I am completely biased when it comes to Hegel gear. I like the brand, I like most of the equipment it offers, I use an H20 power amplifier in my reference system, and I've drunk a lot of beer with the Norwegians, talking about music and hi-fi equipment in general. Most of all, I like the way they think about their work. They're professional but pretty laid back. On the one hand, we are dealing with a company known to everyone in the industry. A company that has dozens of distributors and hundreds of dealers around the world. A company that has won all the most important awards. On the other hand, it's not a corporation with three marketing specialists, two product managers, and four directors per one engineer. It is precisely the opposite. The fact that Hegel's products can compete with the equipment of the big players, often winning this competition when it comes to listening, doesn't mean that it's a cold and calculating machine that only cares about increasing sales numbers. Yes, it does care, but not to the extent that someone sits in spreadsheets at night. Although they have been very successful, the Norwegians remain true to their ideals and manage to maintain a spirit of a small, modest company founded by Bent Holter back when he studied at the Technical University in Trondheim.
All of this is perfectly evident when you see how the Norwegians talk about their electronics. Descriptions of the devices on Hegel's website don't sound like a lab report but rather like a transcript of a conversation with a friend who just bought a new amplifier. For some time now, each new model has been given an "unofficial name", which is usually born during the work on the prototype. It's a piece of casual conversation and joking that makes its way into official materials. It can be something like a nickname or a quote, which accurately describes the idea behind the creation of a given model, according to Norwegian designers. In the case of H120, it was Isaac Newton's words - "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants". The famous physicist wanted to point out that he would not have made so many discoveries if he had not used the achievements of his predecessors. For H120, such a giant was Röst - a somewhat experimental integration, which turned out to be a great hit. The H390 received the nickname "Robin Hood" because it offered rich equipment and sounded typical for the most exotic designs for reasonable money. The description of the H95 begins with the words of another great scientist, Albert Einstein - "The measure of intelligence is the ability to change". What does this refer to? "What is intelligent today may not necessarily be intelligent tomorrow. We want our products to last as long as possible, which means they must have the ability to change over time. That's why the H95 software is upgradeable, ensuring that improved and new features are delivered directly to the amplifier without hassle or cost." - Norwegians explain.
Design and functionality
At first glance, Hegel's cheapest integrated amplifier looks the same as the H90. The enclosure dimensions, front panel layout, rear panel layout, remote control, and even many parameters such as output power, distortion, channel separation, frequency response, and damping factor are identical. Suppose we were to judge the newer model only based on the technical data. In that case, we might conclude that the Norwegians offer the same amplifier that is now 0.4 kg lighter and €250 more expensive. An argument in favor of buying the "ninety-five" may be the possibility of a software update. Anyone who had to sell or give away their equipment due to outdated software and lack of support knows that this is crucial. Amplifiers are, to some extent, still outside this race, but in this case, we are talking about amplifiers with a high-end DAC and a network connectivity module, so in essence, they are full-fledged all-in-one systems. Hegel didn't go for a modular design, nor does it offer customers boards with a phono stage, but promises a longer life of the amplifier, as that will probably be the point of software updates. Some will say that this is just the icing on the cake as the H95 offers AirPlay, UPnP, Spotify Connect, a variety of analog and digital inputs, headphone output on the front panel, 60 W per channel into 8 Ω. Just connect the speakers, add some decent cables, and the audiophile system is ready.
As far as the equipment and operation are concerned, I could repeat everything I wrote about its older brother. The only thing that surprised me was that the H95 reacts to the power cord polarity. If it's incorrect, the amplifier won't turn on. The only thing that helps is turning the plug, which is nothing unusual in hi-end equipment, but in such a modest, inconspicuous amplifier, it's a pretty rare thing. You will notice many details like this if you dig deeper into the company's materials, check out the Hegel users' group on Facebook or discover the company's channel on YouTube. Hold down the "play" button on the remote control for five seconds to enter the onboard menu. Here you can update the amplifier's firmware, manage the settings of individual inputs, enable volume control via USB, or disable the automatic standby mode that puts the amplifier to sleep after only fifteen minutes, which is quite annoying in everyday use. For me, leaving the amp plugged in for an hour or two is an entirely marginal problem. However, in Norway, people attach great importance to ecological issues, so Hegel's designers added this feature instinctively.
The name suggests that the H95 is just an improved version of the H90. It seems accurate, but it is also hard to avoid comparisons with designs such as the H120, Röst, or even the H190. All mentioned models look very similar (except maybe the last one, which is just a bit bigger). You can get lost in it. The differences between the described model and the older H90 are explained in a video recorded by Hegel's Sales & Marketing VP, Anders Ertzeid. We will return to the technical details later. Still, for now, it's worth noting that the H95 has a better power supply, a new board with streaming circuitry and digital-to-analog conversion (the DAC is the same as in the H120 and H190 models), improved headphone output, and some minor modifications in the design of the analog section. The amplifier received the SoundEngine 2 technology, which reduces distortion even more effectively than in the older models.
I like that Hegel knows how to separate things and approach them differently. The Norwegian amplifiers' architecture has always been treated as something 100% analog, so we have a solid-state circuit with a classic, very decent power supply. And no one thinks of replacing such a circuit with a Class D power amplifier, let alone ready-made Hypex modules, which recently became very fashionable. But it's a whole different story when it comes to the digital section. Here we can see a very modern approach. The users should get everything they need. Still, even in this area, Hegel avoids using ready-made solutions. The Norwegians even make their software, which is written from scratch in assembler (a programming language based on the basic operations of the processor), thanks to which they create the cleanest set of commands, not requiring any processing or interpretation. Here you can probably see the experience of Bent Holter, who is an absolute whiz when it comes to semiconductors and, according to his colleagues, understands their operation down to the atomic level.
On the downside, however, there are a few things that Hegel, uhm, not so much fails to mention but didn't put on the first page in bold print. I would point out three issues in particular. First - the H95 has no wireless connectivity. And not because it didn't fit into the budget. Norwegian engineers believe that audio transmission via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is not a good idea and significantly limits the sound quality from the start. The H95 needs to be connected to the network via a LAN cable, which may cause more or less a problem to some users - especially beginner audiophiles accustomed to the convenience of wireless speakers, printers, and cleaning robots. For me, the more significant drawback is that - at least at this point - Roon operates only via AirPlay. Case number two - the front panel of the amplifier is made of plastic. It seems that it surprised quite a few customers who were used to Hegel gear made entirely of metal. The lack of an aluminum front panel clearly shows that the company has started to save money. Is it the right decision? If you asked audiophiles whether they would prefer to get a better power supply, a more advanced DAC, and a few other elements that improve the sound quality or a nicer front panel, most would undoubtedly choose the first option. After all, the sound is the most important thing. However, remember that some people only say that, and when it comes to their own choices, they buy hi-fi with their ears and their eyes. With that plastic front, the H95 goes back to the 1980s and 1990s when amplifiers really could be ugly, and nobody cared. Now the problem is price. The savings would certainly be easier to understand if the H95 were manufactured in Norway, but like all other devices from this brand, it is assembled in China. That's understandable because it's cheaper, faster, and maybe even better. But if that's the case, did the aluminum front not fit into the budget?
The H95 outperforms its predecessor in many ways, but it's also slightly more expensive. Perhaps it's no surprise, as inflation in the electronics sector is raging more than pandemic bans. You can certainly complain that Hegel hasn't introduced any new features, focusing instead on improving on what we saw in the H90. I think adding something like an HDMI port would have shown that the company not only raised the price and improved "something inside", but also gave customers something tangible, allowing them to easily connect the amplifier to a TV (come on, don't say you don't like to watch movies with sound coming from your big speakers). The Norwegians have also long stuck to their plan to make their app for managing hardware and music playback. Hegel argues that specialists should handle software matters and that electronics should only connect to various popular systems and services. But if that is the case, customers will immediately ask where Roon, TIDAL Connect, or DTS Play-Fi are. Here we really only have Spotify Connect, which offers compressed music, and AirPlay, which is a solution that can only be used by owners of Apple devices. The rest of us have to manage somehow, and in my opinion, this is the biggest H95's weakness. It is possible that soon all Hegel devices will be Roon Ready certified, but that moment has not yet come. The plastic front? I don't know, and I don't think it would bother me so much because, in my opinion, only those Hegel products with metal cases look better. And there are not many of them. At the price of €1795, the aluminum front panel should fit in. So much for philosophizing. Time to move on to what is most important.
At this point, we come to the element that, in my opinion, determined the success of the Norwegian company. Yes, certainly Hegel's quick reaction to the growing popularity of streaming services played a big part in it. I am also guessing that such trifles influence every individual decision to purchase the Hegel equipment as minimalistic design or the way the Norwegians treat their customers. They count on their opinion, take their suggestions into account, willingly answer questions, point out patents for improving the sound, generally share everything that happens inside and around their company with their fans. All this inspires respect and trust, but it's not what convinced many people to buy Hegel's gear. Yes, you can read reviews, talk to other audiophiles on forums and groups, spend hours looking at photos of amplifiers and comparing technical specifications. Still, even if you make a choice and buy such a device from one of the online stores, eventually, the moment of truth will come - the listening session. And here Hegel does not disappoint, or at least I have never packed up the Hegel equipment after reviewing it, thinking, "eh, this thing is nice, but it could sound better". You can complain about the plastic front panel, the lack of wireless connectivity, and the manufacturer's sluggishness in introducing new improvements through software updates, but the sound is unquestionably good.
The H95 sounds as if the Hegel designers took the H90 and said, "okay, this amplifier sounds very good, so now all we have to do is take its sound to the next level". I don't want to say that this modest integrated amp has suddenly gained something that will allow it to compete with the H390 and H590 models, but the Norwegians managed to make a big step in that direction. The H95 offers well-balanced, neutral, and realistic sound. If we consider the very nature of the presentation, for Hegel fans, there will be no surprise here - the sound is similar to what we got from the H90 and other models such as the H80, Röst, or H120. I could easily apply a description of the sound of each of these amplifiers to the H95, and everything would roughly match. Still, I cannot help thinking that the H95 goes much further, showing music from the same perspective but in a more direct, tangible, and credible way. Like other devices from this brand, the H95 adds almost no coloration to the music, but compared to its predecessor, it offers better dynamics, transparency, and soundstage, which translates into the impression of participating in a performance taking place here and now.
My observations may, of course, be marked by a considerable error because I tested the H90 a long time ago, in slightly different conditions and with different equipment. Nevertheless, from the first day of listening, I was convinced that the differences in favor of the H95 are evident. I confirmed that thanks to a friend who has two systems at home - one based on the Röst and the other on the H90. When he borrowed the H95, he called me and said: "You know what, I didn't expect to hear any gap between the H90 and the H95, but apparently, all these small changes added up to make a big difference." Norwegians also claim that the difference in sound quality is so big that H90 owners who swap it for the new model should not be disappointed.
The only question that remains is whether we will find something better for €1795. Hmm... In my opinion, the most serious rivals to Hegel will be such devices as Primare I15 Prisma and Waversa Systems WSlim LITE. Both are tiny but beautifully made, elegant and functional. The WSlim LITE offers a reasonably versatile sound. With the I15 Prisma, we should get a bolder, more energetic sound, plus the Prisma network platform provides a few things you won't find in the H95. If I had to choose based only on my listening experience, I would probably hesitate between Hegel and Waversa. The situation of the Norwegian combo got slightly complicated by the fact that during the last several years, Hegel launched four very similar devices - the Röst, the H90, the H120, and the H95. On some websites and online stores, you can still find each of these models, read their detailed descriptions and find out how much they cost. Sometimes you can even get a significant discount on the H120, which is very tempting. However, one day this will end, and then the H95 will rule in its segment. It indeed is an excellent foundation for building a minimalist audiophile system.
Build quality and technical parameters
The Hegel H95 is an integrated amplifier equipped with a DAC and network functions. The device is based on the H90 model, differing in a few "small details". Both amplifiers use a platform that Hegel calls H1. It's simply a specific scheme of internal construction, a way of arranging individual components such as inputs, outputs, power supply, converter, or power amplifier section. The H1 platform was used in the H70, H80, H90, H100, H120, and even the H160. Of course, these are not the same devices, but the arrangement of critical sections has not fundamentally changed. Compared to the H90, we will see a few key differences inside. The power supply uses two transformers instead of one. Even more important is the digital section. The H95 uses a new board with streaming and digital-to-analog converter circuits. The DAC is based on the AK4490EQ converter, previously used in the H120 and H190 models, but Norwegian engineers assure that the critical difference here is the reclocking circuit. Interestingly, the signal quality that can be fed to the USB input has been limited to 24 bits and 96 kHz, which Hegel explains by better sonic properties of the microcontroller supporting this socket. In other words, the Norwegians sacrificed the ability to play the highest quality files in the name of higher sound quality, which we will get when listening to the material in resolution up to 24 bit/96 kHz. Among significant additions, the headphone output design has also changed. As in the H90 model, the signal for this jack is "picked up" from the power amplifier, but then it's treated differently, which significantly reduces the noise level. The most crucial solution found in the "ninety-five" is, of course, the SoundEngine 2 system. This circuit has been reduced to a component taking up about as much space as a microSD card in each channel. The principle of operation of the technology developed by Bent Holter resembles the technology used in most headphones with an active noise cancellation system. There, the microphones pick up outside noise and run it through the drivers in the reverse phase, which causes the unwanted sounds to cancel out. SoundEngine 2 does not capture noise but the distortion generated by the amplifier itself. It compares the signal going into the input with what's coming out of the power amp, then takes that "difference", mirrors it, and feeds it into the input, resulting in a circuit that essentially erases distortion in real time. What is important is that it's done in the analog domain without using a DSP processor.
Audiovector QR5, Equilibrium Nano, Pylon Audio Ruby Monitor, Marantz HD-DAC1, Auralic Vega G1, Hegel H20, Unison Research Triode 25, Sennheiser HD 600, Cambridge Audio CP2, Clearaudio Concept, Cardas Clear Reflection, Albedo Geo, Equilibrium Pure Ultimate, Enerr One 6S DCB, Enerr Tablette 6S, Enerr Transcenda Ultra, Enerr Transcenda Ultimate, Norstone Esse.
The H95 is probably the best of all the small Hegels we've seen lately in terms of sound quality. I'm thinking of the H90, Röst, and H120 in particular. And yet the H95 is much cheaper. Nevertheless, it's an amplifier with a promise, which we can't check yet. The company claims that it will release software updates. What will be included in them? What will owners of this model receive and when? Will it be TIDAL Connect or full Roon compatibility, for example? I don't know. So far, we haven't gotten those things. The sound is excellent. It's impossible to point out any faults. Its neutrality, transparency, and tangibility make it hard to get bored with the music. This sound is calculated for weeks, months, or even years of daily listening. All this makes the H95 a great choice. Still, I get the impression that Hegel will have to catch up with technological topics. In the past, if you wanted to have a great, modern DAC or an integrated amplifier equipped with all the latest and most futuristic features, you bought a Hegel, and that was the end of the story. Now the competition has caught up, and this choice is no longer so obvious - it's now based not only on technology but on the quality and character of the sound. I'm afraid, however, that only audiophiles will understand what they are paying for and what is so special about this amplifier. The average music lover will have a hard time working out why they should choose the Hegel H95 and not the Audiolab 6000A Play or the Marantz PM7000N. If they spend 15 minutes listening, the Hegel will probably win. But will anyone even make such a real-life comparison in these strange times? It's hard to predict.
Power output: 2 x 60 W into 8 Ω
Minimum load: 2 Ω
Analog Inputs: 2 x unbalanced (RCA)
Digital Inputs: 1 x coaxial (RCA), 3 x optical, 1 x USB, 1 x Network
Line level Output: 1 x unbalanced variable (RCA)
Headphone Output: 6.3 mm Jack (front)
Frequency response: 5 Hz - 100 kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio: More than 100 dB
Crosstalk: Less than -100 dB
Distortion: Less than 0.01% @ 25 W/8 Ω/1 kHz
Intermodulation: Less than 0.01% (19 kHz + 20 kHz)
Dimensions (H/W/D): 10/43/35 cm
Weight: 10,6 kg (shipping weight)
Manufacturer: Hegel Music Systems