Built to last.
People curious about the H160’s size by comparison to the H80 should be satisfied. Here photos speak louder than words. My self-imposed assignment wasn’t just to review Hegel's latest integrated. It was to answer whether it’d be worth to upgrade to if one already owned the H80 like this very happy camper. I imagined many others in the same position. After all, Hegel’s entry-level integrated has become very popular. It’s very good. We’ll get down to it but first, take a long hard look at my photos. The H160 is much bigger. It serves as a stereo power amp, preamplifier, D/A converter and headphone amplifier all enclosed in one minimalist looking box. The H160 resides on the middle shelf in Hegel's rack of integrateds. There's the H300 above and the H80 below. Whilst the latter is their entry-level product, it shouldn't be considered a toy or lacklustre. It's a great device. Many wives or girlfriends of audio geeks will no doubt like it just for its looks. And even if for someone very ambitious it was just a toy, I’d call it a very serious one indeed. For the coin, it’s a classy performer and a great overall package. The H80 was the first to get Hegel’s new preamp stage and even for its DAC showed nice progress over the H70. The H160 inherits the same line stage but otherwise is a beast of different stripes on many levels.

First off, it’s heavier, taller and deeper. Only the standard width remains. Obviously far more hulking machines are out there but this doesn’t take away from Hegel’s latest looking the serious business. It’s plain that this isn’t a mass-market integrated. The fascia is from Hegel’s new era and a rugged solid panel thicker in the middle to create a light bulge when looked at from above. A blue-on-black display with big lettering serves its purpose well to be legible from afar without squinting unless your vision was really poor. Aesthetically it’s quite attractive. If someone dislikes bright displays, reach for the remote and its dimmer. The Hegel logo in the front is standard MO as are the controllers bracketing the display, one the input selector, the other the digital volume. Both operate very smoothly. New to Hegel’s integrated amps is the 6.3mm headphone socket. The power mains switch is placed on the belly quite close to the front so being invisible causes no access issues. I personally really fancied the big round power switch on the H70’s front but thanks to Hegel’s latest concealment, the unit looks most symmetrical and even more minimalist. As a bonus, my 2-year old son still can’t figure out how to turn the blighter on. Yousa! And he really likes to watch those big blue digits change.

Around back, the H160 has grown bigger and more crowded. There’s an IEC power inlet with easily swappable fuse. A bit to the left come the digital inputs of 1 x coax, 3 x Toslink, 1 x USB and RJ45. The latter interfaces with UPnP and DLNA clients for home networks. Happy Apple owners can also tinker with AirPlay. I frankly had little time to suss out these network functions. My allotted tryst with the H160 was short and had to conclude prior to the Warsaw show since there was only this one unit in all of Poland at the time. To sate my curiosity, I had to act quick. Even so I’m certain that despite all the fancy network additions, the thing most important to my family and also friends still lacks: Bluetooth. That li’l thang would add a lot of functionality. Hence it’s somewhat strange that Bent Holter would embrace RJ45 but skip over a small BT module. For me there's no simpler wireless solution. I can only hope that one day Hegel's boss will reconsider that option. Plus, aptX sounds really good and most enjoyable compared to what we had some years back. My wife uses Spotify and considers products like the H160 reasonable only if they accommodate Bluetooth streaming. I already have a solution of course. NuForce has a cheap BT receiver. But that's a half measure. I'd like to see it implemented in the H160. For me that’s the only real flaw. The rest is purely subjective. For that read on. I'll reveal more details.

There are single-wire speaker terminals placed centrally and Hegel's usual suspects: acrylic caps with internal steel parts long used by the company. They go well with any type of termination. On the left side of the back panel are the analog i/o. There are balanced inputs and 2 x RCA in and out. Of the latter, one each is variable, one fixed. So you can use the H160 as a DAC or DAC/pre, stereo amp or integrated. That kind of versatility eluded the H70/80 and shows what was on Bent Holter’s mind whilst designing the H160: future proofiness and multi-tasking to serve as command central for growing systems.