The Chord Electronics Mojo revolutionized the personal audio market, delivering an incredible level of performance and sound quality in a surprisingly small package. Seven years later, Mojo 2 arrives to defend Mojo’s portable audio throne from devices released in the intervening years – so many of which were inspired by the original Mojo. With a whole new class of portable DAC/Amps emerging since 2015, can Mojo 2 get ahead of the competition?
Build and Design
Chord Electronics is a brand with a clear set of design principles, and they stick to them. As such, while Mojo 2 is based on the same form factor as the original Mojo, it doesn’t share much in common with much else on the market. The device itself is a simple box made from aircraft grade aluminum with two 3.5mm headphones jacks, and four buttons that light up in a variety of colors to help you understand exactly what’s going on. You get power, volume up, volume down, and a DSP button. Mojo 2 features input from coax and optical as well as three USB ports.
You get digital input from either USB-C or microUSB, and charging via microUSB. The lack of USB-C charging is definitely an issue, but Chord claims that it will help provide greater longevity for the battery as microUSB prevents potential battery degradation from USB-C quick charging. In the box, you get an assortment of warranty and related booklets, as well as a single USB-A to microUSB cable.
The DSP is a really unique feature that is unlike just about anything in its class. Press the button to access the Crossfeed setting, which can be adjusted with the volume buttons. Press it again to get the EQ option, which lets you cycle through subbass, bass, mids, and treble and adjust it up or down by up to 9dB. The settings are persistent, but you can reset them by holding the volume up and down simultaneously anywhere in the DSP menu.
In a recent discussion about what a DAC should or shouldn’t do, it was posited that the best DAC should be working incredibly hard to make sure that you never notice that it’s there. Mojo 2 accomplishes exactly this by providing a highly transparent sound with a spacious soundstage and a vivid stereo image – in your head, all you hear is the music, but it takes a lot of behind the scenes work to provide this level of rich detail with such clarity.
Mojo 2’s fast, accurate, and articulate delivery of bass is impressive, and the DSP allows you to tune it to your liking. Pulling back the low-end on a slightly bass-boosted IEM like the VE EXT can reduce the feeling of bloom in the bass with classical music, or on the flipside, adding a touch of bass to the HIFIMAN Arya adds extra impact to provide that visceral feeling of engagement with heavy metal.
The mids are likewise full and lush, with strong separation and clear detailed insight into the music with a natural timbre. The treble extends strongly to the top, making room for your headphones to deliver sparkle, shimmer, air, or whatever else they have up there. And just like the bass, you can tweak the mids and treble – either subtly or dramatically – to compensate for your headphones or to match your preferences for how you want instruments or vocals to stand out in a mix.
Chord Electronics’ distinct sound is created by using an FPGA to run the signal through an increasingly high number of filter taps, with each one refining the digital signal further to deliver the most accurate possible output with the lowest level of distortion. The end result is not just a detailed, accurate sound, but also incredible imaging. Mojo gives you a width, depth, and height in a well-rounded soundstage and some of the best imaging you’ll find for under $1000.
In terms of power, Mojo 2 features gain that automatically switches when it detects higher impedance, delivering a max of 5.2V in high gain mode. There’s no balanced mode, so the 5.2V single-ended is the most you’re going to get. This means you get decent power with the middle tier of power requirements from over-ear headphones. Mojo 2 is a solid mobile solution for headphones like the Arya, LCD-X, and even the HE1000v2. It performs well with sensitive IEMs as well, only creating any hiss with IEMs under 10 ohm impedance.
Comparison: iFi xDSD Gryphon
iFi’s xDSD Gryphon is in many ways the poster child for the evolution of the portable DAC since the release of the original Mojo. It’s overall a similar size and weight, and features a very high level of detail and strong performance – especially considering the size and price – but it also has a lot more features and some updated sensibilities. So how does it stack up against Chord’s design that largely keeps in line with the original Mojo?
In terms of the connectivity, it’s 1 point for Gryphon(dor). Both offer USB and digital coax, while Mojo 2 offers optical, but Gryphon provides Bluetooth support and analog input via 3.5mm TRS or 4.4mm Pentacon as well. In addition, Gryphon offers a toggle to use either separate ports for charging and data or a single USB-C port for both charging and data. Gryphon also has 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended outputs for either headphone or line, while Mojo has just the two 3.5mm single-ended headphone outputs. The usability is a mixed bag between the two. While Chord’s four button design isn’t as flashy as iFi’s selection of buttons, switches, knobs, and the screen, there’s a beauty in its simplicity, and the difference will largely come down to preference.
While I initially expected to give Gryphon the edge in features overall, Mojo 2’s DSP is too powerful to overlook and provides best in class functionality. Gryphon’s XBass lets you add a bass boost, upper-mid boost, or a sort of V-boost with a set amplitude along with XSpace, while Mojo 2 gives you a 4 band EQ with 18 total steps of adjustment for each band. It is worth noting that Gryphon’s XBass is analog while Mojo 2 uses DSP for its EQ, meaning that there’s a slightly more organic quality to Gryphon’s XBass than a DSP bass boost, but the overall range of sound customization gives Mojo 2 the edge.
The sound and performance between the two makes for an interesting comparison as well. The two are certainly pretty close in the overall tuning and tonality, with largely neutral presentation. While iFi has a reputation for lush, organic sounding DACs, Gryphon is more reference-like, and the mids can even feel a bit dry at times. While some might say that Chord’s house sound can be too analytical, I find that this isn’t true of Mojo 2, which feels more organic that Gryphon.
For single ended output, Mojo 2 provides significantly more output than Gryphon, though Gryphon gets the edge with a balanced 4.4mm cable. If you’re going to use planar magnetic headphones, I would recommend getting a balanced cable for use with the Gryphon, while Mojo 2 does well enough for many headphones without one. In terms of IEMs they’re about even. While Gryphon is a little noisier for IEMs, the iEMatch switch on the bottom can quickly resolve that, and gives it a near zero noise floor, even with the most sensitive of the bunch.
Based purely on sound, the edge goes to Mojo 2, and its DSP features are also a step up from what Gryphon offers. However, if Bluetooth support or any of the other connectivity options are important to you, Gryphon still provides very high quality sound, and strong performance that demonstrates an evolution in some areas that exceeds Mojo 2, while not quite matching up in others.
The Bottom Line
Mojo 2 falls into the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of design. It’s a lovable little black brick, just like the original, and it also matches the original in its focus on providing the highest level of sound quality possible at this price point. While certain aspects of the connectivity might be stuck in 2015, the total sound experience and the features are a clear evolution, making Mojo 2 one of the best portable DAC/amps on the market.