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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
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