- Written by Rick Schmidt
- Published on 15 July 2013
The Parasound Halo CD 1 Player In Use
One thing you might worry about with a CD ROM drive is noise from the drive itself. The CD 1 uses proprietary software to keep the drive silent while playing a CD. If you press the pause button the drive will start to make quiet whirring sound. If you eject the CD the drive spins down and that's really the only time I noticed it.
This is a slot loader by the way. The mechanism is quiet and seems to be gentle. When the disc is inserted about 7/8 of the way some tiny elves come to life inside and quickly pull it the rest of the way in. Press the stop/eject button once to stop the disc and a second time to eject. The unit also ejects when it is powered off. You can change this behavior during setup (I never tried this) but I think the default behavior is a good way to go. It prevents mishaps when powering up if a disc were to be left in the unit. When you do power up there is a brief wait, about 10 seconds, while the CD 1 remembers who it is and its singular mission in life.
Upon first plugging in the CD 1 and switching between the analog and op amp output stages I thought I heard a clear advantage with the discrete outputs. The op amp stage had a slight constricted quality that I didn't detect on the discrete circuit. After break in however, I was hard pressed to tell the difference.
The CD 1 powers both its balanced and unbalanced outputs simultaneously but it does so using the same circuitry so only a fool (i.e., me) would hook them both up at the same time. Choose your interconnect method and stick with it friends. Of course the chosen interconnects will make a difference but what I heard was a slight but clear improvement in most everything using the balanced outs.
Sound from the unbalanced is already stellar to begin with however, in fact this may be the finest player I have ever heard. Using a pair of vintage 0.5m Tara Labs Prism 2200 unbalanced interconnects to my Sim Audio P5.3 preamp the sound was sweet with clear separation of instruments, detailed textures (timbre), highs and lows both extended nicely and no discernible fatigue. In all areas except perhaps vocals the CD 1 bested my long time reference Naim DAC with XPS, sourced from an Emotiva ERC-2. By comparison the Naim had a warmer sound (which seemed to emphasize vocals) but with a cost of some blurring of the midrange and bass. Not as much bass either. The CD 1 excels at rocking out, that is, timing, rhythm and rhythm sections are given their due. Switching to the balanced outputs just brought more of everything. The noise floor lowers a bit as expected and more details are heard throughout, especially in voices. I used Analysis Plus Copper Ovals for this connection. I did most of my listening with the balanced outputs and the CD 1 in Discrete Output mode.
I have found that the details of drum sounds, such as the initial thwack (on a snare or tom) are a good way to demonstrate to non-audiophiles the differences in components. Drum thwacks sound especially natural through the CD 1.
The CD 1 comes with rather plain looking beige power cord. Parasound calls the color 'Putty', yes that's it. The cord seems hefty enough but switching to Shunyata's affordable Venom 3 brought more delineation in the highs. It did not however bring the expected blacker backgrounds, which is a testament to the design or perhaps to the stock power cord itself. Upgrading to Shunyata's not-as-affordable Venom HC did blacken the background a bit, allowing some incredible vocal details to come through but perhaps an over emphasis on bass. On Lucinda Williams Essence I heard extra breathiness and warble, making an already moving experience all the more so. But on Portishead's Roseland NYC Live and other discs the black background with this power cord on the CD 1 seemed to rise up and swallow some of the music.
I have the Benchmark DAC2 HGC on hand for review as well. Connected to the CD 1's BNC digital out with a Nordost Norse 2 and then using the balanced out from the Benchmark. The Benchmark DAC put a very slight veil on the music, but added more interesting texture to vocals and midrange instruments. Only the use of the expensive Shunyata Venom HC brought the DAC2's noise floor down to the range of the ultra quiet CD 1 however.
The standalone DAC certainly benefited from the CD 1's error free digital stream by the way. I tried using the Emotiva to drive the DAC and it was nowhere close. It's the kind of thing that seems un-listenable by comparison. I'll investigate this further in the DAC 2 review.