It's amazing how the mind works. I was certain I had owned a Parasound amplifier at one point in my life. It was a certainty; that this house full of speakers, was powered by a big Parasound wholehouse amplifier. There is a Parasound phono preamplifier in my rack (Zphono). It has been there for quite some time. Obviously, when I was shopping for an amplifier for my Audio Room system, Parasound was on the (very) short list (the Bryston 4BSST2 ultimately won). The Parasound Halo JC1 mono-blocks were in my sights. Pouring over every specification of the Halo JC1 monoblocks became a part-time job. Finally, after an exhaustive research; I concluded that a Parasound amplifier has never passed my door step... until now. The Parasound A52+ (Halo) five-channel amplifier was mine to review.
The day the UPS driver huffed and puff his way to my door step, couldn't come soon enough. My UPS driver is in fine shape. The Parasound A52+ (Halo) five-channel amplifier, on the other hand, comes in a 28" x 26" x 12" (WxDxH) box, and weighs a good 58 lbs! That's just the way I like my amplifiers; big and heavy. Its a bit old school, but I amplifiers should be big and heavy. They should command sacrifice from any AV furniture, and cause a fair amount of (temporary) back pain. I am willing to suffer for my craft. Art is pain.
The great room system is where we watch TV and most movies. It is used on a daily basis. The Parasound A52+ Halo five-channel amplifier was placed dead center on top of my Salamander credenza and all five channels connected to a Denon AVR-X4300H receiver, via Audioquest Cinnamon interconnects (un-balanced input selected). Setting the Denon receiver to "Multi-Channel Stereo", ensured that all channels would get equal sound levels. Amplifier in place; I could now get a decent look at the A 52+.
The Parasound A52+ (Halo) five-channel amplifier comes in anodized black, only. Many Parasound products come in silver as well, but not the A52+. I hope they reconsider, and offer the A52+ in silver. Layout on the front is simple. Power button on the left, channel power indicator lights to the right (and center). On the rear, you'll find XLR balance inputs at the top (Channels 1 through 5), unbalanced RCA inputs underneath the XLR inputs, followed by sturdy speaker binding posts at the bottom. Turn-on Options (Audio / Manual / 12V), Power Switch (On/Off), Balance/Un-balanced Input Switch, Fuse, and IEC power connector at the bottom right. Overall fit and finish was clean and tight. No heat-sinks were visible, but peeking through the top air flow slots; you could see the heat-sinks on the left and right side of the amplifier. I prefer my heat-sinks visible as it gives the component less of a "consumer" vibe; but that's just me.
Initial power-up was simple. Plug it in, hit the power switch in back, tap the power button in front, and you are good to go. The individual Parasound A52+ amplifier channels glow and dim blue, along with a glow behind the front power button. TV on as usual; The Parasound A52+ Halo five-channel amplifier became the power behind our great room system. Obviously, substituting the Denon's 125 Watt per channel power output (into 8 Ohm, 165 W RMS @ 6 Ohm) for the A52+ 180 watts (RMS x 5 @ 8 Ohm); is instantly noticeable. The Parasound A52+ Halo five-channel amplifier displaces 180 Watts x 5 @ 8 Ohm, 255 Watts x 5 @ 4 Ohm, 225 Watts x 2 @ 8 Ohm and 350 Watts x 2 @ 4 Ohm. That's quite a bit of power.
It only took a few minutes to recalibrate the Denon AVR-X4300H receiver with its Audyssey's X32 calibration system and microphone. The Parasound A52+ Halo five-channel amplifier would burn-in for at least 10 days, as an external multi-channel power amplifier for the Denon receiver. Immediately, TV dialog was noticeably more clear and crisp. Even commercial background music was no longer as bland. The great room was a bit livelier that afternoon. It's not a difficult stretch to assume, that a lot of customers will purchase the A52+ for their home theaters. Considering most serious home theaters are 7 to 11 channels, you will probably need to buy two of them!
At one time, my Videophile yearnings were harder to resist than my Audiophile urges. To that end, all of my AV receivers (I own four), have pre-amp outputs for external power amplification. Each room can easily be upgraded to separate the surround processor, from the amplifier. Separates (even in home theater usage) sound better.
Burn-In And Use
As my dedicated home theater, was now my dedicated Audio Room ; I had some work to do. Over the ten day burn-in period, I pondered how to best incorporate the Parasound A52+ five-channel amplifier, into my (normally), two channel room? What would I use for test sources? How would I run the wires? Why didn't I think about this, while waiting for the A52+ amplifier to arrive? I made several assumptions, and that's never a good thing.
My Recognition Of The Obvious....
To keep peace in the family, my dedicated Audio Room is still equipped with a fully functional home theater system, complete with a 9.2 Dolby Atmos receiver (a new Integra DRX-7.1) and Martin Logan speakers with Purity front speakers, Stage center channel speaker, and Voyage surround sound speakers. As the surround sound receiver is rack-mounted (in the back of the room); initially, the Parasound A52+ (Halo) five-channel amplifier would reside there (in the rack) as well. At one time, a Bryston 9B-SST2 five-channel amplifier lived in that rack spot, so connectivity only took a few minutes. The Martin Logan Purity speakers were disconnected, and the Martin Logan Summits took their place. The SVS Ultra-13 Subwoofer was connected via an Audioquest Boxer interconnect. The Parasound A52+ Halo five-channel amplifier would be tasked with driving 5 Ohm, 4 Ohm and possibly, 8 Ohm loads. After re-calibrating the room via the Integra's AccuEQ automatic room and speaker calibration, it was time for some music.
A short stack of dust-covered DVD-Audio discs have been resting on my CD storage shelf, for years. They haven't been played, since I sold my Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player (so many years ago). The Technics DVD-A10 was a champagne-colored, tank of a DVD-Audio player; complete with aqua blue panel lights, excellent sound, and stunning looks. As DVD-Audio never hit it off with the public, the Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player was sold to fund the next "big thing". After that, I stacked the DVD-Audio discs on the shelf, where they remained for almost two decades. A quick soap and water bath was all they needed. The discs looked brand new. I then searched in vain for some SACD discs. I thought for sure, that I must have some around. After an hour, I gave up. I would just have to buy some new source material.
For my initial multi-channel demos, I had the
following source material:
As with all physical media played in my Audio Room, the OPPO UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player was front and center (I cannot begin to express how sad I am, about OPPO's twilight). The OPPO UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player seems capable of playing virtually any disc format; It would be tasked to play the DVD-Audio discs during this review. The OPPO UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player was (temporarily) placed into the wholehouse audio rack, and connected to the Integra DRX-7.1 receiver, via Audioquest Carbon Digital Coax cable. This was the default configuration for the majority of the demo period.
First up to bat, was a long-time favorite artist, Pat Benatar. Being very familiar with her in concert over the years; the DVD-Audio Pat Benatar From the Front Row - Live [B00008IAIL Dolby Digital 5.1] was a great way to begin this session. The old DVD-Audio required a bit of remote-play to get to the main title. Some menu selections worked right away, others required me to flip back and forth between selections. This mild inconvenience occurred on all of the 15+ year old DVD-A discs. Considering all the format changes made in the past decade (or two), I was lucky they played at all. Kudos to the OPPO UDP-205 once again.
"Hit Me With Your Best Shot" was the first track. Having heard this song dozens of times live and thousands of times recorded; it never fails to get me into a rockin' mood. Spyder's (Neil Gerardo) guitar rips are straight forward and cut right from the album, on this old recording (he is quite the thrasher these days, in comparison). The Parasound A52+ (Halo) amplifier reproduced the initial guitar riffs with defined transparency and openness I had observed, during the initial burn-in period. As the thump of the kick drum (followed by the tom-tom pulsing up to the chorus) began resonating around the room, the "live in concert" experience filled my Audio Room. Loud audience chatter filled any breaks in music, thus delivering you into the "arena" center stage.
"I Need A lover", "Helter Skelter" and Kate Bush-like "We Live For Love" were the next tracks to run through the system. All were played at loud, concert volume. Admittedly, I would have welcomed the addition of a sync'd video of this concert. I never grow tired of watching Pat Benatar perform. Unfortunately, this DVD-Audio disc was audio-only (although a few still frame photos accompany all the tracks). As with any live concert, your ears will reach a point of fatigue; just in time for a few ballads. While "Promises In The Dark" and "Hell Is For Children" aren't your typical ballads; they do provide a few minutes to enjoy the smooth, velvety, multi-octave sotto voice, of Ms. Benatar. That is, before she growls you into the chorus. Having witnessed the performance of "Hell Is For Children" live, over the years; I can tell you, that this is a deeply personal song for the group. The performance is usually extended long past the 4:50 minute mark, as performed on this DVD-Audio disc. Nevertheless, the performance of this 2003 recording will get your fists pumping.
At all volumes, the Parasound A52+ amplifier never gave ground, nor quarter, to the Martin Logan Summits. Electrostatic speakers are notorious power hogs, and the Martin Logan Summits are no exception. They are uniquely talented at exposing any amplifier weaknesses. Impressively, the Parasound A52+ five-channel amplifier didn't flinch. Any shortcomings from this live DVD-Audio disc, was a bi-product of the 2003 mastering (or re-mastering) of the original source material. Instrument separations were effective and natural, but overall, a little muddy at times. Not out of the ordinary for a live concert. By the end of the most concerts, the mid to low-mids are awash, while the highs are ringing your ears.
To rest my ears, the next selection was a sample disc from Toshiba Defining The Digital Future [DVDZ9056 – Stereo, Multi-channel Surround Sound, Dolby Digital]. This sampler is a DVD-Video disc with 5.1 channel and 2-channel recordings. Originally, this DVD was intended to highlight DVD-Video, and includes everything, from movie samples (the original Batman and Robin movie demo, 5.1ch) to classical performances (Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, 96kHz/24-bit, 2 ch). The disc finishes with Test Tones (1kHz, to Pink Noise 5.1 channel) to Surround Location Check (TAP Sound, 5.1 channel). As expected, the Parasound A52+ (Halo) five-channel amplifier reproduced both, two channel and surround sound tracks, without any discernable issues. The dialog was so clear on the Batman and Robin demo, that it prompted me to watch to entire movie, later that week.
A few evenings later, I had the opportunity to enjoy two of my favorite musical compositions; Fleetwood Mac Rumours and B.B. King & Eric Clapton Riding With The King. I never grow tired of the Fleetwood Mac's album and have been listening to this collection of songs since I was a child. Have owned this album in multiple formats including the original LP all the way to the DSD download. Listening to the first track "Second Hand News" in surround sound was a nice change. While never achieving a "live in concert" feel, the vocals seemed locked on center-stage throughout the recording. Various instruments and background vocals moved around the entire sound-field, but never to the point of disbelief.
Parasound's A52+ seemed to enjoy reproducing more of the analog sounds (tom-tom drums, folk guitar, etc). I made a note to demo some analog sources with the amplifier, later. Mid-range is a sweet spot for this amplifier. I noticed a bit more depth on male vocals (than normal); especially on the mid to low-mid range. Stevie (Nicks) was particularly well reproduced, as the A52+ seems to be turned for her timbre.
I did begin to notice, that the A52+ was slightly sensitive to very high frequency sounds. Not that it couldn’t reproduce high to very high frequencies; but the amplifier seemed to accent (or boost) the volume in this range. My theory, is that a lot of people who purchase this amplifier, will use it solely for surround sound movies. I can see how the amplifier would be "tuned" to reproduce this particular range with gusto (as well as the very low frequencies).
B.B. King & Eric Clapton's Riding With The King was next and this collection is filled with wonderful feedback from "Lucille", as well as wailing vocals from B.B. King himself. Winding my way through "Three O'Clock Blues", "I Wanna Be" and finally, "Hold On I'm Coming" well into the night; I found myself wishing for more robust side and rear channel speakers. Again, the Parasound A52+ Halo five-channel amplifier delivered a solid sonic performance. Wonderful depth and space. You could almost feel the recording room.
The next several listening sessions took place over the span of several weeks. Business and pleasure trips kept me away from the Audio Room, but the system stayed on constantly. At low volume, the A52+ amplifier was treated to the finest audio offering, HBO could deliver (i.e. I left the system on DirecTV's HBO channel all the time, when the room was not in use by me). While away, I was delighted to hear my wife complain, about how loud our daughter was listening to her show. Upon returning from one trip, I received high praise from "the child".
Her (The Child): "Hey! What'd you do? The Home Theater sounds great!"
Me: "The AUDIO ROOM has a demo amplifier installed. Don't get used to it...It goes away, soon."
Her (The Child): "Bummer..."
Yeah, I had to tell her. You've got to keep those twenty-somethings down and broken. Get them used to heartbreak, then build them back up. That's my plan, anyway.
During my travels, the SACD discs I ordered had arrived. Selecting the new SACDs was a bit of a learning process. I selected Nora Jones Come Away With Me [753088004261 Analogue Productions] and Depeche Mode Violator . In viewing the covers of both discs; I can see why there was a format war of such. DVD-Audio has failed, and SACD remains a rare commodity. Both covers (both front and back) do not give the buyer a clear understanding of what they are holding in their hands. Is it a CD? A DVD? A DVD-Audio? What's the difference between Super Audio CD, SACD muti-channel SACD layer and SACD stereo SACD layer? What's Red Book stereo CD layer and why should I care? It can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. As with any format issue, it's best to do your research.
Nora Jones Come Away With Me [753088004261 Analogue Productions hybrid SACD] was the first in the tray. I have this recording in multiple formats including CD, LP, and DSD. Was warned to only purchase the Analogue Productions version and not the cheaper Blue Note release. Apparently, Blue Note used a 16-bit/44.1kHz Red Book CD data through a DSD format converter, thus killing the highs. It could be recording studio legend, but I didn't want to take any chances. I put up the additional $14 ($33 total for the Analogue Productions disc). Later I discovered that this disc contains a Red Book stereo CD layer as well. Confusing!
Routinely listen to Nora Jones; not just because I like her, but I find her tonality, very revealing. A bit nasal at times, her voice is rooted in the midrange spectrum. When reviewing equipment, her midrange presence is either there, or it's not. I have seen her in concert (a few times), and this vocal timber is forefront, the entire performance. The A52+ reproduced this midrange tonality, to my satisfaction. Her recordings tend to be heavily piano based (as it is her main instrument, second to her voice). Piano performances can vary wildly, depending on the recording techniques. In rare recordings, it is possible to hear the piano keys bump up against the cushions. To reproduce this, is very difficult, but not impossible. Once you've experienced this soft sonic event, you will hold it as a benchmark for all future piano recording performances. This first time I heard this, was on very expensive equipment, and this exact recording. I purchased the disc, immediately after the demonstration. I have been trying to duplicate the experience, ever since.
While the A52+ was not able to reproduce this "keys on cushion" event, it did faithfully reproduce the piano performance I grown to love, from this recording. Vocal timbres were well matched with the instrumentation; neither one, outshining the other.
I ran through all the usual favorites: The Planets by Gustav Holst including The Planets op. 32 and Maurice Ravel – Bolero, DDD Digital Masters , Copland: The Music of America with Philip Collins , J.S. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos [Phillips B01LXQBP84] and Mussorgsky‘s "Pictures at an Exhibition by Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra [B01K8R6C74]. The Parasound A52+ (Halo) five-channel amplifier (even in two channel setup) produced a soundscape that rivaled other amplifiers, costing twice as much. Obviously, in this final setup (Audio Research LS27 pre-amplifier, Balanced inputs), the line stage was dramatically improved over the Integra DRX-7.1 setup. The soundstage was much improved, as expected.
Not surprisingly, the A52+ was a joy to audition. I only had an issue with the automatic turn-on feature. Your choices are: Audio, Manual or 12V turn on. I found the Audio turn-on to be a bit tricky. A quick call to Parasound, to confirm my setup, and the issue was resolved. In the end, I opted to leave the amplifier on, all the time.
The Parasound A52+ Halo five-channel amplifier is a complete package. You get the wonderful Halo styling with 180 Watts to 255 Watts per channel of output power to drive your speakers. Technology is high-bias Class A/AB and direct-coupled circuit topology. With a price of $2995, the Parasound A52+ Halo has it all! Make sure this amplifier crosses your home's threshold for good. Easily recommended and an excellent value.