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Chord Hugo gets the DAC, Crack, and Sack treatment.

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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

 

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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.    

 

post-142692-0-47665800-1397467108_thumb.

 

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.

 

post-142692-0-03192100-1397467002_thumb.

 

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.

 

post-142692-0-95503900-1397467081_thumb.

 

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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.

 

post-142692-0-21992100-1397466748_thumb.

Hugo inputs left.tiff

Hugo inputs right and windows.tiff

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Guest yamaha_man

Very well written review and an enjoyable and very easy read.

Looking forward to reading more from you.

Cheers

Edited by yamaha_man

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Very interesting! I found the Hugo to be a big upgrade from the QuteHD (I have both sitting on my rack right now). Your comments on the QBD76 make me very curious to hear one.

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Guest Thebottom

 Great review mate! 

 

The Hugo really is primarily a Headphone preamp though :) 

 

Partnered with the HD800’s – just perfect!!!

 

I believe the new casework also address’ the small cable hole issue.

 

post-136578-0-32105700-1397519492_thumb.

post-136578-0-17931300-1397519498_thumb.

Edited by Thebottom

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Very interesting! I found the Hugo to be a big upgrade from the QuteHD (I have both sitting on my rack right now). Your comments on the QBD76 make me very curious to hear one.

I hope to review all three together at a later date and make a quick updated post. Cheers

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 Great review mate! 

 

The Hugo really is primarily a Headphone preamp though :) 

 

Partnered with the HD800’s – just perfect!!!

 

I believe the new casework also address’ the small cable hole issue.

Agreed - I also just read on What Hi-Fi Magazine that Chord will be addressing the case work and re-machining the holes to address this issue. Apparently they are made in small batches so we could see the new case work quite soon. Cheers

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I hope to review all three together at a later date and make a quick updated post. Cheers

 

I'm looking forward to that.

 

 

Agreed - I also just read on What Hi-Fi Magazine that Chord will be addressing the case work and re-machining the holes to address this issue. Apparently they are made in small batches so we could see the new case work quite soon. Cheers

 

We already have. My Hugo has the new case with enlarged RCA holes.

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I'm looking forward to that.

 

 

 

We already have. My Hugo has the new case with enlarged RCA holes.

Fantastic - that is good news, Chord work fast!

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Anyone compared the Hugo to other dacs in a hifi system?

Tempted

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD

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I have heard the Chord QBD76 and the PS Audio Directstream DAC. The Chord had a very different sound signature to the DS DAC. It was brighter, livelier and more in-your-face than the DS DAC which was much smoother, refined, detailed.

 

Has anyone compared the sound signature of the Hugo against the QBD76? Does the Hugo also sound bright?

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I had the opportunity to have a very quick listen to the PS Audio Direct Stream and compared it against the Chord QBD76 HDSD.
This was completed with Monitor Audio Pl100’s, Audio Research Amp, Nordost speaker cables etc. So quite a different system to the one I am using.
Given the differences in the room and system architecture this was a quick subject 30 min comparison.
 
I first listened to the PS Audio and was immediately impressed with soundstage and separation of instruments and voice, which was articulated with particular finesse and perfect timing.
I then plugged in the Chord – wow – it hit me in the face, strong grip, massive base and a forward presence that was like a slap in the nether regions. It took hold of the system and dominated it. This was impressive, but them moments later I realised something was wrong. I then swapped the DAC’s over at various stages, with several songs repeated for the purpose of the exercise.
 
The presence of the Chord overshadowed the nuances in the music, the instrumental detail was sometimes lost in the dominance of bass, and voices seemed to lose detail, breath and imaging compared to the PS Audio.
I did say not long ago that the Chord was the best DAC I had heard (in my system) so I was very surprised at the difference - was something  amiss? To be fair I would have to repeat the experiment at home and use both DACs with a set of full range speakers, with a system slightly warmer than the one I was listening too.
 
This appears to be a tale of two DACS, and could easily suit very different tastes, but more listening needs to be done before I reach any firm conclusion.

 

As a foot note - the Hugo does have the same signiture as the Chord QBD76 HDSD - so it appears to sound significantly different dependent on partnering equipment.

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As a foot note - the Hugo does have the same signiture as the Chord QBD76 HDSD - so it appears to sound significantly different dependent on partnering equipment.

Can you please elaborate on the sound signature of the Hugo. Thanks.

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The Hugo sounds much like the Chord family signiture tune and was in my system was similar to the QBD76 HDSD, but not as detailed across the breadth of music I played. As with every piece of Hi-Fi hard ware it will sound different dependent on the partnering equipment. Just how differennt is dependent on so many parameters. I was very surprised how different the QBD76 HDSD sounded during the demo at the dealership; compared to my in home demo it souded like listening to two different DACs.

The Hugo is detailed with a a great sense of base presence. It may not suit all tastes:

"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."

Some may not like its lively performance in certain systems but I would highly recommend a home demo. Cheers

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The Hugo may be Chords latest FPGA software based design (which has a far greater number of digital taps than their previous products), but at the end of the day every other aspect of the product is compromised to meet the size/portability requirement. I'm very interested to see Chord take the Hugo design base and work it into their standard components. I'm sure this will be happening later this year or early next year.

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Gonefishing and I listened to a Hugo and we were impressed despite setup issues as it was unfamiliar to the dealers sales assistant.

Last I heard gonefishing though had returned it during the 2 week trial saying it wasn't superior enough to his current opo o make it worth the price to him

Very much enjoyed the well written review keep them coming

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Purchased one a few weeks ago. 

A very good sounding DAC. Ross is spot on with the review.

The DAC sounds very neutral, to me, it does retain some "British" signature, having a seductive and more pronounced vocal. 

 

I have noticed using the HD input has more noise compared to the SD input. I am guessing its because of the absence of the 5v line. 

 

Also, a modded Sonos vis coax sounded better than USB HD + Macbook. 

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What's the consensus about how this performs as stock vs. with an external reclocker (i.e. synchromesh/ Audiophillieo etc.)?

 

I suppose perhaps the underlying question being; how effective is the Hugo at reducing jitter? :)

Edited by Juicester

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Purchased one a few weeks ago. 

A very good sounding DAC. Ross is spot on with the review.

The DAC sounds very neutral, to me, it does retain some "British" signature, having a seductive and more pronounced vocal. 

 

I have noticed using the HD input has more noise compared to the SD input. I am guessing its because of the absence of the 5v line. 

 

Also, a modded Sonos vis coax sounded better than USB HD + Macbook. 

I can only extrapolate from what Hollis said above that the Hugo would probably perform better with a usb/spdif reclocker. 

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The Hugo is detailed with a a great sense of base presence. It may not suit all tastes:

"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.

With my 15 min experience having hooked up the Hugo in my system..i agree with what Manbat said above.  The bass is very pronounced and you may either like it or not..It certainly has a very ballsy sound to it, but it does lack some level refinements and soundstage over the more expensive dacs.  That being said..this can be easily forgiven considering its size and portability :)

Edited by katattack74

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I have just traded my Hugo in for a new QBD76 HDSD which arrives today. I will post some initial comments over the weekend.

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I have just traded my Hugo in for a new QBD76 HDSD which arrives today. I will post some initial comments over the weekend.

The QBD76 is a fair bit older design isn't it?? Keen to hear your thoughts after some good listening sessions.

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Yes, it is an older design. However, I keep reading that it is still better than the Hugo and QuteHD/EX. I initially was planning to wait until the replacement of the QBD76 came out, but I suspect that is at least a year away, and I want a DAC to listen to now. I also need a dac with both RCA and XLR outputs (the latter to feed my RSA Apache headphone amp), so I decided to bite the bullet and get it now. When the new one comes out in a year or so, I will probably trade it in, and accept that I am going to make a big loss.

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Yes, it is an older design. However, I keep reading that it is still better than the Hugo and QuteHD/EX. I initially was planning to wait until the replacement of the QBD76 came out, but I suspect that is at least a year away, and I want a DAC to listen to now. I also need a dac with both RCA and XLR outputs (the latter to feed my RSA Apache headphone amp), so I decided to bite the bullet and get it now. When the new one comes out in a year or so, I will probably trade it in, and accept that I am going to make a big loss.

please let me know when you plan to sell...  ;) seriously.

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I have just plugged in the QBD76 HDSD. From the first note ... just wow!

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