HEGEL H80 IN­TE­GRATED AM­PLI­FIER/DAC

In­te­grated am­plI­fIer/daC

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

Built in Nor­way, the Hegel H80’s sound and per­for­mance de­pend on its unique patented ‘SoundEngine’ cir­cuitry, de­vel­oped by Bernt Holter.

For very small geo­graphic re­gion, with an even smaller pop­u­la­tion, Scan­di­navia is over-rep­re­sented in the field of high-end au­dio de­sign and man­u­fac­ture… par­tic­u­larly the coun­tries of Den­mark and Swe­den. But Nor­way isn’t let­ting the side down, as the Hegel H80 proves.

the equip­ment

Like all Hegel’s com­po­nents, the H80 has very ‘clean’ lines, mostly due to the use of mi­cro­pro­ces­sors for con­trol, so all the con­trol ac­tions re­quired can be ac­com­plished with just the two con­trols that are po­si­tioned ei­ther side of the front panel dis­play.

What you can’t do with these two con­trols is switch the H80 on and off. For that you need to use the power but­ton. Un­like most man­u­fac­tur­ers, which put that but­ton around the back on the rear panel of the am­pli­fier, where it’s of­ten ei­ther dif­fi­cult (or im­pos­si­ble) to get to, Hegel has clev­erly hid­den that con­trol un­der­neath the am­pli­fier, but close enough to the front that you can just poke your fin­ger un­der­neath the left-hand side of the front panel and ac­ti­vate (or de-ac­ti­vate) it.

Dur­ing power-up, the Hegel H80’s mi­cro­pro­ces­sor runs a start-up check that takes a few dozen sec­onds, dur­ing which time the out­puts are muted and the dis­play flashes (the dis­play flashes any time the out­put is muted, such as if you’ve done it your­self by us­ing the mute but­ton on the re­mote). Once powered-up, the left side of the front panel dis­play shows the in­put source you have se­lected, while the right side of the dis­play shows the vol­ume as a two-digit num­ber. The dis­play is a very nice shade of blue, which works well against the black alu­minium of the front panel.

Fol­low­ing the lead of the dis­play, the knob on the left of the dis­play is the in­put source se­lec­tor and the one on the right is for vol­ume. Vol­ume can be ad­justed between in­di­cated lev­els of 0 and 99, with the Hegel pow­er­ing up at what­ever vol­ume value you pre­set (for which a cus­tom re­mote, not sup­plied with the unit, is re­quired, about which more later).

The in­put se­lec­tor gives you three ana­logue in­put op­tions: two un­bal­anced line in­puts and a bal­anced line in­put, plus five dig­i­tal op­tions: two coax­ial, two op­ti­cal and one USB. The coax­ial and op­ti­cal in­puts sup­port up to 24/192 and the USB in­put up to 24/96. The USB in­put uses a Type B con­nec­tor and is not asyn­chro­nous, be­cause Hegel says that the re-clock­ing sys­tem it uses (ap­par­ently sim­i­lar to the one it uses in its HD11 DAC) does bet­ter job of re­ject­ing jit­ter than do most com­mer­cially avail­able asyn­chro­nous USB re­ceiver chips. (Hegel uses a Texas In­stru­ments PCM1754 in the H80).

You can con­trol the Hegel H80 by re­mote, but how much you can do de­pends on which re­mote you own.

The re­mote that comes stan­dard with the H80 is a low-cost ‘pla­s­ticky’ credit-card-sized Chi­nese-made de­vice powered by a CR2025 but­ton bat­tery (and dis­ap­point­ingly, de­spite it be­ing sup­plied sep­a­rately in a blis­ter pack, the bat­tery sup­plied with mine turned out to be flat… I had to go out and buy a fresh one) and only con­trols the ba­sic fea­tures of power switch­ing, vol­ume con­trol, in­put se­lec­tion and mut­ing (most of the but­tons are used to con­trol other Hegel com­po­nents).

If you want to use all the Hegel H80’s fea­tures, you have to pay ex­tra and buy the Hegel RC8 mas­ter re­mote con­trol. This more com­plex, bet­ter-built re­mote will al­low you to set the start-up vol­ume, set the max­i­mum vol­ume, do fac­tory re­sets and more.

If you’ve been look­ing at the photographs of the Hegel H80 that ac­com­pany this re­view and been think­ing to your­self that some­thing’s miss­ing, you’d be right. What there isn’t on the front panel is a head­phone out­put… nor is there one lo­cated any­where else on the am­pli­fier. When it comes to the rear panel, what’s miss­ing is a line out­put, so if you wanted to use a line out­put to drive a more pow­er­ful am­pli­fier… or, more saliently, a head­phone am­pli­fier… you can’t.

In Use and LIs­ten­Ing ses­sIons

Set­ting up the Hegel H80 is a sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause all the fit­tings are of very high qual­ity and the am­pli­fier it­self not only looks the part, but also ‘feels’ the part as well, be­ing very weighty and solid.

Lis­ten­ing first to ana­logue via the bal­anced in­puts I was im­pressed by the weight­i­ness of the sound of the bass, which is solid and pow­er­ful and re­mained so ir­re­spec­tive of whether I was play­ing back at back­ground or at ‘set to stun’ lev­els. This weight­i­ness was not a for­ward­ness or promi­nence in the bass, just a re­as­sur­ing so­lid­ity, so that ev­ery time a kick drum pedal hit the drum-skin, or a dou­ble-bassist plucked an open E string, I never had the sense of there be­ing a ‘build-up’ to the sonic event… it just was what it was, and re­al­is­ti­cally so.

One of the dou­ble-bassists I lis­tened to while eval­u­at­ing the Hegel H80 was none other than Char­lie Haden, play­ing with Keith Jar­rett on their 2010 stu­dio al­bum ‘Jas­mine’. Al­though I have long been an ad­mirer of Haden’s oeu­vre, I can’t say I’ve ever warmed to Jar­rett’s, though I am in awe of his supreme tal­ent. Jas­mine, how­ever, sees the two play­ing stan­dards such as For All We Know, No Moon at All, One Day I’ll Fly Away, Body and Soul and Don’t Ever Leave Me, and for me it just works. I don’t know quite why it works so well—whether it’s be­cause they seem to be hav­ing so much fun, or that they’re so in tune with each other’s play­ing, or that Haden’s im­mac­u­late sense of tim­ing keeps Jar­rett on a straighter course than he some­times steers, but this is an al­bum that sounds ‘way more than the sum of its parts and the Hegel H80 de­liv­ered the sound of both dou­ble-bass and pi­ano as well as I’ve ever heard and in the pauses, the quiet­ness of the am­pli­fier was out­stand­ing. (In­deed the Hegel H80’s quiet­ness and res­o­lu­tion is so good it also re­veals Jar­rett’s aw­ful vo­calise rather more clearly than usual, which I could have done with­out!)

Midrange sound was ex­cel­lent. I am lis­ten­ing a lot to The Rose Gar­den lately: ‘A Trip through the Gar­den/The Rose Gar­den Col­lec­tion’ is a 26-track com­pi­la­tion of all the ma­te­rial this short-lived but very tal­ented band ever recorded back in the late 60s. It’s the vo­cals that are the stand-out here, and lis­ten­ing to them via the Hegel H80, it was very easy to hear why The Byrds’ Gene Clark took the band un­der his wing. Not only are all the in­di­vid­ual voices strong, but their har­mony singing is su­perb, par­tic­u­larly that of Diana De Rose and Jim Groshong. Since this Om­ni­vore Records re­lease in­cludes ev­ery­thing they ever recorded, it in­cludes their most fa­mous

If you’ve been look­ing at the Hegel H80 and been think­ing to your­self that some­thing’s miss­ing, you’d be right…

song, Next Plane to Lon­don, which may ring some bells for you if you’re of a cer­tain age.

Switch­ing my lis­ten­ing from the ana­logue in­puts to Hegel’s dig­i­tal in­puts I mostly en­cored the same lis­ten­ing ma­te­rial, this time be­ing con­verted from dig­i­tal by the Hegel H80 and my in­escapable con­clu­sion was that this am­pli­fier does a damn’ fine job of it. Its per­for­mance may not quite be in the ball-park of the bet­ter DACs that are avail­able to­day, but it’s com­men­su­rate with ex­ter­nal DACs that you might have con­sid­ered part­ner­ing with the H80 if it didn’t have its own DAC built in al­ready. The only short­com­ings are the lack of sup­port on the USB in­put for sam­pling fre­quen­cies above 96kHz, and that for some rea­son the USB in­put on mine couldn’t play 88.2kHz, whereas the coax­ial in­puts were quite happy to do so (as well as all other sam­pling rates up to 192kHz).

Con­Clu­sion

The fact that the Hegel H80 does not have a head­phone out­put or a line out­put, plus the lack of 88.2kHz sup­port on USB or 192kHz+ rates on S/PDIF may give po­ten­tial buy­ers pause for thought, but if these short­com­ings don’t con­cern you, the Hegel H80 is a pow­er­ful, well-built am­pli­fier with an ex­cel­lent on-board DAC that sounds amaz­ingly good. If you are both­ered, take a look at the just-re­leased Hegel H90 Net­work Stream­ing in­te­grated am­pli­fier which ad­dresses al­most all these is­sues, adds stream­ing and wi-fi and, al­though it’s slightly less pow­er­ful, is also slightly lower-priced. Henry Blaze

0dB line for the most part while the re­sponse into the sim­u­lated loud­speaker load di­verges only marginally (at around 200Hz and 6kHz). Son­i­cally, this means the Hegel H80 will ‘sound’ the same ir­re­spec­tive of the loud­speak­ers its driv­ing, which is good, plus it also means it will be able to con­trol back-emf from speak­ers with large-coned bass driv­ers.

The Hegel H80’s chan­nel sepa­ra­tion was good, and cer­tainly more than re­quired to en­sure ad­e­quate sepa­ra­tion and su­perb stereo imag­ing, but it was some­what less than I am used to see­ing, with the am­pli­fier re­turn­ing re­sults of 70dB at 20Hz and 69dB at 1kHz… and just 61dB at 20kHz.

The sig­nal-to-noise ra­tios mea­sured by New­port Test Labs were ex­cel­lent, with the A-weighted re­sults com­ing in at 89dB A-weighted re­ferred to a one-watt out­put and 107dB A-weighted ref­er­enced to rated out­put. Even un­weighted, the sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio re­ferred to rated out­put was 101dB. (These low noise floors are also ob­vi­ous in the dis­tor­tion spec­tro­grams.)

In­put sen­si­tiv­ity (as shown in the tab­u­lated re­sults) was the same ir­re­spec­tive of whether the lab tested it via the bal­anced or un­bal­anced in­puts, with the test re­sults com­ing in as there be­ing 73mV re­quired for a one-watt out­put and 633mV for rated out­put. These re­sults put over­all am­pli­fier gain at 31.7dB.

Square wave test­ing con­firmed the ex­cel­lence of the Hegel H80’s fre­quency re­sponse. The 100Hz square wave os­cil­lo­gram shows tilt that in­di­cates a non-d.c. re­sponse but there is no un­to­ward bend­ing. The 1kHz os­cil­lo­gram is near-per­fect, look­ing as if it came straight from the test sig­nal gen­er­a­tor, and the 10kHz os­cil­lo­gram shows only very, very slight round­ing on the lead­ing edge. The os­cil­lo­gram show­ing the Hegel H80’s per­for­mance into a highly re­ac­tive load re­veals to­tal sta­bil­ity—al­most no over­shoot or ringing. Am­pli­fiers that per­form like this in tests tend to also be judged as hav­ing good sound in sub­jec­tive tests. This per­for­mance would ap­pear to be a di­rect re­sult of the Hegel’s ‘SoundEngine’ cir­cuit topol­ogy, which is the sub­ject of US Pa­tent 6,275,104. The for­ward to this pa­tent says one of the fail­ings of con­ven­tional am­pli­fiers (that the Hegel cir­cuit ad­dresses) is that: ‘ Cur­rent kick-back from the con­nected re­ac­tive loads of the am­pli­fier will reach the out­put of the am­pli­fier. This kick­back will also reach the in­put stage through the feed­back net­work, and will dis­turb the op­er­a­tion of the in­put stage.’

Over­all, the Hegel H80 is a very well-de­signed am­pli­fier that de­liv­ered an ex­cel­lent set of re­sults across all New­port Test Labs’ lab­o­ra­tory tests. Steve Hold­ing

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