Chord the British manufacturer of high end DAC’s, released the Chord Mojo in late 2015, the small, but still quite expensive mobile DAC that’s been getting rave reviews.
Having owned one myself for over a year, I feel it’s time I gave a review based on my experiences in what I like to call a “Critical User Case Review”
Dedicated DAC’s are a thing now, for some time they weren’t and only audio purists like me wanted and used them, mostly. You don’t need a DAC to enjoy your music, TV or any form of sound from your device, they have a DAC chip in them already, so why on earth would you spend £500 on a DAC, when your device already has one.
The simple answer is that DAC’s that are usually found in devices are cheap, nasty things that the manufacturer has spent $5 on purchasing. Sometimes they are on chip DAC’s, and comprise a part of a larger chip that does other things too. If you casually listen to music, using the headphones you got with your mobile, and you are happy with the sound, then a dedicated DAC is not for you.
However, if you own a decent pair of headphones, such as the Focal Elear heaphones that I use with this DAC, then the purchase is more justified. Quality headphones, require a quality DAC to drive them, and more to the point, to get the most from the headphones and your music.
The next part to consider is the source material. If you are running 128bit depth Mp3’s through a dedicated DAC to your £800 headphones, you are not going to be impressed at all. Therefore, you have to make sure the source material is of a lossless format; FLAC or DSD.
Streaming services such as TIDAL provide FLAC streaming and download to a standard that is decent. The Website HD Tracks also provide downloads of albums, there are others that do much the same as Qubuz. So there is no excuse for poor source material anymore. As an aside we will be reviewing all the streaming services on their HiRes credentials and which is best very soon.
Now we have the headphones, the source material and now the DAC. There are many options out there and the last year has seen a massive array of even more coming into view. It seems that every week I am getting emails from MassDrop or some CrowdFunding site offering a new DAC. Most I wouldn’t touch with a bargpole, namely because they are simply jumping on board the DAC bandwaggon. If you are keen on a DAC, get one from a manufacturer that knows what they are doing and have been doing it for some time such as Oppo, AudioQuest and in this case Chord.
The Chord Mojo is an oddity in design. It’s small, heavy for it’s size and uses the strange but relatively effective means of colour to display behind the three selection buttons – Power, volume up and down, to show the bit depth and type and the volume level. Oh and it’s sampling rate goes up to an impressive 768 khz. I’ve had this device for over a year and I’m still confused as to what the colours mean and have to check the side of the box for reference.
The connections are varied and decent. With two mini jack headphone sockets to share with your significant other, or to run to a device such as an amp for instance, whilst having the other to use as a headphone. The inputs are Coaxial, Micro USB and Optical SPDIF. It has an internal non consumer replacable battery that lasts 10 hours, but in my experience it’s more around 7.
This is where we come to one issue I have with this DAC. It takes forever to charge and when you do charge it, it gets hot. You can charge it and listen to audio at the same time, but it means having two cables one from the source and one to charge it. Then of course your headphones connected, so it’s a lot of cable floating around. Whilst listening through the DAC and charging it at the same time, it gets very, very hot. Which would account for the heavy shell that acts both as a heatsink and isolation. It doesn’t charge very quickly whilst being used and charged at the same time and it doesn’t charge that quickly when it’s simply just being charged. It took a few hours and I tend to just leave it charging over night.
Here’s another annoyance, It uses a small micro usb connector to charge it from your PC or Laptop, but you don’t get a USB charger with it. Given the cost of the device, you would think they would throw one in. On top of that, the cable they supplied is so small, it’s next to laughable. Perhaps less than three inches long. Which when used with a laptop, means that your laptop and everything else is a whole bunch of cables everywhere.
But all can be forgiven when you listen to it. Chord don’t use off the shelf DAC chips, that most DAC makers use and tune. No, Chord use their own chips, they have designed and developed over many years of experience within this market. These are not some cheap and nasty DAC bought in. Chord have used the same experience and the same chips as found in their “HUGO” DAC, that costs £1400. By the way the £1400 HUGO, is Chords lower end non mobile DAC. It’s a huge deal and when you listen to the Mojo you can see and hear where this heritage pays dividends.
The sound is punchy, tight. The timing is on the money. You feel that everything is cohesive and together. Rythm’s are driven and there is real depth and colour in the bass, it’s not floppy, of flappy, there’s an extension to the bass that sounds as though you should feel in your stomach. It tails off nicely. The mid range is clear, vocals are tight, guitars and keys shine. Everything in it’s place, where it should be. The top end is crisp, not shrill or sharp, there’s a real edge to it, but it molds effortlessly with the other frequencies. Cheaper DAC’s tend to favour and pump the mid ranges a bit, they have a subtle curve to favour where most music sound ranges are. This can lead to lack lustre low ends and top ends, making them less connected. Given that Chord don’t adopt such techniques to tune a bought in DAC chip, they developed their own and the sound is truly exceptional. The Mojo isn’t colouring the sound with what the manufacturer is trying to hide by limitation of the Chip, the Mojo is delivering the music that you want to hear, how the musician, producer, engineer and sound mastering enginner wanted to portray. Astounding.
As a side note, I owned the Oppo HA portable DAC and that was good, loved how it looked and felt, but comparing the two on sound, is much like comparing night and day. The Oppo is great, more so with their own headphones, having owned a couple of pairs over the years, but comparing the two the Mojo shines. It feels like the Oppo simply isn’t trying hard enough and is really quiet.
Which brings me to my next positive. This thing can run any headphones. The Focal Elears are big headphones, a review coming of these soon too. They need to be driven, they have quite large drivers and no weedy little DAC is going to do it. The Oppos volume needed to be on full and even then it wasn’t enough.
The Mojo can handle a lot of file formats, no matter what I threw at it, even the less common DSD, it shined.
So the verdict. If you are buying your DAC for looks, then perhaps you shouldn’t be buying a DAC at all, but the Mojo has perhaps fallen from the ugly tree a little. It’s slightly odd in function and use and there are some real issues with connecting everything and charging at the same time. We do of course select a DAC on what it sounds like, and if that’s you and it should be, then the Mojo will not disappoint. The sound is tight, timing is spot on and the delivery is clear, precise and driven. It can drive any headphone and has plenty of connection options and two headphone outputs. It shares the same DNA and chips from it’s bigger brother too the Hugo.
If you want the biggest bang for buck and are prepared to invest a bit more than the Oppo would cost you, do it, do it now. I would recommend the Chord Mojo without any reservation when it comes to what we want a DAC for and that is sound quality.