Parasound Halo A23 Stereo Amplifier Review In light of our slow shift toward two channel audio (no, we are not abandoning personal audio), I decided it would be a good idea to start with something basic, like a stereo amplifier. After soliciting some advice here and considering various brands and models, I decided on the Parasound A23. The $995 price is right for budding audiophiles in the two channel world. Balanced inputs wasn’t a requirement, but it was a serious “want” because several other amps I have or expect on have on hand would also have balanced inputs. 125W and 200W into 8 and 4 ohms respectively also meets our requirements, in it not being a flea powered amp. (Personally, I’d take 20 good quality watts over 600 bad quality watts). Reading through the marketing literature of the A23, we note that the circuit is designed by John Curl, of Mark Levinson HC-2 and Vendetta Phono Preamplifier fame. I guess this is supposed to be a good thing. But on the other hand, Parasound having to blurt this out also makes me apprehensive, like when Carly Fiorina invented the HP slogan “invent” when HP no longer invented, but instead made shitty inkjet printers for the masses. Looking at the back of the unit, I see two pots which control the gain for the left and right channels. The maximum clockwise position is marked THX Reference. Oh shit. A look at the front of the panel, I see the THX logo. Double oh shit. How much money did Parasound have to give to THX (and thereby pass on to the customer) I wonder? Well, Parasound is a big name, so maybe they didn’t have to pay that much I assure myself. Regardless of the THX certification, what I really didn't like was that these gain controls were pots and not steppers or even multi-position switches. I don’t like having to resort to measuring gear to make sure that the L and R channels are within 0.2db of each other. Sometimes, steppers make sense: six positions, even four positions, would have been enough here. And WTH is "THX reference level". Please define this somewhere, like in the manual. Never assume consumers, your customers are stupid. On the back panel, there are unbalanced and balanced inputs, an RCA loop out, and one set of speaker terminals for L and R. There are also three switches for ground lift, selecting between inputs, and a mono bridged mode. We won’t be covering mono bridged mode here. I’ll be upfront here. The arrangement of the inputs and speaker outputs on the back panel is utterly shit-tastic. Unless the unit is racked and not sitting on a surface, the speaker terminals are positioned too low to allow the use of spade connectors, unless the spade connectors are oriented downward from the cable (an unnatural arrangement and what we see here). The problem is that arranging the spade connectors in such a way impedes the connection of balanced XLR inputs. This is the clusterfuck that I ended up with. Note that I also accidentally tripped the mono-bridge switch while securing the cables. As for the sound, let’s get to that. I hooked the amp up to the Schiit Freya preamplifier and the 90db efficient Fostex BLH horns that used the Fe108 Sigma driver. Pressed play on my CDP. (I had the supertweeters hooked up too, but they are not shown in the photo below). My jaw dropped in horror. I paid a little over $900 for this? This is utter garbage. I’ve resolved that SBAF be nicer for 2017, but I cannot overlook that is amp is utter ... complete ... garbage. My apologies to Parasound, but being nice also compels me to be honest with the readers here (members paid for this via donations); and in this case I will invoke the Mr. Spock clause: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. Besides no one is going to believe me anyway, especially in these backwoods of the Internet. Parasound will continue to sell lots of these, so no harm done from me. The bass is rubbery, the overall sound is smeared, the soundstage is flat and compressed, and the resolution is extremely poor (no ambiance, no decay, simplified and blurred microdynamics). The highs are OK, but there is disjointedness between the bass and the treble. Those who know me know that I place a very high priority on a cohesive presentation throughout the entire audio band. At least the midrange rendering, when taken into isolation, or with bandwidth limited recordings, is nice and sort of has a euphonic presentation. The Parasound A23 is like a student artist who has great ideas along the lines of Dali, but cannot execute the basics, like draw. We hear flashes of potential greatness, but ultimately, what’s on the canvas looks like my eight-year old son’s drawing of one of our pet cats. I don't expect Dali, but I expect basic competence! BTW, the Crest CA2 professional amplifier is much better sounding. While the presentation is more literal, the non-audiophile panel, which consisted of my wife, my eleven year old daughter, and my son, all agreed the CA2 rendered far superior control, focus, attack, and resolution than the A23. No, it doesn't take specialist audiophile ears to hear the difference between the Crest CA2 and Parasound A23. The back of the Crest CA2, being pro gear, also has a sensible layout with the speaker terminals oriented vertically and the inputs far away from the speaker inputs. The switch for bridge mode is indented so it wouldn't be accidentally triggered. The downside to the Crest CA2 is the loud fans. I bought lower RPM fans of the same model series from Mouser to replace the stock fans. This should be fine for home use. Crest CA2 Back Panel View. In contrast to the Parasound A23, this was designed by a genius.