Samsung Galaxy S8+
Though we’d love simply to be sat in our listening room all day, thumbing through our record collection with a glass of whatever’s on hand to make our heads go fuzzy, its more likely that most of our listening nowadays is done through our phones. But does that mean we must shirk exceptional sound, or that the acquisition of such sound must send us to the dark web in order to sell one of our kidneys? Not at all.
Now, chances are you already have your source in this set-up – but for the purposes of putting together a system we’ve opted to include the Samsung Galaxy S8+.
The Galaxy S8+ is like an S7 Edge that went away for the summer holidays and hit puberty. It’s taller, slimmer, and with good looks guaranteed to turn heads at the water fountain. Or wherever else you take it out of your pocket.
It has a bezel-busting display that fills the front of the phone, squeezing more screen space into your hand than any other Galaxy handset, without making it feel like you’re lugging an unwieldy monster around.
Perfect for bathtime
It’s rated IP68 waterproof, meaning it can be submerged in 1.5m of water for 30 minutes. The headphone jack (yes, it has one), single speaker and reversible USBC port are all waterproofed too, so there’s no need to mess around with fiddly rubber port covers.
One of the most important aspects when it comes to sound, though, is that the S8+ supports hi-res audio, including DSD128 files. The microsd card slot makes a return, too, so you can boost the 64GB of built-in storage by up to another 256GB and have plenty of space to build a hi-res music library.
With a decent set of cans plugged in, music is detailed across the board, with bass that doesn’t overwhelm and plenty of vocal clarity. Apple still has a slight edge in terms of native performance for its full-bodied sound, but if you’re thinking about boosting said performance with a DAC then it’s worth noting that the IOS 10.3.1 has had some teething problems when working in conjunction with USB DACS recently – hence why we’ve gone Samsung here.
And that DAC could only ever really be a Chord Mojo. The name is short for ‘Mobile Joy’. Quite.
Unlike many of its rivals, Chord has refused to use off-the-shelf DAC chips inside its converters. Instead, the company’s digital products feature powerful programmable processors loaded with proprietary software.
There’s no display as such, but the power button lights up in different colours depending on the sampling rate of the input signal (red for 44.1khz, green for 96khz, white for DSD). Similarly, the lighting colour behind the volume buttons changes according to level. It soon becomes second nature.
As for inputs, there are (micro) USB, optical and coaxial – taking the form of a 3.5mm jack rather than the usual RCA or BNC – and a second USB connection for charging only. Outputs are limited to a pair of 3.5mm jacks. So why have we chosen the AKG K550s to complete this trio? Some headphones are more assertive than others, and the K550s don’t equivocate: their priority is indoor use. But should you brave the great outdoors with them, you’ll find that movement doesn’t alter their sound even slightly and that the cable doesn’t transmit any bumps it receives.
They’re big in every way: large earpieces featuring 50mm drivers, a broad headband, and a long, chunky cable. But despite looking like a pair of road-digger’s ear-defenders, the AKGS are relatively light and comfy.
Importantly, the K550s are a lesson in transparency. It’s sometimes a fine line between neutrality and dispassion, but they walk it confidently, relishing lush, analogue sounds yet having sufficient drive and attack for more hard-hitting listens. Effectively, they’ll give you every detail and subtle insight emitted from the fabulous Chord Mojo.
But it’s not the excellent resolution that impresses us most. It’s the Mojo’s ability to organise all that information into a cohesive and musical whole that makes it stand out from the competition.
It delivers the hard-charging rhythm of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground brilliantly, communicating the song’s unstoppable momentum with real enthusiasm. The presentation is solid and full-bodied but avoids any hint of excess richness at mid- and low-frequencies.
Balance and surefootedness
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 12 confirms the Mojo’s convincing tonal balance and reveals a surefooted handling of dynamics. There’s power and scale when the music requires, but also the finesse to make the most of the subtler passages.
There’s refinement too. The Mojo’s transparency means poor recordings (and sources) will be easy to spot, but this DAC won’t go out of its way to be nasty.
That sense of organisation is clear here, as is the Mojo’s composure when the piece becomes demanding. There’s never any sense of stress; every note is given the space and attention it deserves.
The key to a great portable set-up is versatility. This glorious triumvirate can be used inside or out and, in the case of the Mojo and K550s, even swap in for components in your main hi-fi set-up should you wish.
“The Galaxy S8+ is like an S7 Edge that went away for the summer holidays and hit puberty. It’s taller, slimmer, and has head-turning good looks”