Hegel Audio

Competitively Priced, Audiophile Quality, Hi-Fi from Norway
Natural, Engaging, Dynamic musical experiance
Hegel Philosophy 
Caviar or sausage? Maybe that's not the question all people ask when they get up in the morning. But it is more and more relevant... People do not want to pay more than they absolutely have to for a product anymore. With Hegel's patented technology we are able to get better sound quality through regular "off-the-shelf" components, than our competitors can with esoteric and expensive components. The results are truly innovative products that give a better value for money than anything else on the market. Basically you can say that we offer caviar for the price of a sausage.

Please note - to respect our agency agreement, Hegel is not available for International sales.

Hegel Technology 
All Hegel products are designed in-house by Hegel in Norway, based on technology not commonly found in music systems. The Hegel SoundEngine™ audio modules are protected by a patent, and they are manufactured and tested in Norway. The design platform is deeply rooted in advanced scientific research, utilizing the latest research results within professional broadcast technology, telecommunication technology, semiconductor technology and high frequency technology. From painstaking research, Hegel holds the secret to it's amazing sound reproduction - available exclusively from Hegel. 
 
Musicians - Stina Stenerud 
Looking like a very urban chick from the late thirties, ones mind could easily drift towards old time stars like Lili Marlene. Or you could picture Stina singing to worn out soldiers during WW2. We met Stina at the farm were she is living and sharing a post box with the bands bass player, Borgar.
 
Did you get the "blues" feeling up here in the Country side?
I have been singing most my life, but it wasn't until I joined J.T Lauritzen & The Buckshot hunters that the blues interest caught fire.
 
And now it's blues blues blues for you?
Not only. I also have a strong feeling for jazz. The big band genre of jazz, that is. But my inspiration comes from various kinds of music. I have always been drawn towards good old soul seasoned with blues and jazz elements. I like powerful lyrics with a strong expression.
 
Having listened to you playing live a couple of times, it's a pretty strong band you have backing you as well?
The crew is really strong. 22 year old Stian Haslie on guitar won the Notodden blues festival cup in 2006 together with Bedrock Blues Band. Borgar Skoveng and Tor Mikael Larsen takes care of the rythm section, and then there is the extra sugar - Paul "Palle" Wangberg on the Hammond B3. Paul is a Hammond celebrity, and well known from the jazz quartet The Real thing.
 
Does your passion for music influence your passion for good sound?
I guess I am like most girls. I don't believe it until I hear it. But to my surprise I wanted even bigger speakers than the ones my boyfriend brought home.
 
Well, we think this proves you are not like most girls... The rumors say you even played them to pieces, listening to Pink Floyd?
No comment (giggles). I am very pleased with the Hegel system we have at home now. We use it for everything, including checking demos and mixings of our records.

Featured

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Reviews

Testimonials

Videos

Featured

HL 02 DAC HD12
NZ$ 2,250.00 (incl. GST)
Reviewers Conclusion: "Hegel Music Systems’ HD12 digital-to-analog converter provides the best sound for the least money of any DAC I’ve had in my system. You might be surprised at just how good it...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Nowadays, to get noticed in the entertainment industry, you have to do something...
HL 03 DAC HD30
NZ$ 7,250.00 (incl. GST)
EXTENDED REVIEW: In typical Norwegian fashion, Hegel Music Systems’ claims about their...

All Products

DACs

HL 01 HA SUPER
NZ$ 525.00 ea (incl. GST)
Hear what your headphones actually sounds like, with the new Hegel headphone amplifier. Milled out of one solid piece of brushed aluminium, it is a beautiful piece on its own, but the real beauty...
DACs
HL 02 DAC HD12
NZ$ 2,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Reviewers Conclusion: "Hegel Music Systems’ HD12 digital-to-analog converter provides the best sound for the least money of any DAC I’ve had in my system. You might be surprised at just how good it...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Nowadays, to get noticed in the entertainment industry, you have to do something...
DACs
HL 03 DAC HD30
NZ$ 7,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
EXTENDED REVIEW: In typical Norwegian fashion, Hegel Music Systems’ claims about their...
DACs

CD / SACD / Blu-ray & Multi-Format Players

HL 06 CD MOHICAN
NZ$ 7,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Thousands of people still own thousands of CD's. Some even prefer playing a physical disc, rather than streaming off their phone, when really enjoying their audio system. There is no lack of CD-...

Integrated amplifiers

HL 07 IA H90
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
In the H90 integrated amplifier replaces previous H80) with digital and analog inputs, technology from the Reference Hegel products has virtually been pouring down. Hegel’s patented SoundEngine...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Hegel products are minimalistic, but also full of innovative solutions. Their...
Integrated amplifiers
HL 07 IA ROST
NZ$ 3,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Röst is the name of one of Norway's most beautiful islands. Way up north in Lofoten. About as far out from the mainland as you can get. The name fits like a glove. Röst can also mean "voice", and the...
Integrated amplifiers
HL 11 IA H360
NZ$ 9,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
HIFI COICE - 5 STARTS AWARD
Adresseavisen (Norway) Haute Fidelite (France)
Integrated amplifiers

Preamplifiers & Line-stages

HL 13 PA P20
NZ$ 4,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The P20 is our entry into serious quality preamplifiers and offers an affordable door into the Hegel Reference line of products. Designing the P20 was not a task we took lightly. Many of the ideas...
HL 14 PA P30
NZ$ 10,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The P30 is the best preamplifier ever developed by Hegel. With its patented technology and hand matched components, the P30 is a confident contender in the race towards being the best pre amplifier...

Power amplifiers (Stereo & Mono)

HL 16 AS H20
NZ$ 8,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
H20 High-End Power Amplifier, 2x200W 8 ohms, 2x350W in 4 ohms. The Hegel H20 incorporates the latest version of the Hegel FET-technology. A practical benefit of the H20 FET-technology is a more...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Editor Jeff Fritz was making sure that the audio gear coming my way would hold my...
HL 17 AS H4SE
NZ$ 13,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
The H4SE is an improved version of the H4A MK2. The H4A MK2 was in many ways the very corner stone of the Hegel amplifier range, but the development of the H20 amplifiers disclosed a significant...
HL 19 AM H30
NZ$ 21,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
With a power rating of more than 1,1 kW in 8 ohms it is on the verge of being easier to measure the H30 in horsepower. The massive H30 mono power amplifiers from Hegel play any loudspeaker in the...

Reviews

Hans bought a H300 to use as his reference integrated amplifier and DAC.......it’s the highest compliment a reviewer can give to any product, and to the company that makes it.
Hans Wetzel

REVIEW SUMMARY: The H300’s across-the-board high level of performance is mainly why we’re including it in our list of Recommended Reference Components, but there’s another reason, one not mentioned in Hans’s review. He didn’t buy the review sample, because that was already scheduled to go elsewhere; but Hans did buy a brand-new H300 to use as his reference integrated amplifier and DAC. It’s one thing for a writer to recommend a product for someone else to buy; it’s quite another for him to believe in it enough to buy it himself and use it as his reference for that component category. In fact, it’s the highest compliment a reviewer can give to any product, and to the company that makes it.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The H300 (US$5500 excl sales tax) is Hegel’s largest, most powerful integrated amplifier. Company reps say that its design was mostly inspired by Hegel’s own upper-end separate preamplifiers, amplifiers, and DACs, and is easily comparable with them. As Hans said in his review, “The H300’s class-AB amplifier section produces a solid 250Wpc into an 8-ohm load, or 430Wpc into 4 ohms. Its signal/noise ratio exceeds 100dB, and its damping factor is greater than 1000. Distortion is listed as a negligible 0.005% at 100W into 8 ohms while outputting a 1kHz tone. The power supply is a 1000VA dual-mono design, armed with 90,000µF of capacitance. As with their reference H30 amp, Hegel engineers hand-match the FET transistors in the H300’s input stage. They claim this greatly reduces the higher-order harmonic distortion that would otherwise occur, as transistors may behave linearly when fed a symmetrical sinewave, but not when fed asymmetric signals, such as the vast majority of recorded music. Also harnessed in the H300 is Hegel’s patented SoundEngine technology, which allows for the elimination of the local signal errors inherent in traditional class-AB designs. The proprietary amplifier stage is ostensibly correction circuitry that eliminates nonlinearities in each section of the output stage. All of this knowledge is wired to a single pair of binding posts on each side of the H300’s rear panel, which look identical to those used on Musical Fidelity’s tank-like M6 500i integrated.”
 
The H300’s high power output -- it’s claimed to be stable into loads down to 2 ohms -- means that it should easily drive most loudspeakers on the market, and that a speaker upgrade shouldn’t require a new amp as well. Yet the H300 also provides interesting options for users wishing to upgrade to separates someday, including preamplifier outputs and, most notably, the DAC-Loop feature. This permits the insertion of an external DAC in a way in which the sound still benefits from the H300’s built-in reclocking circuitry. A home-theater-bypass input is also included so that the H300 can be used with a full multichannel system.
 
The only thing the H300 lacks is flashy looks. In typical Hegel fashion, it’s a no-frills design with a sparsely decorated faceplate containing only the essential controls. It’s a testament to Hegel’s longstanding philosophy of concentrating on what they feel counts most: the sound.
 
Hegel H300
 
And it’s the H300’s sound that makes it special -- particularly to audiophiles and, obviously, to Hans, who was impressed with everything he heard from the H300, including a DAC section that he described as “highly resolving and almost dead neutral,” and an exceedingly neutral amplifier section: “The amplifier section was the H300’s soul, and it was a standout. All manner of music took on an unimpeachable purity that was difficult not to appreciate. Voices were rendered smoothly and gracefully, but not so kindly as to abbreviate any detail of their sound. Till Lindeman’s voice, in the closely miked introduction of ‘Spieluhr,’ from Rammstein’s Mutter (16/44.1 AIFF, Island), was so clean and clear, yet not strident or edgy or in any way warm or rounded. Words like athletic or propulsive don’t do justice to the Hegel, as they imply a perceptible sense of effort on the amp’s part. Rather, the class-AB H300 had a sound that seemed unadulterated. This was in contrast to Musical Fidelity’s M6 500i, whose 500Wpc gentleman-thug of an amp section sounds unabashedly relaxed and slightly warm, making almost everything I played through it sound a little more disarming. While I thoroughly enjoy that signature, it’s a signature nonetheless.”
 
Hans was also struck by the H300’s low-end performance: “I’m fond of bass that is both ample and well defined, and have occasionally been seduced by components that provide a dose of low-frequency extension that I haven’t heard elsewhere. With the Hegel, the nether region of the audioband was as extended as I’ve heard through my reference Krell and the Musical Fidelity. But while the M6 500i viscerally pounds out bass, the H300 was viscerally incisive in the low end. At about 3:30 into ‘Why So Serious?,’ from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score for The Dark Knight (16/44.1 AIFF, Warner Bros.), there’s a bass line that’s more felt than heard. Proper stuff, and what the Hegel gave up to the Musical Fidelity in fulsomeness it made up for in agility.”
 
The H300’s across-the-board high level of performance is mainly why we’re including it in our list of Recommended Reference Components, but there’s another reason, one not mentioned in Hans’s review. He didn’t buy the review sample, because that was already scheduled to go elsewhere; but Hans did buy a brand-new H300 to use as his reference integrated amplifier and DAC. It’s one thing for a writer to recommend a product for someone else to buy; it’s quite another for him to believe in it enough to buy it himself and use it as his reference for that component category. In fact, it’s the highest compliment a reviewer can give to any product, and to the company that makes it.
this does make for a very simple, high-quality music delivery system.
Chris Thomas

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Hegel is a very decent all-round performer in a tight end of the market place. It has power aplenty and – although this needs some intelligent system matching – will not show itself up in the company of some very high quality loudspeakers. In a properly configured computer system, the DAC section is a real plus point and it certainly expands the appeal and value of is a rather tasty amplifier.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The Hegel H300 is an integrated amplifier/DAC from Norway. As you might have guessed, the company is named after the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) and he and his thinking seem to feature quite heavily when you see Hegel equipment being discussed. Although for most British people Hegel’s sole claim to fame was being immortalised in the ‘Philosopher’s Song’ by Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“David Hume/Could out-consume/Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel”), he was in fact one of the driving forces behind German Idealism and a whole branch of that school that sprung from his concepts (unsurprisingly called Hegelianism) insists that reality must be able to be expressed in rational – and therefore quantifiable – properties. That might sound like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but it was groundbreaking thinking at the start of the 19th Century, and it should be considered something of a reality check for modern audio makers.
 
Hegel (the brand) has adopted the concepts of Hegel (the man) by designing distinctly ‘foo-free’ equipment; in the process being very big on the cost vs. performance equation throughout its literature. So, let’s have a look and see what is on the menu as far as the H300 as concerned.
 
Mmmm, yummy, the spec menu looks mighty good. Here is a chunky but conventional case with a rather subtle bowed front, a large on/off push switch, a pair of even larger rotary controls and a very clear blue illuminated display. Round the back there are a single pair of solid-looking gold plated speaker terminals and a decent analogue input capability of one pair of balanced and three sets of unbalanced connectors. Expanding things nicely, there is also a single RCA set of fixed-level Home Theatre inputs and unbalanced pre-out connectivity. The inclusion of a DAC is a welcome addition, because it means the box count can potentially drop to just H300 and a computer. But for CD users, there are a couple of coaxial S/PDIF inputs, supplemented by another couple of optical versions alongside a single USB input. You must admit that all this is beginning to look like a useful package indeed. The chip, the 32-bit AKM4399 is the same as that found in Hegel’s HD-11 DAC that AS favourably reviewed here last year, only Hegel has addressed minor criticisms by providing it with an improved power supply and re-clocking it. The company now believes it to be the second best DAC in Hegel’s armoury, only surpassed by the new HD25.

Hegel H300 rear panel

Output is a substantial 250 watts into eight ohms from the Class AB amplifier, with stupendously low distortion figures achieved by the incorporation of the company’s SoundEngine design and topology that incorporates FET transistors in the dual-mono preamplifier stage. The Hegel RC8 remote control is a chunky aluminium design that provides all the usual functions but also allows for control of the media player in a connected computer by having Play, Prev and Next buttons too. It can also be used if an external DAC is being used through its DAC Loop feature. This allows the external DAC able to receive the re-clocked signal then convert it, before sending it back through the balanced input. This is a welcome change to the generic remote controls that you often find with many products these days, bought in purely for the sake of offering remote operation. One observation though is that the remote itself is not a small credit-card type thing, so why are all the function buttons so small and located so closely together? Good remote controls are those that one can operate in a darkened room. They should least separate the volume controls from the rest so they can be easily accessed. Small details, but important ones nevertheless.

 
So, on the menu the Hegel H300 certainly looks an inviting proposition I think you will agree and we do, so I am told, eat with our eyes. The H300 promises power and high versatility to I paired it with the excellent Lindemann 825 CD player, both sited on an Atacama Eco bamboo rack and a pair of Focal Diablo speakers. I started by using some reasonably priced cabling from The Chord Company before upping the quality throughout with cable systems from both Crystal and Nordost.
 
The amplifier arrived with very little run-in time on the clock, and with any new product, it’s often unclear just how much time is needed for it to come to life. Some designs (the D’Agostino amplifiers, for example) tend to come on song almost immediately and a day after first powering the device up, it is virtually as good as it gets. Others (like Ayre or Naim Audio) are notorious for requiring week after week of conditioning and running in to give of their best. Price, size of power supply, output (whether those watts are passed to the speaker cones or distributed to the wider world as heat), the designer’s past ‘form’ or even component quality are no guarantee that the product before you takes hours or months to run in, or how big a change the run in provides.
 
Straight out of the box, the H300 was no different to many, many other hunks of amplification that have crossed my path in that it was distinctly without musical communication on first listening. Soft, flabby and without focus or much in the way of articulation, it was worthy only of background music and so it stayed, playing away on CD repeat for several days while I lived round it. Then slowly and in time-honoured fashion, it began to come round and I started to take notice.
 
The Hegel H300 is one of those designs that clearly undergoes significant changes for the better as the run-in process develops. Some time into its background listening tasks, I was slouching on the sofa doing a bit of iPad surfing when I began to notice that what had sounded like a bunch of unsympathetic separates appeared to be making friends and singing from the same hymn sheet. The previously paper-thin image presentation, once so one-dimensional had begun to detach itself from the cabinets of the Diablo and expand both forward and into the back of the room. A percussion section that I knew well had become just that; disconnected from the main musical body I could enjoy its driving precision and rhythmic link to the tempo. It was all beginning to sound as if the musicians had started to feel interested again and so was I.
 
As the hours, then days passed, I was starting to enjoy this Hegel amp a lot more and that became the story of my time with it. The more work I gave it to do, the more I became involved with listening to it. It has a very even-handed tonal balance and a rather natural way with voices especially. It employs its considerable power with discretion too, as it is not especially grippy or particularly taught; depending on your viewpoint (and choice of loudspeaker), this could come across as having an easy, unforced approach to bottom end, or being less than totally specific in the bass. After a while I realised that if I sat back and tried to dissect its performance, I found it too soft and the midband a little over sweet but, fortunately I don’t enjoy listening to music in that way and this is one of those products where the whole exceeds the parts by some way. The Hegel is very, very easy to live with indeed.
 
As if to prove these points, I changed the speakers for the Lindemann BL-10 and introduced a complete run of Nordost’s Blue Heaven. I believe this to be one of the best balanced of all Nordost’s cabling systems and its speed and lightness of rhythmic touch showed another side of the H300 which, by this time seemed to have reached something of a performance apex. Now the music was more tightly etched, each instrument had grown its own dynamic space and the whole picture was a lot more exciting. The depth that I mentioned before had expanded before my ears and the amplifier’s considerable power could now be viewed as a musical asset rather than just a spec-sheet bonus. This is an excellent combination for the Hegel, ....I did use the on-board DAC and it certainly works very well. Of course it throws up a whole new area of discussion as to how one should really configure a computer to get the best out of any USB DAC, but that is turning out to be complete subject in itself. Suitably configured, this does make for a very simple, high-quality music delivery system.
 
The Hegel is a very decent all-round performer in a tight end of the market place. It has power aplenty and – although this needs some intelligent system matching – will not show itself up in the company of some very high quality loudspeakers. In a properly configured computer system, the DAC section is a real plus point and it certainly expands the appeal and value of is a rather tasty amplifier.
The CDP2A not only lived up to the promise of high-end sound, it exceeded my expectations by a wider margin than I’d thought possible.
John Crossett

SUMMARY: The Hegel’s midrange was simply glorious, so good that I didn’t want to turn it off -- always a good sign.

...... the words that immediately leapt to mind were clean, clear, and concise. No warm, fuzzy tube sound here and no cold sterility, either. The CDP2A’s sound was that of real instruments being played in real venues, each sharply outlined and set in its own acoustic space. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: I'd never heard of Hegel Music Systems until my editor asked if I’d like to review their CD player. A quick Googling revealed that Hegel is based in Oslo, Norway -- to my knowledge, a country not well known for its high-end audio designers. Hegel seems eager to change that impression, and their CDP2A CD player is a case in point. In terms of appearance, it will satisfy those who demand good looks along with good sound. But isn’t the world already full of good-looking CD players?
 
Well, actually, no. Most CD players, even if they perform well, lack the CDP2A’s elegance. And its interior may very well be as beautifully designed as its exterior -- unlike many high-end companies, who feel they must use special, expensive component parts to achieve superior sound, Hegel claims to implement off-the-shelf parts in ways that reach the same goal. Maybe the CDP2A isn’t just another pretty CD player.
 
Build quality
 
The Hegel CDP2A is well built, comes in silver or black, and, for a high-end audio component, is attractive in an understated way. Weighing a solid 22 pounds and measuring a svelte 16.8"W x 3.1"H x 11.3"D, it feels like a substantial piece of kit. It also comes with the RC2, a remote control of solid aluminum with which nearly all of the player’s functions can be accessed. All the RC2 lacks are a drawer open/close button, and individual numbers for selecting the desired track; instead, you scroll up and down.
 
The appearance of the player itself is Spartan, which adds to its attractiveness. Instead of a bunch of buttons and switches cluttering the front panel, all you’ll find are: the central disc drawer; below it, the nondimmable blue LED display; to the left, a large round knob that controls the Power (press it at 12 o’clock) and selects the Previous or Next track (7 o’clock or 5 o’clock, respectively). An identical knob to the right of the drawer and display controls, in like manner, drawer Open/Close (12 o’clock), Stop (7 o’clock), and Play (5 o’clock). That’s it. To my eyes, it’s understated and elegant.
 
On the rear panel are an IEC power inlet for the supplied AC cord (which was the only one I used) and, from left to right: a digital output on an RCA jack, balanced outputs, and single-ended outputs -- again, simplicity itself, and all output jacks are gold-plated. The CDP2A is a fully balanced design, so Hegel highly recommends using the balanced outputs for the best sound. However, to my ears, while there was a slight but noticeable improvement in sound quality through the balanced outputs, it wasn’t a night-and-day difference; those whose preamps have only single-ended inputs needn’t worry that they’re missing much.
 
According to the owner’s manual, the CDP2A has 24-bit/192kHz upsampling DACs; a clock-jitter measurement of under 14 picoseconds; 2.3V RMS signal output; a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz, +/-0.1dB; a signal/noise ratio of more than 105dB; and less than 0.002% distortion.
 
System
 
My reference digital source is an Esoteric SA-50 SACD/CD player. Electronics were an Audio Research LS17 line stage, Bryston 4B SST² power amplifier, and an Original Electronics Master headphone amp, all hooked up with Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval interconnects. The speakers were Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v.3s, biwired with Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8 cables. I’ve replaced all stock power cords with Harmonic Technologies Pro AC-11s, except for an Analysis Plus Power Oval 10 cord on the Bryston amp. Accessories consisted of a Blue Circle Audio BC6000 power conditioner; two Salamander Archetype equipment racks; a Furutech deStat; and a full complement of tweaks from Symposium Acoustics: Rollerblocks Series 2+ and Rollerblock Jrs., Fat Padz, Point Pods, an Ultra Platform, Svelte Shelfs, and an Isis Rack.
 
Sound
 
On first listening to the Hegel CDP2A after giving it two weeks of burn-in, the words that immediately leapt to mind were clean, clear, and concise. No warm, fuzzy tube sound here , and no cold sterility, either. The CDP2A’s sound was that of real instruments being played in real venues, each sharply outlined and set in its own acoustic space. When I listened to Tom Russell’s Love and Fear (High Tone HCD8190), the accordion used throughout the disc was palpably real -- I could hear the accordionist squeezing his instrument and his fingers dancing on the keyboard. Set in its own space, it stood as if alone on the soundstage, with nothing fake or imitative about the sound.
 
The CDP2A produced a deep but not overly weighty low end. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it lean, but it did (if you’ll pardon the pun) lean in that direction. It was more a simple lack of weight -- all the sound was there, but if you have full-range speakers that can reproduce the deepest bass notes, you might be a tad disappointed in the Hegel. The majority of audiophiles whose speakers don’t plumb those depths won’t notice a thing, except for the outstanding tightness and detail of the Hegel’s bass reproduction.
 
The CDP2A’s top end, too, seemed not quite as extended as some players. Still, it offered an impression of full-range sound -- a bit rolled-off, but only very slightly. This is a compromise I’m willing to live with to avoid the screechy top end some CD players still reproduce.
 
The Hegel’s midrange was simply glorious, so good that I didn’t want to turn it off -- always a good sign. Long after I should have moved on to doing chores around the house, I wanted to just keep on listening. I came to understand the CDP2A’s glory in this region by listening to Grace Kelly’s alto sax on her latest album, Mood Changes (Pazz Productions 16-9). That instrument simply came alive through the Hegel. I’ve heard Kelly in concert, and the CDP2A was essentially perfect in reproducing her live sound. The mids were weighted slightly to the lower end of the spectrum, but only a bit -- it wasn’t something that called a lot of attention to itself.
 
Voices, from the rough-and-ready pipes of John Prine to the angelic harmonies of The Wailin’ Jennys, were handled with aplomb. While voices didn’t sound quite as fully rounded as through some other players, the CDP2A’s reproductions of singers weren’t like cardboard cutouts pasted on the soundstage -- instead, they sounded very much like real people standing between my speakers.
 
Another strength of the Hegel was its way with pace, rhythm, and timing (PRaT). This player could carry a tune, keeping each note in its proper place and managing the timing of note reproduction with precision. This went a long way toward making the Hegel a fun music-making machine.
 
I also enjoyed how the CDP2A could simultaneously reproduce two separate things, such as Mark Knopfler’s voice and guitar on his Kill to Get Crimson (Warner Bros. 781660-2). Although they occupy the same space in "Love Will Never Fade," the Hegel kept them completely separate with completely separate sets of harmonics. Impressive.
 
Dynamic range was handled much better by the CDP2A than by many a CD player at or near its price. From the delicacy of "Moon Shadow," from The Best of Cat Stevens: 20th Century Masters (A&M B00008773-02), to the bombastic power of The Great Gate of Kiev, from the CD layer of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony’s recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (SACD/CD, RCA Living Stereo 61394-2), the CDP2A was masterful at going from soft to loud in the blink of an eye.
 
Also in the Mussorgsky, the strings were silky-smooth and entirely free of any ear-piercing qualities. The Hegel rendered soundstages wonderfully, in terms of both width and depth. I heard this with many discs -- at least, those that contained such information in the first place.
 
Finally, the Hegel did detail beautifully. I could clearly hear the rosin on the fiddle strings in "Racing with the Sun," from The Wailin’ Jennys’ Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House (Red House RHR CD 220) -- it was as if I were standing right next to the fiddle player. Nor did the CDP2A skimp on the sound emanating from the fiddle’s body; it kept both aspects intact. This excellent trait of the Hegel allowed me to concentrate on enjoying the music instead of concentrating on the sound. Which is what we’re supposed to be doing, right?
 
Comparisons
 
I pitted the Hegel CDP2A against my reference digital source, the Esoteric SA-50 SACD/CD player, which at $5800 costs almost twice as much. The comparison was instructive and enjoyable: instructive in that, while I heard definite differences, they weren’t as pronounced as I’d expected, given the difference in price. In many ways, in fact, the CDP2A’s sound was more like than unlike that of the SA-50.
 
While the Hegel was clean, clear, and precise, the Esoteric added a small touch of warmth and richness that the Hegel didn’t. I used Holly Cole (Alert 6152810418) for these comparisons for its excellent sound and its wonderful mixture of multiple instruments on some tracks, and sparser arrangements on others. It gave both players a good sonic workout.
 
Whereas the Hegel CDP2A reproduced Cole’s voice as a real-life entity, the SA-50 contributed its extra warmth and got deeper into microdetails, revealing a bit more chest and throat sound than the Hegel. Instruments, too, were well reproduced by the CDP2A, with good senses of weight and detail. However, the Esoteric SA-50 did all that and more: its bass went lower with more authority, and its highs were more extended, detailed, and natural. The SA-50 also offered a bit more fullness to instruments. Other than that, these two CD players had remarkably similar sound. I could live happily ever after with the Hegel in my system, so well did it push all my hot buttons for excellent sound.
 
Both of these players upsample CD’s 16-bit/44.1kHz signals, though only the SA-50 offers the option of turning this off if desired. The Hegel upsamples to 24/192, the Esoteric to 24/176.4.
 
Conclusions
 
I said at the beginning that Norway is not rife with high-profile, high-end audio companies. Perhaps the existence of the Hegel Music Systems CDP2A indicates that I need to qualify that statement. Hegel is proud to make off-the-shelf parts perform above expectations, and the CDP2A did that in spades. The CDP2A not only lived up to the promise of high-end sound, it exceeded my expectations by a wider margin than I’d thought possible.
 
If you’re looking for your final CD player, the one that will last you until hi-rez downloads become commonplace, and you don’t feel like spending all of your kids’ college fund on it, then find a Hegel dealer and give the CDP2A a good listen. I believe that you’ll walk away impressed. For under three grand, it’s as fine a CD player as I’ve heard. And it looks great.
. . . John Crossett
I never wanted to shut it off. Ever. It represents the high end at its most rewarding.
Neil Gader

REVIEW SUMMARY: In fact, no matter how you cut it, the Hegel has got it all going on, as an unbiased transporter for music reproduction or in its sophisticated connectivity or in its forward thinking philosophy or sheer value. The greatest tribute I can pay the H300 is at once understated yet in its way an overwhelming affirmation: In all the hours I spent with this amp, I never wanted to shut it off. Ever. It represents the high end at its most rewarding.

EXTENDED REVIEW: It seems as if Hegel Music Systems, the Norwegian electronics manufacturer, can do no wrong these days. Kirk Midtskog has written glowing reviews of the Hegel H100 and H200 integrated amplifiers (in Issues 206 and 211). And when Editor- in-Chief Robert Harley evaluated the H30 Reference stereo amplifier, he characterized the 350Wpc behemoth as a contender for any well-heeled audiophile’s short list (in Issue 223). So, when the opportunity for me to review the H300, Hegel’s latest and most powerful integrated amplifier, presented itself, I figured, “Okay. Let’s see what all the excitement is about.”
 
Even before I started delving into what makes the H300 tick I cued up “Georgia Lee” from Tom Waits’ Mule Variations [Anti- Epitaph]. It’s a favorite track of mine—a raw performance, underscored by Waits’ gravelly, chesty voice. With the mbl Corona C31 CD player handling front-end duties, I could already hear straight through the H300 to the tattered felt hammers of his old upright sounding uncertain pitches, the noisy sustain pedal thumping along with the piano, the song’s tempo shortening and lengthening with the shifts in the tune’s emotional landscape. It’s a track adorned with low-level found-sound ambient clatter and birdcalls. I felt that I was hearing and feeling this performance at its deepest levels.
 
I then turned to the Jimmy Cobb Quartet’s bossa-nova- accented cover “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Jazz in the Key of Blue [Chesky]. The easy ensemble playing was captured in a stunning display of discrete imaging, micro-dynamic gradients, and hi-hat detailing—and of course trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s tasteful playing and carefully measured dynamics. Even after just a couple tracks I was beginning to understand what all the Hegel brouhaha was about.
 
The H300 is a high-power, line-level integrated amplifier that outputs a generous 250Wpc into 8 ohms (430Wpc into 4 ohms). Visually, the flat black exterior is seriously Spartan with merely a pushbutton on/off, and rotary knobs for input and volume selection plus a large blue-lit display, easily legible from afar. Paired with the H300 is a beautifully machined aluminum, full-function remote control that makes front-panel visitations essentially irrelevant. The back panel houses ample analog and digital connectivity and one big plus. The H300 joins a new and relatively select segment of electronics, the DAC/integrated amplifier—new in the sense that amplifiers and DACs, though not novel in themselves, have mostly been marketed as independent components. However, in recent issues I’ve reviewed DAC/integrateds from Simaudio and Perreaux, and more are either currently available or coming to market. Given the ever-expanding popularity of digital media the trend is logical and not unlike the built-in phono/RIAA inputs that were commonplace when vinyl was dominant.
 
The H300 represents a ground-up redesign, which Hegel characterizes as a Hegel 2 amplifier platform; improvements are geared to increase channel separation and decrease noise levels. The H300 evolved during the design phase of the P30 Reference preamp and the H30 Reference monoblocks. The most significant change, according to Hegel chief designer Bent Holter, is in the preamp section—a dual-mono design with new advancements in circuitry, optimized board layout, improved components, hand-matched FET transistors, and, perhaps most significant of all, a newly devised precision volume attenuator that’s based largely on the P30. The amplifier stage features a robust dual-mono 1000VA power supply with 90,000uF capacitors and an output stage formed by twenty 15A 150W high-speed bipolar transistors. Hegel’s newest generation core technology, SoundEngine, was also spawned during the H30 project. It’s based on a proprietary topology and highly selective transistor-matching that is said to eliminate dynamic crossover distortion in Class AB amplification. (See RH’s H30 review in Issue 223 for Holter’s thorough explanation of the SoundEngine technology.)
 
The 32-bit DAC stage is built around the AKM AK4399 chipset. For Hegel it’s AKM’s best pro audio chip and capable of 24-bit/192kHz resolution. For USB throughput, resolution tops out at 24-bit/96kHz, but extends to 192kHz through either the optical or coaxial SPDIF inputs. Hegel notes that the new DAC improves over the HD11 with more robust and cleaner power supplies and newly designed, higher-precision clocking. Like the HD11 it features proprietary reclocking circuitry and a Hegel designed clock.
 
Unique to the H300 is the DAC Loop function, which allows the owner to add an external (and presumably more advanced) DAC down the road while retaining Hegel’s sophisticated reclocking circuit. Although naturally Hegel would urge owners bent on upgrading to buy its own HD25 DAC, the company stresses that all H300 owners can continue to take advantage of its re-clocking circuitry by connecting any quality DAC to the H300’s digital output. Holter explained that the DAC loop has a high-quality SPDIF reclocker circuit that removes jitter from all digital inputs so that the H300 can be used as a stand-alone reclocker with any audio system. He adds that “the beauty of the H300 reclocking is that when feeding the reclocked SPDIF signal to the coax input of an external DAC you will reduce the complete system digital jitter to as low levels as possible.” [I heard a demo of the H300 used as a reclocking device and can report that it improves the sound as claimed.—RH]
 
The sonic character of the H300 is strictly neutral. Neutral, that is, in the sense that even the most minor tonal colorations or electronic detritus common to many amplifiers simply don’t materialize. There’s certainly no grit or grain. If you’re looking for a plush midrange warmth, some extra push in the bass, a golden bloom in the upper mids, or even a burst of sparkle in the treble, the H300 won’t be your ride. Hegel’s approach is holistic but no-nonsense—opening a transparent, harmonious window of sound. And neutral doesn’t imply dull by any means. For the H300 neutrality is merely the platform to exhibit a pristine lack of distortion, superb edge definition, and micro-dynamic liveliness.
 
What the Hegel possesses in spades is the ability to reproduce the source material from an exquisitely low noise floor without compression, constriction, and transient distortions, in essence releasing music openly, rather than bullying it into submission. So to my ears, during Elgar’s Enigma Variations from the new Reference Recording disc [RR129], a snare drum thwack and a bass drum or tympani thwump never sounds cut off or artificially controlled at the resonant end of the note. It lingers as long as it can before it’s swallowed by the silence of the hall. And equally defined is the timbre of wind instruments, notably flutes, which is reproduced in a remarkably lifelike manner and always with the appropriate halo of surrounding air.
 
The H300 provided a wide luscious soundstage during Dire Straits’ “Private Investigations” from Love Over Gold [Warmer], a track brimming with sound cues large and small. I was especially taken by the dynamic breadth of the performance, from the CinemaScope-styled drum fills emerging from somewhere approximating the center of the Earth to the delicacy of the nylon-stringed guitar, marimba accents, and scratchy soles beneath the intermittently appearing footsteps. The sudden turn of a doorknob and a kitten’s mewing, noises I’ve heard dozens of times, still send shivers down my spine.
 
Turning to the DAC, I felt it produced a startling, focused sound without the sensation of phasiness or smearing of stage and image information that has often accompanied DACs in this segment. Images were detailed and discrete yet possessed of a natural ambient connection with adjoining images on the soundstage. Like some of the elite DACs the H300 digital section suggests more than a hint of analog-like warmth, dimension, and continuity, a richer flow of information. On Jennifer Warnes’ “Song For Bernadette” [Impex] there’s plenty of image elbow room, the overall impression being one of expansiveness rather than clutter, right down to the very last element of reverb echo.
 
How does this compare to the USB/ DAC section aboard the mbl Corona C31, a $9200 player? It’s awfully close, but fair is fair. The mbl is more convincingly realistic on Holly Cole’s cover of “I Can See Clearly.” And it has more warmth and a stronger sense of dimensionality and physicality. Still, the H300 is excellent by any yardstick I’ve encountered thus far.
 
 listened initially to the H300 primarily with digital sources, reserving LP playback for the latter stages of this review. And as expected my turntable rig plus the H300’s superior analog circuitry and low noise floor served as a stunning reminder that, as inspired as the performance of Hegel’s digital section is, the LP remains ensconced as stubbornly as ever in the playback throne. As I listened to the glorious Athena LP pressing of the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances the dimensionality, tonal ripeness, and bloom that were hinted at but not fully developed in digital playback were restored. This was most especially the case with massed strings, as a distinct sweetness and a sense of individuation spread across the section from front to back.
 
As a testament to the high-level performance of the Hegel H300, only a benchmark integrated amp like the considerably more costly Vitus Audio RI- 100 ($13,000) can help define the H300’s modest limits. The H300, by comparison, doesn’t have quite the same expansive soundstage as the Vitus, nor does it image quite as discretely. Vocals have a little less air and the resonance of piano soundboards is less palpable. The bass line vamp that introduces “I Can See Clearly” becomes less distinct as the song progresses. Toss the Vitus into the mix and the acoustic atmosphere of the Rachmaninoff thickens, the soundstage widens and deepens. Still the H300 cuts the margin of these differences awfully fine—coming so close to the Vitus at times that it’s scary.
 
In fact, no matter how you cut it, the Hegel has got it all going on, as an unbiased transporter for music reproduction or in its sophisticated connectivity or in its forward thinking philosophy or sheer value. The greatest tribute I can pay the H300 is at once understated yet in its way an overwhelming affirmation: In all the hours I spent with this amp, I never wanted to shut it off. Ever. It represents the high end at its most rewarding.
The H80 sounds natural and mature....very powerful. It’s hard to ask for more. That’s why this amplifier is worthy of our recommendation.
Tomasz Karasiński

SUMMARY: As the listening test came to an end, I wanted to mention some flaws of H80’s sound. The bass? I honestly can't complain about the extent or the speed either. Stereo imaging? The shape and size of the soundstage is just right. Maybe any defects in the high frequencies at least? Nope. I couldn't find any harshness here. Everything is perfectly fine. Maybe I would be able to find some shortcomings if I listened to H80 for half a year. As for the listening test, it was perhaps too short to reveal any flaws of this machine. Or maybe there aren’t any? At least at this price level, there is that possibility.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Hegel products are minimalistic, but also full of innovative solutions. Their design is always very well thought out. The company was not established by marketing experts, instead Hegel was formed by a group of friends. One of them created the scheme of an amplifier, which pretty much eliminated all the shortcomings of traditional circuitries. In his opinion the major problem is the feedback - the main reason of the sound distortion. He also took into consideration that getting rid of any feedback in fact makes an amplifier weaker and more floaty in terms of sound. The man we are talking about is Bent Holter. His idea turned out to be not bad at all, because he managed to achieve high output power and less distortion at the same time. At some point a big telecommunication company - Telenor - became interested in his project. They paid for further development of this technology in exchange for shares of Holter's new company and what we know today as Hegel was born. In the end, all the solutions for improving analog signal transmission quality became needless for Telenor because the telecom industry switched from analog to digital transmission. The young inventor bought all his shares back and thus he returned to the initial idea - amplifiers. Nowadays Hegel offers integrated amps, preamplifiers and power amplifiers, two CD players and DACs. Norwegians have a very interesting approach, because they believe that technological progress should not only bring better performance, but also bring the prices down a bit. That is exactly what happened with the HD11 DAC. It has better technical parameters than its predecessor but the price is noticeably lower. Now Hegel is launching a new product - the successor of the H70 integrated amplifier. The H70 was seen as one of the leaders in its price range, and there is nothing strange about it. Will the H80 be similarly successful?
 
Design and functionality
 
H80 is slightly more expensive than its predecessor, but knowing Hegel’s approach the price difference is not due to the display on the front panel or something equally trivial. Everything becomes clear when we look at the rear panel. People who know Hegel’s products would immediately recognise the layout of digital inputs section, the same as in the stand-alone DACs like HD11. The number of analog inputs has been limited - two sets of RCA and one set of XLR sockets. I think it’s a good decision. Who needs more analog inputs nowadays? On the rear panel we can also find a single set of speaker terminals, previously mentioned digital input section and an IEC power socket. It all looks really professional. Of course some say that the presence of five digital inputs does not mean that there is a serious converter inside. Yes, but we all know that the Hegel doesn’t do such things. Before connecting this new integrated amp we found out that the built-in DAC is almost identical to the one used in HD11. First from unofficial leaks, later from the manufacturer we also learned that the H80 treated only as an amplifier can be even better product than its predecessor. This is because the preamp section uses solutions taken straight from the top models, such as the H300 flagship integrated amplifier. The H80 is also a whole 5 watts more powerful, but it is just a trifle because it was hard to complain about the lack of power in the H70. The new amplifier uses SoundEngine technology, from which we started the whole story. It eliminates distortion by separating the two amplifier sections from each other. This allows engineers to design each section independently and use the most appropriate elements for a given part. According to some listeners, SoundEngine is responsible for the combination of dynamics and natural sound temperature. Build-in converter is compatible with all operating systems. After connecting the amplifier to the computer you also get the possibility to control your playlists with an ultra-thin remote. This solution is very impressive and functional. It was applied first in the HD11. All fans of high-resolution files will be glad that H80 can play 24 bit/192 kHz signals, but only via coaxial and optical inputs. We were also keen to use the Hegel's DAC Loop solution. This means that we use the built-in DAC as a USB-SPDIF converter. Then the signal goes by a digital wire (coaxial or optical) to our external DAC and changes into the analog form. Then it goes back to one of the amplifier’s analog inputs (RCA or XLR). It’s a bit complicated, but it works, except the H80 does not have a digital output - only inputs. Thus, the true PC Audio geeks will have to get a USB-SPDIF converter or the computer sound card with an optical or coaxial input. Unless of course they don't have it already.
 
The design of the H80 is a typical, Scandinavian minimalism. The power switch has been moved from the front panel to the bottom of the box. It was replaced with the display showing active input and volume. The front panel has a distinctive bulge in the central part and it is made of a thick piece of metal. The rest of the box is made of metal as well. The H80 stands on three, high legs, further improving the airflow. Usually I don't like digital potentiometers, but this one isn't so annoying. We have 99 volume levels. Zero is equivalent to mute - there is a quiet click from inside the amplifier. When we turn the sound on again, Hegel doesn't shout immediately. It will go smoothly from zero to the previous level, which is very nice if you had to shut it down when the volume level was high and afterwards you forget about this. A simple, but well thought-out solution.
 
Now it is the part where we complain. The Hegel lacks three things to achieve maximum marks for functionality - a digital output, an output of the preamp and a headphone jack. However, if you are a fan of headphones, you probably want to have a separate amplifier for them and now there is a simple solution - the Hegel SUPER headphone amp with built-in DAC.
 
Sound performance
 
At the beginning, I’ve tested the H80 as a normal integrated amplifier with the Naim CD 5XS as a source. After listening to it for five minutes, then fifteen minutes, two hours, the conclusion was simple - this amp rocks! It is clearly one of the most interesting amplifiers in its price range. Even if we forget about the presence of the DAC. Such performance could be expected from a much more expensive device. Dynamics, energy and the control over the whole sound could be associated with huge integrated amps with heatsinks on the sides and transformers the diameter of a medium-sized pizza. But this one looks like a normal amplifier, it’s very inconspicuous. If there was a big black curtain in the front of the system and I had to guess what kind of amplifier was playing at the moment, I would say that it was something similar to cheaper integrated models of Krell or McIntosh. Maybe a respectable pre/power combination of Atoll or Audiolab as well. It's not just that you can organise a big party with the H80 and fill the large room with sound without problems. For us the true dynamics is manifested by the fact that we don't have to listen loudly to feel the pulse of the music. Here, this energy can be felt even at low or middle volume levels. The display shows 30 or 40, and you don't really need anything more. The combination of H80 with Divine Acoustics Proxima speakers was almost synergic. If you are able to get better sound from hi-fi system worth less than $5000, please get in touch and tell me what it is. The brutal Hegel's power perfectly merged with the directness and romanticism of Polish speakers. I’ve also listened to the H80 with Triangle Signature Delta speakers, but this combination was a bit too sharp for my liking.
The class of the Norwegian amp isn't only heard in the caloric impulses that it sends to the loudspeakers, but also in almost perfect tonal balance. The sound temperature is on the warmer side, but just a bit. The H80 is not one of the strong, transparent but vulgar amps. This new device gives very consistent and elegant sound, maintaining all the dynamics and drive of its predecessor.
After two days of listening with the Naim and the HD11 as signal sources, I decided to turn on the built-in DAC. When I unplugged the HD11, almost nothing has changed. The differences were minimal, on the verge of human perception I would say. So it's true - the built-in DAC gives similar performance as stand-alone D/A converters worth $1500. In a way, the USB port offers even more audiophile sound, because it's perfectly neutral. Probably that’s the heritage of the HD11.
As the listening test came to an end, I wanted to mention some flaws of H80’s sound. The bass? I honestly can't complain about the extent or the speed either. Stereo imaging? The shape and size of the soundstage is just right. Maybe any defects in the high frequencies at least? Nope. I couldn't find any harshness here. Everything is perfectly fine. Maybe I would be able to find some shortcomings if I listened to H80 for half a year. As for the listening test, it was perhaps too short to reveal any flaws of this machine. Or maybe there aren’t any? At least at this price level, there is that possibility.
 
Build quality and technical parameters
 
The H80 is integrated amplifier with five digital inputs and a DAC inside. Two FET transistors give 75 watts per channel with 8 ohm impedance. Audiophiles will enjoy the presence of the power supply built on the basis of a large toroidal transformer and four large capacitors. The inside of the amplifier has been designed wisely. Some may complain about the large number of cable connections, but no important wire lies close to the transformer (the one seen in the last picture goes to the power switch). Information that the built-in DAC is an exact copy of the HD11 is probably a little exaggerated, but the differences between them are small. In the technical data one parameter drew my attention - the damping factor is more than 1000, which is pretty impressive.

Verdict

 
For many people the H80 can be a good amplifier for years. For some, it may be even one and only device in the system, if we don’t count the speakers. Plugging it into a small laptop gives a possibility to create home entertainment system with a handy interface and a remote control. The idea of the H80 is brilliant - a relatively inexpensive, versatile amp with a serious DAC onboard. If that was not enough, the new Hegel is far better in terms of sound than its predecessor - the H70. The H80 sounds more natural and mature, but still very powerful. It’s hard to ask for more. That’s why this amplifier is worthy of our recommendation.
It’s a well-built, deceptively powerful amplifier with an excellent digital audio stage. ‘It fights above its weight’ is a cliché of the highest order, but it really applies here. Excellent!
Alan Sircom

SUMMARY: I play a little game with myself during reviews. Where possible, I try to avoid discovering the price of a product until the end of the review, and I see if I can guess correctly. Usually, I’m in the right ball-park. With the H80, I got this spectacularly wrong. I put this at about the £5,000+ mark, in among some serious top-end integrated amp peers. It’s why I happily drove this amp through a pair of Raidho D1, completely unconscious of just how much of a ‘mullet’ system I had created in the process. The thing is though, the H80 is so ‘right’ sounding, with such good bass control and so much in its favour with such a partnership, it seemed the most natural thing to put this little amp with a pair of speakers that cost more than 10x as much. I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The role of amplifier has changed recently. The nexus role of ‘curating’ sources and feeding them to a pair of loudspeakers remains, but increasingly ‘sources’ have become a single computer source. That means increasing onus on the amp maker to become an amp+DAC maker, and few companies have taken that new role to heart as much as Hegel.
 
The H80 is the company’s new hub. Yes, it’s an 75W per channel integrated amplifier, but the overall design quickly shows it’s very much an integrated amp with today in mind. As a line-level amplifier, it’s relatively limited, with just two line-level phono inputs (one of which can be configured as a home theatre direct input) and one XLR input on tap. On the other hand (and on the other side of the rear panel) it has two coaxial digital, two toslink optical and one asynchronous USB inputs. Moreover, it’s indicative of a bold move on Hegel’s part, in that the same degree of importance toward digital audio is echoed throughout the range. There’s a fairly obvious and logical reason for this; the need for line-level inputs is beginning to fade in modern audio (often it now comes down to the output of a phono stage and a tuner) while the need for digital audio connections – potentially for both audio and audio-video devices – is on the rise. It’s possible today that someone might use an amplifier with no line-level sources whatsoever, perhaps connecting the optical link from a satellite decoder and a games console and the USB input from a computer. Line level is not exactly ‘legacy’ and will likely never be consigned to the dump-bin, but it’s interesting just how many sources can be covered with fairly minimal analogue pathway demands now. And Hegel seems to get that change in user demands to a very deep degree.
 
The analogue stage is not an afterthought though, especially as essentially the DAC sits on top of the analogue preamp section. This has been pulled from the company’s P20 line preamp or top H300 integrated, borrowing heavily from those upmarket devices. Similarly, the power amplifier stage of the H80 also borrows from the Reference class products, using Hegel’s own SoundEngine local error cancellation circuit design, which is claimed to deliver Class A linearity in a Class AB design, increasing damping factor in the process. It also uses hand-matched transistors in the input stage and the DAC, of course, bears a lot in common with Hegel’s 32-bit filtering, AKM4399-based 24-bit, 192kHz precision off board converters like the HD11. OK, so putting DAC, pre and power in the one chassis is never going to be quite as good as having them in separate chassis with separate power supplies dedicated to the task in hand, and the small chassis means there’s no room for the kart wheel sized toroidal transformer and power reserves found in Hegel’s 200W and beyond amplifiers, but this appears an exercise in specification reduction rather than sonic sacrifice.
 
Hegel’s products stress the minimalist approach. All black, one knob for source, one for volume, a power off switch on the underside of the amp below the source knob and a big blue LED readout. There’s a credit-card remote that accompanies the amp, and can control the computer’s playlists. It can turn off or even dim the large and bright display, too if you press it for three seconds.
 
But with no preamp output, there’s no upgrade path for someone wanting to add a bigger power amp. More importantly, there’s also no monitor, digital output or headphone socket, so if you want to listen through headphones, not only is it impossible through the H80, but it’s impossible to even take a feed from the H80 to drive headphones, which may be a deal-breaker for some. 
 
Anders Ertzeid of Hegel confided in me that the code name for the H80 within the company was PIGLET (as in the cute one from Winnie the Pooh). But while that’s true from the outside, ‘PIGLET’ bares no resemblance to the sound it produces. It’s more ‘The Little Engine That Could’. It is deceptively powerful; yes, it’s a 75W amp, but it has the kind of grip over loudspeakers that makes it sound more like it’s double that. And it does so in an intrinsically right way. I tried it with a number of speakers (some of which are tested in this issue), but settled on the Raidho D1s as the perfect partners, with Crystal Cable providing the linkage everywhere except USB (one day, I’ll have mugged enough old people to afford Crystal’s Absolute Dream USB, but until then Nordost makes a good stand-in). The front end was mostly Apple-based, but my old Lyngdorf CD-1 was also pressed into service for its S/PDIF connections.
 
Like the H300 we tested in issue 98, the amp takes a fair while to spring to life. It’s a vapid, listless first few days with the H80, and that’s nothing like the amplifier it grows up to be.  Hegel makes a sound that doesn’t draw attention to itself, but that’s what a good amp should do. And the DAC matches the amplifier perfectly. This is not an ostentatious, fireworks sound – it’s in it for the long game, with excellent precision (both in detail and in soundstage width and depth terms), super dynamics and most of all a sense of great poise and integration across the range. 
 
You get the distinct ‘you are there’ feeling with the H80, as if the electronics are out of the way. You put on Schiff or Brendel, and you are in the audience. You put on ZZ Top and you are either in the studio or in the bar. You put on Kraftwerk and you are inside the oscillator. This is not an uncommon impression in the high-end, but it usually comes when components are more divided up than this. 
 
I’m not wholly convinced this is a Class A sound from a Class AB amplifier, but it gets closer than most. Where the H80 wins though it the bass; if it has some of the ease of listening of Class A in the mids and treble, the bass is powerful, deep and satisfyingly ‘chewy’. It grips hold of the drivers to ensure they give good account of their actions, but does so in the kind of way where you just start reaching out for old reggae recordings for the fun of it. There probably won’t be that many Hegel/Raidho combinations that punt out Burning Spear’s Garvey’s Ghost dub remix of the Marcus Garvey album, but it worked. OK, ‘it worked’ is subject to this not being the kind of club rig that can play bass so deep it dislocates knee joints at 30 paces, but ‘surprisingly deep and loud’ for domestic use does it for me.
 
I play a little game with myself during reviews. Where possible, I try to avoid discovering the price of a product until the end of the review, and I see if I can guess correctly. Usually, I’m in the right ball-park. With the H80, I got this spectacularly wrong. I put this at about the £5,000+ mark, in among some serious top-end integrated amp peers. It’s why I happily drove this amp through a pair of Raidho D1, completely unconscious of just how much of a ‘mullet’ system I had created in the process. The thing is though, the H80 is so ‘right’ sounding, with such good bass control and so much in its favour with such a partnership, it seemed the most natural thing to put this little amp with a pair of speakers that cost more than 10x as much. I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.
 
Hegel is one of those brands that deserve to be better known. Products like the H80 make all the right noises and tick all the right boxes for a ‘now’ product. It’s a well-built, deceptively powerful amplifier with an excellent digital audio stage. ‘It fights above its weight’ is a cliché of the highest order, but it really applies here. Excellent!
We applaud Hegel for breaking the audiophile mould and branching out into digital files.
Audioholics Mag
Let's talk about integrated amplifiers. The main difference between an integrated amplifier and a receiver is the presence of an AM/FM tuner (receiver). For many of us, we use our home theater receivers as integrated amps. I think I may tune in a station I was listening to in the car once a year - about three years ago. Since then, just about every station streams their shows online so I just pop open my laptop and continue listening there.
 
But in the consumer (and manufacturer's) minds, the two products are completely different. An integrated amplifier is a device for high end users and have features and price points that reflect that. A receiver, on the other hand, is a consumer-level product and has price points and feature sets for nearly any consumer. The odd integrated amp with a budget price point is hard to find. 
 
Hegel is a high end company that has made a name for itself with its integrated amps, processors, amplifiers, and DACs. The H80 is the second in a line of five integrated amplifiers. IThe H80 is a brand new product for the company and incorporates some of the technology from their flagship integrated amp.
 
The H80 has a pair of high quality speaker terminals for each speaker. It has two RCA-style analogue inputs (one assignable) and a set of XLR balanced inputs. On the digital side, it has two coaxial and two optical digital audio inputs. In addition, it has a USB port for connecting to your computer. The digital inputs all can accept 24-bit depth content. On their website, they have instructions for connecting the H80 to an Apple or Ubuntu computer (apparently audiophiles don't do PC or Linux). When connected by USB, you can use the supplied remote to control your playlists (not sure if this is limited to Apple/Ubuntu and which music programs).
 
Hegel has been recognised for their quality DACs and pre-amps (according to their site) for their re-clocking (to remove jitter) and low noise floor. Hegel has a patented SoundEngine technology which promises not only reduces distortion, but it also dramatically increase damping factor. The H80 sports 75 watts per channel into 8 ohms. 
 
Glancing at the front, you'll notice something not usually found on audiophile gear - a digital readout. Other than that, there are two knobs (source and volume) and a whole lot of flat aluminum. This it typical for audiophile great that prides itself on clean lines and single purpose devices.
 
Conclusion
Hegel is certainly giving you something (very good) for your US$2000 with the Hegel H80 integrated amplifier. Allowing a USB connection to your computer with high quality DACs is something we usually don't expect of audiophile gear..... you can also get less for a lot more. We applaud Hegel for breaking the audiophile mould and branching out into digital files.
You have to give Hegel credit for making great sound quality affordable for most audiophiles.
Jeff Fritz

REVIEW SUMMARY: Hegel Music Systems’ HD12 digital-to-analog converter provides the best sound for the least money of any DAC I’ve had in my system. You might be surprised at just how good it is, and just how uncompromissed its sound is on an absolute basis. Although you probably won’t see the HD12 on the front page of Yahoo! -- it just doesn’t attract attention to itself in overt ways -- it’s an ear-opener for all it does right. That’s in keeping with Hegel’s steady approach: produce excellent if understated products, and customers will buy. The HD12 is one of their best, and one of the best audio values I know of. That fact should get it plenty of attention. The right kind.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Nowadays, to get noticed in the entertainment industry, you have to do something flashy or downright bizarre. At least, that’s how it looks from the outside. Take, for instance, the antics of pop-music stars, whose behaviour seems to find new lows each week. The argument goes that any press is good press, so these people seem to fabricate ways to get a Yahoo! story written about them -- often ways that most of us would find humiliating and degrading. The interesting thing is that these people seem to revel in the attention, making no distinction between whether their actions are considered positive, negative, or just plain stupid.

In the world of high-end audio, Hegel Music Systems seems to be the antithesis of that. They aren’t flashy. In the many conversations I’ve had with them at audio shows, Bent Holter and Anders Ertzeid, the two Norwegian guys who respectively design the components and market the brand, have been down-to-earth and pleasant to talk to -- and their product designs and marketing campaigns are always thoughtful.

All of Hegel’s components -- DACs, preamplifiers, headphone amplifiers, CD players, power amplifiers -- are understated in appearance. The casework is solid and functional, not attention grabbing. The folks at Hegel would probably say that the magic of their design expertise is inside, and the proof of its existence is the quality of what comes out of your speakers. If our reviewers’ responses are any indication, that’s an accurate assumption: Our own Hans Wetzel has used Hegel’s H300 as his reference integrated amplifier-DAC for several years now, even though much flashier gear has found its way into and, eventually, out of his listening room.

The introduction of a sub-$2000 DAC might not make headlines on Yahoo!, or even on many of the audiophile message boards scattered around the Internet. But don’t let that fool you: It may not look flashy, but the HD12 is newsworthy.

12 is more than 11

In the launch of their HD12 digital-to-analog converter, Hegel seems to be staying consistent in their understated approach. When I first saw it, at Munich’s High End last year, I couldn’t help but notice that it looked almost exactly like . . . well, all of Hegel’s other DACs. But if I thought for a minute that the HD12 is just a new model name for a new year, to keep sales up, I thought wrong.

The first thing you need to know about the HD12 is the price: at $1400 USD, it’s not what most audiophiles would call expensive. In fact, at a time when DACs can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, the HD12 could be regarded as downright budget-oriented. But before you assume that, because it costs only $1400, it must be compromised in some way, at least consider the alternative: Some of the ultra-expensive, heavyweight DACs out there might be more complex than they need to be, and for reasons that have little to do with attaining great sound quality. What if the HD12 is precisely what it needs to be, and no more?

The only way to know for sure is to listen, of course, and I’ll get to that shortly. First, though, there are a few technical highlights -- mostly inside the HD12’s small black case -- that you should know about. The 32-bit HD12’s USB input can accept resolutions as high as 24-bit/192kHz. (The HD11 was limited to 24/96 via USB.) The rest of the digital inputs -- one coaxial, two optical -- are also capable of this resolution. From a features standpoint, four inputs that can do 24/192 is a really good start. These inputs can be selected with the included remote control, or with a tiny button on the rear panel. The HD12 also surpasses the HD11 in terms of specs, reportedly through refined circuitry. Perhaps the most striking number is its claimed noise floor of -145dB, which indicates a very, very quiet DAC.

Hegel HD12

The HD12 is also capable of natively playing DSD64 files without first converting them to PCM. Although not all that many DSD recordings are yet available for download, there are some, and the library seems to be growing. Also growing is the headphone market, which makes the HD12’s front-panel headphone jack a welcome detail. Other features include single-ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs. Those XLRs are handy, and are often not found on components at or near this price, so kudos to Hegel for including them. The power switch is on the rear, right above the IEC power-cord inlet.

One exterior feature of the HD12 is an improvement over the HD11: the alphanumeric readout. Whereas the HD11’s front panel had labeled LEDs that indicated the input selected, the HD12’s blue display can tell you that as well as a couple other things: sample rate and volume level -- things you really might want to know as you sit back in your easy chair, listening to music. The display can be defeated with a simple button press on the remote. The HD12’s 100-step volume control is implemented in the digital domain; if you use a separate preamplifier, leave the HD12’s volume at its highest setting. But if your system is all digital, the HD12 itself can act as your preamp. I suspect that more and more systems will be configured this latter way; unless you spin LPs, it just makes sense. Not improved from the HD11 is the cheesy little plastic remote itself -- but I suspect that adding a couple hundred bucks or more to the retail price for a better remote control was not an expense Hegel wanted to pass along to their customers, especially when there would have been no benefit to the sound quality.

Hegel HD12

The HD12’s power supply consists of a generously sized toroidal transformer and 20,000 microfarads of filter capacitance. That’s pretty impressive. A few other facts: Hegel describes the filter as “linear-phase analog”; the HD12’s distortion is specified as being “typically less than 0.0005%,” the frequency response as 0Hz-50kHz, and the signal output level as 2.5V RMS at 0dBFS. The Hegel measures 8.19”W x 2.34”H x 10.14”D and weighs 7.7 pounds.

Sound

Typically, when I insert a brand-spanking-new DAC in my stereo system and start listening, I’m first struck by the component under test’s ability to either reveal more musical information -- or, conversely, its tendency to obscure those all-important musical details when compared with the DAC it’s replaced. It’s fair to say that today’s DACs are easily more resolving than those of a few years ago, and this is a decidedly good thing. Any increase in sound quality gets us closer to the original recording and is a move in the right direction.

But it wasn’t only the Hegel HD12’s detail retrieval that I first noticed. After weeks of listening to the HD12, it was abundantly clear to me that it was, indeed, highly resolving. It did detail -- and scads of it. I soon realised, though, that the HD12 was drawing me into the music with many important sonic strengths, impressions only confirmed by repeated playings of favourite demo tracks as well as music I just like listening to.

Hegel HD12

When I fired up Buckaroo Holiday, from Copland’s ballet Rodeo, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Louis Lane (16-bit/44.1kHz, Telarc), I was immediately impressed by the spatial qualities. A large, three-dimensional soundstage served up the orchestra not as a sphere of sound coming toward me, but as individual performers playing individual instruments, connected completely by the music they were playing. The HD12 didn’t artificially tether the sounds of instruments to one another or to the loudspeaker positions, but instead kept intact the space around and within the orchestra. Instead of simply hearing more detail from each instrument, I more clearly perceived the spatial characteristics of the recording venue those instruments were playing in -- Powell Symphony Hall, in St. Louis, Missouri. The bottom line for me was that the HD12 was doing good things not only to the notes themselves, but between the notes as well.

Switching to DSD source material was quite the treat. Morton Gould and the Morton Gould Orchestra performing Gould’s Interplay (DSD64 DFF, RCA Living Stereo) showed me just how easily the Hegel HD12 could connect me to the music. This track had wide dynamic range and was toe-tappingly rhythmic through the HD12 -- the high jump factor lent an authenticity to the sound that made me feel the original performance. The spatial characteristics that I heard in the Copland were again clearly apparent -- I could really track what was going on and where. I must give at least some of the credit for these sound characteristics to the Hegel’s low noise floor -- the spaces around the performers weren’t filled with noise, which kept my attention firmly on the players. That oft-used phrase pace, rhythm, and timing applied here: the Hegel was able to keep the beat without skipping a beat.

Hegel HD12

Slowing things down a bit, I also listened to J. Melvin Butler’s C.B. Fisk Organ Vol.1 (DSD64 DFF, HDTT). What captivated me with this recording was the tonal saturation of the organ’s sound: dense and powerful, it energised my room in the way that only a good recording of a large pipe organ can. The Hegel just surged, not sounding like some wimpy little DAC but sounding big, bold, and powerful -- or that was the sound of the organ as reproduced by the HD12.

Moving on to a high-resolution PCM recording, I cued up the title track of Rebecca Pidgeon’s The Raven (24/88.2 AIFF, Chesky). The sound was enlighteningly smooth, the HD12 easily revealing the minute inflections in Pidgeon’s voice and the interplay between her and the instrumental accompaniment. Most of all, I just enjoyed listening to this track and others from the same album, finding nothing offensive in the sound and plenty to like. The HD12 didn’t wow me with overtly obvious detail retrieval, as something like the Weiss DAC202 will -- and the latter might be the sort of sound you crave -- but neither did it gloss over detail.

Comparison

I recently reviewed the M2Tech Young DSD DAC. At $1699, the M2Tech is priced close to the Hegel, and can also play DSD files -- including DSD128, which the Hegel can’t. It also sports XLR and RCA outputs. The Young DSD actually has one more digital input than the HD12, as well as volume control. The Hegel, though, has a beefier power supply, included onboard; the M2Tech comes with a small external power supply that looks similar to what you might see with a laptop computer. Although the M2Tech is a bit more interesting to look at, with its mix of materials, I slightly prefer the Hegel’s build -- it just seems a little sturdier, more practical.

In my review of the M2Tech Young DSD, I described its sound as “balanced, neither bright nor plodding, nor does it sacrifice pace, rhythm, and timing. Although its bass isn’t the deepest or the most controlled of all the DACs I’ve heard, and though it won’t resolve quite as much detail as the best DACs costing from five to seven grand, you’ll hardly notice any of these things if you’re not doing closely controlled A/B comparisons.”

The HD12 and Young DSD shared a number of similarities: each had a balanced sound that never drew attention to itself with spotlit highs or a thin, grating midrange. I think each company has voiced its product smartly -- no one will say that either sounds bad. Where the Hegel scored against the M2Tech was in bass response, where I found the Young DSD a touch light -- probably its biggest shortcoming. The HD12 provided a firmer, more confident foundation to the music. Ultimately, this gave many tracks more weight and drive, and made me prefer the Hegel.

I wish I still had on hand a Hegel HD25 -- their flagship DAC -- to compare the HD12 with. When I reviewed the HD25, in March 2013, I found it outstanding, holding up pretty well even against the exalted (for good reason) dCS Debussy (US$11,500). Reading my notes for that review indicates to me that the HD25 and HD12 have very similar sonic signatures. Both are smooth operators: never offensive, always balanced. But without the ability to do a side-by-side comparison, that’s about as much as I can say almost two years on. Could the HD12 be within spitting distance of the HD25? I think it’s close. You have to give Hegel credit for making great sound quality affordable for most audiophiles.

Conclusion

Hegel Music Systems’ HD12 digital-to-analog converter provides the best sound for the least money of any DAC I’ve had in my system. You might be surprised at just how good it is, and just how uncompromissed its sound is on an absolute basis. Although you probably won’t see the HD12 on the front page of Yahoo! -- it just doesn’t attract attention to itself in overt ways -- it’s an ear-opener for all it does right. That’s in keeping with Hegel’s steady approach: produce excellent if understated products, and customers will buy. The HD12 is one of their best, and one of the best audio values I know of. That fact should get it plenty of attention. The right kind.

The buyer gets far better sound than the P20’s price suggests......
Erich Wetzel

SUMMARRY REVIEW: during the time I had the Hegel P20 in my system, two other preamplifiers were available to me. My longtime reference preamp, an Audio Research LS15, did a bit of time in and out of the system feeding its amplifier cousin, the D300. The LS15’s sound had the usual tube nuances: a little plump in the midrange, in a beautiful way, as is often the case with tube gear. I was surprised by the P20’s midrange -- it outperformed the LS15 in the sweetest range of the LS15's capabilities. The Hegel was more accurate than the ARC, but without sounding thinner. The LS15’s bass performance has been a point of modest concern to me over the years -- assuming that the D300 was doing its job properly. My B&W 801 speakers, with their 12” woofers and big cabinets, should have considerable punch, but really didn’t until the P20 joined the system. The LS15 sounded thinner and definitely weaker than the P20 in the deep bass.

When I compared the P20 with the Benchmark’s preamp section, the Hegel’s larger soundstages and greater accuracy bested the Benchmark. The P20’s sound was bigger, and tonally more natural than the DAC2 HGC’s. The sound of the Benchmark was in proportion with its physically smaller size -- it sounded a bit flatter and created smaller soundstages than the Hegel. Higher-pitched sounds and transients sounded slightly more sharp-edged and less natural through the Benchmark when compared to the full size, natural sound of the P20. Adding cost to the debate does not make for a more difficult choice. The P20 has a beautiful, natural sound that I feel justifies its place in a system built around separates, and is a reason to consider that step if you are able.

I’ve used the words real and natural interchangeably here, and have discovered that I agree with Hegel’s description of the P20. I like that there’s no hyperbole on their website. Self-aggrandizement is not becoming.

The Hegel P20 was neutral in its sound. It allowed for beautifully clear separation of sounds, voices, and instruments; and the vivid depth of its bass was a revelation. This preamplifier allowed singers and instruments on the best recordings to sound natural and almost fully real. The buyer gets far better sound than the P20’s price of $2900 suggests.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Hegel Music Systems P20The Hegel P20 arrived in a solid but modestly sized corrugated box within another box, the preamplifier comfortably cushioned by foam inserts. Included is a clearly written owner’s manual, along with a very heavy, all-metal remote control that will also work with most of Hegel’s other products. I much prefer the “bespoke” feel of such a remote to the generic plastic models that accompany many audio components at or below the P20’s price of $2900 USD. The P20 feels solidly built, and is surprisingly heavy -- 22 pounds -- for a preamplifier measuring 17"W x 3.2"H x 12"D. The front and side panels are of nicely contoured aluminum, with no sharp edges. The removable top panel feels to be heavy-gauge sheet metal when rapped on. The build quality is high, and the smoothly operating controls have a nice feel. The review sample was black; the P20 is also available in silver.

On the front panel are two large, round, metal knobs, one to either side of the large, centered, flush-mounted power button, which is surmounted by a large blue LED. The left knob is the input selector, the right the volume control; both have a light, smooth feel. Although the volume level is indicated by a small depression in the face of the knob, I couldn’t see this when seated, or tell where the volume was set unless I looked very closely at it when standing near the faceplate. Only the remote has a Mute button; the power LED flashes to indicate when the P20 is muted. If you like to leave your preamp on and engage Mute when not listening, this may be distracting.

Like most preamplifiers, the P20 can be easily set up by someone with only modest experience without reference to the manual. The P20 has only three feet, which guarantees that it will sit stable on any surface. It has five single-ended inputs, one of them designed for home-theater integration, and a single balanced input. One pair each of balanced and single-ended outputs are provided, which will be welcomed by those who, like me, run outdoor and other speakers from an aging receiver attached to the preamp. I used both the balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs, but did my listening primarily via the balanced ins and outs. Hegel states that the P20’s circuit design is balanced from input to output.

Sound

The Hegel P20 arrived on the day of a planned family gathering. My brother Hans Wetzel, also a SoundStage! Network reviewer, arrived early and helped insert the Hegel in my system, where it replaced my Audio Research LS15 preamp. I first experienced the P20’s sound when I walked into a house full of family, including loud young nieces and nephews who competed in volume with the stereo. Ultimately, the kids won, but in the battle, the Hegel demonstrated some of its best skills.

I was surprised by the P20’s bass response. Even amid the din and distraction of a house full of conversation and play, I could hear deep, solid bass, and details in the low end of which I’d previously perceived only suggestions. I also heard a striking clarity, but I knew I would need to wait for a more tranquil time to settle into the sound.

I’d planned to run the P20 in the background over the next few weeks, but ended up giving it a larger share of my concentrated attention -- the sound was alluringly natural. The many other obligations and distractions in my house and life can keep me from focusing on the music, but with the Hegel in the system I was drawn into the sounds coming from my system. My other responsibilities were sufficiently moderated to keep my interaction with my music going.

Hegel Music Systems P20

The P20 peeled away some haze from the sound I’m used to with my reference ARC LS15. The comparison was the auditory equivalent of an image presented first as slightly blurred, then in sharp focus. The clarity of each sound captivated my ears -- each instrument stood on its own, and rarely felt blended with the sound of adjacent instruments, literally or sonically. Each voice had its space in the overall sound. The sound was not sparse, but it was absolutely not run together or jumbled into a space.

With the Hegel P20, I could hear everything, and it was all very clear. The details expected by those who prefer higher-resolution recordings were presented very naturally. A great example of this was the flute in J.S. Bach’s Sonata for Flute and Basso Continuo in E Minor, BWV 1034, performed by Vytautas Sriubikis (24/96 AIFF, Lessloss), with bassoonist Povilas Bingelis and harpsichordist María González Calvo. A flautist myself, I reveled in being able to hear Sriubikis’s breathing and sense his embouchure, as well as the sound of the air around his mouth and the mechanics of his instrument. I hadn’t gotten a full sense of this from any recording until the arrival of the P20. I’d heard it, but it was never entirely convincing.

The P20’s ability to reproduce the acoustics of the venues of live recordings was also precise. With the Bach recording, the Hegel presented with ease the acoustic of St. Martin’s Church, in Basel, Switzerland. When I compared the sound with photos from the recording session and my broad experience of the sounds of church sanctuaries, it sounded accurate. Listening in dim lighting or with my eyes closed fostered the illusion that I was in the church with the musicians. But even with the physical reality of my own room clearly in front of me, the illusion of hearing a larger space detached from the speakers and flowing back away from the seating position seemed very real. The soundstage didn’t sound confined to the space between the speakers. With recordings of higher resolution and/or quality, the soundstages presented were those of the space where the recording was made.

With multitrack studio recordings and electronically created music, the P20 presented appropriate widths and separations, from left to right. Pete Townshend’s White City: A Novel (16/44.1 AIFF, Atco) is a cleanly recorded studio album with good separation among instruments. Townshend’s voice and acoustic guitar were clear, and had proper feel, in “I Am Secure.” The P20 wasn’t forward in its presentation of this track; rather, it was neutral to slightly laid-back. If there was depth or space in a recording, I heard it through the P20.

Any conversation about deep bass from a stereo system oftentimes revolves around the strengths of gargantuan, solid-state class-A amplifiers with their imposing physical size and prodigious power output and consumption. My reference power amp, a solid-state Audio Research D300, is a solid performer, but with only 160Wpc into 8 ohms, in no way is it likely to win a high-strength competition. Adding the P20 to the system made me question just how dependent good bass is on high-powered amps. The Hegel’s low end was very detailed and strong. Kick drums were much more prominent than I’m used to. In “Crucify,” from Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes (16/44.1 AIFF, Atlantic), I felt the deep drums much more viscerally. They weren’t more forward -- rather, they were more accurately represented and much more tactile, as drums are in person.

All deep sounds were very well resolved by the P20. There was no smearing of low pitches, which often makes music feel more muffled and gives the impression that low-pitched instruments are being played from behind a heavy curtain. The actual physicalities of big sounds of low pitch were evident through the P20. Rather than hearing that these sounds were deep, I actually felt them in the rest of my body. This experience felt natural and not electronically generated, as you’d expect to hear at a concert of acoustic or PA-reinforced music. The big, deep, electronic drum and bass-pedal sections of “Nova,” from VNV Nation’s Automatic (16/44.1 AIFF, Anachron America), were very well reproduced, and at high volumes struck me in the chest, as they would at a very loud concert with an extremely clean and clear PA system. I’ve always been able to play my system loudly; with the Hegel P20, the sound and the physical feeling of the low bass were more authentic.

Comparisons

During the time I had the Hegel P20 in my system, two other preamplifiers were available to me. My longtime reference preamp, an Audio Research LS15, did a bit of time in and out of the system feeding its amplifier cousin, the D300. The LS15’s sound had the usual tube nuances: a little plump in the midrange, in a beautiful way, as is often the case with tube gear. I was surprised by the P20’s midrange -- it outperformed the LS15 in the sweetest range of the LS15's capabilities. The Hegel was more accurate than the ARC, but without sounding thinner. The LS15’s bass performance has been a point of modest concern to me over the years -- assuming that the D300 was doing its job properly. My B&W 801 speakers, with their 12” woofers and big cabinets, should have considerable punch, but really didn’t until the P20 joined the system. The LS15 sounded thinner and definitely weaker than the P20 in the deep bass.

I’ve owned the LS15 for many years, and am very familiar and have been very happy with its sound in that time. However, the P20 immediately displaced it to second chair. I’m so satisfied with the improvement in sound that I anticipate replacing the LS15 with a P20. The P20 represents for me an advancement in technology and sound, at a price similar to the LS15’s. I imagine that the newer technologies of silicon-germanium transistors and “high frequency components that were not originally designed for audio” mentioned on Hegel’s website play a role in the quality of sound relative to the LS15.

Another comparison was made possible by my recent purchase of Benchmark Media Systems’ excellent DAC2 HGC DAC-preamplifier. The DAC2 HGC was recently reviewed on GoodSound! by Hans, who had many kind words for it. I agree with his assessment, and heartily recommend the Benchmark to anyone who needs a reasonably priced DAC, and even more heartily to anyone on a budget who’s looking to move to separates. Comparing the P20 and the DAC2 HGC brings up the issue of whether or not one needs a standalone preamp when many of today’s DACs can run direct into an amplifier without audible loss of digital resolution. Keep in mind that the DAC2 HGC has analog as well as digital inputs -- it’s a true preamp in the traditional sense, not just a DAC with volume control.

 
When I compared the P20 with the Benchmark’s preamp section, the Hegel’s larger soundstages and greater accuracy bested the Benchmark. The P20’s sound was bigger, and tonally more natural than the DAC2 HGC’s. The sound of the Benchmark was in proportion with its physically smaller size -- it sounded a bit flatter and created smaller soundstages than the Hegel. Higher-pitched sounds and transients sounded slightly more sharp-edged and less natural through the Benchmark when compared to the full size, natural sound of the P20. Adding cost to the debate does not make for a more difficult choice. The P20 has a beautiful, natural sound that I feel justifies its place in a system built around separates, and is a reason to consider that step if you are able.

I recently wrote about the value of integrated equipment and some things to be considered in moving in that direction. By outperforming a superb integrated DAC-preamplifier, the Hegel P20 provides a strong argument against integration, despite the proliferation of cables and added circuit interfaces it requires. I take for granted here that the Hegel’s preamp section costs significantly more to make than the Benchmark’s. Being a device that serves one purpose rather than two is partially why the P20 sounds superior.

Conclusions

Quality audio equipment requires substantial knowledge, design, and manufacturing prowess. Hegel Music Systems demonstrates all of these with their recently released P20 preamplifier, which continues their tradition of high-quality sound from well-built equipment at reasonable prices.

I tend not to read an audio component’s promotional materials until I’ve finished assessing its sound, so that I’m not predisposed to hear what the manufacturer wants me to hear. But as I finished listening to the P20, I took a look at www.hegel.com and found the following description of the P20: “an open and natural sounding preamplifier at a very competitive price.”

I’ve used the words real and natural interchangeably here, and have discovered that I agree with Hegel’s description of the P20. I like that there’s no hyperbole on their website. Self-aggrandizement is not becoming.

The Hegel P20 was neutral in its sound. It allowed for beautifully clear separation of sounds, voices, and instruments; and the vivid depth of its bass was a revelation. This preamplifier allowed singers and instruments on the best recordings to sound natural and almost fully real. The buyer gets far better sound than the P20’s price suggests.

. . . 

he Hegel H160 had no business sounding this pristine, neutral, commanding, and, above all else, unobtrusive...... it achieves an enticing synthesis of sound, combining precise imaging with an extremely relaxed and byssine sound.
Jacob Heilbrunn

REVIEW SUMMARY: the clarity of the Hegel also meant that it captured the rhyth mic drive of the Cheatham/Payton ensemble with estimable fi- delity. There was a jaunty quality to the music, an ability to clearly reproduce the interplay among the instrumentalists, that endowed the entire album with a real sense of drama. You could clearly sense the emotional buildup on the song “Stardust,” (which the liner notes indicate Cheatham liked to call “Stardust Rhapsody”). On “Save It Pretty Mama,” the sonority of Jack Meheu’s clarinet was hauntingly plangent. What all this suggests is that the Hegel was getting superlative microdynamics that create the illusion for that, after all, is what we’re talking about of a live performance, where you’re drawn emotionally into the music enough to suspend disbelief. That is what the Hegel H160 did for me. As a trumpet player myself, I became engrossed by each trumpeter’s technique, tone, and, at bottom, imagination. 

If you’re looking for an integrated amplifier that doesn’t reside in the Himalayan region of audio pricing, then the Hegel fully deserves an audition. To be sure, tube-lovers would be better advised to consider something like the Jadis. But the Hegel of- fers superbly linear, coherent, and engrossing musical playback. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to detect that this is a very special piece of equipment. 

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Sherlock Holmes receives a note explaining that a gentleman wishes to visit that evening to consult him about an urgent matter. “This is indeed a mystery,” Dr. Watson says. “What do you imagine that it means?” Holmes responds, “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” 

It’s an observation whose force came home to me as I listened to the Hegel H160 integrated amplifier. At NZ$4,995 incl tax (about the same price as some of the power cables in my system), it would be easy to assume that the Hegel H160 would badly compromise the sound of my pricey Wilson Alexandria XLF loudspeakers. But it didn’t. The Hegel, like a lot of reasonably price gear on the market, provides a potent reminder that nothing can be a bigger mistake than to theorize before you’ve actually heard a piece of gear, allowing your presuppositions to, as Holmes quite rightly put it, fit the facts to your theory, rather than approaching new audio gear in a spirit of impartial inquiry. 

Much as with the remarkable Jadis DA88S integrated ampli fier whose price, by the way, was recently reduced, perhaps as a result of the strong U.S. dollar—I recently reviewed in TAS, I was quite smitten by the Hegel, but in a very different way. Where the Jadis floored me with its superb dynamics and color saturation of timbres, the Hegel brings a different set of strengths to the table, and at an even lower price point. I couldn’t help thinking as I listened to it that the Hegel H160 had no business sounding this pristine, neutral, commanding, and, above all else, unobtrusive. 

Auditioning it helped me to appreciate why earlier Hegel units have regularly received such positive notices in TAS, particularly from my esteemed colleague Kirk Midtskog. I’m almost tempted to say that, in the true Hegelian spirit, it achieves an enticing synthesis of sound, combining precise imaging with an extremely relaxed and byssine sound. 

Hegel itself places a premium on the technology that it calls SoundEngine to reduce distortion in its equipment. It’s not clear to me exactly what “SoundEngine” means, and Hegel itself is rather coy about the technology, though the company does emphasize that SoundEngine doesn’t employ any global negative feedback. Instead, Hegel talks about a “local error”-cancelling system in the audio stag- es that is supposed to produce a purer sound. [See RH’s interview with Hegel founder Bent Holter in Issue 223 for details on Sound-Engine.—Ed.] 

Certainly, the company has kept the unit itself pretty simple. On the front panel there are two knobs, one on the left side to select the source, the other on the right to control the volume. Most of the action takes place on the rear of the unit, where you’ll find a variety of digital and analog inputs—as well a set of balanced inputs. The H160 also has the ability to stream music wirelessly. 

Why did I use the word “unobtrusive” to describe the Hegel? This might sound like a case of damning with faint praise, but it isn’t. The overall presentation was unobtrusive in the sense that, while there was plenty of grip, there was also a relaxed sense of musical flow. Nothing sounded etched, forced, compressed, or grainy this last a trait I strongly associate with gear at this price point from an earlier age. Believe me: If there were some nasties this integrated amplifier produced, they would’ve come through loud and clear with the likes of the dCS Vivaldi at the front end and the Wilsons at the back (with Nordost Odin speaker cables in between). Now you might say the rest of this system consti- tuted overkill, but it also allowed me to hear, to the fullest extent possible, what the Hegel was capable of. Which is a lot. 

On a disc that’s been in frequent rotation in my system, the inimitable Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems, I was instantly and favorably impressed by the capacious size of the soundstage that the Hegel produced. Cohen’s gravelly voice was accurately ren- dered, with each syllable clearly enunciated even as cymbal hits clearly resonated in the background. There was no foreshorten- ing of the soundstage here. There was no smearing, no blurring, pretty much no nothing to disturb the illusion that Cohen had decided to pop by for an afternoon in my listening room. 

Another thing that has to be said is that, while the Hegel likes to play music, it isn’t playing around. Which is to say that its bass definition is stellar. On the Cohen cut “You Got Me Singin’,” for example, the thump and precision of the bass lines were emphatic and linear, as they should have been. 

At the same time, the Hegel skillfully unraveled more compli- cated musical passages with aplomb. In this regard, it performed very well indeed on the SACD From the Imperial Court, which con- sists of Renaissance music composed by Spanish and Flemish polyphonists for the House of Hapsburg. This Harmonia Mundi disc is exceedingly well recorded (no surprise there!); still, there was no doubting that the Hegel did a marvelous job of separating individual voices as well as capturing dynamic distinctions with great fidelity. I was particularly impressed by the luminously reproduced pianissimos in the treble on the song “Magnificat primi toni,” composed by Nicolas Gombert. The Hegel offered a sense that the sound was ascending into the ether with ease and delicacy. 

That sense of delicacy also came through on one of my favor- ites, Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton [Verve]. On the cut “How Deep Is The Ocean?” many of the virtues of the Hegel were immediately on display. The trumpets never became pinched or abrasive; rather, their blat was lifelike, and the articulation, par- ticularly the way Cheatham likes to slur, bend, and twist notes, was very apparent. Nor was there any wiggle room on pitch definition. At the outset of “Jeepers Creepers,” for example, the Hegel 160 nailed the opening trumpet flourish, which emerged with a bang. 

The clarity of the Hegel also meant that it captured the rhyth mic drive of the Cheatham/Payton ensemble with estimable fi- delity. There was a jaunty quality to the music, an ability to clearly reproduce the interplay among the instrumentalists, that endowed the entire album with a real sense of drama. You could clearly sense the emotional buildup on the song “Stardust,” (which the liner notes indicate Cheatham liked to call “Stardust Rhapsody”). On “Save It Pretty Mama,” the sonority of Jack Meheu’s clarinet was hauntingly plangent. 

What all this suggests is that the Hegel was getting superlative microdynamics that create the illusion for that, after all, is what we’re talking about of a live performance, where you’re drawn emotionally into the music enough to suspend disbelief. That is what the Hegel H160 did for me. As a trumpet player myself, I became engrossed by each trumpeter’s technique, tone, and, at bottom, imagination. 

Let me say clearly that I’m not suggesting that this beauty of- fers performance on par with the big boys at five or ten times its price. The Ypsilon SET 100 Ultimate amplifiers, particularly after extensive upgrades performed by Demetris Baklavas in March, ascend into the empyrean sphere of musical reproduction. The Boulder 2050 amplifiers, which clock in at close to $100,000, are also in a different sphere. 

What I am saying, however, is that it’s not like I was discom- bobulated by the sound upon inserting the Hegel. Quite the con- trary. The quality of the Hegel’s reproduction of music was most impressive, particularly when you take into account that it is, by high-end standards, a real value. 

If you’re looking for an integrated amplifier that doesn’t reside in the Himalayan region of audio pricing, then the Hegel fully deserves an audition. To be sure, tube-lovers would be better advised to consider something like the Jadis. But the Hegel of- fers superbly linear, coherent, and engrossing musical playback. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to detect that this is a very special piece of equipment. 

A DAC for audiophiles who prize performance above cosmetics or bells 'n' whistles......Hegel, my check is on its way. I'm buyin' this one!
Grg Weaver

REVIEW SUMMARY: Hegel has constructed an exceptional gift for the audiophile who prizes performance above cosmetics or bells and whistles. While I love a sexy, classically sculpted machine whose looks alone can instill a sense of pride of ownership as much as the next audiophile, as a music lover, I have no problem accepting a solid, modest looking device that places exemplary performance above mere cosmetics and a myriad of buttons. This unpretentious little DAC punches well above its weight-class, making it a clear contender in the middle-lightweight division. While you clearly won't mistake this splendid performer for an über-DAC from the likes of Esoteric or Berkeley, you just may find, as I did, that it runs quite comfortably with some much bigger dogs... Hegel, my check is on its way. I'm buyin' this one!

EXTENDED REVIEW: Norwegian audio manufacturer Hegel has established itself as a serious player in the high performance audio world with its remarkable lineup of integrated, pre, and power amplifiers. When I learned that they were introducing a new DAC, to bridge the performance between their $1200 entry-level HD11 DAC and their engaging $2500 flagship DAC, the HD25 at $1400 would be warmly welcomed. Another eye-opener is the Hegel HD25 is their first DAC to accommodate DSD files. Naturally I was more than just a little curious to give it a spin.

Technical Details

The Hegel HD12 is housed in a compact, unassuming, all black chassis measuring some 2.35" x 8.3" x 10.24" (HxWxD) and weighs just 6.6 lbs. The front panel sports only the Hegel logo above the large (3.75" x 7/8") illuminated display, both centered, and a 1/4" headphone jack to their right. The back panel is organized categorically; analog outputs, digital inputs, power management. From left to right, we find a set of single-ended (RCA) outputs, a set of balanced (XLR) outputs, one coaxial input, two optical inputs, a mode selector switch for the USB input management, one USB input, then the fuse and power rocker switch set above the IEC socket.

The USB mode selector switch offers two positions; A (up), for plug & play mode up to 96kHz/24-bit playback, and position B (down), allows for 192kHz/24-bit andnative DSD64. Position B requires the installation of the ASIO drivers (downloadable from the Hegel HD12 Support website) to allow for this more versatile playback. Further, position B permits truly native DSD64 playback, not DSD over PCM (DoP). DSD over PCM packs the DSD file into a PCM-like signal for bit streaming. This works in a similar way to how AC3 is packed into a PCM-like signal for S/PDIF surround sound output. This is a real advantage for a DAC in this surprisingly affordable price range.

Included is a smallish, flat, bubble-button type remote, measuring 1.5" wide by 3 3/8" tall and 0,.25" thick, with six rows of three buttons each, and is a multi-function remote that can control other Hegel gear as well. As such, the top four rows of buttons have no effect on the HD12 whatsoever. Row five offers a Skip Back, Pause, and Skip Forward button that work with many media players or computers; in fact, they were functional with my HAL MS-2 Music Server running JRiver Media Center 20. The very bottom row (row six) controls the input selection (cycle only, no direct selection) and the volume (+ or -) on the HD12.

To say that the HD12 is sparsely featured would be the severest of understatements. As I've mentioned, other than being able to cycle through inputs (on power up the HD12 auto defers to the last used input) and control the volume from the remote, you are pretty much a bystander with this DAC. It has no provisions for displaying the word size or bit depth of the actively streaming files, no polarity inversion function, no display settings, no active streaming indicator, literally nothing else. In fact, the only feedback you get from the large blue digital display on the front panel is the input selection (USB, CO.1, OP.1, or OP.2), or the volume setting (0 to 100). Not being a company to follow anyone else's lead, the Chipset at the heart of the HD12 is the AKM4399 from Asahi Kasei Microdevices. While the ESS Sabre and Burr-Brown chipsets are enjoying their day in the sun, AKM devices are what you find under the hood of many pricier DACs from the likes of Esoteric Audio and is a favorite of DIY'ers and Modder's the world 'round.

Digitus Maximus

Bass is wonderfully articulate, deftly demarcated, and well extended. Its ability to render pitch definition and tonal texture go well beyond what I have come to expect from DACs in this sub $2500 range, and is really quite well done. Listening to the kick drum from the 1994 Eagle's reunion release, Hell Freezes Over (Geffen) was remarkably analog-like, with excellent speed and control. The kick drum on "Nihavent" from Joël Grare's 2008 release, Paris - Istanbul – Shanghai (Alpha) was created with such weight, such visceral impact, that I was inextricably drawn into the event. Large stringed instruments like the double bass on "Night Train" from Christian McBride's 1994 Getting' To It (Verve), or the sonorously reverberant double bass from Gary Karr's 1989 release, The Spirit of Koussevitzky (VQR) playing Reinhold Glière's "Prelude, Op. 32, No. 1," are recreated with such bloom, such body and palpability, that it could easily have been convinced that I was listing to an analog front end.

Mids are richly vibrant, fairly replete in tonal color and texture, and are created with a bloom and body that is, again, somewhat above and beyond what I've come to expect from a DAC in this price range. The result is that you get voices (human and instrumental) that are rendered with nice body, yet have a large helping of tonal purity, while being rich in their timber. The palpability of Johnny Cash's distinctive and brooding voice from "Bird on a Wire" from his 1994 AmericanRecordings(American) was downright spooky real! The vibrancy of his voice is closely matched by the body and lucidity of his solo guitar from that same piece. In this regard, the HD12 really seems to knock on the doors of some rather exceptional gear from the US$3000 to US$5000 range.

High frequency reproduction is an unexpected treat. The bandwidth above 3.5 kHz is presented with surprisingly analog-like ease and a sense of air, affording an atypical effortlessness. While the characteristic hardness and unwelcomed artifacts that routinely accompany digital playback are present, they are significantly diminished when compared to other DACs in this price range. The inability to present the upper-most registers in a truly natural manner, and with no vestige of grain or glare, is typically one of the biggest failings of DACs in general, and of those in the sub $2500 price range in particular. It is often an obstacle that is quite challenging for such affordable digital equipment to transcend. Yet here the HD12 makes remarkable progress over its competition.

To get an idea of just how articulate the Hegel is, I listened to "Sultan's of Swing" from the Dire Straits 1978 freshman eponymous outing. With the HD12 in place, the clarity and articulation of the ride cymbal work was refreshingly audible, with little of the typical "whitish" character one normally has to accept from DACs in this price range. I honestly cannot name another DAC at anywhere near this price that can come this close to what that ride cymbal sounds like when playing my original vinyl pressing. Another area where the HD12 truly excels is in its ability to resolve inner detail and microdynamic shading. I'm not describing those take-your-head-off, etched or shrill high frequency artifacts some mistake for resolution, but rather, I'm talking about its uncanny ability to differentiate and clearly present the subtleties of fingering on key or fret boards, valving on a trumpet or sax, or the finesse applied to lightly and adroitly brushed drum skins. This heightened degree of resolve allows for clearer, more direct communication of the artist's intent when creating the music, and therefore leads to augmented involvement and greater emotional impact for us, the listener.

Subtle noises, things like an audience member cough or the house air conditioning, are rendered so clearly that the subconscious is not distracted by them, allowing for a much more engaging and mentally unencumbered musical experience. The mind easily identifies such sounds as what they are and is not sidetracked trying to decipher them. Without this remarkable ability to clearly present such cues, these sounds are not readily discernible, forcing the brain to try to identify them, thereby drawing undue and undesirable attention to itself, distracting from the flow and message of the musical composition. This combination of overachieving musical resolution and bloom for its class allow for a remarkably earnest soundstage size, left to right and front to back, slightly more so than vertically, as well as surprisingly solid image specificity and size. I was repeatedly surprised by how successfully this DAC accomplished the illusion of recreating a live event in my room, pulling me completely into the performance.

Let The Music Sing!

All these benefits add up to give us a DAC that is a clear cut above the sonic's offered by most other DACs in the sub $2500 price range. Its ability to repeatedly engage me with whatever it was playing, regardless of format, from 16-bit/44.1kHz ripped Red Book CD files, all the way up to DSD64 files, left me with a unexpected sense of admiration. This DAC offers the most unfailingly musical performance I've yet heard below the US$2500 mark, and honestly, it handily surpassed the performance of my previous US$2000 reference DAC.

As I've highlighted, the copious feature deficit of the Hegel HD12 is more than offset by its remarkable sonic acumen. While the chassis and feature set are austere, the music this little DAC recreates is consistently absorbing and vibrant. It successfully combines an unexpectedly smooth broadband presentation, atypical resolution and focus, remarkably open and effortless high frequency performance, fast and deep low frequency response, surprisingly honest tonal color and body, and a pulse elevating sense of pace, rhythm, and timing. I don't know about you, but I've heard hundreds of DACs under the US$2500 price range. In my experience, this level of musical engagement is virtually impossible to find in any other DAC I've heard for this low an investment. Hegel has elevated the bar here as this is one exceedingly musical DAC for the asking price.

Hegel has constructed an exceptional gift for the audiophile who prizes performance above cosmetics or bells and whistles. While I love a sexy, classically sculpted machine whose looks alone can instill a sense of pride of ownership as much as the next audiophile, as a music lover, I have no problem accepting a solid, modest looking device that places exemplary performance above mere cosmetics and a myriad of buttons. This unpretentious little DAC punches well above its weight-class, making it a clear contender in the middle-lightweight division. While you clearly won't mistake this splendid performer for an über-DAC from the likes of Esoteric or Berkeley, you just may find, as I did, that it runs quite comfortably with some much bigger dogs... Hegel, my check is on its way. I'm buyin' this one!

............. Grg Weaver

That Hegel succeeded in H80, is an understatement......
Lasse Svendsen -

SUMMARY (translated from Norwegian): Dynamic and engaging  - Super Dissolved and balanced sound  - Very good DAC

That Hegel succeeded in H80, is an understatement. It builds on the same basis as the already successful H70, but the sequel is a better repeater on all counts. Not only sounds the better it engage to a greater extent than most we've tested integrated in this price range. The flexible integrated DAC-one makes it perfect in a modern hi-fi system with only digital audio sources. Hegel H80 has everything it takes to sell in spades, it is difficult to see why one should be disappointed.

EXTENDED REVIEW (translated from Norwegian): Even long after the music was digitised, the trend has almost stood still. Today's hi-fi is still analog, from the CD player to the speakers. Perhaps it may seem that the industry resists, but it is more about rational thinking.
 
To date, few managed to make great-sounding digital amps, but the access to digital music on the Internet and via streaming, has exploded. The solution has been small DACs (digital converting), which easily connects to the - analog - amplifier you have.
 
A simple and flexible solution that makes it possible to connect digital audio sources to the system via a small dac. The disadvantage is that one has to visit the DAC one to switch audio source. That may be your game console, cable TV receiver, the TV, an Apple TV - and a laptop. As one user to play music from Spotify, Wimp or iTunes.
 
Therefore, several amplifiers emerged with DAC built. Allowing for better user friendliness. When you switch between audio sources with the amplifier's remote control, release an extra box in the plant, and can potentially get even better sound from your digital audio sources.
 
Norwegian Hegel is among the few to date have replaced all its models with amplifiers that have DAC one built. The smallest of them, Hegel H70 is an analog 70 EW amplifier with USB, optical and coaxial audio input on the back. An amplifier that is so great-sounding and engaging, it was named this year reinforces the year it came.
 
Now is the successor here. The new H80 are all ingredients replaced, and it has gotten a little more power, a new DAC with five inputs and, finally, a display area.
 
High-end light 
 
Since H70 was introduced, there has been a lot of processor development, and H80 has a new digital converter. It works with a 32-bit digital filter, 24-bit conversion at up to 192 kHz sample rate to keep kvantiseringstøy away music signal. USB port can support up to 24/96. Pretty state-of-the-art for an integrated amplifier to £ 10,000.
 
While the DAC one in H80 is a variant of separate Hegel H11 DAC, the analog amplifier circuit is a light-version of Hegel's massive integrated H300 to £ 30,000. Naturally simpler components, power supplies and with much less power. Approximately 80 W per channel. Not the large increase relative to H70, but a far better power supply and output stage, to give H80 even better sound quality, according to Hegel.
 
Shocking fresh and potent 
 
After a few weeks of the amplifier on the test bench, there is no doubt that H80 plays better than H70. That still is an excellent amplifier, and costs a few hundred Euro less than H80. With analog audio sources, I noticed that H80 had almost the same steel control in the bass as H300. A hard cash and bass, with tremendous range in frequency, and better dynamic contrast. Compared with H70, the sound is even more transparent, and particularly deeper.
 
With a wider stereo perspective in addition, created the H80 a more three-dimensional sound. With warmer and fuller sound, which I subjectively found quite seductive. I felt that music had multiple timbres and it gave particular strings, percussive stringed instruments and especially vowels, scary lifelike sound.
 
It does not make much higher than H70-one I compared. It just seemed so because the bass is more potent and dynamic H80. I also perceived distortion at high volume, as lower H80, which gave me cleaner, more refined sound, even when I connected to the efficient and happy playing floor speakers McIntosh XR100.
 
The sound from the amp's DAC, when I plugged into a MacBook Air via USB input, became crystal clear and the music sounded shockingly fresh. Lossless files with, among others, Alison Krauss and Union Station, sounding almost as dynamic and sparkling clear as the original CD. The difference is so marginal that I can easily live with your Mac connected Hegel amplifier most of the time. It has no ethernet connection, let alone wi-fi on board, but as you can read in a separate box, there's an affordable solution that provides streaming right to Hegel amplifier one optical digital input.
 
The sexton home run 
 
That Hegel succeeded in H80, is an understatement. It builds on the same basis as the already successful H70, but the sequel is a better repeater on all counts. Not only sounds the better it engage to a greater extent than most we've tested integrated in this price range. The flexible integrated DAC-one makes it perfect in a modern hi-fi system with only digital audio sources. Hegel H80 has everything it takes to sell in spades, it is difficult to see why one should be disappointed.
........Lasse Svendsen
The H20 is not just another amplifier, cooked from the common recipe," he said. "It incorporates specific technology, where the SoundEngine is the most important. (1) It reduces all types of distortion. (2) It increases damping factor significantly...
Michael Wright

REVIEW SUMMARY: When I began to listen to the Hegel H20, I smiled -- this was going to be fun. I’d listened to amps that I’d borrowed or reviewed that cost several times the H20’s price but couldn’t touch it in terms of overall performance. I was becoming jaded by the escalating costs of audio gear.

But here is a real-world component at an honest price that seems to offer a level of performance that exceeds what you expect to get at the price. This was so refreshing. In the time it spent in my system the H20 gave me no trouble, and was well behaved and completely reliable. There was no humming, no ticks or pops or turn-on/off thumps. Its build quality and finish have understated elegance. And its 200Wpc drew the very best from my speakers without breaking a sweat.

It’s refreshing to come across a company that makes affordable gear that competes head-to-head with the expensive offerings from better-known names. I recommend it as highly as almost anything else I’ve ever reviewed.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Editor Jeff Fritz was making sure that the audio gear coming my way would hold my interest and enthusiasm, so I looked forward to my next assignment. When he offered me the H20 power amplifier from Norwegian manufacturer Hegel Music Systems, my face said "That’s great!" even as I thought "What did he say?" I had to think -- where had I heard of Hegel? I pulled out photos I’d taken at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, found the images of their room, and remembered my experience there. There was nothing particularly memorable about the demo -- Hegel had a very basic room with a stand, a source, an amplifier, a preamplifier, and a couple pairs of speakers. Not that their demo was bad or unmusical -- it’s just that nothing about it stood out. But I figured I’d see where the experience took me. Soon, after an exchange of e-mails with Ben Gosvig, Hegel’s National Sales Manager for North America, an H20 arrived and my Hegel experience began.

Inside and outside

The Hegel H20 is a 200Wpc, fully balanced, solid-state amplifier ($5750 USD). It came securely double-boxed, and wrapped in an oversize plastic bag to keep its finish safe. Also included were an owner’s manual and power cord. The easy-to-follow manual is pretty basic, as is the cord -- thick and black, it’s about what you’d expect to accompany a power amp. The first thing I noticed about the H20 were its top and side panels of bead-blasted, anodized aluminum in Pearl Silver. They felt silky-smooth yet solid, and the amp had some weight to it -- not the impression given by the photos on Hegel’s website. The H20 looked and felt a lot more impressive in real life than, for instance, Parasound’s Halo JC 1, with which I seem to compare every similarly colored amplifier. The H20’s front panel, as smooth as its top and sides, contains 3.3 pounds of aluminum, which adds to the H20’s rigidity.

That front panel is basic and understated. There’s a large On/Off pushbutton, above it a small blue LED that lights up when the amplifier is powered up. Other than the Hegel logo above that, that’s all she wrote -- nothing busy or audacious. Likewise, the rear panel is populated with only the basics: at the far left and right are left and right sets of inputs, each set including one single-ended and one balanced, with a toggle for switching between them. On the inner sides of these are the left and right sets of speaker connectors. One nice touch comprised the small plastic inserts filling the space where banana plugs would normally go, to prevent dust from getting inside the connectors. At the center of the rear panel is an IEC inlet -- you can use your choice of AC cord. The H20 lacks external heatsinks; to dissipate heat, the top and bottom plates are perforated along the edges from front to back. The H20 rarely got more than lukewarm during use, and that was only after prolonged listening sessions during which I drove it hard.

The first thing that caught my attention about the H20’s interior was the large transformer sitting in the middle. There seems to be a lot of technology crammed into the H20, some of which I was able to get Bent Holter, one of the engineers who worked on the design, to explain to me:

The H20 is not just another amplifier, cooked from the common recipe," he said. "It incorporates specific technology, where the SoundEngine is the most important. "The SoundEngine holds a US patent and does two specific things: 1) It reduces all types of distortion. Distortion blurs the soundstage and hides the details. It can even make amps sound harsh and unpleasant. 2) It increases damping factor. Damping factor describes the amplifier’s ability to start and stop bass drivers in loudspeakers. Good damping factor equals well defined and rhythmic bass. The H20’s damping factor is about ten times the industry average."

Another design feature is the H20’s FET-technology input stages. Hegel uses carefully hand-matched FET transistors in a push-pull configuration. Unusually, they use only two devices per phase. Reportedly, this completely eliminates higher-order harmonic distortion. The claimed audible result is more detail in the higher frequencies and, at the same time, a smoother, more pleasant sound.

Hegel designs their components to include advanced technology to reduce the need for very expensive, specialized components that might not otherwise improve the sound but would dramatically increase the price. In other words, they make design decisions based on the outcome, not just because of a fancy part with a famous name. Whether or not they’ve succeeded in the H20 would be revealed in the listening. One thing is for sure: If, at the H20’s price of $5750, Hegel came even close to what they were trying to achieve, it would be a real victory.

Sound

As I normally do with electronic components, I set my CD player on repeat, turned the volume down low, and let the H20 break in for a few days before doing any serious listening. That done, I immediately noticed that the H20 sounded coherent, tonally neutral, and seamless -- no part of its sound drew more attention to itself than another. The H20’s ability to replicate musical information and reveal inner details made my listening much more enjoyable. Whether the music sounded warm and sweet or lean and detailed was not determined by H20, but rather by the equipment up the chain from it or by the recording itself.

The H20’s upper-frequency performance was quite revealing -- as if I were listening through a window that had been thrown open. As I sat by the sash, I could hear all the sounds from my neighborhood. All of the detail and air was obvious, but it never sounded etched or bright. Transient response was quite fast and lifelike. The strumming of guitar strings or the popping of chords on an upright bass, for instance, sounded realistic. Voices sounded tonally natural and nonfatiguing throughout the review period. Both micro- and macrodynamics were delivered realistically scaled. The H20’s handlings of bass depth and dynamic range were truly awe-inspiring. The lower frequencies appeared to have more extension and power than I’m used to hearing, while music with wide dynamic range was impactful and grabbed my attention. The H20 had a solid grip on the woofers of my Meadowlark Heron i’s, and gave me some of the better bass performance I’ve heard from these speakers. Performers were rendered with a great sense of presence and liveliness. The H20 reproduced a wide, spacious soundstage with good height and depth, and images were solid and three-dimensional.

The Kenny Werner Trio’s Live at Visiones (CD, Concorde Jazz 4675) is a wonderfully recorded album of good performances, with all of the jazz-club ambience you could want. The H20 did a wonderful job of giving me the feeling of being in Visiones that night, with all of the hall ambience and patrons’ sounds being easy to hear and follow. Pianist Werner, bassist Ratzo Harris, and drummer Tom Rainey perform intensely on this disc, making such standards as "Fall" and "Blue Train" all their own -- the club was charged with excitement, and the H20 allowed me to feel the energy as if I were present.

The same happened with Diana Krall’s Live in Paris (CD, Verve 440065), a wonderful album not only for her singing and pianism, but also for the supporting musicians, headliners in their own rights. The H20 did a first-rate job of conveying the joyous mood and vigor of the audience, who demonstrated their obvious appreciation of Krall’s efforts with thunderous applause. With the H20 in the system, that applause came over me in waves and seemed to energize my entire listening room. More important was the Hegel’s effortless ability to place Krall in my room with a feeling of palpability, particularly with "Maybe You’ll Be There" and "’S Wonderful."

With In Full Swing, by Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing Trio (CD, Odyssey 87880), the H20 rendered the music with a lot of naturalness and realism. My favorite tracks on this disc feature female singers, and Jane Monheit’s voice in "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Misty" came through as lush and sweet. The amazing speed and articulation of Wynton Marsalis’s trumpet playing in "Tiger Rag" sounded lively, inspired, and involving. Another treat here was how the H20 allowed me to enjoy O’Connor’s violin tone, and the intensity with which he plays.

Danny Caron’s Good Hands (CD, Danny Caron Music) is full of Caron’s jazzy, bluesy guitar strumming and plucking, which the H20 put across with speed and accuracy and no softening of attack. I could distinctly hear Caron popping the strings -- they came through with realistic transients. Another memorable treat from this album is Jim Pugh playing the organ. It may be Caron’s disc, but Pugh puts his stamp on the piece with his strong, driving bass performance. The H20’s considerable low-end performance was on display here -- the bass was tight, extended, and tuneful.

The Tin Hat Trio’s eclectic and very enjoyable The Rodeo Eroded (CD, Ropeadope 93134) is a well-recorded mix of instrumental styles and textures. The interplay among the guitar, violin, accordion, and a smattering of harmonica, in the flavors of Parisian, Southwestern, and bluegrass, makes for an interesting mix of sounds. With "Willow Weep for Me" and "Manmoth," the H20 did an exemplary job of allowing this grab-bag of sounds and styles to remain tonally unique, the players’ timbres rich and full. Being able to follow the individual instrumental lines without having to strain to keep up with which instruments were being played adding to my enjoyment, and was one of the Hegel’s strong points.

The H20 also did a good job with classical piano music. One of my favorite discs for hearing how well the intricacies of the piano can be reproduced is Earl Wild performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1, with Anatole Fistoulari conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (CD, Chesky CD013). With the H20 in the system, Wild had me captivated, the music coming across as rich and resonant. I could clearly hear the attack on the keys and the decay of the notes. The H20 also did a good job of conveying the emotion of the piece. The orchestral accompaniment was strong and powerful at the end of the first movement, then became light and more relaxed toward the middle of the work before coming to a powerful conclusion that ended on a gentle note. The H20 had no difficulty reproducing the dynamic swings of the orchestra, going from laid-back and quiet to loud and forceful. All the while, the low-end performance was exhilarating, being simultaneously impactful and deep.

Comparisons

Compared to some of the other amplifiers I had on hand, the Hegel H20 was not only one of the better-sounding models but also the least expensive. The Mactone MH-300B, a 30Wpc tube amplifier ($10,000), has a very nice midrange with the ability to flesh out the performers on a wide, deep soundstage. The H20 was every bit as good, and in many respects bettered the Mactone in those parameters, which it’s known to be strong in. Not only that, the H20 had noticeably more extension at the frequency extremes, and enough power to make dynamics sound natural and realistic. I felt that the Hegel’s build quality was much higher, too.

A bit closer in performance to the H20 were Audio Valve’s Baldur 70s. These 70W tubed monoblocks are very well made, pleasant to look at, and mate well with my Meadowlark Heron i’s. The Baldurs possess all the strengths associated with tubes, but also have an extended, airy top end. Overall, the Baldur 70s are very musical sounding, and for $9000/pair provide good performance, especially for their power range. The Baldurs were slightly airier up top than the H20, but didn’t have as much detail or as fast a transient response. The H20, with its 200Wpc, was able to do a better job of driving the Meadowlarks at different volume levels and with different types of music. Other than in the bass, the Baldur 70s and H20 weren’t that far apart, especially with jazz and some light classical music. But when I switched to pop music with heavily synthesized bass, and full-scale orchestral works, the H20 proved its mettle with ample bass control, impact, and extension, and was much more fulfilling to listen to.

Next, I compared the Hegel H20 to the XLH M-2000 600W monoblocks ($25,000/pair). This comparison was sonically the closest of the three because of the M-2000s’ sheer power. Amazingly, I found that the H20 gave up nothing to the XLHs in terms of power and control, especially in light of the Meadowlarks’ 92dB sensitivity and 6-ohm impedance. The Hegel and XLHs were comparable in bass power and extension, but the H20 had an uncanny ability to reveal pitch definition at the lower registers. And the Hegel sounded faster, with more liquidity in the midrange. Wow!

Conclusion

When I began to listen to the Hegel H20, I smiled -- this was going to be fun. I’d listened to amps that I’d borrowed or reviewed that cost several times the H20’s price but couldn’t touch it in terms of overall performance. I was becoming jaded by the escalating costs of audio gear.

But here is a real-world component at an honest price that seems to offer a level of performance that exceeds what you expect to get at the price. This was so refreshing. In the time it spent in my system the H20 gave me no trouble, and was well behaved and completely reliable. There was no humming, no ticks or pops or turn-on/off thumps. Its build quality and finish have understated elegance. And its 200Wpc drew the very best from my speakers without breaking a sweat.

It’s refreshing to come across a company that makes affordable gear that competes head-to-head with the expensive offerings from better-known names. I recommend it as highly as almost anything else I’ve ever reviewed.

. . . Michael Wright

To my ears, the HD30 is one of the best-sounding DACs you can buy today.
Doug Schneider

REVIEW SUMMARY: The HD30’s big selling point is its sound -- and what a sound it is: Its world-class resolution, extreme clarity, and superb refinement let you listen very deeply into recordings, to hear precisely what the musicians and engineers laid down there. And it does so while adding no ill artifacts -- the HD30 sounded incredibly clean in my system, never bright, edgy, or off-putting. I was also astounded that the HD30 not only unveiled more detail than did my Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D DAC-transport, and presented even larger soundstages, but did so with a livelier, more spirited sound that helped make it even more exciting to listen to. To my ears, the HD30 is one of the best-sounding DACs you can buy today.

EXTENDED REVIEW: In typical Norwegian fashion, Hegel Music Systems’ claims about their products are usually reserved. When one of their products is flat-out fantastic and deserves some sort of rave, they might say something like “We think it’s pretty good.” From what I’ve heard, bragging is bad form in Norway. Likewise, their products’ looks are simple and understated. Anders Ertzeid, Hegel’s director of sales and marketing, summed up the company’s design philosophy in aSoundStage! InSight video we posted online in April: “We don’t have a lot of nonsense knobs and lights. We don’t have any nonsense in the sound. It is what it is.”

So when I caught wind of a new digital-to-analog converter that Hegel was actually boasting about -- that it’s a true “reference” component that can be held up against the best anywhere -- my ears perked up. It seemed so . . . un-Hegelian, even un-Norwegian. Immediately, I sent off an e-mail to Hegel that basically said, Send one over. And they did: the new HD30, priced at USD $4800 (excl tax)

Description

Past Hegel DACs have come in small cases typically about half the width of a typical audio component, and sometimes smaller. The HD30 is their first standard-size DAC, measuring 16.75”W x 3.9”H (including feet) x 12.1”D (including knobs and connectors) -- about the same dimensions as their H80 DAC-integrated amplifier, and with looks just as spare: all that’s on the front panel are Source and Volume knobs flanking a blue LED display. The case is all aluminum, anodized black or silver. Not surprisingly, given its larger size, the HD30 is heavier than its sibling DACs, at 14.3 pounds; the next DAC down in Hegel’s line, the HD25 ($2500), weighs just 7 pounds.

The build quality of my review sample looked very good, with excellent fit’n’finish -- the anodizing of the aluminum panels looked flawless. To many, its appearance will be fine, particularly if sound quality is the No.1 goal, as it usually is for audiophiles. But I could see some who prefer a component with serious bulk and bling (see Jeff Fritz’s SoundStage! Ultra editorial this month, “High-End Audio and Well-Made Things”) finding the HD30 too understated and lightweight, particularly as there are DACs on the market that cost less but look like more -- and weigh a lot more, too. A perfect example is the Wadia di322, which is bigger and quite a bit heavier (25 pounds) than the HD30, but costs $1300 less. Jeff just reviewed the di322, and praised its build quality, styling, and weight almost as much as he did its sound. (I’ve seen the di322 and admire its beautiful casework, but haven’t yet heard it.) You’ll have to decide if Hegel’s simpler, more understated approach better suits you.

Hegel says that the HD30 uses two AK4490 DAC chips made by Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM) in a dual-mono configuration, and that they’ve designed a new master clock to improve timing accuracy and reduce phase noise. This, Hegel claims, heightens detail and enhances imaging, and improves the HD30’s streaming abilities over those of their first streaming product, the H160 DAC-integrated.

Then there’s the size of the case itself, which doesn’t exist simply so the Hegel folks can brag about this DAC coming in a bigger box, but so the designers could improve the HD30’s sound with refinements in the selection and arrangement of parts: “With careful layout, separate power supplies for the ‘noisy’ and ‘not noisy’ areas, and careful distancing to the transformers, we have achieved a noise floor approaching -150dB.” A noise floor of -150dB is incredibly low -- lower than any power amplifier or preamplifier I know of, and even lower than the self-noise of most test equipment -- which is why Hegel claims that they had to improve their measuring system before they could accurately measure the HD30. The DAC’s total harmonic distortion is specified at a very low 0.0005%, though this figure does not specify the bandwidth or output conditions.

Nor is the HD30 stingy in terms of connectivity. On its rear panel are balanced and single-ended analog outputs, an Ethernet jack for AirPlay and DLNA streaming, an IR input, and seven digital inputs: RCA, BNC, AES/EBU, USB, and three optical. The feature-rich remote control not only controls things like volume level, input selection, and the HD30’s display, but can also control some features of compatible playback softwares on your computer, such as play, pause, stop, track skip, etc.

Connection options

As Apple AirPlay is inherently limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM playback, Hegel couldn’t do anything to make it handle high-resolution recordings. However, the HD30’s DLNA support will handle up to 24/192. I don’t use AirPlay -- I’m Windows- and Android-based -- but I was able to easily test the HD30’s DLNA capabilities: I already had a UPnP-compatible network-attached storage (NAS) device on my system that houses a large part of my music collection in the forms of FLAC and WAV files. (DLNA and UPnP, though not exactly the same, are closely related. Many articles online explain both, and how they’re similar.)

I attached an Ethernet cable to the HD30, which showed up on my network a few seconds later. Next, on my Samsung S5 smartphone, I opened the controller app BubbleUPnP (many such apps are available, but this one is popular and works well) and, under the Library option, selected my NAS device, which allowed me to see my albums and songs. After that, I selected the HD30 as the Renderer. Finally, I highlighted a song and pushed the Play icon. Presto -- in less than a minute I was streaming music from my NAS device directly to the HD30 without having to involve my computer -- super handy!

Provided my network drive was already spinning, songs began playing quickly and without glitches. Sometimes, if my drive was stopped (most drives park themselves after a certain number of minutes of no use, to reduce wear), it would take a few seconds to get up to speed before the song began -- in those cases, I occasionally heard static-like clicks until the stream was fully locked on. But those were problems with the drive, not the HD30. In the HD30’s manual, Hegel recommends using the fastest drives possible -- and my NAS device is slow. I tested music files of every resolution from 16/44.1 to 24/192, FLAC and WAV. All worked fine.

Next to the HD30’s USB input is a switch with two positions, labeled A and B. In the A position, the factory default, the HD30 will connect to an Apple computer and stream PCM up to 24/192, or to a Windows-based computer and stream PCM up to 24/96, without needing extra software -- true plug’n’play. The B position, which I tried after listening to A for a while, adds DSD64/128 capability (Apple), and PCM up to 24/192 and DSD64/128 (Windows) -- provided you’ve downloaded and installed the appropriate driver for your operating system from Hegel’s website. Which I had.

The HD30’s six other inputs all support PCM up to 24/192, but I didn’t use them. All of the listening described below was via Ethernet or USB -- and I heard no difference between them.

A bit about DSD playback, which some audiophiles feel is superior to PCM: Doing an apples-with-apples comparison of PCM and DSD is difficult because of the differences in the masterings for the two formats of the same recordings. For example, on my server I have the Holly Cole Trio’s Girl Talk (Alert) as 16/44.1 FLAC files and as DSD64 DSF files; it was easy enough to switch between them using JRiver Media Center 20 and determine that, indeed, they did sound quite different from each other through the HD30. The thing is, I know Peter J. Moore, who recorded, mixed, and mastered the 16/44.1 version; and I know René Laflamme, who remastered Moore’s original recording for DSD. I’ve talked to both about this release, and have learned that the masters for each format sound very different because they were created on different equipment. It’s impossible to use an album like this to judge the relative qualities of PCM and DSD playback. I believe that’s true of many, if not most, albums available in both formats. Therefore, all I’ll say here is that I’m glad that the HD30 handles PCMand DSD; I’ll withhold judgment on this latest format war until I can compare apples with apples.

Finally, the HD30’s digital volume control has 101 increments, numbered “1” to “101.” The topmost position, “101,” actually bypasses the volume control completely, and is where you’d set the HD30 when using it with a traditional preamplifier, which you’d then use to control the system’s volume. Once you’ve set the HD30’s volume control to “101,” it will still be set to “101” every time you turn the HD30 back on after powering it off. Other handy things you can do with the HD30’s volume control include being able to set a custom startup level and a maximum volume level. The former can prevent your speakers from being blown up if someone turns up the volume very high, then doesn’t turn it down before powering off the HD30.

But with the HD30 including both volume control and input switching, it’s possible to forgo a traditional preamp altogether and plug the Hegel straight into a power amp. That’s what I did after I got my first impressions of the HD30’s sound with Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 740P preamplifier -- and the sound improved (more about this below). Because I use balanced interconnects throughout my system, running a long interconnect from the HD30 to my amp wasn’t a problem.

Sound

In 1982, Sony briefly used the slogan “Perfect Sound Forever” to market the Compact Disc. Like many back then, I thought the CDs I was buying were as good as CDs would ever get, and that they’d last, if not forever, then damn close to it. As many of us learned, all of this was far from the truth. Most CDs released in the 1980s sounded awful, which in hindsight shouldn’t have been all that surprising -- after all, the technology was in its infancy. And although the reliability of CDs was very good from the start, nothing lasts forever, even with meticulous care. I’ve had some CDs that just stopped playing after several years, for no apparent reason. I’ve replaced some of the discs I bought back then, either because much-better-sounding versions had since been released, or because my first copies no longer played at all. However, I still have some early CDs that I rely on for reviewing purposes.

One CD from back then has never stopped working, and as far as I know, no better-sounding version of it was ever released: the soundtrack album for the film The Mission (CD, Virgin CDV 2402), released in 1986. I bought the CD in 1987 and consistently used it for 25 years. Then, a few years ago, I ripped it to my NAS device as 16/44.1 FLAC files for safekeeping, and to use for computer playback. That CD -- it still works, by the way -- has been a valuable reviewing tool: I’ve listened to it with almost every digital source component I’ve owned or reviewed in all those years, and time and again I’ve marveled at how much more musical information I can hear from it today than when I first bought it.

Although I listen for various things in all of the tracks, I most often turn to track 3, “Gabriel’s Oboe,” mainly for the timpani at the beginning. When I first bought the disc, I had trouble hearing the subtlest notes and rolls, or any sort of ambience around these instruments, unless I turned the volume way up. Even then, those details never shone through. It was also difficult to judge just how far back on the stage the timpani were placed -- I could tell they were behind all of the other instruments in the orchestra, but how far wasn’t clear -- room cues seemed to be getting lost. But as the quality of digital sources improved, the subtlest mallet strokes became far easier to hear even at very low volume levels, and with a degree of presence I hadn’t known was there. I also found that the ambience surrounding the drums became more readily apparent, their position on the soundstage was more precisely audible, and the stage deepened substantially. The resolution capabilities of digital sources were obviously improving.

When Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 650D DAC-transport came along (USD $8000 when I reviewed it in 2012, now $9000), I thought it revealed every detail on this recording -- the 650D was a champ at turning an aural microscope on recordings. But time has marched on, and the HD30 has upped the ante -- those subtle timpani strokes and rolls are even more individually apparent, with even greater ambience around the instruments, which heightens the strokes’ palpability, and more accurately indicates the drums’ position on the stage. The HD30 also surprised me by delivering an even deeper stage overall: soundstage depth was one of the 650D’s strengths -- I never thought it would be beat. What’s more, this was all with Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 740P preamp in the chain. When I removed the 740P and its interconnects and drove the HD30 straight into the Moon Evolution 870A or the Audio Research GS150 power amplifier, the palpability, clarity, detail, soundstage depth, and imaging precision all increased by tiny bits more.

I heard similar improvements with “Percussive Piano,” from Blue Rodeo’s Diamond Mine (16/44.1 FLAC, WEA) -- which, like two other parts of this album, does not appear in the track list; it’s hidden as part of track 9. This 1989 album was remastered and reissued on CD in 2012, and sounds much better and more detailed than the original version, which I also have on CD. Yet despite owning the remaster, I still use the original CD (and, now, the files ripped from it) for reviews; like The Mission, it’s been a constant through the long parade of digital source components that has marched through my various listening rooms -- and, as with The Mission, today I can hear more from Diamond Mine than I could 26 years ago.

Similar to the timpani in “Gabriel’s Oboe,” Bob Wiseman’s subtle keystrokes and hand taps on the case of his piano can be very difficult to hear even at high listening levels; in fact, I’ve often wondered if some might think this section is just 1:07 of dead air between “Now and Forever” and “House of Dreams.” But once again, the HD30 revealed more of everything in “Percussive Piano” than I’d heard before, even through the 650D -- there was greater clarity to Wiseman’s keystrokes and the sounds of his hands striking the piano, longer trails on the notes’ echoes, firmer placement of Wiseman and his piano on the soundstage, and greater overall depth of that stage. Again, I heard those improvements with the 740P in the loop; when I then removed the 740P and plugged the HD30 directly into an amp, I heard them all a bit more. Suffice it to say that the HD30’s ability to reveal detail was as noteworthy as its ability to lay out a vast soundstage with high accuracy on that stage.

Get high resolution, vast soundstages, and precise imaging weren’t all that impressed me about the HD30. The Hegel produced a very lively, spirited, and incisive sound that also sounded amazingly pure, entirely devoid of digital harshness, and of artifacts that could induce listening fatigue. It presented ultra-high-resolution digital sound -- and even 16/44.1 recordings -- without edge or brightness. For instance, at the 16-second mark of “Gabriel’s Oboe,” when the oboe enters, it’s accompanied by what sounds like a brashly metallic harpsichord far in the background. The latter sounded very prominent through the HD30 -- and, at the same time, cleaner, more detailed, and more listenable than I’d ever heard it. Van Morrison’s alto saxophone in “Spanish Steps,” from hisPoetic Champions Compose (16/44.1 FLAC, Mercury), from 1987, soared with force from my speakers, sounding powerful, visceral, and highly present -- but still with the utmost clarity and refinement, and never sounding hard, edgy, or coarse, as I’ve heard it sound in the past.

The Moon Evolution 650D has always sounded as clean as the HD30, but never with the Hegel’s liveliness and incisiveness -- the Simaudio always presented music in a slightly subdued, laid-back manner. That’s also how the original Ayre Acoustics QB-9 DAC ($2500, now replaced by the QB-9DSD at $3495) sounded when I had it here. Conversely, the Eximus DP1 ($2995 in 2011, now discontinued) was a very good 24/192-capable DAC with some preamp functionality and a headphone amp, and its sound had a power, punch, incisiveness, and liveliness that were similar to the HD30’s -- but without the refinement, cleanness, and purity that the Hegel consistently displayed, most noticeably in the highs. The HD30 got it all right, and compromised on nothing.

Newer recordings, such as Don Henley’s recent Cass Country (16/44.1 FLAC, Capitol), which I’ve been listening to via Tidal, sounded nothing short of spectacular. “She Sings Hymns Out of Tune” really stood out -- Henley’s voice hung in space with state-of-the-art transparency that left me spellbound at how cleanly and authentically it was reproduced. Leonard Cohen’s voice drips with an ideal combination of detail and presence in “Slow,” from his Popular Problems (24/96 WAV, Columbia), released in 2014 on CD and as a hi-rez download. There’s also great bass in this track -- punchy, tight, and deep. I have both versions, but tend to listen to the hi-rez version most often because it sounds a touch warmer and fuller -- and nowhere was this difference more clear than through the HD30, which hung Cohen’s voice at center stage with so much weight that I could swear it had its own gravitational pull, and with such force and impact in the bass that it seemed as if it could blow out the floor. The HD30 might have a spritely, lively sound, but it also has power and heft when it needs to.

Enya’s latest, Dark Sky Island (16/44.1 FLAC, Reprise), also streamed from Tidal, sounds a lot like some of her previous albums, but there’s enough fresh about this one to warrant repeated hearings and enjoy in its own right. Beginning with track 1, “The Humming . . . ,” I was totally captivated by the extreme level of detail presented, as well as the overall cleanness and clarity of all the sounds. Mostly, though, I was taken aback by the great soundstage, which spread not only from front to back but from left to right. If you value resolution, clarity, and the re-creation of space, the HD30 ups the digital-source game for what any audiophile would consider a very reasonable price.

Conclusions

Audiophiles who put as much stock in how something looks and feels as in how it sounds might find the understated and unassuming-looking Hegel HD30 unimpressive, particularly as other DACs costing less can impress more on look and feel alone. Likewise, the HD30’s features, no matter how plentiful or useful (particularly its streaming capabilities), won’t be what attract buyers -- they’re just nice to have.

The HD30’s big selling point is its sound -- and what a sound it is: Its world-class resolution, extreme clarity, and superb refinement let you listen very deeply into recordings, to hear precisely what the musicians and engineers laid down there. And it does so while adding no ill artifacts -- the HD30 sounded incredibly clean in my system, never bright, edgy, or off-putting. I was also astounded that the HD30 not only unveiled more detail than did my Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D DAC-transport, and presented even larger soundstages, but did so with a livelier, more spirited sound that helped make it even more exciting to listen to. To my ears, the HD30 is one of the best-sounding DACs you can buy today.

…….. Doug Schneider

A TRULY EXCEPTIONAL DAC....
Greg Weaver

REVIEW SUMMARY: The new HD30 flagship DAC from Hegel of Norway is one exceptional device. After living with it in place for some extended time, I find myself in full concurrence with Hegel founder Bent Holter's statements as to the significance of this product release in the Hegel constellation of devices. Its combination of exquisitely rendered tone (from subterranean depths to stratospheric reaches), complex and exacting texture, dynamic expressiveness (micro and especially macro!), relaxed, natural yet detailed, vivid, and comprehensive presentation, class-exceeding resolution, and spacious, focused staging and imaging, make it an over-achieving super star. All I can say is that you should not buy a DAC, not even at twice the Hegel HD30's asking price, without auditioning it first! It's your money, and you've been warned!

If you are a die-hard analog hound like me, or have just eschewed using a digital playback system for whatever reason (as I did until about three years ago), this may be the perfect time, and most affordable device, to get you into remarkably satisfying, enjoyable digital playback. The Hegel HD30 has changed how I look at (and listen to) DACs under US$8000. I can't imagine you could find anything to quibble with at its price... You will be one satisfied music lover.

EXTENDED REVIEW: My time with the entry edition Hegel HD12 DAC left me so impressed that I now own it. Conflated with the overwhelmingly positive reception of Hegel's amplifiers and integrated amplifiers, the announcement that they were introducing a new flagship DAC, the HD30 as reviewed here, had me more than just a little interested. Once I learned that I would be doing this review, I emailed my request for more in-depth information than was shared in the press release or at the Hegel Music Systems website directly to Anders Ertzeid, Hegel's VP Sales & Marketing. His rapid and enthusiastic response to my questions about the technical aspects of the Hegel HD30 was more than just a bit disappointing. Mr. Ertzeid wrote:
"As for the chip-set's etc. – it's been a "Hegel thing" not to talk so much about that in our marketing, but rather speak of the implementation (knowing that the web doesn't say too much about that either). But it's no secret either.

We are using the newest AKM 4490 chip-set in dual mono configuration. The biggest update, though is the clock. Using the absolutely best crystals available and matching them perfectly with power supplies and driver transistors have reduced phase noise to incredibly low levels. So low that we had to tweak our Audio Precision AP1 instruments to allow it.

Furthermore, there is a lot of effort put into the power supplies. Both all discrete local voltage regulators throughout, but also in the sense that there are separate toroidal transformers for the analog and the digital stage.

The noisy USB and Network sections (as well as the toroidal's) are totally separated from the low noise sections. Allowing a noise floor reaching towards -150dB."

As if those declarations weren't enough, in the HD30's owner's manual, Bent Holter, founder of the company, says, "The HD30 is, without a doubt, HEGEL's most advanced product to date. In my humble opinion, it's the finest product ever created by HEGEL." By any measure, that is a strong statement.

Wanting for more, I started doing my own research. Sadly, I was not able to uncover much more, either from their site or from general web searches. But, let's consider the AKM 4490, which is a 762kHz/32-Bit stereo DAC built by Asahi Kasei Microdevices, based in Tokyo, Japan. These devices are both very well thought of in high-end audio circles, and in heavy rotation with some key players. Companies like Astell & Kern, Cayin, Denon, Kenwood, Onkyo, Schiit, and Teac use them in a wide variety of products, from AV Surround Receivers to Optical disc players, DACs, and portable HD Music players. More to the point, this is the core chipset used in a number of exceptional Optical Disc players, including the likes of SACD Players from Esoteric Audio, including the K-05X, K-07X, and Bryston's BDA-2 and BDA-3 DACs. The next step up, the AKM 4495, populates some of Esoteric's flagship products, such as the $14,000 K-03X and the superb $22,000 Grandioso D1 monoblock D/A converters – yes, that means $44,000 for stereo.

One design approach that is discussed at the website, even as sketchily as it is, is their attempt at managing "skirting," a form of jitter that manifests as additional noise in the immediate frequencies around a main tone. The subjective effects of this type of phase-noise are generally perceived as a lack of precision; a blurring of fine detail. Here, part of what Mr. Ertzeid discussed in his email to me comes into play.  By employing a redeveloped and redesigned clocking process they call Super-Clock, which entails extremely careful and close matching of transistors with the clock crystal, they've realized some extremely low jitter levels. Yet, that's all they say about it, other than to assert that it affords a significant reduction of "skirting."

Beyond a number of other such generalizations, Hegel doesn't have much else to say about this device, or any others in current production for that matter. They cite several of these "house" technologies (like the aforementioned Super-Clock), but as indicated by Mr. Ertzeid's direct response, they really don't go into how they do what they do. As such, I'm left to focus on the build-quality, feature set, and sonic results of this effort, rather than the design. But believe me, that leaves plenty enough to discuss!

Package

At 17" wide, 12.25" deep, and just 3.14" (3.93" w/footers) tall, tipping the scales at just over 14.25 pounds, this new flagship DAC from Norway, while very typical of other manufacturer's entrants at this price point, it is over three times larger than, and more than twice as heavy as, the Hegel HD12 DAC I reviewed here. In fact, it is the first full-sized chassis DAC Hegel has brought to market.

Hegel HD30 DAC

While the anodized aluminum case of the HD30 is impeccable constructed and beautifully finished, its appearance may be seen as more utilitarian that posh to many. The faceplate itself is not flat, but rather, slightly rounded left to right and top to bottom; sort of a section of a sphere. Its layout is fully symmetrical, with a 5" wide by 1" tall display centered left to right, but slightly below the center line vertically, with the HEGEL logo centered just above it. When powered on, the blue lit display shows selected input (AES, BNC, CO1, OP1, OP2, OP3, USB, NET) in the left half, while the volume attenuation (1-100, with 101 displayed when set to volume bypass) is displayed to the right. An inch-and-a-half diameter knob, one each, immediately to the display's left and right, control input selection (left), and the volume (right).

Moving to the back, we see three distinct sections left to right, analog outputs, digital inputs, and AC. Outputs are grouped by right (XLR and RCA) and left (RCA and XLR), so the single-ended outputs are side by side, while the balanced outputs are outside each of the RCA jacks. The digital inputs are grouped as AES/EBU, BNC, Coax1, Optical 1, Optical 2, and Optical 3. Next is a 3.5 mm IR Input jack (for external control cable), an up/down USB Mode selector. When up, in the A position, you have the default plug & play mode, supporting up to 96kHz and 24-bit, while down, the B position, supports up to 192kHz and 24 bits resolution, and native DSD64/128. That is followed by the USB and RJ-45 network cable inputs. The final section to the right, includes the fuse block, the on/off toggle switch and the IEC socket.

The remote is much more serious that that included with the HD12; 6.25" long, 1.625" wide, and just under 0.75" thick, milled out of metal, and sporting 15 small, 1/8" diameter round buttons, arranged in five rows of three. The top row of three, Prev, Play, and Next, are set to work with your server, and they worked just fine with mine, a home brew Dell OptiPlex (Intel i5, 256 GB SSD HD, 8GB RAM, and all music libraries stored on external drives), using JRiver 21. The next 12 buttons include: DAC+, ECO, DISP, Prev, Play, Next, In+, Stop, Vol+, In-, Mute, Vol-, and control various aspects of the input selection, display functionality, and volume.

I tested connecting my HD30 to my wired network, which brought almost instant results. The unit is set up to work with DHCP on networks, and automatically received an IP-address from my router. A quick look in my connected devices now showed "Hegel HD30 XXXXXX, with the Xes being the last six digits of the HD30 MAC address. It was that simple. The Hegel HD30 supports Apple's AirPlay, and can function as a DLNA Digital Media Renderer, receiving and playing media files from a UPnP/DLNA compatible media player supporting PCM (WAV/AIFF), FLAC, Ogg and MP3.

As my music server set up is optimized for playback of files directly from a four terabyte storage drive, not a NAS, I didn't really spend any time testing any of the streaming functionality: I will leave that up to someone else to comment upon. Further, given Apple iTunes constrained ability to only playMP3, AIFF, WAV, MPEG-4, AAC and Apple Lossless (.m4a) files natively, I'd say the convenience is overshadowed. You'd be forgoing much of the sonic quality this DAC can render using AirPlay.

Achievement

Bass is wonderfully articulate, even down into the lowest reaches. When the source is up to it, like with "She's Already Made Up Her Mind," from Lyle Lovett's superb Joshua Judges Ruth (Curb), or the 2nd movement of Saint-Saëns 3rd Symphony (Reference Recordings), assuming your other electronics and speakers are up to the challenge of subsonic reproduction, the room pressurizes, with both a clear sense of speed and pitch solidity that is so accurate that you will be startled.I'm simply not used to hearing bass rendered this faithfully, effusively, or completely from a DAC, let alone one in this price range. It plays this portion of the audio spectrum accurately enough that it has the ability to trigger the "Fight or Flight" reptilian response. Because my analog system can create this sensation readily, I know it when I "feel" it. And feel it you do with the HD30!

It delivers an exciting and engaging sense of midrange bloom and body that is more shockingly reminiscent of really great analog than I had expected. This was very welcomed, as it created an incredibly realistic sense of physical size, location, and "space" as good as, or slightly better, than most any DAC I can recall hearing for nearly twice its asking price. One of the reasons I'm such a die-hard vinyl fan is that, by comparison, even "high-resolution" digital audio sounds hard, strained, glassy, congested, and flat. While the HD30 doesn't completely transcend this common digital barrier (like the spectacular Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series) if affords an exceptionally large measure of it.

This new Hegel further treated me to the most remarkable degree of extension, detail, and resolve in the uppermost octaves. Yet as rife with detail and sparkle as it is, this topmost frequency range is portrayed in an undisputedly relaxed fashion that is extremely captivating, again surprisingly reminiscent of a good analog playback system.

Listening to the DSD64 download of the Santana cover of the Fleetwood Mac song (written in 1968 by guitarist Peter Green), "Black Magic Woman" from Santana's 1971 jazz, Afro-Caribbean, blues influenced rock masterpiece Abraxas, was almost revelatory. Through the HD30, it so closely mimicked both the exposure of inner detail and overall resolution I hear when playing the Mobile Fidelity LP that I played both, head-to-head to confirm my astonishment. Michael Shrieve's grooving conga and timbale work (using licks he'd nicked from the obscure B.B. King Plays The Cha Cha album) was stunningly accentuated within the dense tapestry of the rest of this unique mix, affording astonishing imagery and a very lifelike sound.

You may have noticed how often I referred to the fact that the HD30 evoked a strong similarity to good analog as I worked through my evaluation – I know I sure did! So, as I tried to put my finger on just what it was that makes this new entrant from Norway so special, it became clear. In a single word, it comes down to resolution. While some struggle with that word, I want to be clear on what it means to me. Many use descriptors like fast, detailed, resolute, or even transparent to describe resolution, when in truth, what they are hearing is overly bright, super-detailed, incisive, and/or hyper-analytical. This "faux" resolution comes at expense of naturalness, that sense of organic-ness or musicality.

I feel it safe to say that most of us don't like bright, super-detailed, incisive, or hyper-analytical "sound." But then again, that isn't true resolution. Resolution does not mean bright or super-detailed. True resolution reveals and uncovers detail and nuance. This includes microdynamic subtitles like extremely fine transient detail, or rendering the subtleties of instrumental tone color and texture. It is indicative of an enhanced ability to follow a single instrumental line deep within dense and convoluted arrangements or a starker sense of the space around instrumental images within the soundstage. True resolution comes from elevated clarity realized by improvements and progressive design achievement that lead to lower distortion, all working to allow the unmasking of previously obscured information, not by enhancing or emphasizing any particular bandwidth or frequency range. In short, I would use the term unmasking to characterize resolution: never terms like bright or detailed, which, while those may be artifacts of less-effective design choices, do nothing to influence resolution.

But resolve is something at which the HD30 excels, and seemingly so effortlessly; in fact, at levels well above what I would expect in its price class. Honestly, based on its sonic performance alone, I would have put its price at US$8000, or even US$10,000! It is such an astonishing sonic over-achiever that I don't see this DAC leaving my system any time soon.

The new HD30 flagship DAC from Hegel of Norway is one exceptional device. After living with it in place for some extended time, I find myself in full concurrence with Hegel founder Bent Holter's statements as to the significance of this product release in the Hegel constellation of devices. Its combination of exquisitely rendered tone (from subterranean depths to stratospheric reaches), complex and exacting texture, dynamic expressiveness (micro and especially macro!), relaxed, natural yet detailed, vivid, and comprehensive presentation, class-exceeding resolution, and spacious, focused staging and imaging, make it an over-achieving super star. All I can say is that you should not buy a DAC, not even at twice the Hegel HD30's asking price, without auditioning it first! It's your money, and you've been warned!

If you are a die-hard analog hound like me, or have just eschewed using a digital playback system for whatever reason (as I did until about three years ago), this may be the perfect time, and most affordable device, to get you into remarkably satisfying, enjoyable digital playback. The Hegel HD30 has changed how I look at (and listen to) DACs under US$8000. I can't imagine you could find anything to quibble with at its price... You will be one satisfied music lover.
…….Greg Weaver

OUR RATING:
Tonality 4.5/5
Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz) - 4/5
Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz) - 4/5
Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz) - 4.5/5
High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up) - 4/5
Attack - 4.5/5
Decay - 4/5
Inner Resolution - 4.5/5
Soundscape Width Front - 4.5/5
Soundscape Width Rear - 4.5/5
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers - 4.5/5
Soundscape Extension Into Room - 5/5
Imaging - 4.5/5
Fit And Finish - 4/5
Self Noise - 4.5/5
Value For The Money - 5/5

......everything snaps into even sharper focus, and we’re discovering even more from the recordings. It’s totally addictive stuff.
Andrew Everard

HiFi NEWS VERDICT
Regardless, or perhaps because of its downsampling of very high rate media, Hegel’s HD30 begs to be auditioned by all serious digiphiles. By tweaking the sample rate of the DAC chips and using the low-noise technology developed for its amps, the Norwegian designers have come up with a product delivering a sound with remarkable presence, impact, subtlety and detail. It’s a wholly captivating listen.

ORGANIC SOUND:
Hegel’s design philosophy is embodied in what it loosely describes as ‘Organic Sound’ where ‘all parts of a dynamic recording are reproduced exactly like the original’. With no more specific detail provided on its website, Hegel leaves me wondering if this ethos was partially inspired by its choice of audio chip supplier Asahi Kasei and the ‘Velvet Sound’ promoted in its literature [see www. akm.com/akm/en/product/featured/velvetsound]. The sophisticated 32-bit architecture of this premium chip range is clearly aimed at high-end hi-fi brands requiring support for 768kHz LPCM and 11.2MHz DSD, offering ‘a balance between information and intensity... focusing on the original sound to achieve rich musicality and high performance’. Hegel has adopted a pair of these Velvet Sound AK4490 DACs with a matching AK4137 sample-rate converter for its HD30, although in practice, and evidenced by Hegel’s response specification of ‘50kHz’, all inputs are resampled to a frequency close to 96kHz. We’ve seen DACs from MBL and Métronome that downsample to precisely 96kHz, but Hegel’s HD30 brings its own, unique, twist [see Lab Report]. PM

EXTENDED REVIEW: This is the first time a product from the Norwegian Hegel brand has appeared in these pages: it makes its début with a DAC that proves the importance of silence... 

The boom in the availability of highend digital-to-analogue converters has raised an interesting possibility for the system-builder using solely digital sources: given that so many of these products have a variable-level analogue output, it’s possible to connect them straight into a power amp or even a pair of active speakers, bypassing the need for a conventional line-level preamplifier. The Hegel HD30, the flagship DAC from this Norwegian company, is one such ‘digital control centre’. 

The HD30 offers not just an array of conventional digital inputs, including asynchronous, DSD-compatible USB, but also the ability to function as a DLNA/ UPnP network client supporting the likes of Apple AirPlay. Yes, the network capability is somewhat limited – this is a client to which music needs to be ‘pushed’ using a third-party app – but it’s still a function well worth having, and makes the Hegel an interesting alternative to more conventional network music players.

so who is hegel? 

So, before we get ahead of ourselves, who exactly is Hegel? While the company may not be familiar to many readers, its roots go back the late 1980s, and a thesis on amplifier transistor design by student Bent Holter, then studying at the Technical University of Trondheim. Based on his research into harmonic distortion in amplifiers, he developed what is now called ‘SoundEngine’ technology, initially for use in amps for his band, The Hegel Band, with help from telecoms company Telenor. 

As well as amplifiers, Hegel added DACs and CD players, with the first converter in 1994 followed by a player in 1996. Over the subsequent couple of decades the company has refined and developed its range, and now has distribution in 32 countries. It handles its UK distribution from its Oslo HQ, and has a small number of dealers here, with a range now encompassing both integrated and pre/ power amplification, CD players and DACs, and a headphone amplifier. 

As is often the way with products from Scandinavian or Nordic companies, its products are distinguished by solid but simple design and construction, giving clean lines and fuss-free operation along with a ‘hewn from solid’ feel, as is the case with the HD30 here. 

There’s not much on show beside a large, clear blue-on-black display (of input source and sampling rate/output level) and two controls, for source and volume, but the whole thing exudes a feeling of cool quality – as you might hope for this kind of money. And yes, that front panel is milled from a solid piece of aluminium. 

The HD30 uses a pair of 32-bit DACs in a dual-mono implementation for optimal stereo separation, and a system its calls ‘SynchroDAC’ in place of the more common 44.1kHz to 176.4kHz and 48kHz to 192kHz up-sampling processes employed elsewhere [see PM’s boxout]. The combination of SynchroDAC and the balanced topology reduces odd-order distortions and improves the achievable dynamic range but the final frequency response is limited to about 50kHz. Similarly, the crystal clock is located hard up against the DAC section of the PCB to minimise jitter, while the analogue output stage draws on Hegel’s SoundEngine technology, employing ‘adaptive feedforward’ compensation, rather than global feedback, to manage distortion.

christmassy handbook 

The analogue output is available on both RCA phonos and balanced XLRs, with the level controlled by the right hand knob on the fascia and via the remote control handset supplied, which is another cool metal device. Setting the level to its fixed maximum, at which point the display will show ‘101’, gives a suitable output for use directly into a conventional integrated amplifier or preamplifier. 

The main digital inputs, selected by the left knob or the remote handset, are pretty conventional, encompassing S/PDIF coaxial (on RCA phono and BNC), three optical and an AES/EBU input, but the HD30 also has both a Type-B USB input for connection to a computer, and an Ethernet port. The USB has a dip-switch beside it to select either A or B: the former gives ‘plug and play’ operation with computers, but is limited to files of up to 96kHz/24-bit, while the latter extends compatibility to 192kHz/24-bit and DSD64/128 (using DSD over PCM frames), but requires the use of downloadable drivers for Windows, and (for DSD) Mac OSX. 

the A/B switch isn’t explained anywhere in the manual (which comes complete with a Nordic forest scene on the cover, making it look more like a Christmas card than an instruction book) – I had to turn to the ‘read me’ notes supplied with the driver download for my Mac computers. 

However, as Anders Ertzeid, Hegel’s VP Sales & Marketing, acknowledged during our research for this review, ‘the sound [in A and B modes] is exactly the same’. Hegel says the HD30 is best used with Audirvana as a computer music player, and the software and DAC worked together as smoothly as any such combination I have tried. However, the unusual streaming solution will take a bit more familiarisation for anyone more used to all-in-one network player devices

The usual UPnP control points, including PlugPlayer and the Kinsky open-source software distributed by Linn, work well with a NAS full of music and the Hegel, though they do require learning the concept of adding tracks or albums to a playlist before they can be output through the HD30. It’s not quite as intuitive as a player able to ‘pull’ music from the server for itself, but you soon get used to the ‘push’ method.

out of the silence… 

The most immediately apparent aspect of the sound of the Hegel is what isn’t there, as this must be one of the quietest hi-fi components I have ever auditioned. No, I’m not talking about level here – with a healthy 2.5V fixed output there’s no shortage of that – but rather the complete absence of noise, throwing the music being played into a sharp relief as soon as you start playing anything. It’s actually rather startling at first, leading to some suspicion that everything’s going to sound rather hyper-realistic – or perhaps just hyped-up – but after only a short period of acquaintance with the HD30 it soon becomes clear that this is not only going to be a thrilling ride, but also a highly enjoyable musical experience. 

Quite simply, the Hegel is almost the exemplar of ‘I was hearing things on recordings I never knew were there’. However, this is not purely a show of hi-fi ability to the point of distraction from the music, but rather all about startling the listener with its dynamics, its power, and the depth, focus and detailing of the sonic picture it creates.

It’s characterful in all the right ways, not imposing anything of itself on the music but rather bringing out the subtlest nuances of the sound of voices or instruments, and giving excellent insight into technique and performance, all the while developing an unfettered sound that might even have one thinking a heftier power amplifier had been transplanted into the system. And we’re not just talking about the very latest super-whizzo audiophile recordings here. 

With the eponymous first album from Dire Straits, here in DSD64 [Vertigo UIGY- 9634], I was immediately taken aback by the sheer impact of the instruments on the slow-burning ‘Six Blade Knife’, from the sharp, crisp guitar stabs to the fine detail of the patter of the percussion, and the laconic character of Mark Knopfler’s voice. 

In the same way, the Hegel dug deep into the layers of David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock set [96kHz/24-bit download, Columbia 88875123262]. OK, so that does make it sound even more Floyd-like for good or bad, but there’s no shortage of punch yet at the same time allowing the listener a fine impression of how well it’s been pieced together. 

One of the very good things about the Hegel is that it seems almost completely input-agnostic, such that one can’t say it’s best with USB or network or whatever, and switching back down to tried and tested CD quality revealed it’s also able to do a very fine job when playing the formats likely to make up the majority of potential buyers’ music collections. 

With the recent Duran Duran outing Paper Gods [Warner Bros 9362-49264-2] the Hegel gets its teeth into the driving bass-line of ‘Pressure Off’, while giving full rein to the guest guitar of co-producer Nile Rodgers and the vocals of Janelle Monáe, making this not only a return to form but a complete Duran Duran classic: big, multilayered and so classy.

captivated by live music 

I even gave it a workout with some vintage overproduction, in the form of ‘America’ from The Nice’s Autumn ’67 – Spring ’68 [DSD64, Virgin UIGY-9696], and while the age of the recording and its relative simplicity is inescapable, the Hegel brings out all the scale of the music and the beginnings of Keith Emerson’s career in keyboard abuse to exciting effect, as the notes can be heard clicking and banging away high in the mix. 

With Béla Fleck and Chick Corea’s Two live set [Concord Jazz CJA-37992-02], the Hegel does a beautiful job of keeping the unusual combination of banjo and piano crystal-clear while evoking an almost uncanny sense of the presence of the audience, and not just in the end-of-number applause! With the 2014 Martha Argerich And Friends Live From Lugano box [44.1kHz/24-bit, Warner Classics 0825646134601], the sheer detail of instruments and performance ensures a thrilling sound and total involvement too.

Oh, and it definitely handles DSD audio in an utterly compelling way. The 1-bit sampler compilation 8 Ensembles [DSD64, JL002] – a typically detailed recording by Channel Classics/NativeDSD-founder Jared Sacks – takes in everything from vocal ensembles to violin and piano. Via the HD30, it’s hard not to be awestruck by the sheer realism of the textures on offer, especially in the pizzicato attack of the Ravel sonata for violin and cello, where I swear you can almost hear the vibration of every string! 

And then you switch to the DSD128 version of the same album – its bandwidth fitting within the HD30’s 50kHz ‘window’ – and everything snaps into even sharper focus, and we’re discovering even more from the recordings. It’s totally addictive stuff. 
............ 
Andrew Everard

LAB REPORT:
In practice, Hegel asynchronously resamples all S/PDIF and USB inputs to realise an analogue frequency response that’s –0.06dB/20kHz (44.1/48kHz inputs) and –0.31dB/45kHz (or –3dB/47kHz with any incoming rate above 96kHz, including DSD128). Within this bandwidth, both USB and S/PDIF inputs yield the same excellent performance, with 110.2dB/110.7dB A-wtd S/N ratios, respectively, from a maximum 2545mV output and 22ohm source impedance (balanced XLR outs). Stereo separation stretches out to 130dB through the midrange while its L/R channel balance is good to ±0.04dB over the top 80 steps of its digitally-governed volume. 

Distortion is also very low indeed, and as much a function of the analogue output/filter stage as the pair of AK4490 DACs. THD drops as low as 0.0002% from 20Hz-20kHz at –10dBFs [see Graph 1, below] with a peak level maximum of just 0.00055% at 20kHz regardless of 48kHz, 96kHz or 192kHz input sample rate (many DACs show a change in high frequency distortion behaviour depending on the native sample rate – the HD30 does not). Low-level resolution is good to ±0.1dB over a full 100dB dynamic range and stopband rejection, from Hegel’s choice of AK’s ‘Traditional’ sharp roll-off filter, is >124dB. 

Most impressive of all are the ‘clean’ jitter spectra from both S/PDIF and USB inputs [see Graph 2, below], the mere 5-15psec achieved through a combination of Hegel’s discrete low phase noise clocks and the proprietary jitter reduction technology at the core of Asahi Kasei’s AK4137/4490 chipset. 
...........Paul Miller

Listening with the H190 was an absolute pleasure, and it drew out qualities in recordings I’d previously overlooked. I’d certainly want to own one, and recommend it highly to anyone looking for a powerful, network-capable integrated amplifier.
Al Griffin

SUMMARY: with its new H190, Hegel Music Systems gives you more and better: twice the Röst’s power and, with SoundEngine2, wider dynamic range and a higher damping factor. The H190’s inclusion of AirPlay, DLNA, and soon Spotify Connect will make it sufficient to meet most streaming needs, while its support of Control4 makes it a great option for environments with a home control system.

But the clincher is the sound. Listening with the H190 was an absolute pleasure, and it drew out qualities in recordings I’d previously overlooked. I’d certainly want to own one, and recommend it highly to anyone looking for a powerful, network-capable integrated amplifier. The H190 is just one more example of a revelation I’ve had with Hegel.

EXTENDED REVIEW: In 2017, when I reviewed the Hegel Music Systems Röst integrated amplifier , the experience was revelatory in several ways. The main eye-opener was the Röst’s sound, which was notably dynamic for a 75Wpc integrated amp, and presented a strikingly clear window on whatever music I played. Another revelation was that a modestly powered amplifier could comfortably drive any speaker I paired it with.

I was also surprised to find that the Röst’s relatively basic feature set served my needs, a topic I wrote about last August in an editorial, “The Röst Reconsidered .” As stated by the company’s head software engineer, Joakim Jacobsen, in a recent SoundStage! InSight video, simplicity is a conscious strategy for Hegel: “We don’t build our amplifiers around computers . . . because the computer will [become] obsolete very quickly, and so will the features we might have put on there.”

The H190, the latest integrated amplifier from Hegel, could be characterized as a next-generation Röst. It has many of the same features, including network connectivity via wired Ethernet, AirPlay, and DLNA, as well as support for a Control4 home automation system. (According to Hegel, Spotify Connect will be implemented in the H190 in a future firmware update.) Like the Röst, it provides a USB Type-B port for a computer hookup to its 24-bit/192kHz-capable DAC, and either of its analog inputs can be configured as a fixed, high-level home-theater bypass.

The main difference between the two Hegels is that the H190 can output 150Wpc into 8 ohms -- twice the power of the Röst. Like the Röst, it includes SoundEngine2, an enhanced version of Hegel’s “feed-forward” amplifier topology that, according to chief designer Bent Holter, provides increased dynamic range with a lower noise floor. Another benefit of SoundEngine2 is a high damping factor -- important for woofer control -- which in the H190 gets a boost to over 4000.

To make space for a bigger power transformer than the one used in the Röst, the H190’s case is taller and deeper: 16.93”W x 7.72”H x 16.15”D. The color options are black and, becoming available around May 2018, white. With just a large OLED display bounded on either side by knobs for input selection and volume control, the H190’s front panel retains the simple, elegant design of Hegel’s other integrateds. The only other thing on the front panel is a 6.3mm headphone output. The H190 weighs 41.9 pounds.

On the H190’s rear panel are audio inputs: analog unbalanced (two RCA) and balanced (two XLR), and four digital (three optical, one coaxial). Also here are USB and Ethernet ports, alongside a set of high-quality speaker outputs that accommodate spade lugs, banana jacks, pins, and bare wire. Last come a power-cord inlet, and fixed and variable analog outputs (RCA).

As with the Röst, Hegel bundles with the H190 its RC8 remote control, made of solid aluminum and with buttons to control track playback on a connected computer, along with standard functions such as source selection and volume adjustment. IR range was good, with enough power for me to bounce signals off the front wall of my room. I particularly liked how the H190 responds to a Mute command from the remote: instead of switching off abruptly, the volume level fades to silence.

Setup and use

I connected the H190 to my home network using a powerline adapter and Ethernet cable. I then connected it to a Pioneer BDP-88FD universal BD player’s coaxial digital and analog RCA outputs. The speakers I mostly used were GoldenEar Technology Triton Five towers, with MartinLogan Motion 20 towers briefly swapped in to test the Hegel’s handling of speakers with a 4-ohm impedance. For a DLNA input I used JRiver Media Center 21 running on a MacBook Pro. AirPlay sources included Apple Music and Tidal.

Sound

I began my listening by comparing the H190’s DAC with the one in the Pioneer universal BD player I use as a reference for CD playback. With “Barfly,” from Ray LaMontagne’s Till the Sun Turns Black (CD, RCA 83328), the Hegel easily revealed the detail in the singer’s breathy voice, and I heard a clear separation between his voice and that of the female backing singer. With the Pioneer handling the decoding, both voices sounded a bit flatter and less distinct. The Hegel also brought the brushed snare forward, making this track more appealing than the Pioneer’s more recessed presentation of the drum.

Streaming “Four Cypresses,” from Grizzly Bear’s Painted Ruins (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, RCA/Tidal), gave me a good demonstration of the H190’s dynamic capabilities. The martial snare-drum rhythm that opens this track was crisp and finely textured, and towered hugely in the mix. Other times I’ve listened to this song recently, the arrangement seemed too dense, but the Hegel drew out its various elements -- voices, synths, an arpeggiated guitar riff -- in an orderly manner. Loud washes of electric guitar in the song’s mid-section also had a powerful presence, sounding clean and unstrained as they slashed through the mix.

The H190’s power and precision were also on display with the title track of Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (16/44.1 FLAC, Island/Tidal). The piano and bass guitar sounded effortlessly smooth, as did Steve Winwood’s soulful lead vocal. Against this background, subtle percussive elements such as conga drums and handclaps vividly stood out, creating a 3D-like layering. Similar to the guitars in the Grizzly Bear track, the keyboard solo about six minutes in had a strikingly resonant quality, and I could push the volume up without hearing strain or harshness.

To get a sense of the Hegel’s handling of bass, I next played War Anthem, from Max Richter’s Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works (16/44.1 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon/Tidal). The H190’s presentation of the movement’s low, rumbling percussion was deep and authoritative. Against this, the strings sounded textured and expansive, with a distinct sense of air around a solo cello that isolated it in space and drew it forward in the mix. Here, again, I heard no hint of strain, even as the track drew to its loud, somewhat explosive climax.

Comparison

Hegel’s own Röst has served as a reference for other integrated amplifier reviews on Simplifi, so it seemed natural to compare the H190 with it. While both models have a similar sonic signature, I felt that the H190 delivered more headroom and control. For example, in Ray LaMontagne’s “Barfly,” the bass guitar had slightly more extension and definition. The drums in the intro of “Four Cypresses” had an expanded presence, with more subtle detail in the snare-drum rolls. The foundation laid down by the low percussion in Richter’s War Anthem seemed more solid through the H190, the sense of air around the cello even more vivid.

Did I prefer the H190 to the Röst? Both sounded great in my room, though the effortlessness of the H190’s sound was compelling. I’d also choose it for use with difficult-to-drive speakers. The H190 proved a better match for the MartinLogan Motion 20s, for instance, which seemed to spark to life when fed extra power. However, with a sensitive speaker like the GoldenEar Triton Fives, or my Triton Twos with their powered subwoofer sections, the Röst would be more than adequate.

Conclusion

With its new H190, Hegel Music Systems gives you more and better: twice the Röst’s power and, with SoundEngine2, wider dynamic range and a higher damping factor. The H190’s inclusion of AirPlay, DLNA, and soon Spotify Connect will make it sufficient to meet most streaming needs, while its support of Control4 makes it a great option for environments with a home control system.

But the clincher is the sound. Listening with the H190 was an absolute pleasure, and it drew out qualities in recordings I’d previously overlooked. I’d certainly want to own one, and recommend it highly to anyone looking for a powerful, network-capable integrated amplifier. The H190 is just one more example of a revelation I’ve had with Hegel.
.... . . Al Griffin

Testimonials

A Very Satisfied Customer -
From a Very Satisfied customer. 
I purchased the Hegel H160 Amp with the Usher Dancer MiniX DMD speakers.

The heartbeat on Pink Floyd 'Dark side of the moon' has an echo I have never heard before.

Simply outstanding.

Thanks Terry for your excellent service.

….Mike

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