Low noise, superb sound from Hegel

Bent Holter, founder of and designer for the Norwegian company Hegel, explained that his circuits are based on work he had done designing ultra–low-noise preamplifiers for the European CERN laboratory. Hegel's new H80 D/A integrated amplifier ($2000) replaces the H70, which was introduced in 2010, and uses the low-noise preamp circuit from the $5500 H300 amplifier and Hegel's patented feed-forward "Sound Engine" amplifier topology. It has two single-ended analog inputs, one balanced analog input, and five digital inputs, including USB. Though this doesn't operate in the usual asynchronous mode, it uses a proprietary reclocking topology said to eliminate jitter. The H80 offers 75Wpc into 8 ohms compared with the H70's 70W.

Hegel's HD25 DAC ($2500) uses a 32-bit AKM chip and offers even lower noise than the DAC used in the H80. In a series of level-matched comparisons between the H70 and H80 and the HD25, the H80 offers improved clarity and better low-frequency extension and control compared with the H70. While the best sound in the system, which featured Magico S1 speakers ($12,500/pair) and Nordost Red Dawn cables, with digital data sourced from a MacBook Air, was with the HD25's analog outputs feeding the H80, the H80 fed digital data sounded superb for $2000.

Perhaps the most exciting new product Hegel was showing at RMAF was the Super, a $399 portable USB D/A headphone amplifier. Machined from a single block of aluminum, this has a digital-domain volume control, but the circuit's noisefloor is so low that it is claimed to preserved resolution at lower volumes. The Super also has an extremely low output impedance so should be able to drive even the most demanding headphones with ease. Stephen Mejias hopes to be writing about the Super in a future "Entry Level" column.

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