Are those people crazy?” asked a high-end audio/headphone enthusiast who had just learned the suggested retail price of Chord’s new Hugo portable DAC/headphone amplifier. “That’s an awfully steep price for a portable.”
“It’s certainly not cheap,” I agreed, “but give it a listen and see what you think.”
The skeptical young man put on the state-of-the-art Abyss planar magnetic headphones I had connected to the Hugo, picked a selection from the music library on my PC, turned up the volume on the Hugo, and then listened in rapt silence. As the track unfolded, the listener’s eyes grew progressively wider, indicating what I took to be a certain measure of disbelief. Once the track finished, the listener quietly removed the headphones, then turned to me and said, “Now I understand. The price tag gave me ‘sticker shock’ at first, but that Chord really could be considered an alternative to a high-end DAC and desktop headphone amplifier.”
Honestly, I couldn’t have put it any better than that. When Chord’s press releases say the Hugo is the world’s first “reference-level portable,” they aren’t kidding around. In fact, as I’ll explain in this review, both the DAC and headphone amplifier sections of the Hugo sound like high quality, full-size components, which is remarkable considering the Chord is roughly the size of a small reporter’s notebook. Before we talk about the Hugo’s sound, about which there is much to say, let’s first look at how the component is configured and at the technologies that make it special.
Chord’s Hugo is a high performance portable DAC/headphone amplifier that comes with an impeccable sonic pedigree and the elegant good looks and self-evident build quality to match. The Hugo can handle almost any type of high-resolution digital audio file you’d care to throw at it, including PCM files ranging from 44.1/16 on up to 32/384 resolutions, DXD, and DSD64/128 files.
Hugo’s DAC section requires no drivers for use in Mac OS, iOS iPhone/iPad, and Android environments, but does require installation of Chord’s included ‘Hugo – Mobile DAC’ device driver for use in PC (Vista or Windows 7 and 8 environments). I did most of my review listening through a PC-based computer audio system running Windows 8 with jRiver Media Center 19 music management software and I am pleased to say Chord’s Windows driver installed and functioned with nary a glitch.
Compared to most portable DACs and even some full-sized DACs, the Hugo offers a very broad range of inputs, including an A2DP aptX Bluetooth input, a TOSLink optical input (24/192), a coaxial S/PDIF input (24/384), a driverless ‘standard’ USB input (16/48) intended primarily for use with smartphones and tablets, and an HD USB input (32/384 and DSD64/128-capable).