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Now that I can finally lay my hands on the venerable Chord Mojo (advertisement), I am super-excited to put it head to head against my other DACs. I did listen to the Mojo earlier during a regional headphone meet but the noisy environment wasn’t helpful in reaching any final conclusions other than walking away with positive initial impressions. I needed some private time with the Mojo which I got thanks to a loaner from Fred.
The Chord Mojo was probably the most hyped product in 2015 and 2016 and to tell you the truth, I never really cared until I stumbled across Powerpoint presentations by Rob Watts and Chord. Those got me interested and I realized how much engineering actually went into this tiny little thing.
The Mojo is a “chip off the old block”, namely the reputable Chord Hugo (advertisement), a nearly $2000 DAC and headphone amplifier that was targeted at the mobile crowd. It’s still in production. However the Hugo feels a bit clumsy and cannot really be considered portable for my own taste with dimensions of 13 x 2 cm – I’d rather call it “tranportable”.
Now with the Mojo, you essentially get almost all of Hugo’s fantastic technology (with the exception of Bluetooth) in a smaller package at a more affordable price of $600.
Chord has also announced the Poly music server add-on for the Mojo (review hopefully soon).
First and foremost, I truly love the fact that Mojo was engineered and made in the UK! Unlike other DACs that are a dime and a dozen, Mojo doesn’t use off-the-shelf chipsets from TI, Cirrus, Analog Devices or ESS. Instead, Chord relies on the massive computational power of FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays). Those serve digital-to-analog conversion duties and add some “secret sauce” filtering. That alone really sets Mojo apart from many other manufacturers. You are not only paying for parts but for real engineering brilliance. I hope more manufacturers will follow suit. Although I didn’t dare to crack open my loaner unit, I googled pictures of what the Mojo looks like on the inside. It’s a single PCB board with high-quality SMD components and low-noise power regulators on the back. Great, those people knew what they were doing.
Chord Mojo is actually 3 products in one: a DAC, a headphone amplifier (with 2 outputs jacks driving full-size cans up to 600 Ohms, it supposedly can even drive efficient speakers!) and a preamplifier with fixed gain level. On top of that, it’s battery-powered, super-small and fits into your pockets. You will usually get approx. 8 or 9 hours out of a single charge which is plenty (haven’t tried maxing out the battery though). How crazy is that?!
Chord has equipped the (extremely well-built) Mojo with 3 digital inputs: USB, Coaxial and Optical. USB is always the default input. Input selection happens automatically – no need to fiddle with tiny switches. You recharge the built-in battery using a separate micro USB port which is a thoughtful addition. Not only does this potentially keep unwanted interferences away from the USB audio lines, but you can also charge while listening and never run out of juice.
Being a truly mobile device, you can directly hook up your iPhone using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit (only Lightning devices, earlier 30-PIN connector iPhones won’t work) or Android phones/tablets (via OTG cable) for a breathtaking audiophile experience. This completely bypasses your devices internal DAC circuitry and transforms your smartphone into a digital music server. Of course, you can connect your Mojo to a laptop or music streamer as well in case you want to use it in a more stationary setup.
As for supported sample-rates, Chord Mojo will happily decode anything from 44.1kHz up to DSD256 (I personally tested only 192kHz upsampled from Roon which worked flawlessly).
Chord also demonstrated a sense of humor with the 3-button ball design :) At second look however, you are going to realize the cleverness of this solution. Sample-rates are indicated with color changes of the button-balls going all the way from red (for standard 44.1 kHz resolutin) up to a dark purple tone whereas DSD (the highest resolution) is shown as a greyish tone. That’s really cool! After a while you get a hang of it and you no longer miss a crappy display. I personally prefer this solution over any sort of display (I can barely read text on my Gustard X20u from a couple of meters away but I can identify colors on the Chord Mojo).
I find the packaging and the box that came with it also rather unsual for an audiophile device. It kind of reminds me of unboxing the latest iPhone :) By the way, I wouldn’t throw away the box – you are going to need the color scale which is printed on the side of the box. Personally, I also like to keep packing in case I ever want to resell something. This adds to the resale value.
Wow! I started by connecting my new iPhone 6s Plus to the Mojo and my Beyerdynamic T51p was already breathtakingly dynamic. If you know the T51, you know that it’s a little bit on the warmer side. However, the Mojo made it instantly more dynamic and crisp. I loved it.
The true magic began when I borrowed a Sennheiser HD800 (not the newer S version, no mods and standard cables). I couldn’t believe how well this tiny little thing was able to control such a critical headphone. I’ve heard the HD800 on much more expensive setups but I felt the Chord Mojo wasn’t lacking a bit. Another aspect I noticed was that Mojo could memorize the recent volume level so I didn’t have to go through the painful process of getting the volume up to my desired level again. Great work, Chord.
Since I’m a DAC guy and actually don’t need the headphone amplifier component, I turned the Mojo into a line level device by hitting both volume buttons simulataneously and voila! I had a battery-powered standalone DAC. I tested both the iPhone and my Raspberry PI with Digi+ (as well as USB) as the music source and began playing tunes through KGSSHV / STAX SR007 MK1.
My intial thought was: “hey, is the Gustard turned on?” ;) – it sounded THIS good. Unbelievable considering the price difference and raw size comparison. But before running head-to-head against my heavyweight Gustard DAC, I ran a cross-check against the price-performance champion SMSL M8. And the Chord handily bested the M8! To my ears, the Mojo sounded slightly clearer and waaaay more dynamic. I forgot to mention that as much as I hoped the iPhone would do justice as a music source, I like the Raspberry a lot better.
So it was back again against the Gustard and I was carefully listening to Patricia Barbers recording “Companion”. On the track “If This Isn’t Jazz”, you could hear chinking glasses and background voices sounding so damn real. Both the Gustard and the Mojo rendered this scene and 3D space frighteningly well. However, I felt the Gustard had a very, very slight edge in terms or realism – it could well be my imagination though. These impressions concluded with more albums and I have to say that I actually cannot pick a clear winner here! I’d say in real life I wouldn’t care which DAC was playing. However in absolute terms, the Gustard was just a bit better. I couldn’t hear a difference between USB and Coaxial inputs although the Mojo is rumored to have not perfect isolation on the micro USB port – no idea (maybe my ears didn’t show this). Either this is all imagined or maybe a setting could bring both DACs to exactly the same level of performance – who knows.
My conclusion is simple: If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t buy the Gustard X20u anymore – I’d just go for the Mojo. It’s much smaller, battery-powered, fits in your pocket if you ever need it to be portable, it will drive your full-size headphones, no warranty-hassles for most of us because it is engineered and made in the UK. Who cares about miniscule audible differences that may well not even exist?
Any more questions? :) I don’t think so. I have to return this loaner but I’m happily putting the Chord Mojo right a tiny hair below my Gustard X20u. What a damn-fine performer it is! Congratulations to Chord. It’s crazy how much DAC technology has progressed and I am delighted to see European and American manufacturers taking the lead.
Further Info / Where to Buy
You can purchase Chord Mojo directly on Amazon.com for about $600 (advertisement) and there’s a host of optional additional accessories for your Mojo that you may or may not need. These include a leather pouch if you plan to use it on-the-go or USB adapters such as the Apple Lightning to USB adapter (advertisement) (in case you use your iOS device as the music source).
Find more about the Chord Mojo on Chord’s website.