Design: Hegel Music Systems’ reference integrated amplifier-DAC is a bit of an odd product. Over the last decade, the Norwegian firm has made its name producing relatively affordable, high-value one-box solutions that marry high-quality sound with lots of power and features. On paper the $6500 H390 integrated amplifier with its identical DAC and 250Wpc into 8 ohms appears to occupy the price-performance sweet spot in Hegel’s lineup when compared to the H590; at almost twice the price, the H590 achieves a “mere” 301Wpc into 8 ohms, approximately 580Wpc into 4 ohms, while remaining stable into a 2-ohm load. The dual-mono amp’s casework is a mild improvement on its more affordable, folded-steel brethren, and its larger chassis does lend the H590 a bit more gravitas than its siblings. But with Hegel you’re not paying for aesthetics, you’re paying for functionality and performance. So you’re getting a bespoke amplifier architecture with hand-selected transistors—12 per channel—and a toroidal power supply that’s significantly larger than that of the H390, offering sufficient current to drive just about any loudspeaker on the market.
You also get loads of connectivity, including two balanced (XLR) and three unbalanced (RCA) analog inputs, as well as fixed and variable RCA line-level outputs. On the digital front, there are five S/PDIF inputs (three TosLink optical, one coaxial, one BNC), a BNC output, and an ethernet port for the H590’s built-in streamer. MQA is supported over the USB input, and there’s additional support for UPnP, Apple AirPlay, and Control4. On the specification front, signal-to-noise ratio is listed as greater than 100dB, crosstalk is less than -100dB, and distortion is measured at less than 0.005% at 50W into 8 ohms when fed a 1kHz signal. Intermodulation distortion is rated at less than 0.01% (19kHz + 20kHz), while the damping factor is specced at a mammoth 4000.
Why I chose it: I reviewed the H590 back in 2018, and at the time, I was using the outgoing H360 model as my reference integrated amplifier. The differences between the H360 and the then-new H590 weren’t vast, but they were notable. Whereas the H360 had a lively, forward sound marked by a pervasive crystallinity through its digital inputs, the H590 sounded more mature. Its AKM4493-based DAC was notably smoother and more organic than the occasionally tetchy “digital” sound of the H360. And while the sound of the amplifier and preamplifier sections of the H590 wasn’t night-and-day better than the H360, the subtle improvements in resolution and noise-floor reduction were welcomed. I purchased an H590 shortly after my review, and I’ve adored it ever since.
The modern Hegel sound is definitely more liquid and relaxed than the last-gen Hegel lineup, and the H590 provides vocals and instruments with a lovely sense of weight and texture. Despite being a 301Wpc powerhouse, the reference Hegel integrated sounds light on its feet, and utterly controlled—from whisper-quiet volume on up to its obscene outer limits, which I’ve never quite reached, despite my best efforts. The H590 is highly transparent and dead neutral apart from its built-in DAC’s signature smoothness. And then there’s the Hegel’s bass control: the Norwegian-designed, Chinese-built amp remains utterly unflummoxed, no matter what loudspeaker the amp is wired up to, or what the volume readout says. I cherish that vise-like control given my expansive electronic music collection. On aggregate, I love the Hegel because it’s a true one-box solution that, broadly, does it all. Big power, a deep well of current, and every connection that I could possibly need, all allied to performance that, if not quite top shelf, resides one shelf down while costing a lot less than you might expect.
. . . Hans Wetzel