The first time we reviewed the Hugo (ref: in our May issue), we were delighted yet dismayed. The sound quality was stunning, but a couple of serious (and very basic) design flaws left us tearing our hair out.
The result was a four-star rating when it could easily have been a five.
But now the Hugo is back, and it’s good to see Chord has addressed the issues. The line-level, single-ended outputs now have a larger cutout in the casework – meaning interconnects with chunky plugs can fit without issue.
The narrow gap around the coaxial digital input remains, but at least you now get an adapter supplied in the box.
And the power switch, which was originally so recessed you needed cocktail sticks to reach it, now sticks out further from the casework.
Now that there are no distractions, you can concentrate on the Hugo’s sheer brilliance. We’re still scratching our heads over how Chord has managed to build such a smartly finished, feature-packed device without sacrificing any sound quality.
Just to clarify, this is a bona fide digital preamp with DAC, internal volume control, optical and coaxial inputs, two USB sockets, an analogue output, three (yes, three) headphone outputs and, last but not least, aptX Bluetooth connectivity.
And it’s portable! That’s right, Chord has even found enough room inside that petite aluminium casework for built-in rechargeable batteries.
A two-hour charge should be good enough for 12 hours’ use. It’s really going above and beyond the call of duty for a product of its type, and should be applauded.
More after the break
But even with the exhaustive feature set, Chord hasn’t taken its eye off the ball with regards to sound quality.
Hugo’s as happy and communicative with a 320kbps Spotify stream as it is feeding off the meaty resolution of a DSD music file.
Start with a basic Bluetooth stream of Me And My Shadow by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., and the Chord transports you straight to the smoky clubs of 1960s Las Vegas.
The Chord’s desire for detail and natural tone really brings the vocals to the fore. Trumpets and drums sound realistic and pure.
They’re brought to life with amazing dynamics and really drive home the swing and sway of the tune.
Speed up the tempo with Sam Smith’s Money On My Mind, and the Hugo’s happy to go with the flow. The sprightly drums keep the track light on its feet, but there’s still weight and solidity too.
The Hugo gets the balance of drive and restraint spot on. Each click and clap is defined suitably. The beat really takes hold thanks to the Chord’s ability to lock onto rhythms and organise them.
The Chord’s neutral, even-handed approach to music is as evident whether you’re using it as a DAC or headphone amp – the Hugo is a device of many talents and plenty of charm.
Review updated on 10.06.14
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