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Amp/Preamp Asylum: REVIEW: Parasound P-3 Preamplifier (SS) by twest820

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REVIEW: Parasound P-3 Preamplifier (SS)

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Model: P-3
Category: Preamplifier (SS)
Suggested Retail Price: $799
Description: Parasound Halo P-3 Preamp
Manufacturer URL: Parasound
Model Picture: View

Review by twest820 ( A ) on March 05, 2006 at 11:25:14
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The P3 is a nicely built preamp which has much in common with Parasound's Halo A23 power amp. Sound is clear, detailed, and excellently delivered across the spectrum. It's unquestionably worth buying, but unlike Parasound's Halo A23 power amp or Dali's Suite 2.8 speakers I find the P3 a bit more of a challenge to rave about. In general, preamplifier design is the least demanding area of audio design and differences between preamps tend to be small. That said, the P3 is an excellent performer; I've listened to US $4k preamps which are less precise. Wired using unbalanced RCA inputs and outputs the P3 is a distinct step up from the preamp stage in something like the NAD C352 integrated amp I used to have. But the P3 is definitely an incremental improvement and I personally would have difficulty justifying buying the P3 just on its own merits; if you're putting together a system with only one power amp using an integrated amp might make more sense since the sound quality of such systems tends to be cable limited (look here for a detailed discussion of why this is the case). The P3 is also overkill for what I need in some aspects. While folks who like to tinker and have richly populated systems may find the tone and balance controls useful and see value in having a the phono stage, six other inputs, and an external loop to hook in some other sound processor I personally would be unaffected if Parasound cost reduced all of that complexity out of the P3 and shipped it as stripped down box with a balanced input, a volume control, a balanced output, a remote, and a +12V power on signal---as with any preamp, if all you have is a CD player you pay for a lot of parts you don't need.

What is most notable to my mind about the P3 is it is a mid-fi component which has both a balanced inputs and outputs; in most of the cases I'm aware of you have to pay at least US $2k to 3k in order to get balanced in and out. If you're going to use power amps which have balanced inputs, suddenly the P3 becomes quite interesting. I've wired my A23 based vertical bi-amp to the P3 with both RCA and XLR cables and the sound using balanced interconnects is noticeably clearer and more musical. While unbalanced interconnects between Halo components definitely have good sound, they do have a harsher and more aggressive character. Some listeners might have tastes where this is preferable, but I find the balanced interconnects more natural and relaxing to listen to. From this perspective the P3 is simply the preamp to get (unless you like having a stereo which is worth more than your car, anyway ;~). In my case I was definitely going with a vertical bi-amp, which pretty much means you have a preamp in the system, and the power amps were going to be Halo A23s. The P3 integrates nicely into such a Halo based system and I'm thoroughly happy with it in this role; it nicely matches the balanced inputs on the A23s and delivers a clean input which exposes the full potential of the A23s and my CD player. If you're bi-amping with power amps which have only unbalanced inputs the P3 is probably still the best choice at its price point.

Another nice feature of the P3 is it has a balanced direct input in addition to the bevy of unbalanced inputs typical of pre or integrated amps. Unfortunately for me, CD players with balanced outputs are few and far between, so I ended up comparing the balanced and unbalanced direct inputs with the unbalanced outputs on my Cambridge Azur 640C using XLR to RCA or RCA to RCA interconnects, respectively. In this situation, the advantage of using the XLR inputs on the P3 is any noise due to ground loops between the P3 and the source is kept separate from the inverted balanced input. Whether or not this matters in your system depends on the wiring topology and what else is going on, but reducing the number of noise sources which could affect the preamp's input signal isn't going to hurt and it might end up helping. The drawback is P3's balanced inputs have half the sensitivity of the unbalanced inputs (presumably the same design is used in the A23), so you have to increase the P3's volume by 3dB to compensate. In my case I found it made very little difference. Silence seems slightly more quiet with the XLR to RCA interconnect and there's perhaps a hint more detail, but it's possible I'm just imagning things.

Product Weakness: 2.5mm plug for +12V DC power on signal breaks contact easily if the P3 is moved and has to be fully plugged in again.
Product Strengths: Nicely detailed sound. Balanced inputs and outputs. Digital volume control (lower noise than a motorized potentiometer). Remote works well. Not too hard to find used. +12V DC power on signal is a handy feature if you have Parasound power amps. Looks cool, too.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Parasound Halo A23 passive vertical bi-amp
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Parasound Halo P3
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Cambridge Azur 640C v1
Speakers: Dali Suite 2.8
Cables/Interconnects: doubled Goertz MI2 (equivalent to Goertz MI3), Kimber 8VS XLR 2/2/4 bi-wired interconnects between P3 and A23s, Kimber 4VS RCA-XLR 2/2/4 bi-wire interconnect between 640C and P3
Music Used (Genre/Selections): classical to metal
Room Size (LxWxH): 18 x 12 x 9
Room Comments/Treatments: Semi-walled off, carpeted living part of great room. Dimensions in feet.
Time Period/Length of Audition: about a month
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Parasound P-3 Preamplifier (SS) - twest820 11:25:14 03/5/06 ( 10)