Hegel H190

Hardware Review

Hegel H190
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
integrated amplifier
Trevor Butler

To describe the Norwegian-conceived Hegel H190 as merely an integrated amplifier does it a disservice. Successor to the award-winning H160 it benefits from company founder Bent Holter’s refined SoundEngine2, first seen in the more powerful H360 model and boasting ten-times lower distortion than the first-generation. Added to this the unit’s onboard streaming ability (Tidal, Spotify, Airplay etc), a highly-competent DAC and we have all that’s needed to couple to a pair of speakers for a complete music system. With an output of 150 Watts per channel it is obviously capable of driving demanding loudspeakers of most stripes.

SoundEngine is Hegel’s own amplification system which has been created to combine the advantages of Class AB and Class A circuitry in one: the raison d'etrebeing to provide high power alongside a low signal-to-noise ratio by concentrating all engineering on the sound quality aspect of the design.

 

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Externally, the design is sleek and the uncrowded fascia contains just two controls (input selection and volume) with a central display and a full fat headphone socket. The power switch is neatly located out of sight, below the left-hand dial.

Ins and Outs
We are offered a plethora of inputs and outputs to suit almost every conceivable need in this increasingly digital world. There is also an RJ45 Ethernet port for network connection (which I made full use of) to allow control over the internet, and wirelessly streaming from a mobile device using an AirPlay or DLNA source. (I relied heavily on the former for the majority of listening sessions involving recorded material.) Added to this, the H190 is the first model from this marque to benefit from Spotify Connect, allowing it to stream directly using an associated account. 

With one coaxial and three optical digital inputs as well as USB connection, the back panel also houses a balanced analogue input as well as an unbalanced one via RCA phono. There are both fixed and variable unbalanced line-level outputs (I used these to drive some monoblocks although they would also accommodate connection to a subwoofer) as well as manly speaker terminals accepting spades, banana plugs or bare wire. 

 

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The digital inputs are compatible with PCM signals up to 24-bit/192kHz with the USB input suitable for up to 24-bit/96kHz to preserve plug-and-play compatibility without the need for additional Windows driver. Incoming analogue signals are converted to digital and upsampled to 24/192. 

Technology
Using a negative feedback technology, the signal is monitored in real time; should unexpected distortion be detected it is elegantly phased out. Audibly it would appear to work since the H190 is just as quiet as it is powerful. I have been benefiting from this technology in the Röst which has beenin regular use since my 2017 review, it has formidable bass control as well as incredibly low noise floor and impressively clean output yet its specified output is half of the H190.

Much of the circuitry from the Röst has found its way into the H190, but it is a great deal more than a newer, bigger version of that design. I am delighted to see the OLED front-panel display retained, along with the choice of black or matt white finish options. “What we have here is not merely a Röst on steroids”, explains Bent. For a start there is a considerably upgraded DAC.

 

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Like its big brother, the H190 has a damping factor of over 4,000 which is considerably higher than many amplifiers which have under 200. Over-damping certainly benefits bass response if this Hegel design is anything to go by. 

Ease of use is improved by the amp’s Airplay compatibility, allowing it to play audio files stored in an Apple device via a home network. Airplay is lossless although limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz, but that’s more than enough for most of us (speak for yourself – Ed.). As a result I didn’t get much use out of Hegel's responsive and deliciously tactile remote but this will be useful for many.The H190’s second streaming protocol is UPnP/DLNA which requires use of a third-party app and was outside the scope of this review. 

Inside, the electronics are assembled on two circuit boards, one for analogue and the other devoted to digital circuitry and dubbed Sound Card by Hegel. This was built in-house using a Libre Wireless DSP module and includes Hegel's own implementation of Airplay and a proprietary USB interface. 

Sound quality
One has an immediate sensation with anything new, and that first impression opinion is a valid one. With the H190 I was aware of a sense of neutrality on recordings I knew well (including some which I had actually made) and a depth to the soundstage which surpassed that from equipment costing many-times more. Extending not just behind the speakers but well beyond the wall behind them. Across a wide range of material, the Hegel revelled in its rendition, from solo instruments (notably piano, flute and cello), small-scale Baroque, vocals, choral and human voice readings. Then there were also some heavier sessions with classic 80s rock which the Hegel handled with aplomb. 

 

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I had begun by connecting the 190 to a pair of diminutive Neat Iota Alpha speakers and Airplay via my iPhone. What could be simpler? When initially switched on, and before any signal flowed, the lack of noise was notable. No hiss, no hum – just silence. This bodes well, I thought, and so it did. 

As time went on I substituted the Neat model for my trusty Harbeth M30.1 Anniversary and even pressed into service my Trigon monoblocks after many hours of using the Hegel as an integrated. My impression was nothing less than consistently positive no matter what the pairing. The Hegel is clearly capable in every respect: neutrality in the all-important midrange, power in the lows and never a hint of strain or dynamic compression. The treble remained tempered as well, and unlikely to provoke edgy tweeters. Not only did the afore mentioned depth remain apparent, but also a notable width and consistent strength of overall scale and well-controlled balance and distribution of energy across the spectrum as a veil was lifted on performance after performance.

Some may find the H190 bland but that would be to confuse blandness with neutrality and control. The design simply oozes inner detail and has a good sense of timing to keep the tune moving which had this listener’s foot tapping involuntarily to everything from Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Who, Status Quo, The Police and Phil Collins – all of which endorsed the design’s bass credentials. 

 

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My final listening sessions coincided with the start of the 2019 Proms Season from the BBC with the ambience of the Royal Albert Hall being convincingly conveyed to my modest listening room, evening after evening – with a satellite decoder signal fed to one of the optical inputs.  Clearly the onboard DAC works very well, its key characteristics being smoothness and fluidity with a sweet, unfatiguing treble and weighty bass. 

Conclusion
Boasting both superb tonality and abundance of energy, undoubtedly the solidly-built H190 sets a new standard in its class. Hegel has a habit of doing this, and has pulled it off again. We have to acknowledge its neutral timbre, incredible resolution, and phenomenal bass control. The only downside is that all this technology has seen a price increase over its predecessor, not helped by exchange rates. 

My sense is that the user-friendly design attempts to replicate the recording with as much accuracy as possible, rather than trying to re-create a recording which wasn’t there, as many designers seem inclined to do. This is very much in keeping with my own ethos, and an essential part of my BBC training in the dim and distant past. Little wonder then, perhaps, that the H190 and I got along so well. 

Specifications: 

Type: Integrated stereo amplifier with DAC
Analogue inputs: 2x RCA single-ended, XLR balanced
Digital inputs: coax S/PDIF, 3x optical S/PDIF, USB, RJ45 
Outputs: unbalanced RCA fixed and variable 
Speaker outputs: binding posts 
Headphone amp: 6.3mm jack
Rated output power: 150W into 8 Ohms, 250W into 4 Ohms
Supplied accessories: IR remote control
Dimensions H x W x D: 120 x 430 x 410mm
Shipping weight: 19kg

Price: 
£3,200
Manufacturer Details: 

Hegel Music System AS
Phone: +47 2260 5660
www.hegel.com

Comments

Which speakers to pair with the Hegel h 190, Spendor D7.2, Evoke 50, or Dali rubicon 6 or another

Hi Katarina, the H 190 is a very even handed and powerful amplifier so it would probably work well with all of the models you suggest. My recommendation would be the PMC twenty5.24, Trevor Butler who wrote this review uses Harbeth Monitor 30.1 SE so those must also work well.

Hello. I own Q acoustics concept 500 paired with Harman Kardon hk 990. I think these speakers deserve better amplification and I think of this Hegel or marantz pm ki ruby. Have you heard marantz to make a comparison which is more capable between two sound wise? Thank you

By ivres

Hi, you are right the speakers will benefit from better amplification. I haven't heard Concept 500s with a Hegel but I have enjoyed a brief session with the Marantz KI Ruby, in the late Ken Ishiwata's listening room at that. Ken was a good friend of Concept 500 designer Karl-Heinz Fink and used this speaker for a lot of his work so I'd say it that this should be a great pairing. I reviewed the Concept 500 with a Townshend Allegri and ATC P1 and that worked a treat but is a little more pricey.

Hi, I am looking for an amplifier to match my ATC SCM19 stand-mounts and read this review with interest.

Could the H190 be the right choice for pairing wth my ATC SCM19 stand-mounts? I am using a Roksan K3 (newest model) today but I am not really satisfied. I think it lacks some details and the sound feels to aggressive. I am a little bit desperate to find the perfect match.

Brgds
Lars

By Fekser

Hi Lars, the SCM 19 is quite a demanding loudspeaker both in terms of power and quality; it needs both. I haven't tried them with a Hegel but this looks like a pairing that could work really well.

I tested the Hegel H120 but it was not in control of my speakers... guess it has to few muscles. Hopefully a Hegel with more power could be a more satisfying experience... about demanding speakers... do you think the Roksan is a wrongly match for the ATCs?

If you have any other suggestions or recommendations that I could explore I would be happy to hear about them.

By Fekser

I spoke to an ATC dealer about this and he explained that these speakers require amplifiers with a lot of grip, he suggested two to consider. The ATC SIA2-150 Mk2 which will certainly be up to the job in all respects, and the Naim Supernait 3 which while lower powered in terms of watts has the required current to drive these speakers well. I am not familiar with the Roksan K3 so can't comment on the reason for the poor match but it might be due to insufficient current.

Hi
How do you think the Hegel 190 would suit the Tannoy XT-8Fs?
I have them powered by a Naim Uniti Atom and I find them bright/harsh at higher volumes.
It isn't really a problem with vinyl (I have the Rega Planar 1 Plus) but digital streaming and especially CDs through the Audiolab 6000CD Transport can get very sharp. I suspect the DAC is mainly to blame although the Tannoys have been said to be bright too.

By dazm73

I find Tannoys to be on the bright side if they are not carefully matched to amp and source and your Audiolab may have this characteristic too. The other issue could be that the Uniti Atom doesn't have sufficient power for high levels, the Hegel H190 would be a lot better suited in that respect but I would try before you buy if possible.