Go to Home Page

Click Here to Go to Index for All SSPs

 

Product Review

Parasound New Classic 7100 SSP and 5250 Five-Channel Power Amplifier

Part II

 

September, 2005

Piero Gabucci

 

Set-up

Let me begin by saying the manual that comes with the 7100 controller is as comprehensive as any I’ve read. Secondly, Parasound anticipates a variety of users' level of sophistication and knowledge. Right out of the box, the 7100 controller operates with the most minimal of connections, say a monitor, a DVD player, and a Satellite or cable box. Parasound refers to this as the Basic Set-up, and many of the basic settings, speaker size, quantity, subwoofer settings, etc. are already defaulted for a quick demonstration.

Intermediate and Advanced Set-ups let you truly delve into the capabilities of the 7100 controller, so I’ll get started. I’ll talk about the remote control a bit later, but I do recommend making all your set-up selections from the remote. It’s much, much easier than from the front panel. There are also some controls on the remote not available via the front panel.

The Main Menu screen (viewed on your monitor) has six areas of control, including Speaker, Source, Audio, THX, Display, and Trigger set-up. Speaker set-up is typical, which includes Size, Level, and Distance. During the speaker size set-up, you will also select the subwoofer options, such as the crossover frequency. For THX, the unit is set to “80 Hz-THX”, and there are other settings from 20 Hz-200 Hz in 5 Hz increments.

Speaker Level set-up is again typical and can be adjusted for each of the eight channels from 15 dB to +15 dB in 0.5 dB increments. Speaker Distance is set in 1 ft increments (which may not be accurate enough for the serious tinkerer), and you do get a warning if you set the distance to the listener from your left and right mains as more than two feet difference. It tells you that THX specifications are not being met.

In the Source set-up menu, each of ten available inputs, such as DVD or VCR, is identified with its assigned digital and video source type. This is a nice feature as you can see all the required information for each source without going through other menus. For example, another receiver might ask you to set up the video and audio inputs under different menus. Parasound combines these functions on one screen. Source inputs can also be renamed, an especially nice feature if for example you run multiple DVD players.

The Source menu also allows you to assign “preset” combinations in the upcoming sub-menu of the audio set-up. Presets override those chosen in the main set-up with your own preferences for bass and treble, audio-sync delay, and higher or lower levels for all channels.

An Input Monitor allows you to view each input and volume levels, and compare all input levels and make gain adjustments for analog sources to prevent overload of the 7100's analog-to-digital converters. This is because the digital sources are fixed input, only the analog sources are adjustable.

The Audio Set-up Menu allows you to make tone control adjustments for bass and treble and also for the LFE level, which you can reduce by -10d B depending on your preferences and your speaker system.

In the Audio Menu, there is a reverb adjustment for Club and Concert modes which Parasound calls "Dry through Wet", with three settings in between.

The Audio Menu is also where you make your adjustments for Dolby/DTS set-ups. You can adjust the “spaciousness” of playback in say DPL-II, or DTS Neo:6. It makes modifications in both the “width” of the center channel signal as well as the front-rear surround field, from a minimum to a maximum with four increments between.

As described earlier in the source set-up, up to five presets can be created combining adjustments for bass, treble, center, sub and surround levels and audio-sync (group delay, for syncing with the video). Each level can be adjusted from -12 dB to +12 dB. Each of the preset profiles can be assigned to any of the sources. I found this to be quite innovative, and I configured different presets for CD, DVD and TV stereo playback.

The THX Audio Set-up allows you to make selection for Boundary Gain On/Off if your subwoofer cannot handle frequencies down to the THX Ultra2 specification of 20 Hz. Typically this comes across as “boomy” bass depending on your room characteristics. Another THX setting called ASA or Advanced Speaker Array is the management for the rear speakers in a 7.1 system. There are three settings based on your room configuration for placement; your choices include Together, Close, or Apart. Finally, under the THX Set-up is the Bass Limiter, which allows you to limit the bass output. If you had previously chosen that you do have a THX Ultra2 certified subwoofer, this option is not necessary.

A second zone (called Zone B) can be used to output stereo analog audio and composite video to a second room.

Remote Control

Some may recognize the Universal Remote Inc. URC-100 styling and why not, it’s their product. For me personally this is a huge plus, as I already use the MX-500 Universal Remote for my system. Customized for Parasound, the SRC1 is an eight-device learning remote capable of 24 macros with up to 50 steps each. Each device can be renamed with up to six characters. The remote is nicely proportioned, is backlit, and the buttons are logically arranged. Included with the remote control is its own manual and a DVD tutorial disk. The DVD accompanying the remote is a fun and easy-to-follow user’s guide. Nice touch.

A few noteworthy controls are afforded to you from the remote. One in particular I found myself using specifically. Although you set all your preferences for channel levels during the initial set-up, via the remote you can make immediate adjustments to the center, surround, and subwoofer while you’re watching or listening to material.

Operationally Speaking

Once I performed enough set-up to give the system a whirl, immediately I realized the smallish screen on the controller is a bit hard to read, especially from angles other than straight on. Likewise for the remote, if not directed precisely at the 7100 controller, you may experience some difficulty. In defense of the design, Parasound expects the controller to be in a room other than the main listening/viewing space. Personally, I like to see what the controller sees. If you do end up placing the units in a separate closet, I do recommend a small monitor, so you’re not forced to rely purely on the screen of the controller for set-up.

When switching input sources, there is a slight delay in the 7100 which at first makes you switch again, thinking it hasn’t registered. I suspect to Parasound’s credit, this is meant to protect internal circuitry thereby extending the life of the component.

I’m glad I was able to in a short paragraph identify the minor issues I had with the 7100, because what I liked and appreciated in the 7100/5250 combination is plentiful. The unit offers enough basic set-up, yet is sophisticated to allow the user some customization.

Surround Modes

A number of surround and listening modes are available, easily scrolled through on the remote control.

Although I’m not crazy about the size of the display on the 7100, ironically the information it gives you is important. Besides the source and volume playing, it also tells you the surround mode, and the number of channels. For example, it may tell you Dolby Digital 3/2.1, for a 5.1 channel playback or 2/0 for 2 channels and down the line for Pro Logic, DTS, and if you’ve engaged the THX processing.

This may seem less than important, however the surround modes adjust based on what the source material is playing. Again for example, if you’re receiving a Dolby Digital 3/2.1 program, the surround modes available include Direct, where the signal is passed without alterations, and also Stereo as well as Mono. If you’re watching either an analog or Dolby Digital 2/0 signal, a variety of playback modes are available.

Natural Mode adds spaciousness to surround speakers without altering the L/R pure stereo. I found this to be an extremely pleasant surround mode as I used it exclusively for all Dolby 2/0 material. The three other music modes are self explanatory, Club, Concert, and Party.

Dolby Pro Logic IIx can also be played back in either Music or Movie Modes. The manual has a very nice discussion abut Pro Logic IIx for those unfamiliar with the technology.

THX is also offered in Cinema or Music Mode, in addition to Surround EX, an enhancement for Dolby EX. THX Ultra2 Cinema plays back 5.1 soundtracks in 7.1.

DTS is fully addressed with DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, an enhanced sampling rate, and DTS Neo:6, Movie, Music, and Matrix modes.

Stereo 96 Mode up-samples to 96 kHz.

In Use

My main listening room is approximately 12' wide by 16' long with 8' ceilings. Attached to the Parasound gear I was able to use two very different speaker packages aside from my own. These included the very robust and excellent sounding Vento line from Canton previously reviewed, and also the more compact Rainmaker package of speakers from Totem Acoustics (review to follow). Interconnects and speaker cables were from Ethereal.

Typically I begin reviewing with CD material, but frankly I wanted to get acquainted as quickly as possible with the five-channel capability of the 5250 and all that horsepower. The DTS version of Jurassic Park was a good start, and I was just as impressed with the delivery of dialogue as I was with the thunderous T-Rex chase scene.

Transparent is not a word I like to use indiscriminately, but playing the opening
scene of The Two Towers of The Lord of The Rings, the snap of the Balrog’s flaming whip immediately distinguishes the power and force that the 5250 is capable of producing. The incredible Howard Shore soundtrack is majestic and engulfing while the battle continues.

On the video side, the component pass-through of the DVD signal was flawless. I could not distinguish the difference between a direct connection from the player, or through the 7100 controller.

Likewise for the Eagles Hell Freezes Over DVD, the Parasound pair proved their very musical nature. The DTS soundtrack portrayed the acoustic guitars slightly forward of the vocals, which I consider quite spatial.

Multi-channel audio, of which I’m a huge supporter, is simply astounding played back over the Parasound pair. You may or may not be a fan of Blue Man Group, but their current DTS 96/24 or DVD-Audio The Complex has quickly become a standard for evaluation. This high resolution recording is demanding of not only your speakers, but also of your amplifier. The 5250 didn’t flinch as I scanned from track to track. Reaching reference listening levels, my floor shook beneath me, with no stress at all. I was delighted by the detail, perfect channel separation, and perfect balance especially in the midrange.

Moving on to SACD, once again a standard for me is Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Once again, the 7100/5250 combination gave me clarity, depth, and spaciousness.

Playing two-channel CDs allowed me to try out some of the listening modes available on the 7100 controller. I particularly liked the Natural setting whereby two-channel becomes subtly altered into all channels. This was also evident in most TV programs broadcast in stereo.

In the intimate Live at Jazz Standard CD, Rene Marie and her trio bring a sultriness to this New York Club performance. Although I enjoyed both the club and concert modes on the 7100, straight stereo was just perfect. Once again, the detail and air around her voice was distinguished nicely from the piano and drums.

I also tried the 5250 amplifier with my own receiver, and again the results were a substantial improvement in the performance of my receiver, and at 120 WPC, its amplifier is no slouch.

I do recommend combining the 7100/5250 units with full-size speakers rather than smaller monitors, or bookshelf. While I enjoyed playback on every speaker I used, the 5250's massive power shone more on the floor-standers.

Conclusions

For about $5,500, the combination of Parasound components makes a great statement for those in the separates camp.  With high-end flagship receivers now pushing the dollar range that was traditionally only spent on separates, Parasound makes a case for value and affordability.

If I had to sum up my experience with the New Classic line of equipment in one word, it would be performance, better yet, perhaps jaw-dropping performance (one word wasn’t enough). The 7100 controller worked flawlessly, while the 5250 amplifier produced enough neutral power for any home theater space I could possibly imagine.

It will be truly difficult to give these back, perhaps I won’t be around when Parasound sends for a pick-up.

 

- Piero Gabucci -
 

© Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Go to Table of Contents for this
Issue
Go to Home Page

 

Go to Benchmark Introduction

About Secrets

Register

Go to Primers Introduction

Terms and Conditions of Use