I omitted the H100 in the above comparison because I no longer had one on hand, but I recall the H100 I reviewed in Issue 206 as sounding very smooth and beautiful but also noted some “reticence” in its delivery, as if it were a bit hampered in rhythmic timing. Happily, I can report the H80 is not at all reserved or reticent. In fact, I consider its agility and deftness of timing to be among its greatest strengths. The H80 is just plain fun to listen to. It ably communicates much of the natural liveliness in music and does so without any associated leanness or “presence region” emphasis, which wear poorly over time. For example, Alanis Morissette’s “That Particular time” on Under Rug Swept [Maverick] retained the recording’s forward emphasis of Morissette’s upper register but without veering into piercing territory, as some amps do. The forward momentum of the next cut “A Man” was also well served as drummer Gary Novak switches from hi-hat to ride cymbal at about the 3:24 mark. The clangy sheen of Novak’s ride cymbal came through but did not become strident. Essentially, what you forgo by opting for the H80 over a H200, H300, or one of Hegel’s pre/power combos amounts to some omissions of overall resolution, power reserves, and rendering of depth rather than intruding sins of commission like an unnatural tonal emphasis, a fatigue-inducing glare, or some other characteristic that registers as anti-musical.
The H80 creates a soundstage of respectable width and depth for an amp of its power rating and price. In my setup, its listener perspective was roughly in the front section or mid-hall, and the soundstage started just behind the speakers and filled in rearward from there. I mentioned a perception of depth-foreshortening compared to Hegel’s more expensive offerings more to illustrate what you get when you move up the product line, rather than to draw attention to a shortcoming in the H80 per se. I consider the H80’s depth portrayal to be better than most other solid-state integrated amps in its price category. I believe it is unrealistic to expect truly fleshed-out depth presentation from a solid-state integrated amp that includes a DAC for $2000.
Speaking of the DAC, it’s a really good performer. I compared it to Hegel’s stand-alone HD20 ($2000) and could not discern appreciable differences. The HD20 may have a bit more body and weight, but my impression could be influenced by cabling differences just as much has anything else. This is truly impressive performance from the H80’s DAC, apparently a scaled-down version of the DAC found in the H300 integrated amp reviewed by Neil Gader in Issue 233. I tried both the USB and SPDIF input on all three DAC sections (H80, H300, and HD20) and preferred SPDIF, in all cases, for its greater liquidity and clarity. The H80’s USB input supports 24/96 files and, as mentioned, allows the remote to control most media-player functions like play, skip, back, and pause. The two coax/SPDIF and two optical inputs support 24/192 resolution files but do not allow the remote to control any playlist functions. (I kept all playback set to 24/96 to maintain the same resolution as that of the USB port for my comparisons of USB vs. SPDIF). I didn’t try the optical inputs. Hegel DACs are about as easy to set up as they come; “plug and play” really does sum it up. My PC recognized whichever DAC I plugged into within a second or two, and I could then resume music playback for fairly quick side-by-side comparisons.
Hegel has leveraged some new technology derived from its P20 preamp into the H80 and employed a price-scaled implementation of Hegel’s patented SoundEngine technology in the power amp section. SoundEngine uses a feed-forward technique (instead of feedback) to reduced distortion as the signal passes from one amplifier stage to another, and, apparently, also greatly reduces crossover distortion (as the positive and negative halves of the signal switch over to each other). The isolated voltage input gain stage and output current gain stage have their own power supplies, and Hegel uses a rigorous parts-sorting protocol to make sure complementary device pairs are closely matched. Chief designer Bent Holter told me at CES 2014 that Hegel is taking a relatively low profit margin on the H80 to keep the price at $2000. Judging by the H80’s build and sound (and Holter’s straightforward manner), I have no reason to doubt him.
The H80 represents much of what is right in the high-end-audio scene. Those who are (sometimes justifiably) frustrated with escalating prices, take heart; the Hegel H80 answers the call for high-performing audio kit at a very reasonable price. No, it does not have the seamless liquidity, high resolution, and fundamental solidity of the more expensive stuff, but it gets you enough of the high-end essence to be more than a great place to start. I hope more people will participate in the deeper enjoyment of music in their homes because products like the H80 make it more accessible. The H80 is the real deal...and a sweet deal, too.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 75Wpc
Inputs: Analog, two RCA, one XLR; digital, two SPDIF, two optical (both types 24/192), and one USB (24/96)
Outputs: One of the RCA inputs configurable as HT bypass (power amp in), speaker terminals
Dimensions: 16.93" x 3.94" x 13.80"
Weight: 26.4 lbs.
Price: $2000 (RC 8 remote control upgrade, $180)
HEGEL MUSIC SYSTEMS USA