about it they explained this particular unit has served as a demo unit for a very long time and the power button had gone through a lot of (ab)use.

I won’t go into detail about all Hugo’s specs but I do want to mention two specific things. Chord is renowned for its own in house developed Digital to Analogue Conversion and the Hugo uses a 26K tap-length filter which makes it an excellent sounding DAC. The other thing worth mentioning is the operation time the rechargeable battery offers. Nowadays, portable devices in my eyes should give you at least 10 hours of use and the Hugo, with 14 hours, easily passes that test. In theory. It will depend on the source you’re using and the bitrate it needs to decode. I’ve easily managed to get 9 to 10 hours out of it. You can of course also use it while it’s charging. That might seem futile but a lot of people are using the Hugo as a desktop unit as well, and that just makes it very easy to use. But enough of foreplay, the rest of the specs you can find on Chord’s website. (click here)

Sound starts after the click!

Chord Electronics Hugo: Reference Stuff
4.1 (81.07%) 56 votes

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650.

58 Comments

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Tronco

    Finally a Headfonia review of the Chord Hugo!

    • Reply April 28, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I know right. Hope you liked it!

      • Reply April 28, 2015

        Tronco

        Not finished yet, have to patch some servers. Damn work 🙂

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Tronco

    Lieven, there is a little typo on the first page: “ant the bitrate”

    • Reply April 28, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Diving in now!

      • Reply November 2, 2015

        Shini44

        i was considering LCD2 for my hugo, after you review, but i went to head-fi and on the LCD2 thread, so many claiming that the LCD2 sound without controlled bass, bright, harsh in upper frequencies and so not good with the chord hugo

        now i don’t know what to do, also i was planing to go HE-560, yet you said the LCD2 suit the Chord Hugo more,

        now i am really confused here, any help please?

        oh i can;t test, cause i live in UAE, far far away from any headphone store with Legit stuff.

        • Reply November 2, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          you first need to know if you prefer the LCD2 or the HE-560 sound signature. Both are very different headphones.

          To me personally the LCD-2 had the better synergy with the Hugo, that’s the LCD 2.1 though, not a later rev.

          Also, you have asked me the same question on Headfi, by PM and on this site. Once is enough don’t you think? 😉

          • Reply November 2, 2015

            Shini44

            haha , i though the one on head-fi, is someone else XD like teammate or something.

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Jeff

    Finally Headfonia does Chord Hugo!!! Thank you, it was a great, smooth read. I loved the matching with headphones and comparisons part especially.
    I have my eyes on two products atm and they are the Aurender Flow and the Chord Hugo.
    I have auditioned the Flow about 3-4 times so far and I’m loving it.
    I phoned a dealer I know that sells the Chord Hugo ealy this month and I was told that they are out of stock at the time but will get more next month. I am dying to try it out before I buy it.
    I might end up buying the Flow but I heard better things about the Hugo from everyone who have tried both the Flow and the Hugo so far. Also, Hugo is more versatile in my eyes because you can slap on a desktop amp using the RCA outputs. This way, you won’t have to worry about powering the most diffcult to power cans. You could even carry it around with a optical coming out of a DAP I guess.
    Is a comparison between the Hugo and the Flow possible by any chance?
    Also, I plan to use the HD650 mainly with the Hugo. I love the 650’s dark somewhat slow sound. Do you think that the Hugo sort of takes that element I love about the 650 away?
    Thank you.

    • Reply April 28, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      HD650: it kind of does. I like it too and HD650 is one of my Kings. The Hugo did make it different sounding like I explained but it was a good kind of different, not like most solid state amps.

      I don’t have the Flow so I couldn’t compare them, sorry. And thanks for the compliment.

    • Reply May 9, 2015

      Kevin Setiadi

      The Flow sounds brighter and thinner than Hugo. It also has slightly wider stereo width. Hugo has boomier sound and better bass extension. I think Hugo’s DAC is better, while the amp is up to preference (Darker Hugo vs Brighter Flow). Both have their design quirks: Flow has auto reset volume to -90 dB, Hugo has no label whatsoever on the buttons. I tested both with Audeze LCD-X.

      You can’t go wrong with either of those, but you absolutely need to do A/B listening test in order to find out which one suits you.

      • Reply May 10, 2015

        Jeff

        Thanks for the input Kevin.

        I plan to use the HD650 with whatever I get from the two and I want to keep its “dark” and “veiled” sound so Hugo might be better for me I guess.
        Still waiting for the dealer I’ll visit to get more Hugos in stock… the dealer has the Flow as well as the Hugo so I can’t wait to actually have the two side by side :).
        Did you find that any of the two had difficulty driving a headphone like the LCD-X? Or I should say which of the two was more at ease with hard to drive headphones?
        Thank you.

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Shini44

    The Hugo is the best thing i ever bought, i love it a lot, i use it as a DAC in the home, with a WA7 + WA7tp , as a Head-fier, i am so glad that the Hugo Exist for as an option to begin with, i remember struggling with rigs, till the Hugo came and saved the day.

    nothing were able to give details and dynamics without sacrificing Musicality :< Dry worth were the analog top dac's best friend, just like the X-Sabre, yet the Hugo isn't the same, not the same details but even more details, and without sacrificing musicality and transparency.

    the hugo indeed worth every penny.

    Thanks for the Review man, though i know how does the hugo sound, but i always enjoy your articles, and ofc i didn't want to miss this one 😛

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Mike

    What about the Hugo with the L2, how does that compare with the combinations you mentioned? Thanks

    • Reply April 29, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      L2 is extremely easy to drive. I don’t see any problems using it with the Hugo

      • Reply April 29, 2015

        Mike

        That’s certainly true but are they a good match in terms of sound/synergy?

        • Reply April 29, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          if you want more bass in the L2, the Hugo isn’t for you

          • Reply April 29, 2015

            Mike

            Thanks. I am happy with the bass from the L2 so I guess the Hugo could be for me, or even the Chord 2Qute (have you heard of it?) as it is a bit cheaper.

  • Reply May 3, 2015

    Alok Juyal

    Really good review, not overly cautious like audio reviews sometimes are:-) I have tried the Hugo and do love it, haven’t screwed up the courage to buy one yet. Back to my pono for now.

    • Reply May 3, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you. It’s quite the unit, costly but worth it.

      • Reply July 28, 2015

        Alok Juyal

        So i did buy the Hugo and no regrets 🙂 Thanks again. My very first Alo Continental experience started with Headfonia and never thought I would try as many things as I have 🙂

  • Reply May 5, 2015

    SallyMaeSusan

    Could this gorgeous little thing draw a digital stream from an iPod Classic 160?

    • Reply May 5, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      No. Hugo will only work with Apple products that support the newer iOS operating system using the Apple camera connection kit. The iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch will all work and support USB audio.

  • Reply May 19, 2015

    Mike Woods

    Thanks Lieven, I enjoyed your review a lot. Out of curiosity, where do you get your ideal HD650 sound?

  • Reply June 14, 2015

    Synyster Jasnizam Paget

    Hi i want to ask is this chord hugo good to drive my Beyerdynamic t1 tesla and also Audeze LCD XC?thank you

    • Reply June 14, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      It works great with my 250Ohm T90 and all my Audeze headphones

  • Reply July 9, 2015

    Lawrence Cuong Tran

    Hello headfonia, I was wondering how does this compare to ALO rx MK3B+CLAS-DB? I really enjoy the combo, but not sure if the Chord is better.

    • Reply July 9, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I love the CLAS DB, not a big fan of the MK3. The Hugo as a whole is better and can work with higher resolution files the CLAS can’t do. If that’s ok for you I’d rather look for another amp to go with the CLAS, like the Vorzuge, Duet or Trio

      • Reply July 9, 2015

        Lawrence Cuong Tran

        I actually love the sound of the Mk3, I also have the Theorem 720 so I assume that is the sound of the Duet and Clas together…to me the sound is a little bit warm for my taste with the theorem. With the Mk3 I find the sound a little bit more revealing, neutral (perhaps cold to you?). I love both combination, I use the Theorem on the road and the MK3 and Clas strictly at home. I am not sure if the sound difference between the Chord and alo Rx3+CLAS (or theorem 720) could justify me spending 2 grand for another DAC/AMP.

        btw my two headphone I use the most are the BEYER T1 and the Alpha Prime…on the go (and at night while sleeping) I use the westone W60 hook up to my theorem 720.

        • Reply July 9, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          I don’t really see the need for the upgrade

          • Reply July 10, 2015

            Lawrence Cuong Tran

            thanks for the reply…there will always be that little curiosity in me. Too bad there isnt any place near me to listen in store.

  • Reply July 25, 2015

    Nadher Alhuraibi

    Thanks for the great review! you have mentioned that USB input is designed for phones & tablets, while HD usb is designed for PC & Laptops. That being said, does it mean I can’t use my iPhone 6 plus on the HD usb input? If I will be able to use it on HD USB input, then will I be getting the maximum results based on the input of the source (i.e. I want to use Chord Hugo mostly to play my music on iPhone 6 from the new iTunes music monthly subscription service, so if the songs are mostly streamed at 24-bit / 192kHz, will I be getting up to result if I connect my iPhone to the HD USB input?)?

    • Reply July 25, 2015

      dalethorn

      According to this article, iPhone 6 does not support 96k audio, let alone 192k. So if there is a workaround for that, please let us know here.

      http://www.macrumors.com/2014/09/26/iphone-6-hd-audio/

      • Reply July 25, 2015

        Nadher Alhuraibi

        Please excuse my ignorance, but isn’t the whole point of the DAC system (let’s talk about this one specifically i.e. Chord Hugo) is to bypass the current capabilities of the current player system and gives you more, as long as the source supports it? To elaborate on my point, if iTunes & its music supports 24-bit / 192 kHz and only the iPhone is limited to less capabilities (let’s say less than 96kHz) with this DAC system I can get up to the maximum of the music source (in this case iTunes 24-bit/192kHz) on my iPhone? or is my current understanding to the DAC system role is incorrect.

        • Reply July 25, 2015

          dalethorn

          I would agree on the principle, but there are some Apple issues. For example, using Apple’s player, or in my case the Audioforge player which accesses the iTunes library, the 48k limit is in effect. But I have heard that some player apps that have their own memory space (not the iTunes library) can load hirez FLACs into the device and play those into the external DAC OK. I haven’t tried those.

        • Reply July 25, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          Apple just can’t put out the rate of the HD of the Hugo. Call Apple 😉

  • Reply August 3, 2015

    Nichol Ning

    Could anyone compare HUGO to CDM? I want to know which one is better. THX:)

  • Reply August 14, 2015

    matthew36

    Let me get this straight it is actually pronounced Yugo and not hugo? With a y instead of a h?

    • Reply August 14, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      My English maybe isn’t the best best but when I pronounce HUGO, it sounds like a soft Y. Just like the first name of my colleague 😀

      • Reply August 14, 2015

        matthew36

        Oh okay I just didn’t read the article correctly.

      • Reply August 14, 2015

        matthew36

        • Reply August 14, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          No need to apologize 😉

          • Reply August 14, 2015

            matthew36

            I know I deleted my comment anyway. I do not know why I typed sorry anyway.

    • Reply July 17, 2016

      sszorin

      It is pronounced Hugo, with H. The language of the lower classes of Britain drops pronounced H; for instance instead of Horrible the underclass pronounces ‘Orrible’ and instead of Hugo it is ‘Ugo’ or ‘Yugo’, but the proper way to pronounce written Hugo is with H, like the educated upper class pronounces it.

  • Reply October 13, 2015

    Ab

    I bough hugo 1 year ago and I’ve always found its
    USB input to sound digital and sometimes etched. Also the optical blurry and lost the magic imaging of hugo . The
    coax s num. 1 the sound isa very clear , analog and with the best soundstage and imaging sound 3D .
    Any recommendation for good caox cable ?

    • Reply October 13, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      The Coax in general seems to be the preferred one for everyone. I myself use a 75ohm cable I got of Ebay…

      • Reply October 13, 2015

        Ab

        any link please .can I use it from pc to hugo ?

        • Reply October 13, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          Only if your PC’s sound card as a coaxial out.

          Search for “coaxial 75ohm rca cable” on ebay and select the required length

          • Reply October 13, 2015

            Ab

            Thanks for your help .

  • Reply December 18, 2015

    Lee ZH Edgar

    L, do you have any recommendations for an amp to use with the Hugo? While I think the amp on the hugo is really good, I don’t think it’s doing the DAC enough justice.

    Preferably transportable for use with both CIEMs and full-size headphones.

    Thanks!

    • Reply December 18, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      The fully balanced Duet, or the Vorzuge are always top recommendations. Then there’s the ALO CDM, the Bakoon HPA-01M but that one isn’t that great for IEMs.

  • Reply March 4, 2016

    Norsemen

    Looking forward to hearing your Hugo/Mojo comparison.

    • Reply March 5, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      Me too! Hugo kicks Mojo’s ass but Mojo has some advantages as well (portability in example)

  • Reply July 17, 2016

    sszorin

    A – RCA coaxial input into Hugo is analog or digital ? And is it split into Right and Left stereo channels like the RCA L+R out-s ? In other words, is it one RCA line in or two RCA line in-s ? B – Do you happen to know if the Hugo’s internal amplifier is an amplifying circuit [board] or if some miniaturised transistors, which produce better sound, are used ? If the amplification is done via inferior sounding circuit then the designer/s defeated their own effort for superior sound when they chose to put expensive DAC in Hugo. In this case what is the point of having to pay extra 1000 dollars for DAC which is not being fully used ? The ultimate DAC + Amp would be Hugo with proper transistor amplification and also in the hybrid mode – with two miniature valves/tubes in the pre-amp mode for the voltage gain and for analog sound.

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