Today we are going to be looking at the most recent DAC from Chord Electronics, the Hugo TT2. For the rest of the review I will refer to this piece of gear as the HTT2. The HTT2 is the latest evolution of the Hugo family, following the Hugo, Hugo TT, and Hugo 2. All three previous Hugo’s have offered excellent sound quality, features, and build quality. However, they all had things that could have been improved upon. Be it battery life, output power, sound etc…The original Hugo was a bit bright and brittle sounding, and the Hugo TT didn’t have enough output power (in my opinion) for a dedicated desktop option. The Hugo 2 fixed the bright and slightly brittle sound of the Hugo, but lacked the drive for the hard to drive planar magnetic headphones I tend to enjoy. It is a great bit of gear no doubt, but there was room for improvement.
Chord Electronics seems to have realised that the vast majority of Hugo TT owners used it as a stationary desktop piece of gear. Negating the need for the batteries inside. The space these batteries took up in the HTT1 has been reworked and 6 super capacitors have been put in to replace the batteries. These super capacitors allow for a much higher maximum output power, which is perfect for the headphones I typically enjoy. The Hifiman Susvara, Hifiman HE6se, Abyss AB-1266 and similar. Offering up 7.3w at 8 ohms single ended, and 18w at 8 ohms from the balanced outputs on the rear of the device, there aren’t many headphones the HTT2 can’t handle.
Opening the HTT2 box, you are greeted by a compact, well built, solid piece of kit. One thing I have noticed with Chord Electronics gear is that they are almost unrivalled in terms of build quality. Everything seems to have a place, and function. There is no wasted space. All the knobs, or in this case, a light up marble, have the perfect feel. Not too hard to turn, but never feeling light, cheap and tacky. Speaking of the light up marble, it’s a fairly quirky and genius way to indicate the current volume on the device. Whilst not everyone enjoys the marbles on Chords various pieces of gear, they are an innovative way to convey the sample rate etc…that you are currently using. I quite enjoy them as they are a bit fun, and it shows the Chord as a company doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Well, not too seriously with everything except with regards to the sound of their gear. That cannot be argued with.
My reference DAC (that I sadly do not own anymore) is the Chord DAVE. I remember it well. Supreme clarity, detail, and definition. Perhaps there are better DACs out there on the market, but I have not heard them. The problem with the DAVE is that it only offers 2w maximum out of its headphone output. Enough for many headphones, but not for the aforementioned hard to drive headphones I enjoy. I knew that I would never be able to afford both the DAVE as well as a suitable powerful amplifier to pair with it, so I ended up selling the DAVE and beginning the search for a replacement system. Thankfully the HTT2 was announced, and it seemed perfect. An all in one item, that is powerful, as well as being the closest to the DAVE in terms of sound quality as anything else offered by Chord.
To do a quick comparison, the DAVE is the king of micro detail, and has a more transparent and nuanced presentation than the HTT2. It is also a bit less bright than the HTT2. The HTT2, however seems to have a bit more meat on its bones, and is a tiny bit warmer than the DAVE. Both are superb DACs and it is a case of your budget, and use case, as to which you should choose if you are in the market. If you have easier to drive headphones, and can afford it, the DAVE is still the king. However, if you have harder to drive headphones like myself, want to drive speakers, or would like a more “affordable” option, the HTT2 is the way to go.
As I was waiting for my HTT2 to arrive, I was using my trusty iFi iDSD Black Label, running into a cheap marantz speaker amplifier to drive my headphones, especially the Susvara. Interestingly enough, as powerful as the HTT2 is (and I was using the balanced outputs on the rear of the device,) the aforementioned set up had better control of the drivers, especially in the low end. Playing difficult complex sub bass patterns in electronic music was done better by the Marantz BUT with regards to every other metric, the HTT2 absolutely smokes my previous set up. The iFi/Marantz set up sounded so thick and warm in comparison to the HTT2, and was missing those last details that high(er) end set ups bring to the table. The HTT2 is much brighter than the iDSD to Marantz set up, but it is not sibilant and strident. The clarity and detail from the HTT2 is superb, and I have only heard better from the DAVE whilst I still owned it.
The minimal loss of “authority” in terms of driving the Susvara (and my other headphones) with the HTT2 vs. a speaker amplifier is absolutely worth the trade off for the extra clarity, detail, and texture the HTT2 brings to the table.
As Jude of Head-Fi.org said in his video on the HTT2, “The DAVE is still the flagship and sounds the part.” I agree with this, however…
You should go for the HTT2 instead of the DAVE if
1. You own hard to drive headphones (Abyss, Susvara, HE6se etc…) and would like to drive them well. Unless you can afford a very transparent speaker amplifier to put in front of the DAVE, an amp like the Etude, go for the HTT2.
2. You do not want to spend DAVE levels of money on a DAC/Headphone amp, and would prefer to allocate more money towards your headphones etc…
3. You want to drive a pair of speakers with the HTT2
4. You want a cool, big, light up marble to control the volume of your tunes.
The HTT2 is a superb all in one device. There truly isn’t much it can’t do. Drive speakers? Sure. Drive low efficiency headphones to sensitive IEMs? Sure, no problem. Want a superb DAC? Sure, here you go. Want to use the MScaler from Chord Electronics as well? Great! It will work seamlessly.
The Hugo TT2 is an all around performer. It does not have the ultimate DAC quality of the DAVE, no. It makes that trade off to be what I consider one of the best, and flexible all in one headphones source components in existence for half the price of the DAVE. Two thumbs up from me!