Audiophiles worldwide have been biting their nails to the quick waiting for the Chord Hugo 2 portable DAC and headphone amplifier to reach the retail market. This week the Hugo 2 is finally making it to stores in the US and consumers can’t scoop them up fast enough. This new and improved version of the Chord Hugo is supposed to be one of the best portable DAC and amplifier units in the world. But after several delays in the release date and more hype than a Justin Bieber concert… is the Chord Hugo 2 worth the hefty price? I have one in hand and I’m about to run it through a full review.
Chord Hugo 2 DAC Amp Review
IN THE BOX
As the price would suggest, the Chord Hugo 2 is a deluxe package. Not only do you get the highly sought after DAC / amp combo you’ll find an assortment of cables and accessories that will help you get the most out of your Hugo 2. The only other item Chord should have included is a high quality RCA stereo cable. Here’s a full list of what you’ll get.
- Chord Hugo 2 DAC and Headphone Amplifier
- Power Adapter
- 4 Power Converters
- Micro to USB Cable
- Micro to Micro USB Cabe
- Optical Cable
- Remote Control
- 2 x AAA Batteries
- User Manual
The first thing I noticed about the Hugo 2 is the case which is made from machined aluminum giving it a sleek, sophisticated look. The controls are laid out in the classic “Chord Electronics fashion” with LED color coding to indicate functions and modes. Another thing I noticed right away about the Chord Hugo 2 is the labeling. The original Hugo was occasionally confusing to use because there was no labeling to indicate what each control was for. This time Chord Electronics got it right. Everything on this unit is labeled from the power button to the input select. There’s no guessing or trying to remember.
The machined aluminum chassis of the Chord Hugo 2 makes for a solid housing and a wise choice for a premium portable DAC headphone amplifier. The buttons are made from polycarbonate and the viewing portal is glass. This futuristic device is ready for the road or anywhere you want to go. This powerful little amp will likely last a lifetime.
Considering the multitude of functions and options available with the Chord Hugo 2 this device is extremely portable. It’s probably not something you could fit in your pocket however unless you’re still wearing JNCO’s or sporting a winter coat though. This is more like something you take to and from work or on a long trip. Because the Hugo 2 is packed with power and features it’s like you’re carrying a high fidelity stereo system packed into a device that will easily pack into luggage or backpack with ease. Battery life is about 7 hours and the Hugo 2 can get a full charge approximately 4 hours.
The Chord Hugo 2 is one of the hottest items of the year and one of the big reasons is the features. This elegant little device is so packed full of features it dwarfs most portable DAC amps. I’ll do my best to cover them all.
The Hugo 2 has six different input modes combined into 4 actual inputs. This gives you incredible flexibility when connecting your tunes to your DAC amplifier.
- HD USB
- Coax 1
- Coax 2
- Bluetooth (AptX Only)
- Coax Dual Data Mode (automatic)
As for outputs, the Chord Hugo 2 has three. I’ll also note that you can use both headphone jacks at the same time but it’s best to have headphones with the same impedance. Otherwise the levels will be imbalanced between the headphones. The Hugo to can power headphones up to 800 Ohms. Quite an impressive statistic.
- Headphone 1/4″
- Headphone 1/8″
- RCA Stereo
The Chord Hugo 2 has four filter modes to give you the best in listening options. Listening to the filters I could definitely hear the differences in each although subtle.
- 256fs (Neutral)
- 256fs + Neutral with HF roll off
- 16fs (Warm)
- 16fs + HF roll off (Warmer)
The remote control is probably one of the most genius functions for the new Hugo 2. This is because the Hugo 2 is not just a headphone amp. Using the stereo RCA outputs via line level you can connect this high quality DAC to your stereo or home entertainment system. The remote gives you full access to all kinds of handy options from a distance including volume, source input, filters and even dimming the brightness of the lights on the Hugo 2. Yet another great idea transformed into a priceless feature.
The Crossfeed function of the Hugo 2 DAC amp adds a stereo imaging effect. I’m guessing this is sort of like soundstage for closed back headphones. Chord Electronics describes it as a “speaker-like presentation” which creates a spatial effect. The results are subtle but noticeable. There’s a total of 3 Crossfeed modes… minimum, medium and max.
Digital Audio and Codecs
The Chord Hugo 2 supports both DSD and PCM digital audio formats. One of the amazing new features is the AptX digital audio codec available for Bluetooth devices. This means you can stream wireless audio from your computer or hi-res player. I tried this feature out and it works like a charm. The only downside is the Bluetooth range is less than 10 feet. This could have been the fault of the Fiio X5 player but I suspect it’s just a limitation of the Hugo 2. Another thing to note is that you can’t connect your smartphone via Bluetooth unless it supports AptX. You can however connect smartphones via the USB input.
The manual for the Chord Hugo 2 DAC and Headphone Amp is simple and to the point. It includes pictures, definitions and color schemes for multi-function buttons. You can download the PDF manual here
Getting down to the actual sound of the Chord Electronics Hugo 2 I decided to give it a go with several different headphones and sources to see what kind of difference it might make. From the hefty 600 Ohm Beyerdynamic T1 all the way down to a Sennheiser HD 569 you can actually hear the considerable improvement in sound quality. The Chord Hugo 2 rocked anything I connected it to. Even the new Grado PS2000e turned out layers of sound in track after track. If you want to rock your Audeze LCD Series headphones in a powerful way… the Hugo 2 is the answer. This DAC is definitely light years away from the Mojo and the original Hugo. Whether connected directly through the digital cable inputs or via Bluetooth using AptX the Hugo 2 delivers clean, pristine sound. The volume “roller switch” located on the top of the unit moves up in increments of 1dB per notch.
As I mentioned earlier the filters were a bit subtle but definitely noticeable in the more high-end headphones. As you scroll through the different filter options you’ll hear the high frequency attenuation and warmer overtones. Definitely a nice feature to have as some recordings can be a bit bright due to the original recording or mastering format. For example albums recorded on ADAT’s back in the 90’s came out extremely bright. This is where the magic of the Hugo 2 filters come in handy.
The Crossfeed or “stereo imaging” option had a similar result. With each increase in crossfeed the imaging becomes a little bit wider giving you the feel like you’re listening to speakers. It’s a subtle change however and most users might only find it useful when using closed-back headphones. Either way, it’s a fun feature that not too extreme. The stereo imaging feels like a nice option rather than a gimmick. It might even be pretty fun to try when watching a movie on the laptop.
To sum up the sound of the Hugo 2 I’m definitely impressed at what Chord Electronics has created in the Hugo 2. I was honestly skeptical that there could be such a significant improvement in sound (and features) of the original Hugo DAC amp but Chord managed to make an amazingly clean sounding piece of gear. A lot of thought went into the features and I find it to be much more intuitive and powerful than its predecessor. Audiophiles looking to take portable digital audio to the “platinum level” I highly recommend scooping up the Chord Hugo 2. It will cleanly convert your digital audio, warm it up, and can literally power any headphone on the planet without hesitation. You can even charge it while you’re using it. Overall I give it a resounding approval and a MajorHiFi Gold Award.
If you’re interested in purchasing one of these hot items you’ll likely have to wait in line as most US dealers have limited stock or are sold out. It’s best to lock in the early pricing if you can find one however because rumors are flying from across the pond that due to declining value in the UK Pound and post Brexit tensions the cost of the Hugo 2 DAC Headphone Amplifier (and other select Chord products) will most definitely go up in the coming months. The Hugo 2 comes in silver or black so grab one if you can.
Battery Life: 7 Hours
Chipset: Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA
Pulse array: 10 element pulse array design
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB
Output stage: Class A
Output impedance: 0.025Ω
THD: <0.0001% 1kHz 3v RMS 300Ω
THD and noise at 3v RMS: 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ wighted (reference 5.3v)
Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted: No measurable noise floor modulation
Signal to noise ratio: 126dB ‘A’ Weighted
Channel separation: 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω
Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW 300Ω
Dimensions: 130mm (L) x 100mm (W) x 21mm (H)
Boxed Dimensions: 220mm (L) x 122mm (W) x 85mm (H)