Parasound has been an audio name for quite a while. They were well-established way back during my audiophile indoctrination in the late ’80s. While they still have the classic line, now called New Classic, they have since introduced the Z Custom, Zone Master and Halo product lines, with Halo being their flagship products. I was fortunate enough to receive the Parasound Halo P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier and DAC, and the JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier. I just finished reviewing the JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier, which you can read here.
The Halo series comes with either a silver or black finish–I received the former. I think the appearance is a step up from a standard flat faceplate and looks elegant without getting too fancy. There is optional hardware for rack mounting (model HRA) in a pro audio or home theater rack. In the box you get the Parasound Halo P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier and DAC, a remote control, a USB cable and a 12V trigger cable. According to Parasound’s website, several movie and music companies use Parasound in their systems, hence the rack mount options.
Parasound Halo P 6: the Proverbial Multi-Tool
I have to admit that the plethora of RCA and XLR connections, digital inputs, knobs, and switches on this Parasound Halo P 6 preamp were overwhelming at first. What system could possibly need all these connections!? Parasound expressed to me that the P 6 was intended to be the proverbial Swiss Army knife that still sounds good at its price point–which is $1,595 MSRP.
As I was reviewing the Parasound Halo P 6, what really impressed me the most was the unit’s flexibility. It could accommodate nearly any setup you could possibly think of. It could be used in home theater setups, dedicated two-channel setups, and probably even multi-room configurations with a little planning. I’ll get into a few of the unique features that I discovered during my time with the unit in just a moment. The owner’s manual is informative and has a few suggestions to setting up the preamplifier properly, so I recommend giving it a read before diving in.
The Parasound Halo P 6 has a standard 3-prong grounded power plug which is straightforward to connect. The input sources, except for Source 5, are all normal. When you get to the outputs, well, that’s where things start getting complicated. I’ll cover the input sources first.
Digital inputs include a USB-B, two optical, and a coaxial (S/PDIF). The Parasound Halo P 6 owner’s manual recommended keeping optical cable lengths below six feet for hi-res files between 176.4kHz and 192kHz. The P 6 DAC uses a 32-bit 384kHz ESS Sabre32® chip set. I used the USB connection for most of my digital listening.
Current and up-to-date Windows 10 users shouldn’t have to download any drivers, but older Windows versions will need them. My old Windows 10 machine that I use as a music server needed to download the Windows drivers, as my computer has not had the most recent updates. Downloading files was fairly straightforward and the documentation on how to download files if the DAC does not work automatically can be found on the website. Parasound literature does mention that Windows 10 systems that are not completely up to date and can have some issues, and that was me. I do not fault the driver download as a Parasound issue, but more user error on my part.
I found that once the Parasound Halo P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier and DAC was operating properly, it worked flawlessly. But, being a reviewer, I wanted to compare the ESS Sabre® DAC to my reference. The P 6 DAC was not happy with rapid switching of the USB cable between sources. As a consumer I wouldn’t anticipate any issues as long as you aren’t plugging and unplugging like an old telephone switchbox operator. You’ll be fine.
For all the challenges I had with the DAC setup, the phono setup for the Parasound Halo P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifer and DAC was simplicity itself. The rear panel has a switch for moving magnet (MM) and two settings for moving coil (MC), 100Ω and 47kΩ. I only had a MM cartridge on hand and did all my listening using this setting.
The dedicated phono grounding post was slightly larger than my turntable ground spade, but it does have a hole in it like a speaker binding post for bare wire. So, I inserted one of the spade prongs in there and tightened it down. Not an ideal condition, but my turntable is relatively entry level and the grounding wire is rather smallish. Regardless, it worked fine. Once I plugged in the RCA connections and the ground wire I was in business and spinning LPs. Easy peasy.
Sources 1 through 4 on the Parasound Halo P 6 are straightforward RCA analog inputs. Source 5 shares an RCA and XLR input. However, only one source connection can be selected for Source 5. This is a bit unusual as it is the only XLR source input.
The 12V trigger and infrared repeater ports are also on the back. Using the supplied 12V trigger cable with the Parasound JC 5 Power Amplifier was awesome. With one click to turn on the P 6, the JC 5 would turn on as well. Sweet!
Outputs – So Many Subs!
The Parasound Halo P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier and DAC has multiple ways to connect subwoofers and power amplifiers. It can accommodate a single Left+Right XLR subwoofer output, two RCA subwoofers operating in L+R with an optional low-pass filter adjustable from 20 Hz to 140 Hz. As Parasound explained:
“The RCA main output can be used full-range, or with the variable-frequency high-pass filter engaged. This helps with small satellite speakers that cannot reproduce low bass. Now all that extra energy is channeled to the working bandwidth of the speakers instead of adding to the bass distortion.”
There is a dedicated XLR main out, which I predominately used. The XLR outputs do not have crossover options.
Parasound Halo P 6 Remote
The P 6 remote control is a black plastic tv-sized remote with soft touch buttons. The remote has a button that backlights all the buttons, which is fantastic in a dark room and provides a soft blue glow when depressed that makes it easy to read for old eyes. The mute and volume controls are intelligently oriented and easy to reach with incredibly fine control over volume. As an aside for you knob-feeling types, the volume is silky smooth to operate.
I really liked the ergonomics of the Parasound Halo P 6 remote control and got spoiled really quick. I was glued to my chair for most of the review thanks to the remote, which worked flawlessly during the review period and was a joy to use.
Sonically, audiophiles seem to fall into two camps. The first is complete and total accuracy. The second is what sounds good, even if it’s colored and has some issues. The Parasound Halo P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier and DAC certainly aspires to the former. The best aspect of the P 6 is an incredible flexibility that would make any yoga instructor jealous. The P 6 preamplifier did things that I didn’t know I needed.
And now that I’ve experienced them, some of these features I’m not sure I would want to live without. I appreciated the remote control’s convenience and functionality, the subwoofer options, and the balance control. Ah, the balance control. My room is a bit odd acoustically and on many recordings the center image wanders a bit. The balance control made it simple to bring that center image right back to where it belonged. This not only brought the center image into the proper location, but it opened up all the associated soundstage and imaging that the Parasound Halo P 6 is capable of. Depth improved and instrument placement in space snapped into focus. The P6 does a good job of creating a center image and soundstage. It wasn’t the most resolving preamp I have had in my system, but it was the equal to my reference in nearly every way.
The DAC in the Parasound Halo P 6 is good. It wasn’t quite as good as my reference DAC, but my reference DAC costs more by itself than the P 6’s $1,595 price tag. The clarity of the Sabre® chipset was solid with good imaging and instrument soundstage. I think the P 6 DAC sounds as good or better than most $500 to $1500 dedicated DACs I’ve heard. So, I think the performance is spot on for its price point.
The Parasound Halo P 6 phono stage impressed me. I think the phono stage is possibly the P 6’s strongest sonic component. Even on my modest turntable, vinyl was as good as any quality redbook digital recording. Digital had a clarity and treble that vinyl couldn’t match and vinyl had a smoothness in the midrange and bass that digital didn’t quite match. I think the phono stage of the Parasound is better than the internal DAC and is certainly worthy of a good turntable. It easily bested my inexpensive reference phono pre.
As I listened to the P 6 I couldn’t stop thinking that this could be great for video game consoles. So, I broke out my PS4 and connected the optical link to the P 6 and the HDMI to a monitor. LA Noire never sounded better. It has a great jazz track intro that I could listen to for hours. Vocals were crystal clear and directional cues were good. I know it isn’t Dolby 5.1 Surround, but for a combined 2-channel music/video game/movie system it far exceeded any A/V receiver I’ve yet heard.
Parasound Halo P 6 Conclusions
I’ve heard Grover Neville’s music recording rig several times. He has large bookshelf ATC monitors with solid state amplification. The system’s tonal accuracy is razor sharp and to me would not make a good two-channel music listening system. It is a phenomenal tool for making music and you can hear everything faithfully reproduced on the recording, but it is a bit dry for playback to my tastes.
The Parasound Halo P 6 Preamplifier and DAC is a bit on the dry and accurate side of audio, but that sound is very popular right now and I’ve been hearing that in many systems, especially towards the upper end of hi-fi. If you are looking for colored and pleasant, the P 6 is not for you. If you want honesty and accuracy with a big dollop of flexibility, then definitely take a listen.
Overall, the Parasound Halo P 6, 2.1 Channel Preamplifier and DAC faithfully delivered what was on the recording. It was not the most accurate or resolving preamplifier I’ve ever heard, but at the price point and with the offered feature set it is certainly a good value.