Review: Chord Electronics Hugo 2 – Ruler of sound

Chord Electronics Hugo²

Exterior

Chord has the best looking gear in my opinion, of course that is argueable, but I really like the shining balls they use on Hugo 2 and Mojo. Not just those two devices, but all their products in general show a special design, and that makes them unquestionably unique. You see it and you know – That’s a Chord!

Hugo 2 is made of aluminium and has excellent finish. The logo and product name are perfectly cut out and add a certain it-factor to the casing. There is a cut out window on top of Hugo 2 for you to peek on the FPGA. Via this window you will also receive sample rate indications. Hugo 2 will show you what samplerate currently is decoded by corresponding LED colours. For example 44.1kHz correlates to red light… You can see in the gorgeous manual Chord supplies you with what colour translates to what sample rate.

There is another small part on Hugo’s housing which is not made of aluminium, a tiny black plastic window right above the filter ball. This one is for apt-X Bluetooth. It guarantees best possible range, this was one of the few problems the original Hugo had. Now Bluetooth range should be up to 10 meters.

On the left side you will find the USB and charging input, both of which are micro USB sockets, clearly marked which one is for digital input and which one charges Hugo 2’s batteries. On the right side are two headphone outputs (a 3.5mm and a 6.35mm jack) an RCA output as well as coaxial and optical inputs. Unfortunately the connectors of my Audioquest King Cobra cables were too big to be used with Hugo, so I took the Mackenzie’s off my turntable and used those instead.

Interior

Hugo 2 of course is an FPGA (Xilinx Artix 7) based digital to analogue converter with a tap length of 49152, that accepts files up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512. So all existing files and coming ones are supported. It shoots incredible 740mW into 33 Ohms load via its headphone outputs and has a very low output impedance of 0.025 Ohms. So Hugo 2 should be able to drive even very demanding headphones, it is for a reason Chord markets Hugo 2 with Audeze’s LCD-4.
Four digital filters can help you alter the sound to your preference, two of which are more reference tuned while the other two are supposed to add a little warmth to the colour. For headphone listeners, such as us, Chord has implemented a crossfeed function which gives you a more speaker-like listening experience. Everything to make your audio life a little better.

During the past weeks I have run through numerous battery cycles. Its battery life is around 6-7 hours, depending what you’re feeding it and how many headphones/amplifiers you have connected. Recharging is done after four hours or so – you will be notified by the white light turning off.

When you connect Hugo 2 for more than 24 hours to the wall wart it will put itself into Desktop Mode (you can tell by a magenta/pink power knob). This mode is designed to be the most battery saving, bypassing the charging circuitry and sending power directly to where it’s needed. Personally I think this feature is very handy, yet I would have liked it more if it were enabled just after the battery has been done charging. This would be perfect for people like me who bring their Hugo 2 to the office and take it home with them everyday and thus have to disconnect it from the powersupply.

Sound
Hugo was a landmark when it first hit the shelves, many people, including Lieven, were an instant fan. I, sadly, only heard it briefly, and even then I was stunned by the impressive sound it created. When Mojo came out, just about a year ago, I had to get it. Ever since then it has been my go-to office DAC. I value it for its great details and ability to drive all possible headphones at my office. It is small and lightweight to carry around, even in my pockets it fits. Nathan calls it the chosen one for a reason.

Fast forward to Munich’s High End 2017. Chord announced the Hugo 2 a few months back at CES Las Vegas. It had peeked my interest quite heavily. I wanted to hear this little bugger so badly, and so I did. First day I listened to the LCD they had hooked up to their demo units, boy was I impressed, but I had to hear it with my Kaiser Encore as well, so I came back a day later and plugged in my CIEMs and hit play… I had to get it.

A few weeks later the UK packaging finally arrived at my door. Mojo went aside and got replaced as my office source of music. It’s fed by Roon via micro USB input.

I mainly used them with my in ear monitors, since my collection very much concentrates on those. It only hisses very mildly with the most sensitive of my in ears. Katana does pick up small portions of hissing, Encore does not. Most IEMs should be fine though. I only have a vintage AKG K240 (aka Sextett) at home, which I also used with Hugo 2 to see how their synergy is. Surprisingly H² did power them very well, surprisingly because the AKG is a very picky headphone to drive. Not because of its 600 ohms impedance, but because it sounds better when connected to a proper source. Not even my Continental Dual Mono can make them shine.

With the right recordings Hugo will let you feel right in the middle of the show. Its sound stage stretches very majestically on all axis. It especially goes wide and deep. Hugo excels on imaging and instrumental separation with the right amount of air between them. It has great transparency and will show you all there is in the tracks you love.

What I noticed rather early is that it features very high precision when rendering a picture. Every little note is clear and Hugo tickles out even the tiniest details. H² delivers a thrilling sound with outstanding realism. Natural decay to make acoustic pieces sound life-like. Overall the signature of Hugo 2 is well balanced and neutral. It has good portions of musicality, emotion warmth in it. The four digital filters let you shape the sound a bit further to your preference. I myself have been using it to alter the headphones I used with it. For example, I used the white filter for listening with Kaiser Encore and the orange filter for Katana.

Across the entire frequency spectrum there is wonderful coherence and its timbre and layering is remarkable. Everything is lined up perfectly from top to bottom. Nothing bleeds into anything and what you get is great transition. Mids are full bodied and feature awesome weight to them. Piano, violines and guitares have great weight and are addictive to listen to. Voices are extremely realistic and a pure pleasure to listen to through Hugo 2. Bass is punchy, well controlled, tight and dynamic. It goes particularly deep into the sub-bass region with certain Dubstep (please do not mistake this Genre for the epileptic crap that’s been going around the past years) tracks from artists like Benga or Skream. Treble is well defined and smooth. Every monitor I used Hugo 2 with produced a silk-covered, non-fatiguing treble, well except for one, but this particular monitor was sent back for repair.

I have played with the various inputs of H² and must admit, there are some slight changes to the sound, especially when using the coaxial input. This one gives the most analogue feel for me. It is more harmonic and slightly warmer than with USB or optical input, but your milage may vary of course…

Honestly it is hard to find a flaw in Hugo 2’s sound.

Eager to find out how Hugo 2 compares to other TOTL products? More on the next page

4.2/5 - (32 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.

12 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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