CHORD POLY & MOJO REVIEW

The Chord Poly and Mojo have been around for some time now and are a well known portable combo. In this review, Chris Baillie looks at Poly and Mojo as a source for music on the go as well as in a home system.

Chord Poly and chord Mojo

The Chord Poly and Mojo together as one unit.

INTRODUCTION

Since the introduction of the Chord Mojo – MO(bile)JO(y) geddit?, late 2015, Chord have gone on to sell tens of thousands of units and won countless awards and plaudits from both the Hifi and Tech press alike. Following on from Hugo which was launched the previous year, Mojo brought to mobile phone users what Hugo brought to  PC users… and inspired a whole heap of similar products. Indeed, Chord inspired a whole genre with beautifully built, sonically class leading DACs that could turn your laptop of Smartphone into an audiophile-level source.  The initial appeal of each product was it gave you a transportable and portable DAC, primarily for headphone use. However, such was the performance of the DACS that both products, particularly Hugo, would be used in some very expensive systems and often replacing full-size DAC’s.

As a fairly early adopter, I used Mojo with both my PC and mobile phone. To be honest, whilst Mojo was wonderful to listen to with my phone, it could be a bit of a bind fastening the two together whilst out and about. Being a user of Samsung phones, I was unable to stream listening via Mojo, from Qobuz or Tidal due to Android restrictions.  A further issue, probably caused by the phone rather than any design issues on Chords’ part, was that I’d get some noise cutting through whilst listening.  On the Apple side of the fence, you were able to stream to Mojo directly from Streaming Apps. Any issue here is because you aren’t able to insert Micro SD cards to Apple mobile products, so storage for those full fat juicy FLAC’s was often an issue.

Chord Mojo

Mojo in isolation

HERE COMES CHORD POLY

Clearly, there were grounds to develop the products in order to both liberate them from the need to be connected to a computer or phone and potentially improve sound quality. Initially, the thoughts were that a small screen would be needed on such a product but fairly early on in the design process, it occurred to Chord that the Smartphone could be the screen. This would bring obvious savings on the packaging and power requirement. Very quickly from that point, the idea was formed Poly could be designed as a fully Roon-Ready, WIFI/DLNA Streamer, with its own Micro SD card slot. This would instantly remove the need for a physical connection to its controlling Smartphone or tablet.

Chord Poly Showing SD Card Slot

Chord Poly showing SD slot

Note: Poly can only be used in conjunction with Mojo, so that’s what this review will concentrate on.

As with Mojo, all-important formats are supported, from MP3 to DSD256. No native MQA here. However, using Roon you can unpack MQA files to a max of 24/96 and MConnect can do up to 24/48. I have tried both and it works as expected.

No doubt about it, both items fit together in a seamless fashion and the combination exudes quality. There’s a lovely premium feel to both units and a nice weighty quality to the casing.  Effectively you don’t get any controls on Poly, although there is a recessed, pin operated configuration button. To be honest, the latter hasn’t been needed since the launch of Chord’s own App called ‘Go Figure’.

Mojo has just three buttons, in the form of funky coloured balls. Two of them work as volume control +/- and the other will switch on both units at once, assuming they are connected together.  The volume balls change colour depending on volume level, and the ball that operates power changes colour to correspond to the sample rate of the file being played through the units.  Poly & Mojo push-fit together and are held in place by the plugs protruding from Poly which slot into the sockets of Mojo and so effectively they become one, seamless pairing. I still prefer to put them both in the dedicated case in order to protect them from knocks and scratches etc.  Almost a shame to put them in the case to be honest as they feel so nice to hold, but it protects them from potentially expensive damage!

Chord Poly and Mojo

Bringing Mojo and Poly together

THE REMOTE CONTROL

You have two options here, UPnP App or MPD Player. For those unfamiliar with the terms, an example of a UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) App would be Bubble UPnP for Android or MConnect for IOS/Apple. Both of these apps rely on information being sent across your network. Occasionally with UPnP Apps, there can be issues with setting up things like gapless play and playing DSD files.  You must use a UPnP app to play files from your local network. Examples of this would be a NAS or even something like J.River, installed on your PC.  You also need a UPnP app for playing files from a Cloud provider, such as Qobuz/Tidal. You can also use the same app to play files from Poly’s SD card.  Playing the music from SD card via and MPD Player, such as Glider for IOS or M.A.L.P. for Android, keeps things much simpler as the music is effectively sent directly from POLY to MOJO, without going through the App itself, so any limitations regarding Gapless Play or DSD format compatibility are at once eradicated.  I did find the sound quality direct from SD card to be considerably more defined, focussed and tonally varied than over WiF.  There were similar benefits, although less pronounced using an MPD App, rather than UPnP to stream from Poly’s SD card.

IN USE AND SET-UP

I will admit that with certain routers I’ve used in the past, I have experienced issues with  Poly not showing up on the network. These were solved entirely by using a higher quality router. It’s worth setting your router up so it always designates the same IP address to Poly, as it will cause issues if the IP address changes each time you log on, especially with an MPD PIayer. I get a 100% stable connection using my current ASUS router and few issues with a previous BT Smarthub, or indeed a friend’s Virgin Hub.

Whilst out and about you still need Poly on a network. The simplest way is to use your phone’s WiFi Hotspot.  This proved a totally reliable method with every phone I used. If your phone or device isn’t capable of providing a hotspot, you can create a Hotspot via Poly, although you will lose internet capability on your controlling device.  There are ways of setting up Poly to play directly from a playlist created on your SD card, which I gather can continue to play even if you move away from a network.  To be honest I tend to play entire albums so I have never done so.  A good friend of mine uses his this way all the time, so horses for courses.  You can also put your streaming account details into Go Figure, which allows the use of Apps that don’t natively offer these services. Both Qobuz and Tidal are listed as options in Go Figure.

HOW DO THEY SOUND?

I am going to break this into two parts – home and away. I have been using the combo for quite some time now but almost always as a portable with headphones. However, our editor really enjoyed using it in his smaller system with speakers and so set me the task of testing it in this configuration in my main system, which proved good fun.  I’ve used the combo with headphones such as Sennheiser HD25-2, PSB Audio M4U1, Cardas A8, Obravo Cupid and more recently, the HiFi Man Sundara.  To be honest the Sundara is at the limit of what Mojo is happy driving and they do need the volume turning up pretty high before they come to life, but still a very enjoyable combination.

Chord Mojo and Poly in case

Poly and Mojo’s protective case

Overall I would say the Cardas A8’s are a great combination and they complement the Mojo well.  They give a slight bass boost and have a similar, slightly warm balance to Mojo and bring out the abundance of detail on offer, without a hint of hardness or harshness. Soundstage with all of the phones I used, was wide and with some sense of depth.  Bass is full and firm but perhaps lacking in ultimate depth compared to more expensive set ups. Vocals are slightly forward, but never too much as long as the headphones don’t exhibit the same balance. The sound is dynamic and involving with all formats, especially DSD, which in my opinion tends to possess more low-level dynamics when at its best. I felt the music possessed a great sense of timing and rhythm and I found it easy to get emotionally involved with what I was listening to.

I am listening now to an SACD rip of Love Kraft by The Super Fury Animals in DSD, via the Sundaras.  It’s a pretty bright, brick-walled recording and can have a bright edge in the wrong system. With the combo, I can hear the limits of the recording. It doesn’t mask the slightly harsh edge to some of the instruments but the balance doesn’t tip too far towards harshness. Some of the tracks are very busy, but I can follow each instrument and things never lose their composure.  Each track here bounces along nicely, underpinned by a firm bass line that drives the music along.  Next up is another SACD rip, this time of Dead Can Dance’s Serpents Egg.  I’m hearing the sense of acoustic of the church where it was recorded and some sense of soundstage depth.  It’s not quite to the level I’ve experienced with the best setups, but I’m not missing and to put things into context we are talking about a portable rig, with a battery that’s expected to last most of the working day!

Mojo being used as a USB DAC

POLY AND MOJO AT HOME

Now would seem like a good time to try Poly/Mojo in the main system. Ideally, I’d have liked to try it within the context of a system where the amp and speakers are somewhere in the region of £1000 each. In such a system, I do think it would sit as a great component for occasional use, especially as a second source.  Perhaps a great way to introduce one to the joys of streaming, whilst doubling up as the source in a killer headphone set up.  My main concern using the combo for regular long listening sessions would be the toll on the battery. Yes, you can charge and listen, but both units do get very hot when used in this way. These concerns aside, it did a pretty good job in my main system, which costs several times more than the Poly/Mojo combo  – my Moon 280D Streaming DAC alone retailing at several times the price!  The amplifier was Moon 600i, with Totem Forest Signature speakers. I used a Sean Jacobs RCA cable with an RCA/Phono adapter from Poly/Mojo to the amp.

The first track up was 2 Far Gone from Moses Boyd’s  Dark Matter album, in 24/44.  Initially, I listened via my Moon 280D, My Melco NA1/2 and then swap to the Poly/Mojo. I am able to stream via the Melco, but as Poly doesn’t have a wired connection, this isn’t a fair comparison. I’m able to stream the same file directly from Poly’s SD card, so I use it this way to level things up. Considering the price difference here compared to the Melco/Moon combination, Poly/Mojo do a pretty good job. We get almost as wide a soundstage and similarly lively presentation. We get a similar sense of timing and the bass propels the song along in a similar fashion. Where we lose out is lack of the deepest bass notes and bass power and there is a comparative lack of air, space and sense of depth. There’s also a slight hardening of the upper frequencies, which affects the lead piano slightly. This slight hardness isn’t to the point of becoming offensive and I’m aware the rest of the system is very revealing and comparatively MUCH more expensive.

Next up is The Lost Sky, from Jesca Hoop’s Memories Are Now, in 24/96 – Melco to Moon, direct from SD card via Poly/Mojo. Again comparing the two, we get a similar sense of soundstage width, this time well beyond the confines of the speakers.  Here there is slightly more depth to the soundstage with the Moon and better sense of acoustic . Again, there’s more space around each instrument and generally more detail, but the rest of the important parts of the performance remain intact. With this being an acoustic recording, albeit with a generous amount of reverb added in the production, I am noticing the Moon sounds more natural. The Poly/Mojo does seem to have a more forward balance, especially in the vocals, which do have a slightly hardened quality here.  Again this wouldn’t be noticeable to most people in isolation, especially via a less revealing system and even for me it wasn’t to the point it became in any way offensive.

Where I did manage to trip up the Chord combo, was streaming Polythiia’s G.O.A.T., in 24/96 via Qobuz. This is a typical modern rock recording, very upfront distorted guitars, with a lot of compression. I had played this a few days before via the Sundara headphones and whilst the limitation of the production was evident, it was perfectly enjoyable. Via the main system, however, the balance tipped towards harshness to the point it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. The Moon DAC was able to resolve much more detail and separate the instruments much better. This meant things could be kept under control and I was able to concentrate on the virtuoso performance unfolding before me. Taking the price difference between the two sources into account and the revealing nature of the rest of the system, it’s hardly surprising these limits are exposed – and that REALLY must be taken into account! The fact this last piece was far more balanced via my headphones, shows how system matching is crucial. These comparisons have certainly got me eager to hear what the combination of the recently launched 2go, paired with the extremely well-regarded Hugo2 are capable of.

CONCLUSION

Poly and Mojo combined make a truly unique combination and they are still unrivalled at their price point as far as I’m concerned.  I am hearing through the grapevine that the Astell & Kern KANN Alpha may rival our combo for sound quality. However, it does cost £200 more and you lose the ability to split the two components and use Mojo as a DAC from a computer/phone or even CD player when required. It is this versatility where the Poly/Mojo combo will win out.

As written above, in the right system the combination can also make a great streaming source at home. Clearly, it’s going to work better in budget and mid-priced systems, but we have2go/Hugo2 for more revealing systems. I’d certainly love to give that combination a try at home to find out just what it can do!

AT A GLANCEHifi Pif Five Hearts Award

Build Quality:

Definitely feels like a premium product

Feels built to last

No cheap materials evident here

Sound Quality:

Used within its limits, brilliant, especially considering it’s a portable product. Slightly warm balance overall. Maybe a hint of forwardness to female vocals and piano. Possesses a great sense of pace and timing.

Value For Money:

Worth every penny in my view. Very little competition, if any.

We Loved:

Musical presentation

Fabulous build quality

Can double up as a second or lesser-used source in a main system

Can separate and use Mojo as DAC in a main system or with a computer if required

We Didn’t Love So Much:

Poly can be fussy with some networks

Poly never completely shuts down, so battery drains when not in use

Can get hot if you are charging the battery whilst playing music

Price: Poly £499, Mojo £399. £899 as a gift pack

Supplied by Chord Electronics

Elevator Pitch Review:

Unique streaming combo with a premium build and premium sound to match. First-class as a portable and pretty good as a stand-in or second source for a home system. That the two units can be split so that Mojo can be used as a DAC in a system or computer audio set up gives it the edge over many alternatives.

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Baillie

Review Equipment: Moon 280D Streaming DAC, Moon 600i Amp, Totem Forest Signature speakers.  Sean Jacobs RCA cable with an RCA/Phono adapter.

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