I listened initially to the H300 primarily with digital sources, reserving LP playback for the latter stages of this review. And as expected my turntable rig plus the H300’s superior analog circuitry and low noise floor served as a stunning reminder that, as inspired as the performance of Hegel’s digital section is, the LP remains ensconced as stubbornly as ever in the playback throne. As I listened to the glorious Athena LP pressing of the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances the dimensionality, tonal ripeness, and bloom that were hinted at but not fully developed in digital playback were restored. This was most especially the case with massed strings, as a distinct sweetness and a sense of individuation spread across the section from front to back.
As a testament to the high-level performance of the Hegel H300, only a benchmark integrated amp like the considerably more costly Vitus Audio RI- 100 ($13,000) can help define the H300’s modest limits. The H300, by comparison, doesn’t have quite the same expansive soundstage as the Vitus, nor does it image quite as discretely. Vocals have a little less air and the resonance of piano soundboards is less palpable. The bass line vamp that introduces “I Can See Clearly” becomes less distinct as the song progresses. Toss the Vitus into the mix and the acoustic atmosphere of the Rachmaninoff thickens, the soundstage widens and deepens. Still the H300 cuts the margin of these differences awfully fine—coming so close to the Vitus at times that it’s scary.
In fact, no matter how you cut it, the Hegel has got it all going on, as an unbiased transporter for music reproduction or in its sophisticated connectivity or in its forward thinking philosophy or sheer value. The greatest tribute I can pay the H300 is at once understated yet in its way an overwhelming affirmation: In all the hours I spent with this amp, I never wanted to shut it off. Ever. It represents the high end at its most rewarding.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 250Wpc into 8 ohms
Analog inputs: Five RCA, one balanced, three unbalanced plus HT bypass
Digital inputs: Two coaxial SPDIF, two optical, USB
Outputs: One preamp, one coaxial
Dimensions: 17" x 4.7" x 15"
Weight: 55 lbs.
Hegel Music Systems, USA
Sota Cosmos Series IV turntable; SME V tonearm; Sumiko Palo Santos, Air Tight PC-3; Parasound JC 3 phono; Synergistic Element Tungsten/ CTS , Wireworld Platinum interconnect & speaker cables; AudioQuest Coffee USB & Firewire, Synergistic Tesla & Audience au24 phono & powerChord, Wireworld Platinum power cords