An Interview With Rob Watts -
Article Ref: #robwattsinterview
Edd Harris -
When we reviewed the Chord Hugo it was immediately clear to us that this was not just another product, it was something very special. Subsequently, Edd Harris interviews the transportable Chord Electronics Hugo DAC/AMP designer; Robert Watts. In this interview we ask Rob questions that take us through the entire design process. At the same time we discover what led Rob to become one of the worlds finest DAC chip designers and uncover what might be coming in the future from Chord Electronics. Throughout this interview you will be able to understand just how important Hugo has been to the international HiFi and Pro Audio communities. Finally, we exclusively uncover why Rib prefers Red Book to DSD…
Considering that you are now one of the worlds leading authorities on DAC Chip implementation and designs what was it that initially started your curiosity in this complex area?
Way back in early 1989 I was dead against all things digital, it to me, sounding unmusical, hard and aggressive. But I heard the first PDM CD player using a new PDM chip from Phillips, and it blew my mind -
Before project ‘Hugo’ begun what was it that you wanted to achieve and was it intended to for Hugo to be the epitome of ‘disruptive technology’?
I have always being pushing for better performance as ultimately I want to enjoy the music more. I didn't expect Hugo would be revolutionary in it's performance -
Hugo is an immensely complex design and must have taken years to develop, what makes Hugo so special and why was it that you wanted to produce a reference quality portable DAC?
Hugo was kind of an accident. Now I had been upgrading all the digital modules that goes into a DAC over the last 6 years, to go into a reference class DAC. All of the code had been completely replaced over this period, and it was a major exercise. Also this reference DAC had a large number of improvements put into it.
Now John Franks had identified that a high-
Considering the technology inside, what was the main aspect of design that allowed Hugo to be produced for a fraction of the cost?
In one word -
We know that you’re a fan of Red Book, but why not DSD considering that one of Hugo’s biggest attractions is it’s sampling capabilities?
OK, I am not a fan per se of red-
My problem with DSD extends from the work I do on noise shapers, and DSD64 and DSD128 is technically severely limited. The format is stuck with an innately limited performance, but DXD standard, for example, has no format restrictions -
The reality is that 99.99% of audio in the real world is 44.1 or 48k. That's not going to change in the foreseeable future.
Now Hugo has created a storm, what’s next and what would be your ultimate obtainable achievement?
It's no great secret that the replacement to the QBD DAC is well under way. This has an FPGA with nearly 10 times the capacity of Hugo's and it is proving to be very interesting.
The next big thing to me are DAC's that can drive loudspeakers directly, and that have a single global feedback path from loudspeaker OP to digital domain. Hugo is a 1W digital amp, so upping the power is very much the goal. I have been working on digital power amps for the last ten years, and there will be some interesting developments in the coming years.
I have no idea what the ultimate is -
If Hugo was an animal, what animal would it be?
Oh dear, the most difficult one. My eldest son said a panda, because he likes pandas. My youngest a duck, but quack-
What would you like to say to the people who have a lot to comment on Hugo, but are yet to hear it in the flesh?
Listen to it!
Finally, in one word can you describe how Hugo sounds?
No! Because it is multi-
So the puzzle is this -
But if you want one word, it would be musicality.
End Of Interview