Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler Review
The best Digital Audio thing since sliced bread
I was eager and extremely keen to try a Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler from the moment I found out about it direct from its designer Rob Watts at the CanJam headphone festival 2018.
Despite my failed attempts to bribe Rob Watts to let me take his own personal Hugo M Scaler home with me I had to wait until December 2018 to get my hands on one. Nintronics were kind enough to loan me their demo unit along with a Hugo TT2 DAC. I used them both to review the fantastic and iconic McIntosh MC275 VI power amplifier.
After the first week of the review I had already decided that I was going to buy a Hugo M Scaler because I could not go back to listening without it and the reason for this was very clear to me. One of the main goals we have as audiophiles is getting more and more and improved and better clarity from our systems. The DAC section of a digital setup is naturally crucial to this, its arguably the most critical stage. It cannot get any clearer than how it starts, or how the signal is converted from digital to analogue. A process we take for granted but is very complex to achieve perfection.
Listening to Rob Watts explain the technology behind the Hugo M Scaler and how its been his life’s work to turn the theorem of the perfect digital to analogue conversion into reality at first didn’t mean much to me. However a week with the Hugo M Scaler was enough to kick start my understanding. Over a year later I am now fully aware of what this technology is designed to do – improve the clarity of the digital to analogue conversion beyond anything that has existed before.
This might seem like a bold statement and I confess that I have not heard every other DAC in the World to say I have tested this theorem so bear that in mind.
Also bear in mind the DAC’s that are using the off the shelf chips from ESS will not have anything like the same clarity of the Hugo M Scaler. I am certainly not saying other DAC’s wont sound good, far from it some very esoteric DAC’s using ESS chips sound fantastic such as the Gryphon Ethos CD Player I enjoyed at the Munich High End Show 2019. The the Ethos uses 8 ESS DAC chips per channel to achieve what Chord can do with one or two FPGA chips and some serious Rob Watts code.
How can this be tested
There is a lot of science behind the Chord Hugo M Scaler more than most of us mere mortals can fully understand and yet its our ears that will tell us all we need to know. In saying that the true transient clarity that the Hugo M Scaler is able to achieve might not be initially be obvious to some audiophiles and there is a very real reason why. Years of not having it and it not being familiar is one but a more apparent reason is the “thickening” of the sound of an audio system can be more “pleasing”.
I spent years lusting after a sound that was full and rich sounding with real body to it and I still really enjoy a sound presentation like this. Since starting Pursuit Perfect System I have been very fortunate to experience a lot more in 18 months than the previous 5 years in regards to high end HiFi. In this time I realised a lot of the sound I was chasing and wanting was a coloured sound and it was masking the real sound or the true transient clarity. I wrote an article about this called The Importance of Leading Edge Clarity
It even works on other DAC’s
One thing that really stood out to me about the Hugo M Scaler was Chord’s claims it will improve the sound of non Chord DAC’s too. I had been using Chord DAC’s exclusively up until recently when SMSL sent me their ultra affordable M300 DAC to review.
I tried the SMSL M300 with and without the Hugo M Scaler and the difference was huge, the M Scaler improved the sound in quite an incredible way. The level of improvement that would make you buy one within a week of testing it exactly the same as me. I demonstrated this in the video below and you can clearly hear the improvement from a recording in a You Tube video, in real life the difference is far more dramatic. This was with the Hugo M Scaler only up-sampling to but a 1/4 quarter of its capability.
The Technical Side
Time to get a little technical with an explanation of what the Hugo M Scaler does.
In brief it has an incredible amount of processing power for 44.1Khz Redbook CD files (1 million tap length filters) to allow it to resolve the digital to analogue conversion to a level not before achieved with other DAC Chips. In fact the Hugo M Scaler has more processing power than all the other current Chord DAC's combined.
That is not all just like how 4K has HDR to fully realise the capability of a modern display the Hugo M Scaler will up-sample the incoming digital signal to a crazy high level to allow for the timing of the music to be significantly improved. You can cycle through different levels of up-sampling and even bypass its effects but when you select it to its maximum the difference is profound. To achieve the maximum up-sampling rate there needs to be dual SPDIF digital connections between the Hugo M Scaler and the Chord DAC's, this is creating a dedicated digital connection for each channel left and right.
Video Demonstrating this here
NO WEAK LINKS
Digital is just digital and nothing can make a difference, well the Chord DAC range is a great example of how that is clearly not the case. Before I explore that a little more I wanted to put the Hugo M Scaler to the ultimate test with the Chord DAVE a DAC renowned for its transient clarity. The Hugo M Scaler made just as much improvement to the Chord DAVE as I expected it to as you can hear in the video below
I also talk in this video about the importance I have found in the quality of the linking cables between the Hugo M Scaler and the Chord DAC's. The Wave High Fidelity are the best SPDIF digital cables I have tried to date and they were designed to link between the Chord DAC's and the M Scaler products the Blu MkII and the Hugo M Scaler. I tested two of their three cables and the Storm Reference their flagship product proved itself to me to help with DAVE and the other Chord DAC's achieve their most and best clarity within my review system.
The Chord Hugo M Scaler is a phenomenal digital hifi component that has proved itself to me time and time again over the last year and its more than justified the money it cost me.
There are lots of important aspects to a hifi systems sound quality and I value all of them equally, well almost equally. The importance of a systems clarity cannot be overlooked or under appreciated because its the difference between hearing the real thing or a smeared version of it. The Hugo M Scaler is a fundamental step forward to achieving this within a digital playback system, largely for CD quality files which is the majority of the music available. I think its the best audiophile thing since sliced bread.