At the same time, the Hegel skillfully unraveled more complicated musical passages with aplomb. In this regard, it performed very well indeed on the SACD From the Imperial Court, which consists of Renaissance music composed by Spanish and Flemish polyphonists for the House of Hapsburg. This Harmonia Mundi disc is exceedingly well-recorded (no surprise there!); still, there was no doubting that the Hegel did a marvelous job of separating individual voices as well as capturing dynamic distinctions with great fidelity. I was particularly impressed by the luminously reproduced pianissimos in the treble on the song “Magnificat primi toni,” composed by Nicolas Gombert. The Hegel offered a sense that the sound was ascending into the ether with ease and delicacy.
That sense of delicacy also came through on one of my favorites, Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton [Verve]. On the cut “How Deep Is The Ocean?” many of the virtues of the Hegel were immediately on display. The trumpets never became pinched or abrasive; rather, their blat was lifelike, and the articulation, particularly the way Cheatham likes to slur, bend, and twist notes, was very apparent. Nor was there any wiggle room on pitch definition. At the outset of “Jeepers Creepers,” for example, the Hegel 160 nailed the opening trumpet flourish, which emerged with a bang.
The clarity of the Hegel also meant that it captured the rhythmic drive of the Cheatham/Payton ensemble with estimable fidelity. There was a jaunty quality to the music, an ability to clearly reproduce the interplay among the instrumentalists, that endowed the entire album with a real sense of drama. You could clearly sense the emotional buildup on the song “Stardust,” (which the liner notes indicate Cheatham liked to call “Stardust Rhapsody”). On “Save It Pretty Mama,” the sonority of Jack Meheu’s clarinet was hauntingly plangent.
What all this suggests is that the Hegel was getting superlative microdynamics that create the illusion—for that, after all, is what we’re talking about—of a live performance, where you’re drawn emotionally into the music enough to suspend disbelief. That is what the Hegel H160 did for me. As a trumpet player myself, I became engrossed by each trumpeter’s technique, tone, and, at bottom, imagination.
Let me say clearly that I’m not suggesting that this beauty offers performance on par with the big boys at five or ten times its price. The Ypsilon SET 100 Ultimate amplifiers, particularly after extensive upgrades performed by Demetris Baklavas in March, ascend into the empyrean sphere of musical reproduction. The Boulder 2050 amplifiers, which clock in at close to $100,000, are also in a different sphere.
What I am saying, however, is that it’s not like I was discombobulated by the sound upon inserting the Hegel. Quite the contrary. The quality of the Hegel’s reproduction of music was most impressive, particularly when you take into account that it is, by high-end standards, a real value.
If you’re looking for an integrated amplifier that doesn’t reside in the Himalayan region of audio pricing, then the Hegel fully deserves an audition. To be sure, tube-lovers would be better advised to consider something like the Jadis. But the Hegel offers superbly linear, coherent, and engrossing musical playback. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to detect that this is a very special piece of equipment.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 150Wpc into 8 ohms, 250Wpc into 4 ohms
Frequency response: 5Hz-100kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio: More than 100dB
Crosstalk: Less than - 100dB
Distortion: 0.005% @ 50W, 8 ohms, 1kHz
Damping factor: More than 1000 (main power output stage)
Analog inputs: One balanced (XLR), one unbalanced (RCA), one home theatre
Analog outputs: One fixed line level (RCA), one variable line level (RCA)
Digital inputs: One coaxial, three optical, one USB, one Ethernet (RJ45)
Headphones output: 6.3mm jack (front)
Dimension: 16.93" x 4.7" x 16.15"
Weight: 42 lbs (shipping)
HEGEL MUSIC SYSTEMS, USA
Continuum Caliburn with two Cobra tonearms, Lyra Atlas and Miyajima Zero mono cartridges, dCS Vivaldi CD/SACD playback system, Wilson Alexandria XLF loudspeakers and Hammer of Thor subwoofers, Stillpoints Ultra 5 and Ultra SS footers, Nordost Odin, Transparent Opus, and Audience cabling and power cords.