The Hegel H300 is an integrated amplifier/DAC from Norway. As you might have guessed, the company is named after the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) and he and his thinking seem to feature quite heavily when you see Hegel equipment being discussed. Although for most British people Hegel’s sole claim to fame was being immortalised in the ‘Philosopher’s Song’ by Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“David Hume/Could out-consume/Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel”), he was in fact one of the driving forces behind German Idealism and a whole branch of that school that sprung from his concepts (unsurprisingly called Hegelianism) insists that reality must be able to be expressed in rational – and therefore quantifiable – properties. That might sound like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but it was groundbreaking thinking at the start of the 19th Century, and it should be considered something of a reality check for modern audio makers.
Hegel (the brand) has adopted the concepts of Hegel (the man) by designing distinctly ‘foo-free’ equipment; in the process being very big on the cost vs. performance equation throughout its literature. So, let’s have a look and see what is on the menu as far as the H300 as concerned.
Mmmm, yummy, the spec menu looks mighty good. Here is a chunky but conventional case with a rather subtle bowed front, a large on/off push switch, a pair of even larger rotary controls and a very clear blue illuminated display. Round the back there are a single pair of solid-looking gold plated speaker terminals and a decent analogue input capability of one pair of balanced and three sets of unbalanced connectors. Expanding things nicely, there is also a single RCA set of fixed-level Home Theatre inputs and unbalanced pre-out connectivity. The inclusion of a DAC is a welcome addition, because it means the box count can potentially drop to just H300 and a computer. But for CD users, there are a couple of coaxial S/PDIF inputs, supplemented by another couple of optical versions alongside a single USB input. You must admit that all this is beginning to look like a useful package indeed. The chip, the 32-bit AKM4399 is the same as that found in Hegel’s HD-11 DAC that AS favourably reviewed here last year, only Hegel has addressed minor criticisms by providing it with an improved power supply and re-clocking it. The company now believes it to be the second best DAC in Hegel’s armoury, only surpassed by the new HD25.
Output is a substantial 250 watts into eight ohms from the Class AB amplifier, with stupendously low distortion figures achieved by the incorporation of the company’s SoundEngine design and topology that incorporates FET transistors in the dual-mono preamplifier stage. The Hegel RC8 remote control is a chunky aluminium design that provides all the usual functions but also allows for control of the media player in a connected computer by having Play, Prev and Next buttons too. It can also be used if an external DAC is being used through its DAC Loop feature. This allows the external DAC able to receive the re-clocked signal then convert it, before sending it back through the balanced input. This is a welcome change to the generic remote controls that you often find with many products these days, bought in purely for the sake of offering remote operation. One observation though is that the remote itself is not a small credit-card type thing, so why are all the function buttons so small and located so closely together? Good remote controls are those that one can operate in a darkened room. They should least separate the volume controls from the rest so they can be easily accessed. Small details, but important ones nevertheless.
So, on the menu the Hegel H300 certainly looks an inviting proposition I think you will agree and we do, so I am told, eat with our eyes. The H300 promises power and high versatility to I paired it with the excellent Lindemann 825 CD player, both sited on an Atacama Eco bamboo rack and a pair of Focal Diablo speakers. I started by using some reasonably priced cabling from The Chord Company before upping the quality throughout with cable systems from both Crystal and Nordost.
The amplifier arrived with very little run-in time on the clock, and with any new product, it’s often unclear just how much time is needed for it to come to life. Some designs (the D’Agostino amplifiers, for example) tend to come on song almost immediately and a day after first powering the device up, it is virtually as good as it gets. Others (like Ayre or Naim Audio) are notorious for requiring week after week of conditioning and running in to give of their best. Price, size of power supply, output (whether those watts are passed to the speaker cones or distributed to the wider world as heat), the designer’s past ‘form’ or even component quality are no guarantee that the product before you takes hours or months to run in, or how big a change the run in provides.
Straight out of the box, the H300 was no different to many, many other hunks of amplification that have crossed my path in that it was distinctly without musical communication on first listening. Soft, flabby and without focus or much in the way of articulation, it was worthy only of background music and so it stayed, playing away on CD repeat for several days while I lived round it. Then slowly and in time-honoured fashion, it began to come round and I started to take notice.
The Hegel H300 is one of those designs that clearly undergoes significant changes for the better as the run-in process develops. Some time into its background listening tasks, I was slouching on the sofa doing a bit of iPad surfing when I began to notice that what had sounded like a bunch of unsympathetic separates appeared to be making friends and singing from the same hymn sheet. The previously paper-thin image presentation, once so one-dimensional had begun to detach itself from the cabinets of the Diablo and expand both forward and into the back of the room. A percussion section that I knew well had become just that; disconnected from the main musical body I could enjoy its driving precision and rhythmic link to the tempo. It was all beginning to sound as if the musicians had started to feel interested again and so was I.
As the hours, then days passed, I was starting to enjoy this Hegel amp a lot more and that became the story of my time with it. The more work I gave it to do, the more I became involved with listening to it. It has a very even-handed tonal balance and a rather natural way with voices especially. It employs its considerable power with discretion too, as it is not especially grippy or particularly taught; depending on your viewpoint (and choice of loudspeaker), this could come across as having an easy, unforced approach to bottom end, or being less than totally specific in the bass. After a while I realised that if I sat back and tried to dissect its performance, I found it too soft and the midband a little over sweet but, fortunately I don’t enjoy listening to music in that way and this is one of those products where the whole exceeds the parts by some way. The Hegel is very, very easy to live with indeed.
As if to prove these points, I changed the speakers for the Lindemann BL-10 and introduced a complete run of Nordost’s Blue Heaven. I believe this to be one of the best balanced of all Nordost’s cabling systems and its speed and lightness of rhythmic touch showed another side of the H300 which, by this time seemed to have reached something of a performance apex. Now the music was more tightly etched, each instrument had grown its own dynamic space and the whole picture was a lot more exciting. The depth that I mentioned before had expanded before my ears and the amplifier’s considerable power could now be viewed as a musical asset rather than just a spec-sheet bonus. This is an excellent combination for the Hegel, although I would still characterise it as a touch soft for my personal taste. I did use the on-board DAC and it certainly works very well. Of course it throws up a whole new area of discussion as to how one should really configure a computer to get the best out of any USB DAC, but that is turning out to be complete subject in itself. Suitably configured, this does make for a very simple, high-quality music delivery system.
The Hegel is a very decent all-round performer in a tight end of the market place. It has power aplenty and – although this needs some intelligent system matching – will not show itself up in the company of some very high quality loudspeakers. In a properly configured computer system, the DAC section is a real plus point and it certainly expands the appeal and value of is a rather tasty amplifier.
Type: Single box Integrated amplifier /DAC
Analogue Inputs: 1x balanced (XLR), 3 x unbalanced (RCA).
Fixed Analogue Inputs: 1 x unbalanced Home Theatre (RCA).
Digital Inputs: 2 x coaxial S/PDIF, 2 x Optical S/PDIF, 1 x USB.
Line Level Output: Unbalanced pre-out (RCA)
Digital outputs: 1 x coaxial S/PDIF.
Output Power: 250 W @ 8 ohms, 430 W @ 4 ohms.
Minimum load: 2 ohms.
Dimensions (HxWxD): 120 x 430 x 380 mm
Weight: 25 kg.
Hegel Music Systems
Tel: +44 (0) 1347 440101