T.H.E. Show 2019: Where Art Thou Headphones?

I’m a fan of The Bard just like most other prose knuckle draggers, so I try to sneak in a little Shakespeare to my headlines whenever I can.

But it seemed particularly apt considering so few headphone-centric showings at this year’s T.H.E. Show due to the fact, according to Director of Social Media and Marketing Emiko Carlin, that feedback from exhibitors was more two-channel. That said, I have been able to track down some cool demos and listening stations of gear I’ve either not heard, or not heard together.

First up is the delicious pairing of Audeze and Chord Electronics in the guise of the Chord Hugo TT2 DAC/Preamp ($5,795 USD, 768kHz PCM/DSD 512) and Hugo M Scaler ($4,595 USD, 44.1kHz scaled-up to 705.6kHz – 16x 44.1kHz – and 768kHz from 96kHz) and the Audeze LCD-4z ($3,995 USD). Listening to a curated playlist of TIDAL files downloaded through the application onto an iPad by Audeze Project manager Chris Berens (nice selection!) saw no change in the dynamic, timbrally and tonally accurate presentation of this DAC/Headamp/million-tap upscaler combo through the 4z which, to me, is an uncannily transparent transducer.

Audeze US Sales Manager Tony Hamilton sports the LCD-4z.

The thing I always like about Chord gear is how meaty their sound signature is. Some DAC/amp combos can tend to the lean end of the spectrum when it comes to personal audio, but Chord always goes the other way – whether it’s the Mojo, the Qutest or the Hugo – they all keep so much flavor on the bone of files that listening to them through a set of cans that adds nothing always makes for a satisfying sonic recipe, which was exactly what was happening here.

Tracks like “Coming Home” by City and Colour (Canadian musician and singer-songwriter Dallas Green) showed off the big-bodied sound of his acoustic guitar up front into the presence region with the electric guitar playing second well behind the bridge of my nose. All the minutiae of his string and fret work coming through in hyper-detail, but with a huge sound stage and spaciousness to the recording that clearly showed off what I like to call ‘3-point shot’ decay to notes. Speed and attack on leading edges left me hanging on and despite the clear separation of instruments and vocals on the track, the music never felt over-analytical – just the opposite really – rather, it retained a cohesive balance to what was on the recording and its innate musicality.

Not a budget combination by any stretch of the imagination, this set-up was nevertheless representative of the serious headphone junky who wants a portable system with real cojones and longevity for return on investment.


Simply Nobody's picture

Chord Hugo TT2 probably can drive almost any impedance headphones ....... and, it is rechargeable battery powered, and (kinda) portable :-) ...........

maelob's picture

They will be at CanJam South Cal later this month.

AllanMarcus's picture

Maybe I missed something, but how is this system portable?

craigrobertallison@gmail.com's picture

To truly harvest the original & still at-core , profound rewards available from 2 channel hi-fi music listening ,
portability must not be a paramount aspect. Sole activity , sit -down listening using fine loudspeakers correctly set up in a decent acoustic environment is the equivalent of a sit down gourmet dinner. Fast food , buffet , etc. will not get you ‘there.’ I hope that as listeners mature they eventually figure this out , for their benefit & the benefit to the hi-fi industry. I owned & enjoyed Koss’ legendary ESP-1A electrostatic ‘phones when I was 18.
I’m 67 now , use headphones as a utility item.