Review: Chord Electronics Hugo 2 – Ruler of sound

Chord Electronics Hugo²

Disclaimer: The Hugo 2 was bought directly via Chord Electronics for a discounted price. Many thanks for the generosity!

 

If there is one brand in personal audio that does not need an introduction I believe it’s Chord Electronics. They have been talked about continuously ever since they have brought the fabulous Hugo (you go, get it?) to the market. It was their absolute breakthrough product which has shown us what is possible with D/A converters. Their smaller, cigarette pack sized, Mojo has been, and probably still is, one of the most sold items in this segment and is loved by the whole community around the globe. Today we are looking at the successor to the original Hugo, the Hugo 2.

Before we do that though we are going to learn a little bit about Chord Electronics.

The following lines are shamelessly copied from John Franks’ interview in our Q ‘n A Saturday special.

About Chord Electronics

HFN: Please tell us about your role at Chord Electronics and your background
JF: My role involves listening to our customers and identifying tends within our markets, following them into internal and external discussion. I then craft the products that we wish to take forward into development. I’m still a designer at heart so, therefore, I am closely involved with the whole electrical and mechanical design process.

HFN: What are your influences and how did you get into audio?
JF: Formerly, I was an avionics engineer, a specialist engineer in electronics for aircraft which greatly influenced me. It’s a rigorous and very demanding discipline that states that if you have a design difficulty you absolutely must find the perfect solution for that issue. You can never find a solution to your problem by applying a secondary fix, because it just acts like a Band-Aid plaster over something very nasty underneath.

I have brought this aerospace philosophy, and its demands, to the audio industry and this is why when Rob Watts came to me, many years after founding Chord Electronics, with a far better FPGA DAC design than those already on the market, I signed him up straight away. Yes, it was was very complicated and expensive, but it was (and still is) fundamentally better than the other approaches on the market.

I entered the audio industry as a young engineer and, like many others of my generation fascinated by audio, I was messing around designing and building audio amplifiers. Unlike other engineers, however, I had a specialised knowledge from my avionics training which meant my approach was different to my peers’. I was working with planar magnetics and MOSFETs and ultra-high-frequency switch-mode power supplies. From this experimentation, I realised that I could develop an audio product with significant benefits and advantages, many of which are only now are beginning to creep into competitors’ products decades later.

HFN: How did it all start? What was the kick-off of Chord?
JF: From being an avionics engineer, I moved into other industries. For example, I joined a Hong Kong-based power supply company, of which I was made a Director in charge of 32,000 employees, but I wanted a more local life at the time, so I moved back to the UK, went back to my design roots and started Chord Electronics in my garage whilst working in senior positions for AT&T and Raytheon, etc. After a few short years, Chord Electronics became a full time company following a number of large broadcasting and recording studio contracts for my innovative switch-mode power supply and custom MOSFET amplification.

What’s in the box

You will get a good number of digital interconnects (1.2m USB, 15cm micro USB OTG, 15cm optical and a longer optical cable) as well as a switching voltage charger with interchangeable plugs and a neet remote (batteries included). There is no case available at the moment, but Chord is working on getting one as accessory.

I have to admit that I never used any of the accessories except for the charger and the shorter optical cable. Most of the times I have used Hugo 2 with the Green Line micro USB cable that came with my Continental Dual Mono.

I would have loved to see a coaxial cable in there, since Hugo uses a 3.5mm jack coaxial input. But since many companies are now using this type of coax input, and since most of them also supply adapters I have simply put together a coax cable with those adapters…

You will also find one of the best looking manuals in the box. For your convenience, a link to the manual.

More on build quality and sound after the jump!

Review: Chord Electronics Hugo 2 – Ruler of sound
4.3 (85.38%) 26 votes

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A daytime code monkey with a passion for audio and his kids, Linus tends to look at gear with a technical approach, trying to understand why certain things sound the way they do. When there is no music around, Linus goes the extra mile and annoys the hell out of his colleagues with low level beatboxing.

10 Comments

  • Reply August 8, 2017

    Domovoi

    I’m actually surprised the AK SP1000 could even keep up with the Hugo2 even w iems in balanced mode. I certainly expect the Hugo 2 to pull ahead to TOTL cans such as the Utopia, LCD-3, etc…

    • Reply August 8, 2017

      Linus

      Hi Domvoi,
      thanks for your comment.
      I didn’t say SP1000 can’t keep up with Hugo2, they are both top of the line performers and have incredible sound. The AK is more about dynamics while the Chord is about resolution. You can’t go wrong with either.

      • Reply August 9, 2017

        Domovoi

        Indeed, I also didnt say that SP1000 couldnt keep up w the Hugo 2 🙂

        I’m just surprised that it can and that it has greater dynamics. I would be interested if the SP1000 would still lead in dynamics with larger cans such as the Ether Flow, LCD 2/3, etc.

        • Reply August 9, 2017

          Linus

          😀 slight miscommunication then…

          I can’t speak for bigger cans unfortunately, but maybe Lieven will cover it in one of his reviews. Time will tell.

  • Reply December 23, 2017

    Larry

    Hi Linus,

    I’m getting ready to sell my beloved high-end stereo and move to a portable or transportable system (the downside of living in a condo). My home system has tube-based Cary gear so I’m seriously considering the Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse / Sennheisser 800s. But you just threw a wrench in the works after reading your stellar review of the Chord Hugo 2. I understand it’s a bit of “apples and oranges”, given that one is tube and the other SS. And I’m guessing there are pros and cons to each. But I would really appreciate it if you could you give me some idea of how they compare sound-wise, particularly in musicality and emotional engagement. And again, I really like the 800s so I don’t know if one is a better synergy than the other. thank you

    • Reply December 23, 2017

      Linus

      Hi Larry,

      thanks for your comment.
      I can’t really say for the Woo, as I have never had the pleasure to listen to it, it is on my bucket list still.
      I do however have the HD800s and the ALO Audio Continental Dual Mono, which also is a tube hybrid dac amplifier. The Hugo2 has wonderful synergy with the Sennheiser, it’s detailed, wide, emotional and engaging. The Chord has a very organic and life-like presentation with loads of emotions. The CDM has lusher mids but is nowhere near the clarity and resolution the Hugo2 offers. I sometimes hook my CDM up to my Hugo2, but then also very often find myself not needing this combination as the Hugo is stellar on its own and I feel the CDM takes away some of its magic.
      To sum up: CDM has a fuller midrange which also benefits from great emotions, but the Hugo is miles ahead in terms of resolution, sound stage, layering, separation and also has sensational emotions and very pleasing highs (cdm’s are a bit softer and don’t sparkle as much due to the hybrid nature).
      I feel the Sennheiser has better synergy with the Hugo than with the ALO.

      Hope that helps!
      Have some great holidays and an awesome new year. Hope you find the right system for you. I am sure you wouldn’t be disappointed with the Hugo2.

      • Reply December 24, 2017

        Larry

        Damn Linus, that’s quite a feat — for a SS amp to sound both detailed AND emotionally engaging. Tube gear has always sounded more musical and emotionally engaging to me. darTZeel electronics comes close but it still sounds more like a facsimile of music instead of music. So I would love to hear your impressions of the Hugo 2 vs. the Eclipse after you have a chance to audition both. The Battle Of The Titans — tubes vs. SS. 🙂

        The one odd thing I noticed about the Hugo 2 is their leather case doesn’t have a loop to carry it on your belt or a detachable shoulder strap. Makes sense to include them since it’s a portable DAC/amp. I sent them the suggestion so hopefully they’ll respond.

        I also plan on buying High Fidelity Cables (USB and headphone cables) if they come out with them next year, a HFC Trinity Go Headphone Module, and a Bybee QSE. I don’t know if you’re familiar with these products. I’ve heard what the QSE does in two high-end stereo systems. They’re magical — all the instruments and voices become more 3-dimensional and natural sounding. Even the emotions become 3-dimensional. Both friends have them on all their components. They also own MC-0.5 power conditioners. Even though they already own high-end power conditioners, the effect is cumulative. I haven’t heard what the Trinity does yet but I have heard HFC’s CT-1E and Ultimate interconnects. And if they’re any indication of what the Trinity Go sounds like, it’s a game changer. The CT-1E was jaw-dropping. I don’t think very many people have heard that level of musicality and emotional engagement. The Ultimates are in a whole different ballpark that I can’t even put into words. And that’s only their mid-end cable! So I’m really looking forward to them coming out with a USB and headphone cable. I think it would be quite interesting if you were to do a review of the Trinity Go.

        • Reply December 28, 2017

          Linus

          Hi Larry,
          sorry for the lack of response… holidays and stuff, you know 😉

          In this case I was referring to the specific pairing with the HD800s, but I also feel that the Hugo2 sports great emotions and musicality. Of course they will enhance when paired with a good tube amplifier. But I can’t speak for any other than my CDM. This one doesn’t match the HD800s well, imo. The H2-CDM chain has proven to be very pleasing with other gear though (K240 Sextett and IEMs).

          Yeah, I was also hoping to see that with the H2 case, but I have to say, the Chord official case is extremely well built and looks gorgeous, I have one here. The strap-on feature from the 1st gen Hugo’s case would’ve been great though. I’ve seen that Dignis also has a very impressive case for Hugo2, but I am not sure if you can hook it up to your belt either….

          Sorry, I’m not familiar with those but they indeed sound interesting

          • Reply January 3, 2018

            Larry

            I followed up with a call to High Fidelity Cables after noticing the Trinity Go has only 1/8” cable inputs, which made no sense to me. I was told it’s a niche product, specifically for the Chinese and Japanese market that wants a taste of magnetic conduction on their portables — mystery solved.

            I strongly suggest trying two Bybee QSEs strapped to your Hugo2. I’ve only heard them on high-end home audio components, where they did their magic. But I’m guessing the Hugo2 is resolving enough to where the Bybees will significantly improve the sound! Worth a try, especially if you can get them directly from Bybee for review. They seem to take 3 – 5 days to fully affect components. The only thing I don’t like about them is that there’s no battery compartment for battery replacement. Bybee told me that after 8 years, the battery dies but the units still retain around 80% effectiveness.

  • Reply September 12, 2018

    Michael Feehily

    Have you tried Hugo 2 with the audioquest nighthawk carbon?
    Love my nighthawk & been thinking of the Hugo 2 but I know the audioquest are very amp dependent

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