A 2024 Guide to Parasound Amplifiers and Preamplifiers

Parasound is a legend within the industry, universally adored by reviewers, professionals, and audiophiles alike. Their amplifiers and preamplifiers are designed with value and longevity in mind, rather than churning out new versions with unnecessary new features every year. Each design is tweaked to find the sweet spot, delivering the best performance without crossing into the territory of super exotic and expensive components with diminishing returns.

Parasound’s Beginning 

Before Parasound was a household name, the founder, Richard Schram, was already well versed in the audio world. He began his career at one of the largest audio retailers in the country, Pacific Stereo. There, he was tasked with developing the company’s house brand of audio components. One of those house brands was Concept, which eventually gained a cult following as high performing receivers with extraordinary value. It was through the development of Concept that Richard learned how to create products that were tailored to the customer by being reliable and relevant through a constant feedback loop.

Finally ready to kick start his own brand, he left Pacific Stereo in 1980 and launched the very first Parasound model in September of the following year. Eight years later, Schram would then bring in the infamous John Curl, the namesake of  Parasound’s flagship JC series, who would eventually become Parasound’s lead designer. Curl brought the experience of his own storied career in audio to the team, the highlight of which was his work on The Grateful Dead’s infamous “Wall of Sound.” The Dead had tasked him with designing a solid-state rig for their shows, part of which Curl would later use in Parasound’s JC 2 preamp

With Schram’s experience in developing brands centered around providing maximum value for the end user and Curl’s engineering and design prowess, Parasound would then go on to become one of the most respected and awarded names in the industry. Over the next 40 years, and still to this day, Parasound has been faithfully serving their customers and dealers alike, cementing their brand in the hearts of audiophiles and earning their place in the industry.

Identity and Tech: What Sets Parasound Apart?

Direct-Coupled Circuits

John Curl was one of the first in the industry to study the negative effects that certain dielectric materials found in capacitors can have on the audio signal. As Curl states in an interview from 1999, certain types of capacitors “ ...are not very reliable, and they have all these secondary distortion characteristics... dielectric absorption, nonlinear distortion, and that sort of thing. So, if you can eliminate these capacitors, why put them in the first place?”

This research would lead to another signature feature of Parasound’s designs, the direct-coupled circuits found on their Halo series power amplifiers. By removing capacitors and inductors from the signal path and using DC servos to protect the speakers from DC offset voltages, their flagship JC 1+ monoblocks can output their full rated power down to 2 Hz. Compared to other amps, this gives deeper bass extension and brings the best out of your speakers.

This also gives their amps longevity. As anyone who has owned or worked with any vintage electronics knows, capacitors tend to be the first components to fail. As Curl states, “If anything is going to go bad, the capacitors will probably go bad first ... unless you have catastrophic failure. In short, they don’t really do you any good. The best capacitor is no capacitor...we don’t need them anymore.” 

Measure Twice, Cut Once.

Everyone has heard this phrase at least once, likely while standing in their dad’s garage, but Parasound takes this phrase to a new level. 

Beyond their exacting quality control and manufacturing standards, Parasound keeps this adage close to heart when designing each of their products. Schram likes to highlight how long their products last on the market, not because they don’t care to improve their designs, but because they don't need to. Rather than releasing an endless stream of MkII’s and V3’s, cutting away at the value of previous products with each successive release, Parasound aims to deliver amps that stay relevant.

The smallest of their Halo series, the Halo A 23, for example, was produced for 15 years before being replaced by the Halo A 23+ Stereo Power Amplifier in 2018. The same can be said for almost all of the original Halo and NewClassic models introduced in the early 2000’s. It’s one thing to design and manufacture an amplifier for decades of smooth operation, but it’s much harder to ensure that it is still relevant and competitive for that long.

The Sweet Spot Between Performance and Extravagance

While there is an allure to the realm of six and seven figure setups that most audiophiles will never see, it lies well beyond the point of diminishing returns. Parasound, with Schram’s background in retail audio, pushes their designs just to that point of diminishing returns, carefully tweaking their products to land in the sweet spot between performance and extravagance.

As Schram has stated, Curl “...wouldn't last a week in a mass market receiver factory…The accountants would probably reject every part he picked because it cost too much. At the same time, he knows how to make a very, very good product at what we consider to be a reasonable price."

With their customer-focused approach, the end goal is value. And not as it is often used as a more marketable stand-in for "cheap," not that anyone would accuse Parasound amps of this. While their NewClassic and Z series are much more accessible, their signature JC series components are a serious investment for most people, verging on five figures or more if you’re getting a pair of JC 1+’s.

Even at this higher price point, value is still the key word. Though it may seem ironic, even Parasound’s top line is optimized for value, giving the highest performance at a sensible cost. As Parasound states on their website, “Every time another expert compares our product to equipment that costs three times as much, we have succeeded.”

Industry Favorites: The Star of “Star Wars”

Parasound has also enjoyed a long run as a film and pro-audio industry favorite, despite its foundation in retail audio and customer focused approach. Pixar, Universal, Fox, Warner Brothers, Sony, and Lucasfilm have all used Parasound, even with their exorbitant budgets.

As the only audio company with the honor, Parasound even made it into the credits for Star Wars Episodes I-III. While you could make an argument about these movies’ place compared to the original trilogy, they were surely improved with Parasound amps and processors handling the on location sound, which greatly reduced Lucasfilm’s post-production studio time.

These studios all use the same amps and processors that are made for consumers; as Parasound states, “We have no separate ‘pro’ line, no products specially modified for industry insiders. Still, a long list of companies like Pixar and Sony, for whom money is no object, chose Parasound. Each of our products has the same chance of going to your home as it does to Lucasfilm or Capitol Records.”

Product Breakdowns: Amps, Preamps, and Integrated Amps

Parasound Power Amplifiers

Power amps are the backbone of Parasound’s lineup, encompassing a wide range of options from the Zamp v.3 to their flagship JC 1+ monoblocks. Although over here at The Music Room, we focus on stereo and mono amps for two-channel Hi-Fi setups, Parasound also has a wide range of multi-channel amps for home theater and custom installation usage.

While Parasound’s signature direct coupled circuits are reserved for their top of the line Halo series, amps from all of their product ranges follow the same design ethos and punch above their weight class.

The lowest priced amplifier in their lineup is the Zampz v.3from their Z Custom series. These are more compact, half-rack sized units that are meant for custom installation use but can also work in desktop setups where their smaller size works well. With a lower output of 45 watts per channel into 8 ohms, its class AB design is impressive at its entry level price point. This can also be a drawback, however, as without heatsinks, it is likely to overheat. The Zamp v.3 is a good option for those with minimal real estate for their system and who have a place with good ventilation to help keep it cool.

Parasound Zamp v.3 Two Channel Zone Amplifier

Parasound Zamp v.3 Two Channel Zone Amplifier: Front face plate and rear port view

New Classic Stereo Power Amplifiers

Moving up to the NewClassic series, which takes the essence of their classic designs and distills them down to a more entry level price point,. These maximize Parasound’s ethos of providing high value, with the highest performance per dollar of their product lines.

The three stereo power amps in the NewClassic line all feature fully discrete circuitry with high current toroid transformers, along with an efficient class AB design. These amps have a lot of the characteristics and sound signature of their older siblings from the Halo series, with some costs saved on components and isolation. With three offerings in this series, the 275 v.2, 2125 v.2, and 2250 v.2, there is an amp for varying levels of power needs and size constraints. These are a great value point in the product lineup, offering maximum Parasound performance at a much more accessible price.

Parasound NewClassic 2250 v.2 Two Channel Power Amplifier

Parasound NewClassic 2250 v.2 Two Channel Power Amplifier

Parasound Halo Power Amplifiers

The Halo series is Parasound’s top of the line, housing all of their most renowned designs. Most of the amplifiers in the current lineup are the “+” version, having been reworked and improved from the original models that launched in the early 2000’s. These are all designed by John Curl and feature high efficiency class A/AB designs, direct-coupled signal paths, carefully selected components, and heavy duty shielded toroidal transformers.

The Halo A 23+ Stereo Power Amplifier is one of the most popular from the Halo series, offering all of Parasound’s signature tech as the most affordable amp in the lineup. The Halo A 21+ Stereo Power Amplifier is a perfect step up from the A 23+ for those who have demanding speakers, offering the same features with almost double the power output. For the home theater setups out there, the A 31, A 51, and A 52+ all offer the signature Halo sound with 3 and 5 channel designs.

Though still a part of the Halo series, the “JC” models are the flagship designs and standouts even within the top of the line. Perhaps Parasound’s most famous and most awarded amplifier is the JC 1+ monoblocks, named for designer John Curl. The JC 1+’s have more power than you’ll likely ever need, lovingly nicknamed the “stump puller” by Curl. The original JC 1 was on Stereophile’s Class A Recommendation list for 15 years running, longer than any other product.

Inside Cabinet of Parasound Halo JC 1+ Monoblock Power Amplifier

Look inside the cabinet of the Halo JC 1+ Monoblock Power Amplifier

With the JC 1’s success, Parasound’s dealers and customer base asked for years for a stereo version to save on space and cost. Curl took on the challenge to pack two JC-1’s into a single chassis, and the result is the Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier. With most of the performance of the JC 1 in half the size, the JC 5 is Parasound’s flagship stereo amp. 

Back view ports and inside the cabinet of a JC 5 power amp

A look into the back side ports (left image) and inside the cabinet (right image) of the JC 5 power amp.

From the affordable Zamp v.3 to the “stump puller” JC 1+ at the top of the range, Parasound’s power amplifier offerings embody the essence of their brand identity, providing unmatched value and lasting quality regardless of the price point.

Integrated Amplifiers

With built in DACs and phono stages, Parasound’s two integrated amps are pretty close to being one-box solutions, only lacking streaming and wireless capabilities. While these are pretty feature-packed for Parasound, they still follow the same design ethos, opting for quality over flashiness.

The NewClassic 200 Integrated Amplifier with DAC and Phono is their entry level, offering a lot for its price tag. Featuring a Class D amplifier design, Burr-Brown DAC chip and circuitry borrowed from the Halo P 5 preamp, and a phono section that can be used with MM and MC cartridges, the NewClassic 200 might be the most value-driven product in Parasound’s lineup. The all-analog signal path and carefully selected components give you the same clean, neutral sound that Parasound’s amps are known for.

With the hopes of beating out not only other integrated amps but higher priced separates as well, Parasound introduced their flagship integrated, the Halo HINT 6 Integrated Amplifier. While many Parasound customers still opt for the Halo P 6 and A 23+ combo, which come in at around the same price as the HINT, many who have tried both routes claim that the HINT 6 performs just as well as separates. With a redesigned ESS-based DAC section, MM and MC phono sections with loading and gain for both high and low output MC, and a powerful Class A/AB power amp section, the HINT 6 combines all of the best features from other Parasound designs into one chassis.

Front face plate of the Parasound Halo Into 6 Integrated Amplifier

Front face plate of the Parasound Halo Into 6 Integrated Amplifier

If you don’t plan on experimenting with different DACs, preamps, power amps, etc., the NewClassic 200 and HINT 6 both combine the best of Parasound’s products into a single chassis.


Parasound offers a range of preamplifiers that perfectly match their power amp lineup. The most affordable is the Zpre3 Two Channel Zone Preamplifier which packs their signature sound into a half-size chassis the same size as the Zamp v.3. With Bypass inputs for devices that have their own volume control, 4 pairs of single ended inputs, and fixed and variable outputs, the Zpre3 is a great option for entry level systems or desktop setups with limited space.

The NewClassic 200 Pre Stereo Preamplifier with DAC and Phono shares a design with the 200 integrated, with the exception of the power amp section. With the same Burr-Brown DAC chip and circuitry borrowed from the Halo P 5 preamp, all analog circuitry, and a phono section that can be used with MM and MC cartridges, the NewClassic 200 is a step up from the Zpre while still being relatively affordable.

Jumping up to the Halo series, the Halo P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier with DAC and Phono offers a wide range of flexibility with its Home Theater Bypass, adjustable high and low pass filters, Sabre DAC section, and phono stage that can accommodate MM, High and Low MC, and even MI cartridges. The Bypass inputs are routed directly to the outputs for devices that already have their own volume control, which can be a great option depending on the sources you’re using. The low pass filter on the sub outputs, combined with high pass filter on the main outputs, are extremely useful in dialing in your crossover points to get your subwoofers perfectly integrated with your speakers. The Halo P 6 Preamp is feature-packed, combining varied functionalities with the build quality of the Halo series without the flagship price tag.

At the very top of the range, the Halo JC 2 BP Preamplifier with Bypass is much less feature-packed than the P 6. It instead focuses on maximizing performance through its dual-mono design, direct-coupled signal path, thorough isolation, and carefully selected components and design. The JC 2 BP Preamp does not have a DAC or phono section built in and instead is a more purist design, aspiring to be the best preamplifier it can be. With black backgrounds, excellent soundstaging, and excellent detail, the JC 2 is a perfect match for the JC 1+ monos or JC 5 as a reference class combo.

Parasound Halo JC 2 BP Preamplifier with Bypass

Parasound Halo JC 2 BP Preamplifier with Bypass

Phono Preamplifiers

Parasound also has a great selection of phono preamplifiers, with their JC 3+ being widely regarded as one of the best preamps for the price. At the entry level are the Zphono and Zphono XRM, the former having fairly bare bones while the latter having a respectable amount of flexibility for its price. The Zphono can be used for both MM and MC cartridges, with 61 dB of gain and 100 ohms of loading for low output MC cartridges. Other than the MM / MC switch, there is no adjustability, and the Zphono only has a pair of RCA outputs. This is a great option if you’re not one to experiment with different cartridges, however, or if you’re just looking to upgrade to a standalone phono stage from one that’s built into your turntable or lower end amp.

The Zphono XRM Adjustable MM & MC Phono Preamplifier adds a wide variety of adjustability, with adjustable MM gain settings of 40 or 50 dB, MC gain settings of 50 or 60 dB, and variable loading for MC cartridges that can be set between 50-1050 ohms. In addition, the XRM also adds a pair of balanced outputs, with +6 dB of output compared to the single ended outputs. The front panel also has a rumble filter switch and a mono switch, both of which are welcome additions to the regular Zphono. The XRM is a great choice to accommodate a wide variety of cartridges, and is a great option if you’re looking for a solid phono stage without getting into the JC series price range.

Within the Halo series, the Halo JC 3+ Phono Preamplifier and JC 3 Jr. both offer stellar performance with increased dynamics, blacker backgrounds, and much improved separation and imaging. Both offer a good amount of gain and loading adjustability for MM, MC, and MI cartridges, along with single ended and balanced outputs. Like the XRM, the balanced outputs on both the 3+ and the 3 Jr. are +6dB compared to the single ended.

Both JC 3 phono preamps feature isolation between the audio circuitry and the power section, with the Halo JC 3 Jr. Phono Preamplifier being sectioned off in the rear of the chassis with an aluminum shield. This helps give the Jr. its superb signal-to-noise ratio and results in silent backgrounds and increased detail and soundstaging. The 3+ takes it a step further, however, with a dual mono design where the left and right channel circuitry are fully isolated from each other in their own aluminum enclosures. This, along with the built in AC line conditioner to even further reduce noise, results in a supremely clean background and excellent imaging and stereo separation.

The JC 3 Jr. is a big step up from the XRM price-wise, however, but is a good sweet spot for vinyl enthusiasts who are looking to get the most out of their mid-range tables and cartridges. The JC 3+ is yet another big step up from the Jr., at twice the cost, but the dual-mono design, superior isolation, and AC line conditioners make a big difference in higher-end systems. 

Parasound Halo JC 3+ Phono Preamplifier

Parasound Halo JC 3+ Phono Preamplifier

The Next Step

At the end of the day, if you are looking to upgrade your gear, you can’t go wrong with choosing Parasound. With an array of lines and products to choose from and gear to get any audiophile on any budget to the next step, their exceptional value for the price cannot be compared to any other. From their budget-friendly Z Custom and NewClassic series to their top-of-the-line Halo series, each one is legendary in its own right and provides serious value to anyone's system. With their customer centric focus, careful design process, “measure twice, cut once” ethos, and technological innovations such as their signature direct-coupled circuits, Parasound delivers exceptional value and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The Music Room is proud to be an authorized dealer for Parasound and can’t wait to see what’s next from this industry giant. We are excited to see what the future holds for this innovative brand.

Still need help choosing the right Parasound item for you?

The Music Room has an entire team of expert HiFi guides that can walk you through the pros and cons of each item and help you choose what’s best for you. No matter your budget, we can help you get the system of your dream for far less than you think. Save on Parasound with certified pre-owned, where each item is thoroughly tested, cleaned, and certified. We also have a generous trade-in program where you can sell us your old gear and get trade credit towards any new Parasound purchase. Whichever you choose, we promise you can get the right gear at the right value. 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed.

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