Review: Hegel HD25 - ‘The True DAC’
The HD25 from Norwegian AV manufacturer Hegel, is the brand’s flagship Digital-to-Analogue Convertor (DAC), or ‘Digital Hub’ in their words.
Developing their first DAC in 1994, two years before even releasing their own CD player, Hegel has enjoyed great success as a highly respected brand in the hi-fi world.
The Hegel philosophy, at least in my interpretation, is “more for less”. By that, I mean that Hegel believes in refining their design and circuitry to extract the absolute best performance, rather than opting for using exotic (and expensive) components and materials, in a run-of-the-mill circuit design and architecture.
“With Hegel's patented technology we are able to get better sound quality through regular "off-the-shelf" components, than our competitors can with esoteric and expensive components.”
This is a win for the consumer. Sure you can buy what could be perceived as higher grade products, but the resulting overall performance may not necessarily be any greater, for a higher outlay.
The Hegel HD25 enters the DAC or ‘digital hub’ market at a higher end price of $3,995 RRP. In comparison to the majority of DACs on the market this is considered a premium price, but let’s keep in mind there are numerous DACs from other brands at two and three times the price, and more.
The RRP of a product is dictated by a company’s investment in research and development for a particular product, the market demand, manufacturing costs, and of course the resulting performance. In this regard, I feel the Hegel HD25 carries a premium price, but backs it up with performance. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So when the news broke of Hegel’s new flagship, forums lit up with comments, in particular regarding the HD25 aesthetics. Sadly, the released photos didn’t do the product justice, and with the lack of accompanying feature list and specs, a lot of assumptions were made.
The HD25 measures a compact 210mm W x 60mm H x 260mm D and weighs in at only 3kgs. With a bead-blasted aluminium black faceplate and a painted steel case, it is easy to understand why, until you see a unit in the flesh, its aesthetics could have been prematurely criticised. The truth is it’s a solid, well-constructed unit, which looks quite at home amongst other high end components in your hi-fi rack of choice.
With minimalist design in mind, the faceplate is actually quite high-tech. Input selection, of which there are four (2 x Coax S/PDIF, USB, Toslink S/PDIF), is selected by double-tapping the faceplate. At first read of the manual this seemed like more of a novelty “because we can” feature, but after living with the HD25 for some time it becomes quite a likeable feature. Keep tapping to scroll through the inputs, without having to read fine print or fumble a dial or button in the dark.
The credit card sized remote control, will likely find its way to the deep canyons of your favourite listening chair (along with a heap of coins and your best guitar pick). Personally, I would have liked to see an aluminium remote resembling the swish design and thought that went into the state of the art faceplate.
The market seems to be entering a new era for DACs, and we can see where Hegel is coming from with their reference to ‘Digital Hubs’. We’re seeing second and third generation DACs appearing in the market now, and the HD25 has a few features in its repertoire above and beyond those of many of today’s traditional DACs.
The HD25 has a built-in pre-amplifier and with the aforementioned remote control and multiple input source selection, the HD25 could quite easily become the heart of any hi-fi system. This could negate the need for a dedicated pre-amplifier in many cases.
There are three methods of synchronising a DAC over USB; Synchronous, Asynchronous and Adaptive. To offer a little insight, Synchronous works via a real-time stream and is therefore avoided in DACs due to high levels of jitter.
Asynchronous is governed by a fixed speed clock in the DAC, with a feedback loop regulating the amount of data sent by the source. Adaptive mode is more flexible in that the speed of the clock in the DAC adapts to the amount of data sent by the source.
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