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Chord Hugo Re-Examined


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I've had my Hugo for two months now. As I wait for my Invicta Mirus to arrive tomorrow, I thought it was time to re-examine the Hugo in comparison to a few other DACs I have handy - a Teddy Pardo DAC, QuteHD with Teddy PSU, Meridian Director, Lavry DA10, and my recollection of the Bel Canto DAC 3.5 VBS I sold shortly after the Hugo arrived. The other thing which prompted the comparison was the Calyx M digital audio player, which I was comparing against the Hugo using JH13Pro IEMs.

 

The Hugo has generated a universally positive response from owners. If reports are to be believed, many have ditched digital gear costing far more, sometimes in the tens of thousands, in favour of the Hugo. The Hugo was certainly a big factor in deciding to sell my Bel Canto.

 

And the Hugo is good, there is no question of that. However, as I listen more and do more comparisons, I am starting to feel that the "Hugo effect" is wearing off. I almost feel that I, along with all the other enthusiastic Hugo owners, have joined a cult, and I am now starting to to question the central beliefs of the cult. In saying this, I have to admit that I have been spamming forums with unqualified praise of the Hugo, along with many others.

 

The Hugo does many things very well. It is very quiet, incredibly resolving, it reproduces transients with a speed and purity that I have not previously heard. But it also sounds a little insubstantial, lacking in instrumental body. It is somewhat colourless, with a fairly bland tonal palette. It does not produce the dynamics of many other DACs with good AC power supplies. Initially I thought that the Hugo was much better than the QuteHD, and this seems to be a common view. However, as I compared the Hugo with the other DACs, particularly using the incredibly transparent JH13Pros, I became aware that the Hugo is just a little dull. The QuteHD is a tad harsher at the top end, but has a sweeter and fuller midrange, and better dynamics. The TeddyDac, again sounds a little splashy on top by comparison and does not quite resolve the detail - but it too sounds more dynamic, sounds tonally more accurate and "tighter".

 

As I mentioned above, the real eye (ear?) opener for me has been the new Calyx M player. This has only been released over the last week and I have been putting it through its paces. It has a number of teething issues (as reported in the long Head-fi thread), but I think it sounds amazing. It has incredible resolution, black backgrounds, great dynamics, extended treble and bass, and a very sweet, seductive sound. As a portable device, I prefer it to the Hugo. The Calyx M sounds bold, colourful, lively, while the Hugo sounds soft and a little dull by comparison.

 

I am not suggesting that the Hugo has suddenly changed overnight from an outstanding DAC to a mediocre one. Quite the contrary - it remains an outstanding DAC. However, I'm starting to think that its many impressive qualities - and they are very impressive - have temporarily masked some of its shortcomings. Again, this should not be taken as criticism of the Hugo -it is still an amazing product and I have no plans to sell mine.

 

I would be very interested to hear if other people agree or disagree with these comments after living with the Hugo for a little while.

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Respect for such an honest reappraisal.

 

Look forward to your views on the Mirus.

 

X2!

not usual to see such an honest and matured approach.

CuteHD has impressed me tremendously even when comparing to more expensive dacs...

 

I thought it's sound was very balanced, lively with good dynamics...

 

When I saw the Hugo I though that there must be some compromise to use such a small form factor...

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I've now had a couple of days with the Invicta Mirus and have been comparing it to the Hugo and QutehD.

 

Initial impressions are that the Mirus is a little disappointing. On its own it is a fine sounding DAC, very quiet, with black backgrounds, fast transients, deep bass and a rich midrange. However, compared with the Chord DACs, it sounds a little artificial, a little processed - ie digital. The difference with the Chord DACs is that they both make you forget that you are listening to a digital component - they sound more natural, with more harmonic richness. However, the Mirus is not fully run in and I really need to give it a lot more time before drawing final conclusions.

 

Between the Hugo and the QuteHD it is more interesting. My comparison above remains true - the Hugo is smoother, more refined, particularly in the treble. However, the QuteHD (with Teddy Pardo PSU) is a shade more dynamic, and fuller and more colourful in the midrange. I think I am starting to prefer the QuteHD. Certainly, it is a sound I could easily live with, and at less than half the price of the Mirus.

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I've now had a couple of days with the Invicta Mirus and have been comparing it to the Hugo and QutehD.

 

Initial impressions are that the Mirus is a little disappointing. On its own it is a fine sounding DAC, very quiet, with black backgrounds, fast transients, deep bass and a rich midrange. However, compared with the Chord DACs, it sounds a little artificial, a little processed - ie digital. The difference with the Chord DACs is that they both make you forget that you are listening to a digital component - they sound more natural, with more harmonic richness. However, the Mirus is not fully run in and I really need to give it a lot more time before drawing final conclusions.

 

Between the Hugo and the QuteHD it is more interesting. My comparison above remains true - the Hugo is smoother, more refined, particularly in the treble. However, the QuteHD (with Teddy Pardo PSU) is a shade more dynamic, and fuller and more colourful in the midrange. I think I am starting to prefer the QuteHD. Certainly, it is a sound I could easily live with, and at less than half the price of the Mirus.

 

Hi Ross,

How are you connecting the hugo... USB or spdif? I have the hugo but have not got around comparing the USB to the spdif. I really like the hugo but would like a bigger sound stage. I wonder if using a USB to SPDIF converter would help.

 

Thanks

Ajay

Music after life

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I am using SPDIF for the Hugo, and haven't tried the USB input, so can't compare them.

 

However, I was using the USB input for the Mirus, and then the toslink output to compare the Chord DACs. Interestingly, when I switched back to SPDIF input from the uLink, the sound quality improved significantly and removed a little of the "artificiality" that I was getting with the USB input.

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I am using SPDIF for the Hugo, and haven't tried the USB input, so can't compare them.

 

However, I was using the USB input for the Mirus, and then the toslink output to compare the Chord DACs. Interestingly, when I switched back to SPDIF input from the uLink, the sound quality improved significantly and removed a little of the "artificiality" that I was getting with the USB input.

 

When using the uLink...odes the USB cable make a difference?

Music after life

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rossb - thanks for posting about the Mirus. How long do you think it might be before Chord do a non-portable version of the Hugo, ideally with balanced outs and remote control (and possibly even streaming capability)? I have active speakers with balanced inputs.

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My Hugo just keeps getting better, not worse. My classically trained friend was over just yesterday and blown away by its balance, etc. BUT....I am using its USB (I found using USB-SPDIF is a step down so far, kind of like the EX responded, very different from the HD reaction). And I am using speakers, not IEMs/cans. There are hundreds of pages over on the headfi Hugo thread talking about how good the Hugo is with certain IEMS, but not others. I suspect that may be rossb's issue too.

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That's interesting, Ted, I will have to try the USB input on my Hugo and see how that compares. Incidentally, I am mainly using speakers with mine, and only occasionally with IEMs and other headphones such as HD800s. One interesting test I did yesterday was to connect the Hugo and QuteHD to a Meier Prehead headphone amp (which is very transparent, as these things go) and switch between them while listening through JH13 Pros. I could honestly hear no difference! However, connecting the IEMs to the Hugo directly showed a massive improvement in transparency and made it obvious what distortion the headphone amp added.

 

In relation to the Auralic Vega, this would be an interesting comparison. I've never heard one, but did consider buying one. I bought the Mirus instead because it uses similar Sabre chip technology and reviews generally suggest it is better. So far I prefer the Chord Dacs, which might suggest that they are better than the Vega. However, in hi fi, as we know it does not always follow that if A > B, and B > C, then A > C.

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rossb - thanks for posting about the Mirus. How long do you think it might be before Chord do a non-portable version of the Hugo, ideally with balanced outs and remote control (and possibly even streaming capability)? I have active speakers with balanced inputs.

 

I asked Chord how long it would be before the replacement for the QBD76 was available. Of course, they couldn't commit, but said early next year. That probably means mid to late next year. My guess - based on nothing - is that it will be more expensive than the QBD76.

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My Hugo just keeps getting better, not worse. My classically trained friend was over just yesterday and blown away by its balance, etc. BUT....I am using its USB (I found using USB-SPDIF is a step down so far, kind of like the EX responded, very different from the HD reaction). And I am using speakers, not IEMs/cans. There are hundreds of pages over on the headfi Hugo thread talking about how good the Hugo is with certain IEMS, but not others. I suspect that may be rossb's issue too.

 

Ted i had the same experience too. Did not like the sound using the spdif. It sounded too dull and lost the dynamics. I guess the only option left to get maximum performance from the dac is the usb cable.

Music after life

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is that it will be more expensive than the QBD76.

 

Yeah I think you might be right there. Good to see the Hugo at £1199 though means more people can hopefully get to own one AND experience it's excellence.

 

I found the same with SPDIF and USB.

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Yeah I think you might be right there. Good to see the Hugo at £1199 though means more people can hopefully get to own one AND experience it's excellence.

 

I found the same with SPDIF and USB.

 

Phil - where did you see it for £1199 ?

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Well, today I did a couple of things.

 

First, I tried the Hugo again using its USB input. Yes, this does sound a little better than SPDIF.

 

Next, I again compared the Hugo to the Invicta Mirus, playing the same tracks and switching between them repeatedly on my preamp. (I was using two separate computers as transports for this purpose, into the USB input of Hugo and using my uLink/Teddy PSU with the Mirus). I also got my reluctant wife involved in these "blind" tests, since she is good at hearing differences.

 

The results were that the very "obvious" differences between the Hugo and Mirus were now not so obvious. Switching back and forth revealed only very subtle differences. My wife could literally hear no difference between the two, and would certainly not think that there was any meaningful difference - ie one was not better than the other. I could hear the differences, but they were small and I agreed with my wife that it was difficult, if not impossible, to say that one was "better" than the other.

 

The differences between the two dacs which persisted were: the Hugo was a little more three dimensional, reproduction of transients (eg snare drums, high hats) seemed a little more realistic; the Mirus sounded a little faster, slightly more colourful, but also more forward and less front-to-back depth. But the differences were tiny, and probably not musically significant.

 

I suppose the other consequence of this comparison is that I think I overstated my initial comments above, about the Hugo sounding a little dull. While it is just a shade less colourful that the Mirus, I think it is incorrect to say that it sounds "dull". It is still a very impressive component, and that it competes with the Mirus, which is more than twice the price (and size), and beats it in some areas, shows how impressive a component the Hugo is.

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I have so far silently watched the discussion around the Hugo on this site go on for page after page here and so far the only posts of any real relevance of how it sounds compared to THE ONE AND ONLY REFERENCE there is ie LIVE ACOUSTIC MUSIC has come from a link to another site where the man behind the Hugo,Rob Watts himself explains what he is aiming for:transparence and as true to the source as possible ie as little sound of its own as possible.

And one post by Ted who mentions how a classically trained friend of his reacted to the Hugo.

All other posters here only keep comparing how they experience it against some other products without EVEN ONCE mentioning what the source material they are using for such comparisons is!!!

Seriously guys if any of you are using your favourite old hi res recycled pop rock album or any other processed non acoustic material you are only hearing how the Hugo treats crap in by delivering crap out at the other end.

To seriously test the Hugo one needs to use the very best source material available. Then and only then will it begin to reveal what it is capable of.

Rob Watts suggests two ways of doing so, either by connecting the best possible headphones directly and /or connecting it directly to a capable poweramp with no pre amp .

For anyone interested I could sugggest some SOTA recordings of real acoustic music where the truly amazing little Hugo gets a real chance to show what it is actually capable of.

 

 

 

Well, today I did a couple of things.

 

First, I tried the Hugo again using its USB input. Yes, this does sound a little better than SPDIF.

 

Next, I again compared the Hugo to the Invicta Mirus, playing the same tracks and switching between them repeatedly on my preamp. (I was using two separate computers as transports for this purpose, into the USB input of Hugo and using my uLink/Teddy PSU with the Mirus). I also got my reluctant wife involved in these "blind" tests, since she is good at hearing differences.

 

The results were that the very "obvious" differences between the Hugo and Mirus were now not so obvious. Switching back and forth revealed only very subtle differences. My wife could literally hear no difference between the two, and would certainly not think that there was any meaningful difference - ie one was not better than the other. I could hear the differences, but they were small and I agreed with my wife that it was difficult, if not impossible, to say that one was "better" than the other.

 

The differences between the two dacs which persisted were: the Hugo was a little more three dimensional, reproduction of transients (eg snare drums, high hats) seemed a little more realistic; the Mirus sounded a little faster, slightly more colourful, but also more forward and less front-to-back depth. But the differences were tiny, and probably not musically significant.

 

I suppose the other consequence of this comparison is that I think I overstated my initial comments above, about the Hugo sounding a little dull. While it is just a shade less colourful that the Mirus, I think it is incorrect to say that it sounds "dull". It is still a very impressive component, and that it competes with the Mirus, which is more than twice the price (and size), and beats it in some areas, shows how impressive a component the Hugo is.

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Chrille, while I applaud your efforts to find SOTA recordings, I have found that the complex timing algorithms in the FPGA of the Hugo allows for thousands of hidden redbook gems to come to the surface.

 

As late as today I was chatting with Rob Watts, and he said this:

"...Another curious thing is that it is very forgiving about source material. I listen to BBC Radio 3 (classical) and they often play archive mono recordings from the turn of the 20Th century. These recordings have interesting musical qualities, but obviously have considerable recording flaws - noise, EQ distortion - but with Hugo, you can still hear the vitality (the life) of the music, even with these obvious flaws. Now its not some euphonic quality that is being added - because that would tend to make all recordings and instruments sound the same - but it is the removal of distortions that mangle the perception of music that is the key to defining Hugo ability to connect to the musical soul. "

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Seriously guys if any of you are using your favourite old hi res recycled pop rock album or any other processed non acoustic material you are only hearing how the Hugo treats crap in by delivering crap out at the other end.

To seriously test the Hugo one needs to use the very best source material available. Then and only then will it begin to reveal what it is capable of.

Why would you assume that anyone would spend thousands on hi fi equipment and not do as you have suggested? When I test hi fi equipment, I play music that is meaningful to me. Most of it is classical and jazz, mostly excellent recording quality, but some less so. I don't mention this because I assume anyone reading my comments will expect me to use appropriate material, just as I do when I read someone else's thoughts on hi fi.

 

But thanks for your patronising assumptions that no one else listens to the kinds of "SOTA recordings of real acoustic music" that you do and I'm sure we are all relieved that you have at last broken your silence on this issue.

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Just saw this thread. I have never heard a Chord DAC but would really like to check out the Hugo. If I were buying a new DAC now it would be number one on my must-audition list. All that said, I have to admit it is a little refreshing to read comments that do not sound like fanboy-ism. I did notice on audiostream that it got Class B recommended status where the Ayre and Auralic DACs got class A. The comparison that was made to the Ayre was exactly what your comments are: wonderfully detailed and light on its feet, but comparatively lacking in body.

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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I truly don't understand the "lacking in body" comments. Mine is not at all....at all.

 

He said that about another DAC lately that I don't understand either... haha

Perhaps it sound like the diminutive Kylie Minogue... :-)

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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