|Parasound HALO P 3 Stereo Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Sunday, 01 December 2002|
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After setting-up the HALO components, I tuned in a local FM station on the T 3 tuner and let the system run continuously for three days to allow for break-in before any evaluation. No one can really explain why a break-in period for A/V components is electronically important, yet few experts question it. Some say the gear heats up to its best operating temperature. I am not really sure if that holds any weight, but for me and other AudioRevolution.com reviewers, at a minimum, a good break-in period for electronics provides us some time to get accustomed to the sound of new gear without forgetting what our old components sound like.
I first listened to Elvis is Back (DCC Records) and found that the P 3 / A 23 system was more than up to the task when it came to reproducing intimate recordings. While listening to “Fever,” the HALO components had a sense of rhythm and a smooth midrange. Elvis’ voice was well anchored and sounded clean, detailed and without any signs of chestiness. The instruments were also clear and vibrant, placed slightly behind Elvis and spread laterally across the soundstage.
I then moved to a larger scale performance with Queen’s A Night at the Opera on DVD-Audio (DTS). I used the mix-down feature of my Pioneer DVD-Audio player to export a high-resolution stereo output that was suitable for the Parasound stereo preamp. The increased resolution of the format was readily apparent with this album. The midrange remained smooth but picked up noticeably more detail, leading to much sharper imaging. About halfway through the song “You’re My Best Friend,” I dispelled any and all initial notions that the HALO system could sound too soft. While the system’s midrange was smooth and forgiving, it had no problems kicking it up and getting in your face when the source material called for it. On “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the system’s lateral image was very wide, extending well beyond the outside edges of the speakers, although not razor sharp, were well defined. I experimented with speaker positioning and found that the image depth changed little, if at all. With “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the soundstage was beautifully overwhelming. I cranked the volume in an inadvertent attempt to involve my neighbors and the A 23 amplifier had no problems keeping up. The soundstage was very full, extending beyond the outside edges of the speakers and left no noticeable holes. While auditioning the HALO system, I found some instruments to image better than others did on the Queen DVD-A. The drums and guitars were well defined spatially, but the piano was a bit vague as its exact position on the soundstage was hard to pinpoint. As before, the midrange was smooth in a positive way. I have never heard Freddie Mercury’s vocals sound more believable than this. Both Freddy’s vocals and the background vocals were extremely convincing and liquid. The amplifier had plenty of power to handle the dynamics of the drums and guitar when the pace picked up. The drums had plenty of kick and the guitar track was sharp and energetic. I found the sound to be quick and detailed, even at higher volumes where lower-powered amplifiers typically fail. While the amplifier never seemed to run out of power (at least not at any reasonable level), the high end did get a bit hard at high volumes.
Next, sticking with the DVD-Audio format in stereo, I listened to Missy Elliott’s Miss E. So Addictive (WEA/Elektra). While listening to one of my favorite tracks, “Get Ur Freak On," I found the soundstage to be incredibly wide. The vocals of Miss E and her background singers were clean and well defined, without any signs of sibilance at any volume. While paying attention to the bass, I found that the lower octaves had a bit of unnatural bloom or a bloated sound. In comparison, I found the bass definition to be tighter than on the recently reviewed Rogue 88 Magnum tube amplifier ($1,995), but not as well defined as on my Krell 300iL ($3,500) integrated amp.
While conducting this review a friend stopped by with Nine Inch Nail’s live album on CD, All That Could Have Been (UNI/Interscope), which I was able to appropriate for a few days. There was no doubt that Trent Reznor’s use of synthesizers and instruments would provide a challenge for this system. The HALO system had plenty of energy at louder levels to maintain the dynamics necessary to keep the guitar lively. I found no noticeable dynamic compression, nor any compression of the soundstage at higher listening levels. The guitars, while remaining sharp, never became shrill or offensive. Some of the higher notes on the synthesizer seemed a bit brittle and less detailed at extreme volumes. While listening to the track “Pain,” I found that Reznor’s voice and the guitar track were reproduced with a sense of immediacy and detail.
While in a rocker mood, I reached for Van Halen's self-titled album (Warner) and played “Ain’t Talking About Love." The HALO system had no problems with the quick transients of the brown sound guitar and had plenty of power at moderate and slightly above moderate listening levels to hand the dynamics of this classic album. The sound was on the forgiving side and thankfully missing the harshness that less expensive solid-state systems can inflict upon you. Higher volumes did not affect the midrange, but again, I found the higher frequencies to become slightly hard and lose some of their depth and detail.
The T 3 tuner also performed admirably. It consistently performed at a higher level than my reference tuner, the discontinued Yamaha TX-950. Magnum Dynalab provided their ST-2 antenna ($99) to help me pull stations in, which worked well with the HALO tuner. The local station played a lot of Sheryl Crow and John Mayer. Having become fond of the latest Sheryl Crow album, I was able to listen to the song “Soak Up The Sun” on both tuners and 16-bit CD. The T 3 tuner sound had more body and fullness throughout the midrange than the Yamaha tuner. I also found the T3’s soundstage to open up a bit more and provide imaging that I had not previously heard through my reference tuner. The solidity of the soundstage through the T 3 was not at the level of the CD as expected, but very good nevertheless. The biggest difference I found was a sense of palpability through the T 3 that was missing on my older tuner.
Tuners in general have many hurdles to overcome now that radio is available over cable, satellite and the Internet. These other technologies can overcome the problems caused by terrain, and let's not forget that tuners still have commercials. My location, which is nestled in the hills, limits my listening to only a few stations. Listeners who live in areas that are more open will likely enjoy many more stations and the virtue of hearing cutting-edge music at it arrives on the scene.
Perhaps the future lies in a new digital technology that may have just extended the functionality of tuners. In mid-October, the FCC announced the approval of a new digital technology that is said to greatly improve signal quality, and is compatible with traditional tuners such as the T 3. This new technology can be pressed into service as early as January 2003 in major markets. Stay tuned to Audio Revolution’s news section for updates.
Although the HALO system made music sound seductive, it did not provide the highest level of resolution that you would expect from products costing many times the price. The system sometimes sounded overly smooth to me, as I am used to my Krell integrated amp. This smoothness is something that music lovers will likely relish, but die-hard audiophiles might feel is a bit on the soft side for their tastes. The soundstage was extremely wide but wasn’t as deep as what I heard when I had the Rogue Audio amp in my rig.
This system is well suited for anyone who wants a higher build quality and improved sound over mass-marketed electronics. At $2,250, this system costs a bit more than most chintzy-looking A/V receivers and you definitely get what you pay for. The look gets a “10" from even the Russian judges and the sound for stereo music reproduction is better than any A/V receiver I have heard in my system by leaps and bounds. The T 3 tuner is one of the lowest-priced full-sized tuners on the market and sounds great to boot. The A 23 / P 3 combination has plenty of power, is well-balanced and free of many of the maladies that plague lower-priced solid-state systems.
This system reproduced every piece of music I threw at it with a sense of coherence throughout the frequency range, with little to no noticeable harshness or other intrusive artifacts. The downsides of the system -- the lack of ultimate low-resolution detail and high-frequency hardness at high volumes -- did not get in the way of me thoroughly enjoying the music. The HALO system is limited to two-channel reproduction, so those who are interested in using their playback system for theater or surround music in the future may be better off waiting for the introduction of the HALO surround processor. For the price, you would be hard-pressed to find a system with better build quality and aesthetics. This system is major league, at a minor league price.