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Review and Measurements of Chord Hugo 2 DAC and Headphone Amplifier

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so I've opened up the review of the Hugo 2 and the Topping D50. After visually comparing the measurements, it makes me wonder when used strictly as a DAC, what would be an advantage of getting the Hugo 2 (or Chord Qutest assuming it measure the same) over the D50?

I've printed out the "understanding audio measurements" post. Now I'm off to do my reading assignment!
 
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I do agree with some comments here that Qutest have to be tested instead Hugo2..
Hugo2 has integrated headphone amps (mobile realisation). It defenitally alternate measurement.
With Qutest you will be as close to the DAC as you can.. and this is what have to be measured to conclude about its DAC performance.
Please find time and do Qutest measurement instead.
It will gain many pros.. more correct results and (hopefully) proofs of what i just said.
But correct measurement of DAC and not amp is more important, at the end this is what your resource all about!!
Looking forward. Thank you.
 
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Veri

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I do agree with some comments here that Qutest have to be tested instead Hugo2..
Hugo2 has integrated headphone amps (mobile realisation). It defenitally alternate measurement.
With Qutest you will be as close to the DAC as you can.. and this is what have to be measured to conclude about its DAC performance.
Please find time and do Qutest measurement instead.
I will gain many pros.. more correct results and (hopefully) proofs of what i just said.
But correct measurement of DAC and not amp is more important, at the end this is what your resource as about!!
Looking forward. Thank you.
The line out of a headamp DAC should give a very near similar idea of the performance. Qutest has better power supply that's it. It will not make for drastical magical improvement, but if someone wants to send Amir a Qutest I'm sure he would be willing to review it :) I think it's a little too expensive for Amir to buy one!
 
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Now you wont often see me make subjective comments on sound quality. I do own a Chord Mojo and FWIW to my ears it does sound different to most DACs. Note I didnt necessarily say better. I dont hear "more" with this dac than others, but I think it does have a different tonality (which I like). I find most DACs quite boringly similar. Where this difference comes from is a difficult question to answer, more taps, the discrete FPGA output stage I dont know. Is this difference actually an indication of better or more accurate performance - not necessarily, the fact that it is different and sticks out from most dacs could indicate quite the opposite. What I dont like is Rob Watts claims. When he talks about noise floor modulation at -200 dB being audible and so on or that he doesnt blind test, the credibility goes down the toilet at that point.
From my point of view, what you describe is depth. And you are right, the particular thing of mojo and other Dacs from Chord, is that, you can hear this depth, and once you did, you realize that other way music is boring or the same as you say. Its very interesting. I had the same felling. Once you hear it, there is no way back. And its not about much numbers.. filters ec et. They are important. But more interesting is hoe it make your brain to reconstruct this micro transients into the depth of sound. Rob mention it in his talk.. and as i understand it's still not clear what parameter is better and need to be tuned. But the fact, you hear it, is there. I did small post regarding this here if you like.
https://www.head-fi.org/threads/watts-up.800264/page-77#post-14607079
 
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The line out of a headamp DAC should give a very near similar idea of the performance. Qutest has better power supply that's it. It will not make for drastical magical improvement, but if someone wants to send Amir a Qutest I'm sure he would be willing to review it :) I think it's a little too expensive for Amir to buy one!
I would argue regarding they similarity. Hugo2 is fail in my audition test and was on sale 2 days after due to the altered depth representation. I was suspect headphone amp influence, decided to test qutest instead. So, Qutest on my desk now... and it's stay. So don't claim they are the same sounding. Same DAC, yes.. but not sound the same to me. Please do AB audition and you will see what i mean. Thanks
 
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Veri

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I would argue regarding they similarity. Hugo2 is fail in my audition test and was on sale 2 days after due to the altered depth representation. I was suspect headphone amp influence, decided to test qutest instead. So, Qutest on my desk now... and it's stay. So don't claim they are the same sounding. Same DAC, yes.. but not sound same to me. Please do AB audtion and you will see what i mean. Thanks
The only AB test I would accept as legitimate is one where another person is switching the inputs without you knowing nor seeing what it is you are listening to ;) it's all too easy for your brain to fool you really. The entire audio industry knows and fully exploits this.
 
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The only AB test I would accept as legitimate is one where another person is switching the inputs without you knowing nor seeing what it is you are listening to ;) it's all too easy for your brain to fool you really. The entire audio industry knows and fully exploits this.
Or you do this and try to be as honest and uninvolved as possable.. sometimes things you hear or not hear cant be missed. Agree, blind test is the best... but not always needed to realize that some DACs make your favorite songs sounds really bad.
 

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andreasmaaan

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Or you do this and try to be as honest and uninvolved as possable.. sometimes things you hear or not hear cant be missed. Agree, blind test is the best... but not always needed to realize that some DACs make your favorite songs sounds really bad.
Unfortunately it's well established that merely trying to be uninvolved is not sufficient (even if you're honest!). The test really needs to be done blind.
 
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Unfortunately it's well established that merely trying to be uninvolved is not sufficient (even if you're honest!). The test really needs to be done blind.
Again, no doubts is better. But not always needed. I can easily ask my son to turn this switch on photo when if feels i need it, without see what he is doing. Something when you hear or not hear, you not need to do it blind ;)
 

andreasmaaan

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Again, no doubts is better. But not always needed. I can easily ask my son to turn this switch on photo when if feels i need it, without see wha the doing. Something when you hear or not hear, you not need to do it blind ;)
You have it backwards ;)

Ask your son to test you blind. See if you can pick it reliably after 10+ trials. That’s the only way to know...
 
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Valst

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I’m newbie. Thank you for complicated reviews.
I owned Schiit yggy v1, yggy v2, LM 502CA, PS DS DSD and Chord hugo TT.
I see hugo TT is cleaner much more than yggy 1, yggy 1 is cleaner than yggy 2 (unfortunately).
BUT:
1) when playing some track, especially when there are more drums and contrabass or low band piano, hugo TT can not present the sound and yggy 1/2 sounds pretty. For example, it is very difficult to hear and separate sounds of drums within track “‘Moonlight on Spring River” from The DALI CD with Hugo TT (hugo TT must be much better than hugo 2).
2) Yggy 2 gives much better sound of high band and 3D image than yggy 1.
3) I invited 3 persons - musical experts, who are not familiar with the devices to do blind testing. They all say hugo TT is the worst and is further from natural sounds, yggy 2 is better than yggy 1. The reason: hugo TT is much more silent, but it has serious problem, the sound it give too long so that sound overleaps sound calling high total noise and make down the details of instrument sounds. It is easier to determine in low friquency band... Hugo TT is better for tracks with digital effects...
I have difficult situation!!!
 

THW

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“much more silent” this sounds like there is no attempt at level matching which makes that blind test useless.
 
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This is a detailed measurement and review of the Chord Hugo 2 DAC. It retails for $2,700 in US. The unit I had in for measurements was from an ex-Microsoft colleague and recent forum member. I only had an hour or so with it and it is now returned.


This is an odd looking box to be sure. As you see above the oddity continues in its ports with S/PDIF input being a stereo 3.5 mm jack (it has dual S/PDIF inputs as a result). I had my friend operate the unit as I did not even want to try to decode the button lights. The unit has batteries and that is how I tested it, likely giving it an edge in mains related noise/distortion.

The claim to fame of Chord DACs is a super high-tap FIR filter for reconstruction. This one claims over 49,000 taps. This means each (upsampled) audio sample goes through this many computations before a value spits out. FPGAs are custom ICs that are very well suited for this type of application which is what this DAC uses. The tap number has been positioned as a figure of excellence with each newer model sporting more and more taps. Marketing people rejoice! :)

Rob Watts the designer says that there are audible improvements with increased taps. Unfortunately when I asked him whether he had evaluated such merit in blind testing, he said no.

On the software front this DAC unfortunately gets a failing grade by requiring a custom driver or it does nothing. No USB class is supported and plugging in the device without drivers did absolutely nothing in Windows 10. This is a bummer because if the OS driver interface changes and this company is no longer in business, you have a $2,700 door stop.

For my testing I installed ASIO drivers and used bit-exact output to drive it from the PC. Other tests use S/PDIF digital output from my Audio Precision analyzer.

Measurements
For this test I had to pull out the only DAC I have on my bench that rivals it in price, namely the Exasound E32 ($3,400). For a test or two I also threw in the much cheaper Topping DX7 at $400 although I purchased mine for $300.

First, let's run our usual J-Test for jitter and noise. A test tone of 12 Khz should be the only thing visible here with the rest being noise and distortion. I ran the test two ways: using USB output from the PC and S/PDIF generated by Audio Precision Analyzer. Comparison is made to Exasound E32 over S/PDIF:

View attachment 10592

We see a very competent execution here with USb and S/PDIF matching each other. The Exasound is just as good but mains related hum and noise is there at very low level which can be remedied with a better power supply. Even as is, that noise is at very low level so not an audible concern either way. So little to complain about in either device. BTW "better" in the graph means better than Exasound E32.

Next let's get another boring graph out of the way, namely frequency response with different filters:

View attachment 10593

The default filter in red has the best frequency domain response with nearly perfect response. The others have small amount of roll off (about 1 dB at 20 Khz). I let subjectivists play with those filters and report back. :)

Let's get into my favorite test, linearity. And ideal DAC would have a flat line meaning it outputs what it is told to output:

View attachment 10594

Both DACs eek out about 18 bits of output before deviation exceeds 0.1 dB (my personal limit). In the case of Exasound it seems to just get noisier. On Chord Hugo 2 it gets funky jumping up and down. Both of them are very respectable though.

Both of them unfortunately get schooled by the Topping DX7 which costs a fraction of them:

View attachment 10595

OK, let's not spoil our dinner and continue. :)

Let's look at how a very low level sine wave at -90 db looks like in these two DACs:

View attachment 10596

Please excuse the dim output for Exasound. It was at a different size window and I had to resize it to match. Regardless, hopefully you see that the Exasound E32 is a closer match to a sine wave and freer of noise/glitches. Its DC offset changes a bit but that is due to power supply hum. Overall Exasound E32 wins.

Let's look at Harmonic Distortion+Noise:

View attachment 10597

Here, the Chord Hugo 2 DAC has higher noise floor but better control of distortion products. I give it the nod since noise is more benign than distortion products.

Next let's look at SMPTE intermodulation test:

View attachment 10598

The Exasound in green is the clear winner here and by good bit. The Chord Hugo 2 matches the Topping DX7.

Let's compare the distortion and noise products with a 1 Khz signal that itself has been filtered out:

View attachment 10599

Chord Hugo 2 pulls way ahead here. Yes it has higher noise floor but otherwise has less distortion spikes. The Exasound produces lot of glitches in 2 to 3 Khz which I suspect is due to mains distortion products.

None of this is audible concern though due to very low levels. Highest peak is at -120 dbFS.

Let's skin this cat differently and look at THD+N vs frequency:

View attachment 10600

Here the Chord Hugo 2 is the winner (in red). It has similar distortion+noise to Exasound E32 at low frequencies. At frequencies above 2 Khz the noise+distortion jumps up in Exasound. The Topping DX7 and Hugo 2 do the same but at much lower amplitude.

Headphone Measurements
I measured the output impedance of Hugo 2 and compared it to others on record:

View attachment 10601

At 1.7 ohms, it is very low making it suitable to driving any headphone without changing its frequency response. I need to measure and add the Exasound to this graph.

EDIT: there have been complains about this measurement saying that Chord advertises a much lower number (0.02 ohm?). The only way my measurement is off is if the unit clips under load of 33 ohm. If it does, then that obviously shows a larger drop resulting in impedance to be higher than if it were not clipping. I will try to get my hands on the loaned unit again in the future to confirm this.

Next I am going to show a new test which is the THD+N not against a dummy resistive load, but real headphones. This is based on work done by Benchmark where they demonstrate this problem with rising low level distortion when real loads are used instead of artificial:

View attachment 10602

Sadly we see that noise and distortion rise especially in low frequencies. Worst performance is with the Focal Utopia. Best was with Hifiman HE1000 V2. I will need to run this test on my other headphone amplifiers and see how they behave.

Summary
The Chord Hugo 2 is competently designed with measurements that show no obvious design/execution problems. Its high number of filter taps though provide it with no advantage against traditional implementations such as in Exasound E32 or even Topping DX7.

Despite these good measurements, I cannot recommend it due to requirement for proprietary driver. If that is not a concern for you, then I don't see any grave reason to not buy it other than high cost.

As always comments, corrections, feedback, bad jokes, etc. are welcome.

Edit: Speaking of corrections, my friend who loaned the Chord Hugo 2 to me tried it on a Windows machine and it worked with in-box class drivers. So something went wrong on my machine but support is there. So I take my reservation away regarding driver support.

If you like this review, please consider donating funds for these types of hardware purchase using Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
Hi Amir,

Could not find the SINAD for CH2, any reason why? same as Qutest...?
 
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