Visit to Hegel Music Systems in Oslo, Norway

Kirk Midtskog sits down with Hegel designer Bent Holter for a nice chat

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Hegel Music Systems H200
Visit to Hegel Music Systems in Oslo, Norway

When I recently visited the nice folks at Hegel Music Systems at their research and development site in Oslo, Norway, I initially met up with Anders Ertzeid, Hegel's VP of Marketing and Sales, who graciously met me at the airport and guided me to my hotel in downtown Oslo.

While at Hegel's R&D facility, an unassuming building north of downtown which was apparently former staff housing for a nearby mental hospital (make up your own jokes), I got to see the work tables were new designs are developed as well as a collection of older Hegel gear—built as early as 1988—in the “Hegel museum.” I met two engineers who contribute to the Hegel operation: Joakim Jacobsen (Software Developer) and Magnus Holhjem (Service Manager and prototype builder). Both Joakim and Magnus were hard at work when I arrived and had to endure an afternoon of interruptions as Anders gave me the tour, complete with ensuing discussions, and a very informative demo of Hegel's new H300 integrated amp, among other items. The Hegel R&D facility had an unpretentious, form-follows-function layout—rather like the Hegel ethos of no-nonsense, well-engineered products. The chief designer and head of the company, Bent Holter, has a test bench along the same windowed wall as Joakim and Magnus. There was no hint of hierarchy among the work situations and the open area allows for instant communication about whatever the group is working on.

I was also able to sit down with Bent Holter for a more personal conversation about how he became involved in the industry and how Hegel was started. Bent's father, a technical person himself (a chemist), gave Bent an electronics kit, similar to a large electronics breadboard, so he could explore how electric circuits work at a young age. Bent was also interested in music and played a few different musical instruments while growing up. By age 13, he had built his own electric guitar amplifier and a few guitar effects. (These are usually contained in their own boxes and are selected by pressing pedals or buttons with one's foot to free up the hands while playing the guitar.) At 14, he had even built an active buffer stage on his highly modified Washburn guitar to drive the typically long electric guitar cable runs. Holter's interest in music and electronics were forever merged as he continued his musical interests and education.

Holter was not satisfied to select a few different transistors based on their respective specifications and then start matching the bi-polar pairs and sampling the results. He didn't like treating transistors as “black boxes.” He had to know more about how the transistors themselves worked at the molecular level in order to better understand how to design high-performing circuits with them. Accordingly, Holter attended Norway's main technical institute, Trondheim University, and studied semiconductor physics, in which he holds Masters of Science degree.

While an undergrad at Trondheim, he volunteered to be part of a group of students who would periodically produce large live music concerts for the community. In 1988, Holter designed and built six 250Wpc power amplifiers to be used as sound reinforcement in the performance venue as his contribution to the project. All six amplifiers are, apparently, still running today—one of which was purchased by Hegel so they could have one in the “Hegel collection.” Holter still plays guitar, when time permits, in pick up bands or when his own band can put together a performance. The name of his band? “Hegel,” named after the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a central figure in the “German Idealism” philosophy in the early 1800's. (I have the impression that the name “Hegel” serves as a sort of metaphysical talisman for Holter.)

Holter's early professional career was in broadcasting audio and video transmission, specifically working for Tanberg in the early 1990's, designing high quality video conferencing systems. He was recruited by SINTEF, Norway's largest technological research institute, to develop transistors to perform analog to digital conversion used in conjunction with deep water oil drilling sensors. One of SINTEF's financiers was impressed with Holter enough to invest in Hegel Music Systems at its beginning stage, and helped finance the securing of Holter's SoundEngine and related patents. (SoundEngine is Hegel's feed forward technology which allows the output transistors' operating parameters to be adjusted, as the waveform continually changes its characteristics, so that the cross-over notch distortion at the “hand off” between the positive-going and negative-going phases is greatly reduced, compared to most other typical class A/B operating amplifiers that set static operating parameters which cannot account for the changing conditions [bias, temperature-related flux, etc].)

So there you have it. The folks at Hegel are working hard to bring well engineered designs to market. Anders Ertzeid and Bent Holter were fantastic hosts. I was fortunate enough to see a bit of downtown Oslo on my visit. It had been many years since I had visited Norway. Oslo has undergone a transformation. It has a beautiful mix of old and new buildings. History with a nod to the future.