There has already been much ink spilled (or blackened pixels?) over the Chord’s portable DAC and streamer Mojo & Poly. So why pile on more so late in the game? Because the player appears to be still deeply relevant to the ethos, and still selling like hotcakes. So here we offer our take on the hottest DAC to hit the scene, along with all its possible twists and turns in digital playback operation in this Mojo Poly review.
In order to fully understand the application of the Mojo/Poly, perhaps it’s more prudent to start a talk about the roles it can play, more so than solely its feature capabilities.
One – It’s a portable desktop computer headphone rig. The Mojo alone will actually suffice in this role. Plug one end into your computer, the other to your headphone and off you go. Volume control is done from two multi-colored balls on the corner of the unit and a mirco USB port connects back to your PC.
Two – It’s a music streamer with analog outs. Partnered with the Poly, the unit is capable of streaming music from an outside source a multitude of ways – more on that later.
Three – It’s a bluetooth streamer for your phone. Just one of the ways to get music from your phone onto the Poly, albeit in a lossy format. Even better, there is a hotspot mode for playback via WiFi for planes and such. Of course, even without the Poly, playback from the Mojo can still be achieved via the USB port (Apple Devices need the CCK cable). The Mojo does not need an external power source in this scenario.
Four – It’s a digital audio player. The Poly includes a micro SD card slot. So high resolution playback can be had straight from the hardware. Where is the screen? The Chord app Gofigure transforms your phone into a setup and control center.
As a sub point to the music streamer role, the Poly can be assigned as a Roon endpoint for playback with the popular audiophile software. With flexibility at its maximum, it appears that Chord really attempted to pull out all the stops in terms of technical prowess. Hotspot mode in particular seems rather clever. When someone is out and about and a local wifi network is no longer available the Poly is capable of producing one on its own. And of course the sometimes elusive Apple Airplay is a nice bonus, allowing for more seamless interaction with any and all iDevices with the flick of a finger. Bear in mind that anything that goes this route will be downsampled to 16/44.1 resolutions however.
While the measurement community has been more or less complementary to the Mojo, my experience interviewing the Mojo’s chief digital architect Rob Watts reveals a man who does a superb job balancing the science of things with actual listening. This in turn, is a simplistic viewpoint of what the Mojo and Poly sounds like as a whole. Rob’s presentations dive deep into the techs and specs of modern audiophilia, but to hear him talk on the subject in an interview reflects a deep knowledge of playback design. That charts, graphs and teraflops of computer – while vastly important – are not the only devices available to recreate amazing sound.
Mojo + Poly Build
The outside casing of the unit also reflects some elements of superior research. Built for portability with a rugged feel, the Poly and Mojo combined reside in a footprint smaller than almost any DAC + Streamer package that one can recall in hifi. Still, the Mojo itself is larger than the USB stick format of some of its biggest competitors, but taking it with you shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. Technically it’s small and light enough to fit into a front jeans pocket, but is probably more at home on top of a work desktop or carry-along pack. The brightly lit colored balls that replace tradition buttons are of special interest. Adding not only a fun, pop of flair from a visual standard, but also for the tactile feel they provide. They are just plain fun to push. The brightness of the balls is dimmable, and through a combination of colors/lights, much information from the internals can be gleaned – even without the accompanying GoFigure app. Something to keep in mind with the Poly is that with the streamer attached to the outside edge of the Mojo, the USB, Optical and Coax inputs are no longer accessible. They are replaced on the Poly with Micro USB charge only and a Micro SD slot. Given the limited real estate for ports this may come as no surprise to some, but just expect an either/or scenario for the Mojo’s input capabilities with the Poly applied. It is either a wireless streamer OR a wired DAC. For any scenario, what is front and foremost for the product is its headphone capabilities.
Headphones With The Mojo + Poly
One of the first things I do to test out any good headphone amplifier is plug in a pair of super-sensitive custom IEMs and listen for any background noise. The ever-trusty first generation JH Audio JH16s still serve as an audio microscope of sorts that has revealed no small amount of high-noise-floor shame over the years. The result with the Mojo? Dead silent. No background distractions of any type, shape of form. Even better for IEMs, the attenuator moves in very appropriate incremental steps initially, making for a fine complement to the sometimes overlooked subgenre of portable listening.
For more full sized endeavours, the Mojo/Poly paired beautifully with the open back Audeze LCD-1 and many other popular audiophile cans. The sound finds its magic in the careful and delicate balance between detail and a natural, easy-to-consume response. It sports more upright tonal structure than most, allowing for more wiggle room in the cost in a market where the intagable is so often highly scrutinized. Its appeal is obvious, and likely a large contribution to the longevity and success of the product thus far. The feature set also impresses to be sure, but bullet points in marketing materials can only get a new product so far in the fickle market of personal audio.
One of the reasons I love our reference rig of the Auralic VEGA DAC and the Questyle CMR 800R Current Mode Headphone Amplifier is that the VEGA is organic, and the 800R is exciting. Comparing this much bigger rig side-by-side the Mojo/Poly was shockingly similar as a smooth combination of the two sonic qualities. Detail retrieval is above par, but the delivery does not sound harsh or try-hard in any respect. The only real drawback leaning on the restrictive size of the portable category came from the less efficient LCD-4 flagship from Audeze. Low end grit and shove was just a tad easier for the full size components to manage overall, but when the total sum of quality sonics is as good as one is dealing with here, it does seem relevant to test how high the ceiling will stretch.
For the intended use, a firm endorsement is easy to make in this Mojo Poly review. My only real hangup for the device really isn’t a remark on the sound, but rather the lack of a native playback controller in the GoFigure app. This can easily be sidestepped by any number of UPnP playback apps, but coming off the seamless experience from the dCS Bartok review, just a thought worth mentioning. The Roon remote option is of course, even better than the native Bartok app. So options do exist for supreme comfort in the digital UI space for the Poly.
Summarizing The Mojo + Poly
From my experience, overall detail retrieval from small, portable DACs isn’t usually as big an issue as the tonal delivery of said detail. Phones and computer outputs generally speaking are presented with large amounts of smearing and a general fuzz to the whole lot. Dynamics can be small and unpleasant coloration isn’t uncommon. Correcting all of these issues is only the first thing that the Mojo + Poly does well. The “next level” of posturing brings qualities that separate it from the rest of the herd in its own category. Detail is easily digestable, low fatigue and all-around tasty. Engaging without being tinny or thin. Energized without being over saturated. The headphone amp section pulls its weight as well.
Given the size restrictions of portability, it’s fairly accurate to say that Chord has done almost everything they can within the space. Are there better sounding components on the market? Sure, but for the vertical things slim down in a funnel to practically zero. The Poly lets you ditch the wires in more ways than the general public probably needs, but audiophiles are hardly considered part of this crowd. It still maintains portability while adding a huge feature set to the combined offering. It is one of those rare products where you can point your non-audiophile friends to and they will hear the difference, and probably think you are a little less crazy. Highly recommended.