Parasound Halo A23 Stereo Amplifier Review

Discussion in 'Power Amps' started by purr1n, Jan 18, 2017.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Parasound Halo A23 Stereo Amplifier Review

    In light of our slow shift toward two channel audio (no, we are not abandoning personal audio), I decided it would be a good idea to start with something basic, like a stereo amplifier. After soliciting some advice here and considering various brands and models, I decided on the Parasound A23. The $995 price is right for budding audiophiles in the two channel world. Balanced inputs wasn’t a requirement, but it was a serious “want” because several other amps I have or expect on have on hand would also have balanced inputs. 125W and 200W into 8 and 4 ohms respectively also meets our requirements, in it not being a flea powered amp. (Personally, I’d take 20 good quality watts over 600 bad quality watts).

    DSC_1723.JPG
    DSC_1724.JPG

    Reading through the marketing literature of the A23, we note that the circuit is designed by John Curl, of Mark Levinson HC-2 and Vendetta Phono Preamplifier fame. I guess this is supposed to be a good thing. But on the other hand, Parasound having to blurt this out also makes me apprehensive, like when Carly Fiorina invented the HP slogan “invent” when HP no longer invented, but instead made shitty inkjet printers for the masses.

    Looking at the back of the unit, I see two pots which control the gain for the left and right channels. The maximum clockwise position is marked THX Reference. Oh shit. A look at the front of the panel, I see the THX logo. Double oh shit. How much money did Parasound have to give to THX (and thereby pass on to the customer) I wonder? Well, Parasound is a big name, so maybe they didn’t have to pay that much I assure myself. Regardless of the THX certification, what I really didn't like was that these gain controls were pots and not steppers or even multi-position switches. I don’t like having to resort to measuring gear to make sure that the L and R channels are within 0.2db of each other. Sometimes, steppers make sense: six positions, even four positions, would have been enough here. And WTH is "THX reference level". Please define this somewhere, like in the manual. Never assume consumers, your customers are stupid.

    On the back panel, there are unbalanced and balanced inputs, an RCA loop out, and one set of speaker terminals for L and R. There are also three switches for ground lift, selecting between inputs, and a mono bridged mode. We won’t be covering mono bridged mode here.

    I’ll be upfront here. The arrangement of the inputs and speaker outputs on the back panel is utterly shit-tastic. Unless the unit is racked and not sitting on a surface, the speaker terminals are positioned too low to allow the use of spade connectors, unless the spade connectors are oriented downward from the cable (an unnatural arrangement and what we see here). The problem is that arranging the spade connectors in such a way impedes the connection of balanced XLR inputs. This is the clusterfuck that I ended up with. Note that I also accidentally tripped the mono-bridge switch while securing the cables.

    DSC_1726.JPG
    DSC_1729.JPG

    As for the sound, let’s get to that. I hooked the amp up to the Schiit Freya preamplifier and the 90db efficient Fostex BLH horns that used the Fe108 Sigma driver. Pressed play on my CDP. (I had the supertweeters hooked up too, but they are not shown in the photo below).

    DSC_1730.JPG

    My jaw dropped in horror. I paid a little over $900 for this? This is utter garbage. I’ve resolved that SBAF be nicer for 2017, but I cannot overlook that is amp is utter ... complete ... garbage. My apologies to Parasound, but being nice also compels me to be honest with the readers here (members paid for this via donations); and in this case I will invoke the Mr. Spock clause: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. Besides no one is going to believe me anyway, especially in these backwoods of the Internet. Parasound will continue to sell lots of these, so no harm done from me.

    The bass is rubbery, the overall sound is smeared, the soundstage is flat and compressed, and the resolution is extremely poor (no ambiance, no decay, simplified and blurred microdynamics). The highs are OK, but there is disjointedness between the bass and the treble. Those who know me know that I place a very high priority on a cohesive presentation throughout the entire audio band. At least the midrange rendering, when taken into isolation, or with bandwidth limited recordings, is nice and sort of has a euphonic presentation. The Parasound A23 is like a student artist who has great ideas along the lines of Dali, but cannot execute the basics, like draw. We hear flashes of potential greatness, but ultimately, what’s on the canvas looks like my eight-year old son’s drawing of one of our pet cats. I don't expect Dali, but I expect basic competence!

    BTW, the Crest CA2 professional amplifier is much better sounding. While the presentation is more literal, the non-audiophile panel, which consisted of my wife, my eleven year old daughter, and my son, all agreed the CA2 rendered far superior control, focus, attack, and resolution than the A23. No, it doesn't take specialist audiophile ears to hear the difference between the Crest CA2 and Parasound A23. The back of the Crest CA2, being pro gear, also has a sensible layout with the speaker terminals oriented vertically and the inputs far away from the speaker inputs. The switch for bridge mode is indented so it wouldn't be accidentally triggered. The downside to the Crest CA2 is the loud fans. I bought lower RPM fans of the same model series from Mouser to replace the stock fans. This should be fine for home use.

    Crest CA2 Back Panel View. In contrast to the Parasound A23, this was designed by a genius.
    Crest CA2 Rear View.png
     
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    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
  2. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    So, they finally forgot how to audio?
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I honestly don't know. I do have the Parasound preamp slated for review. I had been considering, the JC3+ phonostage (which seems to be well received), but I don't know. I am now scared. Really scared. @zerodeefex warned me about the Parasound amps. He owned an A21, the better more powerful version of this amp. But by the time he warned me, it was already a week to late.
     
  4. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    I thought I was in a HF nightmare. Wordy preamble, lots of pretty pictures....

    ...Then you said it sucked ass. All is right with the world again.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    This the SBAF's first shot over the bow of two channel audio. In time, we will be feared.
     
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  6. Kattefjaes

    Kattefjaes Mostly Harmless

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    It's totally vital to be honest when stuff sucks- that's what separates the reviews here from all those shill "review" sites where they like everything (i.e. almost all of them, as they want free stuff/review units). Seeing such a detailed stinking review warms my blackened and shrivelled heart.
     
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  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's situational. I'd give newer and smaller vendors an easier time, letting you guys read between the lines. Parasound is big. They can take the punches.
     
  8. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    I bought a D/AC-1600 from your pal Amos. It was good. Brilliant even, when I modded the output stage. Then it died because supposedly it isn't a good idea to do point2point stuff with wide bandwidth opamp/buffer composites.

    I guess the older power amp stuff from HCA series was okay, if not entirely audiophile grade.
     
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  9. Kattefjaes

    Kattefjaes Mostly Harmless

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    Of course, "don't be a dick" is a pretty good rule of thumb.
     
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  10. Pyruvate

    Pyruvate Friend

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    Now I'm curious how the A23 compares to the HCA-1000a I have (the 1990s version of the A23, same power ratings and similar topology it looks like).

    Shit, at least I paid only $200 for it.
     
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  11. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I have to admit I laughed when I read that the furthest clockwise positions of both gain pots were labeled "THX Reference".
     
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  12. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

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    This is around $1k too :(

    Halo P5 Preamp.

    I liked the older Para stuff that I've owned. It didn't look this wimpy inside.

    [​IMG]
     
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  13. sfoclt

    sfoclt Friend

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    The cable management pisses me off too.
     
  14. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Yikes. That's what I ordered. Haha. That photo is from the Audiokarma guy who was talking about how the more expensive Halo JC2 inspired him to install a aluminum shield that prevents noise from power supplies... except the shield he installed didn't separate the power supply (power transformer) from the signal circuits! LOL.

    And then the guy said his aluminum shield and Dynamat mods increased the preamp's volume gain "a few db higher". Huh? This is why we need to get into two-channel. We have kooks from Audiokarma and objectivators from AVSForums.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    LOL, as if we turned the knobs all the way clockwise, we would get awesome THX certified sound. THX is such a scam. I can't believe consumers are stupid enough to fall for this shit in 2017. Even Creative who owned the rights to THX after Lucasfilm sold it off to Razor, the makers of gaming mice! Hahahaha.

    I can't wait for my THX certified keyboard and mouse..
     
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  16. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    I've read somewhere that none of the modern Parasound amps are designed by John Curl anymore and they only carry through his name because they use circuit designs "inspired" by him. I think only the "JC" branded items are designed by him, and even then maybe not anymore.
     
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  17. Rex Aeterna

    Rex Aeterna Friend

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    i kinda mentioned bout there being better options than the parasound as well but, now you know at least. i used tons of different amps in the past to know. i just know my description of things is not as vast and sophisticated as lot other people.

    i know bout the kooks of audiokarma. that's why i never go on that site much. same b/s over the years as always. avs i never bothered. that's why most of the audio stuff i try to experience myself if i can to come up with my own thoughts.
     
  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The hundred or so bucks that will be lost will not be in vain. At least now we know. On paper, this amp looks like an attractive option. TBH, the designed by John Curl thing kind of sold me. I've learned my lesson now.
     
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  19. Pyruvate

    Pyruvate Friend

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    True.

    From: http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/solid-state/116329-parasound-hca-1000-upgrade.html

     
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  20. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    d3234c2a1c593d3ddb15a0d7f5ab9e4b.jpg

    "Made for home theater, marginal for quality audio." Did John Curl just say this amp is supposed to sound like shit, completely unsuitable for two-channel audio, and should be used for home theatre and subwoofer duties? Godammit. This makes me angry.

    Fuck you Parasound for not putting a warning label on the A23: Two channel aficionados need not apply. This amp is for home theatre losers. The design is inspired by John Curl, but we gimped it without him knowing too much about it. Please buy one of the amps with John's initials on them if you are serious about audio.

    What a complete waste of my time and our money!
     
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    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017

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