Here is a review of the recently announced Hegel H190v streaming amplifier:


Hegel is a well-respected Norwegian manufacturer of audio electronics. They recently introduced an updated version of the H190 integrated amplifier, called the H190v. The H190v is priced at $4200. When you consider all the circuits packaged inside, this would seem to represent excellent value if the sound quality is high. More on that in a moment. 

Product Overview 

First, let’s unpack the H190v because there is a lot going on inside. In a nutshell, the H190v combines: 

  • A streamer, which allows you to play music from Spotify or AirPlay if you don’t care about quality. But, it is also Roon Ready, so you can stream high-resolution files from a hard drive and/or from Qobuz and Tidal and other high resolution streaming services. It also works with UPnP/DLNA streaming. 
  • It has a digital to analog converter, using Hegel-designed technologies, including synchronous upsampling to lower jitter and a special master clock system. Hegel also claims to have optimized the cost-effectiveness of the clock frequency for the chosen DAC chip, allowing a better overall system design for the price point they’ve targeted.
  • It provides a phono preamp. Hegel says the circuit is derived from the V10 phono pre-preamp which we use in our reference system. Note that the phono section is designed for moving magnet cartridges only, but you could use a step-up transformer along with the MM stage, if you prefer to use a moving coil cartridge. This is the preferred MC approach in some parts of the world. 
  • The H190v gives you a control pre-amp, which provides volume control and source switching as well as allowing remote control via the included remote. The H190v has 2 analog line inputs with RCA jacks, one XLR line input and the aforementioned phono input. It also accommodates one coaxial digital input, 3 optical digital inputs, one USB digital input and an RJ45 LAN connection. That’s 10 inputs in total. The H190v has fixed and variable outputs (allowing a subwoofer or a different power amp). 
  • Onboard you’ll find a headphone amp, with a standard ¼” jack on the front panel.
  • And, last but not least, the H190v has a stereo power amp, with 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms rated power. The power amp is a class AB design and features Hegel’s SoundEngine feedforward correction system, DualAmp voltage and current gain stages, separate low-level and high-level power supplies, along with a damping factor in excess of 4000. Yes, 4000.

 I’m taking you through this detail so that you know what is included. This isn’t your father’s integrated amp, it is more in the modern idiom of post-internet design. But, maybe more important, is the framing of the value proposition on offer. If you asked what it would cost to create the H190v from separate components, you might imagine it would cost: 

  • $500 for a high-res streamer
  • $800 for a high-res DAC
  • $500 for a phono preamp
  • $1000 for a switching preamplifier
  • $2000 for a 150 watt per channel power amp
  • $400 for cables

Total: around $5200 

My point is that as separates, the H190v could easily cost about $1000 more. I think what is often forgotten in such calculations is that it is possible that Hegel (or any integrated amp maker) has optimized the circuit interactions so that the performance of the integrated system is, at least potentially, better than the performance of separate components. 

Let’s see if that is the case for the H190v. 

Sound Quality 

Now on to the fun part, which of course is sound quality. I’ll say it right up front: the Hegel H190v delivers an impressively great level of sound quality. I don’t mean for the money; I mean just plain great. I was wowed. At the same time, the H190v has a characteristic sound that may or may not be what you are looking for.  

The one obvious caveat is that the performance on offer might be confined to medium efficiency speakers in medium-sized rooms. By medium-efficiency speakers, I mean 87 or 88 db sensitivity and by medium-sized room I mean 1500 to 2200 cubic feet. Less sensitive speakers and/or much larger rooms may not allow the full dynamic range of some music. I should be clear that the Hegel has plenty of power for most applications, recalling that 2-3 watts is the typical average power used for listening. It is just that the math of output levels and dynamic range, requiring double the power for every 3 db, are a harsh mistress. An 84 db sensitivity speaker in a large domestic room, will perhaps require 500 watts for 105 db peaks. That’s big dynamic range, but not unheard of.  

Let’s break down the sound of the H190v so you know what I am talking about.  

The immediate standout quality of the H190v is its bass definition and drive. Within its power limits, I’m going to say the H190v is very close to state of the art in this department. If you have listened carefully to high-end class AB amps and then to high-end class D amps, you might have thought “I really wish I could have the best of both worlds”. Class D amps often excel at bass definition, but can sound slightly thin or cold. Class AB amps often sound properly balanced, but have just a bit of juice or flab on the bone. The Hegel manages to deliver on this “best of both worlds” idea.  

For example, on the Alison Krauss album Forget About It, there is a track called “Maybe”. Early on in the track, there is a single bass drum whack. The H190v renders this with excellent definition and a sense of air, along with tremendous depth. This combination of power and detail in the bass is rare and sounds quite a bit like what bass drums sound like in concert. 

On the Taylor Swift album Reputation, I use the track “Delicate” because the bass in this track is deep and forms a critical element propelling the music. The Hegel delivered this about as well as I’ve heard it, particularly when it comes to the driving second half of the track.  

I also was impressed with the H190v on Mohini Dey’s self-titled album. Mohini is an electric bass prodigy, and the Hegel allows you to track her rapid moves up and down the fretboard. I was also impressed by how well the Hegel delivered the powerful and punchy drumming on many of these tracks, while never blurring bass and drum into a kind of bass soup.  

The H190v also renders the soundstage quite well. Instruments are presented on a wide, natural stage but even more, the sense of depth is superb. On the new Sigur Ros album “Atta”, the band plays with the London Contemporary Orchestra and the sense of ambient depth is wonderful and appropriate. Ditto for some tracks on the aforementioned Taylor Swift album.  

I suspect many of you will be interested in the tonality of the H190v. Keywords here are transparent, clear and balanced. What might stand out for you, and might be hard to comprehend at first, is that the Hegel is not treble shy, and yet it is smooth. It is dynamic but not harsh. For example, on “Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane”, from a 1958 recording at the Van Gelder studio, the tonality of the sax and guitar is warm and fluid, yet clean and detailed. This “both/and” character is consonant with the bass rendition I described earlier, if you think about it.  

On the Cuarteto Casals version of Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue”, the strings are very clear and well differentiated but not edgy. The first violinist uses very little to no vibrato and the sound is simply pure and clean.  

Now, I do think some listeners will want their electronics to do a little more rounding and tone-shaping. But if you want that because you assume that clarity and stridency go hand in hand, you really should listen to the H190v. Now, if your speakers or listening room or DAC have some treble impurities, the Hegel won’t hide them and may sound a bit dry. But with a good set-up, It comes surprisingly close to letting you have your cake and eat it too. The level of involvement with the music that the Hegel allows is spectacular. But I need to repeat that if you are looking for an amp that fixes the strident or thin sound of your speakers and room, this is probably not your cup of tea.  

If you think I was impressed with the Hegel H190v, you’ve got that right. It has a clarity, smoothness and dynamic quality that speaks to listeners familiar with live music and who like to actively listen. It offers impressive value as well; in fact, I’d go so far as to say this is the benchmark electronics package beyond which you have to spend substantially for small, though possibly valuable, gains. At least that is the case in smaller listening environments, where I think the integrated and unobtrusive packaging of the H190v are also an important asset. 

In summary: well done to the point of being brilliant. 

March 22, 2024 — Cade Dunbar