Hegel Music Systems, of Oslo, Norway, has developed yet another fantastic-sounding integrated amplifier/DAC. Hegel also makes preamps, power amps, and digital products, but it is its continually evolving line of integrated amps that, in a way, represents the heart of the company. Bent Holter, the founder and chief engineer behind all things Hegel, truly believes in bringing as much sonic performance, versatility, and reliability to the music-appreciating public as possible for a reasonable price. He applies his considerable engineering skills—he holds a Master’s Degree in Semiconductor Physics from Norway’s principal technical institute Trondheim University—to designing high-performing audio products that will work in real-world situations and can be purchased by ordinary citizens, not just well-heeled aficionados.
Background and Description
I have reviewed three other Hegel integrated amps over the past few years, so I can understand that it may seem like I am “Mr. Hegel” at the TAS table. Although other TAS writers (including Robert Harley, Neil Gader, and Jacob Heilbrunn) have also reported on Hegel gear—all positively—I am happy to review yet another Hegel integrated amp because, among other things, Hegel makes good products in general, and the company has really pulled out all the stops with the H360 in particular. It is, to give you my overall assessment upfront, a truly excellent amp. I believe it can readily compete with separates costing more than its $5700 asking price.
With 250Wpc into eight ohms (420Wpc into four) and a damping factor of 4000, the H360 will drive a wide range of speakers with ease. The H360 is equipped with two line-level inputs, one RCA and one XLR, although a home-theater bypass can be configured to function as a third unbalanced (RCA) line-level input. In addition, the H360 has a very good, on-board DAC, capable of supporting 24/192 PCM files and native mode DSD64 and DSD128. The unit also supports Apple’s wireless AirPlay, and can function as a DLNA digital-media streamer/renderer so you can connect a UPnP/DLNA-compatible Network Attached Storage device (NAS) through your local router and, voîlà, you have an amplifier that will play a lot of different sources.
To my mind, the most important aspects of the H360’s performance come from the analog sections of its preamp and power amp. After all, a fantastic DAC can fall completely short if the analog amplification is less than first-rate. For this reason, I put the H360 through its paces primarily as a standard line-level integrated amp, and only evaluated its very capable DAC once I had established what the analog sections could do. (Fortunately for me, it was through my listening to the H360’s NAS streaming capability that I began to reevaluate my previously less-than-stellar impressions of digital-file playback. The DAC can do more tricks, but I will cover them further on.)
The H360 represents some of the latest engineering and manufacturing acumen at Hegel. The company’s patented SoundEngine technology has been further updated, and some of the rigorous parts-matching protocols, once only applied to Hegel’s top power amp (H30), are now also apparently applied to the H360. To recap, one of the main aspects of SoundEngine is a feed-forward technique that reduces noise and also specifically addresses the crossover distortion commonly found in typical Class AB amplifiers when one half of the output section hands off the waveform to the other. SoundEngine adjusts the output transistors’ biasing to accommodate ever-changing temperature conditions—depending on signal fluctuations—rather than setting a fixed bias for average conditions. The H360’s preamp section has its own transformer to keep power-supply noise in the current-supplying power amp section from interfering with the more delicate signals in the voltage-gain preamp section. The DAC has also been completely updated from the on-board DAC in the H360’s predecessor, the well-regarded H300 (reviewed by Neil Gader in Issue 233). I will compare the newer H360 to the older H300 in greater detail later. While the H360 does not run hot, it uses no switching power supplies or any mix of Class D technology. It is a 45-pound Class AB amplifier all the way. The cosmetics remain classic Hegel: simple, pleasant, subtle, functionally proficient...Scandinavian.