Hegel Music Systems CDP2A CD Player
Id never heard of
Hegel Music Systems until my editor asked if Id like to review their CD player. A
quick Googling revealed that Hegel is based in Oslo, Norway -- to my knowledge, a country
not well known for its high-end audio designers. Hegel seems eager to change that
impression, and their CDP2A CD player is a case in point. In terms of appearance, it will
satisfy those who demand good looks along with good sound. But isnt the world
already full of good-looking CD players?
Well, actually, no. Most CD players, even if
they perform well, lack the CDP2As elegance. And its interior may very well be as
beautifully designed as its exterior -- unlike many high-end companies, who feel they must
use special, expensive component parts to achieve superior sound, Hegel claims to
implement off-the-shelf parts in ways that reach the same goal. Maybe the CDP2A isnt
just another pretty CD player.
The Hegel CDP2A ($2650 USD) is well built,
comes in silver or black (silver looks better to me), and, for a high-end audio component,
is attractive in an understated way. Weighing a solid 22 pounds and measuring a svelte
16.8"W x 3.1"H x 11.3"D, it feels like a substantial piece of kit. It also
comes with the RC2, a remote control of solid aluminum with which nearly all of the
players functions can be accessed. All the RC2 lacks are a drawer open/close button,
and individual numbers for selecting the desired track; instead, you scroll up and down.
The appearance of the player itself is Spartan, which adds
to its attractiveness. Instead of a bunch of buttons and switches cluttering the front
panel, all youll find are: the central disc drawer; below it, the nondimmable blue
LED display; to the left, a large round knob that controls the Power (press it at 12
oclock) and selects the Previous or Next track (7 oclock or 5 oclock,
respectively). An identical knob to the right of the drawer and display controls, in like
manner, drawer Open/Close (12 oclock), Stop (7 oclock), and Play (5
oclock). Thats it. To my eyes, its understated and elegant.
On the rear panel are an IEC power inlet for the supplied
AC cord (which was the only one I used) and, from left to right: a digital output on an
RCA jack, balanced outputs, and single-ended outputs -- again, simplicity itself, and all
output jacks are gold-plated. The CDP2A is a fully balanced design, so Hegel highly
recommends using the balanced outputs for the best sound. However, to my ears, while there
was a slight but noticeable improvement in sound quality through the balanced outputs, it
wasnt a night-and-day difference; those whose preamps have only single-ended inputs
neednt worry that theyre missing much.
According to the owners manual, the CDP2A has
24-bit/192kHz upsampling DACs; a clock-jitter measurement of under 14 picoseconds; 2.3V
RMS signal output; a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz, +/-0.1dB; a signal/noise ratio of
more than 105dB; and less than 0.002% distortion.
My reference digital source is an Esoteric SA-50 SACD/CD
player. Electronics were an Audio Research LS17 line stage, Bryston 4B SSTē
power amplifier, and an Original Electronics Master headphone amp, all hooked
up with Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval interconnects. The speakers were Paradigm
Reference Studio 100 v.3s, biwired with Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8 cables.
Ive replaced all stock power cords with Harmonic Technologies Pro AC-11s, except for
an Analysis Plus Power Oval 10 cord on the Bryston amp. Accessories consisted of a Blue
Circle Audio BC6000 power conditioner; two Salamander Archetype equipment
racks; a Furutech deStat; and a full complement of tweaks from Symposium Acoustics:
Rollerblocks Series 2+ and Rollerblock Jrs., Fat Padz, Point Pods, an Ultra
Platform, Svelte Shelfs, and an Isis Rack.
On first listening to the Hegel CDP2A after giving it two
weeks of burn-in, the words that immediately leapt to mind were clean, clear,
and concise. No warm, fuzzy tube sound here -- and no cold sterility, either. The
CDP2As sound was that of real instruments being played in real venues, each sharply
outlined and set in its own acoustic space. When I listened to Tom Russells Love
and Fear (High Tone HCD8190), the accordion used throughout the disc was palpably real
-- I could hear the accordionist squeezing his instrument and his fingers dancing on the
keyboard. Set in its own space, it stood as if alone on the soundstage, with nothing fake
or imitative about the sound.
The CDP2A produced a deep but not overly weighty low end. I
wouldnt go so far as to call it lean, but it did (if youll pardon the
pun) lean in that direction. It was more a simple lack of weight -- all the sound was
there, but if you have full-range speakers that can reproduce the deepest bass notes, you
might be a tad disappointed in the Hegel. The majority of audiophiles whose speakers dont
plumb those depths wont notice a thing, except for the outstanding tightness and
detail of the Hegels bass reproduction.
The CDP2As top end, too, seemed not quite as extended
as some players. Still, it offered an impression of full-range sound -- a bit
rolled-off, but only very slightly. This is a compromise Im willing to live with to
avoid the screechy top end some CD players still reproduce.
The Hegels midrange was simply glorious, so good that
I didnt want to turn it off -- always a good sign. Long after I should have moved on
to doing chores around the house, I wanted to just keep on listening. I came to understand
the CDP2As glory in this region by listening to Grace Kellys alto sax on her
latest album, Mood Changes (Pazz Productions 16-9). That instrument simply came
alive through the Hegel. Ive heard Kelly in concert, and the CDP2A was essentially
perfect in reproducing her live sound. The mids were weighted slightly to the lower end of
the spectrum, but only a bit -- it wasnt something that called a lot of attention to
Voices, from the rough-and-ready pipes of John Prine to the
angelic harmonies of The Wailin Jennys, were handled with aplomb. While voices
didnt sound quite as fully rounded as through some other players, the CDP2As
reproductions of singers werent like cardboard cutouts pasted on the soundstage --
instead, they sounded very much like real people standing between my speakers.
Another strength of the Hegel was its way with pace,
rhythm, and timing (PRaT). This player could carry a tune, keeping each note in its proper
place and managing the timing of note reproduction with precision. This went a long way
toward making the Hegel a fun music-making machine.
I also enjoyed how the CDP2A could simultaneously reproduce
two separate things, such as Mark Knopflers voice and guitar on his Kill to Get
Crimson (Warner Bros. 781660-2). Although they occupy the same space in "Love
Will Never Fade," the Hegel kept them completely separate with completely separate
sets of harmonics. Impressive.
Dynamic range was handled much better by the CDP2A than by
many a CD player at or near its price. From the delicacy of "Moon Shadow," from The
Best of Cat Stevens: 20th Century Masters (A&M B00008773-02), to the
bombastic power of The Great Gate of Kiev, from the CD layer of Fritz Reiner and
the Chicago Symphonys recording of Mussorgskys Pictures at an Exhibition
(SACD/CD, RCA Living Stereo 61394-2), the CDP2A was masterful at going from soft to loud
in the blink of an eye.
Also in the Mussorgsky, the strings were silky-smooth and
entirely free of any ear-piercing qualities. The Hegel rendered soundstages wonderfully,
in terms of both width and depth. I heard this with many discs -- at least, those that
contained such information in the first place.
Finally, the Hegel did detail beautifully. I could clearly
hear the rosin on the fiddle strings in "Racing with the Sun," from The
Wailin Jennys Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House (Red House RHR CD
220) -- it was as if I were standing right next to the fiddle player. Nor did the CDP2A
skimp on the sound emanating from the fiddles body; it kept both aspects intact.
This excellent trait of the Hegel allowed me to concentrate on enjoying the music instead
of concentrating on the sound. Which is what were supposed to be doing, right?
I pitted the Hegel CDP2A against my reference digital
source, the Esoteric SA-50 SACD/CD player,
which at $5800 costs almost twice as much. The comparison was instructive and enjoyable:
instructive in that, while I heard definite differences, they werent as pronounced
as Id expected, given the difference in price. In many ways, in fact, the
CDP2As sound was more like than unlike that of the SA-50.
While the Hegel was clean, clear, and precise, the Esoteric
added a small touch of warmth and richness that the Hegel didnt. I used Holly
Cole (Alert 6152810418) for these comparisons for its excellent sound and its
wonderful mixture of multiple instruments on some tracks, and sparser arrangements on
others. It gave both players a good sonic workout.
Whereas the CDP2A reproduced Coles voice as a
real-life entity, the SA-50 contributed its extra warmth and got deeper into microdetails,
revealing a bit more chest and throat sound than the Hegel. Instruments, too, were well
reproduced by the CDP2A, with good senses of weight and detail. However, the Esoteric
SA-50 did all that and more: its bass went lower with more authority, and its highs were
more extended, detailed, and natural. The SA-50 also offered a bit more fullness to
instruments. Other than that, these two CD players had remarkably similar sound. I could
live happily ever after with the Hegel in my system, so well did it push all my hot
buttons for excellent sound.
Both of these players upsample CDs 16-bit/44.1kHz
signals, though only the SA-50 offers the option of turning this off if desired. The Hegel
upsamples to 24/192, the Esoteric to 24/176.4.
I said at the beginning that Norway is not rife with
high-profile, high-end audio companies. Perhaps the existence of the Hegel Music Systems
CDP2A indicates that I need to qualify that statement. Hegel is proud to make
off-the-shelf parts perform above expectations, and the CDP2A did that in spades. The
CDP2A not only lived up to the promise of high-end sound, it exceeded my expectations by a
wider margin than Id thought possible.
If youre looking for your final CD player, the one
that will last you until hi-rez downloads become commonplace, and you dont feel like
spending all of your kids college fund on it, then find a Hegel dealer and
give the CDP2A a good listen. I believe that youll walk away impressed. For under
three grand, its as fine a CD player as Ive heard. And it looks great.
. . . John Crossett
|Hegel Music Systems CDP2A CD Player
Price: $2650 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
P.O. Box 2, Torshov
NO-0412 Oslo, Norway
Phone: +47 22-60-56-60
Fax: +47 22-69-91-56
Hegel Music Systems USA
Phone: (641) 209-3210
Fax: (641) 209-3076