Parasound is best known for its high-value, high-end audio components, especially the top-tier models designed by John Curl. The man has had a long relationship with Parasound, but before that he crafted the legendary Vendetta phono preamplifier, worked for the Mark Levinson company and designed concert sound systems for the Grateful Dead. The new Parasound Halo HINT 6 integrated amplifier is in Curl's tradition, it sells for $2,995 in the US, £3,295 in the UK, and AU$5,995 in Australia.
This amplifier pumps out 160 watts per channel for 8-ohm speakers, 240 watts per channel for 4-ohm speakers, and it's based on John Curl's designs used in Parasound's separate power amplifiers.
Up front, the solid aluminum volume knob sits next to an easy-to-read display that shows volume level from 0-99, and I like that you can program a default turn-on volume level. Unlike most high-end amps, the HINT 6 has bass and treble tone controls.
Digital connectivity runs the gamut; inputs include two optical, one coaxial, and the USB 2.0 input supports up to high-res 384 kHz/32-bit PCM digital, native DSD256 and DoP DSD digital streams. The coax and optical inputs only accept PCM up to 192 kHz/24-bit.
There's also six sets of stereo RCA analog inputs, including one moving-magnet/moving-coil phono input for your turntable; a stereo set of XLR inputs; stereo RCA Rec Out jacks; one XLR and two RCA subwoofer output jacks; stereo XLR and RCA preamp outputs; and heavy-duty speaker binding posts. There's a front-panel 3.5mm analog input jack for easy hookup to an external device like a MP3 player. The HINT 6's 3.5mm headphone jack seems out of place on a home component, because most of my full-size headphones have 6.3mm plugs. So I had to use a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter to play those 'phones, a minor annoyance. That said, the HINT 6's sound quality with headphones was very decent.
The HINT 6 is available in black or silver finishes, and before I forget to mention it, a backlit all-plastic remote control is included.
There's also a feature rarely seen on integrated amplifiers: bass management. Sure, most AV receivers have it, but the HINT 6 has separate adjustable filter controls from 20 to 140 Hz for the sub and also for the speakers. That flexibility provides fine tuning opportunities to match where the sub's upper bass rolls off, and the speakers bass comes on. That way you can achieve the smoothest possible blend between the sub and the stereo speakers. One catch: The blending isn't automatic; you have to manually fine tune the controls by ear. I enjoy the process; you might not.
To try out the bass management I first pulled out my old PSB Alpha SubSero and paired that sub with a set of Klipsch RP 600M speakers, which are slightly bass challenged on their own. The addition of the sub was a nice upgrade, making these bookshelf speakers sound like mighty towers.
Hitting the HINT 6 hard with some of the more raucous concerts from the newly released R.E.M. Live at the BBC box set was a lot of fun. This amp really did a great job communicating the band's rhythm section's agility. I also learned that this music sounds best played loud, so I took advantage of the amp's power reserves.
The HINT 6 never sounded like it was working very hard, even with my inefficient Magnepan .7 speakers. With that much power on tap, the speakers sounded better and better played nice and loud.
For quieter fare, Elliott Smith's acoustic New Moon album had terrific intimacy and presence over the HINT 6 with every speaker I tried. The remarkable Buchardt Audio S300 MkII SE speakers (review to come) proved a synergistic match with the HINT 6, together their sound veered toward the rich side of neutral. The clarity and openness of the sound with the Buchardt speakers was spellbinding.
The Parasound Halo HINT 6 might be exactly the sort of practical high-end component music lovers need, when they don't want to deal with the complexities of separate components. For them, the HINT 6 would be the ideal centerpiece for their music system.