Chord Hugo 2-a brilliant piece, period.

Chord Hugo 2-5.0

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Initial impressions:

Upon finding out I was on the tour, I was pretty psyched. I was in somewhat of a lull, review-wise; so the addition of such a lauded component was a definite boost to my repertoire. I anxiously awaited, but was quickly distracted finishing other worthy equipment, in the review department. And as such, life took hold and distracted me mightily from almost any reviews. Thankfully, I am back, albeit in a different form, and with different goals (mostly), thus this may be somewhat a departure from my previous reviews, but the rough-“edge” will still be there…me hopes…

The Chord Hugo 2 retails for $2,379, and with the reputation of the first gen Hugo, and worldwide acclaim of the Mojo, high hopes were anticipated. Maybe not in the Apple iPhone X-genre, but the enthusiasm from the portable/desktop community was just as fervent. A fact I found upon my many readings while waiting for the critter to arrive in Middle America, USA.

Having never heard either the original or the Mojo, I was cautiously optimistic. I am a huge fan of UK stereo equipment, owning the wonderful Arcam AVR350 (called The Answer in some reviews…), which plays through our ProAc Tablette 8’s Signature Series, Paradigm sub (Canadian, I know…) and my Linn Sondek Axis TT. Not TOTL, but enough to make me appreciate the finer aspects of each company. To me my next upgrade, would be McIntosh, plain and simple. So, if you have not figured it out, I do appreciate a warmer signature. My portable gear echoes this, through my Shanling M1/M3s/M5, and iFi iDSD Micro BL/iTubes2/iDAC2. The Hugo 2 would be an excellent chance to add to my listening field, while hopefully garnering experience as to what a TOTL DAC/AMP should sound like. The closest I have come is the ampsandsounds Kenzie, which I would purchase in a heartbeat, had I the space to properly set up such a system. My BL is a quite acceptable substitute in the mean time.

Going back a bit (I hate to say old school, but I did of course throw in Stevie Ray Vaughan), I mainly listened to older Coldplay songs during my time, including the incredible YouTube vid of Technicolor ii. What a visual masterpiece, and throwback all at the same time. The Puppetry is first class and exemplary. Timing, scenery, and visuals themselves are enough to put a smile on Oscar the Grouches face, even with the filming faux pas.

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Over and over I listened and watched that wonderful song. Just fabulous, and quite a parallel to the point at which I am in my life right now. PM me, and I might fill you in…a bit…

Follow that with Sky Full of Stars, and I do harken back (again) to my son’s College Freshman year playing soccer. Ahhh…memories. And they are National Champions to boot. Uplifting, challenging music for most anything worth it’s weight, both were exemplary through the H2, and I began to feel like I was becoming indoctrinated into a small fervent, passionate club of aficionados, and I was glad. Glad indeed to be chosen for this, and hope of worthiness, that my review would befit the H2’s sound. It was a good start.

This is what I thought, as I went for my run, a thunderstorm approaching. I delved deep into the lesser knownst of what I do not know of the H2, and all that I had read up to this point. Trying to decipher what I had read, trying to understand what I did not, as the bolts flashed around me. Quickening my pace (a bit), to match the rain, I began to understand the impassioned following of the Chord club. I understood that to purchase and own a Chord product was a major step for some, a “cliquish” thing for others, but most not without thought and questions similar to mine. Will this be all I need? Will this work with what I have? How will it sound with my XYZ2-c headphones? The questions rolled at me almost as fast as rain and lightning. Luckily, I was on the return and did not get too wet. I would not have cared. As I entered the abode known as ours, my wife smiled lovingly at me knowing full well that I had accomplished more than “just a run.” Glad, indeed.

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Testing equipment:

MacBook Pro (mainly)

iFi Micro iDSD Black Label

iFi iTubes2/iDAC2 added into my gear, but not tested directly against the H2

Unique Melody Martian

Grado GH-2

Audioquest Nightowl

Shanling M1 (Bluetooth)

iPhone 6+ (Bluetooth)

While I did try portable DAP’s, I decided my main focus should be where I would most likely use the critter in Q, a desktop situation. While I did read a fair bit about Transportability of the H2, and I would most definitely use the H2 in that manner, this would mainly be a desktop situation for my purposes. And a worthy one it would be…

Befuddlement turned to paucity of appreciation at the orientation light-wise on the buttons. Once you realize (Thanks @-RELIC-!) that the color combination works like a light spectrum from “cold” to “hot,” a logical sequence is followed. The Scientist in me should have thought about that, but….

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Specs of the Unit are from Chord’s Website:

Technical specifications:

Chipset: Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA

Tap-length: 49,152

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

740mW 32Ω

1050mW 8Ω

Weight: 450g

Dimensions: 130mm (L) x 100mm (W) x 21mm (H)

Boxed Dimensions: 220mm (L) x 122mm (W) x 85mm (H)

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Music used:

Coldplay- Technicolor ii

Coldplay- Sky Full of Stars

Coldplay- White Shadows

Coldplay- Paradise

Coldplay- Lover’s in Japan

SRV- Mary Had A Little Lamb

SRV- Look at Little Sister

Daft Punk- Give Life Back to Music

Daft Punk- Giorgio from Moroder

Daft Punk- Beyond

Daft Punk- Motherboard

Build qualities/opening:

I was a might bit surprised at how small (but a bit hefty) the H2 was, upon opening the box. A tad heavier than my iFi BL, but not overly heavy in my book. Lighter than a decent Smartphone extra battery charging pack, certainly. As RELIC pointed out, both tour units had slightly mismatched aluminum halves. As such, the “light show” shown through the gap. Not bad mind you, but at this price I would hope the QC would tighten up for production. One aspect I did like was that looking through the RCA connections on the back. You had the distinct pleasure of staring Wall e in the face…to me anyway. And we really like that movie, too.

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Also mentioned were the loose fitting buttons on the top end for the main controls. Again, I do not mind that much, but would hope for a bit better fit. That said (and others have, too), the volume wheel rotates tightly and with good authority. Other connections were tight, and solid from the dual RCA connections to the 3.5 and 6.5mm headphone jacks. Even to me, the USB connection on the front was on par with other devices I have tried. Overall, I would rate build/fit-n-finish a “B,” and would hope future iterations attained that “A” level. And we all know the sound is what we are after…that sound. And I can concur with the other reviews right off the bat; the sound is definitely at the head of the class. In fact, this could be considered that star student who went away for the summer, and came back even stronger academically, having spent the summer doing snow-melt research in the Antarctic, or something worthy of their time. Reading parts of reviews, which shared the comparisons between both versions, I can concur only that the H2 is nie-on phenomenal. And if this is a step up from the H1, then that is a certain accomplishment.

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Switching between my Grado GH-2’s and the Unique Melody Martian was simply put, a treat. Then throw in the Audioquest Nightowl’s, and I was one satisfied listener. Easily switching between headphones, and listening formats, the H2 did all of that with nary a qualm. Change headphones? No problem. Change from RCA to Coax to Bluetooth? No problem. The majority of my time was spent with the Martian, due to family considerations, but when I was able to open the Grado or Nightowl up, let’s just say, that my wife would not approve of my volume choice! All the while no signs of distress, or overburdening of the H2. No sibilance, no going over the threshold, the H2 just worked. I like devices that just work. No fuss, no messing with hook ups, do your job, behind the scenes, and let me enjoy. The H2 did this with not a hint of argument. Over and over and over I listened and watched Coldplay’s Technicolor ii, gaping at that puppet mastery. Marveling at the doltishness of the adults. The sheer wonder in the eyes of the kids. I found myself enjoying the song through the bespeckled eyes of the young girl in the video. The one who KNEW what a treat this was, and that it was as real as she needed it to be. The adults did not…It was real. It was music, and it was pure. It was marvelous…

A good bit has been written about how the H2 presents a detailed listening environment. And I would concur. The level of detail is such, that one can easily pick out exactly where the instruments and vocals are on stage, or in the studio versions. Presentation from the Engineers product is exactly as it should be…where said Engineer intended it to be. Every breath, every note, every pluck of the guitar, or slap of the drumstick is clear and concise. Detailed, and full of an almost explosive sound. Not the best interpretation, but if you pay attention to the small details in Technicolor ii, then you get it. There are small details (intentionally placed), which one might not actually see, due to the visual appeal of the overall video. But with the H2 going, you cannot miss them. That cymbal falling (and subsequently picked up by the roadie), the conversation details going on behind the show (before the song actually gets completely going, during the India-detailed opening), or hearing the chains move of the “scenery.” All parts are full and detailed more than almost anything I can remember. This is good stuff, indeed.

During Talk, by Coldplay, hearing Chris Martin enunciate syllables perfectly is a fantastic treat to the already wonderful videos. I cannot stress this enough, the level of detail along with the embodied soundstage is extremely impressive. I can honestly state that I have not heard this combination of detail and soundstage before. I could just state that this is the most detailed I have heard the music in which I listen, and end my review right there….right…bloody…there.

But what is the fun in that? One must justify ones position, otherwise ye be knownst as a crackpot. And I hope to dispel that “rumor.” I am becoming enamored with this little critter known as the H2, and am beginning to understand how versatile this is, period.

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Running the filters at the various settings, I could not really tell a difference, as some have mentioned. I would state that I thought I could between filter out and setting three, but I cannot logically verify that, so I am calling it a wash; especially with my high-end hearing loss.

Unsure I was hearing the big difference others had heard, I fell back to a standby album Daft Punk’s excellent (and varied) Random Access Memories. A solid bass would be an insulting-way to describe the album’s foundation. Bass, which IS the underlying foundation allows the Moog synthesizer, drums and assorted support instruments (electronic and “real”) to indeed come out and play. Inside the H2’s electronic gismos, I swear I can see the capacitors jamming like a fine German Discotheque. One where all are admitted, you simply sit back grab your drink and enjoy. Tight bass, like no other DAC/AMP I have used defines this foundation to me. While still running that slightly-too-small-for-me sound stage, this can be forgiven because the sound is so pure and clean. BLACK background without ANY hiss is not something to be shy about when mentioning the H2.

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That almost blackness of trepidation, or anticipation, or heart pumping like a horror show at what might be lurking around the corner is how I would describe the H2/Daft Punk union. Scary from the outside, but once in, you marvel sit back grab your single-malt scotch, and simply say cooooooll. That smile of now knowing what it is like to be on the inside of one of the best DAC/AMP’s out there, pretty much regardless of price. And let me tell you, that Scotch was darn fine inside that aural psychedelically lit disco. Just incredible, it is.

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Finale:

Running through more music fit for the H2, the above-mentioned script holds. SRV’s masterpiece, Mary Has A Little Lamb from Austin City Limits is timeless and nie on worthy of inclusion into that “Disco.” As is the effortless Look at Little Sister, replete with the seamless guitar change. Another Scotch verifies the coooool nature of where you stand in the crowd. The hierarchy of DAC/AMP-ness. It is as if I have been invited into an extremely exclusive club for as long as I want. As long as I can stand the inclusion. All of my other gear gets ignored. Not to exclude them, like they are not worthy of accompanying me, but because I must devote full attention to the H2. After all, I was invited into the H2 abode, without reservation, and without recourse. My other gear understands, knowing I will appreciate them all the more after my night at the Disco ends with a hangover. Not from the Scotch, but the intoxicating vibes of the music provided in that Disco. Daft Punk, SRV, Coldplay and twentyonepilots reverb through my cranial matter for days after. My only recourse is to play my music again, through my gear. A reminder of what we have, what we could have and where this industry has gone. Skyward, while staying underground in discos such as the H2, or Mojo. Not secrets, mind you, but tickets needed. Tickets with which you must be invited. None are exempt mind you, but some will not take that ticket, be they afraid of the cost (most spend more on vacations than this…), or the trepidation (unfounded what with Chord’s history of the Hugo & Mojo, transportable-wise), or the lack of understanding as to what this little Disco can do (more than I could state here, but others more worthy than I have penned such words and experience), or simply for the lack of “need” (ummm…drawing a blank here, what exactly do we NEED in order to enjoy our music; but this would rank at the top of that “need” list). And it would be a shame not to for they miss a night, which would go down in their memory neurons as worthy of imprints upon that gray matter. I had a night in St. Louis like that many moons ago, and I still recall it as if it was yesterday…much like the H2, once it leaves…

As I finish my time with the H2, I play Coldplay (anything and everything…) through my iPhone 6+ and the H2, ending in my Martians. I marvel at how good the music actually sounds. I am awash with mixed feelings…how can something so small sound so darn good? And actually make the Smartphone sound very decent? Awash with the price, too…you certainly pay a premium price for this sound. $2400 US is not small change by any means. Personally, I put together a very worthy iFi system for less than ½ the price, and with as many configurations, too. But for those who marveled at the H1, and the Mojo, they will probably gladly pony up the money, knowing (well before I…) the reputation Chord had for such fine products (home and portable). To those users, they will not think twice. Unfortunately I did, and ended up with the system I more than happily use, without regret or recourse. I would, though take an H2 in a minute, should the finances be available. It is quite good, and well worth a look for those that like the quality sound it presents, and want an all-in-one package.

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I want to thank RELIC & Barra for inclusion in this fine tour. I bring up the rear, which isn’t at all bad. I have had the pleasure of reading the thread, and the reviews the most as a result. Plus, my time has extended a bit (oopps!) as an upshot, too. I heartily thank Chord for the use of their excellent Hugo 2, and wholeheartedly recommend the H2. It does cost a pretty penny, but as stated above and here, if we cannot enjoy our music, we have lost part of our soul. The H2 is that top class Discotheque where you go in knowing you must be in a pretty exclusive place, but the patrons do not act that way. They welcome you, fill your single-malt and tell you to sit back and enjoy, like no night you have before. It was worth the dressing up, too.

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