First Listen: Chord Electronics Hugo portable high res DAC/headphone amp

Digital-to-analog converters,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs
Chord Electronics Hugo

Like all Chords worthy of the name, the Hugo is beautifully made and sport all sorts of intriguing visual details (a beautifully machined external case complete with Chord’s signature viewing “porthole” on top, plus colour-coded indicators for input selected, sample rate, and volume levels). So, apart from sound quality, which we’ll get to in a moment, the Hugo is one of those well-designed objects that make you want to use them—to simply play with them early and often. This, I would have to say, is a surprisingly big part of the Hugo’s appeal; the more you interact with the it, the more rewarding it becomes to use. In my experience, listening to the Hugo can become kind of addictive.

As card-carrying Hi-Fi Plussers we are of course focused on sound quality and in this arena the Hugo does not disappoint. If I had to sum up the Hugo’s sound in one word, the word I’d choose would be “masterful”, and I’m not alone in that assessment. Just for fun, I took the review sample Hugo to a recent Head-Fi meet for show-and-tell purposes (and to gather feedback from those hearing the Hugo for the first time). The almost universal reactions held that A) the Hugo initially seemed dauntingly expensive, but that B) the price seemed fully justified once listeners heard the Hugo in action and came to appreciate the sound quality on offer. At least one Head-Fi member (who happens to be a manufacturer of very well-respected high-end headphones) said with genuine surprise and admiration, “That little Hugo really is a viable alternative to many high-end desktop or rack-mount DACs and headphone amps.”

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