Review: Chord Mojo Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier

Generally speaking, it doesn’t make sense to generalize. You can think of generalizing as the soft cushy pillow of thought where it feels better to not work so hard. So we generalize instead of looking at specifics. Make sense? It depends on how much you want to really understand.

In HiFi, generalizing has run amok—tubes, solid state, cables, power, racks, speakers—look into any forum discussion on any of these topics and you’ll get a bird’s eye view (the bird being the person doing the generalizing). When it comes to digital to analog converters (DACs), we learn from the birds that all chip-based DACs sound the same when they use the same chip, NOS R2R DACs sound more natural but measure poorly, and FPGA-based converters not only sound natural but they measure well. Consider that my buying guide advise for the lazy.

The Chord Mojo does not use a DAC chip nor does it employ a ladder—what Chord does do is let Rob Watts have at an FPGA where he works his magic in bits. I say magic because if you’ve ever heard a Chord DAC, you’d never guess at the level of complication going on inside. On the contrary—Chord DACs sound like music in, music out. For digital, this is as rare as hen’s teeth in my experience because DACs more often that not sound like music in, digital out (ick).

I’ve described this effect as sounding as if there’s a sheet of glass in between me and my speakers. I can hear through the glass but it keeps me at a distance from my music. Once removed, so to speak. This is not the case with the mighty Chord Mojo. The diminutive Mojo, perfect for a pocket, jacks you directly into the music. That’s mighty.

When the Mojo first arrived, I slipped it into my desktop system, using an AudioQuest 3.5mm to RCA doohickey, where it replaced the AudioQuest DragonFly Red and previously an old Mytek Brooklyn DAC (not a +). Just after I hit “Play” in Roon, I cursed some curse word, I don’t recall which, but it was along the lines of, “Holy shit! My music just came alive!” I still enjoy my ADAM A3X, even after all these years of ownership (6+) but I’ve never them so alive. “It’s alive!” just like Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein screeched when The Monster’s hand wiggled for the first time.  The mighty Mojo seemed to reach inside the ADAMs, do some serious house cleaning, and wake up parts that previously covered in dust. I think I heard the ADAMs cough during Nina Simone singing “Don’t Smoke In Bed”.

Of course most mighty Mojo users will use it to power and play through their headphones. There are not one but two 3.5mm headphone jacks for you and a special friend. On the input side of things, there’s a 32-bit/768kHz-capable micro USB, which is what I used throughout this review, Toslink (24/192), and a 3.5mm Coax (32-bit/768kHz). There’s another micro USB input for charging the mighty Mojo (from any 1 Amp USB port). According to Chord, a fully charged battery will last 8 hours and while I didn’t time it to the second, I’m not going to argue with that spec. The only real issue I had with the mighty Mojo is I listened to it for more than 8 hours on occasion. In these magical musical mystery tour moments I simply charged while I played. Here’s what Chord says about this practice, “Charging with Mojo switched on and playing is possible, but the time taken to fully charge will be considerably longer and depending on volume level and headphone load the battery.” I can live with that. There’s a tiny LED indicator under the USB power input that turns different colors depending on the level of charge.

For ‘phones I used my much-loved AudioQuest Night Owls and the lovely Audeze LCD-EL-8. While each headphone offers its own take on music reproduction, which one is right? (hint: they both are), the mighty Mojo energized each with same due diligence with which it woke up my ADAMs—they’re alive! The mighty Mojo remained in charge and in control regardless of output device and music poured forth unencumbered by bits. Think natural. What does that mean? With digital there’s that glass standing in the way, and with some DACs is seems the closer you try to get into your music you just end up smudging the glass making things worse, like looking standing in front of the Grand Canyon and though at a photo of it on your smartphone’s screen. With Mojo working, you’re down in the Canyon as far as you want to go.

Mojo on the go. I really don’t go anywhere most days, which is fine by me. But if I did go on the go often, I’d want a mighty Mojo powering my ‘phones as it makes the mobile listening experience home quality. Delicate music like Keto’s Blackened Pool has all the pluck and precision of a big rig while raucous music like the IDLES super fine Joy as an Act of Resistance made it hard to sit still (OK, I I admit most of my on-the-go listening was done in my chair). Once again the mighty Mojo turned bits into music and this with a kinda crappy iPhone as source. That’s the Apple Camera Connection Kit (CCK) hanging of my ‘phone which takes the digital output from the iPhone and sends it to the magical D to A inside the Mojo. My guess is the DAC in the iPhone costs a fraction of the price of a stale gumball from a crank vending machine.

I could make the generalization that FPGA-based DACs all sound the same but they don’t. Why would they, seeing as an FPGA or a chip or a ladder need other things to turn them into a DAC and these other things are of equal importance in terms of what your music sounds like when converted. What we can say about the mighty Mojo is it’s a beneficiary of Chord’s forays into much more costly DACs. Trickle down can work! Another thing worth noting is that when listening to music through the mighty Mojo, you have no sense of the level of complexity going on inside and at work turning your D into A. Here’s Chord on their top of the line DAVE DAC, “At its heart lies a new version of the advanced Spartan 6 Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) with 1,000x the processing power of the traditional mass-produced chip DAC. DAVE’s FPGA is loaded with over a million lines of code to confront complex timing issues head-on, with speed and precision.”

As you can see for yourself, the mighty Mojo has three balls that light up in different colors. The pair act as volume control so their color indicates volume level. While I could go through all of the color variations, let’s just say that using the Mojo is very intuitive (unless you’re color blind).  The single ball is to turn the mighty Mojo on/off. The Mojo feels good in-hand and has a nice heft considering its size. Think metal, not plastic.

The Big Rig. The Reference System. A place where boys become men and girls become women and some get nervous. I’m not a fan of the stigma attached to these names because they make it seem like the Rig and System are all that matters and typically the size and price figure largely in perceived value. Truth be told, the hifi that used most often is the best hifi and that’s the end of that conversation. Size and price be damned.

The good thing about a Reference System is we’re used to listening to it. It is familiar so when we hear differences, they are obvious. I let the mighty Mojo play with my Leben CS600 / DeVore gibbon Xs and they were like Fred and Ginger (and Ginger). I’m not one to mince words, at least I try not to mince, so what I’m saying is—the mighty Chord Mojo plays equally well when driving some nice headphones while sitting in your pocket, on the desktop, and as a part of your room-filling hifi. I’d go as far as saying the mighty Mojo is completely satisfying in all three locales. That is mighty.

I’m not going to compare the mighty Mojo to any other DAC because I’ve never heard another $500 DAC sound anywhere near as good. If you want this kind of performance and flexibility but you don’t want a Mojo, you’re going to have to reach deeper into your wallet. Way deeper. Can you tell I really liked the mighty Chord Mojo? I hope so because I did. In my experience it sounds like a hell of lot more than $500. A hell of a lot more.

I’m going to share a secret—some reviews are easy to write and this review was super-easy to write. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Why? Because the mighty Chord Mojo is a great product in every way; build quality, sound quality, form, function, and price all add up to one highly recommended Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier. To be even more specific, if your budget for same lives somewhere in the neighborhood of $500, and by neighborhood think of $500 as the pin on a par 5 hole and you are teeing off in total darkness, buy a mighty Mojo and live happily ever after.


Chord Mojo Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier

Price: $539.00
Specifications

Company Information

Chord Electronics
The Pumphouse
Farleigh Ln
East Farleigh, Maidstone ME16 9NB, UK
+44 1622 721444

US Distributor

Bluebird Music