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Cafad

Integrated Amps: An Addicts Guide Part, The Third.

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Yes, you could nearly use the Parasound boxing as a building material, haha.

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post-130663-0-09224800-1444550001_thumb.

 

OK, crunch time.  

As much as I try not to go into a review with preconceptions sometimes it happens anyway.  I had high expectations from the Parasound Halo Integrated even though I had no prior idea as to how it would sound I was, none the less, expecting very good things.  From the second song played, where I discovered that the DAC section in the Halo gave me better detail and resolution on lighter background instruments than my Consonance cd120, I knew that I was onto something very good, the only question in my mind was “How good?â€.  Well the amp section is certainly good enough for me to be able to distinguish between the internal DAC and my cd120 and it isn’t hard to do either.  The Consonance has this smooth, creamy bass which tends to hide some detail, and (and this is noteworthy as the cd120 has a great rep for its sound staging capabilities) a less well defined sound stage.  The Halo has a much more natural feeling and a more open sound stage with instrument placement much easier to pick.

So that gives both the DAC and the integrated sections a big tick of approval from me.  Obviously Parasound have done their design homework with the ESS9018K2M DAC and managed to mate it extremely well with the pre and power sections of the "Halo I".  

 

It's interesting to note that the Parasound character is extremely neutral but not in the class A way (ie deep and smooth) it sounds much more class B to my ears.  Just in case that doesn't mean much to you I'll put it another way, most of the more expensive amps try to emulate the class A sound in a class A/B configuration because A/B is more efficient and class A is meant to sound better*, but obviously Parasound have chosen to go a different route.  The Class B sound I am referring to is more open and airy, detailed, articulate and just a little bit crisp.

Being so neutral it doesn't have a great deal of character and what it does have is not easy to describe, the best way I can come up with is this:  If you start with the sound of a Plinius 9200 and, 10 meters away place a Halcro DM8/DM38 combination then the Halo I sits about 4 meters from the Plinius and 6 meters from the Halcro combo.  I have stated in the past my hope that one day Halcro will make an integrated amp, well, if and when they do I firmly believe that it will sound very similar to the Halo I.

 

Since the Halo has a DAC built in I have been using it almost exclusively, so this review is as much about the DAC as it is the amp section of the Halo I, later on tonight I will be trying out the Halo DAC with a few other integrated amps, just to satisfy my curiosity.

Oh, and here's a picture.

post-130663-0-52758200-1444550099_thumb.

I'll give it a run against the Burson Conductor's Sabre DAC and the Halcro EC800 as well, I expect good things.

 

In case it isn't clear, the Halo I is a 160wpc into 8 Ohm amp with 240wpc into 4 Ohms, it is certainly a member of the "big boys" club.  It also has both a sub out with a low pass filter and a pre out with a high pass filter to use as you please.  Include a set of balanced ins and outs (and a sub out) and a phono stage and you are good to go.

 

As usual this exercise has been conducted with my Consonance cd120 player acting as a transport, it was connected to the Halo via an XLO silver coax cable and the signal was fed to my Lenehan S2R speakers via Redgum "Audio Pipeline" speaker cables.

 

Highs:  Softly played piano is very easy on the ears, strongly played piano is ever so slightly softened (this effect has faded greatly as the unit runs in, I would expect it to be pretty much impossible to hear by about 200 hours) but still sounds strong enough, triangles twinkle in circles (I can't really explain that one but it's a good thing).  Trumpets are raspy without being hard or harsh in any way.  I'm giving it an 8.5 which I would expect to increase to an 8.75 or maybe even a 9.0 after another 100 or 200 hours.

 

Mids: Separate, distinct, clear, loving the unpowered strings, the mids come across as very natural and unhurried with an amazing distance between and around each instrument.  Clarity and articulation are excellent.  8.5

 

Bass:  Acoustic bass is heavenly but it does not dominate any of the other frequencies, in fact frequency separation is just as great as instrument separation is.  Not too tight, not too fast and capable of massive variety in depth and feel.  Possibly the most accurate and varied bass I have heard to date.  It is an example of technical excellence but I feel some may dislike it because the bass is not smooth or warm (and that seems to be what people want).  I'm going to give it an 8.5 (like the highs) with the chance of an upgrade to a 8.75 or 9.0 with more run in.

 

Vocals:  

The separation of the vocals from the instrumental is just as good as that between instruments, they never intrude upon each other.

Female:  Vocals come across as very real, very natural and very believable.  There is no softening going on, no breathy air added.  Soft voices come out soft, powerful ones come out strong and clear, girly voices are just as sweet and cute as they should be.  I have to call this one a 9.0.  Up there with the best I have heard.

Male:  May just be the best I have heard, I went through several Dire Straits albums during my 100 hour run in and found that I could hear Mark Knofler's voice slowly changing over the years, I could also pick a slight change in his voice with songs of different speeds too, I've never noticed that before (1).  I could also pick slight changes in timbre of male vocals within other songs too, the detail on display here is impressive in the extreme.  9.0

 

2D Soundstaging:  So open and airy you could drive a front end loader through it.  Stereo separation blends into the 3D soundstage so effectively and every instrument seems to come at you from a slightly different direction or height.  This takes a great performance and turns it into the best performance.  An easy 9.0.

3D Soundstage:  Sometimes I leave this one out, if it doesn't make itself known to me then I just let it be (sort of an "it's easier to say nothing than to just say 'it's there but it doesn't really do anything that any other amp doesn't do as well') but this time I just have to say something.  The drums in the Carr Jam bounce about the middle of the sound stage and I can see in my mind where his arms are moving to within the circle of the drum kit.  I put on 'Rock On' by David Essex (an old fave) and had that delicious bass dancing in and out of the plane of the speakers (2), now that was something special.  In every song I can pick the direction of different instruments and usually pick how far away they are, even if another instrument is in front of them (a rarity but it has happened).  This is just great, it puts me in mind of the way Mike Lenehan explained how the girls vocals danced forwards and backwards in Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side".  This adds another dimension to the enjoyment of recorded music and again is an easy 9.0.

 

Overall Performance Integration:

Alright, I've already touched on this above but there's more to say.  There is so much space and so much separation on display it boggles the mind.  Orchestral is probably the closest I can come to describing it, nothing about the music feels unnatural, it's not fast or tight or sweet it just sounds like you are listening to what is on the cd without the interference of an amp with a strong character.  The performance is not so much musical as it is captivating in its excellence of quality.  It is really something else.  9.0

 

Ability to Emote:  

Yeah, this one is difficult to explain, it doesn't really emote as strongly as you would expect from such good scores above.  I would score it as a 7.0... But... if I were to re-word this section to "Ability to Appreciate" then it would score a 9.0.  It's the difference between drawing you in (which, as good as it it doesn't really do) and letting you watch the performance in front of you (which it does brilliantly).

 

Electric Guitar Test:

This is where that 'class B' character really steps up.  I was thinking maybe an 8.5 (you know, since it was damn good!) until I realized that it is actually better (and not just a little better) than the Xindak on the Electric Guitar so I tried again and thought about it a bit and then settled on a 9.0.  But!!!  Then I played the track again, about 8db lounder and guess what?  When the music died so did a little bit of my soul.  So, for the first time ever I'm giving a score above nine, a 9.25 to be precise.  

By way of a little more explanation, my methodology for scoring the Electric Guitar is less scientific than any of the other scores, if it sounds really good it could score anywhere up to an 8.0, if it is good enough to send a shiver down my spine then it might rate as high as an 8.5, if the shiver travels back up my spine again then it might just be good enough to earn a 9.0.  The Halo managed to make the shiver tickle my kidneys as it passed (in both directions!) so it earned a score above 9.0.  I'm not sure what it would take to earn a 9.5 but if I ever find out I will be sure to pass the information on.

 

80's Rock Test:

The Halo both reminds me of how 80's rock sounded back in the 80's and how much clearer it sounds when I'm listening to it via the Halo, that 'class B' character gives it a great sense of energy.  OK, another 9.0.

 

 

I've thrown a couple of numbers throughout the body of this review, a 1 and a 2 in brackets, as I started to keep count of things I've heard via the Halo that I've never heard before.  I reached a final score of 4, the other two were rustling sounds in song 6 of Dido's 'No Angel" album and a sense of enhanced mid bass in several standard pop songs that I include in my usual listening list, I have heard some of that enhanced mid bass before but it is just so easy to spot with the Halo I thought it deserved special mention.

 

There's also an asterisk, and I put that there because that belief that the 'class A' sound is better than the 'class B' sound is just a general opinion.

 

So for $5K RRP you get an integrated amp that matches the Plinius Hautonga (RRP $5750) and a DAC that would have to sell well northwards of $1K if offered as a separate component.  That makes it an excellent value buy in my book.

 

If I had both the Halo and the Xindak A600E I would make the Halo my summer amp (it doesn't run as hot as I expected it to, though I would still advise against a closed cabinet) and the Xindak my winter one.   :)

 

OK, typing finished, back to the comfy chair.

 

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Thanks @@Cafad for taking your time and doing the review.

The more I read about your impression, the more I like the amp I just bought and yet to hear. Although, I would have liked a slightly higher level of "Ability to emote" to some degree, but I'm guessing 7.0 isn't that bad?

Overall, it's sounding like it's right up there with some of the best you've ever heard, so I'm pretty happy with that! :)

 

I'm very looking forward to getting it back and setting it up in the new place!

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@@Cafad I would rather read your reviews any day over any magazine effort. Thanks so much for your time, a great read and it describes Parasounds products very well!

@@Kamikaze thank you for giving Jeffro the opportunity to give it a whirl. Sounds like a fantastic amp.

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I'm glad I can contribute to the SNA community! After reading the review, I am very happy that I loaned the unit out to Cafad.

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Thanks for the write-up, great effort. Now can we have the beast/beauty picture in situ? Perhaps close-up? One taken with a DSLR? Not asking much... :lol:

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@@Cafad I would rather read your reviews any day over any magazine effort. Thanks so much for your time, a great read and it describes Parasounds products very well!

 

 

Agree 100%.

 

I always look forward to Caf's reviews. They capture the essence of what we want to know about an amplifier without the generic and ad nauseam repetitions and do so in a way that immediately gives you the gestalt of the item he is describing. :thumb:

 

Simply superior IMO :)

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Thanks for the write-up, great effort. Now can we have the beast/beauty picture in situ? Perhaps close-up? One taken with a DSLR? Not asking much... :lol:

 

I think the simple answer to that may be "no".  I can go under 500K or over 2MB, and the 2MB limit means I have to go under 500K (or use the snipping tool) which means the pics don't come out as well as I'd like.  

 

 

Thanks for the kind words guys, I aim to please (well... to inform, but to inform in a pleasing manner).

 

post-130663-0-43779800-1444633074_thumb.

The 472KB version.

Edited by Cafad

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I'm glad I can contribute to the SNA community! After reading the review, I am very happy that I loaned the unit out to Cafad.

Much appreciated @@Kamikaze

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Greetings once more from the windswept Manawatu, NZ. Just read part 3 after having enjoyed pts 1 and 2. Thanks Cafad and keep those reviews rolling please! I hope you get to try one of the more recent (smaller) Plinius integrateds at some stage - but not many on the 2nd market yet.

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

Edited by stuarth

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Greetings once more from the windswept Manawatu, NZ. Just read part 3 after having enjoyed pts 1 and 2. Thanks Cafad and keep those reviews rolling please! I hope you get to try one of the more recent (smaller) Plinius integrateds at some stage - but not many on the 2nd market yet.

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

Hi mate, good to hear you are enjoying the threads.  I did try to find an Inspire 880 or 980 for quite a while but you are certainly correct that there aren't many around, I certainly couldn't find one, so when a 9200 showed up I jumped on it.  Maybe I'll get a chance to try one out at some stage but it will probably not be anytime soon.

 

 

Edit:  I've just had an interesting try at using the Halo as a DAC and pre (no direct DAC out, damn it!) to feed both the Xindak A600Eand the Plinius 9200.  The Xindak gave the combo its deep and smooth character which I quite liked but the Plinius sounded like it was trying to go too fast in the bass, all impact and no follow through, not a good combo there.  It was interesting and fun but it didn't really tell us anything.

 

The DAC off however, between the Burson Conductor, Plinius CD101 and the Halo, now that was informative.  The Halo gave up nothing, and I really mean nothing, to the other two DACs.  The Conductor and the Halo sounded so similar I just couldn't pick them apart, the Plinius had a different dimentionality to the middle of the soundstage, it seemed to shift everything away to the edges so that the vocals could take center stage, it also had a slightly softer approach to sharper sounds (cymbal taps for instance).  The bass also seemed just a touch slower through the Plinius.  I think I could happily live with any of them.  So, a pretty damn good DAC in that component there.

Edited by Cafad

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Interesting, and of course the 880 and 980 amps have DACs inside also. It seems wrong that I live in the former home of Plinius (before they moved to the South Island) and haven't owned one. Might have to fix that at a later date. Cheers, Stuart.

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I think you should definitely do something about that @@stuarth, your audiophilia will thank you for it.

 

 

Well I've shed a tear and said goodbye to the Halo and now I have to move on to other things.  

 

Next up is an amp that managed to elude me for over a year.  I read all about this Load Effect Free circuitry and how it uses different circuits to provide the voltage signal to those used to provide the current needed to drive the speaker (sounds very similar to the way Deviolet works to me!) and I saw that they use a capacitor bank in a very similar way to ME amps but I just could not manage to find one of them.  I even missed the last one available on amazon.co.uk, by mere hours, so I was pretty excited when I found one on clearance at Audioconnection.

 

Here are a few pics to go over.

post-130663-0-08961400-1445213016_thumb.

It isn't the best looking amp from the front, in fact I feel I should warn people that it looks better in pics than it does in real life (pretty much the opposite of that standard "the pics don't do it justice" situation).  It manages to look a bit 'cheapish' in real life.

 

post-130663-0-72118000-1445213642_thumb.

Nice cap banks.

 

post-130663-0-99116200-1445213734_thumb.

I'm forced to assume that the two closest rows of caps are part of one circuit (either voltage or current) and the two furtherest rows are the other.  The cap values (because I couldn't find any pics on the mighty internet that revealed this) are 1500uF at 50V for the closest rows and 2200uF at 35V for the furthest rows.

 

post-130663-0-45434300-1445213757_thumb.

And I suppose these red blocks contain the mysterious LEF circuitry secrets.  At least, that's what it says on the label.

 

It has been run in for my standard 100 hours prior to my receiving the Xindak but it was forced to the side because the Xindak looked cooler was a much more interesting purchase.  I've already got a fair idea as to its sonic signature but I'm going to wait until I can run my test disc through it before I say too much, just in case my ears haven't had sufficient time to recalibrate from the Halo.

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Hi Cafad: What speakers did you use for this evaluation?

 

attachicon.gifsna 5.PNG

 

OK, crunch time.  

As much as I try not to go into a review with preconceptions sometimes it happens anyway.  I had high expectations from the Parasound Halo Integrated even though I had no prior idea as to how it would sound I was, none the less, expecting very good things.  From the second song played, where I discovered that the DAC section in the Halo gave me better detail and resolution on lighter background instruments than my Consonance cd120, I knew that I was onto something very good, the only question in my mind was “How good?â€.  Well the amp section is certainly good enough for me to be able to distinguish between the internal DAC and my cd120 and it isn’t hard to do either.  The Consonance has this smooth, creamy bass which tends to hide some detail, and (and this is noteworthy as the cd120 has a great rep for its sound staging capabilities) a less well defined sound stage.  The Halo has a much more natural feeling and a more open sound stage with instrument placement much easier to pick.

So that gives both the DAC and the integrated sections a big tick of approval from me.  Obviously Parasound have done their design homework with the ESS9018K2M DAC and managed to mate it extremely well with the pre and power sections of the "Halo I".  

...

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My Lenehan S2R stand mounts.  A pity they can't be bought any more (since ETI changed their minds about having their own direct sales arm), I love them.

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Cafad, I have a Copland CSA 29 on its way to me, I can send you my Copland CSA 14 for evaluation once it arrives if you are interested.

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