Chord Hugo TT

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by lokyc, Jun 10, 2015.

  1. lokyc

    lokyc
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    As mentioned on another thread, here is a brief review/impression of the Hugo TT.

    Took a while since it was launched but finally collected a black version from Nintronics last saturday.

    Let's go through a few motions. First the packaging. Its a much bigger box than the Hugo itself. A rather dull plain cardboard colour with Chord logos unlke the full technicolour of its smaller sibling. The cardboard itself is of good, high tear resistance thickness.

    The unit itself is much heavier weighting and suspended in foam. Included in the packaging is what appears to be the same AC/DC adapter as the Hugo. Accesories include a remote control, USB B cable and a more robust optical cable (to those hairline types in the Hugo). And that's it.

    The supplied remote is one of those credit card sized types. Made of solid metal with recessed buttons.

    The TT itself is also solid and well-built. Chord have clearly learnt from the Hugo MkI and the casing is much more finished. Buttons have a good tactile feel and all connections properly sized so cables fit snugly. Overall built quality is as good as anything in the high-end world like Linn or Naim.

    Nevertheless, the Hugo TT is still slightly short on a full "consumer" product. The display screen is rather rudimentary. But at least there is one. The unit is powered on with a nice robust power switch in the middle of the front panel. No, it cannot be powered on remotely. In fact the remote control has many buttons which do nothing. Its really to change inputs and volume. But these are minor annoyances. I ride Ducati motorcycles so am used to the idiosyncrosies of boutique companies.

    You can read the full feature set from the website. But I'll go through some of the salient aspects.

    The core of the TT is the same as the Hugo, using the Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA. Connectivity is also similiar. The USB HD and SD inputs are now USB B instead of micro USB so you can splurge on expensive USB cables. SPDIF comes in standard optical and Coax flavours. 3 headphone outputs the same sizes as the Hugo (one 3/4", two 0.5") and a pair of phonos. In addition to the Hugo are a pair of balanced XLR outputs. The layout is not much more tabletop (TT) oriented with the speaker outputs and inputs at the back of the casing, display, power switch and headphone outputs at the front. Like the Hugo, it can play every conceivable PCM or DSD format as well as aptx-Bluetooth.

    So what else is new besides the remote remote and display to justify the hike in price?

    The trickery lies in input and output parts of the DAC. The HD USB now has galvanic isolation. According to Rob Watts (designer of the Hugo) himself, he now feels that is the best input for the TT vs optical for the Hugo. The TT is equipped with Super Capacitors much like the KERS system in F1 cars. the idea is it has a much faster and accurate response to current demands. the XLR outputs aren't only for show either. There is an invertor which converts the output analogue signals to fully balanced.

    But I know the most burning question for youi all is, how does it sound? More to the fact, how does it sound compared to the Hugo?

    Ok, so here is/was my system with the 2 DACs. Both are fed USB from my PC.

    My Hugo goes into a Simaudio 350P balanced premap which converts the single ended inputs into balanced and feeds into an ATI 6005 fully balanced power amp.

    The ATI unit is the OEM version of the Datasat power amp and also Mark Levinson's latest offering (in 2 channel dual mono configuration).

    Speakers are a pair of B&W CM10s. All cables are from Mark Grant.

    The Hugo TT feeds the ATI directly through its balanced outputs.

    So how does it sound?

    Given that they use the same FPGA, I would say the charactor of the sound is the same.

    Without going into the technical reasons, in comparison to other DACs, the key difference in the Hugo is how rich and whole the sound is. The overall impression is warm and analogue like vinyl.

    The Hugo seems to be quite divisive. Their fans swear by it; beating £5k DACs whle detractors wondered what the big deal was. then the middle of the road ones who feel there are DACs who do some bits better.

    The DACs which I have spent time with are the onboard ones on my Anthem MRX510, the Linn Majik DS, the two Hugos and the exaSound e28. (I have listened to the e22 but on other systems). While the Hugo is clearly head and shoulders above the Linn, compared to the exaSound, it is well, less exact.

    There is a lot of warmth and juicy analogue detail, but sometimes the delivery can be a bit clumsy. The e28 and e22 are much more precise and controlled.

    Usher in the TT, and all these flaws disappear. Every note, every tone is now razor sharp. But not in a digitally enhanced way. Just accurate. No more, no less.

    Bass and percussions are more dynamic. Most surprising of all is how the whole sound stage has been enhanced. If you though the Hugo delivered deep bass, the TT makes the CM10 sound like a subwoofer. The additional accuracy gave the bass an accuracy and texture i only heard from accurate subs like the Prardigms or my Ken Kriesal DXD808. Treble extension is also increased without sibilence. little mid-range details come through even when playing at low volumes.

    The totality of this improvements is an expansion of the sound stage; both in width, depth and height.

    One of the most perceptible differences of DACs as one moves up the price range is there is "more sound". the core processing may be the same, but the enhancements of the TT's "preamp" side, and maybe the galvanic isolation means there is much more sound coming through. And the results are profound.

    Its almost as if any material gain additional resolution.

    The better the material you throw at it, the more astounding. High res material come through like a concert hall. Redbook never sounded more analogue and textured. Most surprising is how it improves low res material. 128kbps internet radio could pass off as CD quality from lesser DACs.

    Its made my CM10s sound like the 800 Diamonds!

    Overall, compared to the Hugo, the TT just sound more assured, refined and accomplished.

    It adds class to the Hugo's quality. Polishing the Hugo's rough cut diamond into a crown jewel. And no, that's not because i fed the Hugo through a preamp. (the 350P actually helps to reduce noise floor through its balanced conversion).

    Its late at night and I couldn't be asked to do extensive testing of the various outputs and inputs. I leave that for other esteemed users/reviewers. I also won't go into technical explanations and theories on the resultant sound quality.

    All I can say after going through a few of my usal test tracks on Sunday night, was "Wow".

    Its like a Cinderalla transformation. I look at the TT now with awe and respect.

    I bought the TT on the back of faith in respected insiders like DavidF and Adam of Nintronics who declare it sounds better than the TT, even though its not apparant. And I can say my faith in these two have not been misplaced.

    the TT IMHO is easily half a league above the Hugo. Is it worh the additional £1.6k premium? Well like all Hifi stuff, only you can decide. I can see why Chord electronics and Rob Watts seem to be underselling the TT a bit.

    Just when you thouigh there isn't anything new in DACs, out comes the mouldbreaking Hugo, then superseded by the TT.

    All I can say is, after one listening session, no regrets.
     
  2. TB303

    TB303
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    Hey mate, thanks for this looks like a decent review.

    I must say though, that comparing the TT direct to power amp vs the Hugo through a preamp is really not 'apples to oranges'...

    I use my Hugo via a Classe CAP2100 integrated and it sounds MUCH clearer in power amp mode than via pre-amp and that's an award winning amp etc etc.

    Especially with the Hugo/TT that has an integrated pre-amp (volume control really) not running it direct to a power amp is borderline a crime... seriously at least try it, yo'd be surprised by the results.
     
  3. lokyc

    lokyc
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    TB303: mate you missed the comment that I have tried it direct to power amp before back to back and preferred through the balanced operation of the preamp.

    There may possibly be some subtle blunting of dynamic attack. But much preferred the lower noise floor and "cleaner" sound going through the 350P, which revealed more detail. The 350P is amazingly transparent.

    I think they probably didn't realise how powerful the Hugo FPGA is. What would be a perfectly acceptable preamp stage was holding it back. Hence the TT's enhancements. I feel the galvanic isolation and balanced outputs help too.

    RW himself was talking about the additional soundstage qualities he unearthed when working on DAVE.

    Well, something to look forward to in a few years...
     
  4. Member 566779

    Member 566779
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    Or September time... ish... :)
     
  5. lokyc

    lokyc
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    Lalalalala.... I don't want to know anything for the next few years....
     
  6. TB303

    TB303
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    Schiit- that's where it's at... ;-)
     
  7. hifix

    hifix
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    Have you compared the Schitt to the Hugo TT TB303?
     
  8. lokyc

    lokyc
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    We're gonna do that this saturday.
     
  9. TB303

    TB303
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    Don't get me wrong, I still love the Hugo and I was a vocal proponent of it - but the Yggy blew my mind. My understanding is that the TT is still essentially a Hugo inside - with a fancy box etc.

    We will share our impressions after Saturday ;-)
     
  10. hifix

    hifix
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    That's like saying the new Dave is "essentially a Hugo inside".
     
  11. TB303

    TB303
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    Sorry mate, that's not true:
    Chord Electronics launch Hugo TT at CES 2015 | DAR

    'According to the press release the Hugo TT's FPGA 'has the same specification and measured performance as its mobile sibling'

    If I recall correctly DAVE has 8x the power of the Hugo because it's a much bigger processor - hence about '10 times the taps'
     
  12. lokyc

    lokyc
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    Dave has 4 Hugos. Sure there's a pun somewhere.

    I can understand where TB303 is coming from. Its not quite like off-the-shelf DAC chips which manufacturers later add filters and inputs.

    The Hugo FPGA does all the audio processing onboard. As I said, even Chord and Rob Watts were not exactly raving about it. All they said was it drives a power amp better when used direct as a preamp.

    But that's the key. Its really allowed the FPGA to shine.

    The question is, is Dave just 4 Hugos and a TT?
     
  13. hifix

    hifix
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    Who cares? What do they actually sound like?
     
  14. TB303

    TB303
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    We shall find out...

    I've reached the point where I simply ignore all technical mumbo-jumbo - I'm not an electrical engineer, I'll never understand the technology and frankly I don't care - the only real; test is how it sounds to me in my system and my room... ;-)
     
  15. Steven

    Steven
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    Good thread. If you do not need the portability and have your own amp then this would be better than Hugo?

    Products: 2Qute DAC
     
  16. lokyc

    lokyc
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    As a tabletop DAC, yes the 2Qute is probably better than the Hugo because of the galvanically isolated USB input. I haven't had first hand experience with the 2Qute myself, but I was reliably informed it is essentially the Hugo without the batteries and input selector.

    In terms of the Hugo, RW stated he thought the Optical input was best because it is the least noisy. Nevertheless, the HD USB do provide more dynamics albeit with crackles and pops. With galvanic isolation, he thought the HD USB is the best input. Also versatile as it supports all DSD. And all you need is a PC/Mac without additional hardware.
     
  17. lokyc

    lokyc
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    So TB303 and I had a comparison with the Schiit Yggdrasil and Hugo TT at his place. Such is the nature of modern life that our sessions were always very compressed. So its not exactly a rigorous test. But we have some impressions.

    With regards to the test system, we both have the B&W CM10s.

    The material was played either through his Raspberry Pi with SPDIF board using Jriver, or my laptop PC running Tidal and Foobar.

    The Schiit was fed via coax SPDIF as preferred by its makers, and the TT the HD USB.

    The amplifer is a Classe CAP2100 integrated running in power amplifier mode. Cables are from Townshend.

    He also uses a REL subwoofer.

    Both have us have listened to our respective DACs for about a week. We do have different system and room setups. So I suppose there is a lot of what one is used to.

    Needless to say, TB303 preferred the Schiit and myself the TT.

    TB303 can discuss more about the technical aspects of the Schiit. Looking at their writeups, it looks like they have taken a more bespoke approach to the filter design and also an emphasise on time domain interpolation. So its not unlike the custom FPGA of Chord. Schiit uses SHARC processors vs the Spartan FPGA.

    To me, the Schiit sounds very good. And in many respects sound better than DACs using off-the-shelf DAC chips in fleshing out the midrange and treble detail.

    But where the Hugo shines is that round and wholesomeness to music and the communication of heft and weight in every note. I relate that to my piano playing days when i was growing up. When its not just about hitting every note accurately and on time, but also trying to get the melody to flow, to get each note to flow into another; that makes the playing melodious and enjoyable to listen to. And believe me if you're a music teacher or long suffering parent, that's quite important!

    There is also the additional treble and bass extension.

    What I agree with TB303 is how the Schiit edges out in midrange detail.

    But there are caveats. Overall I find the TT's performance on TB303's system to be less dynamic and impressive than mine, even when playing material I am familiar with. the extensions were certainly less apparant and the midrange not as sweet. In fact it can be a bit muddy whcih is not something I am familiar with.

    I suspect much of has to do with the amplifier used. Although the TT was connected via the balanced outputs into the Classe's, there was definitely a higher noise floor. Ok I concede that could be the Classe resting hum.

    But I do find the CM10s like powerful amplifiers. the CAP2100 is no slouch, but cannot hold a candle to its 300w siblings or other North American monsters like the ATI derivatives, Anthems etc.

    And from what I reviews I can garner, the same comment was made about the less than stellar bass weight compared to the midrange detail.

    It is also my experience amps with less headroom trip up and muddy the sound when the material becomes more complicated.

    To me, the Hugo puts out a lot more material than equivalent DACs. Lower noise floor, better interpolation, less lossy filters all means for the same piece of music, more information is being fed to the amplifier. Amplifier has to work harder. Not just in terms of absolute energy, but also managing the transitions (slew).

    I haven't tried the Schiit on my system so I wouldn't know what it would sound like in the same environment as I am used to with the Hugo TT.

    But TB303 definitely agreed the TT does sound better than the Hugo.

    So there you have it. At this price points, there are some very unique and outstanding performers out there. As off the shelf DAC development stagnated, companies are moving towards bespoke solutions which leapfrog traditional designs in performance and price points.

    But like everything, its only a part of the system. Whether you can benefit from the extra performance is system specific. Some amps and speakers change more than others with different sources and feeds. Others not so much.

    So the take home story is don't just depend on reviews. Demo, demo, demo. Especially when splurging out in excess of £500 on any component.

    Also look out for these leftfield companies. Breakaway from mainstream chains. Explore a little and discover new horizons.

    Now back to enjoying my TT.
     
  18. hifix

    hifix
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    :)
     
  19. TB303

    TB303
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    Thanks Dude,
    Was great to have you around!

    FWIW
    I know (and love) the Hugo very well. And the TT is an improvement, not sure by how much but if I have to put a figure I'd say 20%. Does it worth the extra cost, especially when one can pick up a second hand Hugo for around £900 is for other people to decide.

    To me the Yggy is a level above, especially in terms of detail, resolution and soundstage 3D-ness.

    This is a bit ironic because these were the qualities where the Hugo excelled, certainly compared to other DACs but the Yggy is head and shoulders about it in this regard.

    It also has much better bass than the Hugo, both in terms of definition, detail, texture, the works.

    I literally spent last week relistening to my collection, hearing albums I knew by heart like I never heard them before..

    I suggest everyone listen to more than one option for any piece of equipment and make up their mind.

    PS
    I tend to disagree regarding the classe and its abilities, but that's another discussion ;)
     
  20. TB303

    TB303
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    Lately,
    One key difference is that unlike the Hugo/TT the Yggy is *upgradable*

    So when anew DAC cheap or PSU or whatever is available there's and easy (and affordable) upgrade path. This should be taken into account, I certainly did.

    Also the Yggy is £2,000 in the UK
     
  21. Excitable Boy

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    Interesting posts - many thanks. Would you say the TT is worth the extra money ?
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015
  22. lokyc

    lokyc
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    You referring to TB303 or me?
     
  23. Excitable Boy

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    Both please....
     
  24. TB303

    TB303
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    Well,
    Personally I doubt it, I feel it's not such a. Dramatic improvement over the good old Hugo - which can be had for £900 Second hand. This means the TT is 3 times more expensive...

    If you can afford close to £2k than I feel the Yggy is much more engaging and fun - but others would disagree
     
  25. lokyc

    lokyc
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    My post is mainly with reference to the Hugo.

    Yggy has a nice nimble character. The Hugo is more analogue.

    I think as a preamp, the TT is definitely better.
     
  26. TomScrut

    TomScrut
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    A slight exaggeration perhaps?

    I do need to have a listen to one though. It does have a volume control doesn't it?
     
  27. lokyc

    lokyc
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    Well Tom, as a man of science, surely you would only challenge a claim when you have disproved it yourself?

    Yes, it also has a remote control.
     
  28. TomScrut

    TomScrut
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    Well it actually depends a lot what you actually meant by your statement. But I seriously doubt it will make it sound 'like' them. The DAC for example cannot stop the break up frequencies of the aluminum tweeter!

    What you were really getting at is you liken it to an equivalent upgrade I presume? Rather than if you had your system and a pair of 800 diamonds and the CM10s then you would struggle to tell them apart. I think you would struggle not to tell 802s and 800s apart let alone dropping a whole range to the CM10s[emoji12]

    I am going to buy a balanced switch to separate my AV from my hi-fi so that enables me to open my options to DACs with volume control (with remotes ideally). My geek pulse infinity is coming soon too I hope. Be interesting to see how it compares to the antelope.
     
  29. TomScrut

    TomScrut
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    Also depends if you meant 800 diamonds as in the speakers or the range!
     
  30. lokyc

    lokyc
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    Heh heh, of course it was meant to be a provocative statement.

    but there is some truth in it.

    The 800 Diamonds use the Diamond tweeter which has a breakup frequency well anve the audible spectrum. Regardless of supersonics, the idea is it remains a perfect dome throughout the audible frequency. The wide performance range also allows for simpler crossovers, which help in the performance in the mids and bass drivers which were similiar to the previous 800s. then of course the cabinet designs and driver isolations.

    The new tweeters too have a higher breakup frequency. albeit not as high as the Diamonds. the CM10s also have driver isolation features like the suspended FST and separate tweeter pod.

    What it means is that given a signal, Diamonds distort, or take away less than the CM10s. But most dealers I speak to, and B&W ppl themselves feel the CM10 is very close to the old 800s which are not that far off the Diamonds.

    My own experience with the Diamonds are limited, and driven by relatively modests sources and amplification. But they still sounds awesome.

    The Hugo TT signal though is so good, that it makes up for the quality loss in the CM10s. And that's what I base my throwaway statement on.

    The Diamonds can literally polish turds. the TT shows the CM10 at its best. So they kind of meet somewhere in the middle.

    But i have a suspicion my CM10s are maxed out. Further upgrades will be of ridiculous diminishing returns.

    the TT will be incredible on your 802Ds. They probably deserve DAVE even.

    I presume you are looking at balanced switchers like these?

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