We have a bit of a Hegel problem. The magazine has reviewed almost everything that comes out of the Norwegian design studio, and we really need the company to make something bad so that we can appear to have a modicum of ‘objective balance’. The problem is that Hegel keeps making great products, so either we go rogue and attack a Hegel product undeservedly, or the magazine sounds like it is a bit of a locked groove.
The thing is, Hegel is in something of a locked groove, too... but in a good way. The line-up is just going through a series of changes; alongside the H590 flagship comes a slew of new models replacing old. This is in part trickling down technology from that new top player, and in part re-imagining the amplifier line to reflect life in the 2020s. Just a USB DAC and some line inputs isn’t enough anymore; the amp needs to support network replay, whether from a local music server or from streamed music from a variety of online sources.
Fortunately for Hegel, its recent development means making very good products can rely on combining the right modules from pre-existing designs. In the H120’s case, that is pretty much exactly what Hegel has done. The amplifier is basically the analogue side of the company’s Röst Integrated Network Amplifier with the digital gubbins of the H190 integrated amplifier. The H120 replaces the Röst, because the DAC engine of the H190 gives it greater compatibility with today’s services. It speaks UPnP/DLNA, AirPlay Connect, and SpotifyConnect out of the box, as well as custom-install IP functions like Control4. As the amp evolves, a Roon Ready upgrade will be made available.
Where most companies prefer to use TLAs (three-letter acronyms), Hegel prefers to go with CleverNames to describe its subsystems, and the 75 Watt per channel H120 bristles with technologies like OrganicSound, SoundEngine 2, DualAmp, DualPower, LineDriver, SyncroDAC and AdaptiveAutofocus (I may have snuck an extra one in for good measure). These pithy portmanteaus do aim to describe some of Hegel’s long-standing design criteria. Specifically in this case ‘OrganicSound’ denotes an iterative listening process that requires careful voicing of the amplifier against a known reference of acoustic instruments and vocalists, which relies on ‘SoundEngine 2’; the enhanced form of Hegel’s localised feed-forward amplifier circuit. Meanwhile, ‘DualAmp’ refers to a process that separates out the voltage and current gain stages and the related ‘DualPower’ provides specific power supply feeds for those separated parts of the amplifier circuit. On the digital side, ‘LineDriver’ technology is a form of high-frequency filtration, while ‘SynchroDAC’ (synchronised – as opposed to asynchronous – upsampling) that goes with the company’s similarly synchronous USB input technology. In OtherWords, the H120 has a good spread of Hegel’s sophisticated analogue and digital design modules.