Parasound Halo P 3 Preamp and A 23 Power Amplifier

Parasound Halo P 3 Preamp and A 23 Power Amplifier

Living the High Life

Greg Petan

8 April 2003


P 3 Specs: 
Frequency response: 5 Hz – 55 kHz, +0/-1 dB, full output 
Total harmonic distortion: < 0.01% 1 kHz; < 0.03% 20 kHz 
IM distortion: < 0.03% 
Maximum output: > 8 V before clipping 
Input impedance: line input 30 kohms; phono 47 kohms 
Output impedance: 60 ohms 
Input sensitivity: line inputs 150 mV, +/- 5%; phono 2 mV 
Max input level: 10.5 V before clipping 
S/N ratio: line input > 92 dB, A-weighted, ref 1 V output 
line input > 84 dB, unweighted, ref 1 V output 
phono > 72 dB, ref .5 mV input 
Crosstalk: > 55 dB, 20 kHz 
Channel level matching: < 0.1 dB 
Voltage: Switchable for 110V – 120V or 220V – 240V operation 
Dimensions: 17¼ w × 4-1/8″ h × 13-3/4″ d, 3-5/8″ h without feet 
Net weight: 16 lbs.
Price: $800

A 23 Specs:
Continuous power output: 
125 watts RMS × 2, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 8 ohms, both channels driven 
200 watts RMS × 2, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 4 ohms, both channels driven 
400 watts RMS × 1, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 8 ohms 
Current capacity: 45 amperes peak per channel 
Power bandwidth: 5 Hz – 100 kHz, +0/-3 dB at 1 watt 
Total harmonic distortion: < 0.06 % at full power 
IM distortion: < 0.04 % 
Slew rate: >130 V/µsecond 
Dynamic headroom: > 1.5 dB 
Interchannel crosstalk: > 80 dB at 1 kHz; > 63 dB at 20 kHz 
Input sensitivity: 1 V for 28.28 V, THX Reference Level 
Input impedance: 33 k? 
S/N ratio: > 112 dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted 
Damping factor: > 800 at 20 Hz 
Voltage: Switchable for 110V – 120V or 220V – 240V operation 
Dimensions: 17-1/4″ w × 4-1/8″ h × 13-1/4″ d, 3-5/8″ h without feet
Net weight: 28 lbs
Price: $850

Parasound Products, Inc
950 Battery St.
Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111

(415) 397-7100
Web site:

“I’m no snob, just ask my butler!”

Now if you’ve read my recent review of the Krell FPB 700cx, you’re probably asking yourself: “What is Mr. High-end, $15,000 amplifier doing reviewing the new $800 Parasound Halo A 23 amp and P 3 preamp? After all, He has all that rare-air gear spilling off his rack. I mean, why bother?”

Well, I can’t tell you how often I’m asked to recommend components to friends looking for a good quality system for their home. As my little gears start spinning, searching the audio database that is my brain, I usually end up recommending some nice $10K-$15K amp/pre-amp combo. You know, nothing too fancy.

After making the recommendation, I’m typically confronted by a protracted and awkward silence and that befuddled, tilted-head look that your dog gives you when you change his food from Alpo to Purina. Then comes the inevitable question: “Anything a little more affordable?” I usually proceed to tell them about a great little integrated for around $6K that I think just might work for them. Then they’ll get a little more specific and say: “Actually, I was thinking more like $2K tops.” Suddenly, my response becomes a protracted and awkward silence and that befuddled, tilted-head look that your dog gives you when . . . well, you know.

The fact of the matter is, I have grown out of touch with today’s real-world music-lover’s needs. I have stopped noticing the level of stunned disbelief when I tell people I own a $20K CD player and a $15K amplifier (well actually one $15K stereo amp and a pair of $16K monoblocks, but I digress.) To me, living with this level of gear day in and day out has become the norm, a privilege almost taken for granted.

Does Budweiser go with that Fois gras?

It’s been about ten years since I’ve lived with components at a price that would be considered mid-fi. So when my cousin inquired about some modest gear for her new apartment, once again, I was faced with the reality that I was sorely out of touch with the needs of the audio challenged. Nothing would please me more than to set her up with something that really makes music.

Finally, I decided that enough was enough. So I took the plunge back into sanity and arranged to review the P 3 preamp and A 23 power amp from the new Parasound line called Halo. The Halo line, despite its modest price range, was designed to meet the stringent audiophile criteria of legendary designer, John Curl. His name alone means this stuff is billed as serious gear.

I was curious to see how far we’ve come since the late ’80s, when I purchased my first mid-fi set up. I know solid state, in general, has made great strides in musicality, especially in the upper echelons of amplifiers and preamps. The issue is how much does the average music-lover/budding audiophile have to spend in order to reap the benefits of the technology’s maturity?

Before I get to describing the Halo’s sonics, I want to give a “shout-out” to the design team at Parasound. The Halo components are beautiful. Especially when the lights dim and the blue glow from the backlit buttons come into view. I love that kind of stuff!

I did some listening after a brief warm-up period and I’d have to say, any audiophile on a budget could well start and stop their search right here. The Halo combination offered up more than a mouthful of the audiophile pie. The first thing that struck me was an uncanny sense of naturalness from the treble down through the bass. No one part of the spectrum jumped out like a sore thumb (or throbbing toe) that screamed “budget!” in the presentation. The sound struck me as a scaled down version of the super-exotic gear offered at multiples of Halo’s price. To simplify, there was proportionally less of every thing good, rather than more of everything bad in the Halo’s character. This is an enormously difficult balance to achieve when talking about components at this price point.

The sonic result is a soundstage populated with surprisingly well-focused images, with a reasonable amount of high frequency air, and image depth. Midrange textures and timbre were nicely resolved, putting little in the way of what is musically essential. Could I have hoped for more detail and dynamic life? At this price, or anywhere near it, not really. In absolute terms, the Halos’ shortcomings amounted to a distancing from the ‘live’ event.

To illustrate this point further, imagine sitting on the third base line at your local ballpark, the players and their intensity at arms length. The sights, sounds, and smells of the game flood your senses. Now imagine that same game from the upper mezzanine. Same players and ballpark, just a bit removed.

If I had to pick the real winner of the Halo line-up, it would have to be the A 23 Amplifier. Of the two, the amp, in comparison to the pre-amp, seemed to contribute the greatest strength while adding the least amount of distraction from the music. This amplifier packs a significant wallop, and does so while maintaining a good measure of soundstage composure and truth of timbre. The mid-range was fairly expressive, maintaining enough texture and color, even when the dynamic demands increased. This is no small feat when you consider that other components that live in this price range, particularly integrated amps and receivers, typically fall to pieces when the music’s dynamics get rough.

The character of the amp was to the warmer side of neutral while the preamp leaned towards the cool side, making the pairing a natural choice when trying to achieve a natural tonal balance. Through the P 3 preamp, voices had a little less body when compared to the A 23, while the A 23 sounded a tad slower than the P 3. I would suggest using them together. They just seem to sound superior as a pairing; the sum being greater than the parts if you will.

Slumming it in the Hamptons wasn’t so bad.

It seems like just yesterday that I began my venture into the high-end. When the bug bit me, it bit hard. I spent countless hours trying to acquire the sound of the super systems on display at my local dealer, without having to sell a vital organ to afford it. I really went all-out trying to get it right. If the Parasound Halo line had been around back then, I would have ended up with great sound at a very reasonable price, and I would probably still have both my kidneys!

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