Reviews

Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler Review – Digital Disruption

Build & Features

Firstly, the Hugo M Scaler upscales according to the following chart. You’ll notice that some modes are only accessible with a single BNC cable (such as 352.8 kHz for 44.1 kHz). Moreover, optical will obviously be maxed out at a sample rate of 176.4 kHz. You’ll also notice with some higher-res files – no upscaling is done at certain modes.

Notable Features

  • Xilinx XC7A200T FPGA
  • Solid aluminum chassis that protects against RFI
  • The currently unused DX outputs are for use with future products (rumored to be a digital amplifier).
  • Auto input source and remote.
    • This comes in handy when connecting multiple devices (USB gets priority).
  • 15V/4A power supply.
    • Your warranty is void if you were to use a third-party power supply. I know some have even used these battery packs for their Hugo M Scaler. Just something to keep in mind.
  • Video/Lip sync delay (0.6s).
    • For use with your TV, YouTube on a laptop, gaming on a PC, etc.
    • It’s also fantastic for watching movies. You won’t get a full million taps but works quite well from my uses of it.
  • Galvanic isolation on both the dual BNC outputs and USB input.
    • +5V required for USB. The S/PDIF isn’t galvanically isolate
  • Adjustable brightness (low and high) settings via the two DX buttons.
  • A remote! Although I solely use the “OP SR” button.
  • Inputs
    • 2 x BNC
    • 2 x optical
    • 1 x USB (up to DSD 256)
  • Outputs
    • 1 x optical
    • 1 x S/PDIF
    • 1 x dual BNC (BNC #2 is only used for dual mode)

I usually just keep the Hugo M Scaler on violet (auto source). It allows me to switch quickly between Spotify via Chromecast Audio, video editing on my laptop, and the Innuos ZENith server. I even did some gaming (Street Fighter V) via the Video sync option and it worked flawlessly.

Consequently, you could basically throw M Scaling technology on everything! This makes the Hugo M Scaler an even more indispensable piece in my system.

Gear

The Setup

DAC / M Scaler settings

When comparing the inputs of the HMS, USB seems to sound grounded and full-bodied – especially in the midrange. The optical input is a little thinner and brighter. For what it’s worth, I do hear differences when more devices are connected – but the convenience far outweighs the sonic benefits.

In addition, some suggest to have the “HF FIL” option on the DAVE to be off – but I found it sound better with it set to ON. For whatever reason, the BNC 3 & 4 inputs sound better than 1 & 2.

As for the filters on the TT 2, Qutest, and Hugo 2 – I prefer the warmest ones (Red). To be honest, I think they have the most natural sound.

Chromecast Audio

Moreover, you could get a much better tone and timbre when you power a Chromecast Audio (now discontinued) via a battery and connect it to the Hugo M Scaler. There’s something so beautiful about saying “Hey Google, play Spotify on M Scaler.”

Using the Chromecast Audio on the Hugo M Scaler made me realize the importance of having a higher quality streamer and server such as the Innuos ZENith Mk.II. That’s where you’ll lower noise floor, bring out the details, and mold out the music in a more convincing way.

Grounding

As far as grounding, I heard no differences when grounding the BNC inputs of the HMS, but did hear a difference when grounding the unused BNC output. For the curious, the tone is elevated and more focused – but leaner. In any case, I’m planning to use all the BNC outputs for the DAVE and TT 2. In short, the Hugo M Scaler doesn’t seem to benefit from additional grounding.

I did ground the AES input of the DAVE with the Synergistic Research grounding block. It sounds better.

Digital Cables

From my experience, digital BNC cables matter a lot. With the anticipation of the Hugo M Scaler, I did an entire shootout with the many flavors of BNC. Pick the one that works for you. For this review, I used the WAVE High Fidelity STREAM BNC cables for most of my listening. They’re my favorite BNC cables at the moment – and it didn’t break the bank. In addition, the Snake River Audio Boomslang BNCs are also fantastic.

I’m using the Danacable TruStream for USB and for optical the Mapleshade TOSLINK. Check out my digital cable reviews for more ideas.

Now for the listening tests…

Here I’ll go through DBNC mode for all of the Chord Electronics DACs and single BNC for the others. Keep in mind, a million taps only come in DBNC mode with a compatible Chord Electronics DAC. Let’s get to it.

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Jay Luong

Mr. Audio Bacon himself. An open-minded electrical engineer and software developer by trade. I have an obsession with the enjoyment of all things media - specifically in the realm of music and film. So much heart and soul (and money) go into the creation of this artistry. My aim is to find out which products get me closer to what the musicians and directors intended.

View Comments

  • $5K, plus the $11k DAC to make full use of this device buys an awful lot of sealed vintage vinyl, no join-the-dots musical make-believe required.

    As "...An open-minded electrical engineer and software developer", are you proposing that GIGO (Garbage-In, Garbage-Out) is no longer true if the level of trickery is extensive- and fast-enough?

    Honestly, if this 'something-from-nothing' reconstruction worked beyond being more subjectively-pleasing to the ear that is invested in hearing that difference, then its efficacy is easily tested -- if you're willing:

    Simultaneously record at both 24/768 and 16/44 a musical instrument with a lot of high-frequency content and overtones beyond the range of Redbook (e.g., a crash cymbal) and then capture the upsampled output of the Chord at 24/768 playing the CD-resolution copy. Open the result in a Hex Editor with a range of descriptive statistical analyses (e.g., HHDs: https://freehexeditorneo.com/) and see how much it has in common with the Native 24-bit file.

    Adding this information as an update to your review would provide a large degree of common agreement (or disagreement) regarding this device's capabilities for your readers (who may be considering splashing out on the Chord on your recommendation) above and beyond what You find subjectively pleasing.

    Of course, there's no obligation to provide objective corroboration for your subjective listening impressions, but you ARE "...An open-minded electrical engineer and software developer" and should be as willing as you are capable...

    cheers,

    • In Signal Processing, upscaling is kinda interpolation. You certainly can't restore the information already lost in lower rate sampling, but I don't equal interpolation to GIGO processing!

      If so called, Vinyl, though analog, is a different way of GIGO - lower DR, lower SNR, ... to begin with and even human brain "interpret" that low quality signal, call we call it Higher Fidelity than digital? Probably not.

      Noting perfect.

      • M Scaler is more than just interpolation. Is usesthe sinc (sin(x)/x) function that is the impulse function of the brickwall filter. With the sampling theory in mind this is the 100% correct interpolation. For a 44KHz sampling we are however bound with 22KHz music bandwidth, always. Information beyond 22KHz is lost forever. So no new information that is true but no need for a steep analog output filter.

    • From a scientific point of view, an empirical point of view, where you are coming from makes sense. But you're not seriously suggesting that high end dacs and amps don't improve the experience of listening to music are you ? Have you heard anything through Chord's equipment ?

      At the end of the day, charts and science cannot explain even why we listen to music. It's something very deep with our connection the the universe and anything that enhances that is more important than something showing me a wave on a chart and telling me there is no difference when I can hear it.

  • Great review Jay! My experiences with the Dave, Hugo 2 and HMS match yours. Of course you've done a lot more testing than I have. As an aside and in response to Dave Page's comments, 44K (correctly bandlimited on digitizing) is not necessarily garbage in. Rob Watts' perspective (based on extensive experience, measurements and theory and reflected in the white paper you mentioned on page 1 of this review) is that much of the 44K 16 bit digital out there is actually fine it the aspect of the ADC conversion. The bigger problem is converting from digital back to analog and that's what the HMS enables so well. Having lived with a Chord Dave, an HMS and good power conditioning, etc. I can say that my listening to CD (or streamed CD quality) and also true HD content has pulled into roughly the same league as my highend vinyl rig. Sure there are differences, but this is a major step forward to make digital sound like analog. I too have spent many hours late into the night listening to my rig. I find this a really good way to determine my engagement - the Dave, HMS and my Focal headphones make it such that it's hard to go to bed! One question: have you done any testing with say a Hugo TT 2 directly into efficient small speakers (with an augmented powered sub). I'm considering such a system for my kitchen/dining area.

    • Thank you for your insight, Bob! I was actually waiting for parts to build my own speaker adapters to drive with the TT 2 (hence the delay). It also took some time to get custom headphone cables built for the XLRs. What can I say, I like to be thorough lol Are there any particular speakers you're thinking about driving them with?

      • Great that you're about to try the TT2 direct into speakers! I don't have any particular speakers in mind although I'd be using them with a Rel T5 sub. The speakers themselves would need to be pretty efficient and also fairly small (~15 inches tall or so and maybe 10 inches deep at most, maybe 8 inches wide). Super loud isn't important for me - I'm trying to just fill a space with wonderful music (prefer a really large sound with great presence and tone. Super precise imaging is nice but not critical). Also, these speakers must go right up against a wall.

      • Hi Jay - thanks for one of the best audio websites out there today. I wanted to check in on your testing of the Hugo TT 2 driving efficient speakers. I am building some open baffle speakers using a 100 db efficient full range range driver and would consider buying a TT 2 if it sounds fantastic driving efficient speakers. What thoughts do you have on this or can you provide a link to your TT 2 review if you covered it there?

        • It still depends on speaker design, but I'm 99% sure you won't be disappointed if you use the TT 2 (XLR) to drive your 100dB speakers. It has tonal qualities I enjoy more than even the Chord DAVE. I've only used the XLR outputs to drive the Abyss headphones so far

          I'm planning on doing a video review of the TT 2 soon. Any efficient loudspeakers under $1,000 you'd recommend for the review?

          • I've been researching drivers and not speakers so not sure I can be of much help here - the usual suspects I think of come from Klipsch (RP-600M), Tekton Design (various models), and Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekend II. I have no experience with these speakers other than listening to the Klipsch at a large box store.....

            The drivers I want to run are Lii Audio Crystal-10s in an open baffle design.

            Thanks

          • A few other ideas speaker wise - check out the Caintuck Audio site for their open baffle speakers and email Randy for his opinions on which might work best for your review. Also Buchardt S300 perhaps.

  • Hello Jay. I'm using hugo2/mscaler now and have two options next. Either add a TT2 to my mscaler or trade in my hugo2/mscaler and pay the difference and get a new dave. Im leaning towards dave but i'm reluctant to part with my mscaler. The caveat here is that if i get a dave i will need to wait at least a year to buy another mscaler as my budget for audio will have reached its limit. I use oppo pm1 headphones. thanks.

    • The DAVE sounds more convincing in transparency and resolution - and probably flow and layering as well. I think the tone of the TT 2 is more of my tastes though. If you do mostly headphone listening, you'd be fine with the TT 2 + M Scaler. As I've mentioned, if you don't have a better power cord for the DAVE, it's even more of a reason to keep the TT 2 + HMS.

  • Hey Jay, do you still have the Terminator loaner? The new user replaceable DSP board is coming in a week or two for it & among an improved USB functions & dual AES support, it will add a slow filter mode. This might change the perceived clinical sound you were hearing.

  • Thanks Jay. Will keep you up posted as i continue my chord dac journey. Your advice is much valued. I just wonder if a third party power cord might actually do some harm if it is not specifically designed to run with a dave? The stock one at the least is designed for dave.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Hm, I haven't had any problems with any power cords with the DAVE - even with DIY cables.

      Just a side note: Listening to the TT 2 @ 16X right now and it sounds so damn good. It has a truer tone. But the DAVE sounds more "real" in every other way.

  • Interesting review Jay. Has Chord just provided a more cost effective upgrade path for Blu owners with the M-Scaler at half the price of a Blu Mk2?

    • Some owners of the Blu2 and HMS say the differences weren't significant on their end. In my case, it was appreciable enough. It could be the cables or something else in the system. YMMV. I'll clarify that in the review.

      As far as an "upgrade" path, I'm not sure if that's even possible without sending the unit in. I wouldn't expect Chord to do that since the HMS was released a little over a year (?) after. Improvements are expected - that's just how it goes.

  • Jay,can you expand a bit further on the Hugo 2+ m scaler? Assuming one has a Hugo 2, ~5k , and a desire to update, would one be better served by purchasing an m scaler and using the Hugo 2/M Scaler combo OR purchase the TT2?

    In short, would the better option be Hugo 2+ scaler OR Hugo TT2 (and pros/cons of each?

    This review was exceptional and answered questions many have. Could you give your thoughts on the scenario above?

    • Others may disagree, but the Hugo 2 is definitely on the cooler end as far as tonality. Even at its warmest filter - the TT2, to my ears, has a more natural, warm tone. So if you're a stickler for tonality, I would go TT2. However, if you prioritize depth, resolution, soundstage, clarity, transparency - go with the Hugo 2 + M Scaler.

    • you can always plug a warm analog amp on the analog output of the Hugo2 if you want a warmer sound of of the combo. Hugo2 has always been on the cold side, so if you like it the way it is I doubt it would matter.

  • M.

    GO WITH TT2 IF YOU LATER PLAN TO ADD AN MSCALER. IF THAT IS BEYOND YOUR BUDGET THE HUGO2/MSCALER COMBO DEFINITELY OUTPERFORMS A SOLO TT2. THE MSCALER IS OUTSTANDING. TRY YOUR SOURCE WIRED INTO HUGO2 INSTEAD OF PASS THRU ON THE MSCALER FOR A TRUE COMPARISON OF HUGO 2 VS MSCALER WITH HUGO2. SO IF HUGO2/MSCALER IS YOUR LIMIT GO THAT WAY. I AM USING HUGO2/MSCALER FOR THE LAST YEAR HOPEFULLY UPGRADING TO TT2 SOON.

  • Folks this isn't really rocket science.. the whole point of the scaler is to take the original music you play and "enhance" it. Fill in the gaps.

    I have the Dave/blu2 combination with usbultra and world clock etc.. and to be frank I can't tell the difference between a mp3 from itunes and a high resolution file when I play it via my system with the scaler.

    I have some exact same recording in mp3 and high res and they sound the same.. and I'm not just saying that I listen hours per day almost every day and that's what the chord scaler can do.....

    Now of course.. it won't fix a completely fumbled recording no matter what... source is important... but as long as its a decent mp3 you won't notice the difference....... that has been my experience...... Regards...

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