What is the Parasound Halo Integrated?
What Parasound has done with the HINT though is more than a by the numbers exercise. We'll cover the specification in due course but one part of the Parasound's feature set is unusual and possibly unique. As well as amplification for two speakers, the HINT has a subwoofer pre-out that features an adjustable crossover rather than the full range mono pre-out that usually features on such products.
What this means is that if you are a 2.1 user, this could be the amp you've been waiting for. This review is the second this month where we explore options for people who have looked at the requirements for AV for the next generation and felt that they would prefer to revert to stereo. If you are making this decision while looking to retain the services of a subwoofer, the Parasound looks like the perfect candidate to make three speakers rather than two sing- how does that work in practise?
A quick look at the internals suggests that this is a very serious amplifier indeed. From the hefty power supply to the large pair of heatsinks that run parallel to each channel, all signs point to the HINT being a serious piece of equipment. This is borne out by the power output. Parasound claims a hefty 160 watts into 8 ohms under demanding measurement conditions and having had the dubious pleasure of lifting the HINT out of its packaging, these numbers don't feel like something this amp would struggle to achieve. The output increases to a healthy 240 watts into four ohms which suggests that there are few speakers that are going to trouble the HINT in most domestic settings.
The Parasound is fitted with five line inputs and a moving magnet and moving coil phono stage. Input 5 is shared between an RCA and XLR connection to allow for the use of a balanced source. As you might expect from a brand with such strong ties to AV, the HINT is also fitted with a volume bypass to allow for its use in an AV system. Unusually, this also includes a subwoofer bypass too allow for LFE to by bypassed through the Parasound and out via the HINT's dedicated subwoofer outputs- and it is here that the Parasound breaks out some unusual features.
This being the case, what may be of greater use to potential owners is the DAC section. The HINT has a digital input board that features a single optical, coaxial and USB connection. This is handled by an ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DAC and the USB connection has a fairly hefty range of abilities as a result. As well as supporting PCM to 24/384kHz, it handles DSD 64, 128 and 256. A windows driver is supplied and it works without one into a MAC. With a suitably equipped server, the Parasound doesn't necessarily need anything in the way of actual source equipment.
The specification is finished off by headphone amplifier that is completely separate from the main amp stage and is built around a Texas Instruments TI TPA6120. This is a fairly highly regarded piece of equipment in its own right although annoyingly, Parasound has only fitted it with a 3.5mm socket rather than a full quarter inch one. This is joined by a 3.5mm aux input on the front panel which is something I'm less and less sure of the worth of in this day and age- especially with the digital inputs but may be of use to someone.
The only areas where I think that Parasound has missed a trick are the points of interaction with the HINT. The volume control feels a little small and sad for something that has 160 watts at its disposal. The remote is also nothing to get excited about. It works well and is clearly laid out but it lacks any of the feeling of solidarity and heft that the amp itself has. Remotes are the main point of contact between us and the equipment and sadly the HINT remote doesn't really pass on any of the sense of engineering in the amp itself.
Parasound Halo Integrated Setup
Initially, the HINT was connected to my standard Neat Momentum 4 speakers which are effectively full range. In order to test the abilities running in 2.1, I additionally tested the Parasound with a pair of Audio Note AN-K speakers and a BK Electronics P12 300SB subwoofer running a 50Hz crossover set on the Parasound and the BK crossover bypassed.
Parasound Halo Sound Quality
With the Parasound running over analogue connections- in this case the Naim ND5 XS via an RCA connection, there are some immediately noticeable traits to how the HINT functions and most of these are positive. Perhaps most importantly, the HINT manages to use its enormous power output in such a way as it sounds extremely powerful when it needs to but never at the expense of sounding clumsy or forced when you simply don't need it. Instead there is a sense of effortlessness that allows a wide variety of music to sound good.
The tonality of the amp is also extremely good. With Regina Spektor's Consequence of Sounds- as true a test of tonality as you can get- the Parasound has weight and texture to the vocals and piano that sounds unambiguously real. The presentation is also extremely spacious and airy with a sense of the space that the material was recorded in. With Hans Zimmer's score for Rush, the Parasound allows the material to sound effortlessly uncompressed and wonderfully room filling.
The only slightly discordant note about the HINT's performance is that with the final tracks of Rush- particularly the mighty Reign- it never fully engages and excites in the way that the resident Naim Supernait 2 or the Arcam SR250, which passed through at the same time, can do. It would be wrong to call the HINT slow- it has far too good a control over the low end to be that- but there is a slightly languid quality that it never completely shakes.
If you switch to the digital inputs, everything about the Parasound's presentation suddenly snaps into place. The ESS Sabre DAC in its many versions and implementations has consistently shown a punchy and enthusiastic presentation and this seems to have been worked into the voicing of the HINT. Used as both decoder and amplifier, the Parasound is a different beast. That same effortlessness and control is now joined but a bit more punch and drive. Playing the same tracks from the Naim via the coaxial input is a more intense and compelling experience than it is via the analogue ones. The USB input is also extremely well implemented. It had no difficulty with any file type played to it via jRiver and installation of the driver was also hassle free.
Dispensing with the Neats and rigging the HINT as a 2.1 system was problem free and the basic performance traits as described above don't change. As such, still using the digital inputs, the Parasound delivers a really very impressive showing with 2.1. The ability to implement a high pass filter on the amplified output of the amp has a welcome- and I will freely admit- rather unprecedented effect on the performance of the Audio Notes and the BK working together. With a 50Hz crossover in effect- even though the AN-K has an eight inch bass driver, its sealed construction means this is about the lowest it goes before severe roll off- the effect is not of a 2.1 system but a powerful and cohesive 2.0 system. If you are in possession of an agile and well implemented sub- and the BK is just that- there is a fairly reasonable argument that this is the best possible means of powering a 2.1 system on the market.
- Powerful and clean sound
- Excellent in 2.1
- Beautifully built
- Sounds best via digital inputs
- Ordinary remote
Parasound Halo Integrated Amplifier Review
If you are a 2.1 user though, it needs to jump a long way further up that list. Put simply, the HINT is the best implementation of what is needed to do 2.1 properly I've seen at almost any price and the result is by far the most musical. If you want to use a sub with your music, the HINT is a truly superb option. The Parasound earns a general recommendation but in specific areas of performance, it needs to be seen as better still and something well worth seeking out.
Ease of use
Value for money
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