Hegel H360 Integrated Amplifier


Equipment report
Integrated amplifiers
Hegel Music Systems H360
Hegel H360 Integrated Amplifier

The commanding, clean 250W output and variety of analog and digital inputs would almost be enough to recommend the H360 from the start, but Hegel offers much more than mere competency. The real boon here comes from the H360’s revealing, refined, and—best of all—musically compelling character. I could hear more deeply into recordings than I had any reason to expect from a $5700 solid-state integrated amplifier. Details like singers’ lip sounds, guitarists’ fingers on strings, or drummers’ sticks on cymbals came through with clarity, and did so without sounding hyped or forced. The ease with which these sorts of musical cues flowed, coupled with stable solidity of imaging, lent the sound a liquidity and body reminiscent of a well-balanced tube amp. Likewise, the H360’s dynamic sure-footed rhythmic drive underpinned the music in a way that propelled it along and made all sorts of music interesting—also somewhat like a good tube amplifier.

The H360’s tonal balance is not, however, traditionally tube-like (as in a bit more weighted toward the midbass and midrange with a softening of the extreme upper frequencies and perhaps a slight reduction of definition and control in the low end). On the contrary, another strong suit of the H360 is its apparent neutral tonal balance—achieved without the price of sounding clinical or characterless, as too many products with neutral ambitions do. Hegel has a talent for delivering both tonal accuracy and musicality; all four integrated amps, as well as its top P30 preamp and H30 power amp combo with which I have direct experience, have this satisfying combination of fundamentally correct tonal balance and musical verve. Hegel’s VP of Sales and Marketing Anders Ertzeid told me, when I visited Hegel in Oslo in 2012, that Hegel does not “voice” its products as such; rather, it pursues accuracy and noise-reduction through engineering and leaves tonal-shaping out of the design process. Of course, designer Bent Holter and his colleagues also listen carefully to various iterations of a given design, but they seek technology-improvement solutions rather than tonal adjustments. The results reveal a recording’s own character as well as the music’s inherent thrust—a confluence of positive attributes I more readily find in much more expensive electronics.

The H360’s midrange and treble openness really help flesh out the leading edges and trailing tails of notes, as well as their overall timbral character. This fine resolution and accurate timbre, taken together, help make images properly positioned and proportioned in the soundscape. Spatial cues add up to a reasonable approximation of 3-D imaging and soundstaging—in as much as this is possible for solid-state electronics under $10,000. For example, instrumental images do not sound recessed; indeed, leading-edge sounds indicate a distinctly closer perspective, without making instruments seem disassociated from the ensemble and the hall. Other Hegel integrateds have this pleasant “greater context” presentation as well, although the H360 portrays images better than any of the others I have listened to extensively in my system (H80, H100, H200, and H300). The H360’s apparent listener perspective is basically mid-hall, and the overall soundstage is quite wide, tall, and deep. Soundstaging is one of the areas of audiophilia where separate amplification components—especially monoblock power amps—seem to hold sway. An integrated amp can match or surpass some separates in areas of resolution, tonal and timbral truthfulness, power, and dynamic control, but the expansiveness of the outer reach of the soundscape seems to be aided by the separation of the primary amplification blocks—all other things being similar. I will say, the H360 portrays images and a soundstage better than any other sub-$10,000 solid-state integrated I have heard in a familiar system.

Owing to robust power supplies and—as I believe Hegel would suggest—other aspects of its designs, Hegel amps tend to sound more powerful than their nominal power ratings would suggest. The H360 did not disappoint. It drove all speakers I had on hand with ease: YG Sonja 1.2, GamuT RS3, and Dynaudio C1 II. (I would hazard a guess that the H360 will even match up well with power-hungry Maggies.) Like other powerful amplifiers, the H360 conferred serenity to music listening, perhaps because it doesn’t distort or strain on crescendos, as is often the case with less powerful and clean-sounding amplifiers. Bass and dynamics are well served, too. The H360’s bass always sounded deep-reaching and articulate, never weak or flabby. Macro-dynamic swings could, in fact, be startlingly powerful and the power region had plenty of slam.

Even though the H360 is powerful, with lots of commanding grip and control, it still sounds beguilingly delicate and detailed. An example of this “play big” and “play refined” ability came through when I listened to the second movement of “Three Meditations from Mass” on Bernstein [Oue, Minnesota, RR]. The opening cello solo was rendered with fine detail and emotional intensity, but when the orchestra joined in and welled up, the weight and force of the ensemble was reproduced realistically and with dimensional verisimilitude. No raggedness crept in, and the soundscape did not congeal.