Recently, the British company Chord released an interesting device – the Hugo M Scaler. This device can be paired with proprietary digital-to-analog converters: connecting via a pair of coaxial interfaces with BNC connectors to the DAC unit, the M Scaler pulls up the parameters of any digital audio input signal to the reference characteristics. Well, at least that’s what the company says. Let’s see how well it all works.
So, the first phrase in the manual describes the device as follows: Chord Hugo M Scaler is engaged in increasing the signal parameters to 705.6 or 768 kHz, reconstructing the digital stream in the entire range. Such characteristics are achieved when working in tandem with Chord’s proprietary line of technology – DACs Qutest, DAVE, Hugo TT 2, Hugo 2 – and a Dual BNC digital interface connection. It is possible to use the device with any other converters produced by third-party manufacturers – in this case, you will lose the connection via two BNC interfaces at once, but you will be able to work with optics (the resolution of the PCM stream 44.1 kHz can then be increased to 176.4 kHz, and 96 kHz – up to 192 kHz) or “coaxial” (PCM will “grow” to 358.8 / 384 kHz). It should also be noted that the USB input is fully compatible with Roon – so the Chord Hugo M Scaler can be a real salvation as an external upgrade of an old DAC lacking this option.
The Chord Hugo M Scaler is based on Rob Watts (Low Pass Interpolation) technology, a WTA filter that replaces all other scaling technologies. A gigantic computing system is responsible for the analysis of the incoming digital signal and its reconstruction (ten years ago we could not even imagine such a thing) – it operates on 56 bits and with 16 times the sampling rate of the original signal. The system uses an FPGA (740 cores) based on Xilinx XC7A200T with WTA filtering (Watts Transient Alignment) reaching a record length of 1,015,808 weighting factors (taps). This means that at the output you get not “steps” that can annoy the ears with their discreteness, but a smoothed and smooth characteristic, most of all reminiscent of a pure analog sound.
It is important to note that the Chord Hugo M Scaler itself does not add anything to the stream, it just prepares the signal for the further stage of conversion to analog and makes the DAC’s work easier. Even in the case of using a scaler with the company’s flagship converter, DAVE, we have an almost tenfold increase in the accuracy of reconstruction, what can we say about weaker devices!
Of the nuances, it is worth noting the possibility of working “in native” only with a PCM stream – the scaler scales the PCM data unchanged, and DSD (the supply from DSD 64 to DSD 256 is possible) translates into the same PCM due to the peculiarities of the operation of the ultra-long WTA- filtration. Chord Hugo M Scaler has the following set of interfaces on board – from inputs: two coaxial digital on BNC connectors, a pair of optical Toslink, one USB Type-B port, from outputs – one optical Toslink, coaxial S / PDIF on a BNC connector and Dual BNC.
Great design, decent package bundle (there is also a remote control with which you can change the scaling settings “on the fly”, and a pair of digital cables with BNC connectors for connection). The device is powered by an external 15V power supply, and it is impossible to make a single complaint about the quality of the Chord Hugo M Scaler’s workmanship and design – the chopped shapes of the milled aluminum case attract the eye and are ideally matched with other company techniques.
The scaler is very weighty – despite its modest dimensions (235 x 41 x 224 mm), it weighs 2.55 kg. Among the options for the Chord Hugo M Scaler, it is worth noting the ability to work in a home theater system (the “video” mode assumes a decrease in the signal processing latency to synchronize with the image) and several sampling settings – Pass-through / Low / Medium / High. The display on the front panel indicates the selected mode by activating the backlight in different colors.
We approached listening with caution – in our experience, sampling an audio signal is an extremely complex process, often providing not an increase in sound quality, but its degradation, the appearance of synthetic shades. That is why now many manufacturers are so fond of NOS-converters, devoid of any systems for increasing the flow parameters. Well, the Chord Hugo M Scaler started to work in our test system – paired with the Chord Hugo TT2 DAC, being plugged in between it and the Sonore ultraRendu USB / Ethernet bridge (powered by the Roon ROCK server). The further path consisted of an Audio Note UK M6 pre-amplifier, a pair of Audio Note UK Ankoru / II power amplifiers and a JBL DD67000 speaker (all cable ties – LessLoss C-MARC). Let’s just say – Chord Hugo M Scaler won the Golden Ear prize from the American magazine The Absolute Sound, the Best Converter of the Hi-Fi World Awards, the recommendation from Stereophile and the Best Buy from The-Ear…
We can only make a cautious criticism of the device when working with higher resolution DSD streams. Starting from DSD128, the influence of the scaler is no longer so obvious, and on tracks in DSD256 we always preferred the original signal, activating the pass-through mode. But, whatever one may say, 90% (if not 98%) of modern media libraries are presented in the form of various PCM coding options – from 16/44 to 24/192 and similar Hi-Res options. And in this case, the benefits of the Chord Hugo M Scaler are undeniable and immediately audible.
The DAC in the system seems to be changed for a model with a higher price – the notorious brilliance, gloss and nobility appear in the sound. The timbres become indistinguishable from the real ones, the bass acquires new shades of texture and length. The system works especially neatly with mid and high frequencies – saturating and filling them in terms of “hardness and tactileness” and without protruding at all. The Chord Hugo M Scaler will never try to impress you with sparkling detail – on the contrary, its effect on the system is more like inserting a tube device into the circuit.
The sound becomes more plastic, natural, harmonious and precise. It is the temporal accuracy and integrity of perception that are the main trump card of the Chord Hugo M Scaler – its inclusion in the path makes you listen to music for hours, not at all getting tired and only spinning on the waves of the author’s emotions. Well, all those promises that Rob Watts made are fulfilled – the airy, agile and exceptionally well-coordinated delivery of the Chord Hugo M Scaler seems to be the perfect cherry on the cake, which will fit in any system.
The Chord Hugo M Scaler is the perfect addition to most DAC – adding a full Roon USB input option and pulling up the signal to the highest compatible levels. But the device will reveal itself as fully as possible with the proprietary line of Chord digital technology: the Dual BNC connection guarantees reference characteristics and the ultimate sound quality.
FPGA: Xilinx XC7A200T
Filter tap length: 1,015,808 WTA taps
Dimensions: 4cm (H) 23.5cm (W) 23.8cm (D)
Tap-length filter: 1,015,808 (16FS filter)
Connectivity (input): 1x Galvanically isolated Type-B USB, 2x Coax BNC and 2x Optical
Connectivity (output): 1x Galvanically isolated dual BNC (enables upscaling to the maximum 768kHz), 1x BNC S/PDIF and 1x Optical
PCM support: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz, 352.8kHz, 384kHz, 717.6kHz, and 768kHz. 16 – 32bit
Driver support: Driverless with Mac OS X and Linux, driver required for Windows OS
Additional features: The most advanced digital filter in the world
Adjustable sample rate output (with pass-thru mode)
Video mode (for lower latency)
Auto video and source selection
‘DX’ controls for a future product design
Official site: chordelectronics.co.uk