Chord Hugo TT2 and M Scaler Review

Chord Hugo TT2 and Hugo M Scaler Specifications

Drew reviews the updates and features in the new Chord Hugo TT 2 desktop DAC and the Hugo M Scaler, comparing sound quality and technology with the Hugo DAVE.

Highlights

00:00 Introducing the new Hugo TT 2 and M Scaler
00:29 A little history of Chord Electronics' products
02:34 Design Improvements between models
03:19 Sound quality comparisons
03:45 Hugo TT v. Hugo TT2
06:43 Front Panel Controls of Hugo TT2
10:34 Is the TT 2 as good as the DAVE?
12:40 What a DAVE 2 might feature
13:06 Front panel controls of M Scaler
14:38 Back panel connections on Hugo TT 2
17:05 Back panel connections on M Scaler
17:35 Using the M Scaler with other DACs
18:37 Back panel connections on TToby
19:00 Custom Cables: Black Dragon Dual BNC, Silver Dragon Dual BNC, Black Dragon Mini Coax
19:31 Linear Power Supply
19:55 Further Reading

Related Products

Transcript

Hey, this is Drew Baird from Moon Audio and I'm here today to talk to you a little bit about the new Chord Hugo TT 2 and the M Scaler. As you can see here at the table I've got a broad variety of products from Chord and I'm gonna go over a little bit of the differences between each one of them.

You can take a look at our blog where I've gone into much more of the specifics of numbers, etc but what I want to try and do today is give a really broad overview of what's going on with the new TT 2 and the M Scaler.

A History of Chord Electronics Products

To give you a little bit of history about Chord's products, I guess it was about five or six years ago they came out with the original Hugo. At the time I was at CES. I didn't know anything about the product being released. A good friend of mine Jude from HeadFi said "You've got to go down to the Chord room and listen to this product!" It was the first time I had ever demoed a product and said "I have to buy this and sell this immediately."

Normally I'll pick up a product at CES, I'll bring it back to the showroom, I'll do a little bit of auditioning against other products and then make a decision. I knew right from the get-go that this was something special. And Chord hasn't given up coming out with really special products - with each new generation things just get better and better. A lot of companies out there will do maybe a little incremental change here, maybe a lateral move and change of sound signature here, and they really don't get big jumps in performance over past products.

Well, Rob Watts at Chord Electronics does an amazing job of really knocking it out of the park with each upgrade that he does. In fact, the Hugo, the 2Qute and the tabletop, the Hugo TT, all had the same DACs essentially in it. Each one of them had a little bit of a different ergonomic design to it.

The Hugo is meant to be a portable device first and foremost. It could be used as a device in your desktop, but there were some ergonomic issues in it. On one side they would have the USB digital inputs - on the other the analog - so you had to arrange it sideways with cables coming out both directions.

So they stripped out the headphone amp, got rid of the batteries and they created the 2Qute. And so the 2Qute became a nice, small compact DAC that you could use on your desktop with a small little headphone system or you could use in your two channel system.

Then to top that off, they came out with the Hugo TT, which really became more of a digital control preamp. It had balanced outputs that you could now send to a speaker amp, all the outputs were on the back so it was ergonomically a lot easier to use, came with a remote control, had a much better Bluetooth antenna. Lots of bells and whistles for a two channel setup.

Moving down the road, Rob Watts has improved all of his designs. He's managed to double the filter tap length on the Hugo 2 and the Qutest. He's managed to double that in the TT 2 - so it went from 26K in the original, so we're now at 49 with the Hugo 2 and the Qutest, we're now at 98 in the TT 2. This is catching up to the Chord DAVE, which is at 160K.

I'm not going to go into a huge amount about the details of Rob's technology. We've got a wonderful article. It gets into a lot more details about upsampling and how the M Scaler works with the other products. The sound quality of the TT 2 is very close to the DAVE I can't say that it is as resolving and detailed as the DAVE, but I would say that it's a little bit warmer and musical in sound.

Adding on the M Scalar, which we'll get to in a few minutes, gets the Hugo TT right in the ballpark of the DAVE. Now that's not to say you can't improve the DAVE because this M Scaler also will work with the Chord Dave.

Hugo TT v. Hugo2 TT

So let's talk about the differences between the original TT and now the TT 2. No longer are we using batteries in the TT design. They've now gone to an external power supply They are still using a large capacitor supply bank to load for peak demands in music - you'll notice when you first turn on the TT 2 it's gonna say "CHG" in the display and what this means is it's charging up those banks so that way when you need a peak reserve it's got the balls behind it.

Chord will not warranty the device if you damage it using your own linear power supply. They don't recommend it. They say based on the filter design, the capacitor design, the whole power filtration internal of this unit It's not required. In fact Rob Watts thinks that by adding a linear power supply (and he's done a little bit of testing) actually made the sound of the TT 2 a little harsh, a little sterile, a little stringent if you will.

The Bluetooth antenna once again has been increased with a much larger distance for Bluetooth devices. They've added some new dithering filter curves. This is a way to sharpen or soften the digital filter so to give a little more warmth if you will to the music or maybe a little more analytical - depending on what you favor.

They've also changed the crossfeed circuit in here. Crossfeed is so that you can create a 3D presentation of the sound in headphones. I'll be honest, in going back and forth between the three functionalities of that crossfeed circuit, I can't say that it really made a huge difference in the sound. I tended to leave it off.

We'll notice when we change the volume control back and forth they now have a readout so you can actually see where your gain settings are. This is really important for mastering studios. I've already had a couple of mastering engineers ask me if it had that feature because that was really important and so while they were using the Hugo 2, because they needed to mark down where they were gain-wise between mixes, this became a very important feature to them. So I'm happy to say that they've added that.

There's no real reason to leave your TT 2 on all the time. I found that in about 10 to 15 minutes it's warmed up and it sounds as good as it's gonna sound. I know with other electronics that I listen to I tend to want to leave it on for about an hour before I listen, especially with tube amps. It gets the circuit good and cooked and it usually sounds better. I was really amazed that in a very short time period it sounded amazing.

Let's talk about some of the inputs and outputs. So they've got two quarter-inch headphone jacks. They've got a mini jack which has now a little recessed part on the bottom So if you're using a right angle plug, you can actually have the connector go straight down I know on the last TT it was a recessed singular socket and right angles just wouldn't work with it I thought that was a neat little gimmick But the only problem is you'll have to have the TT sort of at the edge of your desk That way they can go straight down. You don't want to bend your cable 90 degrees and cause a fault in it. Okay, let's go through the buttons on the front. The first one closest to the center is the standby button This is basically the way you power it on and off. Essentially it's going into standby mode, so it's not truly off. It's still powered. It's still keeping warm. And this is part of the reason the warmup time is so short. So when you turn it back on you're gonna see the "CHG" as I talked about earlier This is where we're charging the capacitor banks. Then looking at the buttons starting on the outside The first one's MENU button, for going through each one of the features. Then the next one is the SET button so when you get to a menu feature you want to change you use the SET button.

The first one I get to Says AMP. When you push the SET button you can either go from AMP mode or DAC mode. So this unit can be used as a straight DAC in your system if you want to use your own preamp and just want to use this as a digital to analog converter it turns off the headphone amp and the volume control of the device.

In AMP mode then it becomes a headphone amp, a digital preamp as well as it does have the possibility because of how much power this unit has you can actually drive a fairly efficient pair of small bookshelf speakers, single driver speakers, something that's got a very high sensitivity. While the TT 2 has 18 watts at 8 ohms at the XLR RCA outputs I don't know that I would drive a pair of floor-standing speakers with this. I mean really the TTOBY was designed to be added onto the TT 2, the DAVE, the old original TT to drive speakers. I haven't done a lot of playing around with this I will with some near-field monitors, but I doubt I'll be playing my Focal Sopra II's off of the 18 watts. At 300 Ohms you get about 1 watt. So there's a ton of power for headphones; plenty of voltage as well. See my blog for more specs on that.

Going to the next menu, you'll see X-PHD So these are the crossfeed settings and by pushing the SET button you can go through 4 different parameters for changing the crossfeed in your head. This is essentially a way to give a little bit of a 3D holographic sound to headphones so they don't sound so closed in. I can't say that I heard a real huge difference between each one of these settings. It was subtle. I've never been a huge crossfeed fan anyway But some of you may like it, some of you may not.

The next functionality after the crossfeed is the filters. These are dithering filter curves for basically sharpening the digital filter or smoothing it out. What this does is, it can create - when you smooth it - a warmer presentation; when you make it sharper, a little more analytical. There are four functionalities on there 1, 2, 3, 4 - play with each one of them see if there's one that you like the best. I like the warmer tonality of filter 4. Next is the INPUT - you can set through BNC Optical, Optical 2, Bluetooth, USB, BNC 1, BNC 2 again. Now BNC 1 and BNC 2 can be used in unison with the M Scaler. We'll get to that in a little bit. Next on the menu ring is DIMMING. So you can dim the lights of the Hugo So if you're in a darker room Let's say you have a home theater and a two channel in the same room you can change the dimming.

After the dimming, you'll see "HIG" so this is High Gain Mode. In High Gain Mode, you can drive headphones that are a lot more difficult to drive because of higher loads Let's say HiFiMan HE6, HiFiMan's Susvara, maybe Audeze LCD-4's. Any headphones that need a little more 'oomph' I would play in high gain. Low gain is for anywhere from 32 to 300 Ohms - and even if you want to use IEMs. They've done a great job of keeping the background noise or background hiss for IEMs extremely low and I don't think you'll notice it unless maybe you've got an extremely sensitive pair of IEMs.

So the question on everybody's mind is: Is the TT 2 as good as the DAVE? Well, yes and no. I've had the DAVE on my desk. I guess now two to three years I've lived with it five days a week at least eight hours a day constantly listening to either near-field monitors or headphones. It's my reference stack. I use it all the time. I absolutely love it. It's very articulate, very clean, very detailed It's almost like all veils have been lifted. I mean, I see everything in the music. And I wouldn't say that it is overly analytical. It's just very clean it is very smooth, but it is not on the warm side.

So that's where the TT comes in. The TT is a little warmer, a little more musical on the DACs side, used in just the DAC mode - I did a comparison, both of these - so I could switch back and forth easily from the same source. Like I said, a little bit warmer, not as resolving. Don't get me wrong, the DAC in This TT 2 is no slouch. It is very detailed, very resolving.

But where we really see the difference is in the headphone amp section. The DAVE will drive most headphones very well and it will drive hard-to-drive-headphones, but just not to peak performance. It just won't give the bottom end the authority it wants. This TT 2 has gobs of power It will drive any headphone on the market today to peak performance without even flinching two of them at a time in fact Fantastic headphone amp.

Now when you add in the M Scaler to the TT 2 - well now it's a different ballgame. You've still got that warmth and musicality from the TT 2's DAC But now you've up-sampled to a much higher resolution rate that really puts it in line now with the DAVE and in that situation, I may like the TT 2 stack a little bit better, especially because of the headphone amp.

But wait a minute: add the M Scaler to the Dave? Forget about it. Now this DAC is just screaming. It's amazing Absolutely the best I have ever heard a DAC sound. And that's what I said when I first heard the DAVE.

I would imagine (hint hint) maybe the DAVE 2 will now have a more powerful headphone amp section like the TT 2. Not saying there is going to be a DAVE 2 but I would only imagine they've got to do something to upgrade this at some point. If they combine the headphone amp out of this with the DAVE at an even higher FPGA tap filter length with maybe an M Scaler already built into it? Wham-o. We'll see something pretty amazing.

Hugo M Scaler Controls

The first button you'll notice is labeled VIDEO. This is for when you're using it in both a home theater and 2 channel system where you're gonna be passing through possibly a digital signal that comes from maybe a DVD or blu-ray. Engaging this will do low latency digital signal processing So it's different for video the way it's handled for PCM audio.

The next button is labeled INPUT This is for going through all the various inputs that we showed you on the back panel of the device Good luck remembering all the color codes I've essentially printed out a page for all these units for the inputs and resolution so I know what all the colors mean. There's a great graph in the M Scaler manual that will talk about upsampling which is essentially this next button It has four positions the white being the max resolution upsampling and the red being the defeat button and then you can scroll through each one to gently upsample your input PCM signal. Take a look at that graph: based on whether you do a dual data BNC input or a single BNC input Those values change as you upsample. And as you change the color here, you'll notice on the TT the color of the input changes based on the upsampling rates.

Now the next buttons are for the DX input and outputs for future products by Chord that are not yet available. So these don't really do anything right now, you'll notice every once in a while that'll turn on and turn off Ignore it. It has no functionality at this point. It's for future products.

So let's go over the back panel connections. On the TT 2 The first thing you'll see is your USB connection. The original TT Did everything over a D over P When we went to the DAVE this not only was able to do DOP USB transmission but also native resolution. One can argue which one sounds better I've done a lot of testing with the DAVE between the two and quite frankly I really couldn't hear a difference. It's essentially just a different way of packaging the digital transmission to your DAC but we're now able to do DOP and native resolution over the USB input of both the M Scaler and the TT 2 as well as the Hugo 2.

It used to be that the highest PCM input rate was 384 now we're bumped up to 768. Obviously, there isn't a whole lot of software available for high res PCM 384 up to 768 but the capability is there and more importantly, where it comes into play is when we talk about the M Scaler in a couple of minutes. The TT 2 has two optical connections, and if you've got one of the early manuals You'll notice that there's a misprint: that it says that one does lower resolution than the other. They both do up to 192 PCM so this was a misprint and I know they've corrected the manual since then. The next two connections you'll see are BNC one and two.

Now these can be used independently for two different sources or this can be used as a connection point from the M Scaler and essentially doubling your data rate of what you can upsample from the M Scaler. The DAVE also has the dual inputs, which can also be used with the M Scaler. You'll notice on the end there are two more BNC's here and four BNC's on the DAVE. These are all DX inputs and outputs that are going to be used for future products by Chord.

Hopefully, maybe they're gonna do something like a Roon end point maybe a music streamer I've heard some talk about a digital amplification project as well but they're all a bunch of rumors. Then you'll see we've got the RCA and XLR outputs for the TT Like I said, these can be used with a custom cable to drive your speakers because they're that powerful but like I said TTOBY is really gonna do a much better job of driving speakers. Just more dynamics, more control, especially if they're floor standards are harder to drive less sensitivities. You know, I would probably only drive maybe near field monitors or single driver speakers off of those.

Now let's talk about the M Scaler a little bit. The M Scaler essentially is an upsampler and what this does is essentially takes let's say the lowest resolution possible, which on a CD is sixteen forty four one (16 bit / 44.1 KHz) and it upsamples it sixteen times greater the resolution. This is why it's important that this new TT now can handle 768 because the max resolution That the M Scaler can upsample to is 768.Now the M Scaler doesn't have to be just used only with Chord products, you can use this with any DAC to improve the incoming signal from your source either via a computer or a CD transport. However Unless you've got a way to do dual data rate the way the TT 2 does, you're limited in how much up-sampling you can do. Looking at the other connections on the M Scaler, we've got two digital outputs. These can be pass-through's to go to a separate system let's say like I said earlier you're integrating both your two channel system with your home theater system These can go out to a pre pro processor for whatever reason. Then you've got your USB input same as the TT 2 - does both native and DOP.

This is the preferred method in my mind to Listen to music. I've done a bunch of testing between Redbook and computer audio and I found the USB input really to be my favorite. Then you've got dual Toslink inputs. And then the two DX outputs for future products. Looking at the TTOBY connections, we've got binding posts that are EU standard safety In other words bananas are really the best option because spades have to go up through the top and point straight up I'm not a big fan of these binding posts that come out of the EU But it's a requirement of their safety laws. It has both balanced input and RCA inputs.

Selecting Cable for Hugo M Scaler and Hugo TT2

Now something else we can help you with here at moon audio. Obviously a lot of custom cables are involved we've got dual BNC connections with both our black dragon and silver dragon to go between your TT and your M Scaler or your M Scaler and your DAVE. We've also got a special mini black dragon coax cable to go from the M Scaler to your Hugo 2 which requires a mini plug input.

We can make custom cables from either the RCA or XLR s of the TT to go to you're sensitive bookshelf speakers if you want to try and utilize them. At this point we don't have any plans to pick up a linear power supply - we may in the future, I haven't decided yet. It sort of worries me a little bit that Chord is not going to cover these products under warranty if something gets damaged. I understand their stance. They don't want to be responsible essentially.

Hopefully I've educated you a little bit about the new Hugo TT 2, the M Scaler and all the new products from Chord Electronics. We've got a lot more information on our website, especially check out our blog I've got a big write-up on the TT 2 and a lot of the specifications and details I'll be following that up with a blog on the M Scaler very soon. Also check out our Chord Magazine and if you have any questions, please feel free to email me through the website contact system. Thank you!

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