Headphones & Earphones
When I received the Hugo, I first started listening with the Sennheiser HD650. I don’t tend to like the HD650 on a lot of solid state amps but I do like it on the Beyerdynamic A20 and the Violectric V281. I have to admit I didn’t have high hopes with the Hugo but I was wrong. You don’t get the lush romantic sound with bigger bass you tend to get from an OTL amp but the HD650 sounded very clear, a lot faster and it has a much tighter bass. That’s not my ideal HD650 sound but I have to admit it sounded pretty good and I’m sure a lot of people would love the HD65 if they heard it like this (instead of the veiled tube sound as they call it). From the Senn I went on to another high impedance dynamic headphone, the Beyerdynamic T90. While I can’t say it sounded bad I didn’t appreciate the result. I love the T90 on tubes or with warmer solid state amps like the V200 and V281 and to me it doesn’t need the extra clarity and speed. To me the T90 already has enough of that. If you’re a fan of a very clear, fast and light sound you might like this pairing though. Same story for the orthodynamic Hifiman HE-560. Not a bad match but the headphone itself is already clear, detailed and fast enough by itself. To me it doesn’t need more of that but again, a lot of you will like it.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the Hugo and HE-560 combo, the Hugo performs extremely well with the Audeze headphone range, which of course are all planar technology headphones as well. I started off with the LCD-XC. For a closed headphone I find the XC to have a wide sound stage and the detail level is very good (better than the LCD2). The Hugo powered it without problem and delivered a tight punchy bass with good body, smooth detailed mids and easily enjoyable treble. I like the combination very much but I love the Hugo even more with the original Audeze LCD-2. Just last week I was talking to Mike over Whatsapp (love the new phone call function, works even better than Skype) and he told me the exact same thing. The Hugo and LCD-2 just have the best synergy you can think of. I ended up using the good old LCD-2 most of the time with the Hugo in my free time. Perfect bass and speed with a musical delivery. Just last week I received both brand new Audeze EL-8’s and just like with the XC they are a great match with the Hugo. The EL-8s aren’t that hard to drive and the match isn’t as magical as with the LCD-2 but still, a very enjoyable combination. I have to say I prefer the open EL-8 over the closed version, the mids on the closed version haven’t convinced me yet.
From the moment I put the Hugo in its Jacket I started using it on the train with the AK120ii and mostly my custom inears from Earwerkz and Cosmic Ears. With 90% of my monitors the Hugo is dead silent and the wide volume control allows you to even listen to them at low volume. Every single pair of my CIEMs sounded perfect on the Hugo and only the extremely sensitive Legend R picked up a light hiss that was only audible when no music was playing. I had an interesting talk on Head-fi about the fact a certain monitor picks up hiss. Does it mean the amplifiers aren’t well made or is it the “fault” of the IEM maker? I suppose it’s a bit of both.
External Amps / Combinations
Mike, in that same talk, also suggested me to hook up the HUGO to the Cypher Labs Ipod+CLAS SOLO combo via COAX and it sounded sublime. A lot of people of course would call you crazy for spending all that money on the Hugo and then using the SOLO as the digital data receiver. While they certainly have a point, I do advise those who have a SOLO to try it out. I guarantee you’ll love the sound. For those who don’t have a SOLO, I won’t recommend getting one just for this. Just use a CCK with the Hugo.
All in all I really love the way the Hugo(’s amp section) sounds and I don’t really feel the need to use an external portable amplifier with it. The only external amp I did use with the Hugo from time to time was the Bakoon International HPA-01M when I was at home listening to the LCD-2. I in a previous review already reported the HPA-01M on the Current output is sublime for the Audeze headphones. Using the HPA-01M with the Hugo doesn’t make the Audezes sound better than using the headphone out on the Hugo. The Bakoon amp just gives its typical sound to the LCDs and some people might prefer that over the Hugo sound. So it’s not really better, it’s just different.
I did use the Hugo in combination with my Violectric V281 at home and I have to say it again performed very well. I do have a slight preference for the Resonessence Labs DAC with the Violectric amp but the Hugo sure wasn’t behind that far. I also tried it with a few of my tube amps and I can see myself using it like that all the time if I didn’t have any other dedicated DAC to use.
Comparing the Hugo to similar devices like the full Cypher Labs stack or the Theorem and the Centrance Hifi-M8 isn’t easy. They all have their positive and less positive points, they all sound great and they all cost less than the Hugo. I’m a big fan of the full CL stack myself but I haven’t been carrying around a triple stack lately. I’m afraid the market has changed and people want more compact solutions again, and that’s something the Hugo, especially in its jacket, delivers.
The Hugo is a portable DAC/Amp unit with desktop quality. It sounds really good and it is one of the better portable setups I have listened to. Most headphones and earphones will sound very good on the Hugo and you can even use it at home in combination with your desktop amp.
I myself have been using the Hugo at home, on the train and in my office. The Jacket is the ideal solution for those planning on using the Hugo everywhere like I am doing now. The only problem I have is I tend to forget the wall charger all the time so I end up with a dead battery. Yes, I’m still using the Hugo and the one month trial period is long over. I was enjoying the Hugo too much to let it go, so I decided to take it over from Chord. With an extra wall charger.
In all seriousness I can really see people buying the Chord Hugo as an end setup. Sure it isn’t cheap but it’s got a desktop quality sound and you’ll be able to listen to it anywhere you want. It’s extra interesting if you already have a CLAS SOLO or DAP with optical or coaxial out, and it doesn’t need to be an expensive DAP either. Sure some people might not like the sound signature and others will find it too expensive for what it is. My advice is to try it before you buy it and to decide for yourself. The Hugo had me quickly convinced.