Newport 2012: Amphion, Hegel

Back at NYAV, Hegel and Amphion teamed up to produce what I thought was a stellar demo. There, like here at Newport, the newish $5,995 Argon 7L was paired with all-Hegel electronics — and as I already mentioned in the coverage for the NYAV show, I’m a fan.

The setup at Newport was a bit different on my trip through the room. In New York, the big $16,000/pair Hegel H30 monos drove the Amphions and here, during my trip through the room at Newport, the much more modest $2,000 H70 Integrated was doing all the work. Top of the line vs bottom? Interesting!

The H70 is an all-in-one integrated — if you have a computer source, you may be finished at this point because the H70 does 70wpc into 8ohms and includes a DAC with USB, optical and coax inputs. The DAC does accept 24bit/192kHz files, but only over S/PDIF — USB is left at 16bit/48kHz, which is a let-down. Hegel did have a suite of DACs that took the digital performance up more than a few notches, however.

The tiny $350 HD2 does support 24bit/96kHz files over USB — but eschews the industry standard “asynchronous” approach in favor of the older “adaptive” model, instead using an on-board re-clocking scheme to eliminate jitter from the digital stream.

The $1,200 HD11 adds a couple of interesting improvements. First is the volume control — the DAC comes with a remote, which makes this unit a possible replacement for a preamp in computer-based systems. The resolution support is the same as the HD2, which means 24/96 over USB and 24/192 over everything else. There are two coax inputs on this box, one of which is quite special as it includes some special circuitry. Why? Well, because

RCA plugs used on most coaxial digital cables does not have the correct impedance. This increases the jitter. In the HD11 Hegel has developed a unique new impedance matching where we can correct the problem after the signal have been received in the DAC  ….  The COAX1 input is significantly improved compared to the others, and will outperform DAC’s at many times the price. (from the Hegel HD11 Brochure).

Last but not least is the $2,000 HD20. The volume control section in this unit gets a another bump and Hegel talks about this unit as an actual preamp. The analog output stage also gets an upgrade, but the unit does include the now-familiar features of impedance-matching and re-clocking found in the lower-end products. This is the product that keeps winning awards, for what it’s worth.

I got to hear the two of the DACs in progression, from the H70’s onboard through to the HD11. The jump was big and noticeable — everything got “clearer” and the bass reached deeper. Not only was there far better resolution and color, grain I didn’t know was there was gone and the music seemed to relax into the room, if that makes any sense at all. Assuming you have a coax-based source you want to use, the HD11 might be your best bet. If you’re using computer sources, like we were in the room, I think I preferred the HD20 — which I’ve only heard elsewhere. I’d really love to get this stack of gear on the bench for some more protracted listening.

Okay, that’s the comparison — here’s the impression. Hegel offers a warm, rich, full-bodied sound. It’s fleshy. I can think of a few thinner-sounding speakers (like my Maggie Mini) where this would not only be welcome, it could very well be stunningly good, maybe even better than tubes (gasp!). For those folks looking for lasers to light up their heavy-cone speakers, I think the sound might become a bit too dark — but here, with the Amphions, the Hegel pairing was natural and fulfilling. Yin/Yang. Black/White. Literall! My recollection is that the NYAV show had more deep bass thunder (which overloaded the room), but then, those H30s are monsters — and we didn’t get a chance to hear those here at the show. Another time ….

Nordost Red Dawn LS cabling was used throughout.

Before I forget, Hegel is offering a package deal from now to whenever they feel like it. The deal is a free HD11 for everyone who purchases a $4,400 H200 integrated. For more info, reach out to your local Hegel dealer. Better hurry.