My Brief Affair with a Hegel H90 Integrated Amp

I’ve owned a Bryston B60R Integrated Amp for over 20 years and it has served me well. My 2.1 audio system is in a semi-dedicated listening room that is on the small side (12’W x 11’L x 10’H) and the equipment rack has limited space. I’d been thinking about replacing the Bryston with an integrated amp that has an internal DAC and streaming capability and have had my eye on the Hegel H90 for some time. Recently, the price dropped from $2,000 to $1,400 because Hegel is discontinuing it. Decided that it was now or never, so I ordered one.

Received the unit after one week shipping time and installed it in my system, replacing the B60R. The digital output of the Marantz CD6006 player was connected to the Hegel optical input with a Lifatec Toslink cable. The output of an analog FM Tuner was connected to one of the Hegel analog inputs. I ran the Hegel full time for 100 hours to allow things to settle in before doing any critical listening.

At this point, I started listening to CD recordings that I’m very familiar with. In comparison to the B60R, the H90 had more bass impact but the bass on the B60R was fuller. In the critical midrange, the H90 sounded more analytical with an edge that never went away. Further up the frequency spectrum, the highs were much more prominent in the H90 and seemed to lack the refinement of the B60R. Thinking that what I was hearing might be associated with the outdated AK4396 DAC chip in the HegeI, I connected the CD6006 analog output to the H90 analog input, thus bypassing the Hegel internal DAC.The sound quality was essentially unchanged.

Figuring that the H90 needed more run time, I turned attention to the analog side and was taken back at how bad the tuner sounded. Bass was MIA and there was audible distortion throughout. Knowing that the tuner is sensitive to output loading, I looked for Hegel specs on analog input impedance only to find that it’s not listed. Fired off an E-mail to Hegel and learned that the analog input impedance is very low (10Kohms). This impedance mismatch was a real deal-breaker and arrangements were made for the H90’s return. Needless to say, I was bummed!

Giving more thought to my experience, I realized that the H90-B60R comparison was probably an unfair one. The Hegel H90 retails (original MSRP) for $2,000 and includes an internal DAC and streamer, while the analog-only B60R retails for $5,000. I guess that all the positive H90 reviews had me expecting more. If nothing else, I learned that the little Bryston B60R is an outstanding Integrated Amp.

NEWS FLASH: Hegel just announced the forthcoming.release of the H95, which replaces the H90. In Hegel’s words….

The H95 uses the same DAC as the H120 and the H190, and this is a massive step up from the H90. It is quite simply a completely different level of D/A conversion. It is smoother, more precise and more dynamic. So, while it is already an upgrade when using analog, it is a completely different animal when it comes to digital.”

sorry to hear you were disappointed with the h90

it is hegel’s very lowest tier offering of the last generation, but still, i would have thought it would fare better at least on the amp side - the focus of hegels new models is to specifically upgrade the dac sections which were substandard given current competition ...

bryston have always made excellent gear... 

you did not mention what speakers you are using

also, the hegel does not have a tuner... it is not a receiver (or do you mean you plugged in an outboard tuner??)

anyhow, i have both the rost and the h390, think they are just wonderful driving my harbeths and proacs (and sometimes even my quad esl’s)

hope you find something you like
That about sums up my experience with the h160, I just couldn’t connect with that amp on any level.
@jjss49 - Speakers are Kef LS50 with a Rel T/5i sub. The analog FM tuner is an "outboard" one.