Parasound's Halo P 6 preamplifier, priced at $1,595, is the successor to the company's wildly popular Halo P 5. The P 6 continues its predecessor's legacy by fully embracing digital audio and ups the ante through an improved DAC section. Parasound has ditched the P5's Burr Brown DAC-chip for an ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018K2M, which means the P 6 now supports PCM audio up to 384kHz/32-bit (up from 96kHz/24-bit) and DSD up to quad rate.
While upgrades to the digital hardware are definitely welcome, the P 6 is still a preamplifier at heart, and Parasound hasn't forgotten about that. The P 6 has received an upgraded Burr Brown analog-resistor ladder volume control system, which Parasound says eliminates mechanical contacts in the signal path, giving way to greater resolution, higher dynamic range, better channel separation, and more accurate sound overall. Parasound was able to add volume memory functionality, as well, thanks to the new volume system.
The phono preamp section has been upgraded, too, with more signal gain, which means the P 6 will play nicer with lower output cartridges. Even though the phono stage has been altered, Parasound continues support for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, with selectable 100 or 47k ohm loads.
Parasound still offers the P 6 in both black and silver finish options, but a few small changes in aesthetics have been made to the chassis to differentiate itself from its predecessor. Parasound has removed the iconic red "P" logo and has replaced it with simple gold Parasound text inlaid in a matte black indent on the faceplate. You'll also find gold trim sandwiched between the new sandblasted metal end caps (as well as gold trim on the feet if you go with the black version). These changes match those found on Parasound's newest amplifiers.
The P 6 has an extensive set of input and output options. Because of this, I doubt many will run into setup issues, at least not many caused by the P 6. Starting on the front of the unit, you'll find an infrared receiver for remote control, as well as a 3.5-millimeter auxiliary input that features an automatic 12dB gain stage. You'll also find a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack utilizing a TPA6120 high current headphone amplifier from Texas Instruments. According to Parasound, the headphone amp circuit was designed with a low 10 ohms output impedance and high gain to drive headphones rated up to 600 ohms.
The front faceplate features a set of passive EQ control knobs to adjust treble, bass, and balance, as well as a ±10dB gain adjustment for the preamp's dedicated subwoofer outputs. Additionally, you'll find dedicated controls for power, mute, tone, input selection, display dimmer, and (of course) volume level. For those who sit far away, Parasound has included a handy digital display that will tell you the current volume level set.
Move around back and you'll find a plethora of analog input options, including a single set of XLRs, five sets of unbalanced line level RCAs, and a pair of RCAs to connect your turntable. Two pairs of unbalanced RCA jacks are included for dedicated home theater bypass input.
For analog outputs, the P 6 includes a single set of XLRs for left and right channels, a single XLR output dedicated for connecting a subwoofer, as well as two sets of unbalanced RCAs. One of the sets of unbalanced RCA outputs is a basic line level output meant to feed a recording device, while the other is meant to feed your amplifier and is fully affected by all of the analog EQ, balance, tone, and volume controls found on the front of the unit. Additionally, there is a toggle switch allowing you to activate an adjustable analog high pass filter if you plan on adding a subwoofer to your system.
Speaking of subwoofers, looking at the options available, I think it's fair to say that Parasound really wants people to add at least one to their two-channel systems. After all, this is marketed as a 2.1 channel preamplifier, so the P 6 adds in two dedicated unbalanced RCA subwoofer outputs and basic bass management through the use of an optional low pass filter enabled via toggle switch. Utilizing both the analog high and low pass filters make it easy to seamlessly integrate a pair of subwoofers in with your main channels.
For digital inputs, the P 6 features a pair of SPDIF optical inputs, coaxial SPDIF input, as well as a USB input. It should be noted that if you choose to use any of the SPDIF input options, you'll be limited to PCM audio only, up to 192kHz/24-bit. Only the USB input allows you to take advantage of 384kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD up to quad rate.
With that said, for most of my listening, I fed the P 6 digital audio from my desktop computer to one of its optical inputs. This is my preferred connection when using a computer as a source due to Toslink's inherent galvanic isolation. I do realize the relative limitations of using this input option, though, so to test DSD functionality, I did connect via USB for a short period of time.
Other components in my system include Parasound's Halo A 21+ amplifier (which I still had here after its review), my personal Nelson Pass designed VFET amplifier, a PS Audio Stellar Power Plant 3, a pair of Monitor Audio Platinum PL100 II loudspeakers, and a pair of Bowers & Wilkins PV1D subwoofers.
While the P 6 has a dedicated pair of subwoofer outputs, I chose to connect my subwoofers to the main channel unbalanced RCA outputs instead, to avoid the mono summing of the dedicated subwoofer outputs. If you choose this route, make sure you disable the high pass filter toggle switch, otherwise you'll end up cutting off bass frequencies from reaching your subwoofers. Choosing this route also means that all bass management needs to happen through the subwoofers themselves.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...