I hoped to hear the Halo Integrated for myself. So when, for the March issue, I reviewed the Spendor Audio Systems A7 loudspeaker, which requires more power than my 20Wpc Shindo Laboratory Haut-Brion amp can muster, I requested a loaner. Parasound sent me the revised version, the Halo Hint 6, with a revised list price of $a $ increase.
Phil Jackson, Parasound's product and sales specialist, explained via e-mail: "New changes from the original Halo Integrated include a Burr-Brown, analog resistor-ladder volume control; dimmable front-panel volume display; updated uPnP USB receiver; an additional optical input (two total); ball-bearingsupported, solid-aluminum volume knob; programmable default volume setting; 'favorite volume memory' with remote-control button; increased phono-stage gain of 7dB (from 35dB to 42dB) for lower-output MM cartridges; improved left/right channel separation and balance tracking; and updated cosmetics with subtle gold highlights."
Beyond the noted hardware changes, the Halo Hint 6 remains mostly unchanged from the Halo Integrated. Both versions are " wide by " high by " deep and weigh 33 lb, have a class-AB output section delivering Wpc into 8 ohms, a discrete headphone amplifier and mm headphone jack, a bit ESS Sabre32 DAC chip, five line-level RCA inputs, defeatable tone controls (!), a subwoofer output, and optical, USB, and coaxial digital inputs.
Listening . . .
Though I didn't have on hand a moving-magnet (MM) cartridge that I could use with the MM input of the Hint 6's revised phono stage, I did have four pairs of speakers that I figured would reveal any changes from Herb's assessment of the original Halo Integrated's easy-flowing personality.
I played three LPs on my Kuzma Stabi turntable with Stogi tonearm, running my Hana EL moving-coil cartridge into the Hint 6's MC input: Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson (Verve V); Noah Preminger's Some Other Time (Newvelle NVLP); and Souvenir Part II: music for strings by Tchaikovsky and Nielsen, performed by the Trondheim Soloists (2L 2LC-LP).
With Spendor Audio Systems A7s
The Spendor A7 ($/pair) demands power to burn. Given that power, it produces such razor-sharp images that I hoped to buy a pairbut I was concerned that it and the Halo Hint 6 would be a mismatch. Thankfully, they warmed to one other right away. The sound was anything but mellow with the Spendors' tweeters firing at ear level, but joined the Spendor's crispness to the Hint 6's wholeness and refinement. It almost felt as if I were leaning into the Trondheim Soloists' performance of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C.
On his Some Other Time, Noah Preminger's tenor saxophone was downright creamy, with a warm burr that softened Billy Hart's mallet-generated cymbal crescendos. The treble seemed rolled off, but the overall sound was generous, even voluptuous. In "I Won't Dance," Ella Fitzgerald's big voice was rendered large, with the rhythm section, strings, and brass panned hard left and right. This combo made a devilishly good pair, sweet-toned but with serious jump and juice.
With DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93s
I hadn't played my reference speakers, DeVore Fidelity's Orangutan O/93s ($/pair), in a while, but when I drove them with the Parasound Halo Hint 6 I remembered how much I love them, and why I bought them many years ago. The big primates get it all right: a wide, realistically layered soundstage in my small den, spot-on tonality and texture, very good resolution, an almost genteel (tweeters below ear level) but propulsive low end, and a beautiful way with voices.
The Hint 6 let the O/93s shine. At almost twice the price of the Spendors, the DeVores produced a much fuller sound, with a deeper, broader soundstage. Drums had more kick. Ella Fitzgerald was in my ear, singing her subtle dynamic inflections for me and me alone. The Preminger disc became muscular and dynamic, sax and cymbals more visceral. Now, instead of sounding simply honeyed, the music vibrated and grooved. The Trondheim Soloists sounded less crystalline but somehow truer of tone. The strings were less separate and distinct, more massed together as a single organism. My emotional response remained undiminished.
The Hint 6 provided a level of control and nuance that the DeVore O/93s devoured. Both components were transparent, dynamic, always in service to the music.
With Quad S-2s
This mighty Quad stand-mounted model ($/pair) has a ribbon tweeter and I was concerned lest the focused power of the Parasound Hint 6 kick it too hard. But while the soundstage was smaller than with the other speakers, the Parasound never pushed the Quads' ribbons into dangerous territory. Instead, music sounded brilliant and tangible, with a pulsating energy that made the strings of the Trondheim Soloists absolutely breathtaking. The sound was exhilarating. The Quads revealed the upper air of the Fitzgerald LP, with horns, hi-hat, and upper double-bass frequencies to the fore. And Preminger's tenor sax became less soft, more explicit and clean. The Halo Hint 6 enabled the Quads' drive and clarity and, ultimately, their altogether purposeful sound.
With Klipsch Heresy IIIs
Another speaker I truly love, Klipsch's Heresy III fat-boy floorstander ($/pair), provides the most fun you can have without going to jail, and for far less than the cost of a Better Call Saulstyle attorney. I've yet to find an amplifier that couldn't cozy up to the Klipsches' 12" woofers and specified 99dB sensitivity and 8 ohm impedance, and the Parasound was no exception. This combo was magical. The leading edges of voices, tenor saxophones, and drums reached out to caress my ears. A joyous sense of upper-treble air made all music exhilarating, transparent, and fun. The splat, boom, and bam of Nelson Riddle's orchestra was off the chart. Ella seemed somehow goosed with extra propulsion and juice. And I felt I was hearing the Trondheim Soloists for the first time, their strings entirely chewy, rhythmic, and tactile, if lacking the more saturated color and refinement I heard through the DeVore O/93s.
Is Parasound's Halo Hint 6 Integrated Amplifier a party amp? A hard-rock enabler? A suave, swinging jazz proselytizer? It's all these things. The Hint 6 worked well with every speaker I threw at it, delivering an upfront, slightly cool, dynamic sound, LP after LP. Even at its higher price of $, the Halo Hint 6 offers good value in true Swiss Army knife fashion. I can't think of another integrated amplifier that offers so many options and has such solid, generous sound. Recommended.
Stereo Times May
"A serious contender for 'Best Integrated.' Parasound's effort to integrate the quality of separates into a single, functional, aesthetically-pleasing unit capable of providing high quality sound paid off in the Parasound Halo Channel Integrated Amplifier."
"Parasound has succeeded in creating the ultimate affordable DAC-integrated amplifier. Unique among its peers. With ruler-flat neutrality, top-to-bottom linearity, and a gorgeous midrange, it becomes peerless. There is no better DAC-integrated on the market for the price."
"This Parasound isn't your traditional integrated amplifier. Whether it's vinyl or the latest and greatest in digital audio, the Parasound Halo Integrated Amplifier looks like it's equipped to handle just about anything you can throw at it. A force to be reckoned with when it comes to high resolution digital audio."
Positive Feedback Writer’s Choice Awards
"Parasound's Halo Integrated channel integrated amplifier is a force to be reckoned with. Any integrated amp that can readily drive high-current loads while providing clear, clean, and spacious sound for under $ is a winner. The Parasound Halo Integrated provides an amazing value proposition."
Everything Audio Network November
"A classy integrated amp with D/A. Quality parts, design make the Halo a fantastic value. An enthusiastic nomination for EAN's Amplifier Product of the Year. We say 'wow.' At this price it is perfect."
What Hi-Fi? (UK) October
"It's not often that such a fully-specified amplifier still delivers top-class sound quality. If you're after one do-it-all amp, there are few better alternatives."
Sound, Features, Build
Australian Hi-Fi (Australia)
"The Parasound Halo [Integrated] is an excellent amplifier, but it's also an excellent phono stage, an excellent headphone amplifier, an excellent DAC and the inclusion of the electronic crossover circuit is a secret weapon that will improve the performance of any loudspeakers you own when you're also using a subwoofer. No surprise then that I consider the Halo to be outstanding value for money."
Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, August
"Parasound Halo gear is reliable, well made, superbly engineered and can't be beat for value. Don't waste your time trying to compare the features and ability the Parasound Halo Integrated can offer with another audio product. With an excellent DAC and an amplifier that has enough punch to handle any dynamics one would want, the Parasound Halo Integrated will make you reconsider the need for separates. It really is that good and an early favorite to receive 'Best of' honors in the category."
The Ear Hi-Fi Music Gear (UK) July
"The Parasound HINT is capable of addictive musicality when you find a good speaker match. The Parasound does an awful lot for the money but it gets the important thing right, it makes you want to listen to more music. The Ear Best Buy."
AV Forums (UK) March
"It is supremely powerful and unfazed by what you are likely to connect to it. The HINT should be on anyone's shortlist. If you are a 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 properly I've seen at almost any price and the result is by far the most musical."
Class A Recommended Component
"Easy, intimate realism, great boogie factor and overall easy flowing, mostly smooth, and decidedly mellow personality. This was not to take away from the Parasound's musical incisiveness: The Halo played tunes and sang songs as if they mattered. A well-engineered, well-performing product."
SoundStage! Network Reviewers' Choice January
"In the Halo Integrated, Parasound has succeeded in creating the ultimate affordable DAC-integrated amplifier. It has a raft of analog and digital inputs, built-in bass management, fully featured moving-magnet and moving-coil phono stages, a discrete headphone amplifier, and defeatable tone controls -- a feature set that, all by itself, makes Richard Schram's Hint unique among its peers. And when you include a sound of ruler-flat neutrality, top-to-bottom linearity, and a gorgeous midrange, it becomes peerless. There is no better DAC-integrated on the market for $ or less."
Home Theater Review Best of
"Pretty much anything you pump through the Halo Integrated's speaker outputs sounds downright sumptuous."
Stereo+ (Norway) November
"Superlative and affordable. In the price range under kr. 30, this is the amplifier that currently reigns, and I have difficulty seeing any other integrated amps, or for that matter preamp and power amp combinations which can deliver the same capabilities and the same sound. The Parasound HINT is just as good as everyone claims it is and it deserves an audition."
Hi Res Audio Central November
"Let me say it without a blush: I absolutely loved this piece of gear. It hits on so many touchpoints of convenience, flexibility, usability, and musicality that it's hard to not develop an immediate crush."
"I believe that J. Gordon Holt would characterize the Parasound Halo Integrated as neutral and accurate. Why? Because, with certain extravivid recordings, I perceived the Halo as tracking the input signal pretty close to the feeling of master tape. Likewise, it was neutral, in that well-considered, just-right Goldilocks way: It was never too anything-except, maybe, too inexpensive!"
HiFi Choice Editor's Choice (UK) December
"If there was ever a product that personifies the modern integrated amplifier, this is it. There's nothing not to like about this great value mid-price integrated."
"I suspect that many audiophiles who never anticipated wanting or needing an integrated amplifier may find, someday, that they do need a compact yet powerful one. If that is the case, they may find that the Parasound Halo Integrated amplifier is the high-value solution. For $ it includes a powerful basic amplifier coupled to an excellent preamplifier that includes a built-in analog crossover as well as a DAC that supports all modern formats."
The Absolute Sound High-End Buyer's Guide
"For many audiophiles such mid-priced components will deliver a high enough level of sonic excellence to make for joyous listening for many years to come."
"Its performance blew me away, and its incredible bass-management capabilities make it stand apart in what is slowly but surely becoming a crowded integrated amplifier market. I'd say Parasound has a winner on its hands here especially for the price."
Lyd & Bild (Norway) September
"The Parasound Halo Integrated Amplifier is one of the really exciting amplifier purchases one can make for under 30, kroner. Here is the power to breathe life into a party house with resolution and musicality in spades. The amplifier is ideal for driving expensive high-end speakers, while it can help less expensive speakers realize the promise of their full potential. Sound-wise the HINT is slightly full bodied, but it is neutral enough so the speakers are what determines the final sonic signature. The little fullness that's there is like magic washing over us, and we can sit and listen to music for hours. And that's what it's all about! If you have 30, kroner to spend on an amp and compare it against others, its ingenious subwoofer output with high and low pass crossover filtering, in addition to its fairly lavish phono stage, should nudge you in the direction of the Parasound HINT. Even if you don't need these, it is still a bargain."
"So as I said, I wanted the Parasound Halo Integrated to shine, and I got what I wanted. It concentrates on sound quality while including home theatre passthrough, subwoofer output, bass management, high resolution digital inputs, a decent phono input stage, quality headphone output and tone controls in a conservatively styled package. When you take a look at what Parasound is asking for this component, just $ in black or silver finish, you may well be as impressed as I am. I'm going to miss it around here."
"The Halo Integrated transformed the sound of the .7s. Really dynamic recordings, like Antonio Sanchez' drums solos on the Birdman soundtrack amply demonstrated the Halo Integrated's muscle."
New Record Day, August
"The bottom line—my absolute favorite thing about the Parasound Halo is its no-nonsense approach of simplicity combined with feature-rich tools when you are ready to push the limits of what the Halo Integrated has to offer."
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We’re no strangers to testing high-end integrated amplifiers, but they are normally purist affairs where every feature has been stripped back in the pursuit of sound quality.
Parasound’s approach with its Halo Integrated is unusual, and refreshingly accommodating.
It’s as though the company has made a genuine attempt to build a high quality unit that’s as flexible as possible. Think of every feature you could reasonably expect to find in a premium stereo integrated – and the Halo probably has it.
You get a switchable phono stage, a headphone output and even tone controls. We can’t remember the last time we reviewed a product such as this with bass and treble controls.
And despite what the purists say, on occasion, for example when playing a poorly engineered recording, they can be useful. They can be switched out of the signal path when not needed, giving a slightly clearer sound.
Parasound calls the Halo Integrated a channel amplifier. It has outputs for a subwoofer and the option to set the crossover frequency.
There’s a dedicated preamp feed too. Unusually, this also features a (high pass) crossover that can be switched into circuit. This combination of features gives a great deal of flexibility in the set-up of a stereo speakers/ subwoofer combination.
MORE: Best stereo amplifiers
We can’t imagine this amplifier getting caught short in a conventional two-channel context. There are five single-ended line-level inputs plus a balanced XLR option.
The built-in phono stage can cater for both moving magnet and moving coil designs, but here too, Parasound has offered more than you’d expect.
The moving coil input (52dB of gain) has two cartridge loading choices – ohms and 47k ohms – that offer a degree of fine-tuning we only usually find in dedicated outboard phono units.
The ability to optimise performance will usually lead to a better sound.
There’s also a ‘home theatre’ input that bypasses the amplifier’s volume control and feeds the signal straight into the power amplifier section.
This is useful if you want to integrate the Halo into your surround set-up, say by using it to power the front left and right speakers and leaving your AV amplifier to drive the others.
Digital is well catered for. The Halo Integrated uses the well-regarded ESS Sabre ESK2M DAC chip. It’s something we find in many premium digital products, usually delivering excellent results.
There’s the usual trio of inputs – USB, coax and optical – with upper limits of bit/kHz for the asynchronous USB and bit/kHz for the other options.
DSD is also on the menu, with the amp’s module happy to accept anything up to DSD In short, the Halo will cope with just about every music file you’re likely to have.
MORE: High-resolution audio: everything you need to know
Build quality is as good as we’d expect for the price.
The Halo’s appearance splits opinion among our test team – some thinking the LEDs on the front panel a touch overdone, others not liking the control layout – but there’s no denying the solidity of the casework, or the care taken in the finish.
The supplied remote splits opinion too. We like the simple button layout, but it doesn’t feel luxurious.
Take the lid off the amp and you’ll find a generous power supply, shielded toroidal mains transformer and plenty of heatsinking. The power supply and power amplifier are arranged in a dual-mono configuration to aid stereo imaging.
The rated power output is W per channel into 8 ohms and rises to W per side as impedance halves.
We’re impressed by the peak current output figure of 45amps, too. That’s a lot of grunt, certainly enough to get good volume levels from just about any speaker this amplifier is likely to be partnered with.
The Halo’s accommodating nature builds on this ability to drive speakers well. This amplifier has a beautifully judged tonal balance that sounds bang on neutral to our ears.
This means any tonal character is much more likely to come from your speakers, or to a lesser extent your source or cables.
If you end up with a tonally unbalanced sound we can say with some confidence that the Parasound won’t be the problem.
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So far the Halo is doing everything right. It’s packed full of useful features and is easy to match. If you’re expecting performance to be the downside you’ll be disappointed.
What makes this integrated special is that despite being fully loaded, it sounds good too.
We plugged the Parasound into our usual reference set-up of Naim NDS/PS streamer, Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable and ATC SCM50 speakers and it sounds right at home.
Considering that all of these items cost a minimum of four times the Parasound’s price, that’s quite some achievement.
We start off by feeding the amp’s line level input a bit of Bob Marley. It copes well, delivering the free-flowing bassline of Get Up Stand Up with enthusiasm. There’s plenty of power and authority, coupled to a pleasing sense of agility.
We like the way this amplifier renders the song’s rhythmic drive: it’s surefooted and precise.
The pricier, but far less well equipped, Naim SuperNait 2 shows more in the way of momentum and reveals subtle pace changes more easily, but the Halo does well enough to hold our interest.
Move up the frequency range and the Halo continues to impress. Marley’s vocals come through with subtlety and passion.
It’s a clean midrange, perhaps lacking a touch of natural warmth, but brimming with clarity. The top end is crisp and has plenty of bite.
It’s nicely judged, though, staying on the right side of aggressive even when provoked by coarse recordings like Bruce Springsteen’s Terry’s Song.
We move to Tchaikovsky’s Overtureand the Halo sounds right at home. Here it delivers a large sound stage – one that’s impressively wide – and layers it with skill. Instruments are precisely positioned and focussed with care.
They stay locked in place regardless of volume level or musical complexity. The Halo copes brilliantly with the music’s demanding dynamic swings and stays firmly in charge when the piece becomes busy.
It never sounds rushed or strained, and it’s this composure that helps the listener relax and just enjoy the music.
There’s plenty of refinement here, and a degree of finesse that eludes similarly powerful rivals. Given a piece of music such as Beth’s Themefrom Olafur Arnolds, the Parasound excels.
It renders this heart-breaking piece of music with the delicacy it deserves, delivering low-level dynamic shifts with an impressive lightness of touch.
Sure, there remains plenty of authority here, how could there not be with all the muscle present, but the Halo proves that it has sophistication to go along with it.
MORE: Listen to the What Hi-Fi? playlist
Connecting various digital sources reveals the built-in DAC to be a good one. It plays all kinds of music files without issue and delivers a sound packed with insight and enthusiasm.
There isn’t quite the purity we hear through the analogue inputs, but this number-crunching module remains an entertaining performer.
The good news continues with the phono stage. While no replacement for a good dedicated outboard unit, it preserves the pleasing qualities of the line inputs.
There’s a good degree of transparency here, and strong, well developed dynamics.
MORE: 6 of the best DACs
It’s certainly better than most built-in phono modules we have come across. Background noise levels are impressively low too.
The headphone output is another well-engineered circuit. It’s clear and consistent with the amplifiers performance through the speaker outputs. It’s a dedicated module built around a Texas Instruments TPAA chip.
We use a range of headphones, from Beyerdynamics’ T1 right the way through to a pair of AKG Ks, without issue. This is a good performer.
MORE: Best over-ear headphones
We’re pleasantly surprised by the Halo Integrated. It’s not often that such a fully-specified amplifier still delivers top-class sound quality.
We like how Parasound hasn’t just treated the extra features like a box-ticking exercise, but has worked hard to make them perform well.
If you’re after one do-it-all amp, there are few better alternatives.
See all our Parasound reviews
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What Hi-Fi?, founded in , is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, New York and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.
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Actually, there's another problem: I am an audiophile who only minimally comprehends what accurate and neutral actually mean in terms of reproduced sound. But! Stereophile's founder and prototypical audio sage, the late J. Gordon Holt, thoughtfully defined both in his "Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary":
accuracy The degree to which the output signal from a component or system is perceived as replicating the sonic qualities of its input signal. An accurate device reproduces what is on the recording, which may or may not be an accurate representation of the original sound. [my emphases]
neutral Free from coloration.
Almost perversely, JGH's definition of accuracy requires % speculation on the part of the critical listener. All I can conclude from this definition is that, if I listen to the same recording through a number of different high-end systems, I might develop an imaginary construct of what was written on the disc.
His definition of neutral is easier. I learned it from Goldilocks: not too warm, not too cool, not too bright or dull, nor too hard or soft, etc. In short, just right.
I asked my Facebook friends what they thought is meant by a reviewer who describes a component's sound as "neutral." Surprisingly, many of them said, "boring or dull." Some, agreeing with Goldilocks, thought it meant "just right." But several said that neutral means "no personality." I gulped.
I read John Marks's excellent column in the August issue, in which he addressed the question "Should a loudspeaker have a personality?" I thought, How can it not? How can any audio component not have a personality?
Then I began playing some favorite recordings with Parasound's new Halo Integrated amplifier ($). I kept playing discs and listening for a Parasound personalityan obvious sonic signaturebut I couldn't hear one. This lack of a Parasound sound threw me off my reviewer game. Frustrated, and for the sake of this review, I was forced to speculate about the nature of accurate and neutral.
Since , Richard Schram, founder and CEO of Parasound Products, Inc., has built the brand on making audio components that look and sound expensive, but sell for much less than it appears they should. Schram has also built Parasound on the substantial legend of audio engineer John Curl, designer of such enduringly influential classics as the Vendetta Research SCP-2 phono preamplifier. The SCP-2 was a high-quality, high-gain, low-noise RIAA stage from the s that probably spawned the oft-abused reviewer term: ink-black backgrounds.
Parasound products are built in Taiwan. In an online report posted in July by Jason Victor Serinus, one factory there "has been engaged in continuous production of Parasound products since Quality is checked both in Taiwan and the United States, which assures that the products maintain their reputation for quality in the 60 countries in which they are sold."
The Halo Integrated, which measures " wide by " deep by " high and weighs 33 lbs, is the first new integrated amplifier from Parasound since Its class-A/AB output section, which provides Wpc into 8 ohms, is based on bipolar transistors, while its input and driver stages use JFETs and MOSFETs, respectively. Like the Halo P 5 channel D/A preamplifier, the Integrated has built-in, variable-frequency high- and low-pass crossovers, a home-theater bypass input for integration into a surround-sound system, and a front-panel level control for a subwoofer. According to Schram, "The Halo Integrated is the only amp on the market that provides a sub channel/out for the two-channel analog and the digital sources that are connected to it."
When I asked to review the Halo, Schram was a little worried: "Herb, I thought you only liked integrated amplifiers that come stripped down, with features like DACs, phono stages, and headphone amps going Ö la carte." Truth is, I like any integrated that plays music enjoyably. If, like the Halo, its standard equipment includes a moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage, a discrete headphone amplifier, and a bit ESS Sabre32 DAC chip, then please, Mr. Schram, make it better than what I can afford to add on my own. (Is that a gauntlet I see lying on the floor?)
The Halo's phono stage has RCA inputs with gain that's switch-selectable for MM or MC, and with a choice of loading MC cartridges with or 47k ohms. I like having two turntables and sometimes two or three external computer/DAC/CD sources; gloriously, the Halo Integrated's rear panel has five line-level inputs (RCA). There are also an XLR input (when used, this replaces the fifth RCA input), and stereo line-level outputs and a subwoofer outputall balanced, all XLRs.
The Halo's USB, optical, and coaxial digital inputs are selectable from the front panel: That's a lot of inputs. Also on the front panel, starting from the left, are: a mm headphone jack, a mm Aux input for a portable MP3 player or mobile phone, and Bass and Treble controls and their defeat button. On the right is a small Input knob: As this is rotated, 11 tiny blue LEDs light up in sequence below a row of 11 minutely labeled input choices: Aux, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Phono, Opt, Coax, USB, Bypass. The labels are so small (2mm high) that I needed a flashlight and a jeweler's loupe to see which input I'd selected. Next to the Input knob are the Sub Level and Balance controls. I love balance knobsI call them imaging controlsbut why oh why does the Halo's balance control not appear on its blue-lit remote handset, so that I could fine-tune it while listening?
Speaking of Listening
Throughout my listening for this review, the Halo Integrated played with generous measures of that afore-defined neutrality. What little personality it had remained hidden, like a cat in the busheswhich made it easy to hear the sonic qualities of every associated component I used with it.
Moving-Magnet Phono Stage
The Halo's MM stage sounded quiet and gentle. (I'd begun to type soft, but gentle is more accurate.) I used it extensively with two combinations of turntable, tonearm, and cartridge: the Technics SLMK2, SME M, and Soundsmith Carmen; and the Acoustic Signature Wow XL, TA, and Ortofon 2M Black. Both cartridges were fastidiously fine-tuned for correct vertical tracking angle (VTA) and stylus rake angle (SRA), but even so, the Halo's MM stage imparted a slightly hesitant, placid touch to all transients.
But enjoyably, on the Munich concert included in Keith Jarrett's Concerts: Bregenz Mnchen (3 LPs, ECM), the Parasound reproduced the pianist's vocalizations, as well as the applause and audience sounds, with an easy, intimate realism that I think all Jarrett enthusiasts would appreciate. (During a recent solo performance at Carnegie Hall, Jarrett urged his fans to embrace his LP catalog: "I believe my work is best understood by listening to the LPs.")
Jarrett's close-miked foot stomps and spontaneous vocal provocations had extremely natural tone through the Halo Integrated. I love Jarrett's music, but I feel I have only begun to grasp the bigger picture of what he aspires to creatively. The Halo's MM phono stage seemed to figuratively slow his music just enough to let me examine his improvisations from a more intimate vantage. Dynamics, especially microdynamics, were enjoyably natural; their well-scaled action made me feel closer than usual to Jarrett's disquieting art.
Moving-Coil Phono Stage
In contrast to its MM stage's gentleness, the Halo Integrated's MC stage exhibited more punch and openness. Macrodynamics and inner detail dramatically increased. Using Jasmine Audio's Turtle and Zu's Denon DL MC cartridges, I played John Cage's Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra, with pianist Yuji Takahashi, and Lukas Foss conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic (LP, Nonesuch H). Cage believed (as I do) that art continues to be vigorous and useful as long as it continues to be difficult and irritating. I never actually find Cage irritating, but with the Halo Integrated, this razor-sharp concerto startled me, and fastened my attention on a simple musical question: What could possibly happen next?
Integrated amplifier review parasound
Parasound NewClassic Integrated Amplifier$
What We Dig
- Amazing Transparent Sound
- Bulletproof Build Quality
- A Ton Of Useful Features
What To Think About
- No DSD Compatibilty
- No Bluetooth or Streaming
As I said in my first impressions post, I initially came across the $ Parasound NewClassic at this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.
It was part of what happened to be my favorite system that day, running some massive Tekton MOAB speakers that seemed like they took up most of the room.
I was impressed by the sweet, warm, immersive sound, and I wasn’t alone. I heard several people roaming the hallways–on floors nowhere near the Parasound setup, by the way–marveling at the paring.
At that point, I knew I had to get one in the house, and Parasound graciously sent one out for this review. It will be returned when I complete my evaluation.
Features and Build Quality
The Parasound NewClassic puts out a substantial watts per channel of Class D power into 4 or 8 ohms, using an amp stage from Denmark’s Pascal Audio.
The use of Class D amplification allowed them to put such a powerful amp in the NewClassic’s slim 1U (Rack Unit) chassis, which is only about 2 1/2 inches tall! It’s a little bit wider and deeper than your standard audio component, but not by much.
The chassis is a black, utilitarian affair — the NewClassic integrated looks more like a pro audio component than a home audio one. The rack sizing of the unit and availability of a rack mount is also a nod to pro-audio/custom design. That said, it’s still a handsome unit, and you can tell it’s built to last.
This model is a departure from their usual hefty Class A/AB designs (see HALO for a recent example), which are well known for providing the most (clean) power for the dollar. Parasound amps are also known for their depth and transparency, which is something lower-priced Class D amps like the NewClassic are not known for.
So how does this square? Does the NewClassic Integrated Amplifier have the same depth and transparency as their A/AB brethren? In a word, yes.
If you think Class D amps of a certain price range (or any price range for that matter) are cold and dull, you haven’t heard this one. Parasound’s expertise gained from years of building much-admired amps and preamps shows here.
The NewClassic Integrated is a modification of Parasound’s NewClassic Pre-Amp, meaning it’s pretty much the same unit with the addition of an amp section. As such, it has a ton of advanced Pre-Amp features, which they both inherit from the high-end HALO line.
These include analog bass management on the rear panel for managing speakers combined with a sub, a home theater bypass input for integration with a home theater receiver, and split sub outputs (one with a low-pass filter, one full-range mono).
Additional L and R pre-outs let you use this amp as a quality preamp if you decide to upgrade your amplification later.
It also inherits a Burr-Brown kHz bit DAC from the HALO line, accessible via the three digital inputs. The Optical (Toslink), and Coax (RCA) accept PCM signals up to 24/, and the USB does up to 24/ No DSD, MQA , and the like.
There are also three analog inputs on the back of the unit, along with a mm aux input on the front (this is a shared input, meaning if you something into the front, you will disable Input 3 in the rear). There’s also a mm output on the front for the dedicated headphone amplifier.
Input 1 can function as a standard line-level source or a phono input. A switch on the rear allows you to set this input for use with either Moving Coil or Moving Magnet cartridges.
This amp is definitely for the control freak. If you’re the type who likes to have an option for everything, you will love the NewClassic The multifunction knob on the front allows you to not only select the input but activate the tone controls, and set sub-level.
The remote has even more options. First of all, it’s nice and big, no itty bitty card remotes here. Aside from the usual volume controls and such, it has controls for presetting the volume level, setting the balance, tone controls, and you can even turn your sub output on/off or set the sub-level.
The remote even has a backlight, and you can dim the green display on the front of the amplifier.
There’s no Bluetooth however, something I’ve found to be pretty convenient on other integrated amps, but that isn’t a deal-breaker. Sound is my primary concern, and this amp doesn’t disappoint in that department.
Listening to the NewClassic Integrated Amplifier
If I had to sum up the sound of this amp in a couple of words, they would be neutral and transparent.
For my sound test, I used the Audiolab N Play streamer as a source, tapping into my NAS drive to play bit audio files, or to stream music from TIDAL. I connected it to the Parasound’s optical input to put it’s Burr-Brown DAC to the test.
During my testing period, I hooked up the NewClassic Integrated Amp to two different sets of speakers for extended listening sessions.
First, I used the Kef LS50; then I finished my testing with the Buchardt S Both sounded amazing, but I liked its synergy with the latter more.
The Kef was a more detailed listen, especially in the midrange, where vocals soared naturally within the soundstage. The S wasn’t as accurate, but it provided a more natural presentation with a super-wide soundstage, a nice weight on the bottom end, and a super smooth treble. The NewClassic just seemed to bring out the best of both speakers.
With both the Kef and Buchardt, there was a lot of air, and the sense of space was uncanny. Listening to “Anatomy Of Angels” from Jon Batiste, I felt like I could hear “inside” of the recording. It was probably the most transparent amp I have listened to at this price range. Even at very low volumes, the depth was apparent.
The Bass on both speakers was also tight and well defined, even though the S produced more of it.
When I compared the sound to the Audiolab A, my $ reference amp, the A was more forward sounding, and a tad bit more open, but it couldn’t compete with the NewClassic’s transparency and depth.
The Audiolab had a bigger soundstage and scale, but the Parasound’s performance was more textured and separate. The A sounded flat and two-dimensional in comparison. The vocal on Jon Batiste’s “The Very Thought Of You” sounded more natural and vibrant on the NewClassic
With the NewClassic Integrated, Parasound has done a masterful job of blending a quality pre-amp with a sweet-sounding amp section. It’s neutral and transparent sound will make any speaker you hook up to it sound amazing!
There’s also a ton of features that make it a flexible component you will be able to use for years to come. This amp is a beast, so if you are looking for an Amp/DAC combo in the 1k range, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen!
BUY HERE: AMAZON-Parasound NewClassic Integrated Amplifier
Im an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. Thats where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.
AT A GLANCE
Generous power from a super-slim chassis
Bypass input for surround system integration
Flexible, analog-domain subwoofer filtering
Full-size, backlighted remote control
Digital conversion limited to 24/96 via USB
No built-in Bluetooth or other wireless features
An affordable integrated amplifier-DAC with substantial power, high-quality conversion, flexible inputs and outputs, and full-function remote. Bravo.
I like simple. Simple is good. Simple works. Simple makes my job easier and helps me sleep at night.
Parasound, a Bay Area maker with a half-century of success walking the parapet between high end audiophilia and value-engineering design, apparently concurs. The company's new NewClassic Integrated is, as you might well guess, an integrated amplifier, with a high-quality onboard digital-to-analog converter section. The Integrated was in fact derived by the simple expedient of sliding a class-D stereo power amp sourced from Danish class-D amp-module stalwart Pascal Audio into its otherwise-identical preamp stablemate. This slim, two-channel module delivers a claimed watts per channel into either 4-ohm or 8-ohm loads with typical class-D efficiency, pulling only a modest 50 watts from the wall.
Simple, in this case, does not mean stripped-down, however—not hardly. The Parasound is well-constructed on an old-fashioned steel chassis and nicely but unfussily finished. The amp's D/A converter, a bit/kHz design borrowed from the company's well-regarded Halo P 5 preamplifier(discontinued) is limited to 96kHz from its USB input but tops out at kHz from optical or coaxial digital connections.
There's also an onboard phono preamp compatible with both moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges, an unusual bonus. Next, analog-domain bass management is manifested by subwoofer outputs and crossover filtering supplying both a fixed 80 Hz low-pass and an unfiltered sub output, along with a variable (and, of course, defeatable) high-pass to the main left/right outputs present on both speaker and preamp-level outs. (The full- range sub output could also service a mono whole-house zone.) Parasound's clever "bypass" input—basically, a power-amp input—lets it integrate with a volume-controlled source like a music streamer or stand in for the front left/right channels of an A/V receiver for serious two-channel listening. In the latter use-case, the Integrated could drive the front main speakers with more or "better" power for both stereo and multi-channel listening while providing the option to select among the dedicated listening sources feeding its own inputs.
The Integrated's front has two nice-feeling knobs for volume and input-select, along with a mini-jack headphone output and mini-jack stereo input. Around back are speaker outputs on solid multi-way posts, a pair of line-level stereo RCA inputs, and a phono input with selectable gain (the portable device-friendly front-panel mini-jack overrides one of these). Digital inputs comprise optical, coaxial, and asynchronous USB type-B. There's also a volt trigger output, an IR input, and an RS port to link the Integrated with a whole-house system using Control4, Crestron, or other protocols.
That's a lot for a "simple" design, right? But there is one obvious 21st-century feature that the Parasound lacks: wireless streaming. There's no Bluetooth, AirPlay, or any other untethered audio capability baked in. Of course, there are countless ways, low-cost or otherwise, to get that particular jelly into the doughnut, so no big deal in my book.
Setup and Listening
The Integrated seemed well- suited, if perhaps a little over-qualified, for desktop audio, so I started out that way, with the Parasound connected via USB to my iMac and driving a system comprised of excellent 4-inch two-ways speakers with a compact 8-inch subwoofer. A fixed 80 Hz low-pass crossover on the Integrated's Subs1 output made for an easy match with this setup (Subs2 is full-range). The amp also features a variable high-pass option, but I let my desktop monitors roll off naturally, which worked well.
Streaming hi-res music from Tidal and Qobuz produced the anticipated result: clean, defined, highly dynamic sound with plenty of punch. The Integrated's watts per channel was something of an overkill for small two-ways at a inch listening distance, but the effortless dynamics I heard confirmed my long-maintained belief that more power is always better than less power.
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Sometimes power is a good thing.
Over the course of the past few months, I’ve reviewed integrated amplifiers with power ratings ranging from 8 to Watts and a number that fall somewhere in between. One thing I can tell you is that sometimes power is a good thing.
The power section of the Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier comes from the mind of John Curl, one of hifi’s most respected designer of circuits that turn signals into music. While you can dig into the details of the HINT 6 here, I will include some of the high notes for convenience sake. The ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC endowed Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier also offers MM and MC phono inputs, making it a full-function integrated amplifier. The high bias Class A/AB power amplifier section specs out at Watts per channel into 8 Ohms and Watts per channel into 4 Ohms. Other internal details include Oversized shielded toroid power transformer, Dual-mono power supply and power amplifier, 40,uF power supply filter capacitance, Matched JFET input stages and MOSFET driver stages, and 12 high voltage/high current bipolar output transistor.
There are a total of 5 line level RCA inputs, 1x balanced XLR inputs, MM/MC (Ω/47kΩ) phono input, balanced Preamp out (2x XLR), Sub out (XLR), Record Out, Home Theater Bypass, adjustable RCA Sub out, adjustable RCA Preamp out, and USB and S/PDIF inputs (1x Coax, 2x Toslink). The USB input can handle PCM resolutions up to 24bit/kHz and DSD to DSD while the S/PDIF inputs max out at 24bit/kHz. A pair of heavy-duty 24k gold-plated 5-way speaker binding posts, AC Voltage Selector, IEC inlet, and power switch fill out the very full back panel.
For this review, I focused on the HINT 6’s built in DAC, feeding it from the Bluesound Node 2i’s Coax out with a length of AudioQuest Coffee cable, and its MM phono input getting its analog input from the Rega P3/Nagaoka MP MM Cartridge budget-friendly combo. On the system output side, the DeVore Fidelity O/93s and Golden Ear BRX produced the sound waves.
While I can fall under the spell of the warm caress of low-powered tube-based amplifiers, I am equally attracted to clean, clear, pure power. Music making, via the hifi, that is fast as music demands, can start, stop, and slam on a dime, and adds the thrill of nearly unbridled force can make for a fun ride. A good, long, fun thrills and chills kinda ride.
The Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier delivers such a ride. Perhaps contrary to popular belief systems, the low power friendly DeVore O/93s also enjoy some juice. The HINT’s high bias Class A/AB power amplifier section offers Watts per channel into 8 Ohms which equals lots of juice when mated with the DeVore’s 10 Ohm / 93 dB/W/M load. The DAC section of the HINT 6 also hails from the clean and clear family of sound so what you get from digital sources is the sense that very little stands between you and what’s in the recording. This clarity lends lead vocalists their spotlit center stage, with a level of detail that invites close inspection on inflection, breath, and timing.
Music’s power and drive is in ready supply, which translates into excitement over dynamic swings, rhythmic boogie, and orchestra-sized presence. There is simply no sense of a lack of power or drive when listening to the HINT 6 driving the DeVore’s or the more common kinda load of the Golden Ear BRX. This power-on-tap had me holding onto the handy included remote more than normal so I could swing the volume level according to the music and my mood. “Up” being the generally preferred direction.
I also fed the HINT 6 with the analog output of the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer to get a feel for just the amplification section and to offer an unreasonable comparison, in terms of price, of these DACs. As I expected, the totaldac added to the things on offer from the HINT 6’s own DAC in most ways, delivering more flesh, more texture, and a larger more vivid sound image. That being said, if I bought a HINT 6 I’d live happily ever after with its DAC and focus on the differences between all of the new music I’d be compelled to listen to.
The same holds for its not surprisingly wonderful phono stage. I say not surprising because I own, use, and love the Parasound Zphono Phono Preamplifier so its no wonder Parasound outfitted the HINT 6 with a beauty. I’ve been re-building my record collection, slowly and surely, and have to say that working from a clean slate has made purchasing decisions feel special. One recent re-addition is the smashingly groovy 12” 45RPM single Trench Town from Bob Marley & The Wailers ( on Tuff Gong) that has a crushing bass thump with The I Threes backing Bob Marley’s soaring searing vocals and the HINT 6 drove that thump home with heart pounding conviction.
I’ve been on a bit of a Jessica Pratt jag of late and her self-titled debut from on Birth Records is a simple and lovely LP featuring just Jessica on guitar and vocals. With so little going on, complexity-wise, focus moves directly to the quality of tone, timbre, pluck, and overdubbed harmony. The HINT 6 passes this simple test with flying colors as my attention immediately moved to Jessica’s quirky voice and hypnotic finger-picking style. From sound to music in no time flat which is exactly where we want to be. The HINT 6 loved, or had me re-love, both the DeVore O/93s and Golden Ear BRX. Its sonic traits transferred to whichever speaker I decided to listen through. Big, crisp, bold, and rather beautiful.
After a few weeks of listening and enjoying, I rolled in the Hegel H95, another wonder of an integrated amp with Streamer and DAC that comes in at $ (see review). The Hegel does not include a phono stage so we’re nearly talking about apples and apples when it comes to price. I also fed the Hegel with the Bluesound Node 2i to keep things as common as possible. In terms of sound, the Hegel and Parasound have much in common but no one wants to hear that! In general, I’d say that the Hegel sounds a bit sweeter and smaller than the Parasound. There’s a softness to the Hegel H95 that I appreciate as it makes music sound a bit warmer and more inviting as compared to the Parasound’s clearer and more forthright approach. That being said, the Hegel did not produce the same sense of nearly overwhelming dynamics, drama, and scale of the HINT 6.
I admit to being a fan of both companies and find that Parasound and Hegel offer great products at great prices. It’s worth noting that the Hegel H95 offers 60 Watts of output power (into 8 Ohms) so there’s that. In terms of which is better, they both are. I would say that for those looking for an integrated amp that will help tame otherwise hard-sounding speakers, the Hegel may tickle that fancy. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a relative powerhouse that’s about crystal clear clarity and drive, the Parasound HINT 6 is screaming for an audition. Especially so if you enjoy spinning records.
The HINT 6s headphone amp drove the AudioQuest NightOwls with ease, offering that same clear and powerful portrayal found through loudspeakers. In an unexpected move, I moved the Red Chair nearer my rack so I could sit and enjoy some alone time with the HINT 6 and NightOwls sweet caress. Richard Bishops Intermezzo from is a wonderful twisty, turny guitar jag which set just the right mood for headphone time.
While not as exciting to type about, the Parasound offers a number of features that are more then welcome. These include the ability to save your favorite volume level via the remote which allows you to jump to that level with the press of a button on the remote, set a Turn On Volume Level, engage or disengage the Tone Controls, extensive Subwoofer Setup options, Home Theater Bypass, and a total of 6 line level inputs (1x XLR, 5x RCA) in addition to the 4 digital inputs (USB, 2x Toslink, Coax). We’re talking full function and then some. I also find the Parasound’s 33lbs of goodness to be well made with a workman-like appeal. Think solid and a pleasure to use.
The Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier is another product that is easy to recommend. It is chock full of features, offers a built in and very good sounding DAC and a wonderful MM and MC phono stage coupled with Watts of pure musical brawn. Sometimes power is a good thing.
Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier
Company Website: Parasound