Norway’s Hegel Music Systems has produced separate preamplifiers and power amplifiers since the early 1990s, but in recent years it has become best known for its DAC-equipped integrated amplifiers. In August 2023, Hegel introduced the H600, priced at $12,500 (in USD), which replaced the H590 as the company’s flagship integrated amp.
Hans Wetzel reviewed the H590 on this site in October 2018. We recognized the H590 as a Recommended Reference Component the following month, and shortly after that, Hans bought one for his own reference system. Like Hans, Philip Beaudette is no stranger to integrated amplifiers. Philip’s reference amplifier is the Bryston B135 SST2, which has earned our Reviewers’ Choice and Recommended Reference Component awards. Philip reviewed the H600 on this site in August 2023.
In his review, Philip described how “the H600 incorporates technology trickled down from Hegel’s P30A reference preamplifier, which impressed Jason Thorpe, who reviewed it in January, and boasts a redesigned DAC section and an updated, flexible streaming capability.” Philip also mentioned that Hegel previously used a “4493 chip from Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM)” in the H590 and H390 integrateds as well as in the HD30 standalone digital-to-analog converter, but “COVID-related supply-chain issues . . . and a fire at the AKM factory in Nobeoka City, Japan, disrupted availability of the 4493 and forced Hegel to find new DAC solutions to secure production.” The H600 uses an ESS Sabre 9038Q2M chip. “The new DAC implementation in the H600 has such high resolution that it is a significant improvement over the H590 and in many ways the HD30,” Hegel claims.
Philip pointed out that “Hegel describes the H600 as a mini P30A preamplifier because it uses the latter’s ultra-silent volume attenuator” and that, according to Hegel, “the new volume attenuator is the H600’s single biggest improvement over its predecessor, the H590.” The H600’s power rating into 8 ohms is 2Wpc higher than the H590’s—303Wpc versus 301Wpc. Diego Estan, our electronics measurement specialist, measured the H600 and wrote the lab report accompanying the review. Diego attained 313Wpc into 8 ohms before the H600 reached 1% distortion, our upper limit when testing power output. But the H600’s measured power delivery into 4 ohms, 519Wpc, fell short of Hegel’s claim of 590Wpc. Transient bursts, though, peaked at 626.6Wpc. Suffice it to say that the H600 delivers enough power for most home systems.
Philip’s reference Monitor Audio Gold 300 5G floorstanders, normally driven by his Bryston B135 SST2 integrated amplifier, were used for the entire audition. The B135 SST2 is rated at 135Wpc into 8 ohms, less than half the power that the Hegel can deliver; still, Philip noted, it could play the Gold 300 loudspeakers as loudly as he could tolerate even in his large new listening room.
Philip auditioned the H600 with and without its onboard DAC. First, bypassing the DAC, he connected his own Bryston BDA‑2 standalone DAC to one of the H600’s sets of analog inputs. Then, for comparison, he connected the BDA‑2 to the B135 SST2. Although occasionally streaming digital files from his MacBook computer, Philip prefers CDs for digital playback. He uses a NAD C 565BEE CD player as a transport, connected to the BDA‑2 via an i2Digital X‑60 coaxial cable.
Björk’s Medúlla (CD, Electra 62985) was Philip’s first album choice. He wrote, “On ‘Where Is the Line,’ the Icelandic Choir emerged convincingly deep, reaching well behind the plane of the speakers. About a minute and a half into the song, the choir, on the left, starts whistling. The H600 delivered this passage so vividly that I stopped taking notes and looked up. Rahzel’s potent beatboxing and vocal escapades left me shaking my head in awe. I could not imagine how the sounds he produced were even possible.” After listening to “Triumph of the Heart,” from the same album, Philip wrote,
The H600 handily peeled away the layers in this dense production and teased apart every detail and, most impressively, did so compellingly at any volume. I spent much of my time with the H600 at higher volumes than usual. This was due, in part, to the size of my listening room . . . but it was also because the H600 never became disagreeably loud. Its sound remained smooth and fluid, inviting high playback levels.
Other tracks, from other albums, left Philip equally impressed. Reflecting on his experience with the H600 purely as an amplifier, he wrote, “over time, it became clear that everything the H600 did was effortless. It could produce high output levels without clipping, which induced me to play loudly. . . . But it was also effortless at levels just above a whisper, where despite the smaller soundstage, it was still amazingly revealing.”
The H600’s built-in DAC was first put to the test with Tom Waits’s “Take It with Me,” from Mule Variations (CD, Anti- / Epitaph Records 86547-2). Having listened to this song with the BDA‑2 DAC, Philip quickly determined that “the Hegel’s DAC exceeded the BDA‑2 in transparency and immediacy of presentation—not because it sounded any closer, but because it had so much more detail.” He added that through the H600’s DAC, “the lowest registers of the upright piano had additional weight, giving the instrument a more powerful presence, and Waits’s gruff baritone had coarser grit.” But he also observed,
Other recordings, such as “She Moved through the Fair,” from Loreena McKennitt’s Nights from the Alhambra (CD, Quinlan Road QRCDDVD2-110-N), suggested that the Hegel and Bryston DACs were more similar than different. In this album, they were virtually indistinguishable in soundstage and tone of vocals and instruments. Still, the Hegel yielded a touch more space, a greater sense of air. The difference was subtle, though, and I had to alternate between the two converters several times to be sure of it.
Similarly, Philip heard a “quieter background” and “more distinctly separated” instruments from the H600’s DAC when he played a 16-bit/44.1kHz music file of the Finale from the Engegård Quartet’s recording of Haydn’s String Quartet in D, op. 76, no. 5 (2L Recordings). “The performance difference was slight,” he wrote, but he preferred the H600’s DAC.
Concluding his review, Philip pronounced the H600 “an exceptional integrated amplifier” with “a topflight DAC that can easily rival external DACs costing thousands of dollars.” He also declared, “This is the finest integrated amplifier-DAC combination I’ve heard in my time as a reviewer.” Together with the fine set of measurements from our lab, Philip’s praise earned the H600 a Reviewers’ Choice designation at the time the review was published—and now a Recommended Reference Component award. But those aren’t the only accolades that the H600 has received. About two weeks after Philip’s review was published, the EISA organization, a global group of print and online publications covering several consumer-electronics market segments, presented the H600 with one of its Best Product awards. It is unquestionably one of the most critically acclaimed integrated amplifiers on the market right now.
Manufacturer contact information:
Hegel Music Systems AS
PO Box 2, Torshov
Phone: +47 22-60-56-60
Fax: +47 22-69-91-56