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  1. Chord Hugo gets the DAC, Crack, and Sack treatment. Approx. $2400 Tech Specs: Specifications Inputs • Optical TOSLink 24-bit/192kHz-capable • RCA coaxial input 24-bit/384kHz-capable • Driverless USB input 16-bit/48kHz-capable (designed for tablets/phones) • HD USB input 32-bit/384KHz and DSD128-capable (for computer/laptop playback; see driver details below) Drivers • On a PC (Vista, Win 7 or 8) Hugo will playback music up to 384KHz and support both DSD64 and DSD128, but for this you must install the supplied driver which comes in the box and is also available on this product page. • On Apple Mac OS, iOS for iPhone/iPad and Android, no drivers are required and Hugo will work up to 384KHz and DSD64/128 if your playback software/app can support it. Outputs • 2x3.5mm headphone jacks • 1x6.35mm (1/4 inch) headphone jack • 1x (pair) stereo RCA phono output Technical specs • Advanced digital volume control • Crossfeed filter network • Battery powered for approximately 14 hours operation • Input, sample rate and volume level indication by colour-change LEDs • 26K tap-length filter (more than double when compared to the QuteHD DAC) • Headphone output: 110dB SPL into a 300ohm headphone load • Output power – 1KHz 1V sinewave both channels driven 0.1% distortion • 600 ohms 35mW • 300 ohms 70mW • 56 ohms 320mW • 32 ohms 600mW • 8 ohms 720mW • THD – 1KHz 3V output: 0.0005% • Dynamic Range: 120dB • Output impedance: 0.075 ohms • Damping factor >100 • Weight: 0.4kg • Dimensions: 100x20x132mm (WxHxD) Full detailed information can be found here: http://www.chordelectronics.co.uk/products-info.asp?id=92 Background I am on the lookout for a DAC and have been experimenting to see if they made that much of a difference to my system (NAD Master Series). I had previously tried the PS Audio Perfect Wave II, and Rega, Chord Qute HD and Chord QBD76 HDSD among others. I managed to borrow the Hugo from a local dealer and played around with it for a few days, and here are my humble opinions. The Hugo is classed as a fully portable headphone DAC. It certainly performs this function very well, however I really couldn’t see myself using it in this capacity and therefore didn’t give it the full test in its native outfit. It can also be used as a stand alone DAC which is how I tested it on this occasion. From what I understand the DAC uses a FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) design with a Spartan chip set. Interestingly enough the same technology that PS Audio are using in their new Direct Stream DAC. This means that the FPGA can be programmable after manufacture. FPGAs have vastly wider potential application than programmable read-only memory chips Wolfson, Sabre, Burr Brown etc. This means DAC manufactures can fully tailor the microprocessors to meet their own needs, and this is very exciting indeed. I am used to the hi-fi components that are omnipresent obelisks, the traditional hi-fi staple. Back breaking hernia inducing equipment, monolithic amps that weighs over 50Kg etc. Even when there’s a power cut, you can feel their presence… The Hugo is different, and this is exhilarating stuff indeed, the astonishing size of the Hugo, its power supply (or lack of), and musical output is absolutely cutting edge. Sound Base lines and voices, especially when separated from other instruments are more pronounced. Details in mid levels and instrumental percussion pieces are precise. In some tracks the difference was subtle. Where there was a greater degree of difference was music laden with a degree of base, strong vocals, ambience synth, film sound tracks, and strings. These flowed with additional detail and gusto like an extra chili in your curry. However too much chili in your Vindaloo can have its drawbacks. This brings me onto certain DACs that purvey their musicality with an extra boost in the volume level. This maskirovka (deception) can trick listeners into thinking everything is rosy, but is it? Thankfully the Hugo has an illuminated volume control. This allows you to adjust the dB level to match your other equipment. Therefore when testing and switching between DACs, this allows the listener an accurate presentation and comparison. I played everything from CD’s to HD music of various file types and bit rates. I used the optical and HD USB which was instantly recognized by the MacBook so there was no reason to install any drivers. Once on the Mac I used Amarra music player to test out some HD material all the way to 24 bit 192. It all sounded great. Now to be fair the Amarra music player (software that sits on top of iTunes) is very good, and adding this extra ingredient really livened up the party. So I removed it from the equation, as I did with the Qute HD and QBD 76HDSD. Fink – I played a lot of their music. – Distance and Time – Troubles What You’re In – Blueberry Pancakes – lead vocals became larger and bass notes more prominent – wider soundstage, more 3D in nature. Dire Straits – Private Investigations – guitar, ambience, synth, and base lines more prominent, all in all a tighter bolder version. The Dark Knight – Sound Track – Agent of Chaos, The Dark Night etc. – every piece was darker, sinister, with the extra layer and gravitas of synth and base slam that embraced me. This is where the Hugo really shone. At one point this did remind me of the Chord QBD76 HDSD. The Dar Knight Rises – Sound Track – A storm is Coming – Gotham’s Reckoning – and it certainly was! I can only reiterate the above sentiments. Hugo was made for this soundtrack. James Blake Unluck – Limit to you love – the added base reverb and vocals were more pronounced. Apparat – Music for Theatre – Light On – a complex track full of intimate and large-scale music – this sounded more detailed. Nitin Sawhney – OneZero – Homeland – Cello, tabla, vocals – were lifted and brought to the front with an added presence. The Thing – Ennio Morricone – Bass lines that gave added presence and atmosphere. There is no better demo that an A/B comparison in your listening room. Integrating components like ingredients into this Hi-Fi soup lets you listen to the music, understand the nuances, and make the appropriate adjustments that are suited to your needs, and most importantly, your personal taste. Sometimes I think we forget how intrinsically personal sound can be, and the difference a room or piece of equipment can make to this musical chowder. The Hugo is a magic box of tricks. It performs well; just like the Chord Qute HD. Unfortunately I couldn’t make a direct A/B comparison as the last unit I borrowed had been sold. On a subjective comparison from over a week ago, I am reluctant to say they are similar, this will need further investigation. The Hugo lifts the veil and draws out extra detail in some music. I look forward to testing them both together. For me the QBD76 HDSD has a sound quality that is far richer, unfortunately so is the price tag. The Hugo is mind bogglingly different. No huge power supply needed, tiny metal case and just like the Qute, it was a little awkward to place in my set up. I found it slightly messy. With the Qute at least all the input/outputs are on the rear of the unit. The Hugo has them at both sides, so with a full DAC set up in a traditional hi-fi you have cables coming out in both directions. The Optical port is smaller than some traditional cables. My Chord Optical cable didn’t fit (the port is not a standard size) so I used the one that came with the unit. (Thank you) USB cable is also supplied but not long (around a meter). This could also be an issue with real-estate space, with some cables connectors being too large for the holes, or the gaps between the connections being too small. As you can see from these pictures, things can get a little tight if your using this as a dedicated DAC in your system. Additionally the input/power switches are fiddly if you have sausage fingers. Again space is a premium on the right side of the unit. The actual picture (above) of the viewing windows is upside down, as the volume control is situated on the right when viewing the unit from the front. The viewing port isn’t going to be as good as the Qute HD as it’s not as big. Neither was the ambient lighting that changed colour dependent on the quality of the file. From an aesthetics and connectivity point of view I did prefer the Qute HD. The instruction manual can be found here: http://www.chordelectronics.co.uk/files/Hugo%20manual%20%281%29.pdf The Hugo is neither warm nor overly detailed to say it was in any way harsh. It was subtle in certain music, lively in others and with a magnificent sense of dark brooding ambience in particular film sound tracks. With assimilating any component into your system it has to complement your set-up. I believe the Hugo will do this in most systems with ease, giving the strength of its neutrality makes it an accommodating proposition. Yes its not cheap, but neither is what it does. Hugo inputs left.tiff Hugo inputs right and windows.tiff
  2. Qute HD: Approx $1800 Technical specifications Harmonic distortion: 103 dBV Signal-to-noise ratio: 115dBV Dynamic range: 118dBV Digital inputs: 1 x USB HD with DSD decoding, 44.1 kHz to 192kHz, 1 6-32-bit (future 384kHz-ready) 1x Optical 1x Coaxial 44.1 kHz/ 384kHz-ready, 16-32-bit Outputs: 2x RCA phono Power supply: 12v 1A 2.1mm connector. Centre point positive 100V- 240V – 50/60Hz, 1A wall adapter supplied Weight: 0.4kg Dimensions: 160x70x40mm QuteHD technology details and technical specifications SPDIF decoding The QuteHD is an all-digital design and allows operation from a single SPDIF connection from 32 kHz to 384 kHz. Due to unique features in the design, reliable operation with 192 kHz from Toslink optical is possible. This allows better sound quality, as the benefits of optical (lower RF noisegiving lower noise-floor modulation and hence smoother sound) is obtained, without the detriments of poor jitter and errors from optical. Isochronous USB and Digital PLL Isochronous USB operation eliminates jitter from the transmitting computer, astiming is controlled by the QuteHD. With SPDIF sources, the effect of incoming jitter is virtually eliminated by use of a unique Digital PLL. This has a very long time constant of 1.5 seconds, so the incoming jitter is effectively removed. The benefit of this is no measured degradation with huge incoming jitter levels and a smoother, warmer, more natural sound quality. WTA interpolation filtering For a product of modest cost, the QuteHD has huge DSP capacity. 10 parallel DSP custom-designed gate-level cores are employed, to give a third-generation WTA filter of 10,240 taps. This improved algorithm, which attempts to much more accurately reconstruct the original timing of the transients for the recording, gives much better bass definition, a better sense of timing and rhythm, and a much more accurate and precise soundstage. DSD over USB support The QuteHD supports DSD over USB. Moreover, the challenge of filtering the DSD has been carefully done; extensive filtering of out-of-band DSD noise is accomplished without any audibly degrading decimation, as the Pu lse Array DAC directly handles the DSD data. Fifth-generation Pulse Array DAC The QuteHD employs a four-element Pulse Array DAC. Although it is simpler (by employing four elements) than previous Pulse Array DACs, it enjoys the benefits of Pulse Array performance compared to other DAC conversion technologies. These benefits include: very high low-level signal resolution; very low jitter sensitivity; no noise floor modulation; no anharmonic distortion harmonics, and very low harmonic distortion with analogue characteristics. The analogue section has been carefully designed to be as simple and direct as possible, thus ensuring transparency http://www.chordelectronics.co.uk/specs/QuteHD%20tech%20specs%20for%20web.pdf I was on the lookout for a DAC and was experimenting to see if they made that much of a difference to my system (NAD Master Series). I had previously tried the PS Audio Perfect Wave II, and Rega among others. I managed to borrow this little DAC from a local dealer and played around with it for three days. I wasn’t expecting much from the aluminum-clad snuffbox, and managed to test it through both USB connected to a MacBook and via optical cable. I downloaded a free sample of Pure Music and Chord drivers and managed to fumble my way through set up. Sound After playing around with various files, bit rates, and music I was impressed. Giving it a direct comparison to the NAD M15HD (which incidentally is no slouch in two channel music) it revealed subtle differences in musical presentation. These nuances presented themselves with more intimacy with tunes containing simple harmonics and vocals. Where the difference wasn’t subtle was music from jazz, hip-hop, and alternative – in fact anything with a decent recoding really. With this material to shape – it formed good harmonics. In fact making an immediate difference in base, mid range and detail to the character of the sound, adding depth, scale, and soundstage which seemed to stretch over the period of two days. I was more impressed with this that the PS Audio Perfect Wave II (with bridge), however to be fair there weren’t given a side-by-side audition. But from memory the Chord made more of an immediate impact. Sounding neither bright nor warm it added the extra level and edge to the music. Many reviewers have described some equipment as “lifting a veil†to reveal details and presence that were missing. This is the case with the Chord. Bass details were prominent as were string instruments, guitars, cellos, and violins. Synthesized music gave a new breath of air and atmosphere that enveloped the listening room to a greater degree than before. Impressive! The light inside the window changed colour dependent on the sample rate of the music; Dark blue 24 bit 192 Red – CD’s – red-book Orange for 48kHz Yellow for 88.2 Green for 96 Blue for 176.4 Pink-I just don’t know? By this point I didn’t care either. Purple for DSD – apparently See for yourself: (pics attached) Designed by Rob Watts, apparently Chord took 10 years to develop their own chip rather than using an off the shelf variants, Wolfson, Sabre, Burr Brown etc. I wasn’t in the market for a DAC, as previous DAC’s hadn’t made much of a difference on my system; that is of course until now. This is a great DAC and left me very very impressed. There is lots of technical data and professional reviews on the net if you need further information. QBD76 HDSD: Approx $8000 Technical specifications • Harmonic disortion: < -103 dB (1kHz, 24-Bit @ 44.1KHz Sample Frequency) < -110dB (100Hz, 24-Bit @ 44.1KHz Sample Frequency) • Signal to noise ratio: >120dB • Channel separation: >125dB @ 1kHz • Dynamic range: 122dB • Switchable digital inputs: 2x 75ohm S/PDIF BNC coax 2x AES balanced XLR input 2x plastic fibre optic (TOSlink) 1x USB (B-type ) 44-48kHz capable 1x 4-pin high-speed to USB (A-type ) 192kHz-capable • Analogue outputs: 2x RCA phono, 2x balanced XLR • RAM buffer, 3 settings: off, min and maximum • Phase switch, 2 settings: positive/negative output phase • Sample frequencies: 44kHz – 96kHz Optical, AES 44kHz – 192kHz Coax Single Data, USB 176kHz and 192kHz Dual Cable Optical, AES, or Coax • Output max: 6V rms. balanced. 3V rms. unbalanced • Output impedance: 75ohms (short circuit protected) • Dimensions: 338x60x145mm (Width x Height x Depth) • Weight: 7kg http://www.chordelectronics.co.uk/products-info.asp?id=74 Chord QBD76 HDSD When I asked a local dealer if I could borrow the rather expensive alien looking device he said, “Why of course you can, but you’ll regret it…(long pause)....are you sure?†I eagerly gave the affirmative nod at which point he said, â€For doing so, you’ll call me a bastard…†and of course two days later - I called him just that. After a very satisfying encounter with the Qute HD I was sold. This was a very good DAC. I just had to try the bigger brother. In short I will have to throw these commonly known Hi Fi adjectives around, detail (tons of it) feel, depth of scale, tight, solid, absolute presence. As in the previous encounter with the Qute DAC, I described it as lifting a veil to reveal more musicality. This DAC burns away that thick velvet curtain with a flamethrower and immerses you in what I can only describe as liquid music. You’ll drown in it! The sounds that my speakers produced amazed me (Monitor Audio Platinum PL300) James Blake Unluck – Limit to you love – the added base reverb and vocals were outstanding Apparat – Music for Theatre – Light On – a complex track full of intimate and large-scale music – this sounded fantastic, you could here every single detail. Nitin Sawhney – OneZero – Homeland – Chello, tabla, vocals – all were lifted and brought to the front with a gusto of detail and presence. Duke Ellington – Mood Indigo – a delightful clarinet and sound that melted in the atmosphere. The Thing – Ennio Morricone – Bass lines that gave immediate sheer presence layered with thick atmosphere. You could feel the tension in the track and were totally immersed in it. Everything and anything from Birdy to ZZ Top sounded spectacular. You get the picture. This is the best DAC I have ever heard. The gentleman at the audio shop truly is a bastard in a nice way, after all he did give me fair warning. If I had the cash I would buy this DAC today. If Chord sold this at around 50% of the asking price (here's hoping), it would probably be one of the best selling DACs on the planet. Not only does it sound out of this world, it also looks it. Does the Qute HD come close? It certainly gives it a good go. I just wish I never heard this damn DAC!
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