Chord Mojo review: Make your smartphone sound amazing
Installation is straightforward on both OS X and iOS. Hook up the Mojo to your Mac via USB and it just works. The same goes for iOS devices, with no faffing in menus required, but you will need to buy a Lightning-to-USB camera adapter and standard micro-USB cable.
Things aren’t quite as plug-and-play on Android or Windows. Windows users need to install a driver to get up and running; Android support for the Mojo is a little more haphazard. Chord’s own documentation suggests that some devices with Android 5 Lollipop and above will play all audio via the Mojo, but it’s entirely dependent on the phone in question. For phones that aren’t natively compatible, you’ll need to install the Onkyo HF Player or USB Audio Player Pro apps and rely on locally stored files.
If you simply want to connect the Mojo via its digital inputs, then it’s even easier to get up and running. Plug your coaxial or optical digital cable into the Mojo’s input and the LED lights up to let you know that it’s receiving a signal, with the LED illuminating in different colours to let you know what the current sample rate is. I tried hooking it up to old CD players, external sound cards and an iMac, and it worked faultlessly.[gallery:4]
Testing and sound quality
I spent my day-to-day testing with the Chord Mojo connected to a MacBook Pro via USB, and my iPhone SE. I used a selection of headphones including a Sennheiser PC 363D gaming headset, Sennheiser HD 580 Precision headphones and an in-ear pair of RHA T10i – nothing especially exotic in the audiophile scale of things, and certainly nowhere near the £1,500+ Audeze headphones I’ve seen some reviewers reaching for.
Whichever source or headphones I used, however, plugging them into the Mojo instantly made a difference. When testing audio kit, it’s often easy to convince yourself that you’re hearing dramatic changes when you’re not, but the leap from my MacBook’s onboard sound to the Mojo was unmistakable. Everything from heavily compressed YouTube tracks to 24-bit WAVs emerged sharper and more defined, with layers of clearly audible detail. What’s more, sounds seemingly floated free of the headphones – on more than one occasion, I took off the headphones thinking that sounds on the track were emanating from somewhere in the office.
Moving from the warm-sounding PC 363Ds to my long-suffering pair of Sennheiser HD 580 Precisions saw the biggest improvements. Where the iPhone SE and MacBook Pro struggled to provide enough power to drive the HD 580s loud enough, and particularly so with quieter recordings or classical works, the Mojo reaches deafening volumes without a hint of distortion.[gallery:1]
And this is where the Mojo deals its trump card. Connect a high-end pair of headphones to an Android or iOS device and you won’t get the most out of them. My iPhone SE simply can’t deliver enough power to make my HD 580 Precisions sound their best, let alone reach reasonable volume levels – connect them to the Mojo on the other hand, and they sound fantastic. And if you’ve got the Onkyo HF Player installed (which is available for both Android and iOS), you can get your hi-res kicks on the move, so it’s a win-win situation.
To check I wasn’t entirely imagining the differences, I decided to put my ears to the test. The site http://abx.digitalfeed.net presents a blind ABX listening test that challenges your ability to pick between compressed 320Kbits/sec AAC files and lossless 16-bit 44.1kHz versions of the same track. You have to repeat the feat ten times for each track, and select the correct (lossless) track each time to prove you can reliably hear the difference.
The test tracks in question couldn’t be more different, ranging from the epic stadium rock of The Killers to the electronic soul of James Blake and disco-influenced glitz of Daft Punk, but switching to the Mojo certainly made the process easier. Telling the two audio files apart is very much a case of listening for relatively subtle aural clues – the attack of a hi-hat, the airy sheen of a vocal or some realistic-sounding reverb – but where I genuinely found it quite tough to discern those elements with the MacBook’s built-in soundcard, the Mojo made the job quicker and easier.[gallery:5]
In fairness, I correctly recognised the lossless tracks ten out of ten times for The Killers and nine times out of ten for the Daft Punk track on both the internal soundcard and the Mojo, but on the James Blake track, differences that were near-indistinguishable on the internal soundcard became entirely obvious once I plugged in the Mojo. My score leapt from six correct to another ten out of ten. What’s more, I was able to complete the tests on the Mojo far quicker, with the lossless and compressed tracks sounding more noticeably different. This isn’t in the realms of confirmation bias – the Mojo is audibly better.
It might be affordable by audiophile standards, but the rest of us will still baulk at the cost of the Chord Mojo. Splash out on a worthy pair of headphones, and you’ll be lucky to get much change from £600. Set your sights on more exotic partners, and the price will float effortlessly upwards and beyond the £2,000 mark. The sky really is the limit. Well, that and your bank balance.
But this is perhaps the key to the Mojo’s appeal: for many people, the Chord Mojo will end up being the go-to device for everything music-related, be that through headphones or speakers, via a laptop or a smartphone, sitting in the living room or crammed onto a transatlantic flight. Regardless of whether it’s powering a modest pair of headphones or feeding an exotic hi-fi setup, the Mojo is never out of its depth. If you’re looking for the ultimate in portable sound quality, then you can probably stop here – the Chord Mojo has got it nailed.