To Hans Wetzel,
I was wondering if you could make a recommendation between the Parasound Halo Integrated integrated amplifier, Hegel Music Systems H160 integrated amplifier-DAC, and the Parasound A 23 and P 5 separates. I think there are a lot of us out there looking for this sweet spot of a $2500-$3500 system, but find it impossible to find a location with multiple products to listen to. Consider the question asked from a reader who is using Zu Audio Omen Mk.II loudspeakers, and lossless files from a MacBook as the primary source, with no intention of expanding to records.
Thank you for your thoughts and keep up the great work.
I totally understand your predicament, Jared. I’m an integrated guy, so between the Parasound separates and the Halo Integrated, I’d lean towards the latter. Not only is it one less box you need to deal with and find an outlet for, but the Halo actually makes more power than the A 23 does -- 160Wpc into 8 ohms vs. 125Wpc into the same load. I expect the two setups sound almost identical to one another seeing as their internal components are roughly the same.
As for whether I’d go with the Parasound over the Hegel, it’s hard to say. Here’s why: Hegel’s electronics seem to have a distinctive sound profile, and I love it. They sound super clean and clear, with a vibrant, slightly forward presentation. They “pop” really well. While that’s not tonal coloration or a clear lack of neutrality, per se, that is a definite sonic signature. The Parasound, by contrast, is a total chameleon -- it’s silly neutral, and not just for the money. It’s signal in, signal out, full stop.
Because I like the Hegel sound, as well as their industrial design, and the H160’s built-in Apple AirPlay functionality, I’d personally spring for the H160. For anyone who hasn’t heard a Hegel product in person, though, I’d heartily recommend the Halo Integrated. It may not “excite” in the way that the Hegel does, but the Parasound is $1000 cheaper. For $2500 or less, it’s the easiest recommendation I could ever make on the electronics front -- no-brainer.
I do have two other suggestions for you to consider, though. NuPrime Audio’s $2600 IDA-16 integrated amplifier-DAC sports 200Wpc (into 8 ohms); a sleek, modern form factor; and no frills, such as a headphone jack, bass management, or analog preamplifier. It’s a PWM-based switching amplifier, built with digital playback principally in mind. Along the same lines, you should also consider NAD’s upcoming M32 integrated amplifier-DAC, which will retail for $3499. It looks to have the build quality of a $5000 integrated amp, 150Wpc of NAD's Direct Digital amplification (it’s not a traditional class-D circuit -- the signal remains in the digital domain almost right up until the speaker terminals), and a gravitas about it that would shame both the Parasound and the Hegel integrateds. I’m expecting a review sample at some point in September, and I am VERY excited to hear what NAD's come up with. Hope this helps. . . . Hans Wetzel