The Hugo 2 in theory is a DAC and not an amplifier and I love using it at home as DAC only, especially with softer and warmer sounding tube amps such as the Lafigaro 339, Auris HA-2 SE (my fav combo) or with solid state amps such as the Violectric V200 and V281.
Some people wonder why the Hugo doesn’t have a balanced (DAC) output, as they would like to use it with the balanced inputs of their desktop amps, but Chord is very clear in that. Quote: “Fundamentally, balancing is a fix for a problem we don’t have. The idea of balancing a DAC’s output is to overcome problems associated with induced noise that enters into the analogue sections of a standard DAC chip. We don’t use off-the-shelf chips that are vulnerable to this, therefore, we don’t have those noise problems to overcome”.
I have two dedicated desktop DACs in my home system, the Violectric V850 and the Project-Audio Box Design DAC box DS2 Ultra but lately I have been using the Hugo 2 more and more as a desktop DAC in my SE systems. Simply because of the high level of detail, dynamics, speed and precision the Hugo 2 offers. I can assure you it doesn’t come anything short of a desktop DAC. Au contraire.
Inputs & Outputs
The input I’ve been using most is the USB-input in combination with my laptop, followed by the optical input with the AK SP1000 as source. While all of the inputs sound great, I (just like with the Hugo), like the coaxial input most as it has slightly bigger body and it gives the most analog feel to the music. My favorite sources in that case are the Luxury & Precision L5Pro and l. This is something very personal though, and it might be completely different for you.
The outputs I’ve been using most are the 3.5mm and 6.3mm output, together with the RCA outputs. Do check first if your RCA cables fit the Hugo 2 connectors as they are recessed inside the Hugo 2 case.
Vs Hugo – The original
Linus already covered how the Chord Hugo 2 compares to the Chord Mojo and I can only confirm his findings. Mojo and Hugo 2 share the same tonality but the Hugo 2 simply outperforms Mojo on all possible fronts (except for Mojo maybe being even more silent). The Hugo 2 has the higher tapped DAC of both units and so this difference really shouldn’t come as a surprise. While Mojo absolutely is great, I haven’t always been as enthusiastic about its performance. With the Hugo 2 this is different and I absolutely adore its performance and sound signature.
I’ve always found the original Hugo to be more soft (more natural voices), smooth and a little slower sounding in general, but also with great richness and sublime depth and layering. You could say it has a more analog presentation with slightly bigger bass and that’s probably also one of the reasons I’ve always kept picking it over the more digital sounding Mojo. Hugo 2 follows the same more digital presentation its little brother does but it has an improved performance which brings it closer to the high level of the original Hugo.
The Sennheiser HD800 is one of my fav headphones with the original Hugo but I don’t like it as much with the Hugo 2. The original Hugo to my ears sounds a little warmer, smoother and slower (with a tad looser/bigger bass) than the Hugo 2. That being said, Hugo 2 does have more micro detail/richness, better extension, layering and depth but it’s missing the warmer more analog touch and natural voices of the Hugo. There’s no doubt that the Hugo 2 is the better technical performer of both and it clearly is the best performer. Some ears might still prefer the original Hugo (the voices for me), but the successor simply performs at such a high(er) level, that it’s almost impossible not to like and fall in love with.
Even though I prefer the good old HD800 on the original Hugo, I always go for the Hugo 2 and I simply don’t use the Sennheiser in that case. The Hugo 2 just is too good not to be picked as the best transportable Chord DAC. Now the big question is if you should upgrade to the new Hugo 2 if you already own the Hugo, and that’s a very tough nut to crack. If you’re still happy with how your original Hugo sounds, I wouldn’t trade it in. If you want the best of the best however, and accept a more Mojo style of tuning, than the Hugo 2 undeniably is the one to go for. I myself have both Hugos and love them both but it’s the H2 that’s getting all the playtime. I guess that says enough.
For a large selection of IEM combinations/impressions, I also advise you to check part 1 of the Hugo review. As Linus has covered several (C)IEMs already I’ll focus on reference full size headphones in my part of the review.
There might be less talk about Hifiman’s He-1000 V2 with Susvara and Susvara Jr being available but I still like it a lot, even more so than the Susvara. The Chord Hugo 2 makes the V2 perform very good. The level of detail is incredible and the H2/V2 combo is rich and musical with great dynamics. The only thing I’m hissing here compared to a big desktop amp is the layering and depth. But all in all this combination is extremely good and I would be perfectly happy if this was my this setup.
I’ve also been using the Kennerton Odin with the Hugo 2 but personally this wasn’t my most liked combo. I do prefer the Odin on a more powerful headphone amp, and in that regard the Odin is a lot like the good old Hifiman HE-6. It certainly isn’t a bad sounding headphone in combination with the H2, but it in a lot of regards sounds better to me from a more powerful amp. The good old Audeze LCD-2 is a headphone I really enjoy listening to straight from the Hugo 2. I’m still very much a fan of the LCD-2’s sound signature, even though the newer headphones sound considerably better. What bothers me most is the LCD’s headphone band & suspension system which makes it uncomfortable compared to its colleagues from other brands. Sound wise however, the LCD-2 and Hugo 2 combo simply works with good bass, incredibly good rich mids and energetic treble. I wouldn’t recommend this combination for all musical styles but that’s typical to the LCD-2. In short, if the LCD-2 is your preferred headphone, you’ll absolutely love it being fed by the Hugo 2.
The headphone I have been using most with the Hugo 2 is the Focal Utopia. While this headphone performs even better from my V281 and HA2-SE, it sounds incredibly good straight from the Hugo 2. (Filter 1 & Cross-Feed 1). The Utopia and Hugo 2 combo is incredibly detailed, musical and natural sounding. For me the Utopia is the best headphone out there at the moment and I prefer it over all of the other headphones mentioned in this article, and even the Abyss and Susvara. So it’s no surprise really that I also absolutely love the Utopia on the Chord Hugo 2. I’m convinced however that you will too.
I did want to include another dynamic driven headphone in this overview and I chose the Beyerdynamic DT1990PRO as it is one of my favorite Beyer headphones. With the professionally tuned DT1990PRO, I didn’t like any of the cross feed settings and I used filter 1, as I did with the rest. The result is a very clear, neutral and balanced sound with heaps of detail. I feared treble might be a little “much” but this wasn’t the case at all. If you want your 1990 to sound warmer, smoother or more bass however, than the Hugo 2 isn’t the source for you. If you want and like the DT1990PRO for what it was tuned though, you’ll love it on the H2.
In short, besides for maybe the HD800 and Odin there isn’t really any ear- or headphone that doesn’t sound good to extremely good hooked up to the Chord Hugo 2. It’s that simple.
Wowzers! Chord was going strong already and they keep on making better gear each and every time. While the Hugo will certainly be seen as a classic in the near future (as it was the first with such a high performance), it’s the Hugo 2 that will go in the books as the best performing transportable DAC/AMP combo of 2017 (and beyond?). With the Hugo 2 you’ll come as close as you can get to a portable DAVE, and that says a lot.
If you can afford it, I don’t see any reason why not to buy the Hugo 2. It looks great, sounds extremely good, is well built and has all the inputs and outputs you’ll ever need. It’s pure desktop quality in a transportable package. Is it too soon to declare this the winner of the 2017 DAC/AMP category already.
Specs, right after the Jump