Hegel H590 Review: Big, powerful and expensive!

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Hegel H590 is the top model in the line of the Norwegian company. Integrated amplifier Hegel H590 delivers up to 300 watts of power (8 ohms, 4,000 damping factor). The novelty is not just an amplifier: it also combines the capabilities of a UPnP (DLNA) streamer with AirPlay support (the amplifier is not equipped with Wi-Fi, but it is recognized as an AirPlay device when connected to a local network with a wireless router).

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In general, the Hegel H590 amplifier works stably even with a two-ohm resistance, and taking into account a damping factor of more than 4000, you don’t have to worry not only about the sound pressure level, but also about the bass quality. However, one should not be surprised at such parameters: after all, a dozen manually selected transistors work in each channel of the final amplification stage, and the proprietary SoundEngine2 technology is used in the device’s circuitry. Instead of deep feedback, circuitry uses direct communication. The device received a new power supply unit with two toroidal transformers, one of which is used to power the DAC and preamplifier. The topology of the “dual mono” circuits is used. All transistors in the input stage are matched in pairs to minimize harmonic distortion,

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The slightly convex aluminum front of the amplifier contains only the most necessary elements: a display with blue symbols (displays the power indicator, selected input, etc.), source selector and volume control. The power button is built into the bottom of the case. To control the integral, you can use a standard metal remote control or an application installed on a mobile device.

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Up to three unbalanced and a pair of balanced sources can be connected to the device. In addition, there are naturally also digital inputs: three optical, coaxial and USB, the latter with DSD support. It would be strange if an amplifier of this level did not support streaming technologies: Spotify, UPnP and AirPlay are present here. Multi-room possibilities are not forgotten either. The device supports Control4 out of the box, but any other duplex IP protocol can also be implemented.

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So the price can make your jaw drop, especially given that the company has a reputation for making very competitive machines by distributing directly from Norway. Also, it must be said that the front panel is not really anything special, but it won’t take you long to understand the special breed of this large amplifier.

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Yes, it has a built-in D / A converter and a USB input and Ethernet for streaming over your home network. This is all in line with the Hegel mainstream. The company produces products with a minimalist design – the total simplicity of the front panel in the style of “two knobs, display and try to find the power button.” But this approach does not prevent the Norwegians from trying to improve the engineering component of the devices, and not only in terms of sound, but also the functionality demanded by modern users.

Hegel takes pride in what the developers have accomplished with the Hegel H590. Founder Bent Holter says the DAC here is “the best we’ve ever developed,” and the amp has “global improvements in the digital domain.”

And that’s not all: The Hegel H590 supports MQA playback, Spotify Connect and Hegel’s proprietary Apple Airplay. And we have not yet mentioned the ability to play DSD256 from a computer via USB. The amplifier is designed with the possibility of software upgrade via the Internet, which will help to expand the functionality in the future.

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And all this is inspiring. After all, if you’re willing to spend £ 9000 on an amplifier, you’ll want it to be up to date for as long as possible, so you don’t have to buy another box when some new format or service comes along. Given the company’s reputation today, you can be sure that the functionality will be expanded if necessary.

Moreover, the amplifier supports the ability to work in Smart Home integration systems with Control4 support and two-way network control for other systems. All this suggests that the H590 has gone very far from the banal concept of “just amplification” and at the same time has not lost its High End essence.

Hegel’s streaming and DAC section are redesigned by the company and support a wide variety of formats including quad-DSD and MQA decoding / rendering. Moreover, all formats retain their original shape to optimize sound quality. In addition to the network and USB inputs, there are also three optical and two coaxial digital inputs, while the analog outputs are a pair of balanced XLR and three RCA.

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Fixed and adjustable RCA outputs are located next to one set of output terminals, the output can be locked at a certain level to avoid damage to the amplifier or the wrath of neighbors if the owner gets too involved in listening.

The amplifier can also be used as a power amplifier for an AV receiver or processor. Setting this mode is not very convenient, but the pass-through channel is configured for any analog input, if necessary. Or, as Hegel points out, you can use the Hegel H590 with Sonos or BlueSound devices and their amplification: you lock the level on the amplifier and you can control the volume using the corresponding app.

Beneath the impressive bonnet lies the proprietary SoundEngine2 technology, which uses adaptive feedforward signal correction to reduce distortion. The preamp section contains hand-picked transistor pairs and a specially designed volume control.

In the amplifier section, there are ten high-speed output transistors per channel, plus a separate regulated power supply for the input section, voltage amplification section and current amplification section.

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This is what gives this amplifier not only impressive control over the loudspeakers, but also provides immunity to the various features of these loudspeakers. If there is an amplifier on the market that “rocks everything,” it is most likely the Hegel H590, as Paul Miller comments in the sidebar.

A small comment on the use of streaming functions: by analogy with similar amplifiers, Hegel H590 performs a rendering function and requires the use of third-party applications on a smartphone / tablet, which are the control link between it and the NAS / Internet. Hegel recommends Linn’s Kinsky app, which is quite logical, and QNAP network drives as a music source, which I also can’t argue with, since I have five of them!

Whether you’re using analogue sources, digital, or streaming over a network, the H590’s sound can be summed up in two words – “very impressive”. If you’re expecting all that power to mean working with musical material with the grace of a nuclear icebreaker breaking through ice, then you’re not even around.

Yes, this amplifier can hum, and more than most of us really need, but no matter how big the room we have or how complex speakers are connected, the point of the H590 is that this “monster” is able to handle the material easily and gently, combining all with overwhelming dynamics when you need it.

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The concert of Allison Krauss and Union Station (Rounder 11661-0515-6; DSD64), which is not so demanding to the above-described dynamic “slam”, transmits the amplifier with the warmth and atmosphere of a live audience, adding clarity and euphony, and of course, the voice of Krauss herself. Acoustic instruments are conveyed with the feel of the fingers moving along the strings, and the clicking of “Choctaw Hayride” makes you stomp to the beat.

Complementing the Texas tunes with vintage ZZ Top and the H590 demonstrates that “there is never too much watts”, instantly changing the style from mournful blues to unassuming boogie with the track “Brown Sugar” of the group’s first album (The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990 boxset, Warner / Rhino; 192 kHz / 24-bit).

Moving on to the middle of the track “Cheap Sunglasses” by Deguello and the drive of the Hegel amplifier perfectly captures the level of recording that the band has reached in less than ten years. The spirit of the very heart of music is not lost: quickly, powerfully and at the same time in detail. The H590 reproduces similar passages without any hint of tension.

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Given the amp’s seemingly limitless dynamic performance, both with my PMC OB1s and the smaller Neat Iota Xplorer speakers, it’s foolish not to try The Who’s explosive “Won’t get fooled again” (Who’s Next; Polydor UIGY-9596 ; DSD64). And I was not disappointed, the lead guitar and vocals were devastatingly clear, every note of The Ox thundered powerfully but clearly audible, and of course the drums were like controlled cannon fire – as it should be.

After listening to this three or four times and turning up the volume each time, I found that the H590 is quite possibly the “just louder” amp, which I checked with John Williams At The Movies from Reference Record (RR-142; 176.4 kHz / 24 bit) and then on Spielberg’s 1941. Mom dear, what is the beginning when the wind instruments go to the beat of drums and all this is performed by the Dallas Winds under the direction of Jerry Junkin. And that’s before I got to The Star Spangled Banner with a kick section that just explodes like fireworks!

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Switching between the H590’s streaming mode and the digital / analog inputs (where the Naim NDS / 555PR DR network player was connected), I concluded that there was not much difference, except for the slight restraint and precision of the digital section of the Norwegian amplifier. This was best felt on Xiayin Wang’s version of Rachmaninoff’s Etudes-Tableaux (Chandos CHAN 10724; 96 kHz / 24-bit), where extra detail in the shape of each note when streaming the H590 rivaled the smoother and softer NDS sound. This amplifier does what it should and at the same time is comparable in quality to a network player – at a price higher than itself. And this is a very attractive offer!

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Big, powerful and – yes! – expensive, the flagship Hegel H590 amplifier is not at all rude, it combines large internal reserves, and delicacy, and even sophistication that you do not expect from it. It certainly belongs to the High End segment, but it doesn’t compromise on usability and flexibility, not least thanks to its superior digital platform. In fact, this is one of the most “complete” integrated amplifiers we have ever tested. Impressive!

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