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.
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.
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.
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!