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Hegel H100 Integrated Amplifier Review Print E-mail
Monday, 01 February 2010
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Hegel H100 Integrated Amplifier Review


Hegel recommends letting the amp warm up about 1 hour for best sound. During reviews, I typically listen to components for 100 hours or more, which entails running them most of a business day or longer for multiple days. Then and long after, the H100 never got hot and barely got warm to the touch. Even after running for 8 hours or more, the chassis remained cool to the touch. Five top panel circulation grates do an outstanding job dissipating heat. If your listening area is already on the warm side, the H100 is a welcomely cool roommate.

From the first minutes with the H100, I knew it was special and perhaps the least sonically colored integrated amplifier I've heard. Bryston's B-100 SST is my benchmark in the $3K-$4K price range (and beyond) for its stone-like neutrality, but Hegel has something to say about that. The amp is transparent, detailed, with rich bass and utterly pure in the mid- and high-range. I've seen the H100 described as sounding like water, and I struggle to come up with a better characterization. Smooth and clean. Maybe organic? It's an exceptionally musical component – if not a shade reticent - and at home in the all but the most power-demanding systems.

I first connected the H100 to my Mac mini via USB and ran through some old favorites stored in iTunes. Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett has a catalog of solo releases on par with the best of his earlier band work. His 1978 album, Please Don't Touch, ventures down many roads. The disturbing fantasia “Carry On Up The Vicarage” is tempered by the lyrical instrumental “Kim” and the rocking “Racing In A,” with special guest vocal from Kansas' Steve Walsh. Hackett paints a colorful pastiche of guitar sounds and textures that never got lost with the Hegel, whose USB performance is good but not up to the performance of an external DAC like Hegel's excellent HD10. Working together, the H100 and HD10 took my computer music to the edge of high-end CD player performance. I like the convenience of a  USB DAC and amplifier under one roof but wouldn't purchase the H100 based on this feature. I would, however, buy the amp solely for its non-USB performance.

I was hoping to audition one of Hegel's CD players along with the H100 but didn't get the chance, so Emotiva Audio's ERC-1 player served as surrogate. The ERC-1 sports balanced outputs, making it easy to connect via XLR as Hegel recommends. My music collection is short on Norwegian acts, much longer on artists from neighboring Sweden. Brighteye Brison are one of that country's many fine progressive-rock acts with a sound harkening back to the 1970s. Brison's 2008 release, Believers & Deceivers, is a bold, ambitious and melodic set of just four songs, two of which (“The Harvest” and “The Grand Finale”) clock in at more than 20 and 30 minutes respectively. The band's arrangements were meticulously presented by the H100, with clean, balanced and broad soundstaging. Tonal balance and imaging are two of the amp's biggest strengths, but the bass reproduction – powerful and even with no flab - really caught my ears.

Benjamin Franklin is known for many things –  one of the founding fathers of the United States, publisher of Poor Richard's Almanack and influential politician. He was also a dedicated musician, composer and inventor of the armonica, an instrument employing tuned glass bowls arranged on a spindle and controlled by a pedal. The armonica found favor with Mozart and Beethoven, both of whom composed works specifically for the instrument. Pop singer Linda Ronstadt is a current champion of the instrument and co-producer of Cristal: Glass Music Through The Ages, a disc featuring Dennis James on armonica covering music from the 17th through 20th century. The armonica produces mesmerizing, almost otherworldly sounds. It's delicate, filigreed and translucent, as if light was somehow captured in a note. Those qualities shone through with the Hegel bringing Mozart's “Adagio in C Major, K. 356,” among others, to bloom with radiance and grace.

Miles Davis' “In A Silent Way” sparkled, too. This deceptively simple tune is one of the horn man's greatest arrangements. I love how the H100 puts “air” around John McLaughlin's gentle guitar lines, spaced within the celestial keyboard flow of Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, and Davis' muted horn. As well, Hegel's dead-silent operation makes the silent way even more so.

Sticking with the Zawinul connection, Weather Report's “Tears,” from the band's 1971 self-titled album is a moody jazz-fusion masterpiece. Clarion calls from Wayne Shorter's saxophone are interjected with Zawinul's electric piano, while Miroslav Vitous' rumbling bass, Alphonze Mouzon's stick work and percussion master Airto Moreira make sparks fly all around. The H100 does an excellent job of keeping everything cohesive and lets the drums, cymbals and other battery sound like real percussion instruments, with attack, decay and transients deliciously preserved.

Final Thoughts

If the H100 could be measured with a pH meter, it would register damn close to 7.0. It's one of the finest-sounding components in its price range I've had the pleasure to experience. Neutral yet detailed and refined. Beautifully built and brilliantly engineered, this is a superb amplifier and highly recommended.

System Setup

  • Hegel H100 Integrated Amplifier
  • Apple Mac mini
  • Emotiva Audio ERC-1 CD Player
  • Axiom Audio M80 v2 loudspeakers
  • Role Audio Sampan mini-tower loudspeakers
  • Better Cables Premium Anniversary Edition Speaker Cables (3 meter/bananas)

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