Chord Electronics might not be a familiar name to the average smartphone owner. The term DAC might also be a little meaningless, and reference to audiophile, a little scary.
But Chord want to change that with the launch of Mojo (a contraction of mobile joy), a compact yet powerful DAC designed to work with your smartphone.
A DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) is something that every smartphone contains. It's a chip that does the job of converting digital audio files into the analogue signal you hear through your headphones or speakers.
The Chord Mojo aims to bypass a device's DAC, to give you a superior solution, designed to give you the best performance from your music. In essence Mojo is an external DAC.
Chord's thinking is that because there's a smartphone in the pocket of so many people, and listening to music is one of the primary functions, that there's lots of potential interest beyond the readers of What Hi-Fi?, who might traditionally be seen as the target market for this type of device.
Moving from a small chip on an internal circuit board to a bespoke device, means a lot more care and attention can go into how your digital music is handled. The aim is to keep noise and interference down and boost and restore the digital losses to make a better sound.
The big difference is that rather than using a one-size-fits-all solution as your smartphone likely does, the Mojo has a programmable chipset. This is where Chord aims to make the difference, putting 27 years of hi-fi experience to work. With increasing talk of high-res audio from some corners, Mojo wants to be on point to lead the high quality audio charge.
The source of the music doesn't matter per se, as Mojo will take whatever you give it and handle all the processing. That means it could be a lossless file you have on your phone's internal memory, or it could be something you're streaming over 4G from Spotify at lower quality.
Of course the consideration in a mobile sense that this is something else to carry. The Mojo is compact, but it weighs 180g and is about the size of a pack of cards. Practically speaking, this isn't something you'll be using on your walk to the station in the morning, because it needs to be connected to your phone via USB as well to make a digital connection. It's comptible with iOS and Android handsets.
It is solidly built from aluminium, with a lusciously premium finish. It houses its own battery, good for 10 hours of playback, so it doesn't take power from your smartphone. There are a range of connection options, as although it's pitched as "designed for smartphones", you also get 3.5mm coax and optical inputs too. That means you'll be able to loop it into your PC setup or elsewhere.
Then there are two 3.5mm headphone outputs, so you'll be able to share that audio refinement with a friend.
Mojo will handle all music formats, from common MP3 or AAC, to the familiar FLAC or AAIF, and specialist formats like DSD.
There are three buttons - the power and volume up and down. These are backlit balls, rather like the old pearl trackball of a BlackBerry allowing different colours to be displayed. This gives you an at-a-glance depiction of the volume level, as well as showing the input file frequency, from CD quality up to DSD, all displayed through colour.
For those familiar with Chord's products, Mojo is really a distillation of Hugo, but at a fraction of the price. This is where the universal appeal is supposed to come in, with Hugo costing around £1400 and the Mojo looking like a veritable bargain at £399.
The Chord Mojo is available now, and we'll be putting it to task over the coming weeks to see how much of a difference it will make to smartphone music.