Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

To Hans Wetzel,

Interesting article [“The Unhappy Audiophile: What I Want But Can’t Bring Myself to Buy”]. I can relate. I was wondering what it is that I’ve been chasing, trying to find the “best” equipment I can afford. I thought what I wanted was the best sound quality, but now I’m not so sure.

Because if it were sound quality, then I should be happy today. Yesterday I received a Parasound Halo Integrated. I only ordered it because for some reason it’s in Stereophile’s recommended equipment list. I thought it would likely be a return, I didn’t even want to open the box, because at that low price, you know . . .

I also have a Hegel H360 sitting in the other room, and an $8000 Audio Research VSi75 with KT150 tubes. I have decent speakers: Aerial Acoustics 6Ts. I bought a Chord 2Qute to make sure I had a baseline for a good DAC to compare. I auditioned a Devialet Expert 200 at home. I bought and sold a McIntosh MA5200, then a McIntosh MA7900. Rotel. Marantz. NAD. Sonos. Bose. Not in that order. The last one I bought was the H360.

I don’t know how to describe the strange combination of disappointment, excitement, uncertainty and annoyance as I come to the unpleasant conclusion that of all those fine pieces, the Parasound sounds the best in my house. One of my audio litmus tests is when I use the amp to watch TV. That’s when the truth is revealed. Music can sound great in many ways. But are the voices tonally correct and intelligible? Can you hear the ambient sounds mixed into the background? That’s where the tube amp -- the most expensive, high-end, and musical piece of gear -- falls short. So, I’ve spent $8000 and I still need subtitles or a soundbar?

The Devialet sounded all brains and no octane. McIntosh sounded like a Harley-Davidson gathering. Hegel was clean and orderly, but strangely “off” with an unnatural, hard bass. Kind of like a Norwegian, not a natural-born dancer.

The slightly tacky and old-looking Parasound delivers the goods. Even its DAC is better than the Chord, which rolls off the treble. How disappointing this all is! In a few days I’ll probably change my mind.

Sonja J.
United States

If you've seen my review of Parasound's Halo Integrated, you know how highly I regard that product. Regarding your journey of discovery, I think your case perfectly illustrates the need for every audiophile to listen to gear before buying, whenever possible. Obviously, that’s proving more and more difficult to do these days, but even the most well-reviewed electronics won’t appeal to everyone. There are many competently designed, high-performance amps available, so finding what speaks to you personally is really all that matters. I’m glad that you’ve had your eyes (and ears) opened to the fact that price and performance aren’t always correlated! . . . Hans Wetzel