Reviewed: Chord Mojo

I have said it many times, and I will continue saying it until someone does something about it: the drudgery of everyday life would be much more bearable if there were background music. While we don’t have the luxury of Hans Zimmer scoring our meals, meetings, and endless hours at our desks, we do have the luxury of having music everywhere we go thanks to our mobile phones and digital audio players. The thing with small hardware, however, is that it’s usually a little wanting in the quality department. It’s just a limitation of the space and cost of internal digital to analog converters in small players such as phones. This is where the Chord Mojo comes in. It brings the power of a dedicated DAC in a footprint that’s right at home in a pair of pants.

Design: 4/5

The Mojo is an unassuming little device just larger than a deck of cards. It’s made of a solid block of aluminum, and has all of three controls on it, in the form of rounded buttons on the front. Heavily inspired by aicraft design, it’s smooth, rounded at the edges, and built like a serious piece of equipment. A quick look at the device reveals a whole slew of ports available to the mobile audiophile. It’s actually quite impressive.

Done in matte black, and with no marking more garish than “Mojo” on the flat of the device, it’s going to blend quietly in with the rest of your audio gear, no problem. It’s smooth as a pebble, and just as pleasant to hold. The simplicity of the Mojo, and its subdued design are an absolute plus for the minimalist in all of us.

There isn’t a display on the device, but the buttons that serve as the device controls change color depending on the quality of the input signal, as well as the volume indicator, running from red (lowest) to white (loudest).

Hardware: 4.5/5

The Mojo packs a lot of hardware in an unbelievably small package. Rather than use off-the-shelf components to build the Mojo, the hardware designers opted to go with a more versatile (and generally more complicated) field-programmable gate array that… Ok, rather than get into technical discourse, suffice it to say that instead of including a small chip as is present in mobile phones and audio players, Chord went with a much more robust solution. At the introduction to the device, we were told this simple analogy: the DAC chip on your phone is like a building. What we see in the Mojo is closer to a whole city block. One of the reasons the Mojo was released when it was is the fact that Chord had to wait for the technology to catch up with the size of the device they wanted to bring to consumers. This is the very definition of cutting-edge consumer technology.

Connectors abound on the Mojo. It has two 3.5 mm outputs, USB and coax inputs, and an optical input if you have the compatible hardware, and if you’re curious, USB input is prioritized. It’s powered by an internal Lithium-ion battery that was designed and picked just for this device. More on that later.

User Experience: 4.5/5

Before anything else, those who expect to plug this in and be brought to tears by sound quality might want to take a moment to re-evaluate what
“high-definition audio” is really about. The experience is about subtlety, not extra bass. That being said, the Chord Mojo is spectacular. Paired with a mobile phone (which I believe was Chord’s original intent), some lossless tracks, and my ever-reliable Grado SR-80i headphones, the Mojo makes a remarkable difference.

Listening to one of my favorite reference tracks, Lana del Rey’s Video Games in lossless FLAC yielded impressive results. Mids came out significantly clearer than on unaided headphones, and the clarity of the vocals was breathtaking. It even managed to smooth out the popping that happens when Lana’s powerful vocals mix with the strings in the chorus, though a little rattling did remain. It also tightened the bass a bit, which is one of the weaknesses of the cans I used in the review.

The difference with more complex music is even more apparent. Listening to some tracks by the Dave Matthews Band, particularly Crush was an absolute delight. The staging was very clear, giving the already roomy Grados an even wider feel. Dave’s voice was nicely separated from the rest of the music, which allows you to pick out details from each of the individual instruments nicely.

Switching to a more bass-heavy pair of Superlux HD 681 EVO tamed the bass and rounded the sound well. I don’t use these cans as much because of the bass, but paired with the Mojo, it was a lot more pleasant.

All the tracks were played from my LG G3, with the Onkyo HD player routing sound out the phone’s USB port, and into the Mojo via its own USB port. Users of other DAPs will likely have the option to use coax.

This brings us to one of the concerns you may have with the Mojo. If the spec isn’t enough to clue you in, it’s a little hardcore. There is no 3.5 mm input, which is fine for the intended purpose of mobile listening, but the average person will be missing this key input. Yes, I understand the sin of double-amping, but not everyone will be running an output from their phone’s USB port, and iPhone users will have to invest in a separate camera connection kit to get the required USB connection. The flip side here, though, is that you could totally use this as a DAC/amp for a larger system, and it would perform just fine. Should you have a pair of particularly difficult-to-drive pair of headphones, we tried the Mojo with a pair that was rated at 600 Ohm, and they sounded amazing. While it’s mostly meant to be used for portable listening, I’ve found I use it very much as an external sound card on my laptop. Battery life on the Mojo is rated at 10 hours, which is about right by my testing, though you can charge while listening without the output getting muddled. It does get rather hot in the process, so it’s not really recommended.

Value: 3.5/5

This is a tricky section for the Mojo. While it does offer unbelievable value for what it does, to be honest not everyone can appreciate what it brings to the table. Other devices that aren’t even as good as this cost significantly higher, but in an absolute sense, it’s a little pricey. The average user might not appreciate the device as much, but if you’re reading this and you’re actually interested in getting one, this should be moot.

What’s Hot:

  • Amazing sound quality
  • Solid build
  • Ease of use

What’s Not:

  • Pricey
  • No 3.5mm in

Bottomline:

If you’re really, really serious about your audio, this is exactly the device you’ve been hoping it was.

Specifications:

  • Output Power @ 1kHz
    600 ohms 35mW
    8 ohms 720mW
  • Output Impedance: 0.075 ohms
  • Dynamic Range: 125dB
  • THD @ 3v – 0.00017 percent

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE March 2016 Issue.

Words by Ren Alcantara

 

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