chord electronics’ dominance of the premium digital-to-analog converter market has been spectacular. In recent years, the company has launched a variety of number crunchers, from the £399 portable Mojo to the high-end £8,499 Dave Singer and swept all comers, earning a slew of five-star ratings. and prizes in the process.
despite the brilliance of the range, we have long felt that the original hugo tt was the last among equals. It was essentially the original Hugo circuit built into a larger, more home-appropriate box and powered by a superior power supply. That upgraded power supply gave the original TT a noticeable performance advantage over the basic Hugo, but since it cost more than twice as much, we didn’t feel like it was that much of a bargain.
Reading: Bluetooth dac headphone amp
While the likes of mojo, qutest, hugo, and dave should rightly be considered all-conquering superstars at each of their respective price points, we felt that the original tt was, relatively speaking, simply very good.
the hugo tt2 chord seeks to correct that and bring tt out of the long shadows cast by the rest of his ridiculously talented family. we believe that chord has been successful in this regard and more.
- dacs: everything you need to know
physically, the hugo tt2 chord adheres firmly to the square template established by its predecessor. The mojo’s stylistic influence is felt as strongly here as it was with the newly updated standard Hugo 2 design, with a refinement of the headstocks, illuminated porthole windows, and cosmetic flourishes the company has become known for. . build quality is excellent, with the unit feeling suitably solid and luxuriously finished; this certainly feels like a premium item.
The heart of this and all other current chord digital products is the use of a powerful fpga (field programmable gate array) running internal software, which performs all the decoding, filtering and processing tasks. This gives the company a huge performance advantage over rivals using standard off-the-shelf DAC solutions.
The tt2’s processing power is double that of the standard hugo 2, thanks to the use of a more advanced fpga, and it has a much more generous power supply layout to further boost performance.
In the chord range, only the dave flagship has more number crunching power and even that doesn’t come close to matching this tt2’s amp section when it comes to sheer oomph. The maximum current is claimed to be a robust 5A, which is enough to drive the toughest of headphones. Such is the current capability of the unit, that when the tt2 was introduced, Chord claimed that it could even drive efficient loudspeakers directly.
impressive, but it’s not all sweetness. we’re certainly not convinced by the unit’s revised ergonomics. chord has chosen to control the tt2 with a pull down menu system. that sounds good on paper, but it’s a hassle when you want to change the input and have to scroll through a lot of other parameters before you can get to the select option.
then you have to press another button to scroll through the unit’s vast array of inputs, which can get frustrating over time. the best way to avoid this is to use the supplied remote control, which makes things much more direct and easy.
- hugo 2 chord review
Look in the setup menus (the tt2 screen is small) and you’ll find a variety of settings. there are four levels of the company’s cross-feed system, the aim of which is to move the sound presentation of the headphones away from being between the ears to something closer to what the stereo speakers produce. unlike many of these render modes, this one actually works and we leave it on the second highest setting.
See also: How to stop a mic picking up sound from headphones
There are also four filter options, which slightly alter the presentation and give a stepped choice between pure neutrality and a slightly warmer presentation with a degree of high-frequency rounding. we leave this in filter, the neutral option.
Beyond these settings, you can adjust the brightness of the display as well as toggle the drive gain between low and high options (helping equipment mix) when the tt2 is used with headphones or a associated amplifier.
Products like this chord have become increasingly flexible over the years. the tt2 is many things. it’s a high quality dac, it’s a headphone amp, and it can even drive a power amp or active speakers directly. With just one button press, or in this case many button presses, you can even make it have a fixed output so it can be plugged directly into your existing amp and function as a conventional hi-fi dac.
connectivity is good. As for the inputs, there are usb, a pair of optical and two coaxial (using bnc connectors). use chord’s blu mkii cd transport with its built in scaling and this pair of bnc inputs can be used together to accept up to a 24bit/768khz signal.
aptx bluetooth is also in the menu and the chord connects to our iphone 6s plus quickly and without problems. there are three headphone outputs on the front panel and the unit also has no problem handling multiple phones at the same time. you can also add single ended rca and balanced xlrs to the list of outputs.
hugo tt2 has another pair of outs marked dx. these are intended for use with as-yet-unreleased chord products, but the company has been fairly secretive about this until now.
- chord blu mkii review
While bluetooth, even in aptx format, isn’t the best sounding connection, we’re glad the chord designers specified it. It opens up the hugo tt2, and by extension your hi-fi, to a host of streaming and music services in general (yes, even youtube) that most traditional systems miss out on.
the sound of our iphone via bluetooth is good through the chord. he is personable and clear, displaying a degree of insight and resolve that would surprise many. It doesn’t come close to the quality delivered through any of the chord’s physical connections, but sometimes convenience takes precedence, doesn’t it?
We plug our apple macbook, loaded with a hard drive full of cd’s and hi-res music files, into the chord’s usb input and it becomes apparent just how capable the tt2 is. While it shares the Hugo branding, this new one really is in a whole other league from the standard unit, offering much closer performance to the higher-end Dave than its namesake. that’s saying something when you consider the huge price difference between the two.
With a demanding piece of music like Orff’s Carmina Burana, the Hugo TT2 paints a vivid picture brimming with attack and a sense of coherence that few can match, let alone better. is a wonderfully detailed and expressive performance, showing the seismic dynamic changes of the music with fluidity.
Compared to the original version, the mk2 is certainly more clear and insightful. sounds more focused and precise, without being too analytical.
tonally, the chord is even, though it sits on the thin side of neutral. however, that doesn’t stop it from doing an excellent job of generating instrumental textures: the orchestra is presented in a convincing and full-bodied way.
See also: Sizes Of Headphone Jacks – A Detailed Guide- Headphones Pro Review
stereo images are excellent. This DAC paints an impressively layered and expansive soundstage that locks instruments in place no matter how complex the music becomes. With pieces of music such as this, we find that the chord cross-feed system has the most benefit, as it delivers a more convincing, speaker-like stereo image with headphones.
We use several headphones, including our reference beyerdynamic t1, our extended wear grade rs-1, and shure se425 in-ears, and hugo handles them all with no problem.
We move on to neneh cherry’s broken politics and fall in love with the way the chord handles the discreet polyrhythms of the album. everything sounds so sure and firm. There’s a level of rhythmic confidence here that only the likes of Dave can improve on in our experience. The result is that the tt2 portrays the momentum of the music beautifully, conveying the mood and emotion of each track in an utterly compelling way.
Next, we connect the hugo tt2 to our main reference system to see how it works as a digital hub in a traditional setup. our source is naim’s nds/555ps music transmitter and the chord powers our usual combination of gamut d200i power amp/atc scm50 loudspeakers, as well as a pair of active manger c1s loudspeakers. it works perfectly. it has a lot of oomph, sounds robust and capable of giving a mallet hit when the music demands it. More importantly, this chord is equally adept when it comes to qualities like delicacy and transparency. in both aspects it is a leader in its class.
We run through a variety of tunes from an audiophile favorite like take five of the dave brubeck quartet and bruce springsteen’s high hopes, to romeo & of tchaikovsky. juliet, and hugo take it all in stride, never favoring one musical genre over another.
In terms of performance and features, it’s arguable that the Hugo TT2 is considered the best value DAC the company makes. you have to have a powerful and transparent system (and a large wallet) to justify using dave on this.
There is now also a lot of clear air between the performance of the tt2 and the standard hugo 2, enough that the price difference is easily justifiable in a suitable configuration.
So, chord’s seemingly unstoppable digital bandwagon rolls on with another class leader. the hugo tt2 may have slightly flawed ergonomics, but in all other respects it’s amazing.
- sound 5
- features 5
- design 5
view all our chord reviews
best dacs 2019
See also: IFi hip-dac review | What Hi-Fi?