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

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

As I have gotten to know the Hugo, I’ve come to admire it greatly as a complete package, but I also have come to perceive that it may, in fact, be a world-class DAC that is bolted to a very good portable headphone amplifier. In other words, when push comes to shove, the Hugo’s DAC section is what truly makes the product special. I say this, in part, because I have twice now configured the Hugo as a line-level DAC and then plugged it into ultra-high performance full-sized headphone amps (once with a Cavalli Audio Liquid Glass and later with an AURALiC Taurus MkII). In both instances, those expensive “big boy” amps revealed even more of the Hugo DAC’s performance than could be accessed when listening through the Hugo’s own amp section. Odd though it may seem, I think serious high-enders will want to consider plugging the roughly paperback book-sized Hugo into their full-sized hi-fi systems. The Hugo DAC section is, I kid you not, truly that good.

Note, please, that the foregoing comments are not to suggest that the Hugo amp section is a slouch, because that is not the case. It is, in fact, one of the two best portable amplifier sections I’ve yet heard (the other is the CEntrance HIFi-M8).  But the essential point is that the Hugo is a portable headphone amp and is subject to the inherent absolute power limitations of the genre (whereas desktop amps can, for example, have massive power supplies that might be many times larger than the entire Hugo).

The DAC section of the Hugo, however, is just mind-blowingly good. How good is it? I’m still conducting listening tests, but let’s just say that prior to writing this blog, I was listening to the Hugo in DAC-configuration and discovered that it could give the terrific AURALiC VEGA digital audio processor a pretty convincing run for its money. That is simply astounding performance in light of the Hugo’s size and price.

How did the Hugo come by its name? We’re not entirely sure, but Chord’s John Franks responded to the question with a quip that went something like this: “We hoped you’d like the product so much that you would take it with you wherever Hugo…”

 We solemnly promise the sound of the Hugo is every bit as good as that pun is bad…

Watch for Hi-Fi+’s upcoming full-length review of the Chord Hugo, where we will have more to say about this impressive new product. Until then, happy listening.

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