Background: I haven’t been involved with audio separates for 15 years, as integrateds held my fancy. Before that, I had a beautiful set of champagne-finished Harman/Kardon separates that I grabbed on a ridiculous closeout deal that survived both wife and son’s handling for 17 years. But as I actively re-entered the audio hobby and began reviewing in 2006, I shifted into integrated units. That led ultimately to owning both a Vista Audio tube unit, and a SimAudio i7. Three years ago the finances changed and I downsized into some vintage Adcom I collected off of Craigslist.
During 2019 as my audio savings built back up it was time to start shopping along with debate, separates or integrated. The one rule was that the gear must fit into a custom solid oak stereo cabinet my grandfather built in 1980. I did cheat a bit with the Simaudio since it was too wide by placing it on the top. But this time around the top of the cabinet was reserved for the turntable. The 20 inch tall bottom shelf originally was designed for albums, but now they are stored in an Ikea bookcase. My vintage Adcom GFA-555ii claims that location. Above that is a storage drawer (originally for cassettes) that now holds vacuum tube gloves, vinyl cleaner, and odds and ends. The lower middle shelf with 6 inches of usable height originally held an H/K 680i receiver, the upper middle that is an inch shorter in height held the cassette, and later CD player. In other words, the choices were not wide open.
Enter the Parasound Halo P6. Sadly, I have never experienced a Parasound product, though a handful of audio friends have, and urged me to check them out at some point. I do confess to a long fascination with their mini Z series components. But then during the summer of 2019, I stopped in at Echo Audio’s new shop in west Portland, and finally heard what friends had been saying, though to be fair it was the Hint 6 integrated. Unfortunately the depth was too deep for the rack. Upon returning home after a four hour drive (I used to live 15 minutes from Echo’s new location), I noticed that the P6 preamplifier would fit nicely on the upper shelf. As I continued researching, I was able to locate a couple of month-old used P6 (sorry Kurt!). Throwing caution to the wind, I bought it figuring if it didn’t ring my bell, I’d resell and be out just shipping.
The black Parasound P6 (also available in silver) arrived in mint condition inside the original packing. The layout of the P6 front panel is very full-featured, yet understated. The controls run across the panel in two levels. The upper left holding the remote sensor, headphone jack, Aux, followed by three knobs: Treble, Bass, Sub. Along the right are the Balance and Input selector knobs, followed by a much appreciated new addition, the digital volume display, and finally the large volume knob. I will say that in my opinion the Balance and Sub knobs should have switched positions. On the other hand the oval inset channel for the lower controls and LEDs demonstrates excellent ergonomics, though I wish the lettering was larger. From left to right: On/Off and Tone buttons, then several LED’s for the five RCA inputs, then Aux, Phono, Opt1, Opt2, Coax, USB, Bypass, and finally buttons for Dim and Mute. The blue LED’s including one that surrounds the On/Off doesn’t distract from the user enjoying the music.
The back panel deserves kudos for managing a tremendous number of inputs, outputs and controls with both logic and room for easy connecting. The top left holds balanced XLR inputs, balanced XLR outputs, and a balanced XLR Sub Out. The lower half holds all the RCA inputs, outputs starting with Phono, including the ground and selector switch for MM or MC cartridges. Next are the five inputs, Rec Out, Home Theater Bypass inputs including two for Sub. Then comes my favorite features: the Sub output with crossover frequency knob with On/Off control and RCA outputs. Next, comes the same control set for the main output. Essentially this allows the user to choose between the speakers running full range with the sub, or letting the sub(s) handle the bottom frequencies. Kudos to the Parasound team for having this option! Next are the 12V Trigger, IR Control above, with the four digital inputs below: USB, Coax, Opt1, Opt2. Finally the master power toggle and power cord socket. All RCA and XLR inputs are tight with no movement or wiggle during connect/disconnect moments.
I really appreciate the thought behind the layout of the remote. As my eyes have aged, the ability for my fingers to navigate a remote without having to look down and pull up my glasses to see where a specific button is located has become a big deal. The combination of button shapes, sizes, and sections makes this remote an ergonomic winner.
Since I have multiple amps that I switch between for reviews both the XLR and RCA outputs are used. About four months after purchasing the P6, I found a bargain used Parasound A23 amp that fits perfectly on the shelf below the preamp. While it’s not the series matching A23+, it’s still a fine John Curl designed amplifier. Another power source used was the recently reviewed Peachtree amp500. That and a vintage Adcom GFA-555ii along with a tube Vista Audio i34 integrated rounded out the power complement.
If there is one absolute pet peeve I have about preamplifiers or preamp sections is that ZERO bleed-thru from one input should ever be detected when another input is engaged. I can’t tell you how many receivers I rejected for purchase in my youthful days because I could hear the tuner, tape, phono, cd, leaking thru to the selected source. The Parasound Halo P6 is absent this evil via all sources.
With that out of the way, it was time to listen to the music, and there has been quite the variety passing through the P6. First and foremost, the 110db S/N in the RCA inputs is a key reason why the P6 lacks the graininess that I’ve experienced with other preamps, integrateds, and receivers. Play most any symphonic recording from Brahms to Mahler and beyond the woodwind instruments are the canary in the coal mine, warning of equipment noise creep. Secondly, the usage of recognized high quality components with tighter tolerances. The P6 accurately demonstrates the decay of piano notes, as well as the upper frequencies of the violin as recorded. I was hard pressed to detect the adding or limiting of the recording by this preamp. It is truly neutral in this regard.
The phono section deserves recognition as well. The Parasound team boosted the output sensitivity from 35db with the P5 to 38db in the P6 to go along with the 80db signal/noise with MM cartridges. While the 3 point increase may seem small, the improvement is noticeable over my trusty Adcom GFP-565 both in dynamics and clarity. This is a built-in phono section that will make many vinyl lovers think twice about purchasing an outboard unit. A pop-free copy of Supertramp’s Crime of the Century confirms the value of the well designed input section. The mid-song dynamic swings that the band is famous for come with the impact that a separate phono amp provides.
Like an ever increasing number of preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers with onboard DAC’s, the P6 offers four inputs: Coaxial, Optical (2), and USB. Both the Coaxial and Optical inputs accept up to 192/24 sampling rates, and the USB 384/32 with PCM. For those on the cutting edge, the P6 also can handle DSD 64/128/256 as well as PCM @ 384. Playing a number of Chesky natively recorded Hi-Rez tracks up to 192/24, the P6 with the ESS Sabre 32 Reference chip architecture foundation pulled out the additional detail that makes Hi-Rez files enjoyable. Little Kruta’s “And Justice For All”, silky warm bass notes provides a wonderful compliment to the bongos and sixty-ish vocals. Where does this DAC section stand against various off board units? Better than memory stick-style DAC’s, sonically very equal to quality budget DAC’s such as the Chord Mojo. Compared to my reference Simaudio 230HAD at $1500, the P6 lacks the bloom and color. But let’s remember, this is a full-featured preamplifier with a ton of features for just $99 more!
I never buy a piece of audio gear without a solid test run, either by spending a few hours in a showroom, or an in-home demo. But the reputation and many positive comments by audio acquaintances convinced me that the Parasound P6 wouldn’t disappoint, and they were right. The P6 preamplifier is a first-rate piece of audio equipment that provides true full function as a control center for a modest price of $1599. Each of the multitude of features are well-engineered with quality components, no decorative afterthoughts. This dyed-in-the-wool integrated guy has converted to separates.
Publisher’s Note- After nearly a year, I sold the P6 and A23 as the black finish against the small lettering was becoming difficult to see as my eyesight continues to change. I have since purchase the A23 in silver and am watching for a matching P6 to become available on the used market. Yes, the P6 is that good!