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.
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.
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.
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!