Hegel H160 Integrated Amplifier Review

Hegel H160 Integrated Amplifier 03

The speakers I used for evaluating the H160 were the Bryston Middle T model, connected with Nordost Red Dawn speaker cables. For a vinyl source, I used a Rega RP-3 turntable with a music hall pa1.2 phono preamplifier, connected with a Nordost Red Dawn RCA cable. I also used a Nordost Blue Heaven power cable connected to the H160.

When I first started listening to the H160, the thing that struck me was not the presence of sound from a new amplifier, but rather the absence of typical tonal colorations amplifiers often bring. That doesn’t mean the H160 sounds boring, rather it makes for a more engaging and musically coherent experience. The best amplifiers add nothing extra, nor take anything away.

The result of this is hearing the intentions of the artists and recording engineers. Listening to The Fugees timeless song “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, the layers and harmonies of Lauryn Hill’s vocal track became clearly separable. The instruments and accompanying vocalists sounded musical and natural. Also, I used to think the song had a more bloated bass-line, but I learned it is tighter and leaner than I had previously imagined.

I don’t mean to say the H160 can’t hit heavy and hard, because it definitely can. The H160 excels at bass. The high damping factor allows the amp to grip the bass drivers with astonishing precision. On the Glass Animals song “Gooey”, there is a complex bass line with subtle frequency changes that were articulately expressed through the H160. As Glass Animals are known for their swirly and almost underwater sounding effects, the fluidity of the H160’s tonal balance was also nicely demonstrated with this track.

To assess the midrange, I turned to acoustic ballads, and Birdy’s cover of “Skinny Love” demonstrated the H160’s perfectly balanced midrange. In this excellent recording, I heard the steps on the piano’s pedals, and all the weight and intention put on the keys. Significant emotion was expressed in the dynamics of the song as Birdy’s fragile voice swings from soft to loud. There was a right balance of detail during the soft parts, without sounding etched during the louder parts.

Timing and perspective from the H160’s high frequencies was excellent. I never found cymbals to be jarring or forward, and yet their characteristics were tightly in focus. Even on heavy tracks like Lamb of God – Walk with Me in Hell, Chris Adler’s remarkable ability to place a perfectly timed cymbal was evident without being harsh through the H160, even at unneighbourly volumes.

I was initially surprised, and continually impressed with the H160’s vast scale of the soundstage and retrieval of detail. On songs like “Colour Me In” by Damien Rice, the central image as the song begins was startlingly real, and as the layers of instruments come in, there was a great sense of the recording space. I’ve had friends ask in disbelief of where the sounds were coming from as if I had other speakers hiding somewhere in the room.

The integrated DAC is partially responsible for the musicality of the H160. To evaluate, I used my PC and J-River software to send music to the H160 via USB, and also over my wireless network. I also used my iPhone to stream music. All of these connections were easy to setup and reliable. The use of AirPlay was my preferred way to use the DAC as I found AirPlay had the lowest noise floor and most fluid sound. The DAC made lower quality files sound more natural and musical, which is great if you sometimes use music streaming services like I do. But it was high resolution files that demonstrated how musically capable the DAC really is. There was an excellent balance between micro resolution and smoothness. The timing and cohesion helped the amplifier create a convincing soundstage. Importantly, the DAC complimented the character of the amplifier – both are very honest, without being critical. The DAC section is worth a sizeable portion of the H160’s retail price.

There are compelling all in one solutions from Devialet, Naim, Pass Labs, and others, and I think the H160 would compete favorably with any integrated amp close to its price point. To be highly critical of the H160, I could say that it was a bit noisy, as the backgrounds weren’t totally black like some class-D amps, but rather alive and a touch grey. The RC-8 isn’t my favorite remote because it’s skinny and uncomfortably angular. I also think that Hegel could probably make an excellent phono stage, but they haven’t offered one yet.

I think if the H160 were a vehicle, it’d be a Range Rover. Fully capable in any situation, luxurious while maintaining classiness, and rugged when you want it. The H160 effortlessly offered all the performance I desired with every recording I played through it. Hegel’s mission for the H160 was to take any source and make it sound as good as it possibly can. In my opinion they have accomplished this and much more. If you’re in the market for a sub-$5,000 integrated amp, this is definitely one you should give a good listen to.

Hegel
www.hegel.com
+47 22 60 56 60

Hegel H160 Integrated Amplifier
Price: $3,999

Distributed in Canada by Hegel Canada
richard@hegel.com
514-931-1880

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