The Mojo By Chord Electronics
Tonality9.2
Build9.5
Functionality9
Matchability9.2
Value For Money9
9.2Our Score

The vast majority of people who buy music today buy it via streaming, or individual purchases, and then drag and drop the files onto their phone, DAP, or carry it on their laptop. There are now a ton of competing portable DAC/Amp’s in the market place that are all attempting to convert that musical storage into audiophile goodness with various knobs and whistles alongside promises of ever increasing resolution. Tech moves fast though, and year after year what seemed spot on yesterday is now just gathering dust as the next big ‘thing’ comes along.

Usually this is software driven, codec driven, connectivity driven, or a combination of all three. However, no matter what the driver is, a lot of these portable units become obsolete fast and then, all of a sudden, a new version is released with new chips and new features much like Samsung and Apple smartphones. It can be very frustrating to see your FiiO X5 suddenly become the X5ii and the Sony PHA-1 become the PHA-3 a year or two later. As a result, design and feature sets seem less and less likely to be able to accommodate a change without a fundamental redesign. Part of this constant upgrade path issue is due to the competitive pressure to service the ‘here and now’ as manufacturers find limitations in the actual materials that they use to build their technology. It is much the same with DAC chips as the black art of implementation, along with the type of chip being used, can greatly affect the longevity and capability of the gear being sold.

What is it?

This is what I love most about the Mojo from Chord Electronics. It is a portable DAC/Amp designed entirely from the ground up and, when I say this, I mean the DAC implementation inside and not just the vision. Yes, the Hugo has been out there for a while now and, technically, this ‘build from the ground up’ aesthetic is the same, but with Mojo it feels like we have a product here that is not only great in terms of quality, but more succinct in terms of joined up thinking. In short, a greater understanding of what I actually want to do with my music.

It is perhaps one of the most salient moments I’ve ever had in this review game when Chord Electronics CEO, John Franks, presented it to me at a dinner meeting in late 2015:

“The difference between us and a lot of other audio product manufacturers out there is that they are what we call “users” of DAC chips and we design our own DAC process from the ground up”

So that is why I never could figure out the technical specifications to the Hugo and the Mojo. I am looking for name dropping; ie. what’s the DAC chip? Where is it? I don’t recognize a name? No CS? No Wolfson? No Sabre? What is Chord using for a chip? The simple answer is that Chord has opted to not use other company manufactured DAC chips, instead they design their own conversion process to their own standards with the help of an FPGA (field-programmable gate array). For Chord Electronics, as a manufacturer of high end audio products, this is a liberating and a highly empowering position to be in.  For example, if I want to service a need in the audio market and I make my own conversion process, then there is very little need to compromise using DAC chips other than for financial and marketing reasons.

How does it work?

The Mojo works by simply joining up pretty much all of the main sources of music we use today into one small tiny portable box. Essentially Mojo decodes the digital music file and then outputs the resulting analogue waveform into your headphone of choice using an advanced proprietary DAC design platform owned by Chord themselves. With Mojo, this is done at a fraction of the price of Hugo, but is still to a standard that is simply not a fraction of Hugo quality.

Everything inside the Mojo is geared to the quibbles and complaints that we have today in terms of connectivity, power, impedance, sensitivity, and codec resolution. All of the aforementioned caveats seem to crop up with only a handful of other competing portable DAC/Amp designs. However, the Mojo is a very modern and advanced portable DAC/Amp, which is, indeed, one that has benefited directly from the endless feedback that Chord Electronics received off the back of Hugo since Hugos launch.

Superficially this is nothing new in terms of portable DAC/Amp’s out there purporting to be the answer to your all in one audio needs. For example, you have the Oppo HA-2, Celsus Companion One, Sony’s own PHA products, and iBasso’s D14 to name, but it is to be noted that there are other designs at a cheaper, or similar, price that are all able to deliver perfectly good sound from your smartphone. The key difference between these designs, and the Mojo design, is that DAC implementation, and the programming around it, is wholly developed by Chord and not “bought” from another supplier. This is a very different process and, quite simply, light years ahead of the competition.

The DAC Design

Simply put, the Mojo does not have an industrial chip DAC inside it at all. Instead, Chord work with a series of powerful and very customizable processors (FPGA), which act as powerful blank canvas for Chord to paint, or layer, their own in-house software onto it. This code is so powerful that Mojo is capable of some truly insane sample rates. It is a fact that no other DAC at this price can match this. I remember reviewing the Kingrex UD384 a few years back and commenting that the 384kHz sampling rate it was capable off was highly unlikely to surface as a viable commercial sampling rate to deliver quality audio. Well, the Mojo trounces that by offering a very future proofed ability to decode signals up to 768kHz.

True enough there are still very few, if any, commercially available tracks encoded at 768kHZ. But, given that where we are with PCM and DSD, one can only guess that it is a matter of time before someone tries to sell yet another Beetles remaster with a limit approaching that level. Technology is moving fast and DAC units are usually the first to suffer from premature aging in terms of new capabilities, or functionality. Chords use of FPGAs from Xilinx, complete with 64-bit DSP and advanced WTA filters, completely avoid the traditional multi-chip solution. In doing so it keeps the whole device very future proofed, highly jitter free, as well as allowing everything to squeeze into that tiny physical shell and still have plenty of flexible power on tap for the output of your choice.

To put this capability into further context just look around for those units that tout this sampling capability, and their respective ‘niche’ position in the marketplace, and price and you quickly begin to understand why the Mojo stands so tall for such a small unit. Antelope with the Zodiac Platinum and the Da Vinci DAC MKII are hardly units to be sniffed at; they cost a small fortune. Yet here is the tiny Chord Electronics Mojo at $599 purporting to be able to decode at the same level.

Functionality

Build

Physically the Mojo is a lot smaller than the Hugo. It is also smaller than just about any decent portable DAC/Amp I have used to date aside from say the very average performing AK100, and some budget FiiO units. The closest in size may be the Cypher Labs Picollo, or the Just Audio UHA-120. It is also surprisingly weighted in the hand for its marginal girth and certainly built like a tank. I suspect these two qualities are very connected. The smooth and curved lines of the Mojo aluminium chassis make it a joy to hold though. The Mojo is 100% free of sharp corners, fiddly switches and protruding ports. It is a rather harmonious and holistic design in many respects with everything just within a ‘thumbs’ distance for easy manipulation.

DSC01142

Of course, nothing is perfect and despite its yummy smoothness in my hand it looks nothing like the kind of typical source gadget Chord are targeting – the smartphone user, be it Android or Apple. It is almost old school in its form factor, being more of a “box” then a svelte mirror of the source. Units like the FiiO E18 and Oppo HA-2 mimic the mobile phone shape to a tee. Strapping one of them under a mobile phone just looks right. The Mojo’s boxy approach makes is less of an aesthetic match in that sense, and stacking feels somewhat less balanced when paired with a phone or an X7 DAP.

Orbs

The rather curious obsessions with orb like light displays on the panels from the Hugo also continues with the Mojo but this time it is more purposeful and immediate. Instead of being splashed all over the front plate, Chord have aligned them to one side with very clear decals indicating what they primarily do. Two are for volume (plus and minus), and one is for power.

However, those little orbs are more than that and you would be unwise to throw the box out because on the inside panels of the carton there is a whole range of color sequences that the Mojo orbs can display denoting the codec sampling rate currently in operation. Red for 44k all the way up to a white light for DSD. In between you have a mixture of yellow, green, blue, purple etc for rates up to a blindingly high 768k.

DSC01138

Also a number of orb pressing sequences will give you some differing function capabilities within the Mojo. For instance, pressing both volume buttons during power up will give you a line out signal for use as a pure DAC connected to digital source. Once powered on that same combination will dim the lights on the orbs so to speak should you find them too bright for your liking.

Inputs and Outputs

The Mojo is a trifecta of modern portable and desktop connectivity (excepting BT and wireless). It has three digital inputs including coaxial, optical and USB. There is no traditional analog line in however, so those wishing to perform a regular stacking trick using the line out from a DAP, or other source, might be disappointed since it will not operate purely as a secondary amp to another DAC or source. It can, however, deliver a line out signal as a DAC connected to a source through the previously mentioned double volume button pressing when powering up.

Each digital input is capable of decoding at various levels with variable outputs depending on which one you select.

  1. Micro USB input – designed primarily for interfacing with MAC, PC, Android and iOS the micro USB input is capable of 44kHz to 768kHz PCM and DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256 in DoP format. For Windows this is driver based (nothing new there) and the drivers are available for download on theChord website.
  2. Optical SPDIF input – for all those with sources that can handle optical output such as Astell & Kern DAP’s, some Macbooks and other transports etc can sample at 44.1kHz to 192kHz PCM and DSD64 in DoP format.
  3. Mini Coaxial (3.5mm) input – for those who enjoy iBasso and FiiO DAPs for example, can sample at 44.1kHz to 192kHz PCM and DSD64 in DoP format.

The front panel has a dual 3.5mm headphone jack output. No balanced 2.5mm TRSS here but good old 3.5mm unbalanced. Both will output stereo so you can run two earphones or headphones at the same time without degradation in power or sound quality. Good news for our best headphone wearing buddy then.

DSC01141

Battery

Charging is separate to USB connectivity for decoding however both are functional through a dedicated micro USB slot between the mini coaxial input and the toslink optical input. Chord recommends that you charge the Mojo for an initial 10 hours before using it, which basically means taking your shiny new Mojo out of the box when you buy it and charging it overnight (yes, I sometimes like to sleep for 10 hours, who doesn’t?). After which, the regular charge time of 4 hours will suffice giving you a rather normal 8-10 hours of playback time.

DSC01133

It’s not a ground breaking battery life span if I’m honest. Anywhere between 12 to 18, or even 24 hours, are being touted by the likes of FiiO, Cypher Labs and Oppo. In fact the Oppo offers something called VOOC rapid charging, which reduces the charging time to less than an hour. However, given the far higher rate of sampling capability on offer along with its [soon to be discussed] power handling on large headphones, it is possible that this battery rating for the Mojo is actually a decent compromise.

Page 2: Sound Impressions

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • John Walker

    Surprised you did not mention the iFi Micro iDSD, the other portable device (at a slightly lower price point) that features 768k PCM and DSD256 – the only direct competitor of the Mojo.

    • headfonics

      Noted yes I didn’t mention simply because I do not have one and rarely follow iFi stuff but maybe I should get one now and compare? 🙂

    • Ritwik

      John, not only this site but I have been looking for the comparison between the two everywhere and found nothing pitching the two directly at each other. That’s smart way to avoid ‘loss of sales’ for either company. Since both are fairly good, in the same price range and targeted at the same consumers, you will not find anyone reviewer doing that. Although, I haven’t heard them both as per experience the difference maybe a little bit of tonality …one being a home grown DAC and other being a Sabre based.
      From friends who have heard them both…one said iFi is little ‘analytical’ and Mojo little ‘musical’ and other guy said ‘Mojo blows everything out of the water at the price range’. 😛
      I am in the market for a nice DAC but will not jump on the hype train.

      • headfonics

        That is actually not true at all and we are in discussion with iFi about obtaining a unit who are only too happy to give us one for comparison. Our only delays is the fact they do not have a distributor near where I live. So stay tuned, if we get one we will do it no questions asked.

        • canali

          Still awaiting that comparison review…I have both and they’re far more similar than not….then again I don’t have golden ears.

          • headfonics

            Good news and bad news. We finally got an iDSD for review but not directly with me but one of our other writers in the US – Mike. I am not sure he has a Mojo to compare with but we will be putting out a review of it in a few weeks.

      • Dean

        I used to work in professional audio many years ago, so I became accustomed to listening to expensive studio set-ups using active reference monitors. I’ve been using a Mojo for a few months now and I absolutely love it. It works very well with monitoring headphones with an 80 ohm impedance. I’ve tried it with headphones with a higher impedance and they’re much harder to drive and the volume control has to be turned up higher to achieve the same level of sound pressure level. Feel confident it will sound good with a decent set of 80 ohm headphones. if you’re in the UK, with the Distance Selling Regulations we have for purchasing items over the internet from UK sellers then you have 7 days to try it out and you can return the item back to the retailer for any reason you like and receive a full refund. So it gives you chance to test it out and see if you are happy with it. I’m confident you won’t be returning it.

        • Dean

          Don’t fall into the trap of plugging in an expensive pair of headphones and expecting the Mojo to sound good. I plugged in some very expensive headphones, and whilst there is more detail to the sound in individual notes played, there’s a characteristic sound stage to the headphones which I’m not liking, so I went back to the cheaper headphones. My advice is, have several headphones to hand and experiment with getting the right combination, that *you* like. And that might be different for someone else. Don’t write the Mojo off if you don’t like the sound and you’ve only tried it with one pair of headphones. Experiment.

          • headfonics

            Thanks Dean and I do agree with you, the Mojo punches way above its weight but I still prefer a properly powered desktop solution for my flagship headphones.

  • Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    How compared with the Shiit Stack (Modi 2 uber + Magni 2 uber) ??

    • headfonics

      Its better.

      • Peter Hyatt

        agreed. I compared it to Bifrost, too. Mojo is in a different league, sound wise.

  • Peter Hyatt

    I’ve never heard anything like the Mojo. It has replaced my stack at home and portable on the road. It is now all in one unit. It has the “wow” impact that even some highly recommended desk top DACs do not.

  • Matthew Wingert

    You mentioned in your Noble Savant review that the Savant is like a junior ADEL A12 which you state pairs very nicely with the Mojo. With that in mind, is it safe to say the Savant would be a good pairing with the Mojo? If so, is it on par with the Jupiter/Mojo pairing or do you still consider the Jupiter a better Mojo mate?

    • headfonics

      The Savant is an excellent pairing actually but I love the musicality of the Jupiter more. This maybe simply a preference thing.

  • Forrest

    How would the Mojo compare to the Oppo HA-1 or HA-2 as a line out DSD DAC? Either unit will be connected to my Emotiva XMC-1 processor most of the time so headphone usage is secondary. The Processor and amplifiers are all balanced if that is a factor.

    • headfonics

      I wouldn’t compare the HA-1 with the Mojo – two very different beasts since the HA-1 is also a desktop amp of considerable clout. The key difference is the tonality and decoding capability with the Mojo able to decode at a higher DSD and PCM level than the HA-1 and has a more forgiving tone than the cleaner more neutral HA-1. However the HA-1 is a balanced all in one dac/Amp with more power than the Mojo.

      The HA-2 is the baby of the HA-1 in terms of tonality as it uses Sabre DAC’s also and whilst it has a few more knobs and whistles than the Mojo it is not as resolving as the Mojo. As a line out I wouldn’t buy the HA-1 purely as a DAC. I would rather get the ALO Audio CDM for that kind of money as it is much smoother though can only do DSD64. The HA-2 on the other hand is half the price of the Mojo so that is something to consider.

  • Sergey

    What I don’t get is why no one mentions a strong interference with a mobile signal? I bought a mojo to use it with my android phone and ended up returning it because it was unusable without an Airplane mode. None of my DAPs have this problem.

  • Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    How performs with he400s?

  • Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    You can make a list who the best headphones paired under 500$ with mojo??

  • Dean

    Field Programmable Gate Arrays don’t really help that much with audio, because they’re digital only! You might do some digital filtering in the logic of the FPGA, but you still have to feed the digital signal into a DAC. That’s not to say they are not using a mixed signal ASIC, comprising both analogue and digital components on a single die, but that’s not an FPGA. It’s a very different thing.

    • headfonics

      I think what you mean is the amping part? The DAC part is handled by the FPGA which as you say is very digital but like all of these units they do need an amp stage and of course the Mojo has one.

      • Dean

        The digital code has to be converted into an analogue voltage or current. Digital FPGAs typically only output binary signals at say 5V or 0 volts (or 3.3, and 0v). There are a number of architectures of DAC but essentially you need some analogue devices like operational amplifiers, resistors to generate that analogue voltage or current that’s a function of the digital input code, and they tend not to be on an FPGA.

        Then after you’ve converted the digital signal to a voltage or current you need to feed it through a low pass filter and that tends to be analogue too, and then you can feed it into an amplifier with low output impedance and higher current output to drive the headphones.

        • headfonics

          I think we are in agreement here Dean.

          • Dean

            Yep, thanks for that Muataz, that’s useful. That’s basically what I suspected. The designer hasn’t entirely said, but I infer he’s using an oversampling technique (where you increase the sampling rate to higher than 2xFS ( greater than 2 x 44.1 KHz), what happens then is that the ‘images’ of the audio signal that are produced are spaced out further in frequency (a side effect of the digital to analogue conversion process), which then means you can use an anti-aliasing low pass filter on the output of the DAC of lower order, of less steep cut-off rate, which means it’s simpler, cheaper and has fewer components. Few components in the signal path is a good thing. I wonder which discrete DAC they’re using. I have no plans to take mine apart to find out! And they’ve probably removed the marking from the chip anyway.

            Great, thanks.

    • Sergey Sedlovsky

      FPGA might not make sound in and of itself, but FPGA allows the companies to write the logic on how to work with the digital data to turn it into an analogue signal the right way, so stop your bullshit science and go listen to music.

      • Dean

        Mate, suggest you re-read my post again. I did say, I quote “might do some digital filtering in the logic of FPGA”. Do you know what filtering is? It comprises a variety of filter types, including, low pass, high pass, band pass, parametric filters, which means the FPGA has the capability, if so designed, to change the audio. You’ve just simply repeated what I have said. Stop mouthing off. I used to be an integrated circuit designer and I hold a degree in electronics. And I used to work with a professional audio company that made equipment for most of the top recording studios around the world, including Abbey Road, Capitol, Air and all manner of others. I’ve probably heard gear the likes of which you have never heard. Cut the rudeness please.

  • Sreeni

    I already have a good Amp and was looking for just a DAC. How would you compare the DAC section of the Mojo with the DAC section of the Oppo HA 2?

    • headfonics

      It’s in page 3 of the review but note Oppo just launched the ha-2se so I would look at that also

      • Sreeni

        I did see that. But aren’t those impressions basically for both the DAC and amp together? I will be using the DAC with a portable tube amp like the Continental v5.

  • canali

    have had my mojo for a few months but seldom use it as mostly I’m now a portable music listener (walking with ipod touch and dragonfly red)…but just ordered the extender kit (costs too much imo but anyway…) and once I get a small pocket camera carrying pouch with shoulder strap i hope to swap out the dragonfly red and enjoy the mojo in its place…before when it required the 2 cables was a PITA…cumbersome and the connection often broke down.

  • Matti

    Out of curiosity;
    I know the Mojo is great with well recorded lossless music, but how forgiving is it when it comes to stuff that’s of lesser quality, like a 320kbps mp3/ogg stream from SoundCloud or Spotify?

    This has been my problem with many “audiophile” DAC/amp combos – they’re great for the 256bit/96million-khz-DSD-MQA-BlahBlah-whatever-format geezer jazz that retired dudes in Hawaiian shirts listen to, but are brutally analytical and overly bright for the peasant music that phleb-millennials like me enjoy.

    Chord markest the Mojo to the streaming generation (or so you say in your review), so am I right in assuming it doesn’t totally spit on my “uncultured” post-rock or house/techno bootleg quality streams like so many other well reviewed DAC/amp combos do? What’s your take on this?

    Thanks.

    • headfonics

      Ok first up ” retired dudes in Hawaiian shirts listen to” – Tyle has not retired yet as far as I know 🙂

      Second the Mojo is pretty darn good with most rates, it has that nice pleasing musical profile that works most bitrates I have thrown at it thus far and I listen to 80’s rock cassettes a lot!

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