Chord Electronics’ Hugo – A nifty portable DAC device with little CES coverage

chord-hugo

When we think of a product named Hugo, the luxury German fashion brand Hugo Boss springs to mind. Chord Electronics, British manufacturers of high-performance hi-fi products, has introduced a new Hugo onto the consumer market. Playfully named because you can take it anywhere ‘you go’, the Hugo takes claim as being “the world’s most advanced and first truly reference-class portable DAC/headphone amp.”

We have to note that competing against the One Wheel – a cross between a skateboard and a unicycle – and the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro, a huge 12.2” tablet which is said to be Samsung’s answer to the Surface 2 and the iPad Air, Hugo has had relatively little exposure as the top techno innovations on display at this year’s CES. Its comparative inconspicuousness in the gadget-obsessed press doesn’t mean to say that Hugo hasn’t got  its own innovations and niche to step into.

Seasoned audiophiles will understand the importance of the digital to analogue converter (DAC), a device that translates digitally stored information from a mobile device into analogue signals, thus upping the volume and improving the quality of the sound.

So in the vast world of audio and the DAC market, what’s so special (if anything) about Hugo and how have its capabilities been initially assessed?

What’s good about Hugo is that it can be used as both a portable headphone DAC and as a reference-level source component in a static system. What’s more, Hugo offers five digital inputs, including A2DP aptX Bluetooth, as well as 384kHz PCM and DSD 128 playback for contemporary high-resolution Digital eXtreme Definition music files. In layman terms, Hugo will pump out meticulously clear tunes, no matter where you are.

Hugo by Chord
Hugo by Chord

As mentioned earlier, Hugo didn’t receive that much attention in the post-CES 2014 reports and consequently trying to locate feedback about Chord Electronics’ new venture proved a little difficult though by no means impossible. StuffTV, one of the lesser-known gadget and video review sites, was one source to catch on to the unique merits of Hugo.

With a boldly dramatic headline that Hugo, the world’s first portable hi-res audio DC, will “quadruple the prove of your phone’, StuffTV talks about how the device’s lightweight, compact and portable DAC contrasts to other DACs and headphone amps, which “tend to be a little on the bulky side.”

The audio tech review site What Hi Fi was also quick to review Hugo, reiterating Chord Electronics’ claims that Hugo offer “studio-master-tape sound quality, advanced connectivity and uncompromising file playback capability.”

If you are heavily into listening to crystal-clear tunes whilst on the go, Hugo certainly seems to tick all the right boxes. This nifty little device, which is encased in aircraft-grade aluminium, is not cheap though and will set you back £1,200.

Audioengine’s W3 Wireless Audio Adapter: The End to Spaghetti?

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Not sure about you, but I have a drawer stuffed full with wires and leads – the detritus of a former life when everything electrical had to be connected. It’s made worse of course because not being a tidy person, there’s no order to it, just a tangled mass of USB, phono and scarts that were once needed but now lay dormant but are there just in case I need them.

Of course that won’t happen anymore because I am fully wireless and proud of it. There may be a time in the future when a study shows all these radio waves flying about are bad for us, but until then, I live a life of wire sobriety.

So given the fact wired connectivity is most definitely on life support, there’s a journey of discovery to be made with each new wireless product while we wait for the transition to fully integrated wireless on every device. Will this new one be better for my home system than the one I already have?

W3-reciever

Audioengine’s W3  Premium Wireless Audio Adapter will certainly a raise an eyebrow or two. This could well be the Swiss army knife for wireless audio, given it can turn any audio system with USB or 3.5mm mini-jack or RCA audio outputs into a wireless device via a sender and receiver with a range of over 30 metres (100 feet) with, it is promised, no drop outs or interference. A particularly bold claim considering most homes are full of noisy devices from cordless phones to microwaves. The 16-bit USB DAC handles audio up to 16 bits/48KHz with no compression, as well as analogue audio via a 3.5mm minijack so this device could be a very effective way of making your subwoofer or your surround-sound speakers wire free.

You can use W3 as a wireless USB DAC to send music from your computer to any stereo system or add W3 to your home cinema as a wireless link to your subwoofer or powered rear speakers. Setup is fast and you can add extra W3 wireless receivers, which are available separately.

Audioengine director, Brady Bargenquast

The sender and receiver units are powered via your computer’s USB port, the AC power adapter which is included in the package, or from any other USB power source such as an iPhone charger which is a perfect example.

At £125, the W3 Premium wireless audio adapter is a decent value investment for wireless wi fi and with the sender device capable of broadcasting to up to three receivers simultaneously, you can add additional receivers for £75 each and have a pretty comprehensive multi room system.

When you look at alternatives available at the moment, you might want to think about  Apple’s Airport Express system which connects your iphone music to the audio-in socket of each speaker via individual modules, one for each speaker. As they transmit at both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies they’ll automatically connect to the best available band for the fastest possible performance. Then again, if you don’t have any speakers, you could invest in Jawbone’s Jambox wireless speakers which belt out some powerful Bluetooth enabled sonics and are portable enough to use on the go too.