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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Audiophile Review!
Parasound Halo
Integrated Amplifier/DAC:
"A Superb Combo Pre/Amp/DAC"

©Everything Audio Network

Price: $2,495
Likes: a classy int. amp with D/A
Dislikes:  at this price, it is perfect
Wow Factor: "we say wow"
More Info: Parasound Halo

by Russ Long
  A new twist on the classic integrated preamplifier comes to us from Parasound, a company that has offered the audio fan cost-effective, hi-performance components for 35 years. The stunningly designed, $2,495 Parasound Halo Integrated Amplifier combines a quality hi-fi preamplifier, equipped with tone controls and home theatre bypass, with a power amp, DAC, phono preamp, and frequency sweepable crossover resulting in a device that can handle any phono, line-level analog, or digital signal. The preamplifier section is based on the Parasound P5 and the power amplifier is a dual-mono design based on the A21 and A23 Class A/AB amplifiers.

  The Halo Integrated Amplifier, reminiscent of the other components in the Parasound Halo line, is a 2.1-channel, solid-state integrated amplifier, available in either a black or silver finish. Integrated amps are often avoided because they prohibit the user from changing preamps without changing power amps and vice versa. Their big advantage is that combining the power amplifier and preamplifier into a single unit saves space and eliminates the need for cabling between the preamplifier and the amplifier. This reduces the cost without compromising quality.

  The feature/performance/price ratio puts the Halo Integrated squarely in our Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award category and an enthusiastic nomination for EAN’s Amplifier Product of the Year.

  Weighing 44.9 pounds. (20.4kg) and measuring 17" (437mm) W by 5.9" (150mm) H by 16.1" (413mm) D, the $2,495 Halo provides a power output (0.9% THD+N) of 180-watts/channel into 8 ohms (22.55 dBW) or 270 watts per channel into 4 ohms (21.2 dBW). It has a frequency response of 10 Hz–100 kHz with total harmonic distortion less than .01%. Removing the top  reveals a dual-mono power supply with an oversized toroidal power transformer and 40,000uF filter capacitance. The power amplifier section incorporates MOSFET drivers, JFET input pre-drivers, and twelve high-current, high-voltage bipolar output transistors.
  Analog inputs include five pairs of single-ended RCA line-level inputs, one pair of balanced XLR inputs, an aux input via 3.5mm stereo mini-jack input and one pair of RCA single-ended phono inputs that includes a built-in phono preamplifier with RIAA curve. The phono input has three settings selectable via a switch located on the back panel. Options include one moving-magnet setting and 100 ohms or 47k ohms resistance moving-coil settings. The Aux input is located on the front panel making it quick and easy to integrate a phone or iPod into the system. 
  Digital inputs include TOSlink optical, coaxial SPDIF, and USB. The onboard DAC utilizes the ESS Sabre32 reference DAC chipset which is compatible with any PCM source up to 384/32 and DSD 64 (1x), DSD 128 (2x), DSD 256 (4x) native and 384kHz DoP protocols. The SPDIF and TOSlink inputs are limited to 192/24 while the USB input supports anything commercially available up to 384/32 via USB 2.0. The USB input works natively with the Mac OS but requires a driver (downloadable from the Parasound website) when used with Windows.

The Halo is ready for all component link-ups

  Outputs for the Halo Integrated include a pair of speaker outputs via 24k-gold-plated five-way binding posts, a pair of record-out line-level outputs via single-ended RCA connectors, a pair of main outputs via balanced XLR connectors, and sub outputs via a single XLR or two single-ended RCA connectors which are managed by the crossover. The analog crossover includes separate controls for the sub and mains outputs making it easy to independently set the sub and mains for any crossover point from 20Hz to 140Hz. Headphone output is via 3.5mm mini-jack. The headphone output impedance is 10 Ohms. 
  While there is only one pair of speaker outputs, a second and third power amplifier can be utilized to provide speakers to additional rooms by incorporating the balanced and/or single-ended main outputs. The home-theater bypass mode allows the unit to be assimilated into a home theater system by routing the pre-outs of a home theater receiver directly into the power amplifier section of the Halo Integrated. This also allows the receiver’s subwoofer output to be routed to the Halo Integrated’s sub output so the same subwoofer can be used for both two-channel music and multichannel home-theater listening.
  In addition to input selection and mute, the front panel includes treble and bass controls as well as a tone control hard bypass switch, and balance control. The Halo’s simple remote control is plastic with illuminated buttons. It includes volume control, input selection, tone on/off, mute, and power on/off.

The setup
  I spent the majority of my review testing auditioning the Parasound Halo in my audio room where I placed a pair of Episode ES-700-MON-6 speakers on a pair of 18-inch stands roughly eight feet apart with the tweeters focused at the listening position. Also included in the system was an Episode ES-SUB-12-300 powered subwoofer. In addition to monitoring through the Episode speakers, I spent significant time listening through Focal Spirit Professional, Audio Technica ATH-MSR7, and Audio Technica ATH-R70x headphones and Ultimate Ears Pro Reference Remastered IEMs.

The Halo will look great in your equipment rack

  Playback was via a Pioneer Elite BDP-53FD Blu-ray player, a TEAC TN-570 turntable, and a MacBook Pro via USB. Setting up the crossover was reasonably simple. The crossover control is on the back panel which is somewhat inconvenient if you are a tinkerer, but once I get it right, I like to leave it alone so I like having it out of sight.
The audition
  I began my testing by listening to vinyl versions of The Beach BoysPet Sounds and Roxy MusicAvalon via the TN-570 turntable. The Parasound Halo performed remarkably well. I own the stereo version of Pet Sounds that features a striking stereo mix by Mark Linett and the combination of the Parasound Halo and the TN-570 revealed every beautiful sonic nuance the album has to offer.
  The smooth, rich vocal tone of the Beach Boys has never been better and the bottom end is simply stunning especially on “Let’s Go Away For Awhile.” Equally impressive is the vinyl version of Avalon. Upon listening, I was blown away by the album’s exquisite sound. The drums are punchy, rich and full with beautiful sub-harmonic detail perfectly complimented by the smooth, lush bass.
  And Bryan Ferry’s rich, lush vocals are simply gorgeous especially on “More Than This” and “Take A Chance With Me.” I sadly hadn’t listened to Avalon on vinyl since purchasing the CD two decades ago, but it sounded fantastic through the Halo. Bob Clearmountain’s mix on this sonic gem truly stands the test of time. 
Quality parts, design make the Halo a fantastic value

  I spent several hours listening to my staple reference material including James TaylorHourglass, Pink Floyd — Dark Side of the Moon, and Elton John — Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on SACD and Fleetwood Mac — Rumors, and The Beatles —  Love on DVD-A discs. Regardless of monitoring level, the Parasound Halo did a wonderful job of producing exceptional sonic detail and sound quality. The onboard DAC is quite impressive as well. In listening comparisons between the Halo’s internal DAC to the original standalone Benchmark DAC1, there was no discernible difference in detail, and the Halo was a touch smoother.

  Regardless of monitoring level, the Parasound Halo did a wonderful job of producing exceptional sonic detail and sound quality. The onboard DAC is quite impressive as well.

  The Halo reproduces mid-frequencies that are full and rich with smooth, sparkling high frequencies without any harshness or brittleness. Most of my listening tests included the use of a subwoofer but when I removed the subwoofer from the system, I found that the Halo’s low frequency reproduction is smooth and well controlled. The high- and low-frequency tone controls are smooth and musical making it easy to compensate when listening to less than wonderful recordings and when not needed the tone controls can be completely removed from the circuit for an ever so slightly purer tone. The mute button illuminates in red when the mute is active which is a nice touch as there is never any question as to whether the mute is active or not.
  The Halo’s headphone amp worked well with all of my reference headphones allowing for detailed and enjoyable monitoring in each instance. This is a pleasant surprise as the headphone section is in no way the focus of the box. I found that the Halo runs fairly warm so ventilation may be a consideration if it is being placed in a tight space. During my testing, even when used continuously for several hours, I found it never required a fan or any additional ventilation.

The verdict
  While integrated amplifiers are not typically found on audiophiles’ must-have lists, Parasound has proven with the Halo Integrated that it is possible to make an integrated amp capable of catching even the most discerning listener’s ear. It is a first-rate, powerful amplifier, paired with a superb preamplifier that includes a high-quality DAC capable of supporting all modern formats and a built-in crossover. Combined with a good pair of speakers and a high-quality sub-woofer, you have the foundation for a truly spectacular listening situation at an extremely reasonable cost.
  The feature/performance/price ratio puts the Halo Integrated squarely in our Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award category and an enthusiastic nomination for EAN’s Amplifier Product of the Year.

  An avid home theater and audiophile listener, Russ Long makes his living as a Nashville-based professional audio engineer, who has recorded hundreds of albums for various artists, including Grammy Award winner Sixpence None The Richer. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

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