Chord Electronics Hugo TT 2 DAC/M Scaler upscaler

Digital-to-analog converters,
USB interfaces, clocks, and soundcards
Chord Electronics Hugo TT2,
Chord Electronics M Scaler

Using a group of very high performance reference headphones from Final, HiFiMAN, Meze, and MrSpeakers, I listened to the Hugo TT 2 both with and without M Scaler and here is what I learned. Heard in isolation, the Hugo TT 2 sounds like exactly what it is: one of the finest headphone amp/DACs available today. While it is not quite on a par with the more than twice as expensive DAVE, the Hugo TT 2 takes worthwhile steps forward relative to its predecessor in terms of resolution, clarity, focus, and coherency, while also offering quieter backgrounds and more dynamic muscle. In short, the Hugo TT 2 can more than hold its own in comparison to like-priced competition. However, fold the M Scaler into the equation and the picture changes dramatically for the better.

Quite candidly, the M Scaler makes substantial, across-the-board improvements to almost every qualitative aspect of the sound—so much so that you might feel like you are either A) listening through an altogether different and better headphone amp/DAC, or B) listening to delightfully re-mastered and/or much higher resolution versions of your favourite recordings. Once you hear the M Scaler in action, there’s no going back.

I played a Virgil Fox pipe organ performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Minor from the Reference Recording 30th Anniversary Sampler[Reference Recordings, HDCD] through the Hugo TT 2 and, as expected, it sounded superb. But, with the M Scaler in play, the unexpected sonic improvements I heard left me slack-jawed with astonishment. First, the pipe organ’s low frequency pedal notes sounded more deeply extended (right down to the very low frequency shudder of air columns in the large pipes), much more tightly focused, and possessed of considerably more textural nuance. Second, the pipe organ’s middle register sounded rounder, more expressive, and more full-throated, with a more spacious and three-dimensional presentation overall. Third, the organ’s upper register passages, which had sounded just a bit congested when played through the Hugo TT 2 alone, suddenly sounded clearer, more delicate, and far more articulate, with virtually no congestion at all. Finally, the acoustic interaction between the pipe organ and the recording space was rendered more vividly and naturally, while apparent soundstage size increased. Impressively, these improvements were wrought upon a recording widely acknowledged to be a superb one to begin with.

I enjoyed similar benefits when I played the ‘Triptych (Excerpt)’ from A Company of Voices – Conspirare in Concert [Harmonia Mundi, 16/44.1]. This exuberant and syncopated piece for percussion ensemble and concert choir is not one that is easy for most DAC’s to handle, in part because of the large-scale dynamic swings involved and the perhaps slightly over-modulated choral swells that at times threaten to become ragged and strained. However, with the M Scaler assisting the Hugo TT 2, the timing and timbres of the percussion ensemble instruments improved dramatically, with more incisive transient sounds, rounder tonalities all around, and the all-important qualities of ‘swing’ and dynamic ‘jump’ in evidence. Individual choral lines also became clearer and more intelligible, while the potentially problematic vocal swells sounded better controlled and more expressive, with elements of congestion mostly (though not entirely) cleared up. In addition, the sounds of the concert venue were captured more realistically (I can say this with some conviction because I was present in the hall on one of the evenings when the recording was made) and with appropriate stage width and depth. Once again, the M Scaler/Hugo TT 2 pair made an already good recording sound a whole lot better.

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