Parasound New Classic Pre and Power Amplifier REVIEW

New Classic Model 2100 Preamplifier $1499

New Classic Model 2125 Power Amplifier $1899

4 Stars

An American pie pre-and-power combo that’s a good all-rounder, packs a real punch and keeps everything nicely in control. But is that enough?

PARASOUND OF SAN Francisco is a manufacturer of amplifiers, source components and in-ceiling speakers (and an in-wall subwoofer). The company is well known in the USA but less so in New Zealand. A number of big name operations (Pixar, Lucasfilm, Sony Pictures) and big names (Oliver Stone, Kanye West) use Parasound gear for both domestic and commercial purposes.

Parasound’s range of products is quite broad, running from entry level to reasonably high end: the higher priced HALO range has an enviable reputation and has garnered good reviews internationally, but what we have here are two components from the New Classic range. Parasound bills New Classic as delivering “maximum bang for the buck performance and ease of integration for custom installations”. New Classic is made up of the Model 2100 preamplifier and Model 2125 power amp as reviewed here, plus three other power amps (including the Model 5250 v.2, which is a 250 watt five channel beast). All of the power amps are THX Ultra2 certified, which indicates something of a home theatre orientation, but its Model 2125 and Model 2100 were tested in a strictly stereo capacity.

Features and Construction

Both of these amps are built into similar looking black cases, and while they’re not the most solid or well damped out there at the price, they look neat enough. Subtle green-lit icon displays on both units indicate input and operation status. Both amps can be rack mounted in standard 19-inch racks with the optional rack-mount kits.

There are some strangely considered design choices on these amps: for example, the input select knob on the preamp is a tiny little thing that’s right next to the identically shaped balance knob, so if you’re trying to switch inputs in a darkish room at night, you’ll often grab the wrong control. (Well, I did). They’re also fiddly because they’re so small. Then there’s the MP3 input, which is a 3.5mm jack right next to the headphone output, which is also a 3.5mm jack. Am I the only guy who occasionally tries to plug in a set of ‘phones late at night? Probably! So yes, I’m being picky here, but some simple layout changes could go a long way to improving the customer’s overall experience and enhancing the ease of use.

Parasound has loaded both amps with a huge list of features, which allow for a lot of customisation. It’s worth looking at the two units in isolation.

Model 2100 Preamplifier

The Model 2100 has eight relay switched inputs – seven RCA inputs round back, one of which can be configured as an MM or MC phono input, and a 3.5mm input on the front panel. There’s also a set of bypass inputs to allow the Model 2100 to be integrated with a home theatre system. There’s a single set of RCA outputs to go to the power amp, but the Model 2100 also offers L&R subwoofer outputs with an adjustable low pass filter (20–140Hz). In addition, there are high pass outputs, a set of record outputs and a front mounted 6.35mm headphone jack.

Over and above this lot, the Model 2100 has a 12V trigger out, 12V trigger in and AC power trigger jacks, an external remote input, and a RS-232 port. There are defeatable tone controls, a balance control and a sub level control. A plastic remote control is supplied.

Model 2125 Power Amplifier

At 12.3kgs, the Model 2125 isn’t a monster power amp but there is a big toroidal transformer in there, which accounts for a fair portion of the weight. It offers a claimed 125 watts per channel (into 8 Ohms), and has two sets of speaker binding posts and a loop output to allow multiple Parasound power amps to be daisy-chained together. There are level controls that allow the user to adjust or reduce the gain, or to set it to the suggested THX reference level.

An interesting touch is the provision of an adjustable high pass filter, which can be set to flat (that is: off) or 20Hz or 40Hz. The theory is that if your speakers can’t reproduce frequencies lower than those levels, then don’t bother sending them down the speaker cable in the first place. The Model 2125 can be set to run as a bridged monoblock via another rear mounted switch, in which case, it’ll generate 400 Watts into 8 and 4 Ohms. A Load Impedance switch allows the user to set it to 4-8 Ohms or 2-3 Ohms to allow it to better drive low impedance speakers or to drive two sets of speakers with an impedance below 8 Ohms.

There are also Auto Power On options, 12V in and out triggers and a Ground lift switch. It’s able to monitor fault conditions such as excessive heat or short-circuited speaker cables.

Sound Quality

The Parasound pre/power pair has a sound that is obviously coming from a solid-state topology – there’s no mistaking that combination of power and neutrality.

There’s clearly heaps of grunt on offer here (the claimed 125 Watts in 8 Ohms runs to 200 into 4 Ohms), but the Model 2125 can also deliver a claimed 35 amps of instantaneous current and has a high damping factor of 150. So any speaker drivers, particularly woofers, connected to its outputs are under iron-fisted control, and you can hear it in the tightness of the bass. It’s a broad generalisation that high damping equals tight bass but in this case, with three very different loudspeakers, it was noticeable and enjoyable.

The bass quality was always a highlight of my time with the Parasounds – there’s loads of weight combined with the aforementioned tautness, which translates into a sound that’s big on punch and impact. This is great for rock but even far more chilled music benefits from this – the bass guitar on The Watson Twins’ ‘High School’ from Southern Manners had impressive solidity and a soaring scale when I pushed up the power from the Model 2125 into my Theophany M5 Series 2 floorstanders (running a Marantz SA8260 SACD player and a Nordost Blue Heaven II cable loom). Percussion and bass instruments were solidly rendered at all times, sounding big and bold with a reassuring sense of control. Dynamics are another strong point to the Parasound’s presentation, making for a sprightly sound at low levels and a very potent sound at higher levels, especially when that great bass is taken into account.

If there’s a negative to the character of the sound, it’s that this amplifier pairing can sound cold and tonally grey. This isn’t overwhelming by any means, but like many solid-state amps, it’s a factor of the listening experience and it’s something to consider. There’s a great deal of detail available from the Parasounds, especially with a good source like the Marantz in front of them, but for want of a better description, they sound quite digital and matter of fact compared to the subtle tonal variations found in valve amps or in solid state amps capable of a more nuanced presentation. 10CC’s ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’ from Greatest Hits And More showed this characteristic very clearly (pardon the pun). You can hear deeply into every part of the track from the strummed zithers and guitars to the layered vocals, but the Parasounds don’t quite convey the shades of texture or the fleshed out instrumental shapes that you’ll get with Opera’s Consonance Cyber-100 valve amp in the driving seat. On the other hand, when you switch to ‘Art For Art’s Sake’ on the same disc, the Model 2125 is obviously more in control of the bass, so the track sounds tight and forceful and arguably more enjoyable, which will be worth more than tiny instrumental and vocal hues and gradations to many listeners.

The Parasounds and the Opera are two sides of the same coin, and it’s not to say that one is right, while the other is wrong. If you’re into power and energy in your music, and really like rock and other heavy genres, then the Model 2100 and Model 2125 will fit the bill perfectly and will render acoustic music in a clear and open fashion. If on the other hand, you’re into warmth, romance, tone and timbre, then you might need different amplification. This is not to say that the Parasounds have trouble with mellow music, not at all. The Watson Twins’ ‘What’ll I Do’ was rendered with masses of detail and proved to be a deeply enjoyable listen, as did all of the more chilled out CDs that I tried with these amps, but swapping the Cyber-100’s valves back into the loop showed that the Parasound presentation lacked some emotional intimacy.

The Parasounds put on a good show with material as esoteric as OM’s ‘Haqq al-Yaquin’ from the Advaitic Songs CD. More than eleven minutes of hypnotic instruments and stoner vocals underpinned by a rumbling subsonic bass line made for an engrossing listen, especially at high volumes where I really appreciated the way the Model 2125 gripped and drove the woofers in the M5’s. However, again there’s more textural information hidden in the recording than the Parasounds are comfortable retrieving.

The tonal balance here is unfailingly neutral; it’s not what you’d call silky smooth but even so, the Parasounds matched up well with the borderline bright aluminium tweeter and projective forward sound of the Definitive Technologies StudioMonitor 65 standmounted speakers (reviewed here), without sounding edgy unless the recording being played was itself harsh or too brightly balanced. The high frequency detailing was a particular strength in this particular combination – the softly struck cymbals on Lisa Ekdahl’s ‘Now Or Never’ from Back To Earth shimmered nicely above the rest of the track, with abundant air and space surrounding them and good instrumental separation.

If the Parasounds can fit in so well with the Definitives, then they should be compatible with lots of different speakers barring those that are genuinely lean and bright. It’s also worth bearing in mind that not all speakers will like that high damping factor and some may sound constrained low down – a simple audition with your speakers of choice will tell you all you need to know.

Imaging was good but soundstage width and depth was slightly truncated with the Parasounds, regardless of whether they were driving mini-monitors or big floorstanders. A number of amps I’ve had at home are able to throw more width and depth.

Conclusion

Pre/power combinations at this price point are interesting propositions. At one level, owners are able to move into the world of separate amplification with the benefits of keeping delicate pre-amplification stages well away from the demands of the power stages. Each box just gets on doing what it does best, which should equate to a better overall sound quality.

On the other hand, you’re paying for two cases, two power supplies, even two cardboard boxes, not to mention all the other duplicated internal parts. You’re doubling your rack space, you need to add in a set of interconnect cables to the budget and if you’re into aftermarket power cables and/or isolation supports, then you need to buy two of everything. So the argument can run both ways.

These two amps offer a lot of functionality and customisation, plenty of inputs, enough power to drive almost any real-world speaker that they might be matched with and an energetic hi-fi like sound quality that many will consider to be just what the doctor ordered. In many ways, they sound like smaller versions of the idiomatic American muscle amp, which is by no means a bad thing.

However, they face stiff competition from integrated amps such as the Cambridge Audio 851A (reviewed here), which costs a not-inconsiderable $600 less. The 851A is far better built than the Parasounds, offers a similarly extensive feature set and much the same power output. Sonically, the 851A is ahead of the Parasounds as well, which shows just how far some manufacturers are pushing integrated amplifiers at or around the $3000 price point. If you like the way this Parasound combo sounds, then you won’t be unhappy. They’re good amps for sure, but there are other equally (or more) compelling choices out there. As always, listen hard, and then buy. ASHLEY KRAMER

www.digitalworld.net.nz

One Comment

  1. i didn’t find much said about the phono section, which now seems to be coming back to hifi components in a big way. this is due to the resurgence of vinyl popularity. i was specifically looking for the inclusion of an evaluation of this feature.

    many of us never divested ourselves of our vinyl inventory and continued to use it as a daily source of satisfaction in addition to the (then) newly established source type called CD. also, a lot of us just considered it an one of numerous sources like cassette and open reel tape.

    kudos to companies like Parasound who are including this feature. even my Onkyo surround receiver which i use as pre/pro in my living room stereo/video system has a phono section. this enables a person to embrace vinyl without having phono as a separate component, taking up even more space which may be at a premium, especially considering the space taken up by a surround receiver or two separates.

    well, enough of my rant.

    …tr

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