This week we reviewed the Chord Mojo. Chord Electronics is an English manufacturer specializing in the design and production of hi-fi electronics, notably DACs, headphone amplifiers and stereo amplifiers. Their particularity: a strikingly unusual design and exceptional performance, thanks to the use of electronic components programmed exclusively by Chord as well as very powerful OP amplifiers. Chord is in many ways an artisan of sound, a goldsmith of digital audio even, considering the quality of their high-end devices.
The Chord Mojo: presentation
The Chord Mojo is the cadet of its family. It is a DAC/headphone amplifier powered by a rechargeable battery – a highly stable power source – compatible with computers and Apple and Android smartphones/tablets via its USB input (with active digital audio output). Digital audio stream is handled up to 32 bits/768kHz in PCM format and up to 11.2MHz in DSD format (DSD256). As such, the Chord Mojo handles the full extent of digital audio formats, without exception.
The Chord Mojo: design
Chords Electronics products are decidedly unlike any other. The Mojo has a psychedelic appearance that Austin Powers (having lost his mojo) would have doubtlessly appreciated. The Chord Mojo’s flashy, spherical rotating buttons seriously peaked our curiosity. It was almost enough to make us not take this device seriously. The Chord Mojo’s three buttons are lit by as many LEDs, with the Power button’s color changing according to the audio resolution, and the color of the other two buttons changing as the volume is turned up or down. Red for 44.1kHz, orange for 48, yellow for… in short, the Chord Mojo is like a string of Christmas lights and we had more fun with the color combinations than we did trying to figure out which audio format the device is streaming in.
That being said, the Chord Mojo makes a strong impression once you hold it in your hand: it is heavy and remarkably well-built.
Four rubber pads ensure its stability. The inputs and outputs are placed on opposite sides, thus making connections very convenient.
The Chord Mojo: a custom-made DAC
To face the facts, many competing devices are also capable of handling high-resolution digital audio streams. In today’s world, this is no longer a guarantee of quality. What puts Chord Electronics a head above its competitors is its decision to forego using digital-to-analog converters (DACs) made by the market’s principal actors, such as Texas Instruments, Cirrus Logic, ESS Tech and Asahi Kasei. As such, the English brand relies on chips that it programs in its own workshops in order to have full control over their design. The Chord Mojo’s USB controller and amplification system equally benefit from the manufacturer’s one-of-a-kind craftsmanship.
The Chord Mojo: an extremely powerful headphone amplifier
The Chord Mojo integrates a headphone amplifier capable of delivering 2x720mW for 8 Ohms and up to 35mW for 600 Ohms.
Its very high power output means that you can listen at high volume with any portable headphones on the market.
Chord says that this amplifier can provide exceptional stability down to 4 Ohms. And this is far from being a random claim as the Chord Mojo is equipped with two parallel headphone outputs, for the same effect as would occur if the device were exposed to less significant impedance values. For example, a pair of 32 Ohms headphones and a pair of 16 Ohms headphones will have a combined impedance of around 10.6 Ohms.
The Chord Mojo: 3 inputs and 2 outputs
Producing varying power levels by default, these headphone outputs can be reconfigured to obtain a fixed line level output. Practical for using an integrated amplifier. This fixed mode is activated when the device is powered up by pressing the two volume buttons and the power button simultaneously. Switching back to variable level is carried out in the same manner. The Chord Mojo DAC also features two digital entries, one in USB format and the other in S/PDIF format with a Toslink optical connector. The latter is compatible with 24 bit/192kHz audio stream and allows the user to connect the device to an optical disc drive (CD/DVD player) or any source equipped with an optical output.
The Chord Mojo: test conditions
We listened to the Chord Mojo DAC paired up with a Raspberry Pi2 running on Rune Audio (audiophile distribution) and a pair of Meze 99 Classics headphones. The USB connection was bitperfect, with volume control being completely handed over to the headphone amplifier. The files we played were in FLAC format (16/44 to 24/192). We also listened to several DSD files.
The Chord Mojo: listening impressions
Despite its price point, the Mojo is a truly high-quality DAC. All the ingredients are brought together for a high-class listening experience: a consistently serene sound, unmistakable musicality, breadth and a realistic placement of instruments and voices. To fully appreciate its potential, it is important to use the Chord Mojo with tracks that seem “hard” or “cold,” ideally those recorded on a first generation CD-Audio. The Mojo turns 16/44 Flac files to pure gold. Take an old classic from Duran Duran (“A View to Kill”), with its blaring synthesizers and electronic drums: the wideness is surprising, with an incredibly vast dynamic range and texture in every sound. Le Chord Mojo even manages to make this track sound like it was playing on a vinyl record.
A more recent tune and also a highly compressed file, “Heavy Cross” from Gossip is a delight. The drums and bass are exceptionally full, with heavy hits and deep groans, the amplifier never once loses its steam and every note is restituted to the fullest. Irresistibly foot-tapping sound. “Where I Want to Be (California)” from Lilly Wood & the Prick, although just as compressed, massages the eardrums with authority without ever being dull.
Moving on to a more peaceful style of music, “El Condor Pasa” by Simon & Garfunkel gives us an idea of the Mojo’s sensitivity and precision. Paul Simon’s voice, for all the echo that’s been added, has no hint of sharpness and never keeps the flute from fully cutting through the mix. We also listened to “Casta Diva (Norma)” interpreted by Maria Callas in a 24/192 version transferred from a vinyl record. A superb yet difficult recording with an enormous dynamic range which can be a real challenge for many DACs and amplifiers. The Chord Mojo restitutes this recording with grace, letting the cantatrice’s voice be expressed without constraint. We could also talk about David Bowie’s “Life on Mars (Reality Tour),” Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Oasis, Sia or even the Bee Gees in much the same manner: the Chord Mojo never misses its mark and excels at extracting the soul of each recording. Its restitution of concert recordings is exquisite.
The Chord Mojo: conclusion
What we liked: the musicality, the autonomy of about 8 hours and the possibility to charge while playing music, the connectivity, the funky design.
What we would have liked: to have discovered it earlier.
At nearly 600 euros, the Chord Mojo is available for double or even triple the price of competing products. But its performance is truly stellar and it is a consistent source of listening pleasure. Prepare yourselves, as we have, to rediscover each track from your music collection, on the go or in the comfort of your living room.