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Hegel H95 Review (Streaming Amplifier)

killdozzer

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Have You actually handled the Hegel? The build quality is easily on par with most amplifiers in the same price category. Yes, the measurements are mediocre, but to say that it is extremely low budget and poorly executed is exaggeration.

Regarding the sound quality, I doubt very much if many of us could detect it to sound inferior to other USD $2K amplifiers in a controlled blind test.
I think you and DSJR got @Geert wrong (of course, this is just a stab in the dark, I may be wrong as well) I think his "low budget and poor execution" refers to the way it was slapped together to perform so lousy, not the feeling of the knob. I know, usually people associate build quality only with face-plate and heavy turning knobs. Perhaps he should have said "design quality is extremely low budget and poorly executed"
 

tvrgeek

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Very disappointing as a local high end shop was suggesting I look at one. Surprised as what they had on the floor, Atoll and Sim, were very good.
 

mlilliman

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Thank you for the test and review, @amirm. I bought this amp 6 months prior, haha.

When you buy something at such cost (despite it being an entry level product for Hegel), and you enjoy how it performs, then it's a little like hearing someone insult your wife/kids/pets, etc.! I thought I had done the necessary diligence before buying; I had looked into Hegel's 'distortion reducing' SoundEngine technology (explain by Ben Holter below), and I'd read and watched countless glowing reviews. Alas, it appears that I bought a turkey.


I felt that way for a couple of days. I can truly say this review affected my enjoyment of the product. I cringe as I write that, an admittance of my insecurities in needing to see a golf club swinging pink panther to affirm my buying decision.

That was until I considered my subjective experience of the product vs the measured performance. Why was there such a contradiction?

Part of the answer is the cost; it's expensive so it must be good/better. But I'm a data analyst by profession and think I can reduce that factor in my critical thought process. In several cases, I've gone back to a cheaper product because I think it sounds/performs better. So I trawled through every page and every post of this review trying to find an explanation, and I think I've found the reason(s) why.

1. The digital input signal needed to be attenuated -24dB due to the high gain of the amplifier section, effectively raising the noise floor of the DAC. Had a 0dB full scale signal been input and the volume pot reduced, the measured S/N ratio would be ~90dB. While not great, this is unlikely to be audible with music.

2. My modest speakers (Wharfedale 12.3's) are a straight forward load with an 8 ohm nominal impedance, dipping to 4.4 ohms in the bass. Sensitivity is high at 88dB from one nominal Watt (2.8V) of input, so no more than 50 Watts or so is needed to go very loud. For context, around 40-50 on the volume pot.

3. I don't use the line outs, instead connecting my sub to the high level binding posts. (Pure luck rather than a conscious decision.)

I totally get that the testing process should be standardised. Amir has more than enough on his plate than to start customising the testing process to produce each product's optimal results.

While I haven't got the best value for money proposition out there, my use cases haven't stressed the Hegel and it's operating comfortably within it's performance envelope. I just wish I could send Amir many of the other desirable hi-fi brands when the upgrade bug next bites!
 
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tvrgeek

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I know the question will upset some, but if you can get past the measurements, how does it sound? Did you listen to it before reading the review?
I have been disappointed in some highly review equipment, and quite impresses by some so-so reviewed. Kind of suggest there are more things to measure if what you hear does not correlate with the static bench measures.

They do have a good reputation and the technology they employ can work very well. Of course, anything can be screwed up.
 

amper42

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I know the question will upset some, but if you can get past the measurements, how does it sound? Did you listen to it before reading the review?
I have been disappointed in some highly review equipment, and quite impresses by some so-so reviewed. Kind of suggest there are more things to measure if what you hear does not correlate with the static bench measures.

They do have a good reputation and the technology they employ can work very well. Of course, anything can be screwed up.

The Hegel H90 sounds great with my BMR monitors. From my listening tests I would rate it above my Denon 4700 but slightly below my RME ADI-2 DAC FS with these speakers. As long as I avoid its three main limitations I'm totally happy with its sound quality.

Limitations:
1. Don't use the variable line outs. Insufficient gain for sub or 2nd pair of speakers. Standard pre-out would be superior.
2. Don't expect it to drive a large floor standing speaker. I tried it with Revel F328Be. The Purifi amp with RME ADI-2 DAC was clean while Hegel H90 offered much higher distortion levels with the F328Be. But with the BMR's it sounded totally great.
3. Don't rely on the low performing Hegel wifi connectivity. It's weak and dropouts can easily occur. I use the USB input to my MacBook Pro running Audirvana. The connection is solid and it sounds great.


H90Back.jpg
 
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Klonatans

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Back in 2020 I owned a Hegel H160 amp for about a month. I bought a second hand unit after reading a lot of overwhelmingly positive feedback online. To my disappointment both with its built-in DAC (coax connection) and in analogue mode it sounded somehow dull and lifeless and despite its claimed 150 W per channel (8 Ohm) was not able to produce enough bass with my relatively easy to drive Quadral Chromium Style 8 speakers (there's a lot of hype about them too). I really wanted to like the Hegel but it was imposible so I sold the amp with some loss and later got rid of the Quadral speakers too.
 

tvrgeek

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Rated at 60W. Maybe optimistic. Those Revels claim to be very efficient, which we also know tends to be very optimistic! I drive my monitors with 60W, but with a massive power supply and lots of caps. Shame, always looking for that sleeper, but seems this one is not it.
Atoll and Exposure are the other two brands I had not heard of.

I concluded, no matter what brand, avoid the on-board dac. A $100 external invariablly beats them. Some want the convivence.
 

mlilliman

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Aghast! The "hype level" that Hegel has been able to build up is unbelievable. It's a sort of "would be" MacIntosh. It's (or rather was) a status symbol. It was unquestionable and unquestioned.

The H95 was the entry level model. But... 50-60w (when they claimed 75wpc), "low noise technology" totally dashed, dismal dac...and on and on.

I wonder how the upper reaches of the range perform. Probably acceptably well, this is a VERY expensive, very exclusive brand. Ditch the H95, focus on the high end and survive.

The intelligent user will get MUCH better results from the new Topping PA5 at about a quarter of the price. Forget the H95 and get a PA5. You'll be glad you did.
Why let facts spoil your faux anger? Hegel state 60wpc into 8 ohms (1% THD), not 75wpc.
 

jmillar

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Why let facts spoil your faux anger? Hegel state 60wpc into 8 ohms (1% THD), not 75wpc.
Great surprise at the results, rather. And even that is "on hold" after seeing another set of measurements. I always believed the H90/95 was overpriced for what you got, but NOT that it was a terrible amp. I will delete my post and inquire further.

As to power you are absolutely right, 75 was claimed for the H120 (IIRC). The H95 is very similar to the H90, that delivered 60wpc.
It IS true that the DAC is decidedly "low end" and no true "headphone amp" is included. The H120 DID have one (IIRC). The H95 delivers "entry level basics" acceptably well, albeit at 1800-2000€. It's up to the prospective customer to decide "value". "Preamp outs" are weak and seem to have been at the root of many subsequent misunderstandings.
Let's say that I have now returned to my position of "amp that I would accept as a gift" but that I would not personally opt for. For 2000€ I would probably opt for the NAD C298, (or any number of others).
For H90/95 ruggedness, QC, failure rate, extended warranty (reflecting actuarial confidence in product) would be tangible assets, but AFAIK there are no published stats.
 
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Descartes

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Hegel H95 integrated amplifier with DAC and streaming support. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $2000.

The H95 looks pretty nice:
View attachment 167912

I really like the large, high resolution and very responsive graphic display. What I don't like is the absence of power button on the front face. After some research I found out it is on the bottom. I realize without it there is symmetry but the one or two times that you play something super loud and want to rush to shut it off, you will hate the fact that it will take some effort to reach under to power it down. Another thing I didn't like is lack of acceleration on volume control. You have to crank and crank it to turn it all the way up and down.

The back panel shows the extra connectively over a standard analog amplifier:
View attachment 167913

Very nice to see built-in DAC and Ethernet streaming. What is not is the maximum supported sample rate of 96 kHz over USB. This tells me they are using ancient and obsolete USB interface. They say they did this for ease of design and to save money to put toward making the DAC itself better. We will see about that.

A simple plastic remote control is provided which is very similar to what we see from Chinese desktop manufacturers. I tend to like it but it is unusual for such an expensive product to come with this kind of remote. Usually they include some heavy but harder to use remote.

Hegel H95 DAC Measurements
This being an amplifier, I immediately jumped to measuring that part of it first. But then I had to backtrack when I noticed digital input performance was worse than analog. Given the line out, I decided to measure the DAC using coax input. For some reason, like a Hegel DAC I tested in the past, my ASIO4ALL interface would not see the USB input so I decided to test with Coax. Here is our dashboard with volume control adjusted to produce the nominal 2 volts:

View attachment 167914

I don't need to tell you that this is stunning high level of distortion, landing the H95 seven from the bottom list of some 350 DACs tested:
View attachment 167915
When sweeping IMD distortion level, we can see part of the problem:

View attachment 167916

This is something we see in Audio/Video receivers where they set the optimal gain to drive their amplifiers and not the 2 volts we are looking for. Even then performance is not good, barely showing less noise than a $9 phone dongle! We can measure the noise itself:

View attachment 167917

This is horrid performance in any modern DAC.

Back to distortion, we see that again in multitone test:

View attachment 167918

Jitter performance is lackluster and what I would expect to see from random ebay DAC:

View attachment 167919

To finish our suffering, here is poor linearity measurement:
View attachment 167920

I think they may have unseated Schiit with their multibit DACs and poor linearity!

Really, really bad showing.

Hegel H95 Amplifier Measurements
I first started with line in and adjusted the volume to get the nominal gain of 29 dB we use in integrated amplifier tests:

View attachment 167921

Noise and distortion is just above average:
View attachment 167922

I expected a lot better as the company's claim to fame is a comparator which supposedly detects distortion and sends an inverted signal to the amp to correct. We see plenty of amplifiers without such circuit performing far better as you can see in above graph. And of course we have products that use true feed forward technology such as Benchmark AHB2 currently occupying #1 spot in above graph.

What's more, there are stability issues with that circuit (my guess). Check out the warm up performance of this amplifier:


View attachment 167923

I have never seen anything like this. Variations are quite large (as much as 3 dB) with two very large spikes. It never stabilized even though I let it warm up far longer than other amps to tune of 17 minutes. Best case performance was actually when the amplifier was just powered on at 80.5 dB SIAND but then finishing at 79.5.

Switching to DAC input which one would hope would eliminate source of external noise made things worse, not better in that regard:

View attachment 167924

You are losing 9 dB in SINAD due to much higher noise floor. Why or why? Again, AV receivers do this but I don't think I have measured this kind of degradation before when using digital input.

So from here on I focused on analog input. Here is our dynamic range:

View attachment 167925

I like to see 96 dB at 5 watts but 91 is fine. The max power performance doesn't improve much because this is not a very powerful amplifier.

Crosstalk is also good:

View attachment 167926

Frequency response is flat in audible band:

View attachment 167931

Power output is just 63 watts into 4 ohm at the knee of the distortion curve:
View attachment 167927

Allowing for more distortion and busting sharply increased available power:
View attachment 167929

Power into 8 ohm is very low for this expensive of an amplifier:
View attachment 167930

Checking for frequency dependency we see something limiting power before the amplifier naturally doing so:

View attachment 167932

Hegel H95 Headphone Amplifier
I usually don't bother testing headphone output on this type of amplifier as it is usually an afterthought. But company talks about improving its output and noise level relative to prior products so I decided to test it some. Here is our power curve into 300 ohm:

View attachment 167933

I like to see 100 milliwatts of power here and 80 is close enough. Switching to low impedance, we should get a lot more power but we do not:


View attachment 167934

The guarantee reason is high output impedance and that is precisely what we have:


View attachment 167935

I am amazed that in this day and age companies like Hegel are not aware of the fact that high impedance is bad for many headphones (changes their tonality) and that even budget headphone amps have impedance below 1 ohm. 77 ohm is just out of the question.

Conclusions
Let's quickly agree that both the DAC and headphone amplifiers are junk. They are better off leaving both out. You can do better with hundreds of products that cost the same as the shipping or tax of the H95. I watched one video where the youtuber said he preferred the sound of Hegel DAC to his Chord Mojo in some ways. Wonder what he thinks now.

The amplifier in H95 is good as far as noise and distortion but nothing to write home about. Continuous power is very low for an amplifier costing $2000 however.

This is just a bad attempt all around.

I can't see any reason to recommend Hegel H95. Company needs to go back to the drawing board and design performant DACs and headphone amplifiers as a minimum. On amplification, they are being left behind by proper feedforward designs and excellent class D with tons of power.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
There is a dealer where I live who is always pushing Hegel.
I always wondered if they were any good, I guess not, thank you for the great review Amir!
 

sjeesjie

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Wow, somehow I'm sad and happy at the same time having read this review. When I was searching for a new amplifier I really digged the Hegels. But when I heard one, I went looking elsewhere. It didn't sound good at all to me.
So I'm happy that my ears didn't lie to me but still I'm sad because it's such a piece of junk.
 

batazs

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Hi,
my set: Hegel H95, Audiolab 6000 CDT, MA Gold 100 (5G), VIABLUE SC-4 Bi-Wire T6s
Idon't feel the synergy with MA Gold 100 (5G). I'm looking for the ideal speaker to the H95 Important for me tight, quick and clear bass.
Thanks for the recommendations.
 

Doodski

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Hi,
my set: Hegel H95, Audiolab 6000 CDT, MA Gold 100 (5G), VIABLUE SC-4 Bi-Wire T6s
Idon't feel the synergy with MA Gold 100 (5G). I'm looking for the ideal speaker to the H95 Important for me tight, quick and clear bass.
Thanks for the recommendations.
Start a new thread related to "Looking for speakers of <x> description."
 

sjeesjie

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Hi,
my set: Hegel H95, Audiolab 6000 CDT, MA Gold 100 (5G), VIABLUE SC-4 Bi-Wire T6s
Idon't feel the synergy with MA Gold 100 (5G). I'm looking for the ideal speaker to the H95 Important for me tight, quick and clear bass.
Thanks for the recommendations.
Judging this thread I’d go for a new amp instead :-D Or maybe new cables with better bass!
 

gaburko

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There is a dealer where I live who is always pushing Hegel.
I always wondered if they were any good, I guess not, thank you for the great review Amir!
I suspect that one of the reasons why dealers are pushing the Hegels are due to margins. If you've noticed, they tend to be a bit shy on the fact that it's actually manufactured in China and in the Roon forum they also were quite open that they opted for a 3rd party cheap streaming / digital section while at the same time they position themselves as being Norwegian. A EUR 10k H590 probably generates one of the highest margins for a retailer among their portfolio.

Having said that, I DID enjoy my 390, but the DAC / streamer was so inferior to the amplification part that I had to compensate by purchasing a separate DAC and streamer which ultimately rendered the 390 as a power amp. Selling it and moving on was one of the better decisions I've done and I suspect that their resale value these days would be much lower vs. before.
 

Geert

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I suspect that one of the reasons why dealers are pushing the Hegels are due to margins.
And Hegel is very good at protecting margins. Prices are fixed, dealers are not allowed to discount (except for end of life products). It's not the only brand doing so, but the result is there are better deals to be found with other brands.
 

bracko

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