PARASOUND HALO 2.1 stereo integrated amplifier
Simplicity. Elegance. Performance. Make do with less, not more.
I guess in the times we live in, these values may resonate with some of us. Certainly, the call to do more with less can be very compelling against the hubris of excess and wanton consumption.
The Parasound Halo integrated amplifier embodies a stripped-down offering but sacrifices little in sophistication or performance and high-end features.
Truth be told, I was expecting good things from this integrated given my positive experience with their Z range units sometime back.
BITS AND PARTS: Befitting the haloed top of the line Halo range, the beating heart of the Halo 2.1 is a robust stereo amplifier, utilising matched JFET input stages and Mosfet driver stages, and 12 high-voltage/high-current bipolar output transistors, kicking out 160 watts of power per channel into eight-ohm speakers (240W into four ohms), based off dual-mono power supplies fed by a beefy toroidal power transformer and a filtering capacitor bank of some 40,000uF.
As the primary and sole integrated amplifier in the Halo range, Parasound has packed the 2.1 with a slew of nifty features in a clean and conservative, as far as amps of this level go, a relatively compact but substantial form factor – it measures 437 x 150 x 413mm (w/h/d) and weighs in at a tidy 15kgs. It won’t break your back hoisting it around but it’s sizeable enough to make you pay attention.
The list of ancillaries bundled in is commendable and include a high-spec DAC, MC/MM phono stage, bass management system and headphone amp, amongst others. Input options are generous without being exhaustive – five RCA line-level analogue inputs, one RCA phono input, one balanced XLR line-level input and three digital inputs for USB, coaxial SPDIF, and TosLink.
Moving against the grain of a more Spartan offering, the 2.1 does includes tone controls (treble and bass), a balance control, and for speaker/subwoofer management duty, an adjustable crossover.
The USB 2.0 input is asynchronous, supporting PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz. Parasound has included a proprietary DSD driver, which is pretty easy to set up. The Halo’s decodes native DSD64, DSD128, DSD256 and DoP DSD via its USB input.
IN CONCERT: Let me just say that the gem of the Halo 2.1 is its digital end. Sporting the latest generation ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC (ES9018K2M), the 2.1 painted a colourful, detailed and delicately nuanced soundstage that can only be described as three dimensional.
I was rooted in my seat listening to record after record from my collection of hi-def downloads. From Norah Jones on 24/96 to Daft Punk on 24/88 HDtracks, the Halo 2.1 presented lusciously liquid vocals in a vividly dark background.
The Parasound’s presentation of timing and pace is dynamically charged and vivacious which is clearly portrayed in Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Playing DSD tracks was a real treat, too.
On phono duty, the performance was mixed. The on board phono amp allows for moving magnet cartridges at a 47k ohms load and moving coil ones at either 47kΩ or 100Ω loads.
With a Nagaoka MP110 MM cartridge on a Thorens TD124 mk 2 table, the Parasound presented a rounded and organic sonic, if a little flat and washed out. Swapping phono duty over to the resident EAR 834 brought much needed clarity and palpability to vocals and wood instruments.
Be it on digital or phono, the Halo invites the listener into the performance. The Halo decidedly did not have the velvety intimacy of the Cary CAD-300SEI paired with the Zu Omens but was able to come across with a clear refined presence and a strong dynamic sense of timing albeit a touch soft on the lower registers. All said and done, this amp sets a new benchmark on what high performance value looks like in this day and age.
APPLAUSE: Versatile, well kitted and a sonic champ. By far, the Halo’s strong suite is its ability to project a realistic soundstaging and imaging. The on board DAC, however, is the cherry on top of the icing, a refined and sublime piece of engineering.
BUT…: Will not flap your pant legs… but nothing a sub will not fix. Vinyl-philes may find themselves opting for an external phono stage – the on-board MM stage seems spec’d to a price point.
FINALE: A compelling all-in-one amplification option. In the right configuration and as part of an overall ensemble of matching components, this amp delivers.
Source: Dell XPSL502X, SMSL M8, Emotiva XDA-1 / Amplification: Cary CAD-300SEI, BelCanto S300, Musical Fidelity X-Can V3 / Speakers: Sonus Faber Minima Amator, Apogee Centaur Minor, ATC SCM11v2 / Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, HD580, HD595, Grado SR325i, SR125i, Allesandro MS1i, Audio Technica ATH-W1000, Hifiman HE-500, Stax SR207 / assorted cables