Music in the Round #91: Parasound Halo A 52+ Page 2

Their front panels aside, the Halos A 52+ and A 51 look different. Most noticeable is the A 52+'s three-sided wrap, stamped from lightweight metal. Nonetheless, that cover wasn't resonant when in place, and when I removed it, I saw a high level of component quality, including substantial heatsinks. The rear panel is cleanly laid out in modular fashion; each of the five channels has, vertically arrayed from top to bottom: a balanced input (XLR), an unbalanced input (RCA), and a pair of multiway speaker connectors. The connections for the five channels are arrayed from left to right, with the IEC power connector at lower right and, above it, the master On/Off rocker switch.

Above the power rocker is a switch for toggling between the Balanced and Unbalanced inputs. You can't have both types of inputs hooked up at the same time and then select between them; the role of this toggle switch is to provide proper termination of either one. Next to the toggle are the controls for turn-on trigger options, including a slider with three settings: Audio/Manual/12V. The A 52+ lacks the A 51's ground lift, but has both 12V Trigger input and output, while the A 51 has only a 12V input jack.

A small caveat: I found the vertically arrayed + and – speaker terminals less than ideal. With just moderately hefty speaker cables, the side insertion on each post is more difficult than would be a vertical insertion. In addition, each pair of speaker cables gets in the way of the pair next to it, especially if you have to reach behind the amp into a small space with limited visibility.


What was I playing when I first turned on the Halo A 52+? A Virtuoso Faceoff consists mostly of sonatas by Biber and Muffat, along with solo-organ works by Muffat, performed by violinist Tapio Mattson, archlutenist Eero Palvianen, and organist Markku Makinen (SACD/CD, Alba ABCD 311). This unusual combination of instruments offers a musical challenge to the playback system, which must reproduce all frequencies from the violin's E string down to the pipe organ's deepest pedal notes, without obscuring the contributions of the archlute. The violin sounded pure and sweet, from woody body tones to upper partials, all clearly produced by a single instrument. All organ notes were well defined, and revealed low extension from my Monitor Audio Silver2 speakers that surprised me. I was even more impressed that all ranks of this organ's pipes were reproduced as having been played and recorded in a common space, despite the differences in voicing and location, and with this recording's wide dynamic range. As if this were not enough, the transparency of the Halo A 52+ allowed the soft-spoken archlute to be heard as it accented the other voices.

I then shifted gears and moved to Detroit for "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," my favorite track from Motown, Michael McDonald's great album of covers (SACD/CD, Motown 038 652-2). The opening rhythm is a hard pulse, and the strings are, strangely, in the rear channels—but when McDonald enters, his voice is big, front and center, and the bass groove is almost enveloping. It was all coherent through the Parasound, which provided all necessary juice no matter how loud I turned it up—and I turned it up loud.

Then, of course, I had to hear other performances of this classic song, such as Marvin Gaye's on The Marvin Gaye Collection (SACD, Motown B000350236). Though not as hard, the opening beat is still insistent, with the strange and distracting placement of tambourines alternating between the rear channels. Gaye's voice is also front and center, but lighter in tone. He sails through with thrilling ornamentation, while the backing singers and instruments are scattered around the room. These two tracks' grooves and sounds are entirely different but equally exciting. The A 52+ served both tracks equally well.

Nor did the A 52+ promote gender bias. For four decades now I've been a fan of soprano Emma Kirkby, "The Divine Emma" (footnote 3). Her voice, uniquely light and pure, is not large but seems to have undiminished power through the top of its range. Her performance of Mozart's "Exsultate Jubilate," with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music (CD, L'Oiseau-Lyre 168055), may not be the undisputed best performance, if there is such, but it never fails to thrill me. I recently acquired her latest recording, A Pleasing Melancholy, on which she sings songs by Dowland and his contemporaries, interspersed with the seven parts of Dowland's Lachrimae Seaven Teares, the latter performed by lutenist James Akers and the Chelys Consort of Viols (SACD/CD, BIS 2283). Kirkby's voice is still a joy, but is now rounder and warmer than early in her career, and perfectly matched to the content of these lovely, lonely laments. The Halo A 52+ revealed, with perfect clarity, Kirkby caressing each phrase as well as the ripe tones of the viols surrounding her. The ambiance was appropriately intimate and immediate.

Finally, the Halo A 52+ showed its muscle with Reference Recordings' latest from the SoundMirror team of classical-music recording engineers and producers: Mahler's Symphony 8, with Thierry Fischer conducting the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (SACD/CD, Reference Fresh! FR-725). From the opening organ chord, it's clear that this performance and recording will make great dynamic demands of a playback system. The Halo A 52+ provided all the power that my speakers could handle, and did so with aplomb. What was more impressive was that, throughout the symphony, from the massive choral array of "Hymnus: Veni, Creator Spiritus" to the delicacy of "Neige, neige, du Ohnegleiche" and the concluding glory of "Alles Vergängliche," the soundstage was consistent: All of the forces were arrayed within the cavernous space of the Mormon Tabernacle, with no blurring of individual voices or instrumental details, from the soft touch of cymbals to the trombone accents.

Comparing the Parasound Halo A 52+ with my resident Bryston 9BSST2 five-channel amp, I found that, in general, their tonal balances were fairly similar, and that neither failed to meet my system's power requirements. The new Parasound showed its superiority in its more graceful smoothness in the upper midrange and treble, and in low bass that had all the Bryston's steely impact and weight, but seemed better integrated with the upper bass.

Overall, I really liked Parasound's Halo A 52+ in every way—except, perhaps, its size and weight. That, however, goes along with being a classic class-A/AB analog amplifier of substantial power.

Footnote 3: Many, including myself and John Atkinson, have lauded Dame Emma Kirkby with this title, but it was originally applied to Czech soprano Ema Destinnová, better known as Emmy Destin. Before WWI, and briefly after, Destin sang at opera houses across Europe as well as at the Metropolitan Opera, where, in 1910, she premiered the role of Minnie in Puccini's La fanciulla del West, with tenor Enrico Caruso and conductor Arturo Toscanini. Her life was celebrated in Jirí Krejcík's film The Divine Emma (1979, Czech title Bozská Ema).


georgehifi's picture

What happened to the most informative part of these reviews, the bench testing??? It kept the manufacturers and reviewers honest.

Cheers George

Kal Rubinson's picture

Products reviewed in regular columns are not usually bench-tested.

dmineard HT's picture

This excellent Parasound amp was reviewed in the current issue of Sound & Vision and include the bench testing data. I just tossed that issue over the weekend and as I recalled it was within specs, think it missed the 5 channel driven by 2 watts at 0.5% distortion.

That reviewer also had many good points to say about the new A52+ amp.

caphill's picture

Just wondering how the Halo A52+ stacks up against its bigger brother the Halo A52 as well as the Classe Sigma Amp5 sonically and performance wise.