AVA/Parasound mini-review

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floresjc

AVA/Parasound mini-review
« on: 25 Sep 2009, 12:53 am »
Just killing time until the Salk order is ready and thought I would put down some thoughts on my first ever separates. I ordered an AVA Double Insight 240/3, a Double 440, an Insight DAC and the Insight Preamp with all the options based on the recommendations of several people here for AVA gear. I also had a Parasound 2100 laying around I bought used in the spring that I hadn't used before I deployed. Eventually, the DAC, AVA pre and 440 will be mated to HT2-TL's for a dedicated 2 channel setup, and the 240/3, and PS2100 will run my Songtower home theater (2 pairs ST and a SongCenter). I got all these electronics in probly about a month ago, and after returning stateside, I spent some time figuring out how to hook it up into my current setup (Rocket home theater) and integrating the Squeezebox Duet I ordered. I was limited at first because it took a week for me to get in the Blue Jeans cable order (which arrived today).

For the past week, I tried a couple simple things in my current home theater (Outlaw 1070 receiver with Rocket 760's, 250MKII's and a Bigfoot). The first thing I did was substitute in the 240 to drive the front three channels, using the 1070's preouts to feed it. Just this simple upgrade did much to clean up the sound IMO on just regular tv (things like ESPN HD etc). Not a night and day difference, but to me, a noticeable change in punch, intelligibility, and less distortion/hiss. After that, I setup the PS2100 in a passthrough configuration, to try out some 2 channel goodness with the new Squeezebox.

This was done using the stock analog outs on the SB, and paired with the 240 and Rockets, made for a quite nice sound. Having done a Rocket/SongTower comparison at Dennis', I knew what not to expect from my Rocket system, having a veiled midrange, but the sound was the nicest I had heard out of my Rockets to date. One thing that was noticeable was the tonal accuracy was off, some instruments didn't quite sound like they should, and the bass was more a poof than an actual musical sound. I also felt the stereo image wasn't quite so good, I was getting good sound out of each side, but the middle was lacking. But, knowing that the analog outs on the SB suck, I figured this was the reason. Today, getting the new coax cable and the rest of the goodies to hook up my Insight Pre and Insight DAC, I was looking for a much improved sound.

So I spent some time today doing just that. SB via coax to the Insight DAC, into the Pre. MAN, what a change. A *wall* of sound emerged, and the center that was missing before arrived. Vocals and instruments were placed really well in the soundstage, and details I was missing before emerged. I love separates, and I am really glad I kicked in the DAC at the end (wasn't originally going to get one). I absolutely can't wait to get the Salks in home, because as good as this sound is, I know the extra 10% is still out there. There's a lot of listening for me to do when this all gets set up, but, it's going to be a long cold winter!

Just one other note. I ran the SB through the DAC and used both the AVA pre and the PS2100. I prefer the sound on the AVA pre, it really puts out a great soundstage. But, for home theater convenience, the PS2100 is a great pre with a number of really nice features. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either. 

vintagebob

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #1 on: 25 Sep 2009, 01:08 am »
Welcome home!  :thumb:

Thanks for reviewing the Insight DAC & Preamp.  I'll have that setup soon so it is nice to hear all of your positive comments.

oneinthepipe

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Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #2 on: 25 Sep 2009, 01:55 am »
Nice write-up.  The Insight preamp and DAC are really great with the HT2-TL.  The preamp and DAC have tremendous  dynamic range throughout the frequency range, which the HT2-TL handle with aplomb.  After I sold my ST RT and before my HT2-TL arrived, I was listening with Linn Tukans, which have harsh-sounding tweeters, and I swapped out the Insight DAC for the T8 DAC, which helped a lot because the T8 DAC doesn't have as much low end or high end output as the Insight DAC.  When your HT2-TL arrive, I believe that you will be very with the Insight gear driving them.

Nuance

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #3 on: 25 Sep 2009, 05:06 am »
Great writeup.  I had the exact same experience you did with similar gear (PS2100 preamp and Squeezebox, but using a PS Audio DAC III and comparing it to the stock Squeezebox's analogs).  Like you said, WOW, what a difference!  I am in audio bliss!  :D

I am happy to hear the AVA preamp is nicer sounding than the Parasound, as it should be for nearly double the price.  Either an AVA preamp or the Parasound P7 will be my next preamp down the road.  I'll probably go with an AVA amp first before any of that, though.  Cant wait!! 

oneinthepipe

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Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #4 on: 25 Sep 2009, 06:10 am »
SNIP
« Last Edit: 27 Sep 2009, 04:44 am by oneinthepipe »

srb

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #5 on: 25 Sep 2009, 06:50 am »
Where is this Parasound stuff built?  "Designed in Cambridge and built in Sri Lanka"?  Is this the stuff that always hums or has some other problem and needs to be returned.  This is throw away stuff. 

Parasound is designed in California, USA (or Finland for some of the Halo C series processors and P series preamps) and manufactured in Tawain, ROC.  Parasound has produced high value, reliable components since 1981.  Their Halo line is particularly well regarded by many audiophiles, including folks here at AudioCircle.
 
It's apparent that you are an Audio by Van Alstine fan, but it's kind of silly to disparage equipment that you haven't heard and know nothing about.
 
Steve
« Last Edit: 25 Sep 2009, 01:42 pm by srb »

Nuance

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #6 on: 25 Sep 2009, 07:00 am »
oneinthepipe,

If I didn't know any better I'd say you were bashing Parasound...?  You managed to be the add campaign for AVA and the smear campaign for Parasound all in one post.  We all know your heart lies with AVA, but come on.  Ah well, I take no offense.  I guess AVA to you is what Salk is to me.  Just be careful not to bash any products you don't know much about.  Trust me, I should know first hand that it's a bad idea (been there, done that and won't do it again).

I didn't buy anything yet, but have on loan a PS Audio DAC III (with the option to buy, which I will).  Anyone who says DAC's all sound the same needs to hear this one in my system or the Music Hall in TJHUB's system.  It's the real deal folks, especially when compared to a stock squeezebox's internal DAC's or analogs.  BIG difference, and all for the better.  I am overflowing with glee since putting this thing into my system.  The squeezebox has now become  $1000+ CD player equivalent.  YIPPIE!!   :thumb:

Room treatments are on my list, but are not an option in the living predicament I am in.  Once things turn for the better and we get a house they will be the first purchase I make.  Think of it as a house warming gift for myself.  First I will have to get my wife something much shinier and full of sparkles, of course, so make that the second thing I buy.   8) 

avahifi

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Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #7 on: 25 Sep 2009, 12:34 pm »
i would much prefer that comparisons of our equipment with other brands does not get into harsh words about either.  Where the equipment is made is not a criteria as to whether it is good or not.  It may affect a buying decision, but is not applicable as to its musical performance.

Harsh words breed more harsh words.  We don't need that here.

Jim, I suggest this thread be moved to a equipment review section.  It really has nothing to do with Salk Speakers.'

Regards,

Frank Van Alstine

K Shep

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #8 on: 25 Sep 2009, 01:01 pm »
oneinthepipe,

Just when I am getting to know you, you through my favorite equipment mfg under the bus or are we not hearing your sarcasm?  John Curl is the designer of the Halo products for Parasound,

John Curl is one of the most respected circuit designers of all time and the
creative genius behind Parasound?s high end audio and home theater
amplifiers. Since the mid 1970s he has left a trail of landmark hardware
across the industry ... the classic Mark Levinson JC-2, the SOTA head
amplifier, and his own Vendetta preamplifier. Each of the 200 or so Vendettas
is a hand-built work of art that is treasured by its owners.
Curl's first job as an audio engineer was at Ampex where he worked on the
design of tape recorders. Later he was involved in that company's pioneering
research on video tape recorders. From there Curl moved into the rock and
roll business, designing and building the sound systems for The Grateful
Dead's road shows. As an independent consultant, Curl has worked dozens of
projects both in pro audio and home audio; making master recorders, studio
boards, microphone preamps, power amplifiers and many other products.
In 1989 John Curl was introduced to Parasound's founder, Richard Schram
and since then, Curl has designed all of Parasound's high-power amplifiers
and consulted on the design of the low-level circuits of many of its other
components.


Parasounds head quarters is in San Francisco near my home.  So I took the opportunity to visit their office and I met Richard Schram (Founder of Parasound).  Mr. Schram invited me into his office and we chatted for 1/2 hour about music, live venues in the Bay Area, Parasound history, and I told him I own Salk speakers.  He had heard of Jim Salk and being a business owner he was interested in Jims business model.  I explained what I could.  Then he offered to let me borrow an external DAC my first.  Not a Parasound DAC one he had. 

I own a Parasound A21 amplifier designed in USA built in China.  Most of their equipment is assembled in Asia.  That was told to me by Mr. Schram.  I compared the Parasound to Bryston before I bought the A21 and the performance compared to price was a no-brainer for me. 

Magazine reviews are not gospel for me, but they do have a bearing on the direction of my auditioning and why not read all about a product and then go to an audio shop and touch and feel that product in person.  That makes sense to me.  The Parasound JC-1 mono block amps are recommended Class A in Stereophile in the October 2006 issue and again this month in the October 2009 issue. 

So I know we have our preferences, I do.  You have read my posts and my recommendations of AVA gear.  I have never heard the stuff, I just believe the men that I trust here on AC and thus give my opinion.  Please think about what you write before you post it here on AC, because you are one of the guys I trust.

Kirk

oneinthepipe

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Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #9 on: 25 Sep 2009, 02:15 pm »
Yes, I agree and apologize.  I shouldn't have been critical of equipment with which I am not overly familiar.  My comments about off-shore production were related to economics and politics, a no-no on the circles, although I realize that every manufacturer is under to pressure to send production or parts thereof oversees.  I was not commenting about the sound quality of the gear.  Knowing you, undoubtedly the equipment is good.

I consider every one of you as a friend, and I hope the same from you.  My comments were inconsiderate, and I won't do it again.  I didn't make my comments with the intent of offending anyone, and I should have considered the inferences of my eco-political rant before I wrote anything.  Also, I apologize to anyone from the country with the cheap labor, and I did not intend to disparage that country's workforce.

I am sorry to have taken a helpful thread and singlehandedly directed it toward the Intergalactic Wastebin.

 
« Last Edit: 27 Sep 2009, 04:47 am by oneinthepipe »

TJHUB

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #10 on: 25 Sep 2009, 02:34 pm »
There is used AVA gear, you know.  AVA gear doesn't usually become obsolete, and there are well established upgrade paths for the majority of the gear.  There are some incredible bargains on agon.  A T8 DAC for 750.00 and an Ultra 550 for 1200.00.  Those are 50% off prices.  The stuff sounds great, is built like a tank, lasts forever, fully upgradeable, hand-built in the U.S.A. but the man himself.  As far as price goes, Frank often has used gear and unadvertised specials, and he can custom build anything you want.  He is to audio what Jim is to speakers, or vice versa. He might not give you all the features that you want on your first request because he doesn't want you to waste your money. If you push him and explain what you need and why, he might build it for you.  Just don't ask for IEC power cord sockets.  Never, never happen.

I never heard of this other stuff until I started hanging out with you home theatre folks.  Where is this Parasound stuff built?  "Designed in Cambridge and built in Sri Lanka"?  Are these the components that are always on sale, and a 2299.99 amplifier is only 599.00 on some site.  Is this the stuff that always hums or has some other problem and needs to be returned.  This is throw away stuff.  Why spend any money repairing a three year old amp that only cost 599.00?  Everyone usually describes the great sound, but compared to what?  Comparing it to NAD, Rotel, Cambridge; most of that stuff is mid-fi at best.  These are real hi-fi speakers.  Do them right. It won't cost you anymore in the short run and less in the long run.

Nuance, did you buy a DAC?  If so, where have I been?  It's bliss, isn't it.  So many non-believes.  Room treatments are next.

First of all, you Parasound guys are being too hard on oneinthepipe.  His statements have some errors, but there really isn't any serious bashing going on.  We all know by now he is as much of an AVA guy as some of us are Salk guys (like me: all other speaker companies should just stop making speakers in my mind  :wink: :P ).

One thing I'd like to understand is where anyone saw a $2,299.00 amp for $599.00 because I'm going to buy it!  Throw away?  Parasound?  I've NEVER heard that anywhere.  Parasound seems to have very decent resale values until you get into the Halo line.  But like any higher priced gear, it still goes for decent prices used. 

For the record, I am COMPLETELY happy with my Parasound gear even though it is the bottom of the barrel stuff.  Read the reviews, they're all "good".  Feature wise, the 2100 and 2250 combo I own is spectacular.  The sound is everything I thought I wanted.  I used to own an Emotiva IPS-1 7-channel amp which was regarded as VERY good.  I lost nothing moving to the 2250 amp that I can hear.  Is it as good, better, or worse than AVA gear?  I don't know.  I'd love to find out though.  I'm always looking for the next step up.

For me, the problem I have with AVA gear is that it is too mechanical.  Rocker style power switches, remotes limited to volume only (I think), very plain styling.  I know these are weak arguments, but my audio gear needs some sexy and some convenience.  No disrespect Frank.  I may be a customer of yours one day... 

avahifi

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Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #11 on: 25 Sep 2009, 03:14 pm »
>>For me, the problem I have with AVA gear is that it is too mechanical.  Rocker style power switches, remotes limited to volume only (I think), very plain styling.  I know these are weak arguments, but my audio gear needs some sexy and some convenience.<<

Gee TJHUB, I guess you have not looked at the AVA website for a few years.  :)

The EC series preamps, for example, have been in production since the 1990s over several generations of circuits.  They have precision vol and bal controls, tone controls, eight gold contact push-button switches, headphone jack, thirty gold plated RCA jacks for multiple inputs and outputs, and a lot more.  Yes the remote is for volume and mute functions only, because it is done with a precision motor driven pot.  To do all functions without resorting to poor dynamic range switched series fets and stifle the sound or ungodly expensive relay functions for everything and make the products unaffordable is a engineering choice we think is reasonable.

There is a bit more there than just a volume control and a few rocker switches.  Check it out at www.avahifi.com and think again.

We could spend more and make the stuff sexier looking, but our customers seem to want to listen to the equipment more than to just look at it and are not unhappy suffering along with lower cost excellent musical engineering.

Best regards,

Frank Van Alstine

TJHUB

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #12 on: 25 Sep 2009, 03:46 pm »
>>For me, the problem I have with AVA gear is that it is too mechanical.  Rocker style power switches, remotes limited to volume only (I think), very plain styling.  I know these are weak arguments, but my audio gear needs some sexy and some convenience.<<

Gee TJHUB, I guess you have not looked at the AVA website for a few years.  :)

The EC series preamps, for example, have been in production since the 1990s over several generations of circuits.  They have precision vol and bal controls, tone controls, eight gold contact push-button switches, headphone jack, thirty gold plated RCA jacks for multiple inputs and outputs, and a lot more.  Yes the remote is for volume and mute functions only, because it is done with a precision motor driven pot.  To do all functions without resorting to poor dynamic range switched series fets and stifle the sound or ungodly expensive relay functions for everything and make the products unaffordable is a engineering choice we think is reasonable.

There is a bit more there than just a volume control and a few rocker switches.  Check it out at www.avahifi.com and think again.

We could spend more and make the stuff sexier looking, but our customers seem to want to listen to the equipment more than to just look at it and are not unhappy suffering along with lower cost excellent musical engineering.

Best regards,

Frank Van Alstine

Frank,

I'm not missing anything.  I've been to your sight 100's of times.  It's killing me a little that I hadn't pulled the trigger on some of your gear to give it listen, but I just never seem to do it. 

I suppose I could live without remote input switching, remote power control, HT bypass, whatever...but I don't think I want to.  I have a complex setup of many pieces of gear that are all macro controlled from a single master remote.  I don't spin CD's anymore because I have to get off my butt to swap discs.  I'm certainly not going to get up to turn my gear on and off and change inputs and the like.  :wink:  Although I do have to power my DAC on and off manually...  I hate it when I sit down to listen to music and I forgot to turn my DAC on.

Like I said, I understand my arguments are weak.  I also understand that I may be missing something with the gear I have compared to the AVA stuff, but I can't say that I'm not extremely happy at the moment. :)

Art_Chicago

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #13 on: 25 Sep 2009, 04:00 pm »

We could spend more and make the stuff sexier looking, but our customers seem to want to listen to the equipment more than to just look at it and are not unhappy suffering along with lower cost excellent musical engineering.

Best regards,

Frank Van Alstine


Yes, I do want best sound for less money! Do not care about "sexy" amps and other stuff.

[quote
Like I said, I understand my arguments are weak.  I also understand that I may be missing something with the gear I have compared to the AVA stuff, but I can't say that I'm not extremely happy at the moment. :)
[/quote]

florejc was quite happy before he checked AVA, and he seems to be happier now, don't you think?

srb

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #14 on: 25 Sep 2009, 04:26 pm »
We all have to decide for ourselves where we stand on the balance of features and performance.
 
For myself, I wouldn't buy a preamp without remote input selection or HT bypass, but  I would buy a power amp with a rocker switch and no 12V trigger, if the sound was exceptional.
 
Often small manufacturers like AVA, either a one-man shop or with a few employees, may have found the most efficient operation size.  More business doesn't necessarily translate into more profits, as many have found by expanding into a more expensive space with more employees and overhead.  They need to maintain the size of their customer base, but not necessarily expand it.
 
Certainly mass-produced electronics will always have more gizmos and features than smaller scale hand-built products.  In some respects, a manufacturer like Salk Sound has it "easier" in that after designing a good sounding and good looking speaker, doesn't have to re-invent the product, restyle or add "features" much beyond spikes and magnetic grilles.
 
Steve

K Shep

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #15 on: 25 Sep 2009, 05:37 pm »

I never heard of this other stuff until I started hanging out with you home theatre folks.  This is throw away stuff... 


First of all, you Parasound guys are being too hard on oneinthepipe.  His statements have some errors, but there really isn't any serious bashing going on. 


I am not being to hard on pipe.  "Throw away stuff" doesn't describe any equipment mentioned on this site.  Except Bose.  But as Frank requested let's not throw stones, now that I have :o

Look at the time of pipe's post, he was tired.  Vintagebob and I will compare my Parasound A21 to his AVA amp when all of his new toys arrive, then we will have some serious opinions to chew on!

Kirk

srb

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #16 on: 25 Sep 2009, 06:00 pm »
"Throw away stuff" doesn't describe any equipment mentioned on this site.  Except Bose.

Hey!  I take offense at that, as someone who knows someone who has Bose.   ;)   Actually he is more into the music than the equipment, which is not a bad thing, and is quite proud and happy!
 
As to the AVA / Parasound comparison, while there probably won't be a clear winner, I suspect the A21 will be a worthy competitor!
 
Steve

Nuance

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #17 on: 25 Sep 2009, 06:04 pm »
I consider every one of you as a friend, and I hope the same from you.

Absolutely.  You're a good man, and your post doesn't change that.   

I am sorry to have taken a helpful thread and singlehandedly directed it toward the Intergalactic Wastebin.

Intergalactic Wasebin?  :lol:  I love your analogies brother.  Seriously, though, I've made far dumber comments than you (like that boo boo I made concerning Bolder Cable).  Don't beat yourself up over it. 

With the hope that I will not offend anyone, I agree about buying American made.  I love this country (even though it's in a downword spiral right now), and I'll opt to buy American made first, so I understand where you are coming from, especially with the economy the way it is.  I will, however, try (yes, I said try) to avoid discrediting other products...except Bose.  All bets are off with them.  :D  I will not, however, dismiss foreign made products.  There are a ton of them out there that offer great performance for the money. 

Fortunately the good people here on this forum have helped keep me in check, and I am thankful for that.  If we didn't keep each other in check it would prove we didn't care. 

K Shep, I look forward to that comparo.  It's going to weigh in on my decision on which amp to buy.

Frank,

Since we're chatting about your products, I'd love your opinion on something I've always wondered: Do you recommend leaving the amp/preamp and/or DAC on at all times?  I know it will suck up some electricity, but I am not concerned about that.  I leave my (soon to be) DAC and power amp on all the time because I don't want to have to turn everything on when listening, and I can't imagine how upset my wife would be if she tried to fire up the system (using a universal remote, one button convenience) and nothing happened.  I know your recommendation doesn't apply to other products, but I'd still really love it. 

TJHUB,

I agree that a product should have a little sexiness to it.  For those of us who are not single, we need to get passed WAF before we can purchase, and if a product is ugly our significant other will remind us of that.  Now I am not saying Frank's stuff is ugly; just making a point.  If I was single this hobby would be easier...   :lol:  Shhh - don't tell my wife. 

TJHUB

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #18 on: 25 Sep 2009, 07:39 pm »
Vintagebob and I will compare my Parasound A21 to his AVA amp when all of his new toys arrive, then we will have some serious opinions to chew on!

Kirk

I look forward to this.  I'd love to hear what you guys think.

And when I mentioned "sexy" in my previous post, I was thinking of your CJ preamp.  That thing redefines sexy!

TJHUB

Re: AVA/Parasound mini-review
« Reply #19 on: 25 Sep 2009, 07:40 pm »

Frank,

Since we're chatting about your products, I'd love your opinion on something I've always wondered: Do you recommend leaving the amp/preamp and/or DAC on at all times?  I know it will suck up some electricity, but I am not concerned about that.  I leave my (soon to be) DAC and power amp on all the time because I don't want to have to turn everything on when listening, and I can't imagine how upset my wife would be if she tried to fire up the system (using a universal remote, one button convenience) and nothing happened.  I know your recommendation doesn't apply to other products, but I'd still really love it. 



Nuance,

Leave that DAC powered up.  It takes almost not power and that's why the power switch is hidden on the back.  Leave it on!  :wink: