By early February 2015, a circulating press release announced a revised Hugo inside CPM 2800 MkII [£6'690] which updated this 120wpc class D integrated with Hugo/2Qute FPGA converter tech for built-in 32/384PCM and DSD128 file support. Chord clearly felt that the Hugo's victory lap wasn't yet done. A few months after that, I had opportunity to meet John Franks and his very brainy sidekick Rob Watts at the Munich HighEnd show. With a new mystery DAC still shrouded under black cloth when I entered their exhibit—the unveiling was to occur later that day—I talked a bit with both men. Knowing how Playback Design license their FPGA-based DSD tech to Nagra; and how MSB license their discrete R2R tech to ReQuest, Rockna, Thrax and others; I asked whether Chord OEM theirs. One manufacturer had outright asked me for FPGA licensing options. Robert handed me his card. Under the WTA header, it listed him as managing director. The reverse side itemized their activities as consultants to the hifi and semiconductor industries; as suppliers of FPGA and ASIC audio designs; and as creators of intellectual property like the WTA filter algorithm, pulse array and balanced array DAC and ADC; class W switching power amplifiers; and Class Z (DDFA) digital power amplifiers.


Robert's licensing deal with Chord is so established and plain successful, he has neither the time nor inclination to dilute their winning relationship. What's more, he indicated how proper implementation he'd be proud of involves rather more than just installing his coded FPGA on a board. With Chord, his IP already has a place to shine. With unknown OEMs, who could tell what travesties they might bake up with it? About their new statement DAC Dave—short for digital to analogue veritas in extremis—Robert let on that he used a number of very costly LX75-version Spartan 6 FPGAs 10 x more powerful than the Hugo's. This led to a 164'000-tap filter with 256 x upsampling and massively paralleled computing power where 166 separate DSD cores alone run just his filter. Things got more personal with his admission of having wasted many months chasing a promising design avenue which in final auditions ended up to disappoint and not at all cash in on its promise and his hard work. Scrap.

From Hugo to Dave on the FPGA highway.

Meanwhile turning his attention to the noise floor of his latest analog noise shaper had shown him that driving it from -120dB to -130dB and still lower proved very audible in the depth domain. He'd not believed that human hearing could/would resolve such extreme test-bench geekery. This proved how measurements—which is all you have in the digital domain since nobody can actually listen to it—and critical listening (only possible in the analog domain) must cooperate in tango-esque intimacy. Throw in an open mind and relentless curiosity for good measure. Asking him about DSD, I nearly predicted that he'd roll up his eyes. He explained how by now he has a very firm grip on why DSD simply can't throw depth like PCM can. Back to Dave, its output stage sports a new 20-element pulse array with 2nd-order analog noise shaper to feed its XLR/RCA/6.3mm outputs. Its more advanced take on Chord's signature Watts filter had to very literally wait on the availability of higher computing power as condensed down into the latest integrated chips. It thus also reflects a very high parts cost for those little screamers; far beyond even the poshest of DAC chips.


Munich too provided a chance to inquire about the gestation status of this assignment and remind John Franks that even the promised original Hugo hadn't been delivered since January. His follow-up email of June 8th explained the reason. "I'm sorry for the delay.  Please let me explain the problem we've had. Predominantly it's about lack of quality metal work. We are and have always been buying ours from local suppliers here in Kent. These suppliers were deserted by other customers who around seven years ago farmed out their metal work to China because of prices. Well, prices in China are up and quality is low. Now all those customers have returned to the UK. This causes lead times to go out to 4 months. In short, we're fighting to get the metal work we need. We are resolving these issues and are now shipping but this is the reason for the delay. I hope to have a unit available for you within three weeks." By July 15th, I had neither an update nor product, causing one reader to exhort that the suspense was killing him. Of course this also was the time of extended summer vacations so more patience were the two relevant words. But when, by September 7th, I still had no word on status, I had to pack my bags and move on. Chord's communication skills definitely left things to be desired.
... to remain uncompleted.

Chord Electronics website