Pairing with the Shure KSE1500 is a complete pleasure, low level micro-detail elements are portrayed with expert precision while still sounding natural in character. With this set up the stack does become a little large and too unpractical for on the go usage, however it is certainly still Transportable. Using this set up you become easily immersed in the music and find yourself really appreciating the Hugo 2’s technical proficiency and mesmerising performance.
Pairing with the Fostex TH900 renders encompassing sound stage while maintaining the TH900’s dynamic energy, again everything is clean, portraying great separation and always sounding musical. There is also a sizeable bass weight with an openness between notes and excellent precision of detail especially in the upper regions. Crashing decays on cymbals sounding very real.
Pairing with the HifiMan RE2000 sounds smooth and very coherent across the full frequency spectrum. The breath of staging is really sizeable and creates an intimate musical experience. Layering is smooth and well blended so that everything sounds pure with an organic analogue natural type aspect that really is suited to the Hugo 2 natural character.
The team at earphonia.com tried many other pairings of flagship earphones and the Hugo 2 really seemed to work well with everything we tried with it. No problems with hiss or unwanted noise elements and it was able to drive all manner of Earphones and Headphones with ease. From our experience I suspect you wont have any difficulty getting a good synergy with this DAC.
First I will cover our experience with the Filters and the Crossfeed before covering the core sound signature.
Using the Filters I could not detect much of a change in signature character except when listening to DSD recordings where you get subtle changes increasing/decreasing the level of warmth applied to the sound signature.
Incisive neutral (Ultimate reference) (White)
Incisive neutral HF roll-off (High Frequency roll off) (Green)
Warm (‘Smooth’) (Orange)
Warmer HF roll-off (High Frequency roll off) (Red)
Crossfeed (Digital IIR):
Off – No Crossfeed
Level 1 – Light
Level 2 – Medium
Level 3 – Heavy
The crossfeed function attempts to duplicate effects of listening to speakers, this is a result of Chord Electronics studying advanced binaural audio research. My experience with using this was varied and did depend on the type of music you listened to. You can definitely notice differences but in my experience this setting made the signature less natural sounding and added more range and positioning. My preference was the Level 1 light but for the most part I did not use it much at all. But is is great to have the option for personal preferences.
As soon as you first listen to the Hugo 2 you are immediately hit with the sheer quality of the natural tonality of the sound signature. There is a breath of space and effortless musical flow that provides a comforting envelope of presence in the layering of this very special sounding DAC. Due to the excellent management of filtering the distortion and noise floor, you get a deep vast blackness of background with no audible hiss at all, again helping with the musical focus.
Everything across the frequency spectrum appears to be balanced expertly, with all ranges working in harmony, weaving their layers to result in an open sounding blend of soulful cohesion. The immersive character of the Hugo 2 orchestrating the listeners attention in and out of the layers with skillful finesse. One characteristic that stands out is the sense of space and range of the sound stage. Instrument positioning and realism is a joy to experience, notes sounding real with natural decay adding to the experience. You will find yourself lost in the music and end up listening for much longer than originally planned due to the non-fatiguing realistic signature.
Technically I can find no fault and there is a mass of complex detail handled effortlessly in such a way that the musicality is clearly at the heart of the Hugo 2. You get a rich smoothness yet not sounding coloured or warm, even in all the complexity. The Hugo 2 never struggles at all at any time, maintaining a dynamic energetic spacious aspect while never sounding cold or stark. All notes and instruments hold there own detail with a sense of space and positioning around them, not sounding artificially airy as such but seeming to pan out in the 3 dimensional space while maintaining a refined cohesive musical structure.
There is an organic, engaging breath of signature with the timings of transition so perfectly navigated, resulting in a smooth blended natural realism to the music.
Bass attack is again natural and powerful but not dominating just well balanced, scaling well, with a sort of lightly feathered decay resulting in smoother edges. Powerful with smooth rich texturing, never masking or veiling and having depth but not coloured in terms of signature body.
Vocals are close and intimate sounding, portraying the soulful delicate nuances of the singer voice to amazing effect. Emotion and passion is conveyed with such realism and verve especially for live recorded music, it is simply breathtaking.
The Hugo 2 easily drives even power hungry headphones with ease and even at higher volumes, transparency, detail, imaging and coherence stays true to the music.
As you can probably tell the team at earphonia.com are extremely impressed with the Hugo 2. Really raising the bar to a new dimension for portable audio. I hate to use the term ‘end game DAC’ but at this point it really does feel like that, I honestly cannot think how this can be improved upon from a sound signature aspect.
We have yet to listen exhaustively to DAVE, but are really looking forward to making a comparison to understand what is missing from the Hugo 2, as currently I cannot identify any flaws. The Hugo 2 just missed our Product of the Year 2017 Awards but even though 2018 has just commenced, this remains a serious contender for our 2018 awards.
I’m confident that the Hugo 2 will remain at the peak of the portable audio experience for sometime to come and the team at earphonia.com will certainly be using the Hugo 2 for many years.
Congratulations to the Chord Electronics team and especially Rob Watts for really pushing the boundaries of the portable audio experience.