|Mojo as shown here in the official rubber and leather Mojo Case. Looks and feels great in the hand. Shown with AKG K371 headphone.|
Well, in the "better late than never" category, when I returned my friend AudioPhil's Cayin RU6 the other week, I borrow his Chord Mojo ("Mobile Joy", ~US$475 new but I think currently discontinued) for a spin!
This DAC has been out since October 2015! That's ages ago in the world of electronics. However, to be honest, high fidelity audio reproduction is rather ageless whether the device is 10 months old or 10 years old. So long as the internal components aren't deteriorating with age ("break-down" instead of "break-in", right?).
As you've probably seen in countless reviews on the Mojo (like here, here, here), this seems to be quite a popular DAC with a good following. It has been said that Chord sold something like 100,000 of these over the years. Objectively, the Stereophile review in fact showing some impressive performance results back in 2016.
As usual, Chord gear tends toward the large bulbous glowing buttons, at times steampunk metal esthetic. Colors are used to provide feedback on volume (the pair of buttons for +/- volume) and the main power button (red in image above) which changes color for sampling rate. I think this is an acquired taste and figuring out the colors will take some time as you get used to the sequence of colors in a rainbow with red (lowest volume/samplerate) on one end and purplish/grey/white (highest) on the other..
Above, we see the Mojo out of the case. It's a compact chunk of CNC milled aluminum with official dimensions 8.2cm x 6cm x 2.2cm, 180gm/0.4lbs. As you can see with the glowing lights while unconnected, it's obviously a self-powered unit with a battery inside. This does make it larger and heavier than a simple USB DAC dongle.
To the right of the unit, we see the digital I/O with micro-USB (up to 768kHz and DSD256 DoP input), and both TosLink (to 192kHz) and Coaxial (to DSD128 DoP and 768kHz!) S/PDIF inputs. There's also the power USB connector for charging the battery - blue indicator tells us it's "75-100%" charged; as usual, consult the manual for what colors mean.
There's no special digital input selection mechanism. If multiple digital sources are plugged in, the priority goes USB > Coax > TosLink.
And on the left, we have the dual 3.5mm stereo headphone jacks:
|Not sure if that QR code and number is a serial number or not - blurred to protect the innocent.|
The dual headphone outputs play simultaneously and are rated for 8-600Ω impedance headphones with spec'ed output impedance at 0.075Ω. Since there is a single volume control, how loud the headphones play will be dependent on relative sensitivity. This is certainly a convenient way to share the output; probably good to use the same or similar types of headphones for both outputs just in case one is much louder than the other.
From the top, we can see the round push buttons (they're actually spheres that will roll under your fingers) including the +/- volume control and power button.
At first I was a little surprised to see the amount of Chinese on the label for a "Made In England" product! This is legit and has been the labeling style since 2019 at least; AudioPhil tells me that this unit was purchased in 2019.
Otherwise, there's no other special features or settings except for a 2-level LED brightness control (turn on and then briefly tap on both volume buttons to toggle) and the "Line Level" mode (turn on the unit while holding both volume buttons).
When "Line Level" output is set, both volume buttons will turn purplish color. All this does is set the output to 3.10Vrms which is higher than the usual 2Vrms line level we see with most RCA single-ended outputs. You can still use the volume buttons to deviate from 3.1V.
Pretty cool that Chord makes the Poly addon for wireless access and local SD-Card playback although reviews of usability don't seem that great.
Alright then folks, let's have a look at the audio output characteristics and quality...
I. Oscilloscope, Impulse Response, Digital Filter, Output Impedance, Headphone Output Power
Indeed we can see some roll-off with both resistive as well as the more complex Polk Ultrafit 2000 headphone loads (96kHz sweep). Take note that the Y-axis is very small and I'm blowing the picture up here. The top is only +0.5dB, lower edge -1dB. As expected, with the low output impedance, variation in the electrical frequency response is very small until above 5kHz where there's more of an upper frequency attenuation affecting the lower impedance 20Ω load and Polk headphones (see Polk Ultrafit 2000 impedance graph here) most. That rising output impedance as shown above might be part of the reason.
II. RightMark PCM
|Note: for the Topping D10s and D10 Balanced, I'm using a linear phase filter firmware these days which cleans up the frequency response.|
III. RightMark DSD & Ultrasonic Noise
IV. 1kHz THD+N
VII. Subjective & AMPT Recordings
|Dual purple volume buttons = "Line Level Mode", 3.1Vrms output with 0dBFS signal. Red power button = 44.1kHz.|
Have a look at Chord's well-done video if you're curious about how the company describes its DAC technology. If we cut through all the fancy talk about its FPGA and "Pulse Array" terminology, what we basically have here is a custom high-performance, multi-level ("4-element") sigma-delta design with a strong digital interpolation filter. The Xilinx Artix-7 FPGA performs the touted (excellent if not already "over-engineered") 26,368 taps "WTA" interpolation up to 16fs (presumably 705.6 or 768kHz depending on sample rate) and then further interpolation takes this to the multi-bit 2048fs (~100MHz). I've read online that the Mojo's modulator uses a 5th order noise shaper so we might be able to see rising noise floor from this.
You might be wondering why I picked out the old LH Labs Geek Out V2 DAC as a comparison device for these last couple of posts. Well, it's also a USB-dongle headphone DAC, and the MSRP when new (~US$250) was about the same as the Cayin last week. Also, this allows us to be reminded about the idea of crowdfunding and audio!
The other day I was reminded of the company while reading through this unfortunate "Light Harmonic (LH Labs). Scam? USD$6 million not delivered since 2014" forum thread. I can reminisce of a time just before 2015 when crowdfunding was seen by some in the audiophile press as a possible "future" for the audio industry. Larry Ho and Gavin Fish back in the day being mouthpieces of this movement - "How Indegogo Will Help Save an Old Dying Industry". Not only Stereophile, but guys from The Absolute Sound also perpetuated the news around the hype.
Evidently, this salvation for an "old dying industry" was not to be. As you can see in the long-running forum thread started in 2017, it looks like folks have been awaiting delivery on a number of "paid" items from LH Labs. At this point, chances are slim that there will be any kind of product to show for the money spent by many unfortunate customers. I think from the start, many had questions about whether this kind of funding model would work for a majority of projects. In reviewing my preview to the Geek Out V2 back in 2015, I think I showed appropriate skepticism. Human psychology being what it is, unless you're dealing with really good people completely up front whether the venture leads to success or failure, the bias does tend to be for behaviours that favour greed and an attempt at ego preservation.
While I don't think failure/success rates have been fully published, estimates are that for Indegogo, success rate is "between 17-18%". With those kinds of odds, obviously if you're a prospective buyer, make sure to be mindful of the reputation of the folks making the sales pitch and that you're willing to part with whatever dollars you'll send their way. It's one thing to send a few bucks for a unique product, but once it gets into 3 or 4 (or 5!?) figures, better make sure to do your due diligence! I'm curious, in the years since, have we seen Stereophile or TAS write anything to follow-up on the crowdfunding movement or ever warned consumers about this kind of business model? If not, why not? As usual, it's worth wondering if the "mainstream" audiophile media holds much allegiance to consumer interests as opposed to those of the Industry.
If we look at the Indegogo page on products like the LH Labs Geek Pulse and Geek Wave, we see that the company has sent out updates here and there over the years, apparently stringing along the idea that work is being done (for example, for the Geek Wave, they posted a few pictures up to Jan 2, 2021). Then there are the thousands of comments by folks who feel "ripped off".
Clearly, Larry Ho and Gavin Fish were not exactly the most reputable of folks to be entrusted with millions of dollars; who knows where the dollars went. Funny reading this article about Ho on "serial" entrepreneurship from 2015 in an Asian news site. Sure, taking risks and promising all kinds of things will capture "venture" dollars a lot of the time... until it doesn't, and shaky schemes collapse.
Inexplicably, Larry Ho has become Lawrence Hope these days (as in "I Hope karma isn't too hard on me."), and Gavin Fish turned into some kind of true crime warrior! I dunno, maybe it's some kind of subconscious desire for absolution for sins of the past. You can't make this stuff up, folks!
By the way, the only other product I purchased which came from crowdfunding was the PonoPlayer. At least with that, which originated from Kickstarter, I respect Neil Young and Ayre for getting the job done and delivering. Of course, I didn't think Young's silly promotion of hi-res audio realistically helped; but that's another story.
As usual, when we see an audiophile press that's mostly interested in making sales for the Industry (instead of promoting consumer interests), and questions of "snake oil" around claims from the "High End" particularly, make sure to be wise about spending money on a lot of this stuff.
[Addendum: A terrible article in support of the LH Labs scam model by Lee Scoggins (circa 2014), currently the CEO of the publisher for TAS and Hi-Fi+ as shared on AS.]
In news this week, fascinating what happened to Neil Young in his little spat with Joe Rogan over COVID-19 ending up in Young's music being pulled from Spotify. No need at this point IMO to get into the rights and wrongs of the pandemic, I think too much has already been said in that regard. I think it should be no surprise that this was the outcome for Young's ultimatum. I respect Young's character in standing up for his principles and I see the WHO Chief thanking him. But I think if Young wanted to make a meaningful statement, isn't it a little late given where we're at in the pandemic? Rogan caught COVID in early September 2021 and has already expressed his views for months. Looks like the horse has been "out of the Barn" for awhile already. ;-)
Speaking of Neil Young's activism and posturing, remember back in 2015 Neil Young also removed his music from Spotify? Back in those days it was because of the need for better sound quality. Seriously guys, of all the music and genres, Young's discography does not need hi-res - CD 16/44.1 is more than enough for this stuff IMO. He said back then "When the quality is back, I’ll give it another look. Never say never." He even said: "I don't need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution. I don't feel right allowing this to be sold to my fans. It's bad for my music" on Facebook. Well, even though Spotify never improved its sound quality, Young's music eventually went back on the system by November 2016. And now look at this: Neil Young returns to SiriusXM after pulling music from Spotify. LOL - SiriusXM has some of the worst broadcast sound quality I've ever heard with obvious data compression distortions and EQ (music channels get about 40-64kbps over the air)! Oh well, to be Young and idealistic. ;-)
Look ladies and gents... Like with everything else on the Internet, there's so much misinformation, disinformation, and irrational content that it's simply impossible to "sanitize" and "protect" the presumably innocent, unsuspecting public at this point in history.
Potential for chaos is the price of free speech and obviously every society, community, person will need to find a threshold of what is acceptable. Sometimes the fantasies we find online are relatively harmless; the fantasies in "High End" audio are mostly entertaining. Other times, the fictitious nonsense will cause major troubles. The virulence of COVID-19 obviously has had a huge part to play in creating disharmony in society since each of us will have a different level of tolerance for the risk it poses for ourselves and those around. And so the outcomes for each society and relative emphasis the culture places on "safety" and at what costs through the phases of this pandemic are probably predictable in retrospect to a certain extent. Fascinating how various countries have dealt with the challenges and the kinds of resistance citizens have engaged in.
There will be time enough in the years and decades ahead as we get past this phase in our history for everyone from common folks to academics to study the medical epidemiology, individual psychology, collective behaviour/sociology, media coverage, economics and politics of this pandemic. I would not be surprised if we start seeing a bunch of books by the end of the year retrospectively reviewing "What just happened?".
Regardless of all the "Information Wars" online, at least in the Western World, I think the underlying solution IMO is still better education. Teaching ourselves, those around us, and the next generations to be better critical thinkers is perhaps the most important job that the educational system, news media, and leaders in all kinds of areas must try to do. Information is cheap, but the skills to be able to extract truth, and the wisdom to develop understanding I think is what's "priceless".
As for censorship, whether it's the idea of banning podcasts, blogs, videos, articles, etc. that some are calling for, society will always have "fringe groups" of one sort or another which someone, somewhere will want to suppress. How we set the thresholds of what is "acceptable", what should be outlawed, which are "depraved", and which are sadly a product of mental illness (even perhaps to be pitied) will simply reflect societal norms and values. As I quoted from Carl Jung on the article about audiophile psychology recently, "The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong." Let's see how societies around the world find "sense" rather than some kind of idealistic morality as we hopefully reach the conclusion of these pandemic perturbations through 2022.
Well, locally here in the Vancouver area, the rate of new Omicron infections has passed a peak, hospital numbers are still high but likely in the midst of dropping, strain on health care resources calming, and death rate should be turning down soon. I think humanity has been on the whole fortunate to have this wave be the relatively lower virulence Omicron strain. I think we can be optimistic for the Spring and Summer 2022.
Through all this, I hope you're staying healthy and enjoying the music, audiophile friends!
Addendum: January 30, 2022
As per Verifonix's comment below, it looks like Hefty_Miner posted some preliminary information on the Mojo 2. Let's take a peek at the list with my own comments in regular italics:
Black Finish Only
Price: £ 449 (UK) = ~US$600 direct conversion
About 7 years after Chord Electronics created the portable headphone / DAC amplifier "Mojo", the new "Mojo 2" is released.
UHD DSP - interesting use of the term "UHD" as if channeling the video world
・ Advanced DSP allows integrated tone adjustment over all frequency bands
・ UHD DSP technology operates at 705 / 768KHz
・ Uses 104bit and extended internal noise modulation
・ UHD DSP provides bass and medium The entire frequency band can be adjusted in 18 steps for each frequency band of bass, bass, and treble.- Using a powerful DSP to operate at 700+kHz and high bitdepth, cool-The volume adjustment range has also been improved from + 18dB to -108dB. It has two types of operating ranges, low volume and high volume. - okay looks like we have hi/lo gain
・ It is equipped with a new cross-feed mode with 4 settings controlled by DSP, realizing a space effect for listening like a headphone speaker. - more DSP features. Hope it sounds good!
・ Introduced a menu system - wondering how this works? display screen? app-based?
Equipped with a mute function, 4-step customization function, travel button lock function, tone control function, etc.
・ Digital input
USB-C input has been newly installed to increase the number to 4 systems, enabling more flexible support. - good, USB-C nice.
USB-C, optical, coaxial (including dual data for M scaler), and Micro USB installed.
3.5mm mini jack headphone output There are two systems, and up to two people can listen to music at the same time. - I've listened to the M scaler demo a couple times now and it doesn't blow me away for the expense. Could care less... What's the point with a mobile DAC like this!?
- still dual 3.5mm single-ended is a bit of a let-down since balanced output would do more for resolution than basically anything else here. A comment in the link above listed 600mW into 30Ω - basically little increase in output power.
New FPGA-based charging system greatly improves battery management
This technology significantly improves charging speed, reduces power loss by 75%, and enables more efficient charging.
Increased capacity by 9%, improved performance and improved battery life to over 8 hours- charging speed increase good (how many hours to fully charge?) but battery life just over 8 hours??? I would have hoped at least >12hrs.
-The "Intelligent Desktop Mode" technology has also been improved to support batteryless operation by redesigning the battery isolation and power supply. - great, very nice!
・ Improved WTA (Watts Transient Aligned) filter to achieve 40,960 taps (technical indicator of interference filter complexity) using 40 DSP cores. - good, no need to overwhelm us with tap # ;-)
・ Improved noise modulator improves depth and detail, and improved 4e pulse array DAC reduces distortion and out-of-band noise. - still 4 elements, will be interesting how the >100kHz noise floor looks with this; presumably pushed further out if higher order noise modulator.
・ Abolishes coupling capacitors to achieve higher neutrality. - sure...
・ Mojo 2 is designed and manufactured in the UK. Uses a high-quality aluminum housing with a black finish that has been sandblasted.
Mojo 2 is fully compatible with Poly Streamer / Server, allowing you to store and play up to 2TB of solid libraries when using high resolution streaming and microSD card slots.