Hegel Music Systems Mohican CD player Art Dudley March 2019

Art Dudley reviewed the Mohican in March 2019 (Vol.42 No.3):

Having spent much of my life near Cooperstown, New York, I'm skilled at smiling placidly in response to outsiders who express enthusiasm for two things: the Baseball Hall of Fame and the collected works of James Fenimore Cooper. One of those is a dull, puffy monument to one of America's most trivial obsessions; the other is a building filled with sports memorabilia.

The Hall of Fame is okay. I spent a few lunch hours there as a teenager—I had a summer job at the A&P that used to be across the street and down the block from it. Years later, as an elementary-school teacher in the area, I brought dozens of students there on field trips. A capsule review: Walter Johnson's locker is very cool. So is the film clip of Babe Ruth's infamous "called" home run. So was a now-defunct exhibit on cricket. The rest is pretty dull.

Far duller is Cooper's writing: a remarkable thing to say about any works of fiction in which three colonial powers and a handful of natives duke it out with each other and with nature, the latter including an actual bear. Yet the only excitement one feels when blazing a trail through the thicket of Cooper's slow, turgid prose comes when the reader reaches the penultimate page and glimpses an end to his or her torment.

Fortunately for all concerned, the musical experiences offered by Hegel Music Systems' Mohican CD player5 ($5000), which Herb Reichert reviewed in the May 2017 Stereophile, is neither slow nor turgid, but is in fact consistently pacey, as our British friends would say. Although I applaud Hegel's reason for the literary allusion—the product at hand could well be the last CD player some of you will buy, and is likely to be among the last perfectionist-quality CD players any company will introduce—the Mohican deserves a loftier name. (The Last Word? The Long Goodbye? It?)

A quick recap: The Hegel Mohican is designed in Norway, the second-happiest nation on Earth (see this month's "Listening") and built in Asia. It reflects its manufacturer's belief that any design element not required for the playing of a 16-bit/44.1kHz "Red Book" CD—be it the ability to play other disc formats, a USB input, even a headphone jack—can detract from the product's core performance. Consequently, the Mohican has no digital inputs and only one digital output—a true 75 ohm BNC socket—alongside its single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) analog outputs.

Built into a sturdy, sedately finished steel enclosure measuring about 17" wide by 4" high by 11.5" deep, the Mohican is built around an AKM AK4490 32-bit processor and a Sanyo transport. (Hegel says they have sufficient stores of the latter to service Mohicans well into the future.) Apparently no less crucial is Hegel's proprietary master clock, which resides on the Mohican's DAC board. Based on comments on Hegel's website and on conversations I've had with CEO and chief designer Bent Holter, I gather that Hegel assigns greater-than-average importance to precise, imperturbable clock performance and the consequent freedom from jitter. Indeed, in writing up the measurements for Herb's review, John Atkinson noted the player's "superb rejection of spuriae related to word-clock jitter."

Herb wrote of the Mohican that he "was daily struck by how military-grade strong it felt to the touch," and my own experience with a recently borrowed sample was much the same. Apart from the player's metal-encased remote-control handset—itself far more sturdy and hefty than the usual such thing—it responds to the user's wishes with two front-mounted controls that look like knobs yet are actually pushbuttons. Press the left-hand control at its 12 o'clock position and the Mohican powers up or down; press it at 3 o'clock to advance through a disc's tracks, or at 9 o'clock to go in the other direction. The right-hand control also has three functions: open or close the disc drawer (12 o'clock), play (3 o'clock), and stop (9 o'clock).

Those switches have action so stiff that at first I found myself instinctively steadying the player with one hand while pressing a button with the other. In time, I realized that that isn't necessary: At a little over 14 lb, the Mohican is just heavy enough to keep from being jostled while someone pushes its buttons. (I could learn a thing or two from that.)

I began my listening with an album I've enjoyed countless times since its release in 1972—Procol Harum's Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (CD, Salvo CD023)—and was impressed before the music started: The first thing heard at the beginning of this recording is the sound of the auditorium itself, as defined by subtle pre-performance sounds: the orchestra tuning up, murmured conversations, and so forth. Through the Hegel, that space was much larger than what I hear from my long-in-the-tooth Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player. The music itself sounded grand: meatier and less wispy than with the Sony, with greater impact from both the orchestral percussionists and the group's agile drummer, the late B.J. Wilson. Singer Gary Brooker's voice was gloriously clear and spatially present, musical momentum and drive were exceptionally good—especially in "Conquistador"—and, for once, notes played by electric bassist Alan Cartwright were temporally tight and sonically distinct from orchestral sounds in or near the same register. A knockout performance by the Mohican.

After that and a few other pop CDs, I had an idea of what the Hegel could do with recordings of everyday quality. I then threw at it one of the best-sounding CDs I own, the recording of Biber's Mystery Sonatas by violinist Marianne Rônez and Affetti Musicali (Winter & Winter 910 029-2). This recording, made in 1998, features baroque violin and cello (viola da gamba is often substituted for the latter on this disc) alongside theorbo and a chamber organ; each is captured with its colors and textures intact, along with the sounds of a slightly but not excessively lively room. It sounded very good through the Hegel, if not quite as good as through the Kalista DreamPlay One ($43,000), which dug even more color and texture, plus a little more otherworldly vibe, from those Winter & Winter pits. And while I don't recall whether I tried the Biber recording when I reviewed the Luxman D-06u SACD/CD player, I do recall the Lux as also being better than the Hegel at pulling fully saturated colors from CDs of similarly well-made recordings. Yet the Mohican did a better-than-average job with Rônez's Biber, allowing it to sound more colorful and well textured than do most players of my experience, including my Sony.

I set out to determine whether the Mohican had a flair for piano music; instead, I found that it simply has a flair for good piano recordings—which, I suppose, is how things ought to be. It reminded me of something I'd forgotten along the way: that the sound of The Chopin I Love, by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (CD, Decca 289 466 357-2), doesn't match the quality of the performances, being too small and lacking in atmosphere—whereas Nikolai Lugansky's 2002 recording of Chopin's Préludes (CD, Erato 0927-42836-2) is elevated by magnificent sound: The instrument was appropriately huge, with great, purry texture and a fine sense of the recording space.

It had been a while since I'd listened to Mahler's Symphony 2, and in my greed to binge on its pleasures, I pulled out two versions: the first of the two recordings made by the late publisher, Mahler aficionado, and amateur conductor Gilbert Kaplan, with the London Symphony Orchestra et al (2 CDs, MCA Classics MCAD2-11011), and the first recording made of it by anyone, in 1923, with conductor and Mahler acquaintance Oskar Fried leading the Berlin State Opera Orchestra et al (2 CDs, Pearl GEMM CDS 9929). The former sounded terrific—colorful and well textured, with above-average momentum and flow—from the punchy opening to the organ's die-away at the end of the final movement. (Kaplan's live performances were sometimes criticized by participating musicians who suggested that the recording at hand was little more than the LSO turning in their standard-issue Mahler 2, and that Kaplan's ego was outsized. I have zero idea what it might have been like to play under his baton, but I spent time with Kaplan in 1997. He invited me to his Park Avenue office after Listener magazine published a piece about him, and I found him to be one of the most gracious people I've ever met.) Fried's recording sounded precisely like what it is: an unclever transfer from poor-quality, acoustically recorded 78s. It was scarcely listenable.

In other words, the Hegel tarted up nothing, but allowed good recordings to sound notably better than they usually do. The Mohican was, as Stephen Colbert might say, truthy.

A setup note: For whatever reason, the choice of interconnect seemed to have greater-than-usual audible consequences with the Mohican. When I first installed it, I used the first interconnect pair that fell to hand: 1m runs of Luna Grey, an unshielded cable that sounds fine with other line-level sources. But with a few CDs, trebles were grainy. A break-in issue, perhaps? Nevertheless, then and there I swapped in my well-worn Audio Note AN-Vx interconnect pair and was rewarded with grain-free highs. Did the Mohican prefer shielded cables? I can't imagine a technical reason why it should—but be that as it may, the Mohican and the Lunas were not an ideal match.

All right: When you come right down to it, the name's not so bad at all. Mohican is a great conversation starter, especially when non-audiophiles come to listen—one should keep this subtly handsome product out where visitors can see as well as hear it—and it sure beats the names of its predecessors, Hegel's CDP2 and CDP3.

Sometimes I install review samples expecting, or at least hoping, to be wowed. The Hegel Music Systems Mohican did something different: It denied me the pleasure of hearing bad recordings transformed into something they're not, while giving me the arguably deeper and more enduring pleasure of hearing goodness enhanced. This is my new standard in CD playback.—Art Dudley

Hegel Music Systems
US distributor: Hegel Music Systems USA
Baldwin Street
East Long Meadow, MA 01028
(413) 224-2480

es347's picture

..but I just can't see buying a CD player these days especially one that costs five grand

volvic's picture

I would buy one if it had capacity to connect from external sources to its DAC. If not, not sure why anyone would pay $5k for a CD player without that feature. Even a late adopter like myself to computer audio now sees the need for all new CD players to offer. Still, nice machine and quality made in Norway, suppose Hegel thinks there are still people who only listen to CD's, in fact, they are not the only manufacturers that offer a stand alone CD player, I recall Parasound offering a CD player without any inputs for external computer sources, wonder how well they sell. I do hope Hegel sells more than seven.

Allen Fant's picture

I am right there with ya- HR.
I collect 1st pressing CDs for the same reason you collect the Vinyl editions. Very nice coverage and review of the Hegel cd spinner.
Good to read about it being made in Norway and NOT junk-sourced to china (like so many of its competitors).

es347's picture

..but the way I listen is ripping them and loading on a NAS drive connected to a music server. Much easier to navigate your music and with a super high quality DAC better sound..

volvic's picture

I do the same, trounces my pricey CD players.

Allen Fant's picture


what is the Signal-to-Noise (S/N) ratio on this player?
Whom can suggest a U.S. dealer/retailer for a demo?


recorded from 10' mics sounds a lot like the definition of distortion.

allhifi's picture

Mr. Reichert: Now this (review) was much better; deftly navigating the torturous waters of both reviewing sensitivity and drawing comparisons.

But here, you've done reasonably well (as opposed to the other one I lambasted you on).

It would have been instructive if you experimented with PC's, IC's or other combinations with the Hegel Mohican.

I'm not even sure if you referenced the DAC-chip employed , or any other notable feature of the Mohican. I don't recall anything memorable.

In any case, the rightful 'takeaway' from this review is that the very 'up-to-date" Mytek "Brooklyn" slapped the Mohican back into yester-century, at less than half the price of the clearly over-priced Hegel.

Perhaps that eager show "smile" was meant to soften you up to some nice words about the Mohican, I'm pleased to see you did both that, and the right thing in drawing some comparisons.

peter jasz