Chord Electronics Hugo: Reference Stuff

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.

Conclusion

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.

Chord Electronics Hugo: Reference Stuff
4 (79.4%) 67 vote[s]

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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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