Don’t Mess with Success
Armed with a seemingly boundless reservoir of engineering creativity, a healthy dose of professional humility, and eager market instincts, the stealth-like stalwarts at San Francisco-based Parasound proceed to re-calibrate accepted price-vs-performance expectations in the excessive end. The agency has survived (and thrived) not by touting revolutionary design advances to its broad lineup of amps and preamps (few of which ever pan out within the high-end, by the best way), but by conservatively delivering incremental enhancements to established product platforms, after which, solely when stated improvements present genuinely higher sound and/or ergonomic efficiency.
Backed by the redoubtable circuit design skills of the legendary John Curl, and the appreciable business skills of agency founder and head-honcho Richard Schram, Parasound enjoys the enviable fame of offering top-performing designs at prices that university professors, mid-level execs, and new-to-the scene professionals can afford to own.
The agency’s nicely regarded Halo line embodies this “offer them more than they expect” mantra, its distinct champagne-hued packing containers (additionally out there in an enticing black end) enjoying one thing approaching iconic status in the every-shifting high-end electronics landscape. The HINT 6 Halo built-in amplifier, a new entrant into the Halo family, and the subject of this assessment, typifies simply what Parasound is all about. Fairly priced, however not low cost; well styled and robustly built, but eschewing, refreshingly so in my estimation, the two-inch thick face-plate / 100-pound chassis “component-as-jewelry” aesthetic embraced by far too many companies, the HINT 6 wears its proletarian garb handsomely and intelligently.
The 6 builds upon the market success of the sooner HINT integrated amplifier that Parasound introduced in 2014. The “6” designation denotes the migration of circuit design advances and have upgrades derived from the new Halo P 6 preamplifier. These embrace a nice onboard ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC (accessed by way of USB, coaxial, or two optical inputs), an updated USB input with universal plug and play (UPnP) flexibility for Windows 10 and MAC computer-based techniques, and additional achieve for lower output shifting coil cartridges. The improved quantity management is a discrete resistor ladder managed electronically. The quantity management knob rotates easily on ball bearings, making it a pleasure to make use of.
Versatile connectivity options (including RCA and balanced inputs and single-ended and balanced outputs) permit users to combine (pun meant) the HINT 6 into nearly any audio system. A versatile excessive move crossover choice permits customers to configure the HINT 6 as a devoted preamp should they buy a beefier energy amp sooner or later. An equally versatile low cross crossover choice permits the choice of optimal crossover frequencies (from 20 to 140Hz) better to integrate quality subwoofers into one’s system.
All in all, I found the rear panel format to be just about best if a wee bit tight, to be expected given the excessive degree of connectivity that the 6 boasts.
The John Curl-designed energy amp section delivers 160 watts x 2 into eight Ohms and 240 watts x 2 into four Ohm masses. Underscored by a beefy encapsulated toroid transformer, 40,000uF in power supply filter capacitance, and featuring “matched JFET input stages and MOSFET driver stages,” the amplifier comfortably drove every speaker in my secure of reference models (the Focal Sopra No. 1, the Von Schweikert Unifield 2 Mk. III, Studio Electric M4 monitor, and Magnepan 1.7i panels) with grace and ease. Top quality 24okay gold-plated 5-way speaker binding posts spherical out the package deal (along with a very helpful distant and well-written instruction guide that I forgot to repack once I shipped the amp back to San Francisco).
Straight out of the field, the little Parasound reassured with its unapologetic embrace of traditional company sonic values. These included excellent quietude, superb transparency, and interesting general musicality. To its credit score, the HINT 6 went about its enterprise without ever over- or de-emphasizing any portion of the audio spectrum. It persistently reproduced all method of music with exceptional confidence, grace, and stability. This made the 6 refreshingly straightforward to take heed to and thru, though speaker selection did play an essential half in securing the right sonic combine (about which, extra later).
The 6’s unassuming naturalism highlighted the power of both previous and new faculty high-resolution formats to captivate and transfer. Good ol’ vinyl’s core musical strengths, specifically transient velocity and precision, micro-dynamic fluidity, imaging prowess, and forward musical momentum, have been on full display here. Paired with the vigorous JE Audio HP20 phono preamp I reviewed a while back (HERE), the HINT 6 reproduced tonal shadings and instrumental timbres with spectacular colour, texture, and determination. On one thing like Chad Kassem’s stellar reissue of the Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 and Karelia Suite (RCA/Decca-Analogue Productions), the 6 delivered largely intact all of the air, openness, velocity, and transparency the HP20 might muster, sacrificing solely a contact of ultimate slam and crunch down low.
The HINT 6 also proved highly clear to analogue supply elements, rendering in stark aid, for instance, the Pear Audio Child Howard table / Cornet 2 tonearm / Ortofon Cadenza Black MC combo’s richly drawn portrayal of instrumental colors, delicate, silky, decays, and memorable timbral sweetness (assessment forthcoming). By the identical token, the amp deciphered with exceptional ease the higher velocity and athleticism of the Origin Reside turntable and arm / Dynavector 20X MC combo I’ve been dwelling with (the cartridge just lately upgraded in the Dynavector line to the brand new 20X2), all with out bleaching or whitewashing tonal colours and instrumental textures (table / arm evaluate additionally forthcoming).
The onboard phono stage delivered general advantageous outcomes as properly, and represents a worthy start line for listeners with appropriately configured methods. Excessive ranges of musical engagement, good element retrieval, and excellent transparency stood out to my ear. I can nicely imagine someone using a table like the very high-quality Rega P6 that our personal Wayne Goins has raved about (together with the Rega Exacta 2 MM cartridge, HERE) getting wonderful results with the onboard unit. Having stated that, I might not anticipate somebody using the Origin Reside Resolution Mk. IV turntable / Conqueror Mk. III tonearm or Pear Audio Child Howard table / Cornet 2 tonearm / Ortofon Cadenza Black MC combos talked about above to stick with the onboard unit.
However here’s the rub: the HINT 6’s line stage was ok general to allow careful listeners to hear unambiguously the sonic improvements that higher phono setups can ship. Whether or not we’re talking the high-value JE Audio HP20, the vibrantly upbeat Sutherland 20/20, or the brawnier, meatier-sounding Parasound JC Three+, the HINT explicitly unearthed the distinctive sonic footprint of every outboard unit I had available.
The HINT 6 additionally leveraged the musical strengths of the varied high-definition digital formats I steadily use to stirring impact. SACDs played again by way of my tried and true Marantz SA-15S2 Restricted Edition SACD / CD Player never sounded lower than fascinating, with personal favorites, together with new releases and digitally remastered analogue warhorses, all faring properly. DSD music information rendered by way of my reference Lumin D1 server highlighted the HINT 6’s musical strengths notably nicely. Grasp tape-to-DSD transfers like Falla’s Three Cornered Hat (London/DSD) sounded reassuringly bloomy, heat, and three-dimensional, what one would anticipate enjoying an unique London LP release of the identical work on a very effective analogue rig, but with the additional advantage of digital’s freedom from annoying pops, ticks, and associated noise artifacts.
The onboard DAC additionally delivered the sonic items, offering clean, fatigue-free playback throughout a number of digital formats. Pushed by way of the digital audio feed from my cable TV field (related using a reasonable optical cable from Amazon), the Sabre DAC delivered heightened 3D palpability, focus, resolution, and slam to voices and movie soundtracks. By means of comparison, the cheap DAC contained in the cable field sounded flat, lifeless, tonally bleached, and dynamically compressed—just what you’d anticipate. Shifting sources to my Emotiva ERC-Three CD player / transport (which I exploit primarily as a CD transport) and using that unit’s coaxial digital output slot (similar low cost cable as before), I used to be hard-pressed to detect any notable sonic variations between the player run as a CD spinner and the latter feeding the Parasound DAC.
Bravo to Parasound for not bowing to business strain and plopping simply any run-of-the mill digital-to-analogue converter into the HINT 6 merely to generate gross sales. The onboard ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC is the actual deal!
Matches Made in Heaven
Having sung the praises of the HINT 6, and rightly so, I do need to supply a couple of impressions about speaker matching, one thing we audio scribes routinely neglect to debate in our critiques. As I indicated above, I used to be lucky to have available several outstanding speakers of varied configurations to use with the Parasound. Though I not have the stellar Studio Electrical M4 screens in-house, the HINT 6/M4 pairing proved an reasonably priced delight. The 6 really sang in this setting, its velocity, transparency, and coherence meshing convincingly properly with the sealed-box M4. To my endless pleasure, the HINT/M4 partnership really excelled with analogue sources, delivering a delightfully composed, pacey, and interesting sound that by no means did not impress.
By means of delicate distinction, though the 6 sounded excellent driving my reference Focal Sopra No. 1 compacts, the pairing was not what I might call solely felicitous. This owes largely to the truth that the HINT 6 tended to exacerbate mildly the No. 1’s delicate tendency toward what some have described as the speaker’s “whitish” tint, specifically a slight tendency towards brightness and leanness. Please understand: I’m not for a minute suggesting that the HINT 6 sounds vibrant or ahead (it didn’t, and doesn’t), however it did sound mildly “solid-state” when compared to the extra refulgent, tonally saturated Mastersound all-tube BoX built-in amplifier that I had available through the bulk of my time with the 6 (evaluation forthcoming), particularly driving the Sopra No. 1.
After testing the HINT 6 with the $9K Focal speakers and the pleasant M4s, I took a leap of religion and hooked the 6 up to my beloved Maggie 1.7i panels. This pairing proved downright revelatory. Whereas I liked the main target, precision, and convincing scaling of the HINT 6 / M4 coupling, the HINT 6 / Maggie 1.7i pairing opened the soundstage even more, providing larger scale, influence, and general drama. Soundstage layering, holography, and peak cues all improved an order of magnitude.
The HINT6/1.7i pairing also projected extra involving musical element into the listening room, leading to a more relaxed, partaking, and shifting experience. If I had to guess, I think that a part of the magic here owes to the HINT 6’s potential to offer the little Maggies simply what they crave: oodles of unpolluted present. The amp and speaker also communicate in consonance with one another, which means that they share an general tendency to neither highlight nor downplay any part of the audio spectrum (the speaker’s apparent low bass limitations being the exception right here). Their crosstalk consonance presents to the listener remarkably balanced sound, along with impressive scaling and excellent general transparency.
As ought to be obvious, I actually loved my time with the HINT 6. It was as straightforward to arrange as a DVD / Blu Ray player, sounded implausible straight out of the field (however even higher after every week of burn-in), and provided enough connectivity options to please just about anybody on the lookout for a single-box answer to their audio woes. It had more than sufficient juice to drive every speaker I had in the home to musically satisfying levels and it appears nice in addition!
It mated superbly with some toney (and expensive) analogue gear and didn’t come throughout as the weak hyperlink in the combine. As points of comparison, the analogue combos mentioned above, cartridges included, fell squarely into the $7-$10Okay worth range. That is two-to-three occasions the worth of the HINT 6, and certain fairly a bit more than someone looking for a $3K built-in would spend for his or her analogue or digital sources. However, but… you don’t need to spend huge bucks on supply elements to get nice sound with the HINT 6. For instance, with respectable cables and an reasonably priced digital source, one might assemble an excellent system for round $7500 ($3k for the amp, $2500 for the audio system, round $1K for cables and speaker stands, and another $1K for a sensibly priced digital transport). Keep in mind, I received nice sound utilizing a “lowly” $500 Purple Ebook CD participant to drive the HINT 6’s inner DAC.
In case you are brief on area (and cash), I might extremely advocate pairing the 6 with a speaker just like the Studio Electric M4. You simply can’t go mistaken with this pairing, and also you don’t need expensive wires and sources to get good sound. However, for about the identical money outlay, in case you have the area, I urge you to take heed to the HINT 6 with the Maggie 1.7i speakers. Collectively, these sensibly priced elements surpassed by a considerable margin the sum of their not insignificant elements.
Simply put, the HINT 6 teased out added ranges of micro-dynamic traction, instrumental texture, and top-to-bottom dynamic punch that took the Maggies to a unique degree altogether. In fact, the identical thing occurred once I paired the Maggies with the beautiful Audionet WATT integrated amp final yr, however that unit, as tested, ran about $20Okay and did not have an inner DAC.
You do the maths!
Parasound HINT 6 Integrated Amplifier
Parasound Products, Inc.
2250 McKinnon Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124
All pictures courtesy of Parasound