If you have heard a DAC 64 then you will know why Chord Electronics want to celebrate the 20th anniversary of what was a ground-breaking product. So to celebrate what they have done is release what is another ground-breaking product the Hugo. This diminutive box that fits into the palm of your hand packs more than a little punch. Don’t be fooled by its size as this it has a number of tricks up its sleeve. It can be used as a standalone DAC, a DAC/headphone amplifier, for use at home or on the move (as it has a built in rechargeable battery) and a DAC pre-amp, for use with a power amp and speakers or active monitors.
Chord are famous for their DAC technology and have managed to cram a lot of DAC into what is a small box. Chord say it is their most technically advanced 32bit DAC to date. It can decode sampling frequencies from 44.1kHz to 384kHz and that includes decoding of DXD files. So when it arrived in the shop we set out to test its capabilities. We first of all put it into our main shop system, which consists of Naim amplification and PMC IB2SE speakers. To put it simply we were blown away with the what it delivered. A big open sound with bags of separation and a massive amount of musical enjoyment. Everything we played sounded right and it was noted we found ourselves listening not to the Hugo but to the music.
So we agreed that the Hugo was a great DAC but that’s not all the Hugo is. It incorporates a high quality headphone amplifier that’s good enough to drive even the most awkward to drive headphone. It also has an in-built rechargeable battery that will last over 12 hours and is fully charged (by the supplied power supply) in 2 hours. Having a battery makes the Hugo portable and so Hi-Fi on the move is now a reality. Think on the train with a laptop or (get this) your phone. That was what we tried next and I was quite taken aback when the colour of the lights within the Hugo changed to indicate I was playing a high resolution file via usb from my android. I was also taken aback by the sound. I can't remember hearing my Sennheisser HD600 sound so good. Setting it up with my laptop was as simple as downloading the Hugo ASIO drivers. Using the computer with the Hugo was also a pleasure at all file resolutions not just high res. I must also mention another little trick as the Hugo will play wireless via Bluetooth using AptX technology for high quality results.
I also tried the Hugo in its third capacity DAC/pre amp. Again the little box didn’t falter. I think you would have to spend a lot more money on a separate pre-amp DAC to reach the same sort of performance levels. I'm going to say it, I want one. Whether you are after a standalone DAC, a DAC/headphone amp or a DAC/pre the Hugo is a must listen so if you want to have a go yourself come to see us in the shop.
On a side note, I tried using the Hugo as headphone amp/Dac for the purpose of producing music on a laptop. If you have ever tried mixing with headphones then you will know how difficult it is to get your levels right. A quick mix with the Hugo surprised on playback through a system as all the levels were just as intended. If you make music on the move and don't need to record then the Hugo is definitely worth a go.