I will not hide, that I met Hegel products long before the brand gained a distributor in Poland. Furthermore I was lucky enough to personally meet the owner of the company – Mr. Bent Holter and Mr. Anders Ertzaid, the company marketing director. I start my text with this disclaimer not to prone with anything, but to signal you, that I know not only the products, but also the people behind them, with their vision, they are trying to put into reality. In my opinion this is very important, as more and more, the people who created famous brands are no longer involved in their companies, replaced by legions of …accountants. I probably do not have to tell anybody, how such things end, you just need to think about … – here any audiophile can quote “fallen” legend names, which is now only a shadow of its former self. Fortunately it Hegel is reigned from the beginning by Bent and there are no signs, that this could change anytime soon.
Regarding the subjects of this test, here at SoundRebels we decided to see, how the Norwegian manufacturer, very strong in Hi-Fi, will fare in High-End, so we took the preamplifier P30 and power amplifier H30 combo for testing. I did not write “stereo power amplifier” on purpose, as the H30 was initially designed as a mono device, but for economic reasons and on demand of clients, it was prepared to work as a stereo amp. So you can take one unit first, and later, if it will be to your liking, buy another H30, reconnect them, bridge them and be happy with 1.1 kW at 8Ω per channel. A nice perspective, don’t you think?
Now I already started talking about the H30, so I will continue and write a few words about its outside and inside. First of all you need to take into account, that the Norwegian poweramp is very big, maybe not as deep as the Tenor 175s, or as heavy as the Vitus SS-101, but still, there is a lot to take care of – almost 60kg and a size of a small refrigerator. If you are planning to take it to the third floor, you should better think of some helping hands. The main causes of the weight are easy to find after unscrewing the top cover – two 1kW toroidal transformers powering a battery of 32 capacitors with a total capacitance of 32 000µF. Of course, the unit is balanced.
On the thick, slightly convex fascia, besides the etched logo and centrally mounted power switch (no standby to be found on the unit) there is only a blue LED indicating the units power-on state. Classical Scandinavian minimalism and bare functionality, only the basics, without unnecessary ornaments. The back panel, due to the fact, that the H30 unit is able to work in mono and stereo modes, features three XLR/RCA inputs with dedicated switches, while the mono input has a mode selector. Very sturdy loudspeaker terminals, with wing nuts, are in traditional stereo setup, while in mono mode, the right “+” works as “-“. The IEC power socket is located in the middle of the plate, near the bottom. Taking into account the size of the feet supporting the amplifier, as well as the distance to the loudspeaker terminals, any kind of power cable, even having oversized plugs, can be used.
In the P30 the constructors decided to use the simplest balanced setup with oversized power supply, extended logic and ultra-short signal paths. The volume control is done using transistors, and the Alps potentiometer linked to the volume knob, is outside the sound path. According to the information on the company page “the signal travels through 2 transistors and one to three resistors.” Due to the fact, that the preamplifier consumes less power than the power amplifier, it does not need such a big enclosure, so while being as wide as the bigger brother, the unit is half as deep as the H30.
The front panel has exactly the same convex shape as the poweramp, and its design is similarly simple. The left knob, surrounded by a half-moon of LEDs, is the input selector, while the right one is responsible for volume control. The center of the fascia is taken by a small logo, LED power indicator and a power button of significant size. The back panel is covered by three outputs (1 x XLR, 2 x RCA) and 5 line inputs (2 x XLR, 3 x RCA) and a home cinema input.
After we, together with Jacek, brought the combo inside, unpacked it and connected it, despite the fact, that we were grasping for air, we just stood breathless for a moment. Freedom combined with absolute hegemony over the loudspeakers resulted in a big, energetic and most importantly, very natural and musical sound. You could feel confidence, intrinsic calmness based on the knowledge of possessed power and lack of need of proving anything to anybody. And this all with an almost absolutely cold system! (Jacek plugged it out about 2 hours earlier). Not wanting to get too much excited I turned on the Olive and tuned to one of my favorite Scandinavian rock radios while turning to other activities. Fortunately I did not had to wait too long before being able to sit down in my favorite armchair and start listening.
The calmness I noticed at the beginning was still present, but almost “tubey” smoothness and timbre were added to it. Voices of vocalists (Eric Burdon “’Til Your River Runs Dry”, Tom Waits “Bad As Me”) were presented closer to the listener, sounded fuller, with bigger charisma and well defined tissue filling their contours. Well, contours. Although the precision of localization of the musicians on the stage was good, the lines used to delimit their contours were a few pixels thicker than for example the TAD, which we tested lately. This is not about any thickening, or sketchiness of the presentation, but about the fact, that the edges were not as sharp as with many times more expensive competition. On the other hand the coarseness of both mentioned vocalists was shown with very satisfying fidelity, which was not impaired by the slight warming of the sound. Ladies voices (Queen Latifah “The Dana Owens Album”, Chie Ayado “To you”) also profited from the Norwegian diet. Especially with the more moody pieces like “With a Little Help From My Friends” or “Without You” (Chie Ayado) the magic, expected so late in the night (it was already far over midnight), appeared with ease. All the little audiophile relishes were clearly visible, having the listener engulfed in the spectacle presented to him.
During the listening sessions conducted at more civilized times I could not omit a more worked out repertoire, both dynamic and instrumental wise, like “7th Symphony” Apocalyptica, where the viola trio is supported by heavy metal guests and session musicians and recorded really cacophonic-progressive sounds, among which “Not Strong Enough” seems like a romantic ballade in a senior’s home and “2010” with Dave Lombardo banging on drums seems to be a perfect rhythm training for preschool children. At least this is how the Hegel duo approached it. Nothing, absolutely nothing could throw it off balance or provoke to make even the smallest error. Every, even absolutely clipped, rough and painful for our senses, nuance had its perfectly timed place. That, what seemed to be a monolithic wall of sound gained various timbres, colors and sustain with details unnoticed before, all thanks to the resolution of the P30 and power of the H30. It was like combining the power of the monstrous truck MACK MP10 685 with the handling of the Suzuki Hayabusa.
Going a step further, not only in terms of complexity of repertoire, but most of all in the aspect of nicety and artistry, I decided, that this power plant should meet with true symphonic music. Introduction was the lyrical “Pelleas and Melisande” Jean Sibelius performed by Scottish Chamber Orchestra. This seemingly very calm, light and unobtrusive recording has, at least for me, one very significant characteristic. If the system has anything not as it should have been, already with “Melisande” and later with “At the Seashore” things become dull, and I fall asleep. Fortunately I did not observe anything similar with the tested set and I followed the spectacle presented in front of me, on a very deep stage, with attention. This almost “ECM type sound” with a lot of silence had some kind of subliminal magnetism, which attracted the listener and at the same time relaxed and soothed him. It is possible, that it was just a Scandinavian synergy, between the Norway electronics, Danish cabling and Finnish composer, but I must say, that it sounded splendidly.
Being a little bit overfed with “The Planets” Holst, which I used a bit too much lately, and searching for something suitable to test dynamic capabilities of the Hegel amplifier set I reached for “Wind Concertos” Weber, where on “Bassoon Concerto in F major Op. 75, J. 127” you can hear a beautiful, deep timbre of the clarinet, recorded up close, where the action of its keys were perfectly audible and the big drum provided a massage of the intestines. Gradation of the planes, placing of the soloist versus the orchestra were presented naturally, in a very nicely readable way, and the selectiveness was not impaired, even by a tad, at the most spectacular orchestral tutti. There was also no nervosity, sometimes found in over-energetic amplifications, which are trying to show the world their muscles and performance. Here was no trace of strange positions like on a body building show, or engine roar of a muscle car waiting for the lights turn green. Just when there was to be a tutti, it was there, it just attacked, without any precognition.
Listening to the Hegel P30 + H30 was truly a pleasure. For a reasonable price (in High End!) the set offered incredible drive combine with a tube’esque timbre, while having enough braw and current that only a marble tombstone could put it in embarrassment. Inside the simple and modest enclosures of the Hegel true audiophile gems reside, which will shine fully when paired with the rest of the system at least equally good, and when good XLR cables are used to connect them. It will not be bad using RCA, but who would want to use only half of such a system? And this is only the first step to happiness according to Bent Holter, because only using two H30 in mono mode we can feel like the Odin during a feast in the mythical Valhalla.
Text and photographs: Marcin Olszewski
Distributor in Poland: Hegel Polska
Price:P30 – 24 500 PLN; H30 – 48 900 PLN
Volume, source and mute controlled by Hegel RC2 remote
2*XLR balanced, 3*RCA unbalanced and Home Theatre inputs
Selector for 6 input sources
1*XLR balanced and 2*RCA unbalanced outputs
3,5mm IR-direct jack, 3,5 mm jack 12V trigger output
Signal to noise ratio: More than 130 dB balanced mode
Crosstalk: Less than -100 dB
Distortion: Less than 0.005 %
Intermodulation: Less than 0.01% (19kHz+20kHz)
Dimensions/weight: 8cm x 43cm x 30cm (HxWxD), weight 10kg
Dimensions/weight US: 3,2″ x 17″ x 12″ (HxBxD), weight 22 lbs
Output power: More than 1*1100 in 8 Ω
Miniumum load impedance: 1 ohm load
Inputs: RCA unbalanced and XLR balanced
Speaker outputs: Two pairs of heavy duty gold plated terminals
Input impedance: Balanced 20kΩ, unbalanced 10kΩ
Signal to noise ratio: More than 100dB
Crosstalk: Less than -100dB
Distortion: Less than 0.003 % at 100W i 8 Ω
Intermodulation: Less than 0.01 % (19kHz + 20kHz)
Damping factor: More than 500
Power Supply: 2000VA dual mono, 270 000μF capacitors
Output stage: 56 pcs 15A 200W high speed, Ultra low distortion bipolar transistors
Power consumption: 120W in idle mode, 30 watt in ECO mode
Size: 21cm x 43cm x 55cm (HxWxD), weight 45kg
Dimensions/weight US: 8.3″ x 17″ x 21.6″ (HxWxD), weight 99 lbs
System used in this test:
– CD / DAC Ayon 1SC
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Stream player: Olive O2M; laptop Dell Inspiron 1764 + JRiver Media Center;
– Integrated Amplifiers: Electrocompaniet ECI 5
– Speakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Antipodes Audio Katipo; Harmonix CI-230 Mark-II; Harmonix HS101-Improved; Neyton Neurnberg NF
– IC XLR LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio
– Digital IC: Fadel Art DigiLitz, Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye, Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB Cables Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Neyton Hamburg LS; Signal Projects Hydra
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; GigaWatt LC-1mk2
– Power distribution board: GigaWatt PF-2 + cable LC-2mk2; Amare Musica Silver Passive Power Station
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7 +
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; HighEndNovum PMR Premium; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips
The company Hegel entered the Polish audio market strongly. Already first available products (digital to analog converters) showed the potential the company has, but following the needs and wishes of consumers new products were introduced. In the meantime the Norwegians cause enthusiasm among the people not only with the capabilities of their products, but most of all with the sound quality, which is the main priority of their company. Unfortunately to date I had no opportunity to get personally acquainted with their products in my system, but this is going to change now…
After some talks with the distributor I received the reference set for testing: the preamplifier P30 and power amplifier H30. Looking at other products from the company, the power amplifier is a real monster – big and over 50kg heavy cuboid, which fortunately does not overwhelm us due to the toned down design, unlike some of its competitors do. The preamplifier looks small in comparison, which in fact is comparable to other Hegel products. Both devices have unified cabinets, only sizes differ, without designers running wild, only a calm design line enclosing good electronics. In times, when everybody wants to stand out with extravagant looks, this set is nice to look at and calming. You may like it or not, but for me, this calmness allowed to forget about the sheer size of the products.
From experience I know, that devices having very worked out power supplies need a few hours before they can sing. So I unpacked, not without problems, the duo and plugged them into my system. And I put on some background music. Sometimes this goes unnoticed, but not this time. Already the first notes played to verify if all the connections were done correctly drew my attention with a very interesting timbre. So the system scored already a point. But I did not allow it to gain the upper hand and let it play a few kilowatt-hours in the background. Taking into account its position in the catalog of the manufacturer I wanted to hear, what this set can offer, when it can fully show its potential, and not watch the warm-in. Landing in my home, the Norwegians had a tough competition, they had to tackle against the Japanese contestant. Fortunately the test showed, that “cold” can only be an adjective used to describe the location of the country of origin of the tested units, and for sure not the way they sound.
Now because the tested Hegel H30 and P30 are the top of the line for the company, I will compare them against my reference gear. Despite the price difference (three time cheaper than my system) the tested units are worth this comparison. In absolute terms the Nordic duo means very refined sound. Most of the aspects are top notch. I did not expect that they will fare that well compared against the legend from Japan. There are a few differences, which I will try to show in my text, but for somebody entering this price level, it may mean the end of the journey for at least a few years. Lots of power, and ease with which it is released, allow for free choice of loudspeakers. Of course, you can always find a product, that will not work well, just for the sake of it, but using common sense you can choose from a vast amount of loudspeakers.
The beginning of each test is for me a standard set of music. Jazz performed by Bobo Stenson with friends, Monteverdi in various versions (using HIP instruments, or in modern jazz-like performances), a little bit of piano music by our Polish specialist of modifying the instrument (Leszek Możdżer) through contemporary rock – Coldplay (I heard, that this should not be called rock…) ending with free jazz. This musical set showed the sound signature of the Norwegian dragon. Compared to my reference, the whole musical event is placed lower. Not by slowing things down, but by darker timbre. This brings some consequences to listening, for many people it could be like a balm, when their systems are too detailed and soul-less. I tried myself to exploit this asset trying to catch the amp on doing something wrong (about that later). The whole sound is heavier, increasing the palpability of the sound sources and adding color to music. Everything is drawn with a thicker line, what makes lesser recordings become more digestible, allowing us to enjoy recordings from the time we were younger. And at the same time this is not overwhelming, so it does not become annoying. Please remember, that the contender the Hegel was put up against, is a very strong one. Reimyo is so resolving, that it will sound good even in very small rooms (please think about standard living conditions in Japan) and with low volume levels. I think, that when placed in a room of 30-50m2 the tested devices would not even show that what I am talking about, especially because they sound more ethereal when the volume goes up. Is this because the Norwegians tried to make things more pleasing by warming the music a bit, as a reaction to the sterile houses they have? I do not know that, but I do know one thing – the H30 and the P30 sound with a beautiful timbre, creating a spectacle, that ties the listener to the chair for long hours of listening. An example for this may be the mentioned Michel Godard disc “Monteverdi”, which passes a few typical jazz pieces under this title. The recording was made in a monastery, where the echo plays a very important role, and the final mastering is an audiophile masterpiece. Strong vocals combined with clear and phenomenally recorded instruments – the hero is a gigantic tube with the name “Serpent” – together with the tested amplifier this music created a memorable, interactive and “hot” spectacle. I would like to have more recordings of that kind, but life is absolutely brutal and there are not many to be found. Having said that, most of the discs I played were reproduced as enchanting stories putting a smile on my face.
I would not be fair to end the review here. This because I used RCA interconnects for testing, and people say, that Hegel shines best, when XLR cabling is used. So I organized a few high quality balanced cables and after plugging them in, it turned out, that this ‘shift’ towards the warm end of the spectrum became only a hunch, a very light touch, and this can only be seen as an asset of the tested duo. I listened to a dozen of CDs in this new configuration. This only confirmed, that the change of cabling was to the best; the sound got more ethereal while still being very enjoyable. The saxophone, contrabass and base drum were still dense, but quicker, allowing to follow the performers on stage, giving them more breathing space while the vocal still attracted with smoothness, timbre and palpability. To shake this picture a bit, you have to use a disc with too much bass on it. Frankly speaking having such discs is unavoidable, as every sound engineer has his own view on how such a disc should sound, unless you stick with only one record company, like ECM, which is a one man show – Manfred Eicher is the boss there, and he knows what counts beside the music. I am a fan of that label for years and I always check what novelties they have in their catalog, when I am out buying new stuff for my collection. ECM proposes lately some projects going beyond jazz, some “classic like” stuff, not being classical music, but using the classical instruments. Anyway for testing I used the Bobo Stenson disc I mentioned earlier, which allowed the Norwegian duo to show what they really can do, creating a credible gradation of the sound planes, placing the musicians on a brilliantly reproduced three-dimensional stage. His solos, interweaved with sparkling percussion talking to the contrabass, are the essence of the ‘feeling’ the trio has. Sometimes I allow myself to listen to free jazz at higher volume levels – yes, even jazz needs some extra boost – and the higher the volume got, the more aerial the sound got, and the shift towards lower octaves disappeared. I have the idea, that the Hegel was designed to fill larger rooms with sound, having to use more of its muscle, what can be really a good thing if you have such a room. Fortunately upping the volume – even to concert hall levels – did not introduce any kind of distortion. And even at the highest level of decibels we can tolerate, the H30 and P30 still are on the warmer end of playing, what allows us to use also the dry recorded discs for such experiments. Now the time spent with the silver discs spinning in the player was very pleasant, so I decided to change for the bigger and blacker kind of disc for the rest of the test.
I listened to a dozen of vinyl discs using XLR cabling, and had lots of fun doing that. With beautifully saturated midrange and colorful bass every record from my collection sounded great. Old pressings from good labels showed their superiority over digital sources in reproducing the palette of timbres. But this was only true for really good recordings. Having on my shelves lots of main stream recordings, done without special attention to the quality drove me to experiment a bit with cabling and phonostages.
So I connected the initial set of RCA cables and used a new phonostage I tested at the same time, the RCM Theriaa. The latter has really shattered my wellbeing regarding vinyl reproduction, it is so good! This allowed me to reach to the dusty corner of my shelf, where I keep discs, that contained music with emotions, but the way they are recorded does not allow to profit from that. I am quite picky regarding this, what does not mean, that I listen only when the recording is top notch, but I really like it when the musical contents and the realization of the disc match. This change allowed the vinyl to get on par with the CD player, which is really good in my system, and that with ease, what got me really happy. Everybody having an analog system, and buying old discs, knows that such discs are often ‘dry’. They seem OK, people recorded like that those days, but why not help them to make us happy, if we have the tools to do so. I know people, who adjust VTA for each played disc, so such a modification could be welcomed by them. It could also be, that something that I call “making me happy” with the sound, could still be ‘dry’ for some listeners, or too ‘bassy’ for others. Everything depends on personal preference, the rest of the stereo system and the listening room. In my case the slight lowering of the tonal balance allowed to use those less well recorded disc for normal listening. This drawing with a darker tone is a real asset of the Hegel P30 + H30. The set connected with XLRs will give the CDs the desired freedom and saturated, ethereal sound. But when connected with RCAs and combined with a turntable it will allow us to return forgotten discs to our playlist. You just need to listen for yourself to be convinced.
The Nordic set contradicts its origin. It turns out, that it can sound with an enchanting, involving and saturated sound, yet without any kind of silting. Using the XLR connections the amp gets more neutral, giving you all reasons to build your system around it. And when using a turntable and RCA cabling, we get a bonus in the form of slight lowering of the tonal balance, which saves older recordings from dying of alienation on our shelves. So we get two different characters in one. We should also not underestimate the freedom of playing at high and very high volume levels, as there are absolutely no distortions introduced into the signal – I even had the idea, that the Norwegian amplifier likes to play loud. But this is something everybody needs to evaluate individually, because everybody has its own description of what is loud and what is quiet. If I would be searching for an amplifier myself, I would give the Hegel a try for sure. In this comparison it stood its ground, although theoretically it lost before even entering the game. This is a really strong and universal pre + power combo.
The system used in the test, a complete set of Combak Corporation.
– Separate DAC + CD player: CDT – 777 + DAP – 999 EX
– Tube preamp: CAT – 777 MK II
– Solid state power amp: KAP – 777
Speakers: Bravo Consequence +
Power cables: Harmonix X-DC-350M2R Improved Version
Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (Section woofer)
IC RCA Harmonix HS 101-GP
Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
Table: Rogoz Audio
Accessories: Antivibration stand for the power amp by Harmonix TU-505EX MK2, Harmonix Enacom improved for AC 100-240V; Harmonix Tuning Room Mini Disk RFA-80i
drive: Dr. Feickert Analogue „Twin”
arm: SME V
cartridge: Dynavector XX-2 MK II
– Phonostage: RCM „THERIAA”