Hegel H300 Integrated Amplifier

From Oslo With Love

Equipment report
Integrated amplifiers
Hegel Music Systems H300
Hegel H300 Integrated Amplifier

Unique to the H300 is the DAC Loop function, which allows the owner to add an external (and presumably more advanced) DAC down the road while retaining Hegel’s sophisticated reclocking circuit. Although naturally Hegel would urge owners bent on upgrading to buy its own HD25 DAC, the company stresses that all H300 owners can continue to take advantage of its re-clocking circuitry by connecting any quality DAC to the H300’s digital output. Holter explained that the DAC loop has a high-quality SPDIF reclocker circuit that removes jitter from all digital inputs so that the H300 can be used as a stand-alone reclocker with any audio system. He adds that “the beauty of the H300 reclocking is that when feeding the reclocked SPDIF signal to the coax input of an external DAC you will reduce the complete system digital jitter to as low levels as possible.” [I heard a demo of the H300 used as a reclocking device and can report that it improves the sound as claimed.—RH]

The sonic character of the H300 is strictly neutral. Neutral, that is, in the sense that even the most minor tonal colorations or electronic detritus common to many amplifiers simply don’t materialize. There’s certainly no grit or grain. If you’re looking for a plush midrange warmth, some extra push in the bass, a golden bloom in the upper mids, or even a burst of sparkle in the treble, the H300 won’t be your ride. Hegel’s approach is holistic but no-nonsense—opening a transparent, harmonious window of sound. And neutral doesn’t imply dull by any means. For the H300 neutrality is merely the platform to exhibit a pristine lack of distortion, superb edge definition, and micro-dynamic liveliness.

What the Hegel possesses in spades is the ability to reproduce the source material from an exquisitely low noise floor without compression, constriction, and transient distortions, in essence releasing music openly, rather than bullying it into submission. So to my ears, during Elgar’s Enigma Variations from the new Reference Recording disc [RR129], a snare drum thwack and a bass drum or tympani thwump never sounds cut off or artificially controlled at the resonant end of the note. It lingers as long as it can before it’s swallowed by the silence of the hall. And equally defined is the timbre of wind instruments, notably flutes, which is reproduced in a remarkably lifelike manner and always with the appropriate halo of surrounding air.

The H300 provided a wide luscious soundstage during Dire Straits’ “Private Investigations” from Love Over Gold [Warmer], a track brimming with sound cues large and small. I was especially taken by the dynamic breadth of the performance, from the CinemaScope-styled drum fills emerging from somewhere approximating the center of the Earth to the delicacy of the nylon-stringed guitar, marimba accents, and scratchy soles beneath the intermittently appearing footsteps. The sudden turn of a doorknob and a kitten’s mewing, noises I’ve heard dozens of times, still send shivers down my spine.

Turning to the DAC, I felt it produced a startling, focused sound without the sensation of phasiness or smearing of stage and image information that has often accompanied DACs in this segment. Images were detailed and discrete yet possessed of a natural ambient connection with adjoining images on the soundstage. Like some of the elite DACs the H300 digital section suggests more than a hint of analog-like warmth, dimension, and continuity, a richer flow of information. On Jennifer Warnes’ “Song For Bernadette” [Impex] there’s plenty of image elbow room, the overall impression being one of expansiveness rather than clutter, right down to the very last element of reverb echo.

How does this compare to the USB/ DAC section aboard the mbl Corona C31, a $9200 player? It’s awfully close, but fair is fair. The mbl is more convincingly realistic on Holly Cole’s cover of “I Can See Clearly.” And it has more warmth and a stronger sense of dimensionality and physicality. Still, the H300 is excellent by any yardstick I’ve encountered thus far.