I received many emails requesting a review of HQPlayer: A $260 piece of software that is potentially better than the $5,000 Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler. I’m setting up a new listening room so I figured this was worth looking into. If I could save a ton of money and have one less box, power supply, and cable to worry about…why the hell not. I’ve tried Roon’s upsampling feature and it wasn’t great (sounds better without it).
So is HQPlayer too good to be true? Let’s find out.
I’ll be testing HQPlayer 4.10.3 and Roon Core/Remote 1.8 Build 764 (64 bit). HQPlayer’s trial allows you to use the software for 30 minutes at a time for 30 days.
Since those interested in HQPlayer will probably have their own music server, I installed Roon Remote, Core, and HQPlayer on one of the fastest PCs on this planet. I also used the Roon phone app as a remote. This is not optimal from a noise perspective, but it’ll ensure no bottlenecks.
I also copied all my FLAC files to this PC. Streaming the same files over the network to my 50TB Unraid server didn’t sound as good (sharper). I also tried to run Roon Core in a Docker container on the Unraid server and it didn’t sound great either.
- 24-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X (water-cooled)
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090
- 64GB of DDR4 RAM
- All NVMe drives
- ROG Zenith II Extreme Alpha motherboard
- HDPlex 400W linear power supply connected to the Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler
- Danacable Trustream and Final Touch Audio Callisto USB cables
- WAVE High Fidelity STREAM BNC cables
- Innuos Phoenix USB reclocker (used in the entire review between PC and DACs)
- The Linear Solution Reference CAT7a Ethernet cable
- LSA-10 Statement loudspeakers
- JL Audio Fathom F110 V2
- Emerald Physics 100.2 SE amplifier
- Iconoclast UPOCC XLR and RCA interconnects
- Audio Art Cable Statement e SC Cryo speaker cables
- Snake River Audio Signature Cottonmouth power cables
- High Fidelity Cables MC-6 hemisphere power distributor
- Isoacoustic Aperta stands
- AudioWise OPTO-DX
- Chord Electronics DAVE and Hugo M Scaler
Note: DSD output impressions added to “The Battle” section.
My reference DACs are the Chord Electronics DAVE and TT 2. I’ll be focusing on PCM output via ASIO. To be as thorough as I can, these were the steps I took:
- Music Player: Find out which player sounds best. Roon, Foobar, or HQPlayer. The chosen player will be used for the rest of the test.
- Direct Playback: Perform “baseline” listening tests without any upscaling with a direct USB connection to the DACs. The reason using the pass-through feature of the Hugo M Scaler for testing doesn’t make sense is because these DACs sound better with the HMS attached – even in pass-through. This is much more the case with the DAVE than the TT 2. It could due to the HDPlex power supply, BNC cables, galvanic isolation, etc. Since we’re trying to figure out if we could replace an HMS with HQPlayer, it also made more sense to use a direct connection.
- Optimal HQPlayer Settings: Find the best HQPlayer upscaling configuration while connected directly to the PC via USB.
- The Battle: Take the best HQPlayer configuration and pit it against a Hugo M Scaler.
Chord Electronics TT 2 & DAVE
Some of you asked what were the main differences between these DACs. I actually think some may prefer one over the other. Since I’ve been doing a lot of swapping between the two recently, here are my thoughts:
- There’s a huge drop in depth and resolution with the TT 2. You don’t get to the same level of goosebump-inducing levels of detail, air, and transparency. Energy and dynamic drive is also better with DAVE. On TT 2, there’s always a bit of “fuzz” and bloom that takes away the illusion of “they’re there.”
- With DAVE isolation and separation are at another level. The boundaries and placement of instruments and performers are clearly outlined. TT 2, there’s more “clumping” which yields a more intimate listening experience.
- While the DAVE is much more resolving, the TT 2 is warm and inviting. Vocal recordings sound beautiful. Although the built-in filters are “artificial,” 3 and 4 actually sound very natural to my ears. A few local dealers and guys I listen with agree.
- In 2020, I actually had the TT 2 as my main listening DAC for months. The DAVE just sat on the shelf for a while. It was tougher times, and the TT 2 was just more comforting. When I swapped back to DAVE my first thought was “OK, the DAVE has to be part of the reference system since it provides the best foundation for resolving everything.” My hairs stood up more, my brain believed what it was hearing, and it did take me closer to what I experienced from live performances from familiar artists. The only thing that was missing was more warmth – which the TT 2 does beautifully. I feel it infuses more soul into vocalists. But I never really feel “they’re performing in front of me” as I do with DAVE.