Because I was having so much fun I decided to keep the party going and cued up "Moves Like Jagger" [featuring Christina Aguilera] from Maroon 5 (A&M/Octone Records). Even though the track was encoded at 256kbps, that didn't stop the 5250 v.2 for giving it the old college try and unlike my first attempt at college it passed the test with flying colors. The 5250 v.2's presence was again immediate and engaging with a lively, energetic vibe that conveyed the truest spirit of the track in ways few manage to pull off. Vocals were again front and center and stood out in stark contrast to the other musical elements. The bass was heart pounding with terrific speed and impact showcasing the 5250 v.2's dynamic prowess.
What I began to notice as I set the song to repeat was just how much the presentation reminded me of being in a recording studio. So many audiophile products talk about how they'll bring you closer to the artist's intent and sound, which usually means live or seemingly without a lot of bells and whistles in the way. There's just one problem with that - an artist's intent is what they recorded in a studio; a studio filled with bells and whistles. So shouldn't we want our equipment to bring us that sound? I've spent a lot of time in recording studios and the good ones have a definite sound and it has little if anything to do with sounding live or unplugged. It's this sound that the Parasound 5250 v.2 gets largely right and for good reason, Parasound is used in a number of top recording studios and by recording engineers that are responsible for bringing you so many of your beloved audio recordings.
To test the 5250 v.2's ability to handle nuance I cued up Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells III and the track "Watchful Eye" (Warner Brothers UK). Focusing only on the differences that set this track apart from previous demos I noticed that the 5250 v.2 doesn't quite hang onto the trailing edges of notes as long as some nor does it possess the same control in an absolute sense as other, more expensive and more powerful amplifiers. Again I noticed the 5250 v.2's slight emphasis on the lower midrange, but as before it wasn't distracting and most likely noticeable only to me, for I've heard this track played back on seemingly every system ranging from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In all honestly I'm nit-picking, for once again the 5250 v.2 proved to be captivating and wholly enjoyable because it chooses to focus on the big picture versus getting caught up in the minutia that frankly isn't important. The 5250 v.2's two-channel performance was always musical and always enjoyable no matter what source material I chose to listen to.
I mentioned earlier that I used the 5250 v.2's level controls to better integrate it with my Decware tube preamp. I did this because despite the manufacturer's claims that the CSP+ preamp is "dead quiet," it's not and when I was using it with Zu Audio's OMEN DEF (98db efficient) loudspeakers, the noise floor was more noticeable. By effectively turning down the left and right channels on the 5250 v.2 I was able to effectively combat the noise issue and retain more of the nuance found in quieter passages of music and movies without it becoming a distraction.
Switching gears to movies, I fired up Battle: Los Angeles on Blu-ray (Sony) and skipped ahead to Chapter Three where the Marines arrive in Los Angeles at the FOB and see the battle for the first time. The sound effects tracks were brilliantly rendered with terrific depth, spatial separation and texture that I was quickly transported to the scene unfolding on the screen in front of me. The ambient and surround sound cues were rendered with the same fervor as the dialog track, which just so happened to be intelligible and focused despite the carnage unfolding around the platoon of Marines. The mortar concussions and explosions happening overhead were prodigious and literally shook my room but didn't seem to shake the 5250 v.2 despite my attempt to literally blow it up with excessive volume. Dynamically the 5250 v.2 didn't disappoint, and with an uncompressed surround sound codec to play with proved it could be down right explosive when need be.
I ended my evaluation of the 5250 v.2 with the Blu-ray disc Burlesque starring Cher and Christina Aguilera (Screen Gems). During the number entitled "Express" the 5250 v.2 cemented itself, in my eyes, as a special amplifier. There are several instances where you can tell the sound engineers on the film had to back off Aguilera's vocals out of fear of clipping and in these instances a bit of compression and harshness is present in the upper registers of her vocal range - harshness that through take-no-prisoner amplifiers is like sticking a spike in your ear canal. Not so with the 5250 v.2. Once again the 5250 v.2 doesn't do anything that would otherwise cause you to step back from your enjoyment so it's slightly rolled off high frequency performance means you're not assaulted by the film's recording anomalies. Does that make the 5250 v.2 polite? Not exactly, it just makes it more forgiving, which isn't necessarily a bad thing given that so much of what we're listening to isn't recorded with the same care and attention to detail as it once was. Remember, the 5250 v.2 is all about enjoyment regardless of your taste in music or movies.
Competition and Comparison
At a little under $3,000 Parasound's 5250 v.2 does have some competition to contend with starting with Outlaw Audio's Model 7500 multi-channel amplifier. Retailing for $1,599 the 7500 is more than a $1,000 dollars cheaper compared to the 5250 v.2, but it also isn't as powerful at 200 Watts per channel, nor does it have some of the 5250 v.2's flexibility and THX certification. Furthermore, having lived with the 7500 for years I can say it's not as refined as the 5250 v.2 in terms of its sound quality. Still, like the Parasound, the Outlaw 7500 is a heck of a performer and another product that practically defines value for dollar.
Another amp to consider is Anthem's Statement P5 amplifier. At $4,999 retail the P5 is a bit more in terms of cost compared to the 5250 v.2 but it also provides a bit more in terms of power with 325-Watts of total power across all five of its channels, not to mention I find the P5 to be a bit better looking in terms of its industrial design. Still, both the P5 and 5250 v.2 are capable amplifiers, though they sound markedly different from one another, the Parasound a bit more sweet and rhythmical while the P5 seems to be just the facts. Depending on your tastes will largely dictate which amp you go for suffice to say they're both phenomenal amplifiers.
One cannot talk about amplifiers nowadays, at least not affordable amplifiers, without including Emotiva in the conversation, for they seemingly make fine amplifiers at near garage sale prices. Their five channel XPA-5 boasts similar specs, in terms of power output, to the 5250 v.2, features balanced inputs and retails direct for budget friendly $899. Sounds good right? On paper sure, but then again almost no one, outside of the staffers at Audioholics of course, are allowed to review Emotiva products so I cannot speak definitively on how the XPA-5 and 5250 v.2 compare beyond what both companies present on paper.
While price is a huge factor and motivator for many, present company included, I trust Parasound over brands like Emotiva for they've been around for 30 years and have built a reputation for excellence throughout the AV industry not to mention the professional film community. I guarantee you will not find an Emotiva amp anywhere near Skywalker Sound.
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As bowled over as I was by the 5250 v.2s performance there were a few issues I had with the amp itself. For starters I didn't care for the 5250 v.2's input arrangement, why the five unbalanced inputs cannot be spaced evenly like the binding posts is beyond me and makes connecting bulky cables, like my Transparent Reference interconnects, a bit of a chore. Speaking of input options, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that all of the before mentioned competing amplifiers offered balanced input options where as the 5250 v.2 does not.
Second, while I appreciated the 5250 v.2's level controls I wish they were also more uniformly spaced and a little ways away from the unbalanced inputs themselves, for it would protect against unwanted alterations during initial setup.
Lastly, I wish there was some way to defeat the 5250 v.2's faceplate lights, especially those responsible for illuminating the channel numbers for they're very bright and a bit cheesy if I'm honest. Also, it seems like a weird "feature," for it's sole purpose, outside of letting you know your amp is on, is to break and that's just kind of annoying.
For its asking price of $2,850 the 5250 v.2 from Parasound is a remarkable achievement and a leader among its peers in terms of overall performance. The 5250 v.2 is, simply put, one of those products that come along and make justifying spending more very difficult for what you get for your money is so unbelievably satisfying that one could easily live without some of the finer things you'll hear by spending thousands if not tens of thousands more on competing products.
What amazes me most about the 5250 v.2's performance is how balanced it is, while some amps will bowl you over with their high frequency performance, lush midrange or iron fisted bass, the 5250 v.2 keeps its focus on the overall performance whether it be music or movies. Furthermore, there's something about the 5250 v.2's sound that simply feels right. I never sat down for a single demo and thought to myself if only for I was too busy enjoying myself to care for the 5250 v.2 never failed to bring a smile to my face or illicit a spontaneous air guitar solo.
If money was no object I'm sure many of us would love to own some of
the more blue chip or esoteric products out there. But let's face it,
money is an object and while we all wait for our winning lottery ticket
to fall from the sky, it's nice to know that there are companies like
Parasound who remain committed to excellence and value. If you're in
the market for a new multi-channel amp, I highly recommend auditioning
the 5250 v.2 for you don't have to be a millionaire to feel like a
winner when you've got a 5250 v.2 in your system.
• Read more multi-channel amplifier reviews by HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
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