Parasound Halo P 5 Preamplifier Review


The Parasound Halo P 5 Preamplifier In Use

The P 3 always gave me a clean and quiet presentation, notwithstanding a little acceptable noise from the phono stage. The P 5 is no different, clean and clear. I sensed no loss or graininess at the high end or lack of extension at the bottom. What the P 5 does very well is offer a wide and deep soundstage, instruments and vocals nicely layered and a convincing openness and transparency.

The tonal quality reproducing instruments seemed spot on playing (flac) Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue. The opening track, Chitlins Con Carne features some seductive bongos before Kenny takes over with his electric guitar. The P 5 creates such an excellent ambience and stage presence placing the instruments where your ears (and eyes) can follow. The bongos always to the extreme left, while the drum kit to the right. Kenny’s guitar floats between the channels, clean and vibrant with excellent decay. Further evidence on the namesake track, Midnight Blue emphasizes the stand-up bass; the P 5 resolves the heavy and punchy bass that seems to come from all angles.

I’m a sucker for bossa nova music from the 60’s and 70’s and Stan Getz’s in particular. Somehow reminds me of an exotic trip to Brazil despite the fact that Stan was a Philly native, and I’ve never been to Brazil. His album The Best of Two Worlds (CD) features his saxophone with Brazilian guitarist and vocalist Joao Gilberto. The P 5 portrays the image on this studio recording as a rich and almost jazz-club intimate - when you can look and hear the instruments individually during a performance. The P 5 does a nice job tightening up the percussions.

Female voices showed no effects of sibilance and in fact I found female voices sounding rich with character and strength. The intimate Norah Jones, Live from Austin Tx (vinyl) recording offers her voice full and throaty, yet sweet and subtle. Even her piano sounded warm, and the notes well extended. Her duet with M. Ward and their rendition of Blue Bayou shows how clean and low the noise floor is on the P 5. The space around each voice and accompanied guitar is cleanly shaped.

For large scale, I played Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 and David Zinman with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra (SACD). I do love the enormous choral and I hoped the P-5 would decipher or resolve the grandness of this symphony. As an architect, I share the sense of “building” in this symphony, the sense of spirit and structure to this work. The P 5 simply allowed the recording to shine, the minor nuances of distant horns played well against the powerful forward strings.

I’m convinced of the Parasound ability to confidently handle the analog domain but in all fairness I felt it necessary to compare the digital circuitries with a couple of other DACs on hand, my own Benchmark DAC1-USB DAC and in for review an NAD D 1050 DAC. The NAD 1050 is newer and has been out less than a year. The Benchmark costs slightly more when it was new than the P 5 and the 1050 costs 50% less.

The Benchmark DAC has been my reference for some time. In terms of sound alone, it has always offered a smooth, non-fatiguing overall presentation and in my A-B-C comparison with the NAD and the internal DAC of the P 5 I found the Benchmark slightly more refined. Where the NAD offered a clean sound yet the slightest edge of graininess, the P 5 held its own, offered remarkably a more analog sound, a bit warmer and involving. Yet despite my long-time preference for the Benchmark, the Parasound performed so well, I could easily remove the Benchmark from the chain altogether or better yet, use the controls of the P 5 and use the Benchmark as an input device.

Searching my digital library I “cued” up Bob Dylan’s, Infidels (96/24 FLAC) pushing it from my PC through the USB input on the P 5. The Mark Knopfler influenced recording reveals a tightly controlled and polished presentation, the P 5 handles this rock music in a soulful way. Dylan’s voice is highlighted rather than masked, the clear guitars and shaped percussions work as an ensemble especially noticeable leading into the final track Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight. The P 5 beautifully floats Dylan’s opening harmonica with an airy echo.

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