Parasound Halo P3
Preamplifier and A23 Stereo Amplifier
A preamplifier and amplifier serve as the heart of any
audio system. Without a good preamp and amp, your source components, no matter how
fantastic, will not be able to deliver the music to the best of their ability. It behooves
anyone contemplating a new stereo system to try out and become familiar with as many
preamplifiers and amplifiers as possible that fit within their budget. Its
particularly important to try these components with the source components with which
youll be using them. Here I take a look at a preamp and amp made by Parasound, the
Halo P3 and Halo A23.
Parasound has been around for more than 20 years, and the
P3 and A23 are part of their new Halo product line. Parasound works with well-known
engineer John Curl to design components with circuits that have short signal paths and few
parts. Curls ideas have evolved over time, and the Halo line is one of the latest
results of that evolution. Parasounds impressive ten-year warranty on parts and
five-year warranty on labor illustrate the pride and confidence they have in their
products and designs.
The Halo P3 preamplifier marries a stylish appearance to a
feature set that is impressive for its $800 USD price. The P3 measures 17.25" wide by
4" high by nearly 14" deep, and has a beautiful silver-gray finish. The front
panel contains a collection of useful pushbuttons, the display, and a volume knob and
headphone jack. A faint blue glow emanates from the buttons when the unit is on (the glow
stays on around the power button at all times). This appealed to me. Im no fan of
the black-box aesthetic so prevalent among audio manufacturers, and I often listen in the
dark -- the soft blue glow added some nice ambient lighting to my listening room.
The controls on the P3s front are laid out in two
rows. On the bottom, from left to right, are: On/Off, Source, Tone, and two buttons for
changing the balance. The top row begins with a headphone jack (perhaps a sign of the
times, the headphone jack is a 1/8" mini jack, not the larger 1/4" jack), two
small buttons for adjusting the bass, the large display, two small buttons for adjusting
the treble, and the volume knob. The display provides blue text on a black background and
is easily readable from across the room.
The P3s rear panel is an example of the careful
design of which Parasound should be proud. Everything is neatly and logically arranged.
Starting on the left are a pair of balanced inputs, a toggle switch, and a pair of RCA
inputs for the source, labeled Direct 1. The Direct inputs allow for the shortest signal
path and bypass all of the P3s tone controls. Parasound suggests that you connect
your best components here. The toggle switch allows you to decide whether youll use
the balanced or unbalanced connections for this input.
Next is another pair of RCA connections, for the Direct 2
input. Following this is one of the P3s outstanding features: two sets of RCA
connections for the Aux/Phono input. Another toggle lets you decide whether to use this
input as a standard line-level input or to use the P3s built-in phono preamp
(theres a screw for your turntables ground wire). The addition of not only a
phono preamp but the ability to turn it on or off puts the P3 at the head of the pack at
The row of RCA connections continues with two more inputs
(CD, Tuner), two sets of connections for a recorder of some kind (one set of inputs, one
set for recording), and two labeled External Loop. The balanced and unbalanced outputs are
next, these followed by connections for various remote-control possibilities: RS-232
control, 12V trigger input and outputs, external remote in/out. Finally, there is a
receptacle for the power cord.
The P3 also comes with a remote that provides all of the
basic features one would want: On/Off, tone-control adjust, select input, and change
volume. The remote also has a silver finish, and its buttons are big enough that even
those of us with fat fingers wont have to worry about hitting the wrong one. I much
prefer this remotes layout to some of the others Ive seen, which cram in so
many buttons that you can never tell by feel which one youre hitting. (This is
important to me -- I listen in the dark.) It also has all the buttons youll need to
control Parasounds matching Halo T3 tuner.
The Halo A23 power amplifier ($850) provides 125Wpc into 8
ohms and shares the P3s appearance, though the Power button is the only one that
glows blue. Other blue lights indicate that the two channels are functioning normally;
when theyre dark, the unit is off or theres a fault in the amplifier channel
whose light has gone off. If theres a problem, the blue glow behind the Power button
will turn red. Another button glows red to warn of overheating.
On the A23s rear are the inputs, outputs, and
controls. On the far left are the controls for how the power will come on: it can be set
to Manual or Auto (i.e., when a signal is present), or with a 12V trigger. You can also
send a 12V trigger from the amplifier to turn on other components. On the far right is the
receptacle for the power cord. In the middle are all of the connections, in two rows. The
top row includes balanced or unbalanced inputs, unbalanced loop outputs, sensitivity
knobs, and three small toggle switches (one sets the balanced or unbalanced inputs, one
sets the amplifier as mono or stereo, and a third is a ground lift). If you set the
sensitivity knobs as far clockwise as they go (this position is marked THX Reference), the
two channels will be perfectly matched; in some cases, however, you may want to set them
at another spot. This would most likely happen if your preamplifier has a very high
output. I set them at THX Reference for the entire review period. The Stereo/Mono switch
is a welcome, if seldom used, feature. The ground-lift switch can help eliminate the 60Hz
buzz that might arise if your system has a grounding problem. On the bottom are two
five-way speaker terminals.
The Halos came with well-written, easy-to-follow manuals. A
little fooling around would have been enough to master the amplifier, but when you have a
preamplifier with as many features as the P3, a useful manual is a godsend. The good news
is that the functions are all logically implemented; once youve read the manual, you
should be able to remember how all of the functions work without constant rereading.
I used the Parasound combo with a system comprising a Rotel
RCD-1070 CD player, a Rotel RT-02 AM/FM tuner, and a Pro-Ject 1.2 turntable with Oyster
cartridge. The speakers were Quad 21L; interconnects and speaker cables were all
Audiences Conductor series.
I was excited to have a phono preamp available, and quickly
grabbed a few LPs to throw on the turntable. I began with Oliver Nelsons The
Blues and the Abstract Truth [Impulse! A-5]. This is one of my favorite records; if
records do really wear out, then I should be looking for another copy. The Halo P3s
phono section was good, but produced more high-frequency information than I like. On
"Stolen Moments," both Freddie Hubbards trumpet and Eric Dolphys
flute were exaggerated, which at high volumes was occasionally distracting, though I
didnt notice it during more casual listening or at lower volumes. The phono section
revealed the careful brushstrokes of drummer Paul Chambers on the same track; I felt as if
a great deal of detail was coming through loud and clear. If youre a new vinyl
listener or looking for a wise budget decision, I think youll be happy with the
P3s phono section. And, with the ability to toggle between the phono section and a
line-level input, if you ever want to branch out to an outboard phono preamp, youll
be ready without having to lose one of the other line-level inputs. For now though, get an
entry-level turntable such as the Pro-Ject 1.2 or the Thorens TD190 (review in the works)
to accompany the P3 and youll be in business.
Steve Earles new The Revolution Starts . . . Now
[CD, Artemis ATM-CD 51565] showed that the Parasound could serve up raucous, rockin
good times. The guitars and drums on the title track were well articulated and distinctly
placed across the soundstage. When the cymbals crash during the chorus, they did not blend
into the crunch of the guitar at all. I noticed this particularly because I had just heard
this CD at a friends place, where the mix sounded really mushy to me. Apparently, it
was my friends equipment that was contributing the mush; the Parasounds played
everything clearly. My son began dancing while I played this CD through the Parasound
combo -- they passed the toe-tapping test with flying colors.
While playing the new Gipsy Kings album, Roots [CD,
Nonesuch 79841-2], I decided to see how the Parasounds performed while playing loud. I was
not disappointed -- the Halo A23 never sounded strained, nor did the sonic picture lose
coherence or take on unwanted coloration with the increased volume. When I turned it back
down, I noticed that, as with the Steve Earle recording, the imaging was very good -- each
instrument occupied its own space. The brightness I had heard through the P3s phono
stage remained, but seemed less pronounced.
My recent favorite classical recording is a disc of chamber
music by Richard Dubdogon [CD, Naxos 8.555778]. With Trois Evocations Finlandaises
for Solo Double Bass and Cinq Masques for Solo Oboe, I was presented with a
real acoustic space; the ambient sounds of the recordings provided a real sense of place.
I did have some slight concerns while listening to this CD, namely that the bass sounded
more delicate than it should have, the oboes tone thinner than I expected.
In the past year Ive had two other pre-power rigs
here that could be considered direct competition with the Parasound Halos: the Anthem
TLP 1 preamplifier-tuner ($699) and PVA 2 stereo amplifier ($649), and
the Opera Audio Consonance C100 integrated amplifier ($1249). Unfortunately, neither was
still here when the Parasounds arrived, so I was unable to do a direct comparison. Each of
these options has pros and cons, so I suggest that potential buyers audition all of them.
The Opera competes with the Parasound in providing balanced inputs, but beyond that they
were very different. The Consonance is a one-box, minimalist solution, the Parasound a
full-featured, two-box affair. The Anthem pair is more of a direct competitor, and each
has its strengths. The Anthem provides a built-in AM/FM tuner, while the Parasound has a
built-in phono preamp (a Halo T3 AM/FM tuner is available). Depending on your listening
habits, that difference might seal the deal. If looks matter, then the Parasound comes out
But because I no longer had those review units, I compared
the Parasound Halos with my Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amplifier ($2195). Among the
recent batch of Columbia Duke Ellington reissues is Piano in the Foreground [CD,
Columbia CK 87042], a rare trio record by Duke. The Rogue was much more holographic in its
presentation; the instruments sounded full-bodied, and more as if they were in the room
with me. The Parasounds provided solid imaging, but their sound was leaner and brighter
than the Rogues. During "Cong-Go," the Parasounds provided a clear image
of each of the instruments and their placement, but Dukes piano was missing that
last oomph of palpability.
When I compared the Gipsy Kings CD, the Parasounds provided
a "faster" sound than the Rogue; the Rogue made it seem more deliberate. I
wouldnt characterize the brighter, faster Parasounds or the darker, slower Rogue as
better or worse, but they were very distinct sounds. Some of these differences are
probably due to the two distinct design choices: The Parasounds are solid-state, the Rogue
is tubed. Though at first resistant, Ive become quite attached to tubes. If this is
your first time spending a good deal of money on amplification, you might want to throw a
tube amplifier, such as the Cayin TA-30 ($800) we reviewed in March, into your
decision-making process. But even with my tube bias (so to speak), I found the
Parasounds sonic virtues to be many and their overall value to be greater than their
prices. Good value and good sound: a winning combination!
Parasounds Halo P3 preamplifier and Halo A23 power
amplifier are sexy in appearance, easy to use, and sound solid and satisfying. Their sleek
cases and glowing blue lights will make them showpieces in your living room, and should
earn them easy spousal approval. The remote and front-panel controls are straightforward,
and all changes are made in a logical and well-thought-out way. Other amplification
options in this price range are worth considering, but anyone seeking a new pre-power pair
within the GoodSound! price range owes it to him- or herself to check these out.
Prices of equipment reviewed