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September 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Best Audiophile Product Of 2016 Blue Note Award
North American Premiere!
Parasound Halo Integrated 2.1 Channel Amplifier With DAC
A fine Swiss army knife.
Review By Phil Gold

 

Parasound Halo Integrated 2.1 Channel Amplifier With DAC

  We reviewers have our favorite vendors and in a sense always desire the ones who we really want to succeed. Those that offer a lot for the money, that prioritize sound over looks, build quality over specifications, that don't introduce change just for the sake of change. Under all these criteria, Parasound is one of my favorites, and within the Parasound umbrella, the Parasound Halo Integrated as reviewed here (and the whole Halo range in general) merits special affection. The Parasound Halo Integrated is the newest of 11 components in the Halo line. This is what Parasound claims for its Halo line. "Halo is our premier line. Halo products have a reputation for going head-to-head with some of the most expensive reference equipment on the market while costing a fraction of the price. The sheer quantity of rave reviews and honors is unmatched and without precedent." I can personally vouch for the excellence of their JC2 Preamplifier, designed by the very distinguished John Curl (that's the JC in JC2). Mr. Curl has contributed heavily to the design of the Parasound Halo Integrated, which combines features of the P5 2.1 channel stereo preamplifier and the A23 two-channel power amplifier.

 

Technical Details
The feature list is impressive. It includes an ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC, USB 2.0 support for PCM up to 384kHz/32-bit plus DSD64, DSD128, DSD256 and DoP DSD. Add to that a phono input for MM and MC cartridges, a high current headphone amp, balanced and unbalanced inputs, front panel 3.5mm AUX input, subwoofer level control, home theatre bypass and defeatable tone controls and you begin to get the picture. Even a rack mounting kit is available. What you won't find is wireless streaming, internet radio or an interactive front panel display. Unusually, this unit not only offers unbalanced preamp out, it also includes balanced pre out and record out. You'll also find 12V Input and Output Jacks, an IR Input Jack and an IR Loop Output Jack. When connecting a subwoofer you can control the low pass and high pass settings at selectable crossover frequencies on the rear panel or you can use a balanced sub out. The subwoofer levels can be adjusted on the front panel.

Parasound Halo Integrated 2.1 Channel Integrated Amplifier With DAC

I built a system around the Halo Integrated comprising a Meridian G08 CD Player, Linn Sondek LP12, Itok and ClearAudio Virtuoso Wood Cartridge feeding into Totem The One speakers. Phono cables from Cardas, Coaxial digital cable from TMC, interconnects from Soundstream, Atlas Mavros bi-wire speaker cables and Nordost power cables completed the system. For headphones I used AKG K701 and Ultimate Ears UE10Pros.

Parasound Halo Integrated 2.1 Channel Integrated Amplifier With DAC

A word or two about the remote control. A fairly substantial animal, it sports optional backlighting, volume, muting and a full set of inputs, tone control bypass, and something you rarely find separate buttons for off and on. There is no control over subwoofer level, balance or bass or treble adjustment. For that, you need to get out of your chair. I can live with that. I did experience one small mechanical issue. Parasound includes a cable for the AUX input, but it was faulty and only played through the right channel. I eventually found another lurking in a bag with a foxL speaker and now all is right with the world. Other than that, everything worked as advertised. Parasound have indicated they check into this QC issue immediately.

 

The Music
Having run the unit in, the first thing I set out to discover was just how well that DAC performs. I set up three inputs from the same source for this comparison. Unbalanced and balanced outs from the Meridian G08 were compared with the digital output over coax into the Integrated's DAC input. That's a tough test since the G08 is a fine CD player that holds up well even today. It was easy to detect an improvement when moving from unbalanced to balanced inputs, even after compensating volume levels, but between the balanced input and the digital input there is no clear winner. On the powerful Vengerov/Rostropovich recording of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No 1 [Teldec 4509-92256-2], in the Passacaglia movement, the unbalanced input was clean but lacking in focus and inner detail. The sound was dark, as it should be here and the violin quite ethereal, a bit thin, with the deep bass a little bloated. Switching to the coax digital input cleared things up with bolder treble and terrifying sonorities. The balanced input fell somewhere between these two sound worlds. On the recent recording of Beethoven Late Sonatas by the astonish young German pianist, Igor Levit [Sony 88883703872] the balanced input offers a big powerful forward sound with solid presence, strongly dynamic and warm, while the sustain and attack were both strong. On the downside, the image depth was fairly shallow and I felt some veiling with a slightly closed top end. Switching to the digital input reduced the forward, ballsy nature of the sound, leaving a more beautiful and balanced sound, less deep bass and more image depth. Overall I preferred the digital input, but could live happily with either. The Benny Green Trio [Blue Note CDP 7964852] shows more focus and dynamism on the balanced input but the digital input sounded less tizzy and more comfortable on peaks.

I settled on the digital input and put in some extended listening hours, which gave me a lot of pleasure. Even a very large scale orchestral work like Bruckner's Ninth Symphony [RCA Red Seal 88697765827] could not faze this amp. It kept me on the edge of my seat with an exciting upfront presentation which may not have the realistic color or low level detail of more expensive systems but remains musical to a fault. Diana Krall's "If I had You" has a lovely, lively forward sound which appears to emerge without effort. Deep bass is not as strong as elsewhere, that rich voice is full of detail but the location of the musicians in space not as strong as it could be. But Holly Cole's "My Baby Just Cares For Me" [Alert MusicZ2-81016] tells a different story a big wide image, a strong voice and immaculate bass reproduction. It's quite amazing just how good this relatively inexpensive system can sound.

Parasound Halo Integrated 2.1 Channel Integrated Amplifier With DAC

"Baby You Can Drive My Car" on the Beatles Love album [Capital 094637981023] brings out a tremendous momentum with deep bass support and fast clean limitless power. "Something" has real gravitas the detail may not be leading edge but the voice is strong and realistic. "Help" and "Strawberry Fields" are not particularly relaxed or easy to follow, having a rather relentless feel, while "Yesterday" sounds clear as a bell. So on CD, the sound varies greatly from disc to disk and even from track to track. Something which is already aggressive will sound really in your face, while something laid back can sound very beautiful.

It's good to see a serious phono section and I can assure you this one is thoroughly sorted. My LPs don't get out much anymore, and my 35 year old Linn took a while to build up speed. But the sound is really fresh, sweet and dynamic. You can choose between Moving Magnet with a 47k ohms load and Moving Coil with either 47kOhm load or 100 Ohm load. I used the MM setting to match my ClearAudio cartridge and it performed very well across a broad range or recordings, ranging from Harry James on Sheffield (Direct to Disk) to Haydn Symphonies on DECCA.

I tied the AUX input by playing Apple Lossless tracks from AfroCubism through my iPhone. Once again the sound is upfront and beautiful and dynamic by turns, although of course no one expects the iPhone's DAC to be the last word in fidelity. Since my laptop has just found its way over to the UK, I did not get the opportunity to test out the Integrated's USB input provided on a USB B socket, but I'm pleased to note that it will accept PCM sampling rates up to 384 kHz with 16, 24 or 32 bit word length, and also native DSD and DoP (DSD over PCM).

Parasound Halo Integrated 2.1 Channel Integrated Amplifier With DAC

I wanted to give the Integrated a spin in my reference system, to see how it would fare with a much higher resolution source, exceptional full range speakers and a much larger listening space. So using the same cabling I inserted the Integrated between the EMM Labs XDS1 SACD Player and the YG Carmel 2 speakers in my main listening room and repeated my listening tests. This was a rather dangerous thing to do, because both these components are ruthlessly revealing. Any faults in the Integrated that might be masked in a lower resolution system would now be readily exposed. I would not have done this if the Integrated had not been performing so well in my second listening room.

Now I could get a much better handle on the imaging and deep bass performance. Certainly the Integrated can reach down deep, and maintain its pitch article all the way down. There is no noticeable roll off. It doesn't quite maintain the absolute focus of the reference preamp / amp (EMM Labs Pre2 / ModWright KWA150 SE), or reach the same levels of resolution and speed, but this is still a strong performance. However the treble does not have the sweetness of the reference, sounding a little aggressive on material such as Benny Green's Greens, particularly on the brushes. The biggest difference is that the reference electronics (at over ten times the price) sound a lot more relaxed and throw a significantly deeper image into the room. Still the Integrated is not embarrassed in this company, and I don't know of another amplifier in this price range I would want to try this with. I would also point out the Parasound offers a high end preamp (Halo JC2) and monoblock power amps (Halo JC1) of their own, priced well below the Pre2 and KWA150SE, which I can strongly recommend if you are building a high end system.

 

Conclusion
So as I said, I wanted the Parasound Halo Integrated to shine, and I got what I wanted. It concentrates on sound quality while including home theatre passthrough, subwoofer output, bass management, high resolution digital inputs, a decent phono input stage, quality headphone output and tone controls in a conservatively styled package. When you take a look at what Parasound is asking for this component, just $2495 in black or silver finish, you may well be as impressed as I am. I'm going to miss it around here.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Solid-state 2.1-channel power amplifier with DAC
Power Output: 160 wpc @ 8 Ohms and 240 wpc @ 4 Ohms
Current Capacity: 45 Amperes peak per channel
THD: < .01% (at average listening levels)
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 100kHz (+0/-3dB)
Crosstalk: > 50dB (at 20kHz), > 70dB (at 1kHz)
Signal To Noise: Line in -103db, Digital -106dB A weighted 
Damping Factor: >800 at 20Hz
Phono Sensitivity: MM 35dB / 47kOhms, MC 52dB/47kOhms or 100 Ohms
Headphone Amp: TI TPA6120 Output impedance 10 Ohms
High & Low Pass: Crossover slope 12dB / octave
USB Input PCM: Up to 384kHz/32-bit
USB Input DSD: DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, DoP
S/PDIF And TosLink Optical: Up to 192kHz/24-bit PCM
DAC: ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018K2M 384kHz/32-bit
Dimensions: 5.875 x 17.5" x 16.25" (HxWxD)
Weight: 33 lbs.
Chassis Finish: Silver or black
Price: $2495

 

Company Information
Parasound Products Inc
2250 McKinnon Avenue
San Francisco
CA 94124

Voice: (415) 397-7100
E-mail: sales@prasound.com
Website: www.Parasound.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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