I was born in the late seventies. That means: For years, all contemporary hi-fi devices looked to me like the Parasound combination of preamplifier Halo P6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier & DAC (2,585 euros) and two-channel power amplifier Halo A23+ Stereo Power Amplifier (2,895 euros). From today’s perspective, it could be argued that the design is no longer the freshest, but others will appreciate the “retro chic” of the two devices. Anyway, if you like, you can also order the P6 and A23+ in silver, but the blue of the lighting is set.
Preamplifier Parasound Halo P6
I want to start in the “signal flow direction,” i.e. with the preamp. The Parasound P6 is a 2.1 preamp that shines with connectivity. It would almost be easier to say what it doesn’t offer – essentially network and wireless inputs – but then the specifics would fall by the wayside.
As a matter of course, in addition to the five high-level cinch inputs, the P6 also has a phono equalizer that not only processes moving magnets but also moving coil systems. Line input number 5 is connected in parallel as a symmetrical XLR pair, matching the unbalanced and symmetrical stereo input on the matching Halo A23+ power amplifier. For the test, the Parasound combination was used in the recording studio, among other things, where symmetrical signal routing is often not just a possible option but simply necessary due to the complex cabling.
There are significant further developments compared to the predecessor Parasound P5. This includes implementing the popular ESS converter chip Saber 32 in the reference variant. DSD up to DSD256 and PCM up to 32-bit/384 kHz can now be received via USB-B. S/PDIF, designed electrically as an RCA coaxial input and optically with two Toslink inputs, offers sampling rates of 192 kHz and word widths of up to 24 bits.
The four home theater bypass inputs L, R, Sub1, and Sub2, bypass the volume control, and the rec-out also works independently of the level settings. The normal main outputs (as cinch and XLR) and the two sub-outs are level-controlled. Moreover, the sub’s volume can be controlled separately on the front panel. That is simply one thing: practical. The Parasound Halo P6 also offers small but fine bass management: The two-pole filters can be activated for the main and sub-outputs. Like the low-pass filter for the sub, the high-pass filter for the stereo speakers relieved by the sub can be set between 20 and 140 hertz.
On the front, in addition to the rotary controls for source selection and volume – a resistor network works behind the volume control – things can be seen that have become rare in the high-quality sector: balance, treble, and bass. The latter are shelving filters for the highs and lows. They’re anything but “evil,” especially since they can be removed from the tone button’s signal path. There is also an aux input with a 3.5 mm jack on the front. If you want to connect another device, even a laptop, this is a blessing. The headphone output is also designed exclusively as a 3.5 mm stereo jack, which is a sensible decision because there are hardly any fixed 6.35 mm plugs in headphones.
Power amplifier Parasound Halo A23+
Compared to the “plus-less” predecessor, the P23+ power amplifier shows changes known from automotive engineering: increasingly bigger and stronger. I’m happy about that with the Parasound.
The power has now been increased to 160 watts per channel into 8 ohms (240 watts into 4 ohms), the capacity of the filter capacitors is a third higher, and the toroidal transformer is a 1.3 kVA model (with separate windings for the supply of the two channels). Gain is provided by discrete transistors, namely JFETs (input), metal-oxide FETs (drive), and bipolar types (output). The first run is in Class-A with a high bias, while the output stage works in Class-A/B operation. Components with a supposed tolerance of only 0.5 to 1% are used, and several overvoltage and thermal fuses protect the amplifier and loudspeakers. A relay unlocks three seconds after power-up.
If desired, the output stage can be switched to bridged operation and then works as a 500-watt monoblock; you can control them symmetrically and asymmetrically. The amplification can be controlled with two gain controls, and for some setups, think of bi-amping; the loop outputs can be helpful, which pass the input signal on to further power amplifiers. The Parasound A23+ also shines with excellent values, including a slew rate of over 130 volts per microsecond. This means that the power amplifier can quickly catch up with increases in the audio material. By the way, this power amplifier is not very light; it weighs 12.4 kilograms.
As a recording studio person, what pleases me is the fact that there are kits to ship the two amps into a studio rack. With a width of 19 inches, they each take up two height units. At this point, it should also be announced that the processing quality is nothing wrong. Parasound is based in San Francisco, and the devices are manufactured in Taiwan.
I have listened to the Parasound pre-end combo with different sources, loudspeakers, and headphones and used various signals and signal types. In addition to music productions, I like listening to voice recordings because the voice is the signal most familiar to humans. Individual signals from instruments that I have recorded myself and whose complete sound engineering strand I know help me evaluate just as much as productions that I have been able to hear very often on different systems. My Harbeth Super HL5+ XD was mainly used as a speaker.
The spontaneous first impression: The Parasound combination is excellent at quickly providing a lot of energy. The Harbeth now pushes all bass drums, especially electronic ones, into the room without batting an eyelid, where they have to struggle a bit with weaker amplifiers, even at medium listening levels. Preamplifier and power amplifier have enormous transparency, which results above all from this very good dynamic: For example, when playing “Come To Daddy (Little Lord Fauntleroy Mix)” by Aphex Twin (on the EP Come To Daddy, Warp, 1997 ), the short drum sounds always let the modulated vibraphone pads sag a bit. I have the same thing with the Rega Elicit mk5 integrated amplifier(2,599 euros) belongs. So far, I thought that was due to the compression in the production – but that’s not the case, as the Parasound team has shown me. And I’ve listened to this record for a quarter of a century!
Parasound P6 listening test
Another point that has me rubbing my eyes is the quality of the P6’s phono preamp. I have “Come To Daddy” on CD and vinyl (which sound quite different). The black disc has a much finer resolution and is more lively via the Parasound P6 than I usually hear.
By the way, deprived of its strong companion Parasound A23+, the P6 plays slightly rounder and softer than in the combination. And the comparison with/without a preamp, which I primarily carried out with a recording mixer and a professional audio interface, shows that you have to listen carefully to see whether the P6 is in the signal.
I find it excellent to have a robust influence on the sound tuning with bass and treble controls, just like in the 1980s. There are simply albums that are a bit too edgy, weak, and squeaky for me (such as the Megadeth album So Far, So Good… So What! ) that can be mitigated if not eliminated with a short spin. Regarding interventions in the frequency response works: Some speakers do well if supplied with less energy in the deep bass. The Parasound P6’s high-pass filter can provide excellent service without a connected subwoofer. If the speakers tend to swim slightly in the deep bass, you can raise the filter’s cut-off frequency a little to make the reproduction barely noticeably slimmer but crisper. Speaking of which: The Parasound preamp gives the bass a little more level on the long way downstream but always remains accurate.
In the mids, the preamplifier is designed to be “invisible.” With a signal deliberately trimmed of all highs and lows beforehand, I could not distinguish between a chain that included the P6 and one that didn’t. It was similar in the highs, but a small silver sheen was on the signal. The slightly “German” pronunciation (with a sharp S) of Sibylle Baiers on the Color Green, for example, in the song “Give Me A Smile,” this very subtle refinement – like many other productions – is quite good. A restriction in the resolution or stage representation area was hardly noticeable compared to the operation without the P6; only at very low volumes did the details become slightly milky and the stage a little more compact in depth and width.
The built-in digital-to-analog converter is of excellent quality, even if it can’t hold a candle to a Merging Technologies HAPI (eight-channel, professional AD/DA with DSD256 and 384 kHz, around 7,500 euros). Its resolution level is roughly in the range of a Lavry DA11 (around 1,500 euros), but the Parasound seems a bit fresher and slightly less fluid than this.
The integrated headphone amp is also impressive. Sure, external solutions in the 1,000-euro class offer a little more. My SPL HPm, a headphone amplifier for the “Series 500” cassette system, which is widespread in the professional field, can keep up with the one built into the Parasound regarding detail, dynamics, and “drive power.” Still, at 389 euros (without the rack, without power supply!) it is also a proven price-performance leader – and not at home in living rooms.
Be that as it may, the Parasound P6 plays excellently with my Focal Celestee: the resolution is terrific, the closed 35-ohm headphones are fired with a wealth of detail, and they are so transparent that they can show off their qualities. The P6 also knows how to easily drive the Beyerdynamic DT-150 (250 ohms) and the AKG K240DF (600 ohms) and has power reserves for fast climbs.
Parasound A23+ listening test
The A23+ has plenty of energy reserves to allow my Harbeth Super HL5+ XD to play confidently and dynamically, even at high levels. The Parasound amplifier is always accurate and neutral but remains playful and does not slip into “model pedantry.” For comparison: An Abacus 60-120D Dolifet (currently about half as expensive) seems a bit more lively but also more nervous or erratic and less confident – the integrated amplifier Soulnote A-1(3,590 euros), on the other hand, is significantly milder. Due to his mildness, kindness, and “sublimity,” the Japanese could please in the test, no question, but didn’t want to get together with my Harbeth. The Parasound A23+, on the other hand, is what I would call a “perfect match.” The linear pace of the A23+ may not please everyone on cool and wiry speakers in rooms that are not sufficiently dampened. But on the one hand, it’s a matter of taste; on the other hand, I see the room acoustics as more important.
The mentioned Aphex-Twin production can get exhausting on some systems (correct: more exhausting than already) because the high-mids and highs were mixed with a decent level. The A23+ power amplifier amplifies with natural accuracy, i.e. without getting excited or scratchy. I want to call it “precise serenity” – somewhat paradoxically – and not least want to attribute this property to the low distortion in the highs.
“A fly comes through half a Forest” is a monologue by Herta Müller, the last German woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, who is in an illustrious circle with Heinrich Böll, Thomas Mann, and Günter Grass. Actress Angela Winkler speaks this (published by Hörbuch Hamburg) terrific with overtones and formants characterful voice, which wonderfully contrasts the consonants. In the lower mids, some amplifiers churn in too powerfully, and vice versa; the edges of some consonants in the high-mid range are sometimes transported too aggressively. The Parasound A23+, on the other hand, plays exceptionally linearly. This is a welcome feature in the important mids of music consumption and a necessary quality in music production.
Do You Like My Tight Sweater? According to legend, Róisín Murphy asked Mark Brydon what is considered the hour of birth of the group Moloko and, at the same time, determined the name of the first album. The synthesizer bass on the first track, “Fun For Me,” which takes up a good part of the spectrum, seems a bit more energetic and powerful with the A23+ than, for example, with the Abacus; yes, there may be a touch more level here than the pure theory demands – but that is miles away from “bulky” and also very accurately drawn. It is important that, despite the slightly higher water level, there is never any swimming or watering down, not only with the Molokopiece but in general. The power amplifier effortlessly transmits even the deepest signals from synthesizers, bass drums, or church organs.
I have to say a word about the dynamics: the noise of the A23+ is remarkably low. Listening to highly dynamic recordings is fun if the sources are appropriate. It doesn’t have to be 24-bit signals; the technically qualified use of the 16-bit space, for example, on the “Original Dynamics Recordings” by the Swedish BIS label, is a real pleasure, especially at high levels!
Musically, the album Ormeion by Evritiki Zygia is a discovery for me. Ormeion is a railway station in the border triangle Greece-Bulgaria-Turkey, on the Greek side. This music can primarily be assigned to the Thracian cultural area by the symbol. Still, in addition to traditional folklore instruments such as the Gaida bagpipes, it also uses a Moog synthesizer and a CRB Elettronica Diamond 800 (which can also be heard at Kraftwerk, similar to a Farfisa organ) – and with plenty of psychedelic folk borrowings, it can “push” properly. Evritiki Zygia (for example, at the Roskilde Festival) made the audience dance despite the unfamiliar time signatures for Central Europeans. Last but not least, the album lives from its dynamics.
The Parasound power amplifier knows how to convey this wonderfully, playing unlimitedly across the entire spectrum, never overshooting the mark, and never getting nervous. The great thing is that this applies to ultra-fast, minimal load changes like on Aphex Twins IDM productions and to turns from fragile flutes/violin structures to massive forte-tutti in orchestral works. And what’s more: These properties are identical, regardless of whether the A23+ is fed drop by drop with low levels or is subjected to enormous demands in terms of level.
The stage impression also remains constant at different volumes. Based on finished productions, my recordings without further processing or spot microphones, but also based on individual signals positioned on the mixing console using the panorama control, I can state that the precision of the reproduction is even higher than that of the Soulnote A-1, and the depth of the stage is also remarkable. The A23+ dares to put itself in front of the stereo base; the important center of the stage seems a bit closer to me than with some other amplifiers. Accordingly, the three-dimensionality of instrument groups or extended sound bodies, such as stereo-microphoned acoustic guitars, is also higher.
It’s easy to see that I’m very impressed with the two amplifiers from Parasound’s Halo series. The combination of the P6 preamplifier and the A23+ power amplifier results in a package that, on the one hand, works extremely accurately and linearly; on the other hand, it never plays “strained,” neither unforgivably revealed nor unwinding indifferently.
A particular strength is certainly the very brisk but always controlled dynamics. This can be experienced in the entire frequency range and all level ratios. Kudos! Both devices don’t differ much here; the power amplifier A23+ is, at most, a little ahead.
The P6 preamplifier also scores with its equipment, as it has an amazingly high-quality headphone amplifier and an above-average phono preamp. There are also good digital connectivity options, and the sound quality is more than appropriate for the price, if not immediately “medal-worthy.”
If you don’t want to push your system in a certain direction, you should listen to this Parasound combo more closely: the sound is pretty much in the middle, it shines with many qualities, very good equipment – and at a reasonable price.
Parasound P6 and A23+ are characterized by …
- An enormously transparent, dynamic playback without recognizable compression or artificial-looking “hyper agility.” The power amplifier can provide much power quickly but does so with a pleasant matter, of course – and at various levels.
- Far-reaching overall neutrality. The devices are so well balanced in tonality that it is difficult to identify any real properties.
- A touch more level in the bass with the A23+.
- Firm, clear, and very linear mid-range in high resolution.
- Neither too harsh nor too mellow highs. The P6 preamp shows a slightly brighter note in the upper register without overdoing it or omitting details.
- A wide stage starting slightly ahead of the stereo base. Good, normal depth graduation. The plasticity of the depiction of individual sounds is very high.
- A headphone amplification that is high-quality and doesn’t have to struggle even with high-impedance listeners. One of the highlights of the P6.
- A valuable phono preamp with high resolution, which also accepts MC signals.
- Extremely low noise.
- A variety of selectable signal sources, including USB-B. Additional components are required for Bluetooth and LAN/WLAN.
- Plenty of adjustment options on the preamp side. Having a high-quality EQ and woofer level on the front panel is handy.
- category: preamplifier with phono and DAC
- Price: 2,585 euros
- Inputs: 5 x RCA (including 1 x alternatively balanced XLR), bypass inputs (RCA L & R, Sub1, Sub2), 1 x phono (MM, MC), USB-B, 3 x SPDIF (1 x electrical, 2 x optical)
- Outputs: 1 x RCA main-out (1 x parallel balanced XLR), 2 x RCA sub-out (1 x parallel balanced XLR), 1 x RCA rec-out
- Dimensions and weight: 437 x 381 x 105 mm (WxDxH), 6.3 kg
- Colors: black or silver
- Miscellaneous: Filter for satellites and sub, trigger output (12 V), IR remote control in
- Scope of delivery, 19″ rack kit available
- Guarantee: 2 years
- Category: Stereo power amplifier (can be bridged to mono)
- Price: 2,895 euros
- Inputs: 2 x XLR or 2 x RCA (adjustable)
- Outputs: 2 x speaker outputs
- Power: 2 x 160 watts into 8 ohms, 2 x 240 watts into 4 ohms; 1 x 500 watts (bridged mode at 8 ohms, 4 ohms not recommended)
- Idle power consumption: 75 watts
- Dimensions and weight: 437 x 388 x 105 mm (WxDxH), 12.4 kg
- Colors: black or silver
- Miscellaneous: Loop outputs, trigger (12 V or audio, adjustable), 19″ rack kit available
- Guarantee: 2 years