Parasound Halo P 7 Multichannel Preamplifier, A 51 Multichannel Amplifier & JC 1 Single-Channel Amplifier Page 2
Some might scoff at the fact that the strict P 7/BDP-95 pairing doesn’t have all the DSP modes sported by the latest surround processors and receivers. Though the Oppo and other Blu-ray players with multichannel analog outputs will fully decode the critical DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD lossless soundtracks found on most Blu-rays, you do sacrifice more sophisticated surround modes that add extra height and width surround channels, as well as room correction that’s built into most modern A/V receivers.
But you have to remember that there’s no free lunch. The P 7 is designed for those looking for the highest performance from their audio sources, and every time you add an A/D and accompanying D/A conversion, or engage a DSP mode to get a new feature like additional surround channels or EQing, you are potentially taking away from the resolution of the audio source. Ultimately, you will have to weigh the pros and cons and decide which features are the most important to you—but given the passthrough capabilities, you can always have both and compare. For those who just have to have EQing, especially in the bottom end where it is typically needed the most, you could always mate a standalone sub EQ box like the SVS AS-EQ1 or Velodyne SMS-1 after the P 7’s sub output. I use an AS-EQ1 sub equalizer in my room and it works great, providing full phase adjustment and room correction for multiple subs.
Waves of Sound
Rather than throw all of this goodness into my room at once, I approached this review in waves. The first wave was the Halo P 7 mated to my existing amp, Outlaw’s Model 7900. This is a fully differential design that sports seven channels of amplification at 300 watts each, and does a great job with both movies and music. Parasound amps are known for their great sound and high biasing to Class A, so I was anxious to see if I would hear any difference with a mix of material.
While I was initially impressed with the simplicity of the P 7 design, I was skeptical about how well the preamp could integrate into my system. My home theater is probably an easier match for this type of device because it’s used strictly for movies and music; I don’t have any cable TV or other sources to contend with. But like so many other people, I’ve grown accustomed to having a lot of digital processing to tweak the sound in the room. Because my configuration is pretty straightforward, the BDP-95 provided all the decoding I would need. I did provide integration with the Statement D2V for my music server and an Xbox gaming system; the P 7’s bypass mode passed it all through flawlessly. My only gripe with the passthrough is that it requires the preamp to be on while in use. I’ve seen other preamps that don’t require this when using their passthrough.
Right off the bat, I was impressed with the sonic signature of the P 7, mainly because it really didn’t have one. I let the preamp break in for about a week before I did any serious listening, but I didn’t notice much, if any, change in performance. However, you need to be mindful of the components you’re positioning before it. The purpose of the P 7 is to give you a high- end, analog-preamp stage to complement your sourcecomponent choices. But those components are going to have just as much, if not more, influence on the sound as the P 7. The BDP-95 is, in my opinion, the most complementary piece of gear out there at the moment. Its analog-audio stage rivals just about anything I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing, and it costs a fraction of what most high-end transports cost. The pair made beautiful music together with my collection of CD, SACD, and DVD-Audio titles. I also had a hard drive connected to the Oppo with some high-resolution FLAC files that I had procured on HDTracks.com. Listening to the uncompressed 96/24 download of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” was a real treat. The soundstage had more depth than the CD I own, and the dispersion of instruments was amazing. The P 7 handled both the low and the high end with aplomb, and I didn’t notice any harshness regardless of how much I cranked it up. I recently reviewed the Integra DHC-80.3 and used it as a preamp with the Oppo, and found the P 7 to be far more neutral. The bottom end also had a bit more authority and didn’t cloud the upper-end presentation.
On a more symphonic note, the London Philharmonic’s rendition of “Jack Sparrow” from the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest soundtrack was mesmerizing. Instrument placement was amazing; the air of the hall was surreal. The P 7 didn’t stand in the way of the dynamics, and the combination of the BDP-95 and the P 7 delivered a fantastic sonic experience. Another showcase piece was Kari Bremnes’ Live album. “Søvngengersken” is an incredible recording, but the drum intermission in the middle is definitely the highlight. The P 7/Oppo combination painted a dead-quiet noise floor and the subtle atmosphere of the live venue. But it was the tiny details in the drums and the thundering dynamics that had me hook, line, and sinker.
After getting attuned to the P 7 with the Outlaw amp, I decided it was time to integrate the Halo amps. At first, I added the A 51 by itself, running the five primary channels, to get a feel for how it sounded compared to the Model 7900. I found my biggest complaint right away, and it had nothing to do with the sound: All of the LEDs on the front panel remain on all the time. I was hoping that, as with the P 7, the A 51 would allow you to defeat the front-panel lighting. My home theater is literally a black hole, so the LEDs cast quite a bit of light, which was great for ambiance with music but troublesome during movie playback. I ended up taping over them, which is less than ideal given the gorgeous front-panel design. Aside from that, the A 51 was every bit the Model 7900’s equal; it belted out incredible dynamics and authority with whatever soundtracks I threw at it.
I have a few favorites for evaluations, including the phenomenal DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on the Terminator Salvation Blu-ray Disc. The grueling battle scene at the gas station is a testament to sound design and has incredible dynamic swings, bass depth, and surround presence. It’s one of the finest action scenes I’ve heard in recent memory. The P 7 and the A 51 handled it beautifully, with all the range and clarity I’d been accustomed to with my reference Statement D2V providing the front end. Another favorite is the prison-escape scene from Kung Fu Panda. The sound design of this scene provides some outstanding low-end presence, atmosphere, and surround spaciousness. It’s also a lot of fun to watch.
The A 51 really came into its own with multichannel musical sources. The Model 7900 does an amazing job with just about any content, but the A 51 definitely had a more musical nature with its detailed top end. High-volume playback of John Mayer’s Where the Light Is live concert Blu-ray was a great showpiece for the A 51. It was less fatiguing than with the Model 7900, and the instruments had a richer sound with better definition. The comparison wasn’t night and day, but it was noticeable. Moving on to the high-resolution surround tracks on the Blu-ray Disc for the Oscar-winning score The Social Network was also a treat. Bass definition improved with the A 51 and the soundstage was a bit more airy and open. The P 7 has the ability to adjust the front-to-rear presence of multichannel sources, and I enjoyed tailoring the surround mixes to my liking. All this with just a few button pushes of the remote and no extensive menus to fiddle with.
Enter the JC 1s
But the most fun I had with the P 7 was when I hooked up the JC 1 monoblock amplifiers. The A 51 did a tremendous job, but I honestly wasn’t prepared for what the JC 1s did to my system. I’ve been of the mind-set that most amps don’t sound significantly different from each other, but they can have a subtle change in certain areas. Previous Krell amps I’ve added to my system have had a noticeable impact on the bass response from my mains, but the JC 1s were a completely different animal. I thought the increase in power might have the most effect on the bass performance of my mains—Paradigm Signature S8 loudspeakers—but I wasn’t prepared for how profound it would be. The JC 1s seemed to just clamp down on the low-end drivers and take control. The apparent bass response was far better than I’d ever heard before from the S8s, demonstrating low-end reach that I just didn’t expect. But it wasn’t just the low end that benefitted. Subtle ambiance, imaging, and the soundstage were all staggering. The placement of instruments had a more realistic feel. A great example was Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Crisp highs and the liquid vocals of Stevie Nicks had never sounded so good. Mick Fleetwood’s kick drum also had a new level of authority within the mix. In fact, I could probably say the same thing about the entire Rumours album. Jennifer Warnes’ “Way Down Deep” (from The Hunter) is a nightmare for speakers that can’t go deep, but the JC 1s provided breakthrough sonics from the Paradigm Signature S8s. I no longer felt the need to integrate a sub into my two-channel listening. The JC 1s just took the S8s to a whole new level.
The Parasound Halo P 7 is the perfect choice for those looking for a preamp that won’t be outdated a year later and who want an audiophile-grade preamp for their two-channel and multichannel sources. At $2,000, its value is a testament to Parasound’s ability to deliver world-class audio at prices that are actually realistic and attractive. With the right front-end device (I still emphatically recommend the Oppo BDP-95), you have everything you need for an involving sonic experience that will knock your socks off.
Parasound’s Halo amplifiers get my complete standing ovation. The JC 1s left my jaw on the floor, and the A 51 proved to be a superb complement with multichannel music and soundtracks. They made a true believer out of me. It’s rare that any amp will have such a profound effect on my listening experience, but these provided one I never wanted to let go of, and the JC 1/A 51 combo has now found a permanent home in my reference system. I can’t give a higher recommendation than that.