Chord Electronics Hugo: Reference Stuff

Music Maestro, Please

The Hugo is a multiple award winning unit and if we had awards to hand out it would certainly get one from us too. Sure you’ll find some people who don’t like how it sounds but I’m pretty sure the vast majority of those having listened to it will agree it sounds superb. As a reviewer you get to hear a lot of gear a “normal” consumer will never get to hear and you won’t hear me complain yet at the same time, just because we get to listen to so much awesome gear, it’s not as easy anymore to “WOW” us with a new product. One of the last times I had that feeling was with the excellent Cypher Labs Theorem but now I can add the Hugo to that list.

All impressions from this point on are based on the Hugo as AMP/DAC unless specified. I haven’t read any other Hugo reviews except for the CNET one but that never tells you a lot. First of all the Hugo is dead silent and has a perfectly black background. As it uses a digital volume control there is no channel imbalance whatsoever. The range on the dial is wide and you won’t have any issue with setting the volume just right. Of all the inputs I found the Coaxial to sound best. Most used however was the HD USB input followed by the optical input in combination with one of the Astell&Kern DAPs. I tried different optical and USB cables but I couldn’t really notice a real improvement going from a generic Blackberry USB cable to the Alo Audio Green Line USB-cable that goes for $149.

Signature

The Hugo is very clear sounding and its balance and imaging are very good. The FPGA DAC inside the Hugo is doing a terrific job and you’ll (with good recordings) feel like you’re sitting right inside the music/band. The Hugo is a linear and more neutral tuned unit but not one of the analytical kind. It’s smooth, flowing and has just a tad of warmth in its sound. The Hugo is very transparent and will let you hear everything that’s inside the recording with great clarity and dynamics. Detail level at all time is high. We’re talking micro detail here and the Hugo manages to deliver it in such a light way you will never find it fatiguing in any way. Sure it’s not the absolute best I have heard detail wise, but it certainly is for a portable unit.

The Trio

Throughout the spectrum, Hugo’s timbre and layering is excellent. You get good depth and everything you hear is clearly defined. The Hugo is a fast and tight sounding unit with good attack and speed while always remaining musical and flowing. It’s never too tight or snappy in any way. Again, it might not be the absolute best but it is really good and for a portable device it’s just superb. It never sounds forced and music just flows no matter what type of music you’re listening to, the perfect combination of detail, timbre and speed.

Bass is well defined and layered and has just the right amount of body. It always behaves nicely but what I especially like about the bass is that it shows up when needed, even when you don’t expect it. Two great examples of where fast and tight bass are alternated with deep bass are Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy and Justin Timberlake’s Blue Ocean Floor. Bass goes deep without any issue and you get lovely layered bass with a good rumble. Bass will never get the best of the mids or have too much body.

The mids are perfectly in line with the bass and are presented in the most musical way. I find the mids section to have good width with a good level of detail and feeling. The mids always flow and no matter if you’re listening to metal, Indy rock or jazz, they’re always a pleasure to listen to. Treble in its turn is perfectly aligned with the mids. The level of detail and space is good and you’ll never find the treble to be offensive. Treble could be even further extended and airy and some might find it a bit soft. This didn’t bother me however, treble just like the rest is always musical and never too harsh.

Some More

The Hugo doesn’t have separate gain settings but the volume “pot” is very wide and the Hugo provides more than enough power for most dynamic and orthodynamic headphones. At the same time it also allows very sensitive and easy to drive earphones to be used with it. It’s just very versatile in that aspect as well. With the Hugo you can listen to the different outputs at the same time. That’s great but it does also mean you and your co-listener won’t be able to use the LCD-2 and the Earwerkz Legend R at the same time: one would go deaf or the other wouldn’t hear a thing.

I have been using the Hugo in my office for easily 10 hours a day and the unit only slightly gets warm, even with its jacket on. So there are no worries there. I surprisingly have been enjoying the Cross Feed function the Hugo has. I never was a big fan of Cross Feed implementations and I still haven’t made up my mind about it. I didn’t really like it on the German Meier gear but I did appreciate it more already on the Meridian Prime. With the Hugo I ended up using the first level of the cross feed section with 75% headphones. With the other 25% I used non cross feed at all.

One issue I did encounter with the Hugo was when I was trying to play DSD files over optical from the AK240 as source. The Hugo doesn’t like that and in order to do that you have to encode them as FLAC files. I’m pretty sure the guys over at Head-fi have it all figured out. I’m not the biggest fan of DSD myself but if you have a lot of DSD in your collection you do have to take this into account.

When you during power on press the Cross Feed button, the output volume of the Hugo will be set to 2V but the volume control will stay functional. So it’s not a real Line Out but it does allow for an even more precise volume control if you look at it like that.

Even more on sound on Page 3!

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

60 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.

  • Reply November 3, 2017

    Julien

    Hi,
    I’m currently checking at associatinga bakoon amp to my hugo. I read in your article that regarding the hpa-01m that I own too, that “it’s not really better, it’s just different.” I gave a try and ended up thinking the hugo alone is very fine.

    As I am looking at the big brother how-21, would you have the same comment. Even if you didn’t try that particular combo, am interested in your opinion…

    Thanks as always ????

    • Reply November 4, 2017

      Lieven

      I certainly hope that the desktop version is better

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