|Parasound Halo P-3 Preamplifier and A-23 Power Amplifier|
Reviewed by David O’Gorman
I purchased this unassuming little duo from a reputable seller on Audiogon ($1225 for the pair, N-I-B), without having *ever* heard them in a stereo salon. The reviews have been stellar, and I've come to believe that there is little to be learned from listening to prospective new gear in a setting other than one's own living room, anyway. My own, E-Bay acquired separates had been failing to satisfy almost since I bought them, and when venerated Stereophile chieftan Jon Atkinson confessed recently to owning the monoblock power amps from this same product line, I went for it.
WELL... Color me tickled. These slim-line little separates did not disappoint from the moment I took them out of their shipping containers, with performance as relaxed and effortless as that sudden kiss on the lips from the cool chick sitting next to you at the Crosby Stills and Nash concert. Full-up power from the preamp with no upstream input signal is DEAD quiet—as quiet as your four-year-old kid when he's drawing on the living room wall. The soundstage is deep without being gimmicky, wide without being "hey what's that in the kitchen?" ridiculous, and every bit as detailed as anything I've ever auditioned. Indeed, it was this detail I noticed first and foremost: several technically-challenging recordings by the Propellerheads and Faithless and Cold Play and Radiohead offered up crisp new details I'd simply never even *heard* on my old Audio Research SP-5 and Bryston 3B combo. The squeaky guitar bridges on Amnesiac's "Morning Bell," and the subdued spoken lines at the beginning of Faithless' "Sunday, 8PM" are but two examples. I even heard differences from the bathroom—a pretty amazing accomplishment for stereo gear parked at the opposite end of the house, if also one best not discussed in too much detail in front of the children.
The A-23 amp throws copious amounts of current—more than enough to drive my big-hair vintage Kef C-80's and their tricky 4-ohm conjugate-load crossovers, without even breathing hard or stirring up enough of that ee-vuhl torroidal transform heat to chase me onto the porch the way the ole Bryston did with such regularity, bless its tired Canadian heart. In fact, the power on this sleek little doll is beefy enough to run any speaker I can think of that isn't made out of concrete or hooked up to it with bailing twine. Special kudos to the engineer who came up with the design for a power supply that could suck that much juice from the wall without having a tantrum when you flick on one of those big-butt halogen torch lights from the same outlet (yeah, that's me with the aroma of roasted bugs wafting through his listening room). Both pieces have the sly, sexy good looks and flexibility on their rear-aprons that you'd be less surprised to find on chintzy mid-fi "home theater" stuff, or else on a cocktail waitress—one or the other. The amp's derriere includes separate channel gain adjustments, balanced and unbalanced input options, a twelve-volt trigger, and a ground lift switch, to name just a few of the "what did he just say" possibilities for future variations as your system grows. The preamp brings not one but two direct inputs to the party, together with the aforementioned complement of goodies from the back of the amp. The remote (yes, I did just say “REMOTE”) is flexible and easy to use without being intrusive or muddying the sound. The manuals are expertly written, the warranty coverage is outstanding, and Parasound as a company is as reputable and long-lived as your granny's Lincoln.
The price of the pair makes their reference-quality performance almost impossible to comprehend; or, at the very least, it makes the $5,000+ sticker prices of those "Oooh, man" separates almost impossible to justify. I've never heard or even looked at or priced anything that is so easy to recommend to such a wide array of listening tastes, budgets, and needs: from college kids planning to rock their dorm; to those THX-hungry, plasma-TV watchin' fruit loops with the art deco velvet chairs and cup holders; to that creepy unshaven guy down the street with the direct wire Wadia CD-transport and no radio—these bad boy separates are the kings of the hill in every department. I can scarcely imagine buying another piece of audio amplification gear in my entire life. 'Nuff said.
KEF C-80 loudspeakers
Monster Cable speaker wire
Monster Turbolink 400 Interconnects (unbalanced)
Philips CDR 775 CD-recorder
Kef C-80 loudspeakers
Monster Cable and Interconnects
Philips CDR-775 CD Recorder
Harmon/Kardon PM 665 Integrated