Reviewers: Srajan Ebaen & Hadi Özyaşar
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core w. 16GB RAM running OWS 10.8.2, PureMusic 2.02, Audirvana 1.5.10, COS Engineering D-1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, COS Engineering D-1
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA-30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, ZU Event and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, GigaWatt PF-2 on amps
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail in the UK: £2'995

As reportedly one of Chord's top bestsellers ever
—more than 10'000 units sold in the first year!—for 2015 crowd sourcing has tweaked the you-go Hugo to a double 't'. When fence sitters gushed that they'd buy a Hugo in a heartbeat if only, Chord collected the evidence and made it so. No more ifs and skipped heart beats. To give the people what they wanted, what had been a purely portable compact morphed into the table top version. Hence the TT suffix. It wraps the same circuit into a far bigger milled-from-solid casing to add RCA and fully balanced XLR outputs, an alphanumeric display for input/sample rate info, remote control and two asynchronous full-size USB inputs. Not stopping there, Chord also doubled up on battery power, then boosted that with a 10'000'000µF bank (10 farads, i.e. well beyond normal über amp capacitance!) of super-capacitor backup* à la Vinnie Rossi Lio whilst also insuring that the TT can play indefinitely off its charger. Headfi now has 2 x ¼" and 1 x 3.5mm op-amp outputs still with a selectable 3-stage digital crossfeed filter implemented with 2 x 48-bit DSP cores; plus there's Bluetooth over A2DP and proprietary D/A decoding via a custom-coded Spartan 6 FPGA to support 32/384 PCM and DSD128. Finish options are black and silver. End of run-on. Let's catch our breath and digest that. Phew.

* To explain how batteries and super caps play nice together, Chord call it "technology seen in F1 where super capacitors back up the car's batteries by sharing the load and charge demands, thereby protecting them. They serve a similar purpose in the Hugo TT. They extend battery life as well as improve dynamics and demanding transients in recorded music."

Stepping back to admire its seamless assets, this makeover transformed the Hugo TT into a bona fide 3-in-1 à la Burson Conductor Virtuoso, April Music Eximus DP1 or Lindemann Audio musicbook:10. It can thus be used as a fixed-output fully balanced DAC; as a digital preamp via the built-in volume control; and as a flagship headphone amp which is capable of 5Vrms/0.5A drive with a very low 0.075Ω Z-out. I called it a digital preamp due to the absence of analog inputs. What we get are S/PDIF over purist 32/384 BNC and convenience but expanded 24/192 Toslink; plus driver-less USB 1.0 aka SD and 32/384 galvanically isolated USB 2.0 aka HD.

Chord's photo of their siblings shows the new 'honey I blew up the Hugo' proportions of the TT by contrast. It's more than 4 x as big.

If that suggests digital volume, spot on. Alas, this isn't the usual bit-decimating 24-bit on-chip affair which comes free and built into conventional converter silicon. That's because Chord don't do off-the-shelf chips. Instead, this volume control is part of their custom filter. Thus it's written to a latest-gen Xilinx Spartan 6 field-programmable gate array. The latter's ultra-low 0.7V power draw enabled Hugo's original battery power concept in the first place. To learn at what resolution Chord's attenuator operates—would it get lossy at high signal cut?—and how its presence might enforce DSD-to-PCM conversion, I asked head honcho John Franks for the juicy tech bits. "There's no bit attrition whatsoever, hence zero loss. But I'm not really a digital designer. I just dabble in it from time to time. For the full Monty on this particular aspect, I'll pass you on to Hugo's designer Rob Watts."

John Franks at CES 2015 with the Hugo TT and Audeze headphones [photo credit Aussie correspondent John Darko of]

But John had more. "About differences between the original and TT, the circuit board is actually not the same. The TT board has one very fundamental and critical difference. We now have galvanically isolated the HD USB input. This was carried out by Rob in an interesting and unusual way. It allows our isolation to work effectively right up to 384kHz. Now that's unusual. Normally isolators cannot work above 48kHz or absolutely max out at an iffy 96kHz  We feel it is more important that a desktop unit has isolated USB because mobile players and phones only create a small amount of ground modulation noise which is no problem for the original Hugo. In static systems however, especially older PCs create a helluva lot of noise on the ground and as RF. Therefore we needed to take care of that. Also note that we boosted output power to give greater drive availability for multi-way and super-low impedance headphones." In short, the TT wasn't just a bigger but also badder Hugo.