Chord Electronics Hugo TT DAC Review

The Chord Electronics company have been very busy over the last few months with the release of its third Hugo born product and that was in the guise of the wonderful Mojo which like the original Hugo has been a storming success and will probably be an even more successful product due to its price point which is an incredible £399 and it would of been rude not to have purchased one, so I treated myself to one for Christmas. Now you may ask me why am I talking about the new Mojo when this is supposed to be about the Chord Hugo TT product, well it just so happened that Chord Electronics sent me one to review just as I got my Mojo and it has been an interesting time this Christmas as I have managed to spend some considerable time listening to the Hugo TT as well as the Mojo over the holiday period not just through my headphones but also integrated both into my HiFi system to see how they both perform and considering the price differences the results and findings have been an interesting journey for me indeed.

The Chord Hugo TT retails at £2,995 so is a fairly expensive product compared to the original Hugo which was less than half of that asking price at £1,400. The Hugo TT is now a lot bigger in size as it is the Table Top version and is meant to be a non portable version as Chord listened to what their customers were asking for and a dedicated DAC with XLR outputs, remote was on that list of wants. But it was not just aesthetics that was improved, the inputs were galvanized and isolated which has greater benefits on performance. Batteries capacity was also beefed up to as Chord Electronics found out that using batteries as well as mains power boosts performance like that found in F1 where super capacitors back up the car's batteries by sharing the load and charge demands, thereby protecting them. They serve a similar purpose in the Hugo TT. They extend battery life as well as improve dynamics and demanding transients in recorded music. This is clever thinking and technology which works seamlessly in operation.

Features and Build Quality

As all Chord Electronics products the build quality is faultless and the Hugo TT is a stunning piece to look at as it is carved out of a solid piece of Aluminum and finished off in a lovely black finish as I have here for this review. You can also have silver if you so wish. It also comes with a remote control which again is a solid piece of aluminum with its rubber buttons sunken in slightly. I have to admit though that the remote is very limited in its functionality with inputs and volume control being the only real purpose of its existence, but it is a luxury so you can sit back and up the volume rather than leave your chair to turn it up. 

Inputs are really varied and you have a multitude of digital connections, with SD USB & HD USB, BNC Coaxial Digital input, Optical TOSLink input, as mentioned earlier their is also a fully galvanized isolation on the HD USB input right up to 384Khz. 

On the outputs you have the usual RCA outputs which are now more accessible than they were on the older Hugo as you have more room around the back of the unit, you also have two XLR outputs which are fully balanced should you wish to use them and I have used them to connect to my Krell KAV-400Xi Integrated Amplifier, which gives a fully balanced connection.

On the front of the Hugo TT you have 3 outputs for Headphones, 1x 3.5mm jack headphone output and 2x Quarter-inch jack headphone outputs, so there can be no arguing for headphones as their is plenty of outputs. You also get a switch on the front under the CHORD badge to turn the unit ON, and to the left you have 2 silver buttons which are a Cross-feed button and a manual IP selection button should you not wish to use the remote control.

Their is a basic display on the front of the unit that shows you which input you have selected and on the top you get the usual peer through glass to see the electronics and light up and change colour to show which bit rate the music is playing. The volume control is also on top and the usual ball which again changes colour depending on volume. Their is an important part that you should pay attention to when setting the output to fixed volume control so as to use with another amplifier like I am, and that is to not use the headphones when set in this mode as it is at full volume and could potentially damage your hearing should you attempt to use them. Chord have put an IMPORTANT Notice in the instructions, but I thought it was also worth mentioning as it is important.

Sound Quality and Performance

For reviewing purposes I will be using my Wilson Audio Sophia 2 Speakers which are reference speakers and they are partnered by my Krell KAV-400Xi Integrated Amplifier which can deliver a massive 200watts into 8ohms and 400watts into 4ohms which is what my Sophia's are rated at. Speaker cable is Transparent Cables and I am using balanced connections between the Hugo TT and Krell. I will also be using different headphones for reviewing as I have quite a few from Sennheiser, the Momentum's one and two versions, and also a new pair of Denon AH-MM400 Headphones. 

Music is varied and I use my Media server J River from my PC to stream music from my NAS storage devices with all my different flavors of music on them.

I start off with an album from MckinleyBlack called Beggars, Fools And Thieves which is a superb album that I have and is sampled at 24bit 88Khz, I have been listening to this album on both the headphones outputs and through my HiFi system, but I will first focus on the DAC primarily through my HiFi and how it sounds.

Having had the Chord 2Qute in my system for some time I am used to the high quality FPGA that the Hugo has to offer, but the HugoTT takes this technology a step further and the sound is levitated to a level that you can actually start to appreciate why it costs that much more than what the standard Hugo does, everything about the build has been effective in making sure that you get the best possible sound from this DAC, and the isolated galvanized HD USB input has a helping hand, just as the power supply with the super-capacitors holding their charge, which increases the dynamics and transients in the recorded music. This all has an increased outcome on how this DAC sounds.

McKinley Black - Beggars, Fools And Theives track 5 has a wonderful melody that is laid out with a beautiful sound stage which is deep and wide, giving you a very spacious sound which has excellent tonal balance across the frequencies. The bass is solid and taught with great timing but it has a lovely rich texture to it that you tend to find on vinyl recordings giving this DAC a very analogue sound which is good, very good in fact and it makes you want to listen as the music is so melodic.

Track 7 Bailinho Da Maria is very similar with the music just flowing out of the speakers in a manner that just gets your foot tapping, it is a pleasure to listen to such beautiful sounds, everything about the music is right, timing, tonal balance, vocals, bass is taught and tight. The music has feeling to it making it a pleasurable experience.

The Hugo has grown up and become a truly high end DAC which can compete with other high end DAC's out there, this is not just a HeadFi DAC but something that you can honestly keep in your HiFi system full term. It just so happens that you get an excellent headphone amplifier in with this DAC and 3 headphone sockets to plug too.

Or should that be the other way round, who cares it is an excellent DAC and it has matured in its sound to something that is more grown up, more listenable and more enjoyable.

Lars Erstrand and Four Brothers from Opus 3 Recordings on DSD128 sounds stunning through the HugoTT with every single nuance and finer detail being picked out, track 2 Crows Nest has the Double Bass playing, percussion and Xylophone which you can pick out nicely as the instrument separation is superb and the timing is so important with fast jazz, the HugoTT excells at.

I move on and listen to the headphone section of the HugoTTand it is an absolute delight to get plugged into, I start off listening with my Sennheiser Momentum 2 headphones which are good and I love the sound that these headphones give out and they do not disappoint being on the end of a £3K Headphone DAC and Amplifier. The listening experience is just so enjoyable that I keep playing one album after another. I have Michael Jackson's Thriller on DSD128 and Billie Jean is a musical masterpiece from the king of pop and it is the best I have heard this sound, the bass and everything about the music sounds so right it just seems to flow with ease and in a way that it is so relaxing to listen to because of its genuine handling of music, there is nothing harsh about the music, the bass is not too much, the mid's are all their and you get a great image of the sound stage projected via the headphones. You can use the X-feed to bleed some of the L & R channels to each of the other headphone, which can help in creating a wider sense of space with in the music. This setting can be played around with depending on what Headphones you are using but I preferred to leave it off with the Momentum's.

I next tried the Denon AH-MM400 Headphones which are smoother sounding to the Momentum's but still a very enjoyable listen all the same. I listen to McKinley Black - Beggars, Fools and Thieves which I was listening to on my main system and it is one of favorite albums at the moment and it sounds sublime through the Denon's with some slight X-feed bleed into each other headphone, which works well with these and gives you the sense of a wider sound stage. 

When I first started off this review I mentioned that I also had the Chord Electronics Mojo and have been using it in the same way as I have been using the HugoTT and the results are quite stunning from my perspective in the listening sessions. The Chord Mojo is not far off my Chord 2Qute DAC in its performance as a main DAC for HiFi use but also the results in the Headphones listening is that is a more polite version where as the HugoTT is the more grown up version and sounds a lot more refined than the Mojo does, but it still gives you a good idea of how much of a bargain the Chord Mojo actually is. 


Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Chord Electronics have refined this product and taken the Hugo and made it into a fully grown up version for the serious audiophile who wants the best of both worlds and that is to have a top end DAC in their HiFi system but also have one of the best high end Headphone DAC & Amplifiers in one unit, and they have succeeded in doing this.

I have totally enjoyed my time with the HugoTT and will sincerely miss it when it is gone as it has made some incredible music in my home and over the holiday period which I have had enormous amount of pleasure in listening to it.

It gets a huge recommendation from The Speaker Shack.

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