The role of amplifier has changed recently. The nexus role of ‘curating’ sources and feeding them to a pair of loudspeakers remains, but increasingly ‘sources’ have become a single computer source. That means increasing onus on the amp maker to become an amp+DAC maker, and few companies have taken that new role to heart as much as Hegel.
The H80 is the company’s new hub. Yes, it’s an 75W per channel integrated amplifier, but the overall design quickly shows it’s very much an integrated amp with today in mind. As a line-level amplifier, it’s relatively limited, with just two line-level phono inputs (one of which can be configured as a home theatre direct input) and one XLR input on tap. On the other hand (and on the other side of the rear panel) it has two coaxial digital, two toslink optical and one asynchronous USB inputs. Moreover, it’s indicative of a bold move on Hegel’s part, in that the same degree of importance toward digital audio is echoed throughout the range. There’s a fairly obvious and logical reason for this; the need for line-level inputs is beginning to fade in modern audio (often it now comes down to the output of a phono stage and a tuner) while the need for digital audio connections – potentially for both audio and audio-video devices – is on the rise. It’s possible today that someone might use an amplifier with no line-level sources whatsoever, perhaps connecting the optical link from a satellite decoder and a games console and the USB input from a computer. Line level is not exactly ‘legacy’ and will likely never be consigned to the dump-bin, but it’s interesting just how many sources can be covered with fairly minimal analogue pathway demands now. And Hegel seems to get that change in user demands to a very deep degree.