Moving on from Parasound A21 (maybe?)


I'm currently using an A21 amp to power my Focal 1028 BE speakers and I don't quite feel the love anymore with my music. My system is modest, all solid state, and I'd like to keep it that way. I've been exploring stereo amps ($6K is the limit), but don't know how much of an improvement I can make. A used Pass Labs X250.8 would be ideal if it wouldn't double as a space heater (operating temp is way too high), so I'm left dabbling with the unknown. The new Bryston 4B cubed has caught my eye, but it's too new to find any critical owner reviews. I'd greatly appreciate any ideas on a possible direction to take, if any, that would musically be a step up from my A21. Beyond my Focals, my system consists of: Simaudio Moon Neo 310LP phono preamp, Avid Diva II SP TT with SME 309 tonearm, AT-ART 9 MC cartridge, Bryston BCD-3 CD player, Parasound JC 2 BP preamp, and all of my ICs are Silver Resolution from Signal Cable (XLR wherever possible).
professorsvsu
 I owned the A21  for four years and also became disenchanted, with it and a P7. I experimented with a few different options including NAD  integrated amplifiers and finally ended up with an Adcom amp, the 555SE.  It’s been a revelation for me, Adcom still makes a great amp.

a more open sound with detail in the highs and air that I never got with the A21 for some reason.  I did get a Halo P5 though, and I’m happy with the combination. 


Replace your tweeter and mid range caps. :)

In a pair of $8000 speakers?   

Another thought in in addition to my earlier post is to see what a Focal dealer would suggest.  They usually carry products that are found to have synergy with each other.  I am seriously impressed at the current Adcom products though. 
I'm not too sure why you question the price of my speakers. Is the A21 too much of a lightweight or is $6K on a different amp overkill? The $6K is the going price of the Bryston 4B cubed and that's about the max that I can do for something of quality that will last. As far as what mates well with the Focals, McIntosh is the brand that comes up most often. Again, that's serious cash (MC 302 is on my mind) unless I can find a good deal on used. I'll do some homework on Adcom.
Sorry for the misunderstanding, I was questioning the idea of replacing tweeter and midrange capacitors in a pair of $8000 speakers.  


You already have a very good system. At this level, my recommendation is to try to pin point what aspect(s) of your sound quality you want to improve and just focus on that. A simple cable change, different power cord, adding a power conditioner or some room treatment may make enough of a change to keep you happy for a while.
OP:

My suggestion was not without a great deal of experience with the brand. Focal's choices in the parts you cannot see are less than optimal and bettered with modest upgrades.

Best,

E
I live in a part of northern Michigan that's seen more than 4 feet of snow since Christmas Eve. I may be taking out my cabin fever on my stereo equipment. I just listened to some old vinyl (Steely Dan "Gaucho") and have to admit it didn't sound half bad. I still value any/all input from the folks on the forum. We all know that with enough money spent and enough experimentation, perfect sound is just around the next corner =)



To Erik:
I'm getting a firsthand education on Focal as well. My 1028 BEs have seen warranty work twice in the past month (detached voice coil wires) and I owned a pair of Aria 936s that gave me trouble. Once I explained the problem to Focal, new drivers were sent free of charge which I installed myself. Very, very troubling for me, but I hate to let them go because I keep finding tweaks that bring out just a little more of what they
may be capable of. I've just been thinking that a different amp is the final missing link. 

the X250.8 is very much better than the A21, and in N Mich , just lower your thermostat...
The X250.8 has shown up for sale recently Audiogon. There were three different listings (all expired) and it was hard for me not to pull the proverbial trigger. I know the reputation of the amp, it's just tough for me to buy used (the only way I could afford it) and it produces so much heat (53 C is roughly 127 F degrees). Even during winter in N Michigan, that's roasting marshmallows over your amp while listening to some old Steely Dan. Decisions, decisions.
I have been living / using a pair of Pass XA 160.8s for over a year now. Yes, they do run warm and don’t sound their best for an hour, really (2) hours. Not unbearable. 
I have felt the heat at my dealers room that is closed off with little air movement.
Get some air moving and you will be fine. Especially in Northern Michigan. 
I am from Chicago; Love Michigan!

We have been in a cold spell. Can turn down the heat. Pass makes things just right.

Get some air moving, Think about Erik’s suggestion re: caps, he usually provides good suggestions. Room treatments.
Get some air moving. Stagnant air is terrible.

Best
Getting a lot of feedback that I greatly appreciate and pay attention to all of it. One problem: now I'm a bit paranoid about the durability of my speakers regardless of the direction I do or do not take with an amp. When I find that magical piece of music that is well mastered and suits my system, the speakers produce sound that's close to gold. I hate to part with them because my expectations are high, except durability. It would be great to find some one to do new caps, unfortunately the bears and coyotes in my area don't know how to solder.
You just might need to do a road trip. Or you can ship them. Myself, I would do the road trip to a qualified shop and drop them off. Hopefully it’s to a Brick and Mortar place that has gear you can audition. Do another trip when your speakers are ready. Then you will have a better idea of what equipment you would really like to audition. 

Think of of it as an opportunity; instead of a costly, time consuming burden. I have been at this for 45 years. Everything worthwhile takes time, money and effort. Used to live in Juneau, Alaska. Talk about audio nowhere. bears, Bigger Bears, Whales and sea lions are not good at soldering either. Deal with it.

Best on your Journey 
The speakers are only 9 months old. The warranty work (labor) I took care of myself once Focal freely supplied the parts. Now there's a hint that the internal circuitry could be inferior. If that is indeed the case they'll be shipped, but on a one way trip back to France. I wouldn't pay to replace an engine in a new car and I won't pay to correct what may be an inherent flaw in the speakers. Taking care of things myself is a different issue as long as it's within my ability. Again, I have high expectations for the sound that the Focals can produce when all of my component stars are in alignment, but I'm not married to them. 
Professor svsu have you considered Mark Levinson, there are a couple 532H available on here for sale at good prices. I bought mine on here to pair with my Revel F206s and couldn't be happier. Even if I upgrade speakers I have an amp that is more than good enough to keep up and get the most out of very highly regarded speakers costing 10-20k or more. 

I hadn't considered Mark Levinson, but I will now. Since you're driving Revel speakers and you're pleased, it's worth my time to investigate.
Thank You!
I'd recommend the Classe CA2200 ... I've owned A21 prior and like this Classe better ... still have it... I believe the A21 runs in class A for the first 20 watts, Classe in 40 watts ... Classe gives more detail, nice soundstage, very neutral, reliable, and looks very nice .. won't heat up your room and won't break the bank...  on paper the Classe gives out 50wpc less than the A21 but weighs about 15-20lbs. more... that should indicate the build quality over the A21...  can be had for about $2400 and if for some reason it isn't your cup of tea, sell it for $2400.. you only lose your time.. I'm sure you will like it.
Another one to do some research on, this is great!
I could live with my A21, especially for the price, it just buries the upper mid and high detail from time to time. I have an old Emotiva XPA 2 Gen 1 that's not in the same league for overall SQ as the Parasound, but catches some of the detail that the A21 misses. What I most desire is an amp that catches what the A21 misses. I hope that makes sense.
that makes total sense... that was my same description of the A21... CA2200 solved that thing you/me  are/were missing..
To oem-wheels:
I did some homework on the CA2200. I's now on my shortlist.
Thanks for the advice.
@ professorsvsu

I doubt the Pass 250.8 will run any hotter than my Krell FPB 400cx, and it hasn't really been a problem, and I live in East TX!  Yes, the summers are hot as blue blazes, but the room is fairly big and the heat dissipates.  I kind of like it in the winter, as it gives me an extra degree or so in the room. 

If you can swing the Pass 250.8, I'd definitely try it, given the reviews on that baby.  I'd like to compare a 250.8 or 350.8 to my Krell.  Another amp that I'd like to try, and is apparently stellar, is Hegel.
The new Bryston 4B cubed has caught my eye, but it's too new to find any critical owner reviews. 

http://www.hifi-advice.com/blog/review/analog-reviews/amplifier-reviews/bryston-3b-4b-and-14b-cubed-...

mtrot,
I'm sure Texas is a really "cool" place (pun intended), but I don't envy you in the summer. Northern Michigan gets warm enough.
Anyways, with respect to the X250.8, Pass claims 53 C operating temp. That's 127 F degrees! I have adequate room size for decent sound reproduction, but lack enough size and ventilation for that much heat. Even my Parasound A21 noticeably pumps up the temp, but can live with that. The only reason I keep going back to considering the X250.8 is because it's arguably one of the finest SS two channel amps on the planet (maybe the best?). The price used is also at the max of what I can afford.
professor,

Lol, I've measured the top of my Krell at over 130 degress! 

BTW, back in the day as a kid, my uncle had a cabin in Indian River, MI.  It was just gorgeous there in the summer.  We got to visit there a couple times and fish on Burt Lake and Mullet Lake in his boat.  Man, that was nice!
mtrot,
I live a little farther north and west of Indian River. I live on a heavily wooded parcel and see absolutely no one unless I want to. Five times in the last year, I've had to run off bears. I guess you could call the way I live, "rural". I once lived in the Upper Peninsula and will probably move back. That is real country.
I really got off my amp topic, I'll stop. It's just nice to hear from somebody who appreciates something other than city life.
How true prof, how true .
Rural life can do wonders for mind and soul .
Can be a bit rough on body though when you call for the ambulance that doesn’t come to take you to the hospital that isn’t there, or gives you a $20,000 chopper ride to a hospital than can do what you need .

Been there, paid that .
I think that maybe I've turned this thread into an open forum on rural living.
Shubert, I'm old enough now to not get too worked up about what I know will eventually happen. It's my understanding that the songs that angels sing are much better in person than playing them through the amp I'm trying to find.
Yes , that's all true and you have a good outlook on things .
I'm pretty sure I'm older than you and there are worse things than dying.
One of them is spending years in a hellish old folk's home unable to talk
or take care of yourself because you could not get to a hospital within an hour that could have prevented a stroke being so  bad .
I only posted because a relative I loved went through that for 5 years and others suffered as well as her .
Schubert,
Sounds like we've both seen and lived a bit more life than most folks would care to talk about. I find that magical amp that I'm looking, I'll fire it up and we can share a song, story, and a cold one. What do you say?
Prof, your description of the A21 Not delivering some of the high detail was what  I heard for myself with certain tracks of music that had more detail in my car system. I’m not sure why Parasound  tuned the a 21 this way but after I noticed that I couldn’t not hear it. 

The Adcom 555SE  has this detail that I was missing. I really can’t say whether it would be as refined as some of these high end amps  being discussed, but I’m confident in saying it’s superior to Emotiva’s XPA amps, because I had an XPA-3 at one point as well.  I

I  don’t think Adcom  uses top shelf parts like some of these high end amps but for 1300  i’m pretty happy. Adcom has higher end amps like the 575 and 585 that may come Closer to the same parts quality but then they cost 2500 to 3000.  

I want to love the A21, I really do. It does a lot so well and then it does something stupid like burying detail that's been experienced with another amp. It's good to know somebody else knows what I'm talking about. I'd hate to think I'm going deaf along with being slightly crazy.
I've decided to wait a week or two before settling on exactly what to purchase. I'm getting some quality advice from personal experience about amps that people are sold on. I need time to do homework on everything that's been suggested (some stuff I've never heard of). This will probably be the last piece of equipment I ever buy and I want be confident in my decision.
If anybody else wants to chime in, I'd welcome insight on a few more amps. Your ears and experience with quality (or lack of) mean more than a pro review.
professosvsu,

Perhaps you can turn off the stereo and listen to a jam box while you are pondering which direction that you need to take to achieve amplifier nirvana. The truth is, I am on a similar pilgrimage. I am fortunate, or not, to have a sidekick with wooden ears who couldn't care less about sound quality.  For her, music isn't something she appreciates. So, spending money on a sound system is carefully scrutinized before committing to buy that next best component.

Currently I am using two A23's to bi-amp a pair of older JBL speakers. This a great match up of power requirement and clean power output.  Yes, I raised an eyebrow from  the boss when I spent over $200.00 dollars for supplies to build two pairs of Helix cables that build instructions were published in another tread. By the way, the cables are a major improvement over the bulk Monster cable that I was using.

I might be opening a can of worms and a subject for another thread.  You stated above, " This will probably be the last piece of equipment I ever buy and I want be confident in my decision ".  Are you sure that the amplifier is really the piece of the puzzle that is missing? In my mind, a superior pre-amp is the Holy Grail of components that motivates my quest.

As I was told when my Vector Research bit the dust, it is important to have good amplification but the pre-amplifier is a more significant factor if one has balanced power need and output.  I use a Wyred4Sound DAC to feed files from my PC into a Parasound P3. The P3 is the component I question in my system. Before I spend over $5000.00 for a pre-amp that "MIGHT" take my listening experience to the land of bliss I will try upgrade power cords. I can assemble three power cords using the Helix instructions with an added tweak for under $400.00.  They can be used with new equipment if my listening experience still falls short.

Back to the jam box.  Take your time and evaluate the shortcomings of the boom box compared to your stereo system. After careful contemplating and the Spring thaw begins you may realize that your system sounds great and and you were just delirious from cabin fever. :D
I owned the Parasound A21 and I submit it's okay for the money. My problem was to my ears it was on the dark side of neutral and too many details were masked. The soundstage was relatively flat and limited front to back placement. I think better amps are more open and provide details that makes the music come alive.
Belles .
sweetoldboy
I've been down the Yellow Brick Road of power cords and outlets (Cardas grade copper), decent preamp (Parasound JC 2 BP), etc. The most dramatic positive change happened when I went from a Rega tonearm to SME. That was like a lightning strike. My TT is atop a 3" thick solid maple platform with Sorbothane feet which in turn is set atop a Solid Tech stand. That aspect of the system is "tuned" as far as I'll take it along with most everything else except the amp.
This hobby is turning into buying/selling equipment instead of listening to music which is a path I didn't want to take. Until the spring thaw or a stock market crash, I'll probably be in search of the missing link amp. Then I'll call it a day.
Hello professor,
This is just my 2 cents.  I know you are looking for different amp recommendations, but I have had some experience with Signal Cable ICs, just not the same ones you are currently using.  TBH, they didn't stay with me long at all as they were not involving with very little detail.  You may or may not want to look into some other ICs. 

Some of the best I have used were from Kubala Sosna and Purist Audio, but their "lower priced" models.  For KS, the Fascinations; for Purist, the Aqueous Anniversary (don't know if this is made anymore).  As always, YMMV, IMHO...

Bill
Hello professorsvsu,
I own a Parasound Halo A-21 amplifier and I was going through an upgrade consideration, although for different reason, few months back. You can see this post going to my profile where you would get details about a list of Class A amplifiers that I shortlisted for the upgrade. I am using this amplifier for about 4 years and I didn’t experience any such issue (not revealing details consistently) with it.

However I have noticed that if you remove the top hood of this amplifier it sounds much open, airy, more detailed and it runs a lot cooler too. I have cut a ply to the size of its hood and use that as a flexi-top-cover when I don’t listen to music. This is something you can try, doesn’t cost money, and see if you like the sound.

I had replaced the 5 stock fuses that came with the amplifier and it also opened up the sound significantly. However the fuse upgrade was tricky because most of the details provided by aftermarket fuses came at the cost of making the sound bright. I had to change these fuses a couple of times to get a sound that was something I could live with. So I wouldn’t recommend this trick to anybody who like me doesn’t enjoy experimenting with audio tweaks.
Hope this helps...

Indranil
I may get tarred and feathered here but I’m going to suggest trying a newer amp tech.

I’m breaking in my ps audio stellars and they’re amazing...I’ve had luxman, marantz, NAD and Adcom amps running my dynaudios in the past and I’ll say honestly that these ps audio mono amps are light years ahead - in every aspect- of anything I’ve had pushing my speakers.

Good luck!
Let me share my experience with Focal 1028BEs and amp search. I auditioned these speakers with may be a dozen of different amps and I cross out A21 almost immediately. The sound was dull to my ears. Not good highs. No spark. Not much details. I'm not sure that you can fix the problem removing only A21 from your system. Maybe preamp have to go to. May be. Macs looks like the easiest next step. After few experiments I stay with Mac C22 tube preamp and Burmester solid state amp. I like the sound very much, but, as you know, there is always smth better. I wish I could try new (cubed) Bryston in my system. Or Mark Levinson! But you know, it's not an urgency I'm just lazily interested.
I also use OPPO 105 player, Linn LP12 with Goldring MM cartridge. Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval SC & Kimber Silver Streak IC.
Hope it was helpful
I've heard the Focal 1038BE paired with the McIntosh MC452 extensively and I felt the sound quality was one of the best I've heard. The preamp was an older McIntosh tube version and I didn't pay much attention to the model. Something to consider. They do occasionally come up in the used market.
From what I have read many times, Focal with McIntosh is a marriage made in heaven. I've had an interest in the MC 302, but new is a little rich for my blood. Used prices I can deal with, there's simply not much to be found used. EBay has listed a few, I won't deal with that sight because I've found it too risky. Audiogon has shown nothing as of late, but I'll keep looking for a few weeks.
To vad58:
I wish I would have known you before I bought the A21. Your assessment is what I've lived with now for about a year. It was a definite upgrade from what I was using, but is "dull" (a good choice of words on your part) with far too much of what I listen to.
billspec, your experience with the Signal Cable IC's reminds me of something.  When I had the A21 it was running speakers that were laid back.  The speaker cables I had for most of that time were Audioquest Type 4, also laid back.  Add that to an amp that is warm sounding and you have bad synergy.

So one has to be aware of the sonics of each individual part of the system.  Perhaps the A21 with brighter sounding cables and or speakers would be much better.  
professorsvsu-
have you considered a Bryston Integrated to match your BCD-3 spinner?
Keep us posted on this situation.
Happy Listening!
to professorvsu
I wish my vocabulary were little bit more sophisticated! hope I didn't offend you much with the "dull" word. When I mentioned Macs as the easiest next step I meant that it is easy to buy used one for a good price and resell it if you do not like it without much loss. I did just that with MC 275. I used it for a year before decided to switch to SS amp and I did. Sold it for the same price I bought it. I saw on your other thread that you kind of settled on cubed Bryston. Do it! Two things I want to share with you as Focal Fan. Try Odyssey Khartago. You risk nothing, they give you audition time. Don't be scared by it's affordability. I believe that the price reflects zero investment in exterior design - it's dull :). With Bryston I suspect that people paying 1K for the face plate alone. It's Big! And may be another 1K for the 20 year warranty. I do not know single person in hi-fi field who keeps his or her equipment for so long. Well, enjoy your auditioning time, it's fun. Better then playing golf to my taste. If I offended anybody with my latest remark. please forgive me - I play ping pong.
vad58
You didn't offend me at all. When you used the word "dull", I thought it was the best possible word to describe my experience. I wish I would have thought of it first.
@professorsvsu,
IF the A21 sounds dull with the BE tweeter in the Focal 1028, something might be not matching in your systems. The A21 is anything but dull. I used to have the Signal Cables with A21. But when I moved up to the Clear Day audio, things improved so much. Mind you, I do use a dual mono TVC and not a active line stage. So things are "more pure".
I think that dull you guys are referring too, is probably the "slightly warm" character of this amp. Because if it was any brighter in my current configuration, I would not be listening to my new loudspeakers for more than an hour. The Pass X250.8 would be a great upgrade though, at a price. Once you get that amp, you should eventually go with a Pass pre-amp like the X-10/20. It would be a great match. I have heard that combo, but in a completely different system.

professorsvsu,

Edit:  Looks like you may already be using XLRs here, so apologies for first paragraph below...

I’ve owned the A21 for ~5-yrs and I do enjoy it. I have found a significant difference in sound quality by running balanced interconnects to the amp. To my ears it sounds better...So, if you are using SE interconnects and have the means to try XLRs, it might really be worth the time/effort!! I vaguely recall reading the same, IIRC both from pro-reviewer(s) and in a forum or two...though I can’t recall which ones or I’d include any links (sorry). FWIW, the owners manual suggests XLR, too.

Sorry for ’longwind’ above, ESPECIALLY if you are already using XLRs.

I’ve also experienced aftermarket fuses altering the sound quality for less cash outlay than a new amp (I’ve only changed the external one on the A21 - though I have done it on numerous other components) - yielded improvements to my ears, but I’m not gonna try to tell you that it would be as good as a new/improved amp...but it has helped me make it through a time or two where I was weighing a component upgrade due to a lack of being "enthralled" with the sound of my music.

Regardless, I’m sure the Bryston will/would be a step up in SQ. Good luck with your quest!! I’m interested to read what you ultimately decide.

Best,

Doug