When I think of Hegel Music Systems, I think quality, nicely balanced sound, and great value. The Hegel V10 Phono Preamp resembles these remarks in the best possible ways.
Hegel’s founder Bent Holter decided to build a phono preamp about 30-years after the company was founded and the V10 is the result.
We have used all our knowledge in amplification and applied it to one goal – To reach down into the record and reveal every bit of information. The V10 is designed to capture the sound. To get you closer to the music. To get you into the groove.
The business end of the V10 offers gold plated single ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs, with separate single ended connections for MM and MC cartridges (Warning: Do not use MC & MM RCA at the same time), and a nice big grounding ground lug sitting dead center. Inside, ultra-low-noise discrete JFET transistors sit on the input side, the MM input gets four JFETs run in parallel, while the output employs discrete bipolar transistors. A linear, low noise, analog AC-power supply is included and housed in wall wart far away from analog’s delicate signal.
Up front, a single power button and LED sit dead center and the V10 takes it time turning on to ensure that the ultra-low noise power supplies are stable before use. The unit ships with Auto Off on, which will put turn the V10 off after 15 minutes of no input signal. You can change this setting by pressing and holding that centered button to either High Sensitivity mode or Disabled, which is how I rolled for the review period—always ready!
The V10 includes a pair of DIP switches, right and left channel to ensure the shortest possible signal paths and thus the best possible audio performance, located around back. You can set the V10 to accommodate MM or MC cartridges, and match your cart’s Impedance, Capacitance, and Gain requirements, and enable/disable the V10’s Subsonic filter. The V10 comes set for play with a default “plug and play” MM setting. I made just one adjustment to match the Ortofon 2M Black’s recommended Load Capacitance of 150-300 pF.
In terms of looks, we’re talking small and plain. Clearly the bulk of Hegel’s spend went inside the V10. Seeing as a phono stage is pretty much a set it and forget it type of device, unless you regularly change cartridges in which case I’d imagine you’d want easier access to Load and Gain settings, the V10 can sit quietly on your rack and go about its business.
The Hegel sat in with the rest of the standard review system used for the previous phono stage reviews of the Schiit Mani 2 (review), MoFi StudioPhono (review), and Aurorasound VIDA Prima (review). This system includes the DeVore Fidelity O/96 driven by the Leben CS600X, Michell Gyro SE/Michell T8 tonearm/Ortofon 2M Black cartridge playing the records, with cables from AudioQuest connecting the parts that make up the whole. I make a point of repeating this system context because its an important aspect of my listening impressions. As is the Barn itself, with a listening area measuring 18’ wide by 35’ deep with 12’ ceilings. Not small.
Back to the beach with Bruce to begin! “New York City Serenade” closes out The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle, a funhouse ride of a record, and it begins with solo piano and plenty of reverb joined first by acoustic guitar and eventually the rest of the E Street band. With the V10 handing off its output to the Leben CS600X, all of these pieces come together in powerful and dimensional fashion with plenty of clarity and control from bottom to tippy top, with a nice rich center.
In terms of comparisons, things are closer in terms of the differences between the Aurorasound VIDA Prima and Hegel V10 getting into more subtle territory as compared to the distance between the VIDA Prima and the MoFi StudioPhono. So it took some time listening to the two, VIDA Prima then V10 then back again, to suss out the sonics. Here, down at the Jersey shuwaa with Bruce and band, the Hegel V10 seemed to pull out more detail than the VIDA Prima, but we’re not talking about a night and day difference, rather a you have to really listen in difference, which distances me from the music. Ick! With the V10, each of the elements that make up the sound image were more distinctly placed in space, ever so slightly more defined than the VIDA Prima’s, which I’d normally attribute to a lower internal noise floor but that’s just a guess. In any event, to the VIDA Prima’s credit, its overall presentation felt a bit richer and sweeter, albeit less distinct in ultimate terms.
Beethoven’s Late String Quartets are among my favorite works for four and I picked up this used copy on Columbia from 1963 at the Princeton Record Exchange for a song ($2.99). Being a (slightly) used copy, there’s some faint surface noise and an occasional pop and tick but these additional sounds are separate from the music, making them easy to listen past, especially when swimming along with the flow of The Budapest String Quartet’s way with Quartet No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131. This is the stereo version, “360 Sound”, so the players were laid out in Barn as if they were physically situated in situ. The V10’s clarity, quiet, and richness positively beamed the Budapest String Quartet from the DeVore’s into the Barn, sounding crisp, clear, and in full voice. Within moments of the opening movement, delicacy and delight took hold of my attention and never let go for the duration of play, never once being broken by audiophile concerns over sound quality. I’m not saying this was perfect reproduction because there’s no such thing. What I am saying is this system with the Hegel V10 offered a level of quality in reproduction that was seamless and engrossing.
Boy Harsher’s Careful from 2019 opens like the soundtrack to “The Hunger Part 2”, a movie I’m happy was never made. In the original film, Bauhaus takes opening honors, in both sound and sight as Davie Bowie and Catherine Deneuve slink and smoke their way around the club where the band was performing “Bela Lugosi Is Dead” (a real wish I was there moment if ever there was one) looking for fresh, and sexy, victims. Drum machines pulse, synths wave, and singer Jae Matthews speaks and murmurs along with the metronomic beat. With the Hegel in the loop, Careful sounded huge in size and space with plenty of powerful drive with Matthews’ voice moving in and out of the mix. There are some nice studio effects here, with sounds moving from muffled and dark to bright and biting and the V10’s superb control and clarity made for an appropriately menacing listen. The beat, with sudden starts and stops and motoric drive, were perfectly conveyed through the V10 with get up and dance infectious pounding precision. Nice!
Phoebe Bridgers Copycat Killer, a 45RPM killer of an EP, features orchestrated versions of 4 songs from Bridgers breakout 2020 album Punisher. Put together by multi-instrumentalist and arranger Rob Moose, Bridgers vocals stand out in front of strings and its nearly too much of a good thing. Nearly. The now familiar sound of music through the Hegel V10 was pristine and precise, placing each player and Bridgers within a large and rock solid sound field feeling nearly reach-out-and-touch-them present. For kicks, I went back to the Aurorasound VIDA Prima and Bridgers and strings sounded at once richer and sweeter but with slightly less precise edges. Again, these differences were subtle and I’m not picking a “better” between the two. Different yes. After I complete all of the individual phono stage reviews in this mini survey, I’ll pick favorites in The Big Roundup (still a working title). I could happily live with either version of Copycat Killer and the Hegel’s strengths certainly made this, and every other record I played through it, captivating.
I can still remember the first time I heard this record way back in 2008 (!) at an event a the old In Living Stereo location on Great Jones Street in NYC where a bunch of friends gathered to listen to a bunch of Shindo amplifiers and drink the wines they were named after. A brilliant concept, imo (hiccup). Andrew K. always brought the best sounding records to every gathering and when he put this original 10” from Fontana on the Shindo-modifed Garrard 301 turntable sporting a Shindo’d Ortofon SPU, everything went silent (except for Miles & Co.). It was as if this smoky cool music took complete control of our attention and didn’t let go until the side was over. Stunning. I was thrilled to learn that Sam Records came out with a “Limited Edition Vinyl Pressed by Optimal in Germany and Remastered From the Original Master Tapes” version of Miles Davis’ Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, his soundtrack to the Louis Malle film (also highly recommended), which I snapped up faster than you can say Jeanne Moreau.
I’m happy to report that the mono reissue is also very good sounding and, through the Hegel V10, as captivating as all get out. Miles’ trumpet rings out smooth and true in a vast reverberant sound field, creating a mood as thick and smoky as a Parisian club in the late 1950s (or so I imagine). The band, made up of fine European players including double bassist Pierre Michelot and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen, sit in distinct places around Miles with everyone precisely painted and a breeze to follow. Each voice, including double bass, sounding rich and full with that wonderful V10 clarity pushing reproduction well into the Barn in tactile 3-dimensional form. Lovely.
Getting back to what I think of when I think of Hegel Music Systems, I have to say I wasn’t exactly surprised by the V10’s superb performance but I remain delighted that it costs what it does while sounding much richer. As part of my higher-priced system, the Hegel V10 had no trouble fitting in, making music that seamlessly grooved and moved with grace, clarity, and quiet precision.
Hegel V10 Phono Preamp
Company Website: Hegel Music Systems
Amplifier Typology: Ultra low noise discrete JFET transistor input stage for both MC and MM
Gain XLR Out MM: 40dB / 45dB / 50dB / 52dB
Gain XLR Out MC: 60dB / 65dB / 70dB / 72dB
Gain RCA Out MM: 34dB / 39dB / 44dB / 46dB
Gain RCA Out MC: 54dB / 59dB / 64dB / 66dB
MC Load Impedance: Freely adjustable between 33 and 550 ohm / 47 kohm
MM Load Capacitance: 100pF / 147pF / 220pF / 247pF / 320pF / 420pF / 467pF @ 47 kohm
Subsonic Filter: Switchable on / off, -3dB at 20Hz, -18dB octave
RIAA Accuracy: +/- 0,2dB / 20Hz – 20kHz
Output Noise*: -84dB/MM (“A” weighted ref: 0dBV), -81dB/MC (“A” weighted ref: 0dBV)
Output Impedance XLR / RCA: 200 ohm
Channel Crosstalk: -84dB @1kHz 0dBV
Frequency Response: 2Hz – 20kHz
Distortion (THD) MM: < 0.005% @1kHz 0dBV
Distortion (THD) MC: < 0.009% @1kHz 0dBV
Inputs: 1 x unbalanced (RCA) MM, 1 x unbalanced (RCA) MC
Outputs: 1 x unbalanced fixed (RCA), 1 x balanced fixed (XLR)
Power Adapter: Hegel Power Adapter M30103
Dimensions with Feet: 6cm x 21cm x 28cm, 2.4″ x 8,3″ x 11″ (H x W x D)
Weight: 2,2kg / 4,9lbs unit weight
* When stable operating temperature has been reached