Hegel H390 DAC

I hesitate to add yet another DAC related thread but I haven't seen this particular question asked before, so....

After owing an H390 for a year, I just got around to listening to it's onboard DAC. What?  Huh? Why? I was biased -- convinced I wouldn't like because it wasn't described by reviewers as overtly"warm", like my Aqua La Voce S2.

As someone who always advocates making buying decisions based on listening, I feel quite sheepish making this confession but as this is an audio forum, not group therapy, I'll move on to the main point.  

I was shocked to discover I actually prefer the Hegel's DAC to the Aqua. In my system, in my room, it is more transparent, smoother and more effortless. And, to my surprise, it conveys more emotion. 

The only downside is that the Hegel's DAC is somewhat leaner in the mids than I'd prefer.

Question: which outboard DACs have a similar but more fleshed-out sonic profile under 7K, new? 






Yeah, it’s pretty nice and I hear the H590 is much better and the new H600 is better still. Now that the H600 is out, the H590 are on sale for about half price new.  I can’t swing it this year, but maybe by the end of next?


Anders, the marketing guy for Hegel has asserted the H590 and 390 have the same DAC module but that the H590 has better isolation.

RE: H600, all I’ve seen/heard so far is this Jay’s Iyagi review:


Don’t know reliable his opinion is but he characterizes the H600 as warmer than the H590 and less warm than the H390, for whatever that’s worth.

My experience comparing the Hegel’s DAC to the Aqua has compelled me to question my long-standing conviction that I inherently prefer warm gear. I guess if I lived somewhere close to high end audio stores I would be able to do more listening and less reading !


I’ve been a separates guy since the seventies and all tube since the eighties. Getting an integrated was a big step for me. After all my research, the I was either going to get a Luxman, L-507 or the L-505UX MKll, the Hegel, H590 or the H390. I ended up getting the H390 for two reasons. The warmer sound and I was misled about the streaming features. That’s why I bought a BS Node N130 5 weeks later. I also bought a Denafrips Pontus ll and brother it made a huge improvement!

Oh and Anders is a company man.  He is one of the people who refused to tell me where the Bias is set for how many watts are class A and where the class B kicks in. He said that because of “Sound Engine” it didn’t matter!

a couple random thoughts to you @stuartk

how were the h390 dac and your aqua connected from upstream? streamer, clocking, cabling can affect the dac performance (did you have the h390 dac on the ’dac loop’ connection?) -- hope you made sure the two were on ’equal footing’ before reaching your comparative conclusions

as you know i have had all the hegels pretty much (but not the 600 yet) and numerous dacs over the last few years

i felt the h390 internal dac/streamer was tuned for best sound with tidal/mqa... it was nicely transparent, spacious and smooth, yet when used with qobuz or other digital feeds, the tonality became noticeably sharper and leaner, lost a degree of refinement, so to speak

the h590 dac in comparison was more extended in both extreme highs and lows while producing a very smooth tactile midrange, slightly vaster spatial info recovery (not sure how of this is the dac section vs the pre/power section... where hegel definitely put more sonic goodies into the 590 over the 390) -- all the above i heard running roon into the hegels using the lan feed with no roon dsp engaged

in time i will check out an h600 ... but probably not anytime soon... seems like they moved to a top ess chip, then worked around that chipset’s tonality to achieve the sonic balance they seek to offer in their top shelf integrated


Re: Anders, that's disappointing to hear.

Out of curiosity, did you ever get an answer to the bias question?

What DACs did you consider before choosing the Pontus and what do you like about the Pontus, especially?


I was hoping you’d post here. Thanks.

I used digital bnc from Jay’s cdt2mklll to Aqua and rca"s from Aqua to Hegel.

I used same bnc from Jay’s directly into Hegel.

Sorry, but are you suggesting using DAC loop would equate to "equal footing" or the opposite? I did not use DAC loop, in any event, as I have only one digital cable and loop would require two.

This comparison really surprised me. The results were not at all what I expected. With the Aqua, I experience fatigue and sibilance. These disappear when Hegel’s DAC is utilized. I tried the Hegel’s DAC as an experiment to see whether these unwanted factors were traceable to the Aqua.

It’s a shorter path using the Hegel’s DAC. Could that be a factor?




Hard to see something like the Denafrips Terminator not being an improvement.  At your price level you could feed it i2S from a Denafrips Hermes and be even better off.  


If any internal Hegel DAC can match that combo I’d frankly be shocked. 

Hi @soix

Thanks for the suggestions.

I neglected to mention in my OP that I was hoping to go with something US or Euro made and furthermore, one that I can return if necessary. My speakers are US made. My Jay’s and Hegel are both made in China and I wanted to equalize things a bit (admittedly for no profound reason) with the DAC.

However, I’d still be very interested in any DAC recommendations you might have within these parameters.

I’d always assumed any DAC I’d own would be r2r/NOS but this latest experience has thrown me for a loop. Not sure what to make of it, yet.

I neglected to mention in my OP that I was hoping to go with something US or Euro made and furthermore, one that I can return if necessary.

Yes, you completely neglected to mention that. 

I’d always assumed any DAC I’d own would be r2r/NOS but this latest experience has thrown me for a loop. Not sure what to make of it, yet.

I have no idea what this means, and I’m now frustrated and out.  Best of luck in whatever you do.




As far as me going with Denifrips, I have an American made Schiit Bifrost and it is Btight and has  thin bass. So I was looking for something different and I always wanted to try a ladder DAC.

Hegel Makes great gears but they’re boring looking flat ugly everything looks the same 

@lordrootman  and that is your opinion.   I, and many others, would only agree with the first half of your statement.  Cheers. 

That dac is decent ,if you have the $$ the T+A 200 dac - preamp 

is much better on every level so good I am purchasing one soon ,

and through our audio multi state audio get together I have heard most everything 

up to insane monies.the T+A 200 at retail $7200 as a whole betters anything at 2 x 

it’s cost ,checkout the reviews ,and others only allow a demo it’s design is totally different then. Most.

T+A 200 though I have never heard it gets high, high marks from anyone that has any experience listening to one, great suggestion for the OP based on his criteria.  Any experience with the Preamp section in the 200, wondering if it’s on par with the DAC.

OP, I’ve tried a decent amount of DAC’s in my system, another poster mentioned this already, noise and power can have a big impact on your DAC’s performance.  Part of why the 390 is performing or sounding better in your set up could be it’s reducing the introduction of noise.  What you are hearing with your stand alone DAC lines up with what you often hear when you have some noise, jitter finding its way into the chain, and or noise from your power source.  If you want made in the USA, in your price range the new PS Audio MKii checks off the boxes for the sonic characteristics.  It’s detailed, non fatiguing, smooth but not overly warm like you find with some Tube stage DAC’s or R2R DAC’s.  Benchmark makes their gear in the US, they are definitely not known for being overly warm.  If you thought you where open to R2R and or Tube DAC’c, LTA just came out with their first in house DAC, they are made in the US and I’ve only heard really high praise for all their gear.  Bricasti gets high marks for their DAC’s and streamers, made in US, Chord another US option.  

If you can venture outside US, European made, Lumin, Aurilac, Aurender are all companies solely focusing on streaming and DAC’s.  Whether it’s a streamer, DAC or all in one box, really hard to beat but believe all 3 brands are made in Asia.

Good Luck, 

A few months ago I did a direct comparison between the T+A 200 DAC and a PS Audio DSD Mk2 DAC in my system. I ended up keeping the Mk2. The T+A was slightly more sibilant emphasizing and fatiguing. The Mk2 a bit more dimensional. 

(Lumin>DAC>Backert Rhythm>2 AGD Tempos>Fyne F1-8+sub)

OP has the same ear as me.  I agree that the AKM based Hegel DACs have a midrange dip, the H590 more so than the H390.  I think this is why the H390 is perceived as warmer.  I recently had the chance to A/B a H590 and new H600.


What I found was the new 600 DAC (ESS based I believe) has a much different presentation.  The H600 is much more focused and has a more tube like feel.  The vocals and especially instruments are more tightly concentrated.  This does have a cost, vs. the H590, the H600s sound stage is not as wide and not nearly as tall.  It seems that the H600 has sorted out the midrange dip.


If the OP likes the warmer sound maybe wait for the new Hegel DAC to trickle down into the H390?  Good thread, cheers


Yes, the same thing ocurred to me (noise). I tried A PSA power regenerator/conditioner in the past and noticed no effect but it’s possible the power is dirtier, now.

And the PS Audio is a dac I’d like to try. Thanks for you comments.


Good to know ! Thanks.


Thanks for the description of respective sonic presentations. The H390 is entirely sufficient as an integrated for my needs and the 600 is beyond my financial reach but I wonder whether Hegel has any plans to release a standalone DAC utilizing the same approach used in the 600.

Do you have an opinion regarding whether using an external DAC in the Hegel’s DAC Loop would circumvent noise that would be present without using the DAC Loop? This would be very useful to know.

@markmuse curious Mark on what Lumin streamer you are using with the MKii.  I’m using a Lumin U2 mini with an SBooster.  Also wondering if you have found one output / input that has sounded better with the pairing.  I’ve been rolling with the AEs output / input based on PS Audio’s advice. 


@mm1tt77 same, U2 Mini. But what is the SBooster? Using USB to the DAC. I compared USB to AES, and USB was smoother, more musical. The cable matters a lot.

Thinking about the U2, but the Mini sounds great. Sometimes one doesn’t know what improvements can be had until you hear them. 

BTW, I tried the AirLens via HDMI. The Mini was clearly better. Cute little unit, though.

@markmuse the SBooster is a power supply upgrade.  Upscale Audio and others carry them, easy upgrade and to my ears is well worth it.  Many say the upgrade brings the mini pretty close to the U2.  I had a D2 awhile back and found the SBooster was a worthy upgrade to that unit as well. 

I’ll have to research and then try a USB. 


According to Hegel’s site the H390 uses a SyncroDAC. Maybe do some research on that and see what different implementations there are as it obviously covers many of your bases.



Before checking out other dacs, I’m going to try the Aqua inserted into the Hegel’s dac loop. My hope is that the Hegel’s clocking and anti- jitter capacities will ensure the smoothness I’m currently enjoying with its onboard dac will remain but applied to the Aqua’s less lean presentation.




@stuartk you’re comparing a dedicated tube DAC to an integrated amp solid state onboard DAC. Most likely the Hegel DAC will sound leaner. What RCA cables are using from Aqua into Hegel? What power cord is on the Aqua? You might want to experiment with interconnects between Aqua and Hegel. Try XLRs, something more transparent than your current cables. I’m pretty sure Hegel has a nice DAC but not sure it would be an improvement over a dedicated DAC. You might also want to spend some more time with the Hegel integrated DAC before drawing any final. conclusions. 

I see you have Audio Art cables so scratch my question. But try something better and use XLR. Something like the Kimber KS1126 should open things up. 



I was hoping you’d post here. Thanks.

I used digital bnc from Jay’s cdt2mklll to Aqua and rca"s from Aqua to Hegel.

I used same bnc from Jay’s directly into Hegel.

Sorry, but are you suggesting using DAC loop would equate to "equal footing" or the opposite? I did not use DAC loop, in any event, as I have only one digital cable and loop would require two.

This comparison really surprised me. The results were not at all what I expected. With the Aqua, I experience fatigue and sibilance. These disappear when Hegel’s DAC is utilized. I tried the Hegel’s DAC as an experiment to see whether these unwanted factors were traceable to the Aqua.


i did not realize you are solely listening to cd’s played through jay’s cd-t, and you are in fact not streaming music (is this understanding correct?)

before you try different dacs, as mentioned by a couple others, i would suggest a couple (cheaper and easier) things... get another bnc cable to try the dac loop, and also, try a different set of ic’s (and use the balanced inputs) from the aqua to the 390 - i have found the analog balanced in’s sound a touch better than the rca’s on the bigger hegels -- looks like the aqua has dual mono topology through its d/a to the outputs, so best to take advantage of that

as many dacs as i have tried, i have never had an aqua la voce unit, but by the specs this should be quite a natural (and not a strident) sounding unit, and should surpass the internal 390 dac by at least a little

i have plenty of extra cables i can send you if you’d like, just pm me

good luck have fun


Yes, sir -- only CDs for me!

Thanks for your generosity in taking the time to look into the Aqua's topology, for the tips on cabling and last but not least, your kind offer re: cable loan.

(FYI, the DAC Loop requires two bnc cables and one XLR -- no rca’s).

In order to minimize variables, I plan to order a duplicate of the Audio Art Statement digital cable that’s currently running from the Jay’s to the Hegel and a pair of the Statement XLRs. I can return them if this experiment fails to yield good results.

I will report back once I’ve gotten everything hooked up and listened. I’m hopeful this will solve the fatigue and sibilance issues. If it does not, then borrowing some other cables could reveal whether my current cabling is problematic.

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Thanks for your Kimber suggestion. 

The Hegel's DAC loop requires two digital bnc cables and one XLR. I must use XLR for it to work. 


Thanks for your comments. Please note that La Voce is SS, not tube. Only La Scala is tube in the Aqua line up.

All cabling is Audio Art Statement. @jjss49 has offered to lend me some other cables. I prefer to start the experiment with only one brand of cable in the system and not introduce another variable but may take him up on his offer. We’ll see.

It is never bad advice to spend sufficient time listening before making any decision. Having said that, my conception of musicality demands generously-voiced mids. Absent this, I’m simply not fully engaged. Although the Aqua is far from perfect, it is not lean.

I now believe that what I’m mostly enjoying from listening with the Hagel DAC is less due to its inherent sonic character than an absence of fatigue others have suggested is due to noise/jitter.


I stand corrected. Thanks for clearing that up. I listened to la scala and it was tubes and sounded really nice. 
about staying with one brand of cable…it’s totally up to you but it isn’t necessarily always the best approach 


about staying with one brand of cable…it’s totally up to you but it isn’t necessarily always the best approach

I don't disagree as a general approach but for my current "forensic" purposes , I'd prefer to stick with just one brand and one "house sound."


I’m trying to be systematic.

I didn’t mention that I retrieved my old Jolida tube cdp out of a closet and tried it as both a transport and cdp into the Hegel. In these scenarios, the sound was worse, rather than better.

I will report back once I’ve put in some listening time with the dac loop.



I wouldn’t expect an old cd player in the league of the jolida to beat a modern cd transport like the Jays CDT2MkIII. Better power supplies, better clock…it’s in a different category.

You really have few options to improve your sound, IMO -

1. Try XLR interconnects from DAC to Hegel (cheapest option). Get out of your full cable loom mindset and try what works best

2. Upgrade DAC - much bigger yield than cable upgrade but also more costly

As far as DACs are concerned, you have a lot of options but I would say look for $5,000 + retail price DACs. Figure out the sound signature you want and you can narrow down the list of candidates

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I didn’t expect the Jolida to beat the Aqua in terms of SQ. That would be absurd. Attempting to isolate the noise source was the rationale for trying the Jolida.

Next step : trying Aqua and Jay’s in Hegel’s dac loop.

If that doesn’t work, I will have to try a different dac and a different transport, in order to rule out one or both. Or, try a power conditioner.

I hope the dac loop works. It would be much simpler.

Interesting. So you are planning on feeding a digital signal to Hegel then Hegel digital out to Aqua and XLR from Aqua to Hegel XLR in?

If I am not mistaking, the clock in Jays CDT2MkIII is supposed to be insanely good. The digital signal that comes out of that transport is as good as you can get for the money. You’re passing that to Hegel for its most likely subpar clock to pass it over to Aqua. I’m probably misunderstanding this but I’m struggling with the objective of this test. What problem are you trying to solve? What noise is there with Aqua??

If you don’t like the sound of Aqua, nothing will change it.

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Sorry. Let's start from the beginning.

1) I like the sound of the Aqua but experience listening fatigue when the Jay's, Aqua and rca ICs are all in the signal chain.  

2) When the Jay's is directly feeding the Hegel's internal dac (no ICs required) the fatigue completely vanishes. 

This result makes me wonder:

a) Is the fatigue due to the Aqua or the ICs?

b) Could utilizing the Hegel's internal clock 1) eliminate the jitter while 2) allowing me to still enjoy the fuller tonality of the Aqua dac? 

My aim is to determine the source of fatigue and eliminate or otherwise defeat it. 


Got it. And thanks for that explanation!

So from my experience….I’ve had interconnects that caused fatigue. I’ve had power cords that caused fatigue as well. 
So in your case the root cause is the DAC or the cables that connect the dac to hegel or the power cord on the dac. Easy to troubleshoot. You’re on the right track and if you continue going thru this methodically you will nail the source. I’m curious what it is. Keep us posted


Thanks for confirming my strategy makes sense and for pointing out the possibility that the dac’s power cord might be the culprit. I ordered the necessary cables today and will report back once I’ve had a chance to set up and listen to the dac loop.








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T+A DAC 200 would be my choice at the $7k level.
Lampizator Baltic 4 also sonically punches above it’s price point also but with a warmer tube presentation- can tube roll to adjust sound.


Cables needed for dac loop arrived today.

Tonality with Aqua back in system in dac loop mode is no longer lean.

The good news : noise is still absent. The bad news: sibilance has returned.

I will try different xlrs to see whether the current ones or the Aqua might be the source of the sibilance.



A fellow forum member has volunteered to lend me some DH Labs.

I’m not concerned about the digital cables. It’s the XLR ICs that I want to swap out.

I can return the newly acquired Audio Art XLRs if necessary.

I’ve researched the topic of dealing with sibilance and encountered quite a  variation of opinion:

1) It’s in the recordings.

2) it’s an AC issue

3) it’s a vibration issue

4) it can be dealt with via speaker positioning (I haven’t found this to be true, so far)

5) it has to do with the DAC.

Substituting my old Jolida CDP for the Jay’s (both as a transport and a CDP) failed to improve the sibilance issue, so it would seem the Jay’s is not to blame. I find sibilance extremely annoying. I don’t really want to give up listening to certain female vocalists but I may have to, until I can afford to put serious $ into the system.