Even though the P 6 can be configured and used in various ways, I spent most of my time using it as a combined DAC and preamplifier, the way I suspect most people will. I also chose to pair the P 6 with Parasound's A 21+ amplifier for most of my listening tests. Unsurprisingly, I found that this yielded excellent results all around.
In typical Parasound fashion, I found the P 6's sonic performance punches well above its price point, with it offering good subjective dynamic range, stereo separation, imaging, and soundstage depth. Certain areas of performance stood out, though, especially considering the P 6's price. Of note, the P 6 has the ability to render tremendous amounts of detail. This was especially apparent when listening to many of the high-resolution audio tracks I use for testing purposes.
For instance, on the acoustic guitar track "Romance" by Jason McGuire, there is a lot of low-level detail present that can be tricky for many audio products to render faithfully. The track is intimately recorded, with subtleties like McGuire's breathing and his fingers gently sliding over the frets present on the recording. These tiny intricacies were easily heard through the P 6, something I've found other products near the P 6's price tend to gloss over a bit.
But, it's not just the amount of detail the P 6 can render that I find appealing; it's also how it presents that information. Details are presented in a particularly smooth and natural way, which seems to be a trait inherent to all Parasound products, or at least all of the Parasound products I've heard. I've found that competing hardware can overemphasize the top end, often giving you the impression that you're hearing more detail than what's actually in the source. Taken at face value, especially in quick demonstrations on a dealer's showroom, it can give you the subjective impression an audio product is higher performing than the competition. But I've found that once you take these types of audio products home, the honeymoon phase fades quickly as it often leads to listener fatigue. With the P 6, however, I found I could listen to it for long hours into the night, never feeling like I had to lower the volume or take a break from listening.
Similar to the P 6's excellent detail retrieval, I found it excelled with music that has a lot of layers that need to be presented at once. The eponymous track on the album Babel by Mumford & Sons has several guitars, string, and percussion instruments, as well as vocals all happening at once during the chorus. This maelstrom of sound can be difficult to render coherently, but the P 6 didn't seem to have any issues with it at all. Individual instruments, along with the vocals, were portrayed in stark contrast from one another, making them easy to pick out and hear individually.
Similarly, on the electronically produced track "Points Beyond" by Cubicolor, it was easy to make out all the subtle layers of the melody. Towards the beginning of the track, I could clearly make out the low-level bird chirps infused into the background ambiance, despite most of the other constituent layers on the track mastered considerably louder. Again, these types of small details can sound glossed over from competing products in the P 6's price range.
Bass performance from the P 6 is also quite good. In particular, the track "Lordy May" by Boy & Bear caught my attention. This track starts off with strong and resounding bass drum notes. Through the P 6, they were rendered cleanly, with a satisfyingly holographic tone. Playing genres of music that require good bass performance to accurately portray the music, such as Electronic Dance, I found that the P 6 didn't disappoint. For instance, I found that the bass line on the track "October" by Icarus was satisfyingly resolved, forcing me to dance along in my seat.
My personal taste in sound signatures is for audio products to add in a bit of warmth to the sound. I find a little warmth gives the music body and soul, and it's in this area where the P 6 left me a bit disappointed, or at least it did when compared to my PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Nelson Pass-designed VFET amplifier reference setup. The P 6 and A 21+ combination, by comparison, left me feeling as if the sound was a bit too flat overall.
The easy fix for this was to simply swap out the A 21+ for my VFET amplifier. This resulted in richer tonality, better detail retrieval, and overall clarity to the music. Though, to give credit where it's due, pairing the P 6 with the A 21+ did offer better bass handling and dynamics overall.
While most of my critical listening tests were done using the optical input, I know not everyone will be using that. I spent a few hours listening to the P 6 using USB and I'm happy to report that the P 6 seems to be fairly agnostic in terms of sound quality when it comes to its digital inputs. I noticed no major differences in performance when playing several of the test tracks I used when testing the optical input.
I also spent some time pairing the P 6 with a Panasonic DP-UB9000 as an analog source component. Using the UB9000 through the P 6 resulted in a more resolved and dynamic sound signature overall. That's to be expected when pairing the P 6 with a source component nearly two-thirds its price. However, it's nice to know that if you have a high-quality analog source to feed the P 6, its preamplifier section is high performance enough to carry the sonic benefits of that source through to your amplifier and speakers.
With most audio products these days putting such emphasis on network audio capabilities, I really think Parasound missed an opportunity with the P 6. This is especially so when the P 6 has such a competent DAC section already built into the preamp. Adding in a network audio renderer with support for Spotify Connect, UPnP, and Roon would have set this preamp apart from much of the competition in this price segment. For now, people will still need a source component if they want to listen to network audio through the P 6.
This is a minor complaint, for sure, but I wish you could turn the LED lights on the front of the P 6 off completely. You do have the ability to dim the LED lights on the front of the unit, but no option to turn off the display completely. Luckily for the P 6, its display is fairly small, so if you're like me, it shouldn't be too bothersome.
Comparisons & Competition
Those shopping for a digitally enabled preamplifier near the P 6's price point will find quite a bit of competition to consider. If you're still shopping around, I would recommend taking a look at PS Audio's Stellar Gain Cell preamp/DAC. It's priced a hundred dollars more at $1,699, but, like Parasound, PS Audio is a company known for offering exceptional value with the products it offers, so it's worth looking into. It offers a slightly warmer sonic signature overall and adds in some niceties like an I²S input. You do lose out on the P 6's bass management capabilities and subwoofer output, though, as well as some analog input options.
Alternatively, you could look into NAD's C 658 BluOS Streaming DAC. At $1,649, the C 658 is also priced within earshot of the P 6. As its name would imply, the C 658 adds in a network streaming card, potentially eliminating the need for a source component. Even more impressive, the C 658 adds in Dirac Live room correction support, which can fix potential problems with speaker placement and problems caused by the room itself.
As I noted earlier in this review, Parasound has a history of offering products that punch well above their respective price points. The P 6 continues that trend, offering a level of performance not typically found in the neighborhood of $1,600. In particular, I found that the P 6 sounds especially impressive when paired with an amplifier within the Parasound family. It's also resolving enough that if you pair it with another amplifier or an analog source component, those sonic traits offered by those products are carried through to the rest of your system.
With its excellent build quality, handsome looks, extensive set of input and output options, as well as its impressive built-in DAC section and bass management capabilities, the P 6 is a no-brainer for anyone shopping for a digitally enabled preamplifier close to its asking price.
• Visit the Parsound website for additional information.
• Parasound Halo A 21+ Stereo Amplifier Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Parasound Announces HINT 6 Integrated Amplifier at HomeTheaterReview.com.