Preamp: Parasound P5 vs Rotel RC1590


Hi everyone!

I have a choice to make between Parasound P5 and Rotel RC1590. Will be using them with Hypex NCore NC500 based monoblock amps and Focal Electra 1008be speakers. Will be using XLR output, and ht bypass is a must.

Out of these 2 choices, which one would you recommend ? Listed some of the pros and cons I am thinking of each model.

Parasound P5:
  • Many positive reviews
  • Subwoofer integration
  • True ht bypass
  • Looks visually better than Rotel.
cons:
  • No torodial transformer, switching power supply instead.
  • Motorized volume control. (possible lack of precise control at low volumes, harder to control via remote probably)

Rotel RC1590:
  • 2 toroidal transforms (1 is dedicated to DAC)
  • Built in DAC is of a higher spec.
  • Digital volume control
  • RS232 connection. I use home automation system (HASS). I could build a device to control the amp in anyway I want.
cons:
  • Fixed gain instead of ht bypass, would need to have balance set to 0 or compensate for it by AVR.
  • No proper subwoofer integration. However I can easily DIY a cross over filter and volume pot, to connect to sub. My sub has independent LFE and L/R inputs.

Now, I know that these items are priced very differently in states. But, in Poland, their retail prices are more or less identical. Rotel seems to be much better of a preamp for the money (speaking only of the components inside: http://www.rotel.com/sites/default/files/rc1590_guts.png). However, there are fewer reviews of it, very few user reviews. Features and spec wise,  RC-1570 or RC-1572 seems to be more comparable to Parasound P5 and they are much cheaper than Parasound here.

Some guidance would be very much appreciated.
denizpiri
Between reviews and speaking to Parasound directly, I would encourage you to consider the P7 a better preamp than the P5, and I believe the P7 also has RS232 connectivity. 

The DAC in the P5 isn't meant to be more than a convenience. 

I haven't heard the Rotel. 
@erik_squires P7 would be a very attractive option. However, it costs 3600$ here versus 2000$ retail price in states.

Currently thinking of home demoing Rotel RC-1590, and going for purchase if I like it, if not demo Parasound P5. Not sure if I should stretch out for Parasound P7. A real nice option would be Parasound jc2 bp. However, that is way too pricey and no ht bypass.
Your description indicates you favor the Rotel. I think many very good preamps do not have a toroidal transformer so therefore I don’t think it is a con. Go with what you want.....
There are many DACs that don't measure well, but sound terrific!?!? I do not go by specs I go by what sounds great myself. Go with what you want...
Any opinions on Cambridge Audio Azur 851E ? That is another option I was thinking of. More or less the same pros and cons of Rotel. It doesn't have DAC, but i don't really care for it that much.

@2psyop I currently favor Rotel. However, that opinion might change instantly after I demo it. I really need to hear both I guess. Will see if it will be possible to home demo both at the same time, so I can do some A/B testing. Not sure if it is the best idea though. Will see!
Not heard the Cambridge 851E but have the 851A which is a fabulous piece - both Sonics and built quality. I have heard the Parasound and I’d say comparing to the 851A integrated going against Parasound A23 and P5 which I am familiar with I’d lean heavily towards the Cambridge. The P5 is fine preamp for the money if you need built in DAC and phono but you’re paying for those features and they’re decent but you can do much better. I own a 851C with both fuses changed out and it’s a killer; was really good before but the fuses refined it to another level - power cord upgrade makes a nice improvement too. If you can drag a 851E home first to demo do it. Not heard the Rotel but I’ve always felt they make very good components so I’m sure it’s very good but if you don’t need the DAC and phono preamp again I’d lean towards the Cambridge. You can buy a much better affordable DAC and phono preamp from say Schiit Audio or others. I once did own a 840A and it was a killer unit that embarrassed a lot of stuff I’d drag home. The Cambridge 800 series is hard to beat for the money but it does come down to your taste and how it plays with your other gear. Drag home demos or buy used so if you don’t like it resale and likely get all your money back. Good luck.
@adg101 Thanks a lot for the help ! Unfortunately, there is no possibility for home demoing 851E :( Asked cambridge audio about differences in pre section of 851E and 851A. They replied saying that 851E is no longer available due to lack of demand in the product. In Poland I see that item in stock only in 2 stores and not in my city.

I also started looking into some alternative options. http://www.analog-precision.com/UPXO.html
For what it is worth, I just bought the P5 and I am planning on sending it back, regardless of what Parasound may say you are paying for the DAC, and I had no luck with the Sub-woofer portion of the PreAmp. It just made a booming sound out of my Boston Acoustics Sub.  Consequently I paid for two features I do not need or do not like.  I have a stand alone DAC, and base heavy speakers in a A+B set up off of a McIntosh 2125 amp.  I am using a NAD old school preamp, which I can not find anything which sounds any better.  The P5 is a beautiful looking piece of gear.
@chuckhoness5343a1 Ouch, that sounds pretty bad. I was actually quite excited about the sub feature.
About DAC, I am not that excited for it. I think I will go for a DAC that have selectable filters. However, if I go for Rotel RC-1590, then I think I can be fine with it's internal DAC.

Amp will hopefully arrive tomorrow or the day after, and I will take Rotel RC-1590 for demo the same day if I can. And see how it sounds.
I’ve got the P5 and the sub integration is flawless.  The separate crossovers for sub and speakers is elegant and really cleans up the sound when compared to a unit with no sub integration.  I’m not sure what issue the other poster had, but the sub features are quite good.

Also, the  volume by remote gives increases in small increments and is a big improvement over the Nad C375BEE it replaced.  The P5 also trounced the Nad in sonics and features.  With an Adcom amp and good cables i’m seriously taken with the P5.  

Get the Rotel as it’s what you want, but the P5 really stands out in the American market at the 1100 price.  I had the P7 and I hesitate to say that the P5 images better, but I will say I prefer it over the P7.  
I’ve owned both the P5 and the RC-1590.  I purchased and promptly returned the Rotel and purchased the P5.  I didn’t like the presentation of the Rotel.  Sounded masked and had a much smaller soundstage then the P5.  P5 was much better sounding to me
@231runnin @sfseay Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences !

I have been running the amps with Rotel RC-1590 for the last 2 days. Will be returning Rotel RC-1590 tomorrow, took it only for home demo. Problems I found are:
- Power light is always blue, bright disturbing ugly blue. You can dim the LCD, can do nothing about the bright power light. So very disturbing. I would cover it with tape if I purchase it.
- There is a constant background hiss. It is definitely not the amps. Nothing after preamp’s output relays as well. When you mute it, it shuts it relays off, then there is absolutely no noise. When it is not muted, and no sound is playing, i can hear a "hiss" sound even 1 meter away from speakers. This might be related to power as well. Should buy a power filter I guess.

In terms of sound, I can’t find a fault in it honestly. Sounds so very nice to listen to, very very easy to listen to, yet punchy and clear. Nothing sounds disturbing. However, I never listened to the these amps with any other preamp, so can’t compare yet. I will try to take Parasound P5 for home demo tomorrow, from another dealer, and see how it compares at home. One thing is for sure, if I buy Rotel RC-1590 I will be very satisfied. But I need to see if I would be further satisfied with Parasound. :D

I love the digital volume control of RC-1590, can fine tune it just right at any volume, especially low volumes. Tone settings doesn’t affect the sound clarity or soundstage, there is some effect but it is soooo very minimal in comparison to most amps. Have been using it's internal DAC via optical input, no problems with it so far. No pop noises when stream changes, there are relay sounds coming from the amp instead.

I will write more after I get the Parasound.
I have Parasound P5 at home right now, scheduled to be returned on Thursday morning.

I realized that I made the big mistake of trying Rotel with it's internal DAC only and not using any DAC of my own (I don't have anything really good). Now comparing Rotel with Rotel's DAC, and Parasound with it's built-in DAC: In terms of SQ, Rotel wins hands down for me. Music simply is not nice to listen right now, no charm in it, no body in instruments, no air around them. It is like, someone sucked joy and life out of the music.

I am wondering if these might be related to only to it's built-in DAC or is it actually the preamp. If someone can share their opinion on this, I would be very glad.

Now onto the positives:
- Volume control is incomparable to motorized pot in the NAD c326bee I have. Dialing in low volumes is easy. Not as precise as a digital volume control of course, but still quite good. One negative thing I noticed is that, at lower volumes, probably because of channel imbalance, life is further sucked away from the music.
- Minimal noise in comparison to Rotel. There is still some, but very very minimal. This makes night time listening better, since I can actually hear things instead of background hiss. However as I mentioned, lower the volume goes, some clarity is taken away from the sound. I didn't observe this to this level in Rotel. Effect I am describing is beyond the expected effect of lower volume perception of human hearing, or speakers lower volume performance.
- HT bypass works very well
- Didn't try sub integration yet, but knowing that I can connect it very easily is a great thing.
- No annoying blue lights or anything. Only the Parasound logo is lit, and that is not disturbing at all.

I am thinking of experimenting with some passive preamps as well. Still in research phase :D

@ sfseay71 Did you have any noise problem when you had the Rotel RC-1590 ? And what DAC did you use with Parasound P5 ?

Glad to help, Denizpiri.  I'm puzzled at the background hiss you are hearing from either unit.  There is no way you should be experiencing this, but it has me wondering what the power grid is like in Poland where you are.  I also have not experienced any imbalance at low volumes, and that should be a deal breaker for you.

Is it possible that one or more of your line level cables are running along side of one of your power cables?  This could induce noise into the sound, but you may know this already!

As far as the DAC goes, the president of Parasound has said it's more of a convenience than an audiophile grade unit, so the Rotel should better it.  




Returned the P5 this morning, and got Emotiva XSP-1 from another dealer. Started trying Emotiva about 4 hours ago. Only advantage I can see with it is that it has almost no noise regardless of how close I get to tweeters. However, sounds really really poor. Bass is really slow, mid range sounds scooped, vocals are not focused. I was scheduled to return Emotiva on Tuesday, but I am taking it back tomorrow.

So far, Rotel RC-1590 > Parasound P5 >> Emotiva XSP-1.

Today, while returning the P5, I saw a PS Audio Stellar Gain DAC / Pre, asked a bit about it, later on checked it online. I will try to take it for home demo tomorrow and see how it sounds. Price wise it is somewhat better priced than P5, it is $1700 in US, around $2200 here in Poland, probably can get it for $2000.
Will read more about it now and see if it's feature set perfectly suits my needs.

I have had very similar results with several other Emotiva preamp/DACs.  They are just not good devices.

I think the PS Audio Stellar Gain will be the best out of all your choices.  It has a very large toroidal transformer and uses linear power supply for both DAC and preamp (no switching power supplies at all!!).  The Class A audio stage will be very high resolution and I think it will be a better match to your Class D amps, which tend to be very clean and somewhat sterile/flat.  I think the PS Audio will give you a lot more life and excitement in the music - much more engaging than the Parasound P5 or any Rotel option.

I'm afraid my experience with Emotiva was also not stellar. It was reliable, sturdy, and quiet. Sounded thin as hell. There was nothing really enjoyable about the sound quality. As some one who is always out bargain hunting, that was a big disappointment for me. 

I ended up selling it along with the upgrade card and switching to a Parasound P7 and Oppo BD player. 
PS Audio is home now, listening to it as I am writing this. It is scheduled to be returned on Monday.

Honestly, I am kind of sad. I was hoping to bring it home and that somehow it wouldn't match with my system, sound poor and make my decision very clear. However, that is not the case. Sounds so very good! If I would need to describe the sound in 2 words: REVEALING & BASS.
Pros:
- It is very revealing. I can hear details I never heard before.
- Insanely strong bass. It doesn't die down as the volume goes down. Almost as if a gentle Loudness effect is applied.
- Compact size
Cons:
- !!! My LG TV responds to it's IR commands!!! Pressing Optical Input button acts as the Netflix button on TV and turns it on and activates netflix app. PowerOn IR command for PS Audio turns TV on and activates Amazon app. Few other buttons also controls some other TV commands this way. Not sure what to do about this one. :/
- In some songs, bass completely dominates. It is not that it takes over the upper range or midrange, it still stands on it's own very distinctly. However, It forces me to turn the volume down since things around the flat start shaking.
- Very revealing nature can be a curse in some tracks. Makes it not easy to listen to when every few secs you hear something wrong with the recording process of the song. Not sure if this is much of a negative. I will listen more in upcoming days and see.
- Almost the same amount of noise as Rotel has. So, I assume I have something wrong with my AC power.
- Somewhat cheaper looking comparing to the other units I tried. Especially the way OLED screen is mounted and that button on it's side doesn't look nice up close.
- Volume knob feel is quite poor.
- 8 screws on top panel, adds to the poor looks.

IR command problem of it and TV is really bad. However, I am currently controlling it with Harmony remote. Since device is for home demo, they didn't give it's original remote. Not sure if original remote's IR commands overlaps with LG TV's IR commands.

Another thing that is somewhat bothering me is that, after I purchased the Class D hypex ncore NC500 power amps, they were first started with Rotel RC-1590. And I had to return Rotel before the amps were properly burnt in. Since trying Rotel, amps had quite a bit of work out, and Class D amps are known to change their treble performance after first 20 hours or so of use. So, it is possible that Rotel would sound more clear right now.

I will see if store that sells Rotel is open tomorrow, if it is, I will try to take it for home demo as well and spend the Sunday doing A/B comparisons at home. My decision will definitely be between Rotel or PS Audio though. Both are great sounding products and has a "WOW" factor to their sound.
Few more thoughts on PS Audio's sound. These are some very early thoughts, I need to do more listening to clear my thoughts on these.

Instruments sounds either panned fully to left, fully to right or in some blurry are in between. Things in between doesn't sound very focused. Don't get me wrong, instruments sound very distinct tonally, so very distinct. However, I don't yet feel positional distinction.

Will do more listening tomorrow and report! :D
@auxinput Yeah, emotiva was quite a disappointment for me :( Gave my system a Car HiFi feel.

I am guessing that Rotel is no slouch in terms of internal components. Some of it's beauty can be seen here. https://youtu.be/zCro9sPHda0?t=24s I can see the advantages of PS Audio's design though, minimalistic, sound focused design.

You are right, PS Audio walks all over Parasound. From my experience they are not even in the same league.
Alright,, pressing Ok button on Harmony for LG TV mutes the PS Audio :D If I would decide to go for PS Audio, I would definitely need to work out some IR control plan :D
Rotel's dealer seems to be closed today :( I won't be able to A/B compare PS Audio and Rotel.

Anyway, I am thinking that I will go for Rotel if I can make sure that it can be noise free somehow. Putting sound quality aside, that IR problem is a big deal breaker for me. I am not willing to change my tv for a preamp. Just bought the tv like 4 months ago. :/ I had one idea to get it working: tape over the IR receiver of LG tv, and use it's own remote instead of Harmony remote (LG remote works via bluetooth as I understand, or some 2.4g rf signal). This way, PS Audio's remote wouldn't be controlling TV, yet I would be able to control the TV. When I tried it, LG remote in some cases still sends IR commands, for example when TV is turned off. Besides, giving up on harmony remote also doesn't sound very nice to me. If PS Audio had RS232 control port, I could use that to make my own IR receiver and pass commands to PS Audio, but no RS232 port on it :/

In terms of SQ, from what I remember of Rotel, I would put PS Audio and Rotel at the same level, Rotel being easier to listen to, PS Audio being more revealing and more difficult to listen to for long durations.

I will be returning PS Audio on Tuesday, probably will go for Rotel purchase right after that. I still have 2 more days to change my mind though :D
Alright! Finally purchased something! :D

I ended up getting an RME ADI-2 DAC and skipping the preamp altogether. I received the unit yesterday only and super happy with it so far! There is absolutely zero background hiss, none of it. Usability wise it is super super nice. Dynamic loudness feature is great, parametric EQ will be very useful for fighting acoustic problems of the room. It has many other great features. Still experimenting with it's filters.

I didn't listen to the combo of RME ADI-2 DAC and Apollon NC800 SLM (hypex nc500) very critically yet. However, if I have anything to complain about so far, it is that both are very transparent devices. There is no softening going on in any frequency range. Therefore any problem in the recording immediately shows up. However, with clean records, sounds super real. I will experiment with opamps in the power amps and see if I can change the sound to be tad bit softer. Regardless of this, I would personally prefer a transparent system over a system with it's own sound any day.

As for the ht bypass, RME ADI-2 DAC itself doesn't have that feature. However, I ordered the necessary things to build a ht bypass box myself. It will basically switch the power amps from RME ADI-2 DAC to my AVR based on AVR's trigger out, using a 12V relay.

Anyway, I am settled with the current system so far. Will continue with some minor experimentations such as acoustic treatment of room, experimenting with opamps, etc... Also now will focus on upgrading my headphone gear for office use :D

Thank you all for help! :D