Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

To Hans Wetzel,

Thanks for your interesting reviews of the Hegel Music Systems H160 and Benchmark Media Systems AHB2. Reading between the lines, I think you will soon be replacing your Hegel H300 with the H360. But, your reply to Pohan’s query (“Benchmark AHB2 or Hegel H160”) places the latter "a cut above" the Hegel and others. Does this mean that you might be rethinking your H360 upgrade and instead decide to buy the AHB2 as your reference gear?

I’m in somewhat of a dilemma, too. I was actually intent on the H160 -- until I read your reply, and now I don’t quite know which way to go! Buying decisions are either vindicated or condemned with the passage of time! How often have I bought the lauded “best” in haste, only to find that the “close but second best” would have been a more prudent decision, with the test of time? I don’t want to buy something that is the rave, only to find that it quickly loses its appeal once you’ve spent more time living with it, while the “sleeper” would have turned out to be the better buy and long-term keeper! Could you help me with my dilemma?

Best regards,

I totally appreciate the quandary that you find yourself in. Let me preface my response by repeating that hated audiophile adage, “Try to listen to [fill in the blank] before buying it.” There is no true substitute for making your own determination about whether one amp is better than another. You are going to be the one who has to live with your purchase, after all, and not some clown of a reviewer who has the ability to play with a review sample for months on end without any financial interest in play. Of course, the reality is that it is difficult to track down a dealer that carries either Hegel or Benchmark products, let alone both!

To get right to it, yes, I recently replaced my reference Hegel H300 with its replacement, the H360. I think it is quite good, but Philip Beaudette will actually be reviewing the H360 for us later in the year, so watch out for that. What I will say is that I have no regrets about my purchase. As an integrated solution with plenty of power and built-in AirPlay support, it fits my needs perfectly. Bluntly, the H160 would equally fit my needs, though I don’t think its sound is quite as refined as the H360's is -- you get what you pay for in that respect.

Deciding between the $3500 Hegel H160 and the $2995 Benchmark is difficult. The former is a full-on integrated amp-DAC, with built-in AirPlay, while the latter is just an amplifier. If you went with the AHB2, you would then need a preamp and a DAC, a combined preamp-DAC, or just a DAC with a built-in volume control. Trying Benchmark’s matching DAC2 DX, for instance, brings your outlay to about $5000, which is quite a bit more than Hegel’s one-box solution, to say nothing of fancy interconnects and/or power cords, if you are into that kind of thing. Perhaps the first question you need to answer is, "Do I want the best possible sound, or do I want something that’s really good, convenient, and comfortably within my allotted budget?"

For $3500 or less, the Hegel is excellent, and I’m not sure how much better you can do for the money, short of Parasound's $2500 Halo Integrated, which is an integrated amplifier and DAC (expect my review on this site in December), so roughly comparable, short of a few features. My new H360 is a bit better, but, in my opinion, there are only two amps that offer true reference-level sound for under $10,000: Benchmark’s AHB2 and the $6495 Devialet 120. They’re both on another level, Siew. But $5000 for the Benchmark tandem, and $6495 is a heck of a lot more money than the H160 costs, to say nothing of their looks and functionality, which are quite different than the Hegel.

Personally, I went with the H360 over both of those options because it fits my needs as a reviewer; I like the way it looks, feels, and works; and I like the way it sounds, even if it’s not “the best.” You won’t have any buyer’s remorse here. Hand to heart, I could happily live with the H160 on a daily basis. . . . Hans Wetzel