CES 2014 Chord Hugo Portable High-Resolution DAC/Headphone Amp

Being basically a headphone and analog electronics guy the DAC technologies of the Chord Hugo are quite a bit above my pay grade, but I'll give it a stab and then send you off to some more complete info. Chord DACs are not based on a normal DAC chipset, but are custom made affairs using field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). An FPGA is basically a chip filled with a bunch of transistors that can be programmed by manufacturers so they can build a custom chip of their own without the expense of actual chip design from scratch.

Chord uses FPGAs to produce DACs designed by Robert Watts that have digital filters with many taps, and which are claimed to provide much better transient time-alignment. This Chord DAC 64 review by John Atkinson does a much better job of explaining than I ever could:

In its announcement of the DAC64, Chord fired a salvo in the numbers wars by talking about a "64-bit" DAC. This sounds like overkill, considering CD's and DVD's respective 14- and 16-bit limits. And, of course, 64-bit performance implies a dynamic range that might well allow the Big Bang itself to be captured in full fidelity. But what is actually meant, as Chord's literature carefully explains, is that the digital reconstruction filter used in the DAC64 is realized using a 64-bit DSP core, and that the Pulse Array D/A chip uses seventh-order noise-shaping realized with 64-bit mathematical precision. Both mean that any mathematical error due to the filtering and noise-shaping calculations will be way below the analog noise floor, and therefore inconsequential.

The digital filter used by Chord is of a type new to me. Called a WTA filter, for "Watts Transient Aligned," it is said to minimize timing errors, therefore reducing the need for large numbers of filter taps to be used to achieve a given performance. Nevertheless, the DAC64's filter uses 1024 taps, compared with the 256 typical of many commercial digital filters.

The breakthrough to a portable device for Chord came as power consumption for FPGAs came down enough to realistically produced a battery powered DAC of this type; the Chord Hugo uses a Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA. Hugo has optical, coax, Bluetooth, and two USB digital inputs, and decodes pretty much any digital signal type and rate imaginable. One 1/4" and two 3.5mm jacks are available for your cans, and a pair of RCAs that take their signal before the volume control circuit let you use Hugo as a dedicated DAC in your stereo system.

The Chord Hugo is audiophile bling of the highest order with machined and anodized aluminum enclosure and multicolored lighting indicating sample rate and volume level. It's a really nice sounding and sexy looking piece of kit...and at $2395 it better be. It'll be available in quantity by months end.

Chord website home page, Hugo product page, and DAC technology description page.

John Grandberg's picture

I'll definitely be checking this one out, and writing it up if it does as well as it promises. Reference, desktop quality DAC which an also be taken on the go? Sounds good to me.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

....It's all yours!!!