iFi Audio Pro iCAN, Chord Hugo2, Final D8000, and Campfire Andromeda system

Digital-to-analog converters,
Earphones and in-ear monitors,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs
Campfire Audio Andromeda,
Chord Electronics Hugo2,
Final Audio Design Ltd. D8000,
iFi Audio Pro iCAN

Chord Hugo2

The Chord Hugo2 is a major upgrade on the firm’s original and critically acclaimed Hugo transportable headphone amplifier/preamp/DAC. What’s different and better about the Hugo2? Just about everything.

Chord has given the Hugo2 more power, lower distortion, reduced noise floor modulation, and a more sophisticated DAC section as compared to the original Hugo. For example, where the first-gen Hugo’s DAC was a 4-element pulse array design with a digital filter offering 26,000 filter taps, the Hugo2 DAC is a 10-element pulse array design whose digital filter offers a stonking 49,152 filter taps.

Why is the number of filter taps significant? Chord Consulting Designer Rob Watts has long maintained that a properly designed DACs could theoretically deliver just as much sonic information, detail, and analogue waveform accuracy from a garden-variety CD-resolution file as from an ultra-high-res file, provided it uses correctly designed digital filters with an extremely large (and ideally, infinite) number of filter taps—an astonishing claim. The only difference, says Watts, is that the CD-version would have a slightly higher noise floor than the ultra-high-res version. 

Putting theory into practice, the Hugo2 uses Watts’ signature WTA (Watts Transient Aligned) filter system, which is implemented via an extremely powerful Xilinx FPGA device. Recognising that the best off-the-shelf DAC devices offer filter taps numbering in the hundreds, Hugo2’s 49,152 filter taps obviously represent a huge (and audible) step in the right direction. The end result is a portable DAC that renders transient and timing-related details (and especially three-dimensional spatial cues) in the music with exceptional accuracy. Better still, the Hugo2 is sonically competitive with full-size tabletop DACs more than twice its size and price.

The Hugo2 provides four dome-shaped, self-illuminated, colour-coded switches to provide On/Off, Crossfeed, Input, and Filter selection functions, plus an also dome-shaped and colour-coded touch-sensitive volume control. There are four available digital filter settings and also four Crossfeed control settings. Colour-coded lights, visible through an upward facing ‘porthole’, indicate the type and resolution levels of the files being played. Users can choose from five digital inputs including a Micro USB port, coaxial and optical S/PDIF inputs, a TOSlink input, and an AptX Bluetooth input. Analogue outputs include a set of 3.5mm and 6.35mm headphone jacks, and stereo DAC/preamp outputs.

Whether used as a standalone DAC or headphone amplifier, the Hugo2’s sonic character is defined by fundamentally neutral but also naturally warm and ‘organic-sounding’ voicing, with exceptional resolution of low-level transient and textural details, striking three-dimensionality, and extremely quiet backgrounds. 

The Hugo2’s noise-free and natural-sounding presentation complements all types of music, but its terrific low-level detail and inherent three-dimensionality really come alive on tracks such as Ron Miles and Bill Frisell’s ‘Darken My Door’ from Miles’ Heaven[Sterling Circle Records, DSD64]. Through the Hugo2, Miles’ cornet simply sounds real, letting listeners clearly hear even the smallest details that define the horn’s attack, sustain, decay characteristics, and dynamics. Moreover, the Hugo2 places the horn with pinpoint precision within a broad expansive soundstage. Frisell’s supporting guitar is captured in a slightly more diffuse way, as if its amplifier had been placed onstage and then fairly closely mic’d. The result is a wonderfully up-close-and-personal rendition of the recording event.

Hugo2 is quiet enough to use with high sensitivity earphones such as the Noble Kaiser Encores or Audeze iSINE20’s, yet powerful enough to drive demanding full-size headphones such as the MrSpeakers Ether Flow or Abyss AB-1266 Phi edition. Only for very low sensitivity headphones like HiFiMAN’s Susvara would one wish for more power. Otherwise, the Hugo2 can drive most any transducer you choose. 

Hugo2 is an industry benchmark and is the finest transportable headphone amp/preamp/DAC presently available. It is a superb DAC that just happens to incorporate a versatile and also excellent portable headphone amplifier worthy of use with top-tier headphones and earphones.

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