To Hans Wetzel,
I see that you own the Hegel Music Systems H300, which has a built-in DAC. I'm trying to decide if I want an integrated amplifier with a DAC built into it or if I should buy an external DAC. Since you own the H300, I'd like to know your thoughts.
Thank you in advance,
Jerry, there used to be a time that integrated amplifiers were looked down upon by most audiophiles. I don't think there was ever a good argument for why this was, but I suspect it was a status thing -- someone who bought an integrated was too poor or ill-informed to buy conventionally excellent separates. These days, I think that stigma has largely vanished, and with good reason. It's because integrated amps usually sound just as good as the separates on which they're based, while costing less money.
In the Hegel's case, $5500 for just the amp and preamp in the H300 strikes me as very reasonable. Having a built-in DAC tips the package into "flaming bargain" territory. Yet the DAC section of the H300 is hardly an afterthought. I was told by folks from Hegel that its quality exceeds that of Hegel's $2000 HD20, and comes close to matching the performance of Hegel's flagship $2500 HD25. Jeff Fritz recently reviewed that DAC on our sister site, Ultra Audio, and found it held its own against far more expensive gear. In my experience, the H300's DAC is very good, and combined with the amp and preamp section, make it an easy recommendation.
But you sound like you may be considering other integrated amps that may or may not have a built-in DAC. Here's what I'll say: Most companies have a certain type of sound that pervades their various product lines. If you like a certain sound, and can find an integrated-DAC that fits your desires, I say go for it. However, if you want to strike a balance between, say, the musicality of a Musical Fidelity product and the sheer resolving power of a Hegel DAC, then buying a separate DAC makes sense. For many this kind of "system tuning" is what hi-fi is all about. For me, I want the best balance between maximum utility and maximum sound quality. Hegel's H300 just so happened to fit the bill for me. . . . Hans Wetzel