Hegel and Chartwell system

Integrated amplifiers,
Disc players
Chartwell LS6,
Hegel Music Systems H80 amplifier,
Hegel Music Systems Mohican

A word about cables. One word. Meh! That’s all you need to know. The high nominal impedance of the Chartwell design makes the differences in loudspeaker cables relatively minimal, and the justification for shooting the moon in audio cable terms is lessened. That’s not to say the quest for better audio simply goes away in this system, because it’s a great sounding system that can be improved through careful accessorising, but that the nature of the improvements cables, cones, and the rest are not as direct, as immediate or as necessary as heard in other systems. Hegel favours Nordost cable in its listening tests and demonstrations, and we used the company’s Blue Heaven-grade product line throughout the test, but there was no burning desire to explore the cable brand’s upper slopes here.

The reason for the pairing between Hegel and Chartwell was the concept of dynamic balance. The Hegel components are a little bit forward, while on past form from the company, the Chartwell should be slightly laid-back sounding. The two should, in theory, balance out. And that’s largely what happened.

In fact, the LS6 is not as laid-back as that past form suggested. It’s perhaps the most forward, dynamic, and exciting loudspeaker we’ve heard from the Graham/Chartwell stables to date (Graham Audio’s VOTU – Voice Of The Universe – flagship may well steal that crown, but it is as yet untried and untested by the magazine). It still holds to the character and charm of a classic BBC design, though. It’s just a little more forward, upbeat, and dynamic. And that really does fit in with the general tone of the Hegel pairing. However, as is common with many such BBC-inspired designs, the importance of that matching process is not pivotal.

The overall system has outstanding imaging properties, and this will probably be the first thing anyone notices in context. With a slight toe-in of the speakers, you get a true sense of three-dimensionality to the music played, especially when that music is live and unamplified. ‘Black Is The Colour’ by Christy Moore from Live At The Point [Frontline] is a live recording with an appreciative audience, and the sense of hearing someone sitting on a stage in front of a crowd is truly palpable. This recording is also used a lot by the ‘Rhythm’ crowd, because it’s simple and has a very good beat. And it’s here where the combination makes its deepest mark. The Hegel duo impose a fine sense of rhythm, without it descending into an overt, obvious, and plodding rhythm line. OK, if you want the kind of almost preternaturally fast, taut rhythmic precision of small, sealed boxes you need a small, sealed box (Star Trek rules: Ye Cannae Change The Laws o’ Physics, Cap’n), but this is a good compromise between the musical honesty and spatial integrity you get from more laid-back designs and the inaccuracy of fast, bass-light boxes.

Going deeper, where the system works well is its ability to tease out the component parts of the music. Not simply in terms of individual instruments within a soundstage, but in terms of blocks of melody, and harmony, and how they interplay in more complex works. A fine example of this is the classic Kleiber/Vienna Philharmonic renditions of Beethoven’s 5th and 7th Symphonies [Deutsche Grammophon]. The second movement of the Seventh is a remarkable interplay of themes that is so well-known we almost hear it unconsciously and fill in the blanks, but with this system in place, the individual themes ebb and flow around the orchestra with consummate ease. Moving across to some jazz, the same applies. As Cannonball Adderley starts blowing changes after Miles’ break on ‘Autumn Leaves’ [Somethin’ Else, Blue Note], the sense of fluidity is more than just tonal (his sax playing is very legato), it’s getting to the way he’s working chromatically, all brought back to some form of epic calm and sanity by Hank Jones’ piano playing. This is the kind of system that not only makes sense of this piece, but makes it enjoyable.

A final truly strong point of the system is its ability to render speech and vocals. While writing up notes on this system, I decided to pull out of storage the original BBC Radio version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy on CD [BBC Publications], and was sucked back into the radio play like it was 1978 all over again. The sonorous tones of Peter Jones as ‘The Book’ were portrayed beautifully, and there was a sense of layering between the vocal talent and the slightly (deliberately?) cheesy radio sound effects, and quite a lot of Tomita, Ligeti, and Brian Eno’s ambient works.

The only significant downside to this system is not a consideration in context. However, if you decide you want something more than just CD replay, and end up relying on the on-board DAC, it will come as a bit of a let-down after the clarity and rhythmic drive of the Mohican. I guess that’s only to be expected (an on-board DAC on an entry-level amp is probably not going to sound as good as the flagship CD player that costs far more), but it means if you want other digital sources to match the Mohican’s performance in outright terms, you are going to have to use an external DAC, and that means using up valuable line inputs on the DAC.

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