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CHORD Hugo TT2 Review (DAC & HP Amp)

Rate this DAC & HP Amp

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 80 23.1%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 120 34.7%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 115 33.2%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 31 9.0%

  • Total voters
    346

amirm

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This is a review, detailed measurements and listening tests of Chord Hugo TT2 DAC and amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $6,725.
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Audio Review.jpg

The product looks and feels like it was designed by a committee with multiple design styles from globes to dot matrix green (!) display. Labels are almost impossible to read as you see in the front (much harder when looking from above). The aforementioned green display has a line going through it courtesy of the smoked cover's right angle. So most of the time it cuts off what it is showing. There is a long delay as the unit powers up, supposedly charging its supercaps. Mode changes from low to high gain trigger the same 10 to 15 second pause. Same with when plugging and unplugging the headphone. Confusing light show goes on during all of this.

Fortunately a remote control is provided which while very cheap looking, performs most functions like any other device. The main exception is that it doesn't have a menu button so you can't change simple things like gain using it! Strangely, that gain setting also impacts line outs.

Here is the back panel:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Audio Back panel power supply remote Review.jpg


The external power supply likely gives heart attacks to any high-end listener.

Unit runs fairly warm although not hot to the touch.

Company's market is all about objective measurements yet there is hardly any specification provided for the unit:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Audio specifications.png

So let's measure out own.

Chord Hugo TT2 Measurements
All testing is done using XLR (and later headphone) output. I set the gain to low and adjusted the volume to get close to nominal 4 volts output:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Audio Measurements.png


Distortion is below threshold of hearing. Even after adding noise, SINAD of 115 dB is at or below threshold of hearing. This is naturally an excellent response but not compared to its competitors:
Best high-end DAC review 2022.png

Best high-end DAC review zoomed 2022.png

You have lots of output drive capability:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo THD+N vs Level Audio Measurements.png


Edit: here is the performance of RCA output:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC RCA Stereo Audio Measurements.png


As mentioned, noise is the limiting factor here:

Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Dynamic Range  Audio Measurements.png


We can see the same issue in our IMD level sweep:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo IMD Audio Measurements.png


The dashed blue line is a three year old $250 dac+amp product. This noise even impacts linearity:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Linearity Audio Measurements.png


Distortion as noted is very low and so is reflected the same in multitone test:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Jitter spectrum is clean but noise floor again is a bit high:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Company's claim to fame is their high-tap FIR filter which results in a very sharp cut-off:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Filter  Audio Measurements.png


The difference in the four filters is hard to see in above measurement so let's use a frequency response sweep:

Chord Hugo TT DAC Balanced Stereo Audio Frequency Response Measurements.png


There is no difference in two of the filters. So I upped the sample rate:
Chord Hugo TT DAC Balanced Stereo Audio Frequency Response 192 khz Measurements.png


Still not much of a difference. I would just stick with the default Filter 1.

Given the excellent filters, our wideband distortion+noise sweep shows very good performance:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo THD vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


Chord Hugo TT2 Time Domain Measurements
Company marketing material makes vague claims about timing performance. So let's measure the impulse response using a log sweep and compare it to a "traditional" DAC (Topping D70s):
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Filter Impulse Audio Measurements.png


At this zoomed out view the two seem pretty similar. Let's magnify this a ton to see when the vertical oscillations die off:

Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Filter Impulse Audio Zoomed Measurements.png


I have aligned the two impulses to fall on top of each other and showing performance to the left of both. Faded blue is Topping D70s. We see a nice graceful decay into noise with one additional spike which indicates second harmonic distortion. In red/burgundy we have the Chord Hugo TT2 Filter response. To my eye, its oscillations fall below the noise the same as topping. However, if you let it continue, it all of a sudden becomes unstable with response shooting up and down. Not sure what the cause of this is. You can see it better with just the TT2 response zoomed out a bit:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Filter Impulse Audio Wide Zoomed Measurements.png


Whatever the explanation, it doesn't make for a good showing in "time domain."

Chord Hugo TT2 Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Let's start with our noise level while outputting 50 millivolts:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo SNR 50 mv Audio Measurements.png


This is well below average performance:
most quiet headphone amp review.png


So best to avoid super sensitive IEMs and headphones.

Let's measure power vs distortion+noise:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Power into 300 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Power into 32 ohm Audio Measurements.png


In both cases we have plenty of power but noise performance is not competitive with even budget products. Strength of the product is more on current delivery -- and hence lower impedance loads -- than higher:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced Stereo Power vs load Audio Measurements.png


EDIT: the rear XLR outputs can be used as headphone out using appropriate adapter. Here is that performance with 300 ohm load:
Chord Hugo TT2 DAC Balanced XLR Stereo Power into 300 ohm Audio Measurements.png


At nearly 1 watt, that is tremendous amount of power available for high impedance headphones.

Chord Hugo TT2 Listening Tests
I started my listening tests using Dan Clark Stealth headphones (which Chord designer also prefers). There was plenty of power available except at very high levels where distortion set in. Otherwise, everything sounded excellent and dynamic. I could not detect any "magic" related to the filter or general performance of the unit.

Switching to Sennheiser HD-650 was even better due to more sensitivity this headphone provides. Everything sounded great but again, nothing different than what I am used it when testing other high performance DAC+Amps.

Conclusions
Putting aside the functionality and look of the unit, the electronic performance is generally excellent. The problem it faces is that there has been a fierce race in the last few years to optimize the design of such combo products. That competition has given us state-of-the-art performance that is distinctly better and cheaper than what TT2 provides. The only stand out is the sharp reconstruction filter that the unit provides. You are paying $6000 for that feature. I can't detect it improving anything while things like higher noise floor can be audible.

For multiple reasons, from design to cost and performance, the Chord Hugo TT2 is not for me so I can't recommend it. If you own it though and it is a sunk cost, then you have a high performance DAC+Amp so I see no reason to be worried about it.

Edit: video review now posted:

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
Last edited:

SoundsGood2Me

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Thanks Amirim - I detect a distinct distaste for Chord from you, hope you don't mind me pointing it out.
ABSOLUTELY I AGREE, thanks to you as much as anyone, this shit just keeps getting better faster smaller and cheaper.
Marketing is 50% of sales? Chord has to TALK BIG to get over the noise floor of Topping just getting it right.
Do you want to starve the EU? C'mon, U2 was their last big hit, things are rough over there!
 

Madlop26

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It performs well, so I was tempted to rate it fine, but if my wife finds out I bought something quite expensive knowing that there are options that cost ten times less and perform better, I would lose my head, so instead headless panther it is.
 

sam_adams

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The external power supply likely gives heart attacks to any high-end listener.

Here we go again . . .

Six thousand, seven hundred and twenty five dollar, Jules Verne inspired design—replete with blinking lights and all (giant squid not included)—DAC with middlin' performance, powered by a $25.89 switching power supply.
 

Rja4000

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Thanks for another interesting review :)

I find it strange that this device is able to push 15.6Vrms to the line output, but seems limited to around 8Vrms at any impedance for the headphones output.

That's probably because headphones use unbalanced output, and, therefore, half the voltage.

Isn't there a balanced phones output ?

And are the 2 headphones outputs able to deliver the max power simultaneously ?
 
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Cars-N-Cans

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Good performance. But with the external power supply and features it looks like a $300 product. But it goes for a staggering $6725. Clearly I got into the wrong line of work. But I'm also probably too honest for this sort of thing as well. "Oh, no. Those rumors of it only costing $100 to make in Shenzhen, China are totally wrong! Its entirely assembled by nude Swedish virgins. I swear."
 

Matias

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User interface and price are bad, but overall measurements are not bad. I voted fine. Of course there are way better options instead of this though.
 

GXAlan

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What's nice about this product is that it really shows you don't need fancy power supplies or fancy line conditioners to get pretty good performance.

Overpriced for sure, but if you had it for free, it'd be a reasonable product.
 

Cars-N-Cans

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Looking at the specs the thing provides a staggering 18W RMS into an 8 ohm load. Seems all its really missing is an adapter to convert the TRS to Speakon connectors and they can market it as an amp as well! Bet it would get toasty piping hot, though.

On a more practical note, not sure why anyone would really want something like that powering headphones. While I kind of like Michael Jackson, emulating his Pepsi commercial moment after it all goes horribly wrong is another thing entirely. I usually buy amplifiers with the assumption that at some point, it will inevitably end up at 0 dBFS and full output, so I don't like buying more watts than I'm prepared to be exposed to.
 
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