Hegel H190 Integrated Amplifier Review

Posted on 14th September, 2023

Hegel H190 Integrated Amplifier Review

Craig Joyce reviews this versatile, Norwegian-designed, one-box streaming integrated amplifier…

Hegel

H190 Integrated Amplifier

USD $3,900

Many of us reach the point of realisation that more can be done with less and head down a pathway of consolidation with our stereo systems. Whether this is driven by available space, the all-important 'wife acceptance factor' or just the basic desire to simplify things, an integrated amplifier is a sensible solution to explore. With many modern integrateds now featuring DACs and streaming support, the appeal is obvious – but does all this necessarily come with compromised audio performance?

Norway-based Hegel Music Systems has been a prominent name in the high-end audio market since its inception in the nineteen eighties, with a vision to combine sophisticated engineering with a philosophical approach to sound quality. The H190 integrated amplifier reviewed here is a versatile device featuring an onboard DAC, support for common streaming services and a range of configurable inputs to suit your setup. Weighing around 15kg and measuring 120x430x410mm, it's a largish, substantial, well-made product. 

The H190 sits near the middle of Hegel's integrated amplifier range, directly above the H120 and under the H390, and is a replacement for the older H160, which was one of the best sellers in the company's history. Company founder Bent Holter says: “The new H190 has newer features, updated design and sounds much better, with the ability to play loud longer, on bigger speakers than the H160 could.”

It is rated at 2x150W RMS into an 8-ohm load (250W into 4 ohms), making it a powerful amplifier capable of handling virtually any sensibly designed loudspeaker with which you might choose to pair it. One of its standout features is a high claimed damping factor of over 4,000, ensuring it won't struggle to drive even the most demanding speakers. 

Hegel places a focus on its SoundEngine2 error-cancelling technology, which is a key feature of the H190 amplifier. The aim of this is to minimise distortion and keep the music sounding as true to the original as possible, both in detail and dynamic range. Specifically, SoundEngine2 is said to eliminate crossover distortion that's commonly found in Class AB amplifiers. It achieves this through the use of local and adaptive feedforward technology, identifying and removing any distortion within the amplifier's audio stages, according to the manufacturer. As a result, the H190 boasts an impressive signal-to-noise ratio of over 100dB and less than 0.01% distortion at 50W into an 8-ohm load at 1 kHz.

All Hegel integrated amplifiers, including the H190, feature the company's unique DualAmp Technology. This technology is said to divide the amplification process into two distinct stages, voltage gain and current gain. Initially, the music signal undergoes voltage amplification, boosting only its voltage level. This allows Hegel to use specific components that excel in voltage amplification. Following this, the signal moves to the current gain stage, where only the current is amplified.

By separating these stages, Hegel's engineers can shield the more sensitive components involved in voltage gain from the large currents involved in driving the speakers. This separation also means there's no feedback loop between the current and voltage gain stages. The company argues that this DualAmp setup results in lower overall distortion and a higher dynamic range compared to conventional amplifier designs.

The back panel is well-equipped with a variety of connectivity options. It features three analogue inputs– two sets of RCAs and one set of balanced XLRs. There are also two sets of stereo RCA outputs, one fixed and one variable. You can even set most of these inputs to integrate with a home theatre system alongside a stereo setup. For subwoofer connectivity, variable unbalanced line-level outputs can be used. The speaker terminals are nicely separated and will accept spade plugs, banana plugs or bare wire connections.

When it comes to digital connectivity, the H190 doesn't disappoint. It offers a wide range of digital inputs, including three S/PDIF TOSLINK inputs, a coaxial input, and options for network and USB connections. The USB input allows the H190 to function as a soundcard for a connected computer, and it is compatible with the latest versions of Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

The network input adds another layer of functionality, offering full UPnP/DLNA support. This means you can use the Hegel device as a digital network renderer, streaming music from your local storage or online music services. Popular streaming services and protocols like Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay, and Roon are also supported through the network input. The digital inputs can handle PCM signals up to 24-bit/192kHz; the USB input works up to 24/96 to ensure it remains plug-and-play. When it comes to analogue inputs, the H190 converts these signals to digital and then upsamples them to 24-bit/192kHz.

The H190 has a robust 6.3mm headphone jack on the front, making it handy when loudspeaker listening isn't practical. As for its appearance, you can choose between a matte black or a white finish. The design is minimalistic with a Scandinavian touch, blending well into any room without drawing too much attention. When I had the white version on trial in my home, it received plenty of positive compliments from guests.

Setting up the H190 is straightforward. You can use the substantial infrared remote control, the front control panel, or even a web interface for easy software updates. One thing to note is the power button's location – it is under the front of the amplifier, which might not be immediately apparent when you first use the unit. The uncrowded fascia contains just two controls (input selection and volume) with a central display and a full-sized headphone socket.

Inside the unit, the H190's electronics are neatly arranged on two separate circuitboards. One board is dedicated solely to analogue functions, while the other focuses on digital operations and is referred to as the 'Sound Card' by Hegel. This digital board features a Libre Wireless DSP module and was developed in-house by Hegel's engineers. Notably, it incorporates the company's own version of Apple AirPlay, as well as a custom USB interface. The manufacturer offers a two-year localised parts and labour warranty.

To evaluate the H190 in my system, I streamed hi-res audio from Qobuz using Roon. During the review period, the H190 powered my JBL 4312G studio monitors and Kingfisher Audio A16 standmount loudspeakers.

THE LISTENING

The Hegel H190 shows remarkable clarity and transparency for an amplifier of this price. From the moment that you cue up one of your favourite tracks, what stands out is the purity of the sound. It has an appealing midrange, with a broadly neutral tonality. This amplifier also displays excellent grip, being obviously able to drive a wide range of loudspeakers in an authoritative way. From big studio monitors to more traditional standmount speakers, the H190 provides ample power to drive them easily. It's unlikely that you will encounter any limitations when it comes to matching this amplifier to your choice of speakers, making it a truly versatile unit. 

If there is an area where the Hegel H190 shows some restraint, it is in dynamics. While certainly good, they don't reach the realm of awe-inspiring and cannot match larger separate power amplifiers in this respect. The panoramic soundstage makes up for this, however. This amplifier does a commendable job of reproducing the recorded acoustic's sense of space and depth for a single-box solution. Instruments and vocals are placed with an accuracy that gives the listener a convincing sense of the original recording environment. 

For example, Kentucky Is Water from Bonnie Prince Billy's latest album Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You is a lovely, unadorned acoustic track. While not challenging programme material from an amplifier's perspective, it allows for the identification of imperfections in the playback chain that so often take you away from the music. The H190 rendered this simple arrangement in total clarity – Will Oldham's vocals took on a palpable sense of reality in the room, with the slow acoustic guitar strumming gently supporting the proceedings. The unexpected twang of nylon strings was easily heard as fingers moved on the fretboard. Backing vocals from Dane Waters appear at key moments of the song and are beautifully subdued and controlled to meet Will's lead. The Hegel's DAC offered no harshness or sibilance when paired with the JBL studio monitors, giving a detailed playback presentation that was both beguiling and enticing in equal measures. 

As far as precision production goes, it is hard to move past the exacting techno of Atroxx's Anvil. Offering a rich and articulate bottom end with a targeted and well-defined sound stage, the H190 once again showed its innate subtlety and detail across the midband. This remained whatever volume was chosen because as the level increased, this amplifier stayed clean, and I got an obvious sense of how well mixed the track is. At higher listening levels, the niceties of the playback from the H190 don't get lost; they just get reinforced. Also, the soundstage was a level above what you might expect from an all-in-one box solution, being wide, deep and tall.

Playing well-mastered high-resolution material like R.E.M.'s Me In Honey allowed this reviewer to gain some insight into how the Hegel reproduces digital content, but also how it processes analogue material within the amplifier. Each instrument was clearly defined in the mix, offering an impressive sense of depth and dimensionality. The recording quality of this song is exceptional, showcasing Peter Buck's jangly electric and acoustic guitars, Mike Mills' articulate bass lines, and Bill Berry's crisply defined drumming. Michael Stipe's emotive vocals were presented with precision, and guest vocalist Kate Pierson added a layer of harmonic texture. There was never any hint of glare, although the sound did lack the tonal richness of some rival designs.

The Kingfisher A16 is a less sensitive loudspeaker than the JBL 4312G, and is rated at 4 ohm nominal impedance. However, with the immense grip that the Hegel offers, it was difficult to hear any difference when playing back more challenging, bass-heavy material. Pop Pop by Vex'd is a classic track with thick dub basslines that merge with staccato rhythms and effects. The sharp snare hit through hard with the Hegel and Kingfisher pairing, and fixed dead centre in the mix while the aggressive bass filled the room. This kind of music is hard to do justice to via standmounting speakers, yet it was clear that the H190 was not challenged at all by this.

The Hegel delivered a very muscular bass sound from the compact Kingfishers then, but its dynamics weren't as immediate as some rivals. PJ Harvey's superlative Rid Of Me switches gears in an instant from sedate riffing and whispered vocals to explosive Steve Albini-produced rock. The H190 served up an expansive recorded acoustic and anchored the song with a robust bottom end, although it did sound ever so slightly more relaxed than some price rivals.

THE VERDICT

Hegel's H190 is a versatile integrated amplifier that offers a wide range of connection options, catering to both traditional analogue audio and today's digital and streaming needs. While it doesn't have advanced signal processing features like EQ or room correction, it's an excellent all-in-one solution for most users. The amplifier is compatible with most types of speakers, from studio monitors to standmount designs, delivering a strong performance without any concerns about power output.

When tested with my JBL monitors, it provided a clear and coherent listening experience, allowing the precision of these speakers to shine through. Its performance was also impressive when paired with Kingfisher A16s, showcasing the smooth treble and deep bass. So, with its fine built-in DAC and streamer, the Hegel offers great value for those looking to simplify their audio setups. It effectively combines a range of well-designed features into a single unit, making it a convenient and cost-effective choice for prospective purchasers. It really should be on your radar if you're considering a new system or just looking to simplify an existing one.

For more information visit Hegel

Craig Joyce's avatar

Craig Joyce

With an engineering degree in digital signal processing and a storied career in IT networking and cyber security, Craig loves to push the boundaries of audio technologies. An aficionado of live music with personal detours in music production and event promotion, Craig is a long time enthusiast of post punk, electronic and experimental music.

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Tags: hegel 

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