If you are a long time Audiophile you should have know Chord, an England company that mainly doing high end DAC and cables, last few years Chord really is very well-known among the Head-fiers with their Hugo and Mojo (now the Hugo 2, Dave and Qutest DAC) Portable DAC/Headphone amplifier combo, I was lucky enough to test the SennheiserHD800 with Hugo before and honestly I really like the sound, how a smallDAC/amplifier combo such as Hugo can drive the HD800 up to Hi-fi level really leave me impressed that night, while not a long listening period I can say it sounded really good.
It is a little late now, Chord Mojo released 4 years ago (October 2015) when I was inactive in the headphone review works, what a shame ,as a reviewer but I have never try the infamous Chord Mojo, I believe most of the audiophile has been listening to the Mojo and own one before, my review will be concern on if Chord Mojo still relevant in end of Year 2019 because of the intensive price cut (384USD currently selling in my country, by Star Picker Audio Library)? We will see.
Chord Mojo (385USD currently selling in Malaysia)
Chord Mojo was selling for 650USD when it was first announced back in 2015. 60% percent of price cut seems like a wise purchase for an England made DAC that was super competent in that time, we however have to understand that a lot of DAC/amp has been coming out in this 4 years time, some offer more features but still rarely any or none use FGPA (Field programmable gate array) structure like what Chord is doing with their line of DAC. Most of the DAC is still implementing cheaper pricing audio chipset they bought from outsourcing and implement in their product, Chord in another hand however, programme themselves the DAC, I am not a technical geek that can provide a lot of insight regarding the technology behind it just to be honest, but this article(by What Hi-Fi) summed up quite nicely. You can easily see Chord Company has their own idea behind their DAC and they definitely are quite innovative, seeing how much units of their DAC sold worldwide and what a swirl they caused in Head-Fi world, also how they bring Porta-Fi to a higher level are enough to leave us impressed,it is sure one of the important DAC that has been made to change how people looking at higher quality of audio quality.
Looking at the outlook and you will find yourself an unique design that don’t have any screen to display your volume level and your file resolution, instead Chord implementing the colourful ball to indicate what sample rates and volume are you currently on with the different colour of the balls. It is quite beautiful and surely my favourite thing to photograph on the Mojo. To be frank until today I don’t even know what is the colour of the balls representing what files resolution and volume level, the only thing I know is it looks good and unique, even if the implementation is not as straight forward and clear as a screen will normally do.
The bigger ball is power button of the Mojo (and this one represent files sample frequency you are currently playing), another two balls (LOL!) is the volume control of the unit, at first I thought rolling the ball will change the colour but no, you have to press it to adjust the volume. Others than that:
-Pressing two balls together after switched on can adjust the brightness of the balls light.
-Pressing both volume ball while turning it on will directly set it into 3V line out setting, which you can use Mojo purely as a DAC.
Chord Mojo, a 385USD DAC/Amp that support up to 32Bit 768kHz and Quad DSD 256 files, it is such an achievement for a mini DAC device like this. And to use Mojo with PC you just need to install a dedicated driver from Chord website and you are set to go. There is no driver needed though for Android and Apple device, just plug and play with relevant cable. There are 2 3.5mm output jack on board and you can play 2 headphones at the same time!
I have been told by Stars Picker Audio that the internal battery can be changed at a very affordable price of 40USD in case the battery degrade badly after years, it is really cheap and keep us out of worry that any battery powered device will spoil after some years. Speaking of battery, the battery life of Mojo is decent, rated at 10 hours (battery life is less than this however according to my test, but this might because of the unit has been heavily used)with a single charge of 4 hours (which is a little too long IMHO), I hope that the charging time can be shorten especially in this world of fast charging. Fear not though, you can charge while using the Mojo (it has 2 Micro USB input); Fear yes though, it is really hot when you charge and use it at the same time, which might getting a little out of hand even when surrounding temperature is at room temperature, even when you are using it with Mojo’s internal battery, it get a little hot (even in an air-conditioning office room) too, but nothing major here. The problem here though, is the charging light and charging indicator is too small and difficult to see by the small LED indicator below the micro USB charging port, especially if you use a casing.
I have paired Chord Mojo to my Huawei Mste 20 with an OTG cable, with laptop (lossless files up to DSD). Occasionally line out to Teac HA501, headphones in use are Hifiman Sundara, Philips Fidelio X2Hr,Sony MH755, ZMF V1 and German maestro GMP450.
I will say Chord Mojo is a slightly warm sounding and has a tendency to slightly roll off treble, the tonal is a little different to the Hugo that I auditioned before (based on my memory), Hugo in my memory has higher resolution, a more transparent treble, overall tonal is cleaner/more transparent, and soundstage is more open and accurate too, to me Hugo is definitely better and suit my listening taste better, but we are comparing Mojo to a DAC that costed few times more, larger and heftier beast and obviously a product line that is higher end than the Mojo. So I am just remind if anyone really think that Mojo is a Hugo at fraction of the price, it is not, at least to my ears. But is Hugo few times better than the Mojo? Certainly not, and I can see some people will actually prefer Mojo to the Hugo.
Now lets forget about the Hugo, Mojo is not designed to live under the shadow of Hugo anyway, I look at it as a different line and type of product. The Mojo provide good energy to the music, the bass, in my opinion, is a strength, Mojo provide an excellent tightness, depth and impact of the bass.The bass is clean and has a nice authority and dynamic of the bass, bass is indeed a winner here. Listen to Hok-Man Yim: Poems of Thunder – Percussion, I am surprised by how hard hitting, impactful and solid the bass is through my Philips Fidelio X2HR, impressive, really. The mid range, is expressive, coherent and full bodied, no matter is the plucking of the detail or the vocal, is expertly tuned here. In fact, the coherency of the sound is so nice that I can easily sit at the office and listened to few albums without tiring, I have mentioned the treble is rolled off a little bit, but it still has enough of presentation here, in fact I believe some will not call it rolled off at all, because the treble is quite delicate here, it is clean, transparent and organic sounding, means the treble never sounded shrill at all, at the same time however, you will not found the treble is too congested, the quantity of treble definitely has been thought carefully and it is really nice.
The sound, is full bodied and dare me to say it is really coherent and organic sounding, every sound mix well here while they organised in their individual space nicely but never let you felt too separated, means instrument separation is very good but every piece of music still play together nicely and it is really music listening. One area that definitely deserve some praise is the timing and imaging, I played Hell Freeze Over by The Eagles (Remastered 2018), I can easily trace where the instrument located with the Hifiman Sundara, positioning is really great. Play a great recording Classical album, such as the Beethoven: Symphonies Nos.5 & 7 by Wiener Philharmoniker, Carlos Kleiber, I can easily tell the direction of the instrument and the music really play as a whole, not just clutter piece, the transient is also judged and fast, decay of note is precise as well, how well Chord Mojo is able to put the music together and every each of it sounded so right, really impressed me deeply especially when you put attention to every note of it, splendid indeed!
It is not only large scale music like the Symphonies sounded great, even if you listen to the smaller scale one like Paganini: Violin Concertos Nos.1 &2 by Salvatore Accardo, you will still gain a nicely shaped and round sound staging (albeit not large,but organised), every piece of sound has a correct and coherent tonal. Even if you tuned to something require more speed and attack, such as Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of all time by Santana, Mojo has enough of power and speed on hand to play them well, the music is tuneful and the speed is agile and leave no slowness in them, when I switched to higher tier headphone and I can only appreciated it more.
I have reviewed the iFi Audio xDSD and xCAN before, honestly speaking both of them are unable to provide such an insight to the sound, they undeniably have more feature in the pocket (such as Bluetooth connectivity and bass boost feature), but speaking of audio quality at least, they are not even in the same league, at least to my ears.
Problem and weak points
Chord Mojo is already such an amazing DAC/headphone amplifier, but if I will want to nitpick some weaknesses here it is:
-There is no Bluetooth connectivity, nor directly support MicroSD card for music playback as well. You have to add on the Chord Poly if you would like to use Bluetooth, DLNA and Micro SD card playback, problem is, however, Poly will hurt your wallet by another 445 USD! Oh man! Hi Chromecast Audio!
-It is hot when running with the internal battery. If you charged and use at the same time however, it will get super hot. Good thing is, you can keep your hand warm in the windy cold night.
-You will hear some RF noise if you put your phone too close with the Mojo, which defeat the purpose of Porta-Fi, if you distant them a bit it is not that bad though.
Chord is undeniably a long time player in Hi-Fi world, seeing how they tuned they DAC/Amp, and the entire ideology/philosophy behind their products. Along my entire review career (although I have stopped few years of reviewing works), I have seen a lot of manufacturers tend to tune their product sound towards one aspect but forego the importance of how music should sound as one, not so with the Chord, they obviously not only know how to make a good product, but also love music, Mojo is getting a little bit long in the tooth which making me a little reluctant to recommend Chord Mojo in term of anything concerning value, but from sound quality and music enjoyment aspect, to my ears Mojo worth every penny of the money. If You can wait for the successor of the Mojo (we don’t know when and will if it ever released), just wait. But if you just can’t wait and Mojo currently already has pretty sweet price cut, go get one and enjoy your music, life is short, just do anything that can keep you happy!