Hegel H160 Amplifier

Scandinavia is celebrated for natty knitwear, its broody TV detective shows, unforgiving weather and magnificent design aesthetic, but is also becoming understood for hifi superiority. Norwegian maker Hegel is part of a tide of Nordic names grabbing our focus, and this is its latest integrated amplifier, the H160.

We reviewed DAC and the maker's H80 integrated amp and were left impressed. The H160 is slightly deeper and taller and considerably more heavy, hinting at some greater muscularity. The H160 feels that small bit more beefy and appetising and appears.

The same understated layout ethos as its sibling stays, with a blue-lit LED display flanked by twin rotary controls that smoothly alter source input and volume. A headphone output phase is gained by it and boasts a somewhat different mixture of input alternatives. It simply has one committed analogue RCA input alongside another fixed-level RCA input designed for home theatre programs (which may be reconfigured to be a routine RCA input if needed). Additionally, it keeps the H80's quality analogue that is balanced XLR input for individuals with balanced analogue sources.

On the electronic front it boasts one digital coaxial, three optical inputs, just one USB input and an Ethernet interface to hook it up to your home network empower control and to get stored music files.

The H160 is a merchandise of the 21st Century, asking future owners to it as a digital hub that can enable you to simply plug-and- play with a host of digital sources alongside an analogue source or two. Digital processing maxes out at 24-bit/192kHz for optical and coaxial input signals with the 'non-asynchronous' USB input signal topping out at 24-bit/96kHz. AirPlay is presently restricted to CD quality - 16-bit/44.1kHz.

The AKM4396 chipset has been selected by Hegel for DAC obligations in the H160. This bodes well as it's a technical option I have valued before. Control can be via AirPlay or the purposeful alloy distant. As handsets go, this romance that is entirely metal is as strong as they come and it still retains a deep coldness from Norway even after weeks of use!

Sound quality

Linking MacBook Pro, a quality HDCD conveyance, outside DAC and home router up, I set about warming the H160 through with Aphex Twin's Syro on CD. Playing with the catchily named Minipops 67 - Source Field Mix, the portrayal of the razor of the H160 -edged percussion, haunting synths and bass lines that are brooding instantly grab your attention. The sound is with many layers detail, highly transparent. Bass is strong, but lean as well as the amplifier's promised high damping variable uses a grip on my reference Cadence loudspeakers that steadfastly shows them who's boss. But it applies this control without developing a sterile, engineered sound quality that some muscly transistor designs can.

After a lengthy run in, I spin London Grammar's Strong on CD and hear a very assured performance. Bass Guitar has filled out and the midband feels more comfortable and fluid. Hannah Reid's voice is given having a silky yet tremendously present quality and is softly brought forward out of the plane of the key soundstage.

Where I felt that the DAC of the H80 might have sometimes aimed for detail as an end in itself, here the H160 probably strikes a more confident balance between explicit detail, depth of picture and natural timing/rhythmic skills. And this balance is achieved by it effortlessly in a way that is totally unflustered.

That is one of the finest-recorded records of recent years as well as the H160 lays out a soundstage that is driving, wide and transparent. Doug's time keeping foot stomps and percussive guitar licks underline the amp's quick, tight bass guitar skills. This really is in excellent contrast to the supreme lightness of touch across the shimmering of the H160 drum on brushing and his rich, expressive vocals. Although the H160 packages a maintained 150W, I've heard more total, more weighty renditions of this track from competing equipment, but there is something about the topology of Hegel's sound processing circuits and amplification that gets right to the heart of expressing the emotion of an artist's performance. Imagine all your favourite tracks had the smallest amount removed and that is something like the Hegel house sound. And given this is not occurring, it appears to support the H160 is addressing distortion in ways that are different from the wisdom that is received.

Accessing a rip of Jim James' State Of The Art utilizing the Ethernet network connection, I control the machine via AirPlay. The track starts very softly with Jim's mournful voice and understated piano, and the H160 interprets this stripped-out delivery magnificently in the church like, reverential acoustic. As the track progressively builds, it shifts up through the tools, effortlessly conveying the hypnotic and propulsive heart of the song. Triangles that are crystal clear band through deep, funky bass riffs and deliberately overloaded vocals press away and forward. This is a track that can trip up poorer DACs, but not the H160.

The DAC feels exceptionally well integrated with the amplifier sections, getting the broad brushstrokes of tempo, tempo and timing just right and getting that tricky balance between portraying critical low level micro details. AirPlay's addition and additional digital inputs all in a single black box that is understated underlines that this is an advanced product which is planning to balance convenience and quality. Truly,

Hegel prides itself on working with sources and small audio files and getting them to sound as good as possible. Even playing rudimentary MP3 files via iTunes I am actually impressed by the capability to consistently provide a very coherent, quality soundscape of the H160.


Primarily, it is clearly aiming to be a high quality audiophile element that attains exceptional sound results by integrating and optimising preamp, DAC, headphone amp and power amp obligations in one box, with a few network and AirPlay functions put into help usability.

But it also appeals to a brand-new crowd that does not want the litter and complexity of too many unpleasant, different components, but does want a quality output at an iPad's swipe across AV and music sources and all. And it straddles these two audiences well.

With DAC technology at such a rate and music sources that are high resolution however finding their feet moving, it's easy to view any inbuilt DAC as a legacy waiting to happen. However a good-integrated DAC is something that Hegel appears to excel.

I'd still like to see the inclusion to tweak the audio for different music genres, and the DAC just exhibits the bare minimum of information about your digital sources. Many audiophiles will likely not be carried from purchasing a separate DAC and integrated amplifier with this specific budget to spend, but I might encourage discerning listeners contrast and to compare this impressive single-box option. It ought to be a respectable challenger.

In the event you're seeking a quality hi-fi encounter and have restricted space, or are under extreme partner pressure to produce a minimalist living room yet retain quality music playing, this is the type of product you must be turning to. This amplifier belongs to some other breed that might be as positive with AV responsibilities as music.

In this respect the H160 could be called more of a minimalist lifestyle product and a bridge merchandise between pure audiophile demands. Each time I try a Hegel product it seems the next one increases its game, with ever-greater self-confidence. I have few doubts that another launch will not be even weaker, but this one will successfully cope with nearly every challenge.

Hegel H160 Amplifier photo