What is the Parasound HINT 6?
What is notable is that when I tested the original HINT, it was a bit of an outlier. It felt like Parasound was doing what it was in order to put some clear air between themselves and everyone else. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s possible that the first HINT was an early manifestation of something that seems to be gathering pace with two channel audio and that has some interesting implications for AV in general - I’ll be looking at that in due course too. This means that while the first HINT existed in its own little world, the new one can be judged against some other devices that have a similar ethos.
Of course, no less pertinently, we can ask if it has virtues for more conventional stereo customers too. Its predecessor might be seen to have been a very, very near miss in that regard, so has Parasound managed the dual tasks of honing what the HINT does while broadening its appeal? Time to find out.
Specification and Design
This means you get 160 watts into 8 ohms at meaningfully low distortion which rises to 240 watts into 4 ohms. The amplifier is class A/B (Parasound is doing some interesting work with Class D in their more affordable range of components but the Halo range is still very much based around A/B designs) and it occupies a considerable mass inside the HINT 6. One slightly unusual aspect of the design is that the amp stage runs across the amp rather down it but it is packaged neatly and the use of internal heatsinks means you don’t have to give over sections of casework to cooling.
The most significant change to the amplifier part of the HINT is the preamp section. The original HINT used a conventional volume pot with a single rotation between max and minimum volume. The new model ditches this in favour of a Burr Brown resistor ladder control that is adjusted by a ball bearing supported aluminium knob. The idea goes that a resistor ladder is immune to the low channel imbalance that conventional controls can suffer from and it should offer perfect linearity too - although this is subject to the linearity of the speakers it is running into. As this new control has no defined start and end, a small LED display is fitted to show a level indicator.
This has some benefits for functionality as well as performance. The HINT 6 can be set to turn on at a specific volume level and you can also set a favourite volume level that the amp will return to at the press of a button. This latter feature sounds a bit odd but there is a method in the madness which we shall come to in a bit. The volume ramp itself is a good combination of quick but precise making it easy to use.
This preamp section offers five analogue inputs, the fifth of which is made available to both RCA and XLR connections, and a phono stage that offers moving magnet, high output moving coil and low output moving coil support. This is joined by four digital inputs, two optical and one coaxial and a USB apiece. All inputs are decoded via ESS ES9018K2M DAC which means that the USB input can realistically decode any format it is likely to own in the wild. Your friendly reminder at this point that thanks to this decoding, the Parasound sits in a slightly different category to a conventional analogue only integrated amp because the addition of something like the SOtM SMS-200 Neo will essentially ‘complete’ it as a system. The only area of weakness in the specification is the fitment of a 3.5mm rather than 6.35mm headphone socket and to be honest, this is not the end of the world.
It is the outputs though where the Parasound exists in a rather different category to most of its rivals. There are speaker and preamp outs, the latter being available on both XLR and RCA connections which is not an abstract fitment when Parasound has a medley of bungalow sized power amps you can attach to the HINT 6. What is more unusual is that there are a pair of subwoofer outputs that are fitted with an adjustable crossover to help match them to your speakers. Even more unusually, the preamp output also has this feature too. Like the previous HINT, there are very few two channel devices that offer more flexibility in getting a sub up and running.
The new HINT looks very much like the old one and this is not really a surprise as the Halo casework has not altered in a while now. This is no bad thing because the HINT manages to walk the line of being big but not hopelessly unwieldy reasonably well. It slipped into a spot recently vacated by the Naim Supernait 3 which is rather smaller but did so without looking like I’d put a repurposed fridge in its place. What helps the HINT feel svelter than it actually is are details like the gentle curve to the outer panel and the groove that has the input indicators mounted in it which reduces the visible bulk.
It is also extremely well made. You might look at the row of little rotary controls and wonder if they feel insubstantial but they really don’t. The casework is very stoutly assembled and all the connections on the rear panel are of excellent quality. This is not a cheap product but you can see where the money has been spent. Like the previous HINT, the remote is not a thing of beauty but it is well made and feels like it is going to last any owner a significant amount of time. By contrast, I don’t feel that the remote is anything like as elegant but it is easy to use and, relatively unusually for a stereo product, is backlit which makes using it in low light much more straightforward.
How was the Parasound tested?
More: Audio format nomenclature explained
Why do I say this? Looking back through my notes on the original (and I do keep them all), some things are very much as they were. Connected via the USB input to the SMS-200 Neo, the Parasound is a very convincing piece of kit. I listened to the TRON: Legacy soundtrack in its entirety and the HINT 6 didn’t miss a beat. As you might expect, with that much power in reserve into the sensitive Focals, the full orchestra on the rampage sections are handled imperiously but when it came to showing a bit of delicacy, such as with Adagio for TRON, the HINT 6 more than meets the challenge.
Part of this is that the digital section feels sweeter than it did in the older model. It still has great detail retrieval and punch but when the solo cello starts up, it has a warmth and body that it didn’t always have before. It makes for an altogether more enjoyable listening experience, particularly as you move towards less sublimely recorded material. As with a few devices of this nature, simply adding an interface you are happy with results in a complete and very compelling system.
And, when you switch to film viewing - even without moving to a 2.1 configuration - it is genuinely and unusually cinematic. Considering that the signal it receives is straight 2.0 PCM, the scale and immersion it manages to generate while enjoying (some of) The Irishman is the sort of thing that might go a long way to winning over people wavering in their enthusiasm for having speakers all over the room. I am not sure why the HINT 6 can do this - after all, a decent DAC implementation is a decent DAC implementation - but I have found myself wanting to use this amp for film and TV more than is generally the case.
These are things that the original HINT was very good at though. Where this new model kicks on is that it can still do this with external sources too. It feels lighter on its feet and more dynamic than before and less like the excitement is solely being added by the DAC. Obviously, there is a slight sense of comparing apples with oranges because since the last review, I have changed both speakers and room but even allowing for this, running through a similar test program still suggests the new model is a little more energetic.
There are some gripes though. The phono stage is good but used in the moving coil setting with the Goldring Ethos, which at 0.5mV is low but not unreasonably so, the amount of additional volume required to secure a reasonable gain is rather high - although, the odd feature that allows you to set a preferred volume really comes into its own if you accidentally switch back to another input. It’s still a nice touch to have moving coil support though as it broadens your options in matching turntables to it. If you are really serious about vinyl replay though, an external phono stage is still going to be worth the outlay.
Finally, Parasound hasn’t messed with the 2.1 fitment and that is no bad thing. Getting the BK up and running with the Focals is straightforward and achieves the most important thing that a system of this nature can which is not to sound like three speakers at work. In the time since the original HINT was launched, the nature of what represents the state of the art has moved on and next to NAD products that can do this and then run DIRAC to straighten it all out, the Parasound is more conventional but it is still better than almost any other stereo rival for integrating a subwoofer.
- Hugely flexible in terms of inputs and speaker configuration
- Powerful yet lively sound
- Extremely well made
- Rather large
- Phono stage lacks gain
- Some rivals now have EQ functionality
Parasound HINT 6 Integrated Amplifier Review
These are good times to be shopping for an integrated amp. Having the Parasound HINT 6 go through back to back with the Naim Supernait 3 has been interesting because of the radically different way they go about being brilliant. The Naim is the purist choice but one that will form the core of a system you are highly unlikely to see any change from £10-12K for. At a few hundred pounds cheaper, the HINT 6 looks like more of the same but it really isn’t.
The Parasound is much more akin to an AV Receiver - and not simply because it has bass management. It can be used with more affordable sources as the core of a system that - for more than a few owners I suspect - will be taking them out of multichannel. Without significantly altering what the original could do, the HINT 6 simply does everything a little bit better. This is a very fine product indeed and one that earns our enthusiastic Recommendation.
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