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- Written by Doug Schneider Doug Schneider
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 01 March 2015 01 March 2015
Note: Measurements can be found through this link.
The history of Hegel Music Systems can be traced back to 1988, when the company’s founder, Bent Holter, conducted his thesis work at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, focusing on what he saw as the transistor’s No.1 enemy: harmonic distortion. That work led to Hegel’s patented SoundEngine technology, which, they claim, “will cancel high frequency distortion components found in normal types of audio amplifiers. The Hegel SoundEngine technology is not using any kind of global negative feedback, it is using local and adaptive feed forward technology if there should ever be any need for cancellation of distortion within the audio amplifier stages.”
Only recently has Hegel made significant inroads into North America, but since then, in the US and Canada, it has been nothing but full steam ahead. The company has regularly released new models that have routinely won critical praise for their ideal combinations of great sound quality and high value. Some of that praise came from our own writers: Roger Kanno, who recently reviewed the H80 integrated amplifier-DAC for this site; Hans Wetzel, who reviewed the H300 integrated amplifier-DAC (and then purchased one) for SoundStage! Access, and whose review of the H160 integrated amplifier-DAC will soon appear there; and Jeff Fritz, who recently wrote about the HD12 DAC for SoundStage! Ultra. I reviewed the HD10 DAC for this site in 2011, and blogged about the Super headphone amp on SoundStage! Global in 2013. So when I considered reviewing another Hegel product, I thought, “Let’s go for the most expensive thing they make” -- the H30 power amplifier, which retails for $15,000 USD.
The H30 is not only Hegel’s most expensive model, it’s the largest and heaviest -- it measures about 17”W x 9.25”H (with feet) x 21”D (not including binding posts), and weighs about 100 pounds. The H30 conforms to Hegel’s minimalist, understated styling -- on its gently curved front panel are only a large power button, a blue LED, and an engraved Hegel logo. Since the heatsinks are inside, the H30’s side panels are flat and clean. The smooth surfaces are otherwise interrupted only by ventilation slots in the top panel, and rows of small bolts along each top edge. My review sample was the same black as every other Hegel product I’ve reviewed, though silver is an option for this model. (Hegel’s integrated amps and DACs are available only in black; their preamps, power amps, and CD players can be ordered in black or silver.)
Part of what $15,000 buys is superior casework: thick, extremely well-finished metal plates with an anodized finish for the top and side panels, compared with the thinner, folded metal with textured finish on their lower-priced products. The quality of the anodizing on the H30’s front panel was also superior to that on their lower-priced products, with a texture that looks and feels more refined.
On the H30’s rear panel are three sets of inputs, with a switch for each set to select between its balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) connectors. Which set you use will depend on whether the H30 is set for mono or stereo use, selectable with a switch next to the central RCA jack; which type of connector is used will obviously depend on whether you use single-ended (RCA) or balanced (XLR) interconnects. If the H30 is used as a monoblock, you must use one of the connectors in the central set; if it’s used as a stereo amp, then the XLR or RCA connectors in the left and right sets are used. For this review, I used the H30 as a stereo amp in balanced mode.
Below the input connectors are two pairs of super-sturdy speaker-cable binding posts, with large handles for really tightening them down. I like this for the robust connections they make possible. If you’re using the H30 as a monoblock, you need use only the two central, red posts; for stereo, you use all four posts. Between the central posts is a fuse, and below the fuse is an IEC power-cord inlet. To the inlet’s right are 1/8” in/out jacks for remote turn-on/off.
It was interesting for me to read, in Hegel’s promotional materials, that the H30 was primarily designed as a monoblock capable of outputting 1100W into 8 ohms. It’s not that its stereo mode, in which it’s claimed to deliver 350Wpc into 8 ohms, is an afterthought, but Hegel says you can use the H30 that way “if you are on a budget.” Of course, the main advantage of monoblocks is the extra power available for more dynamic headroom, but another is the fact that, in mono mode, the H30 has a fully balanced output stage, which is said to further reduce distortion.
The H30 includes the SoundEngine technology, as well as many differences in circuitry and build that, Hegel claims, differentiate it from the rest of their line in ways other than a higher power output: improved input and voltage-gain stages, hand-matched transistors, a “special combination of JFET and MOSFET transistors,” a more robust output stage comprising 56 ultralow-distortion bipolar transistors, and “the use of better parts throughout.”
Because the Hegel lingered in my listening room longer than normal due to a very long review queue, I had plenty of time to use it with a variety of preamplifiers: EMM Labs’ PRE2, Luxman’s C-900u, and Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 740P. All of them worked flawlessly with the H30. (Hegel also makes a matching preamplifier, the P30, but I didn’t have one here for review.) I also used the H30 to drive more and different speakers than I have with any other amplifier: Definitive Technology’s SuperTower Mythos ST-L, GoldenEar’s Triton One, KEF’s Reference 1, Revel’s Performa3 F206, and Sonus Faber’s Olympica III. Not only did the Hegel drive each pair effortlessly, it didn’t wince even when a speaker proved to be a slightly difficult load -- such as the Sonus Faber, whose nominal load of 4 ohms drops toward 3 ohms in the bass. With the H30 I was also able to drive every speaker pair at the highest volume level I needed to -- occasionally very loud -- without having the system run out of steam.
The H30’s control of the bass was excellent. It exerted a vise-like grip on the woofers of all of the speakers, including the Olympica IIIs, which are not only tougher to drive than the average, but can sound a bit overblown in the bass if the amp can’t keep a tight hold on the reins. In these regards, the H30 always worked ideally; I suspect that, for most listeners with “normal” speakers, a single H30 in stereo mode will provide plenty of power.
I also found the H30 to sound completely neutral, regardless of the speakers I used it with. I heard no colorations throughout the audioband, which isn’t surprising -- well-designed solid-state amplifiers inherently behave that way. It sounded exceptionally clean and clear from the bass through the highs.
But none of that is to say that, overall, the H30 sounded identical to the other good solid-state stereo amps I listened to during its stay here: Ayre Acoustics’ VX-5 ($8000), Luxman’s M-900u ($19,900), and Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 870A ($22,000), respectively rated to output 175, 150, and 300Wpc into 8 ohms. Obviously, these significantly different output capabilities will govern how loudly each can drive a given pair of speakers, but used well within their power limits, each brought something different to the sonic table.
Of the four, the Hegel H30 presented the boldest, most visceral sound, whether I was playing music at whisper-quiet, normal, or very loud levels. That seems to be a hallmark of the sound of Hegel amps -- the H80, which Roger Kanno reviewed, and I’d listened to before reviewing the H30, had a similar character. Hans Wetzel said the same of Hegel’s H300 integrated amplifier-DAC, which he reviewed and then purchased; in fact, the H300’s very immediate, upfront sound was one of the main reasons he liked it. I can easily see someone reacting similarly to the H30 -- the soundscapes it painted in my room were always vivid and incisive, pushing performers somewhat forward in the stage, but never so far forward or so in my face as to be objectionable. So when Lo-Fang’s extremely laid-back but thoroughly captivating cover of “You’re the One That I Want” (from Grease), from his Blue Film (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, 4AD), had so much life when I played it through the H30 . . . well, I was impressed.
The flip side of this was that, in comparison to the amps just mentioned, the H30’s soundstage wasn’t quite as deep, regardless of the speakers used or which recordings I played. For instance, in “Misguided Angel,” from the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session (16/44.1 FLAC, RCA), Margo Timmins’s voice was cast very solidly in the center, the musicians around her were as firmly placed as ever, and the ambient cues of the recording venue (a large church) were all apparent. But the depth of stage wasn’t nearly as convincing as through the other amps, particularly the Luxman M-900u, whose re-creations of recorded spaces seem to go on forever. The results were similar with Musica Nuda’s self-titled debut (16/44.1 FLAC, BHM): Petra Magoni’s voice was starkly present and immediate, with a beautiful richness, and Ferruccio Spinetti’s double bass was right there in the room, with tremendous body and weight -- but the space to the sides and, particularly, behind the duo didn’t reach quite as far as I hear with the other three amps. My tried-and-true test disc for soundstaging and imaging, Ennio Morricone’s score for the film The Mission (16/44.1 FLAC, Virgin), had rock-solid specificity of imaging, but the stage itself didn’t extend back as far as I’ve heard it. You get the point: The H30’s sound was very visceral, intense, and immediate, but lacked some depth of stage.
Despite its stages not being the deepest, the H30’s transparency was outstanding, as was its ability to reveal detail. Together, these gave a crystal-clear view of the stage, on which performers often appeared with reach-out-and-touch palpability, particularly as the H30 pushed things forward a bit. I was particularly taken with Sade Adu’s voice in “Long Hard Road,” from Sade’s Soldier of Love (16/44.1 FLAC, Epic), through the GoldenEar Triton Ones (review under way). She’s miked very closely, and the H30 pushed her a step closer to me -- I was listening to an aural hologram. In transparency and resolution, the H30 matched the Ayre VX-5, an underpriced overachiever at $8000, as well as the Simaudio 870A, at $22,000 a cost-no-object benchmark by which other amps can be judged. However, the H30 took a back seat in terms of resolution in comparison to the Luxman M-900u ($19,900), which has the lowest noise floor of any power amp I’ve reviewed, and was the most revealing of these four models -- it let me hear everything in a recording, which is probably one of the reasons it can so capably re-create the sound of a recording venue. The higher-powered, lower-priced H30 couldn’t quite match the M-900u in that regard, but it came awfully close, and it equaled the others.
Don’t let Hegel Music Systems’ understated styling fool you -- the H30 is a formidable, versatile beast of an amplifier, all in good ways. In addition to its high power, tremendous bass control, and excellent compatibility with a wide variety of speakers, the H30 offers clear, incisive sound that’s as visceral as it is exciting. Other than Hegel’s lower-priced amplifiers, I’ve never encountered another amp that so well conveys a sense of immediacy -- it made me sit up and take notice -- yet is never so forward or so bold as to sound objectionable. And what the H30 lacks in soundstage depth it counters with outstanding image focus, combined with a highly present and palpable sound, particularly through the midrange. Finally, two H30s run as monoblocks will not only deliver significantly more power than a single stereo H30, but are claimed to offer better sound, because of how the amp’s bridge circuitry works -- not insignificant.
Although the H30 is the biggest, most expensive product Hegel Music Systems makes, it nonetheless carries on the company’s tradition of high performance and high value -- not because it’s cheap, but because it can stand alongside the best amps made, even those costing much more.
. . . Doug Schneider
- Speakers -- Definitive Technology SuperTower Mythos ST-L, GoldenEar Triton One, KEF Reference 1, Revel Performa3 F206, Sonus Faber Olympica III
- Preamplifiers -- EMM Labs PRE2, Luxman C-900u, Simaudio Moon Evolution 740P
- Amplifiers -- Ayre Acoustics VX-5, Luxman M-900u, Simaudio Moon Evolution 870A
- Integrated amplifier-DAC -- Hegel Music Systems H80
- Digital-to-analog converters -- EMM Labs DAC2X, Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D
- Computer -- Samsung laptop running Windows 7 and JRiver Media Center 20
- Digital interconnects -- AudioQuest Carbon USB
- Analog interconnects -- Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Standard Diamond
- Speaker cables -- Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L
Hegel Music Systems H30 Mono/Stereo Amplifier
Price: $15,000 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Hegel Music Systems AS
PO Box 2, Torshov
Phone: +47 22-60-56-60
Fax: +47 22-69-91-56
North American distributors:
Hegel Music Systems USA
Phone: (413) 224-2480
CP 8, Westmount Station
Montreal, Quebec H3Z 2T1
Phone: (514) 931-1880
Fax: (866) 708-1352