What is the Chord Mojo?
Against this relentless wave of innovation, the world of audio is rather less able to deliver quite such headline grabbing news. Two channel in particular is a mature category and delivering something truly radical is a pretty tall order. Despite this, the industry has been busy of late dealing with changes of its own in how we use, enjoy and buy our music. Products that have been designed to take full advantage of this brave new world are rather different from what went before but can also demonstrate sparking performance. The Chord Hugo could be seen as a poster child for this movement. It demonstrates, staggering performance, flexibility and genuine innovation in one small box and it was one of my favourite products of 2014.
That makes what you see here a product that could cause a bit of a stir. It seems that while they are still extremely proud of Hugo, Chord hasn't been blind to the limitations it has as a portable device. As result of this, they have launched the Mojo (a shorthand version of 'Mobile Joy') which makes good on many of those limitations. Perhaps as importantly, the price of the Mojo has been trimmed by £1,000 at the same time. With Chord making some very bold claims about the performance of the Mojo, is this little box a very big deal?
Design and Specs
This is all extremely clever but when Chord started investigating the possibility of making a smaller Hugo even before the release of the original product, they found that they had made something of a rod for their own back. The fantastically named Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA that the Hugo uses (I'm not sure what is going on the world of chip design at the moment but there seems to be an ongoing competition to make them all sound like weapon systems) consumes too much power and generates too much heat to be placed in an enclosure much smaller than the current one. As such any attempts to shrink Hugo would have to wait.
In terms of what the Mojo can do, there has been no real trimming though. The Chord can handle sampling rates up to 768kHz and DSD256 and only needs a driver on Windows to achieve this. Chord has additionally fitted an optical input with standard Toslink connection and an SP/Dif input on a 3.5mm socket. This output is then made available to a pair of 3.5mm sockets that can either use the on board volume control or be locked to produce a line level output. For reasons that presumably stem from the FPGA, there is a separate USB input for charging.
Of course reducing the price by almost two thirds does mean that some features present on Hugo have had to fall by the wayside. There is no full size headphone socket which limits you to 3.5mm models or bulky adaptors. The adjustable filters have been removed (although I confess, I found the ones present on the Hugo to be so subtle in reality that they are rarely used) and the Mojo does without Bluetooth.
Externally, the Chord is still recognisably a product from one of the
What's good about the Mojo?
This is doubly impressive when you consider that the Mojo is still built in the
Any drawbacks to the Mojo?
The Oppo is aesthetically something of a thorn in the side of the Mojo. Oppo's decision to make it the same basic size as a mobile phone does mean that it sits in a pocket more easily and it looks and feels more elegant than the Chord does. The rotary volume control is also a nicer thing to operate than the Chord's glowing balls and the charge indicator is far clearer and easier to read. The HA-2 doesn't have it all its own way though. The Mojo has better input choices and a sample rate indicator so there are pros and cons to both units. Some reviews have also mentioned that the Mojo gets hot while in use and especially when charging but anyone who has used most portable phone chargers won't be perturbed by it.
Now to be clear, the existence of the Mojo does not prevent me from lusting after the Naim NDX, Nagra DAC or even have me seeking to recycle the Hugo but it does in reality redefine what digital under £1,000 is capable of doing. How so? Simply put, the Mojo is a window into the music, nothing more, nothing less. During the very positive review of the Oppo HA-2, I ascribed character and traits to it. I found it a little tonally dark and quite forceful in the way it makes music. I rather like this - it reminds me of how my Naim system works but nonetheless it represents a deviation - however small - from absolute accuracy.
The Mojo however, does not deviate. As a means of hearing exactly what is on a recording, it has few equals and none that I've encountered below £1,000. What you are treated to is an unfailingly accurate and entirely honest reproduction of what is on the track. There is also nothing remotely digital about that sound. With a halfway decent recording like the Editors latest effort IN DREAM the Chord captures Tom Smith's vocals with absolute clarity and the effect is completely believable. The reproduction of tiny details is absolutely startling but they never grab the attention unnecessarily but instead wind their way into the performance perfectly.
As a DAC therefore, the Mojo is superb but it is as a headphone amp - especially with IEMs (in-ear monitors) that it really makes a claim for greatness. As I mentioned earlier, I don't have any issues with the Hugo as a device for listening to earphones but it does appear that the tweaks made to the Mojo give it the edge over its big brother. At lower levels - which is all IEMs need - the Mojo seems even quieter than the already stealthy Hugo and there is the slightest sense of sweetness to the performance that the bigger unit lacks. The combination of Mojo and the Noble 6 is a round of drinks over £1,000 and there are very few other means of listening to music - be it via cans or speakers - that can get close to how fantastic this duo sounds.
Are there any weaknesses? Perhaps. Thankfully for Chord, the Hugo is still the fractionally better choice for full size headphones - even if this is solely as a result of there being a full size headphone socket on it - and when tested as a line level DAC against the Mojo, the Hugo is preferable there too. This is partly down to the line level being set - in my opinion - slightly too high on the Mojo and the Hugo sounding slightly more refined even when levels are corrected. The Oppo doesn't go down without a fight either as that same dark character and sense of drive can make it a better subjective choice with rock or electronica and slightly better able to tame bright IEMs than the entirely neutral Mojo.
- Truly outstanding audio performance
- Well built
- Well priced
- Control 'balls' are a bit weird
- Line output a touch high
- Can't act as a charger
Chord Mojo DAC & Headphone Amp Review
If you don't want a separate DAP and instead want to achieve the best possible performance from a smartphone, this is it and to be clear, I wouldn't fancy the chances of any current portable audio player at any price against the Mojo. The Chord combines truly state of the art decoding with a headphone amp that gets IEMs in particular singing like very little else. It is easy to use and beautifully built. There are some minor aesthetic and feature quirks but the core functionality of the Mojo is so good that they are of little real concern. This is a truly outstanding product - a demonstration of how good modern digital can be and when you consider the asking price, it is a stupendous achievement on the part of Chord Electronics.
Ease of Use
Value for Money
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