Chord Electronics Hugo DAC & headphone amplifier review


Dine in or take away? With the Chord (Electronics) Hugo you can do either. Its understated aluminium chassis houses two batteries and a pair of Xilinx Spartan FPGA chips – one for USB signal marshaling and one for D/A conversion. The Hugo is small enough to go wherever “you go”.

A casual glance might have two-channel-ers dismissing it as a portable DAC / headphone amplifier that doesn’t concern them, but the Hugo’s broad connectivity options hint at its aspirations to be taken more seriously. We’ll get to that shortly but first some thoughts on the Hugo’s performance as a portable.

There’s nothing like a decent amplifier fed by a good DAC to remind us just how good the Audeze LCD-X can sound. I say that not to ring the fanboi alarm but to underscore thrice just how well these big-, bold-sounding headphones respond to juicier amplification and better source material resolve – they’re some of the most revealing headphones out there.

Serious home-head-fiers will know what I’m talking about: running a dedicated DAC and headphone amplifier really bring headphones to life.

Decent wall-powered units for the hi-fi rack or desktop can be had for upwards of $100. For streetlife it’s a different story. In this context, products start to get interesting from $300 and up. The Hugo will set you back a cool AU$2500 in Australia and US$2500 in the USA, both of which are comparable to the UK price of £1400.

Also of keener consideration are the dimensions and mass of battery-powered transport, amplifier and DAC. Just ask the guys still rocking an iPhone, AlgoRhythm Solo –dB and ALO Rx Mk3-B strapped together as a single brick. The Hugo measures 100mm x 20mm x 132mm and weighs 400g.

Then there’s the bulk of the headphones themselves to consider. As superb as they are, not everyone will be sufficiently committed to Audeze cans to taken them out and about. Nonetheless, we must consider all possibilities, even those not aligned with our own preferences. (In doing so home listening is implicitly covered).

Consider the Astell&Kern AK120 II. It makes a solid fist of the LCD-X but allowing the Chord portable to take care of both D/A conversion and amplification drive nets an audibly superior result. The inclusion of a ¼” socket on the Hugo – none too common on portables – allows our Audeze fan to dispense with the top-heavy adaptor. Little wonder Dan Clark had a Chord Hugo sitting between (Gen 1) AK100 and his all-new Alpha Prime headphones at the New York Audio Show in Brooklyn this year.

Once the Astell&Kern is wired to hand off its digital signal via toslink (cable provided) to the Hugo’s optical input the Audeze’s frequency response extends further in both directions whilst tonal flourishes ebb and flow with greater elegance. The absence of an analogue input on the Hugo means it can’t be used in amplifier-only mode like the ALO International+ (reviewed here). Talking of which, the ALO-AK120 combo trades in a dose of refinement – one of the Chord’s key strengths – for a more muscular rear end.

No slouch in its own right, the Hugo also sounds better than the Sony NWZ-ZX1 Walkman. I witnessed a significant delta between the two when Chord Electronics’ John Franks first introduced the Hugo to these ears at the Munich High-End Show in May – that’s where I picked up the review unit – and that same delta is just as audible in Sydney six months down the line.

Chord Electronics’ John Franks at Munich High-End 2014

This Hugo’s lengthy review process has seen it take tours of duty with Ultimate Ears 7 Pro custom IEMs, Master&Dynamic MH40, Cardas EM5813, MrSpeakers Alpha Dogs, MrSpeakers Alpha Primes, Audeze LCD-X and KEF M500. Every single one of these ‘phones enjoys a lift in performance over and above the Astell&Kern AK120 II and Sony NWZ-ZX1; the improvement is most pronounced with the Cardas IEMs.

The upshot? You opt for the standalone Sony or A&K if pocket-ability is your priority. Add the Hugo for greater low-end definition and a more nuanced delivery of (even more!) detail in the upper-most frequencies, especially when compared to the Sony.

The Hugo was also put up against a first generation Astell&Kern AK120 pushing digital into the gritted-teeth grunt of Michael Goodman’s Glove A1 (reviewed here). Where the Hugo can come up a little short against its portable rivals is its higher centre of gravity due to a bonier backside; the Glove comes through with a soupcon more low-end muscle but it can’t match the Hugo’s gossamery top end.

The Hugo is definitely the more intellectually satisfying of the three – and so it should be at the price. Its skill in defining lateral and vertical layering also warrants mention. Here is a DAC-amplifier that throws pleasantly diffused house lights on the band, illuminating the spaces between players as much as the players themselves, making nonsense of the notion that a lower noise floor translates to a blacker background. The Hugo lights up everything.

Takeaway #1: I’ve yet to hear a portable headphone amplifier and DAC that comes close to the Chord Hugo. You get what you pay for.

The question then nags from the back of the brain: with a Hugo serving as DAC and headphone driver, does one need – or can one afford – an audiophile-grade DAP for file selection and digital playback control? Is that not like riding in a Porsche being towed by a Mercedes?

The first of two micro-USB inputs directs us to the answer. It’s configured for low power draw operation – hello smartphones and tablets. Being a driverless input, a PCM ceiling of 16bit/48KHz applies to all digital audio streams. As part of the Hugo package, Chord supply thin rubber straps for piggy-backing an iPhone or Android phone without occluding its screen’s real estate. The inclusion of four recess-mounted rubber nipples on the back of the Hugo ensures you won’t scratch the back of your smartphone.


iPhone users must bring their own Lightning-to-USB adaptor or Camera Connection Kit but Chord thoughtfully provide an OTG USB cable so that Android users are taken care of out of the box. Don’t like futzing around with cables? The Hugo accommodates aptX Bluetooth streaming – a feature that I used mainly with MacBook Air Spotify listening. Bluetooth sounds good but falls slightly shy of the sound quality heard from going USB direct.

In direct-wiring a Samsung Galaxy S5 to the Hugo for some Spotify action I heard not a trace of the phone’s 3G/WiFi transmission interfering with the Hugo as a low level burble. WiFi streamers might find themselves sated with something as humble as a 5th Generation iPod Touch. Each configuration confirmed that the Hugo is indeed something special, a cut above the competition: it’s mellifluous treble handling means the transients of lossy streams rarely sound ragged or aluminum-tinged – crucial when air-shredding to Bowie’s “Cracked Actor”. The long-term effect of this is Spotify holds this listener’s interest for longer.

Takeaway #2: the Chord Hugo makes nice with sub-optimal source material.

With connection to cloud secured in these physically beefier rig(s) I momentarily forgot about the aforementioned Sony’s streaming-service advantage over the Astell&Kern…until it came time to head outside. The Hugo is too large for comfortable accommodation in a jeans pocket.

Listeners committed to taking the Hugo wherever they go will see up to 10 hours use between charges. One of my very few niggles with the Hugo is that – like the Cypher Labs Theorem 720 – battery replenishment comes from a dedicated walwart. You can’t recharge the Hugo with 5V USB power. (Something for a MK2 revision perhaps?)

Putting aside the lack of aesthetic elegance of the iPod Touch direct-cabled to the Hugo for one moment, I prefer the sound of this duo to the Astell&Kern AK120 II. The Hugo brings broader grace to the detail dig. And if we take as read that the AK120 II’s sound is identical to that of the oft-fawned-over AK240 with Redbook content, then the iRiver offshoot have something to worry about.

Takeaway #3: A smartphone paired with the Chord Hugo sounds superior to the Astell&Kern AK120. Again, you get what you pay for.


I’ve often pegged the Audeze LCD-X and MrSpeaker Alpha Dog/Prime as ‘indoor’ headphones. Chord Electronics have you covered there too.

The second of the two micro-USB inputs allows for direct connection to a host PC for more commonplace desktop DAC/amp deployment. Here you can feed the Hugo up to 32-bit/384KHz PCM and DSD128. Toslink is restricted to PCM 24bit/192KHz and coaxial to 24bit/384KHz but their inclusion here is functionally more crucial in allowing for the Hugo’s deployment with Apple TVs, Logitech Squeezeboxen, Airport Expresses and disc transports.

The Hugo is not only a portable headphone device. It has the potential to double up as a DAC in your main two-channel system. Power it on with the ‘Crossfeed’ switch depressed and the RCA outputs default to line level. Careful here though as the (stiff) volume control remains active, able to supply more than the industry-standard 2V and thus drive your pre-amplifier or integrated amplifier into clipping/distortion.


On usability, Chord has opted for colours over chassis labels – this takes some getting used to. Observed through the ‘porthole’, the input selector LED cycles through red (coaxial), green (optical), blue (Bluetooth – duh), yellow (lower power USB) and white (HD USB). The adjacent battery status LED continues the rainbow theme, as do the volume pot and sample frequency lock indicator: Red for Redbook (44.1KHz), Orange for 48KHz, Yellow for 88.2KHz, Green for 96KHz, Light Blue for 176.4KHz, Dark Blue for 192KHz, Light Purple for 352KHz (DXD) and Purple for 384KHz(DXD). White indicates either single- or double-rate DSD. That’s a lot to memorise!

Can we really get full width performance from a handheld device? With Chord Hugo the answer is an emphatic ‘you bectha’!

Whilst it doesn’t quite have the ‘grippiness’ of the PS Audio DirectStream, the Chord box gets close to matching it in all other respects, especially on finesse and dexterity with minutae. And much like the PS Audio, this is a DAC that might seduce erstwhile digital refuseniks. Might this quality be attributable to their mutual preference for dropping custom code onto an FPGA instead of using an off-the-shelf chip? Perhaps.


The Hugo’s ability to duke it out with the big boys doesn’t end there. It teases out more instrumental decay than either the Resonessence Labs INVICTA Mirus (reviewed here) or the AURALiC Vega (reviewed here). However, it’s not quite so rich with tonal colour as the latter and it’s ever-so-slightly lighter on with acoustic mass than the former. That’s HD USB.

A diversion to coax courtesy of the Resonessence Labs Concero HD closes theses gap through more substantive hip thrust. Schwing! Nowhere is this more evident than with Massive Attack’s “Splitting The Atom” or Clark’s remix of Nathan Fake’s “Fentinger” – here the Hugo’s coaxial input digs deeper into the lower registers and for a kick that comes on harder. Party on Wayne! There’s greater fluidity and sprayed-on skin moisture too. Flipping it around, the USB input sounds a shade more lightweight, a trifle drier, than (assisted) coaxial.

Takeaway #4: If you’re going to run the Hugo in a main two-channel system then the coaxial input will yield more satisfying results.

The Hugo never sounds forced or that it’s trying too hard to convey detail or dynamic reflex; that’s double-speak for effortless. A trait often relegated to high days and holidays when a short stop tries his hand in the big leagues. There’s no short man’s complex here, just quiet confidence.

Even though stickered well north of two large, the Chord Hugo is a DAC that far exceeds price point expectations. It’s a portable that’ll hold its own in a main rig and competes with products two or three times the price. I’ve explicitly called out those products to avoid such a conclusion dissolving into meaningless cliché. The Hugo is go anywhere box made from pure win that’s far and away the most accomplished combination of sound quality and feature set below $3K that I’ve witnessed since DAR’s inception in late 2010.

Takeaway #5: A round of applause and a DAR-KO award goes out to Chord Electronics for this one.

Oh – the Hugo is also available in a satin black finish.



Audition Music

  • Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence (2014)
  • Massive Attack – Heligoland (2010)
  • Clark – Feast/Beast (2013)
  • David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1973)
  • David Byrne & St Vincent – Love This Giant (2012)
  • Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians – Element Of Light (1986)

Associated Equipment

  • Ultimate Ears 7 Pro custom IEMs
  • Master&Dynamic MH40
  • Cardas EM5813
  • MrSpeakers Alpha Dogs
  • MrSpeakers Alpha Primes
  • Audeze LCD-X
  • KEF M500
  • Astell&Kern AK120
  • Astell&Kern AK120 II
  • ALO International+
  • Glove Audio A1
  • PS Audio DirectStream
  • AURALiC Vega
  • Resonessence Labs INVICTA Mirus
  • REDGUM Black Series RGi35ENR
  • REDGUM RGi60
  • Zu Audio Soul MKII
  • Magnepan MMG

Further information


Manufacturer’s response: “Thank you for your concise and excellent review John. The only point I’d like to make is that although all current units have been for some time mechanically slightly different from very the first production batch shipped during the first quater of this year, ie enlargement of the RCAs etc. these were only running production changes and we have only produced one version of Hugo; there have been no Hugo 2’s produced to date. However I’m pleased to tell you that we have been busy in development and Hugo will be joined by several new products. Two of which we will be launching at the CES LasVegas in January 2015.” – John E. Franks (5/11/14)

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. Nice review John.
    Did you get a chance to try any other USB sdif converters? I sold my AP with purepower to finance one of these Hugos. Had many frustrating technical issues with the AP. Iso the Concero your recommended best bang for buck converter?

    • I dig the Concero but it I wouldn’t say it’s better than the AP, just different: perhaps a little more fluid. That said, I do have *another* USB converter up my sleeve that I’ve yet to try but promises much. 🙂

  2. It still bugs me that the Hugo converts to DXD (384kHz) at output. Rob laid out the reasons why very clearly on Head-Fi, and I gather this is why he also touted the volume control as totally lossless in an interview I read. Semantics I guess, and the money is where the music is, but it does beg the question “Is it a true DSD DAC?”…

    • Hey Jon – that the Hugo converts to PCM I didn’t know. I guess many modern “DSD DACs” pull the same stunt; if you’re a DSD obsessive then this DAC isn’t for you. Personally, I’m not fussed. There continues to be a disproportionate amount of noise made about DSD in the face of *still* very, VERY few titles being available. I’m a Redbook kinda guy. I review products with Redbook source material and the Hugo makes Redbook sound terrific. Hi-res and DSD compatibility is a ‘nice to have’ extra.

      Would you be kind enough to share a link to Mr Watts’ Head-Fi comments?

  3. Hugo does decimate DSD to PCM!!!

    From Rob Watts at Head-fi:

    Rob Watts on DSD (note, 2L stuff is NOT natively recorded in DSD):
    “I have had a number of posts asking me about DSD, how it is done within Hugo etc. A constant idea is that DSD should remain native and hence “pure” and that this would be best. Now I sympathise with this idea, as if it were analogue then one would want to keep everything as simple and direct as possible, as each analogue component you add, you degrade transparency. But this rule simply does not apply in the digital domain, as it is possible to have processing that is perfectly transparent (just to stop there – although a digital module can be made perfectly transparent, it is categorically not easy to do so).

    So I need to explain why native DSD is a bad idea inside the DAC. Firstly, Hugo needs to see the original file that you can get hold off, so if it was originally PCM, use that, if it was DSD, feed that to Hugo via DoP. So my comments about native DSD apply about inside the DAC, something people do not see.

    Firstly, some history. I first started getting involved in designing DAC’s in 1989, when I heard Phillips Bitstream DAC the SAA7320. Compared to multi-bit DAC’s at the time, it was a revelation – digital was starting to sound smooth and refined. Now these DACs were PDM types – that is 1 bit with 256 times oversampling – technically exactly the same as DSD but running at 256 times not 64. Now I started with these DAC’s, made improvements, and I realised that the noise shapers were limiting resolution, so I started using multiple chips each with their own dither, to improve resolution. Noise shapers convert PCM to lower resolution data like 1 bit DSD. Also I found that the out of band noise from these noise shapers were overloading the analogue sections, giving noise floor modulation, making it sound harder. Also the DAC’s were innately very sensitive to clock jitter. To try to solve these problems I designed the PDM1024, which had multiple noise shapers (improve resolution) and digital filtering (delay and add) to help with the jitter sensitivity and the out of band noise problems. Now the PDM1024 (early 90’s now) gave a big step forward, but I could not resolve all of these problems. So I started developing Pulse Array, which was a multi-bit noise shape technology. To solve the noise shaper resolution problems, it runs at 2048 FS and is 5th order or better. This theoretically approaches 90dB more noise shaper resolution than PDM at 256 FS, and 150 dB more resolution than DSD 64. The Pulse Array modulation scheme also has the benefit in that it has much lower master clock jitter sensitivity than native DSD/PDM and, more importantly, has no jitter induced noise that is signal dependent as it is a constant clocking scheme – so it has no innate noise floor modulation. Also, by running at 2048 FS, the noise shaper noise at 1MHz is much lower – about 1000 times lower noise than usual DAC’s. This means a simple analogue single stage with minimal filtering, so you get much more transparency. Also, the analogue active section has a much easier time, as RF induced noise floor modulation is fundamentally easier.

    Now this happened in 1995. At the same time, silicon DAC designers were on a similar path – moving performance DAC’s to multi-level noise shaping, away from single bit. At this time DSD started, which was moving in the opposite direction – instead of 256 FS it had reduced to 64 FS, simply because of data rate limitations on optical disks. Now as I have talked about in earlier posts, DSD has a major benefit – it does not have the big timing problems of PCM – but it suffers from much poorer resolution, and creates more distortion and noise than PCM. Using the WTA filter addresses (I won’t say eliminates the timing issue because I think we need more taps than today to do that) the timing problems of PCM, giving you the potential of better resolution from PCM and overall better sound.

    Now when DSD was first presented, it was claimed that processing could be maintained natively, that is if you wanted to add volume control or freq EQ, you could modify the bit-stream directly and re-noise shape the OP. But people quickly found out that this was not possible. When you re noise shape DSD 64 it very quickly degrades in terms of noise performance – you simply cannot connect 3 or 4 noise shaped stages together, unless you want awful performance. With regular PCM this is not the case, you can add as many stages together and it won’t significantly change the measured performance. This is why DSD is initially recorded with PCM at 352.4 kHz – the DXD standard. Then it can be mixed, EQ etc, with minimal losses. Then finally it gets converted from DXD to DSD. And if you can get hold of DXD master recordings and the DSD you can hear the transparency losses of DSD (try 2L website they have free samples).

    Now with Qute I did have a choice – I could easily use the DSD data and delay it, then feed it into the 4E DAC. But this would be a very bad thing to do, as DSD is -20dB at 100 kHz, and this noise is distorted, signal correlated, and would cause noise floor modulation in the OP stage. Also, it would be very master clock jitter sensitive, so you would get jitter induced noise floor modulation. The result would be back to the 90’s, sub 100 dB dynamic range, distortion, noise floor modulation, whistles, pops and gurgle noises… together with poorer sound stage, poorer detail resolution and a hard aggressive sound quality.

    So, in Qute it is digitally filtered, upsampled, filtered again. At this point you still have identical performance, as these steps can be done transparently, that is the audio spectrum is identical to the original signal. It is next fed into Qute’s pulse array noise shaper, which will have a small price in transparency. But since this noise shaper runs at 2048 FS not 64 FS, at 20kHz, it is 10,000 times more capable of resolving signals than DSD. At 1kHz it is billions of times more capable than DSD. So the transparency loss is very very small compared with the enormous problems of using DSD natively. In Qute, I used a moving average filter, and the signal was always up-sampled, not decimated. At 100kHz the filter gave 50 dB worth of rejection.

    Now in Hugo, we have a potentially much more serious problem with DSD, as Hugo has to do volume control and cross-feed EQ. This means it has to be converted to PCM, and at a rate the cross feed and volume control works at – which is 16FS. So the filtering was much more challenging now, as I had to decimate the signal too (make it a smaller sample rate). This meant a new design, as the Qute filter would have aliasing problems due to not enough stop band rejection – it needed much more than 50dB filtering that Qute had. So I decided on a sledge hammer approach to aliasing problems, by having 140 dB of rejection. This actually is much better than pro standard ADC aliasing filters, but that is another story. The other benefit of this filter was that it removed the DSD noise at 100 kHz, as it had 110 dB worth of rejection at that frequency. Now I could have the benefits of PCM with DSD in that out of band noise is non-existent.

    So this filter was designed, verified, measured and listened too. Now I was worried about the listening tests, as I had not decimated DSD before. I listened to the Qute filter directly, and compared it to the Hugo decimating filter, with no volume or cross feed, with identical gain on the two filters. The Hugo DSD filter sounded very much better – DSD was a lot smoother and warmer and more natural, with no detectable loss in transparency or timing. So the benefits of the much better filtering at 100 kHz far outweighed the potential decimation errors by a very big factor.

    So apologies if you could not keep up with the technicalities, it is very complex issue – but people kept asking. I hope that you have gotten a flavour of the difficulties involved. Simple and false statements like “native DSD is best” hide a very much more complex reality.”

  4. John,
    It would be interesting to hear what you think about the iFi iDSD Micro at 1/4 the price of the Hugo, especially playing back DSD!

    • Which albums should I audition the iFi with, Norman? I dig Bowie, Eno, Neil Young, Kate Bush, Future of the Left etc. as well as a whole bunch of electronica.

  5. Hi John! Nice review by the way. The Hugo is currently one of the hottest audio components with the local audio community. Unfortunately it’s just too expensive, and not all can afford one. Any cheaper alternative you can suggest?

  6. All of them if you have them! LoL

    I am pretty sure that Bowie and Kate Bush (Stereoplay album 2) exist in DSD. Elton John, Eagles, Toto,Bon Jovi, The Who/Police/Rolling Stones/Moody Blues, CCR, Wham, Yes, Queen, Santana, Roxy Music, Journey, Foreigner, Dire Straits, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Springsteen, T-Rex, Oasis, B. Joel, Dylan, Lauren hill, Marley, Tosh, Steely Dan, Sting, etc all exists in DSD as well.

    Not sure if the iFi beats or matchess the Hugo on PCM, but for sure should be the DSD winner. iFi does pure/native DSD, no additives, no preservatives.

    • Thorsten’s a terrifically talented designer by all accounts. The only Bowie DSD I’ve heard/’own’ is an SACD rip of Scary Monsters and it doesn’t sound all that crash hot. With review requests coming in left right and centre, I’m kinda leery of spending a week reviewing a product based on a format that may or may not have legs for the future. For me Redbook PCM comparisons are paramount, DSD secondary – this reflects their respective availability. And I’m not talking about SACD rips either. They don’t count – your average Joe can’t go online and buy them. Just like PCM, we must consider commercially available DSD titles only.

      • Why a week? A day or 2 should be enough and you did ask for suggestions.
        Perhaps for your taste, DSD material is acrace, but there are tons of titles in classical, Jazz and Geezer rock. On top of that, much of it is true audiophile recording quality.

        Anyway, suit yourself, as I have already heard the Hugo extensively and can say that its DSD is not stellar.

        • Hey Norman. It’s a week because I have to organise a review loaner, shoot and edit photos, listen extensively and write up findings. Perhaps I’m not the guy to do DSD-focussed reviews. I’d like to wait until more downloadable material comes along. I’m sure much of it sounds great but as you say, it’s not really my cup of joe.

          • Oh you thought I meant exclusively in DSD? No, I meant PCM and DSD. iFi micro is 25% of the cost of a Hugo, so its begs for a comparison, given that both units are wildly popular.

            Anyway, no big deal as I do appreciate that you are loaded with requests.

    • A quick survey of my neighbours three kids 15-19-21 and the results show that for them the artists you listed is irrelevant. If DSD enabled DACs are going to thrive shouldn’t more genres or choices be available? Sorry but I sold my Chord Qute HD after two months because the choices were so dismal.

      • “If DSD enabled DACs are going to thrive shouldn’t more genres or choices be available?” <--- and THAT's precisely my point. There's so very little music available in DSD. I can't speak to Norman's taste in music though.

        • Sorry John my response was to Norman. I got reply to his post and if you look carefully it is daughtered (indented) , perhaps I should have included @Norman

          • Yes, I saw that after the coffee had kicked in. 😉 I don’t see the comment daughter-ing as easily in the site’s backend. Anyway, as you guys were…

          • Rorie,

            My daughter is 12 and has her own favourite genres…Faty Perry, etc.

            However, for whatever reason, TV, movies, modern cover versions, she knows many “old time” songs and thinks they are from HER generation. That means that they may not know the original artistes, but the songs are stuck in their heads and will be nostalgic to them when they grow up. Elvis/Satchmo/Sinatra/Little Richard were before my time, but I grew up hearing them nonetheless.

        • I like anything that sounds good and dig reggae, jazz, pop, certain electronica, world beat, rock, slasa and soca. Less a fan of classical, but certain cuts are stunning and I have time for that!

      • I heard this talk about vinyl 15 years ago and voila, the vinyl revival!
        Indeed, as music gets more digital, its likely that multi-bit delta-sigma , say 8 bit DSM could indeed become the dominant format. In any case, recordings are being made in DSM before decimation to PCM and so this stuff may be made available to consumers. Finally, many people are converting PCM on the fly with advanced algorithms to DSD128 and above with JRiver and HQPlayer and claim it sounds BETTER!

      • Why sell your Qute? I have a Qute (upgraded to EX) and it was NEVER a DSD champ. Its a RBCD champ. Given that, I dont see the logic of selling it because of DSD material availability!!

        That is my point, Chord does NOT do great DSD, so if you sold it it should be because of PCM playback disappointment and if so, I would like to know what you replaced it with (assuming it has better PCM playback).

        • yes PCM was the reason i sold it…not a disappointment as it is quite good, but found that i enjoy my Audiomeca DAC more for its greater transparency , more textured bottom end, and greater openess sound., and that was the household consensus

  7. I still need to try the Hugo out with an aptX bluetooth connection. For desktop use I’d definitely go wired, but I simply can’t afford to have my phone tethered to something this big while on the go. Ideal scenario for me would be having the Hugo in my backpack/pouch with my playlist streaming from the phone.

    Also haven’t warmed up to the Fisher Price styling. Pretty sure that if I was out with the Hugo + iPhone + crap Beats/Skullcandy headphone and got mugged, the mugger would take the phone and headphones and let me keep the Hugo. A good thing I suppose, not that styling would even matter to me. The new black finish looks (at least in pictures) miles better, imho.

  8. Hi. Great review John. I bought a Chord Hugo just before summer for my Audeze LCD-X headphones. Two days later I thought I could try it in my main system (around 30x the price of the Hugo), and it never left it! I listened to redbook (CDrips mainly) 100% of the time, and this little thing just do magic with that. DAC hunting is over for me. Hugo gave me all I look for in music.
    I agree, if you like some kind of music DSD has no place. And I still enjoy buying physical music in music shops…
    John, you should listen to Locust “after the rain” -if you are in meditative vibe- or the more energetic Cut Hands new album.

    • I remember Locust from back in the 90s but haven’t really followed them since. Glad you’re getting joy from the Hugo in your main rig as well as the Audeze. Its flexibility is one of the reasons I rank it so highly.

      • Check out the flexibilty of the Micro. It has 3 filter settings, variable power settings for headphone (including IEM matching and can power even the notorious HifiMan HE-6) up to 8V/4watts, a powerful battery than can even recharge your iPhone on the go, an iPurifier built in, X-bass feature, PCM 768 and DSD512 (both NATIVELY), 3D holographic feature, 2 headphone jacks that can be used simultaneously, active analog preamp, etc.

        Its a crowd designed product, so they threw in the kitchen sink and it costs just $500. Extreme flexibility there.

        This is NOT a joke machine. My pal was the Hugo bought one on my recommendation and thinks it blows away the Hugo on DSD and is a touch behind on PCM. He thinks the Micro is a tad DARK (on PCM) and he does not like overly warm components. For the price disparity, I think people owe it to themselves to compare both. Many will like the Hugo sound and that is the way they should go. However, others will prefer the Micro and will save a bundle going that route.

  9. Excellent comparisons made in this review , considering all of the ways this DAC/Amp could be used.

    Never a fan of USB myself, however, I wonder how much difference there would be between USB and S/PDIF if one futzed with different Vendors’ cables? (Yes I do believe in cable differences especially in digital and power transmission)

    • Yes, cables DO make a difference. I’m gonna hit up one such vendor for a micro-USB-terminated cable.

  10. The same music you used for the review of comparing Auralic Vega to the Metrum Hex (or am I expecting too much of that ifi 😉 )

  11. Hello Sir.
    I just purchased a Hugo (black) player. I am having problems trying to decide if I should use an I phone to pair it with or an Astell and Kern 120II player. My dealer says that I would get better sound using the Astell & Kern. I would appreciate it if you could recommend which would sound better with my Hugo.

    Thank you very much for your help,



    • I’d possibly give the edge to the A&K but whether it’s worth the extra dollars simply to be used as a transport is another matter entirely.

      • I have to admit that I find the question extraordinary; why would anyone buy an exceedingly expensive DAC/Amp only to feed it with an exceedingly expensive player that should be more than good enough on it’s own…oh, wait a minute; it’s an ‘audiophile’ thing, right?

        • A point which I tackled head-on in the review itself: like riding in a Porsche that’s being towed by a Merc.