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Hegel HD12 DSD DAC And Headphone Amp Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The HD12 came out in 2015 and cost US $1,400. It is now discontinued.

While the enclosure is the typical understated Hegel design, it seems too plain and uninteresting to me:

Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The remote is the dirt cheap units with membrane keys. It weighs nothing and can be easily lost. Only the lower buttons work with the DAC even though one would think the filter button would be useful here.

The 7-segment LED display is of course quite primitive but does the job.

The back panel shows lousy attention to fit and finish:

Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Back Panel Connectors Audio Review.jpg

The case is literally bowed up in the middle because of some kind of foam insulation. The sharp edges of the stamped steel has no place in such an expensive DAC.

For testing, I downloaded their drivers as the standard one truncated to 16 bits with ASIO4ALL wrapper interface I use.

EDIT: Please ignore these measurements. A driver issue caused noise floor to raise due to conversion to 16 bits with dither (hiding its artifacts). Updated measurements show much better results. See: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...ac-and-headphone-amp-review.10179/post-278497

DAC Audio Measurements
Given my preference for XLR ports on audio products, I started testing using that:

Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


I was surprised by the oddball output level of just 2.5 volts. This was at volume level of 100 so could not be increased. For grins, I also tested with RCA out and was doubly surprised that it too output the same voltage! Here it is with the volume set to 93 to get our nominal 2 volt:
Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier RCA Audio Measurements.png


Is one port just wired to the other and there is no true balanced output?

The SINAD of 93 dB is quite poor even for a DAC that came out in 2015. It can't even resolve 16 bit signals properly:

Best USB Audio DAC Review 2019.png


Looking at the make up of the signal in FFT though, we see distortion products are below -110 dB so it is noise that is causing the poor SINAD/THD+N.

Measuring dynamic range the standard way doesn't reveal this problem:

Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


So noise must be going up with the amplitude of signal (noise modulation).

Filter behavior is classic DAC chip response:
Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Filter Audio Measurements.png


The high noise floor comes to surface in IMD distortion test relative to level:

Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier IMD Audio Measurements.png


That is a massive gap relative to our reference DAC (Topping DX3 Pro).

Jitter test shows strong data dependency:

Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Jitter Audio Measurements.png


In other words, the digital audio samples impact what comes out of the analog output of the DAC in the form of spurious tones. Not good although audibly not a major concern.

32-tone test simulating "music" shows the low distortion again:
Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Linearity is not competitive showing lack of accuracy in reproducing small signals:
Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier LInearity Audio Measurements.png


Headphone Amplifier Measurements
I jumped right to the most important measurements which is power into 300 and 33 ohm loads:
Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Headphone Power into 300 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Hegel HD12 DSD USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Headphone Power into 33 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


The high noise floor of the DAC immediately translates into less than stellar output. Sadly, the power is not that great either to make up for that.

Output impedance is low enough:
Lowest impedance headphone amplifier.png


Conclusions
It is quite surprising to see a $1,400 DAC fall short in the area of noise. Poor jitter performance adds to that showing that the HD12 was either not designed well, or its performance not properly evaluated using measurements. Its headphone amplifier is more or less a "checklist" item that simply is not competitive in power or pure performance. Combine this with lackluster look and finish and there is no place to hang your hat on.

When I look at high-end audio, I like to see over-design in the form build quality, attention to smallest electrical detail such as noise, and leaving no stone unturned to give addition performance. I see none of that visible here in Hegel HD12 DSD. 2015 is that that far back to excuse any design like this. I am very disappointed as a result. Even at very low used prices, I can't recommend the HD12 DSD. Other than the brand, it has nothing going for it.

--------
As always, questions, comments, corrections, etc. are welcome.

You ever hear of figuring panthers tap dancing? Me neither. But that hasn't stopped the panthers from demanding tap dancing classes to improve their modelling skills. I appreciate generous donation to fund this, no matter how silly, using : https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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vkvedam

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#2
Surprised , I assume it is not broken
 
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#5
Not great. I wonder how their trendy integrated amps measure. Not that I'd buy one anyway at their prices.
 

KxDx

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#6

Matias

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#7
Not great but not terrible too.
 

Cahudson42

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#8
I really enjoy reading every 'historic' review, but may I respectfully suggest - during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Prime day - that's a good time to put current/modern Amps, Cell phones, tablets, AVRs and other discounted currently available devices toward the head of the queue?
 

Matias

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#11
Actually not, I am yet to watch this series, but now I am curious. :)
 

amirm

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phoenixdogfan

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#16
They make some of the most stratospherically priced stereo integrated amps out there. Makes me wonder just what their customers are getting for the exorbitant premium they demand.
 

Tks

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#17
remote is the dirt cheap units with membrane keys
8-segment LED display
The case is literally bowed up in the middle because of some kind of foam insulation.
sharp edges of the stamped steel
It can't even resolve 16 bit signals properly
Is one port just wired to the other and there is no true balanced output?
US $1,400
:facepalm:

Man, I feel like the most negative person on this site when I have to post on device reviews..

I feel it's a repeat sentiment that I shared with audio-gd.. What I mean by this, is here we are, yet again with another device with far more brand hype than audio-gd if you ask me, especially considering Hegel's modern day FAR HIGHER costing units. But again, regardless of measurments, we are greeted with a pathetically pedestrian build quality. But I'll finish my comments on that in a moment. One thing I appreciate is some of the measurements nonetheless like the dac filter, and output impedence. I also appreciate something seen far less in the modern day, and that is dual Optical inputs (companies really should start bringing this back..). But then we're greeted by potentially actual fraudulent advertising with respect to balanced operation...

I wanted to finish my comments about build quality as I said prior. Allow me to demonstrate to any manufacturers that happen to cross by this post ever in the future by some chance.

THIS is what actually great build quality looks like.. come back when you have something remotely close to this and then I'd consider your absurd pricing. Isn't it interesting how exceptional build quality in audio it usually seems to follow great looks inside, and out, on top of great performance (again, inside and out).

Oh yes, that's right, fully milled out of a block of aluminum, and not just hollow interior, but custom created with proper isolation between internals


Oh what's this? The top cover? who cares right? Take a look at the milled portion even there, along with securing dampeners(double as isolation) set into partially milled areas so the PCB and toroid don't get damaged hitting up against the top cover potentially or causing any electrical issues. You also might have missed it, but look at the holes, not a single burr mark from milling, or anything "sharp"


Oh what's this? A proper simple remote, but made exceptional with a nice clean look and internal beveling around the buttons...



Again, I ask deep pocket audiophiles, where exactly are you spending your money these days? Sure as heck doesn't look like it's performance all that much. But also seemingly not in the "pride of ownership" or "aesthetic/artistic" quality of the pieces either.

I know things like aesthetics are down to taste. But I'm sorry, build quality and finishing aren't. Unless you subscribe to the modern revisionist's theory of art (that being "it's art if I say it's art, and that's that!").
 

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