Preamplifiers

Parasound Halo P7 Preamplifier

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Parasound Halo P7 Preamplifier

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Introduction

The Parasound Halo P 7 Preamp is a problem solver. The problem is the gap between home theater systems and hi-end stereo systems. Many home theater buyers are fond of the stereo systems that they already own (and paid big bucks for), those that don't already have a stereo might find that they can afford a lot more two channel gear than 7.1 channel gear and since 90-100% of their music collection is two channel.. well, you get the idea. But unless you are a hifi nut like me, you don't have a room dedicated to the stereo and another dedicated to the home theater.

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 100 kHz, +0/-3 dB
  • Total harmonic distortion:
  • < 0.006% at 20 kHz
  • Line Input Impedance :
  • Unbalanced: 14.2k Ω
  • Balanced: 4.7k Ω per leg
  • Phono Input Impedance :
  • MM setting: 47k Ω
  • MC setting: 100 Ω
  • Output Impedance :
  • Unbalanced: < 60 Ω
  • Unbalanced: < 60 Ω per leg
  • Total Gain: 14 dB (Volume limiter set to 110)
  • Dimensions:
  • Width: 17-1/4" (437 mm)
  • Depth: 13-3/4" (350 mm)
  • Height, with feet: 4-1/8" (105 mm)
  • Height, without feet: 3-1/2" (89 mm)
  • Weight:
  • Net: 13.5 lbs. (6.1 Kg)
  • Shipping: 20.5 lbs. (9.3 Kg)
  • S/N ratio:
    > 110 dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
    >  95 dB, input shorted, unweighted
  • Cross-talk:
    85 dB at 20 kHz
  • MSRP $2000 USD
  • Parasound

Here comes the P 7 to solve your problems. The Parasound P 7 is a high quality preamp designed to integrate your two channel and multi channel systems. Not a preamp-preprocessor (pre-pro). There is no digital processing in the P 7. What the P 7 does is allow you to integrate any combination of two channel source components, multichannel source components, two channel amplifiers and multichannel amplifiers.


Design

To achieve this the P 7 has a multitude of inputs: Phono (MM or MC), 6 unbalanced stereo inputs, 1 balanced stereo input, two multichannel (7.1) unbalanced inputs and a stereo mini jack for your ipod on the front panel. Outputs are 7.1 balanced or unbalanced. The multichannel inputs can be connected to line level sources (the multichannel output of your DVD player) or the multichannel outputs of your existing pre-pro.

Parasound Halo P7 Preamplifier

When I had the P 7 in my home theater system I ran the 5.1 output of my Cambridge Azur 540 DVD player straight to the P 7 but I had the option of continuing to use my Arcam Av7 as a preprocessor and running its preamplified outputs into the P 7, using bypass mode for multichannel. Are you starting to see the possibilities here? Or getting confused? Look at it this way: Got a two channel amp that you want to continue to use as part of your home theater system? No problem. Want to use your existing pre-pro but it doesn't have a line level output? No problem. Want to just skip the whole pre-pro business because your DVD player already decodes all the audio formats just fine thank you, ok then. Want to add a turntable and plug it into a kick ass phono stage? Now you're talkin'.

The P 7 has two buttons and a knob. One button is On/Off, the other selects the function of the knob. The knob's default function is volume. Press the button below it and the knob becomes the input select. Could not be more simple, didn't even need the manual for that part. Further presses of that button will get still more functions for the knob such as Bass/Treble but I relied on the remote for those.


Remote Control

The remote is also pleasingly simple. The remote is made of plastic but some thought has gone into its ergonomics. There is a curvature to the back that helps it fit into your hand and the buttons all seem to be where they should be. One thing about that curvature, if your coffee table is crammed full of books and CD's and there's barely any room to put the remote down on the edge, it will likely fall off. Not that my coffee table is like that. A key button on the remote is the 'Tone Bypass' button, more on that below.

Parasound Halo P7 Preamplifier

Oh – a little side note about the remote if you happen to own Cambridge gear – the input select button on the Parasound remote caused my Cambridge DVD player to eject the disc. Not a happy situation. Many remotes can be reprogrammed to solve these sorts of issues, I don't know if that's the case here. I didn't see it in the manual and the manual is excellent. In fact it should serve as a how-to guide for other audio manufactures. It is comprehensive, well laid out and well written with large and useful diagrams. Especially important considering the non standard function the P 7 can play in a home theater system.


In Use

Home Theater System

As I mentioned above I use the P 7 in my home theater system as a substitute for the pre-pro. That is, I connected my DVD player straight to the P 7 and the P 7 straight to my old Outlaw 770. All connections were unbalanced.

Overall the sound was a bit smoother than that produced when my Arcam was in the system. There is a certain technical sounding clarity to the AV8 that was missing. I don't consider this a particular strength of the AV8 though. When I reviewed the replacement AV9 I noted that this was an area that was improved. It's interesting that Arcam takes great pains to separate digital and analog processing and that is one area that they worked on with the AV9. The Parasound P 7 takes it a step or two further by simply putting the analog section in a separate box and the improvements I heard were similar. All in all the differences were slight, it seemed like the bass presentation was noticeably better with the P 7 but since I had changed my system considerably by using the P 7 I couldn't be too sure. I did want to watch (and listen to!) music DVD's more when I had the Parasound in my system.

Stereo System-Sound

In my main system I used unbalanced inputs and the balanced outputs of the P 7 in my main system, this is the same connection scheme I use with my standard Simaudio preamp (P5.3).

My first impression was that the sound was good but somewhat veiled compared to more expensive Simaudio. I thought I needed less bass and more treble so I was glad to have the tone controls on the remote. Then tried the 'tone bypass' button and discovered that I didn't need to adjust levels at all and in fact a lot of the veiling was lifted. I did the rest of my listening without the tone controls. The default setting for the tone controls is that they be in the circuit. If you get a P 7 I recommend trying the bypass straight away.

So what did I listen to?

Juliana Hatfield: This amazing artist has recently published a memoir: "When I Grow Up" about life on the road for an indie band which it covers in gory detail while it enlightens thoroughly on just about everything else: life, art, music, the music industry. I couldn't put it down. "The White Broken Line" is an HDCD compilation of live recordings and it serves as a great companion piece for the book. The book expresses the heartache that comes with life on the road. To me this career can only be considered triumphant in the musical sense. The book will tell you all the ways and reasons it has not been so in a personal sense.

I had been listening to "The White Broken Line" practically non-stop for the weeks leading up to the time I got the P 7 and that didn't change when the Parasound arrived. This record is a terrific live recording with considerable dynamics as Ms Hatfield can rock out (that is such an understatement) and then break your heart with a ballad about trying to connect with someone who is too into drugs. The P 7 didn't get in the way of that at all. Compared to my Simaudio P5.3 there was a step down in the high end and a slight veiling overall but bass was tight and tuneful and the instruments remained separate, not muddled together (that is the supreme test for a preamp). It should be noted that my Simaudio preamp costs nearly two times as much, covers only two channels and enjoyed being connected to amplifiers made by the same company. The differences I heard could be offset if not eliminated by choices of amplifiers and possibly interconnects.

In her book, "When I Grow Up", Hatfield laments about the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This landmark legislation paved the way for the likes of Clear Channel which bought up radio stations across the country, fired independent programmers and replaced them with some faceless corporate…ummm… let's call them pinheads. Seems like we should be allowed to know exactly who these pinheads are since they determine what will be played on the public airwaves nationwide. Without the hundreds of independent programmers that we once had, the chances for any individual artist are greatly reduced. You have to impress the cabal of pinheads and that's your only shot. And, it's not at all clear that good music is what will impress them. More important is fitting into their preconceived notion about what can be successfully marketed to teenagers.

The 1996 legislation was put in place just in time to prevent Juliana Hatfield from gaining a foothold in the market that would serve her as she matured. Consider The Pretenders (more on them in a minute), with fame well established before 1996 they were not only able to amass considerable wealth in their heyday ( I assume ), they also have a reliable fan base to support them on tours were they are welcomed and treated well ( I also assume ). Their recent show here in Portland was sold out in less than a day. Of course The Pretenders experienced the downside of fame as well with two of their members succumbing in the worst way to drug problems.

Phono Stage

Here's how it went when I played records through the phono stage of the P 7: Needle drops, eyebrow raises, needle drops, eyebrow raises. Every record I tried caused this same Spock-like reaction. This was way better than I expected for a built in phono stage, on par with some external phono stages, way way better than a cheapy external phono stage. Of course there is no end of improvement to be had with external phono stages depending on your bank account and cartridge matching is a big factor (my cartridge is a Dynavector DV20-XH). With my PS Audio GCPH I heard more inner detail and extreme high end (ie, symbols) and better dynamics but the Parasound's built in was so smooth and satisfying.

The new record by The Pretenders is "Break Up the Concrete", happily available on special edition dual 10" vinyl. On the third side of this record are three songs that easily justify the purchase price. The middle track is "Almost Perfect" both in title and as you experience it. Chrissie Hynde's vocals are front in the mix like a proper Pretenders record and it's the performance of a lifetime. With the Parasound I heard her more as part of the group, and the same with the drums as compared to my Simaudio/PS Audio combination which pulled the mix apart more for a more distinct soundstage. I enjoyed both. I listened to side three enough times through the Parasound to prove that records do not easily wear out with repeated plays.

Parasound Halo P7 Preamplifier

Conclusion

If you are looking to integrate your beloved two channel gear with your home theater set this preamp should be high on your shopping list. The HALO styling is beautiful and the ergonomics are first rate. The P 7 is also just an excellent preamp plain and simple. With little to no sonic character of its own the P 7 simply presents the music as a whole and lets you enjoy.