Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier

Integrated amplifiers
Hegel Music Systems H590

Stepping out of HegelWorld for the moment, the nuts and bolts of the H590 are extremely impressive. That power amplifier stage delivers its 301Watts in Class AB, but it’s a high-bias Class AB making it run in Class A for longer. The power amp’s output is achieved by using 12 output devices per channel, and a huge power supply transformer (which accounts for the height of the amp). On the digital side, this is the first domestic product in the audio world to sport the latest AKM chipset and this meant a lot of coding performed by Hegel’s team itself. The benefit of this is it brings the second-generation of MQA processing to the table, alongside PCM to 32-bit /384kHz and DSD 256 (on USB).

The coding part is really clever because it allows the user to very simply utilise Tidal’s services and leverage MQA extremely easily. It allows true second-generation MQA unfold internally, which means you tell Tidal (via your phone or tablet) to send an authenticated MQA file directly from a router to full decode inside the H590, with no intermediary unpacks or handshakes. Making Hegel’s H590 the Steve Austin/Six Million Dollar Man version of MQA decoding: better, stronger, faster (although without the Bionic Eye and Power Arm).

Setting up the digital side is extremely easy now. The amp has its own Network Configuration page and if connected to a wired router, press and hold a button a couple of times and up pops the name and IP address of the H590. Type that into a browser on a computer and you can update the firmware, reassign the name and IP address for a more complex multiroom system, or play dating agency between the H590 (acting as media renderer) and a UPnP/DNLA compatible media player. Similarly, it’s easy to hook the H590 to AirPlay or Spotify Connect by adding an Ethernet cable to the appropriate wireless router. Both AirPlay and Spotify ‘see’ the H590 as a compatible/available device, and you simply connect your iDevice or similar to the H590 and away you play. This is one of those installation concerns that is more complex to describe in detail than it is to do in reality (rather like making toast – imagine describing the process in minute detail and it appears mindbendingly difficult).

I have a bit of a problem with ‘flagships’. Sometimes, they have an alarming habit of going for the impressive so much that they undermine what was so good about the more attainably-priced models. It’s a belt-and-braces approach that makes for a bigger amplifier, but not necessarily a better one. It’s a problem in reverse, too; the company that started out at the top of Mount Olympus often fails to make the less expensive models live up to expectation. So, there was a bit of a concern that Hegel might go a bit ‘flashy’ in making The Big One.

I needn’t have worried. Given its northerly latitude (shared with Disenchantment Bay in Alaska), it’s probably not that difficult to retain a cool head in Oslo, and cooler intellects than mine made the H590 retain the advantages of the smaller Hegels, with just the right amount of extra heft and all-important resolution to more than justify its position at the head of the family. Just give it an hour to warm through. 

There are a few electronics companies that gain a lot of support and followers among loudspeaker designers because these brand’s amplifiers ‘do no wrong’; in other words, they make a great neutral platform for the loudspeaker designer to weave their own product, and a perfect demonstration product for the company to showcase their new loudspeakers, knowing the amplifier will handle everything thrown at it. These are ‘...just add loudspeakers!’ designs that dealers love, too. Hegel is one such company and the H590 extends that ‘...just add loudspeakers!’ ethos to some very demanding partners and spaces. From the perspective of an audio reviewer, there is nothing better than an amplifier that I know will satisfy the majority of prospective buyers regardless of their tastes in music, the loudspeakers they currently use, or the loudspeakers they might intend to buy next time around. And, while Hegel gets demonstrated a lot of the time with Nordost cable and KEF, you could partner the H590 with practically everything and it would make friends and make everything talk to everything else. It’s like the Rosetta Stone of amplifiers.

That makes describing the H590’s sonic performance easy. It gives the music and the loudspeakers what they want. And it does it better than many by doing less, rather than more. The old canard of ‘sins of commission and omission’ is apt here. In all its designs, Hegel doesn’t ‘do’ commission: if you are looking for an amplifier that pretties up the sound of your music, or adds a bit of thickening bottom end to fill in the gaps in your loudspeaker, look elsewhere, The Hegel’s sing honest and true. But, the smaller models do some small amount of omission if you are looking for a big amp to drive a big speaker. Yes, they punch above their weight (the inherent honesty of the design makes the H90 a surprisingly great partner for the Wilson Duette Series 2) but there is still a limit to this, and that’s where the H590 comes in. It doesn’t do ‘limits’ either.

The H590 doesn’t sound obviously or overtly powerful... until you need those power reserves. Then they are subtly introduced. Nothing showy or flashy, you just realise that the amplifier is doing all you want from an amplifier and driving a pair of loudspeakers absolutely correctly. You then flip between musical genres, taking in everything from fey girl with guitar sounds (I went with the now somewhat rusty sounding ‘Mushaboom’ by Feist from her Let It Diealbum on Interscope records, and her diction and articulation was nigh on perfect, and the handclappy percussion was deftly separated) right up to full-thickness orchestral works [Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Solti and the Chicago SO, Decca] and at no time did the H590 give away its size, its limits, or did it ever give up gripping those loudspeakers. Basically, unless you are using the Apogee Divas from the 1980s, there isn’t a loudspeaker in Christendom that the H590 can’t drive.

It’s not just about brute force. The amplifier has subtlety, dynamic range, texture, resolution, rhythm, and outstanding soundstaging properties. None of which are drawn to your attention; you just like the sound. If there is a character to Hegel’s sound – common to the breed – it’s a very slight forwardness that gives a little bit of a zing to the upper-mids. This is not an excessively bright and over-energetic sound, but just a tiny bit of pep in the Hegel’s step.  

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