The unusually usefully featured Parasound Halo Integrated amplifier

Full bass management is a rarely found feature in stereo integrated amps, but the Parasound Halo has it, along with superb sound.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read

Parasound Halo Integrated amp Parasound

The Parasound Halo Integrated amplifier may appear rather conservative, but once you look a little deeper you'll discover its rather unusual feature lineup. First, it offers the sort of true bass management usually seen on AV receivers but rarely found on integrated amps. Unlike what you find in receivers, the Halo Integrated's bass management isn't handled digitally, the Halo's is strictly analog. That will appeal to purists who like their analog audio to remain purely analog. You can hook up small satellite or bookshelf speakers to the Halo Integrated, along with a powered subwoofer, and use the crossover controls on the amp's back panel to perfectly blend sub and speakers. I know of no other integrated amp that offers that feature. It's a 2.1-channel integrated amp, with a front panel mounted subwoofer volume control. If you have large speakers and no sub, you can bypass the bass management circuitry. The Halo Integrated is available in silver or black finishes.

Rather than use the sort of off-the-shelf Class D amplifier circuitry found on so many of today's integrated amps and receivers, the Halo Integrated boasts an extremely high-current Class AB 160-watt-per-channel amplifier for 8 ohm speakers, which runs at 240 watts per channel for 4 ohm speakers, and it can happily drive even 2 ohm loads! Precious few integrated amps at any price are as capable driving demanding speaker loads as the Halo Integrated.

The Halo Integrated's power amp circuitry was designed by John Curl, who earned legendary status in the audiophile world when he worked his magic designing the Grateful Dead's concert and recording sound systems in the 1970s.

Parasound Halo Integrated amp's bass management controls and connectors. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Connectivity options include one each USB, coax, and optical digital audio inputs, a switchable moving magnet/moving coil phono cartridge (turntable) input; five pairs of RCA and one pair of XLR analog inputs; stereo RCA and XLR preamplifier outputs; RCA and XLR subwoofer output jacks; heavy-duty speaker cable connectors; and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The Halo Integrated also sports ultra high-resolution 384kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD digital converters. The amp is 17.25 inches wide (437mm), and it weighs a very solid feeling 33 pounds, (15kg).

The Halo Integrated amp's power advantage over the excellent Vinnie Rossi LIO integrated amp with Magnepan .7 speakers was readily apparent, even when I wasn't playing loud music. Dynamic punch and low-end impact improved, though the LIO was more transparent and clear sounding. The .7 sucks up a lot of power, and while LIO does a great job with a mere 45 watts per channel on tap, the Halo Integrated transformed the sound of the .7s. Really dynamic recordings, like Antonio Sanchez' drums solos on the "Birdman" soundtrack amply demonstrated the Halo Integrated's muscle.

Encouraged, I moved the .7 speakers aside and hooked up the astonishing Harbeth Super HL5Plus speakers, and the amp really hit its stride. Listening again to Antonio Sanchez' drum solos the Halo Integrated's dynamics were far more realistic than what I heard from the .7 speakers. Encouraged, I nudged the volume higher and higher, and the sound just got better and better.

The Harbeth Super HL5Plus speakers may look like throwbacks to 1970s British speakers, but the sound was more athletic than that. Turning up the energy with Jesus and Mary Chain's "Honey's Dead" pinned my ears back, Gobs of guitar distortion and feedback-drenched tunes dispelled any lingering concerns that the Brits can't make speakers that really strut their stuff. The Super HL5Plus can party, no problem! And Snoop Dogg's new "Bush" album back on the Magnepan .7's made fat sounds from these super skinny panel speakers. I was truly surprised by the panels' low-end oomph!

Next, I plugged my VPI Classic turntable into the Halo Integrated to listen to vinyl, and the sound was relaxed and easy on the ears. Good, but if you have a high-end turntable you might be tempted to add a separate, higher-end phono preamp.

The Parasound Halo Integrated amp sells for $2,495 in the US; £2,999 and AU$4,995 in the UK and Australia respectively; those prices include VAT.