Sometimes power is a good thing.
Over the course of the past few months, I’ve reviewed integrated amplifiers with power ratings ranging from 8 to 160 Watts and a number that fall somewhere in between. One thing I can tell you is that sometimes power is a good thing.
The power section of the Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier comes from the mind of John Curl, one of hifi’s most respected designer of circuits that turn signals into music. While you can dig into the details of the HINT 6 here, I will include some of the high notes for convenience sake. The ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC endowed Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier also offers MM and MC phono inputs, making it a full-function integrated amplifier. The high bias Class A/AB power amplifier section specs out at 160 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms and 240 Watts per channel into 4 Ohms. Other internal details include Oversized shielded toroid power transformer, Dual-mono power supply and power amplifier, 40,000uF power supply filter capacitance, Matched JFET input stages and MOSFET driver stages, and 12 high voltage/high current bipolar output transistor.
There are a total of 5 line level RCA inputs, 1x balanced XLR inputs, MM/MC (100Ω/47kΩ) phono input, balanced Preamp out (2x XLR), Sub out (XLR), Record Out, Home Theater Bypass, adjustable RCA Sub out, adjustable RCA Preamp out, and USB and S/PDIF inputs (1x Coax, 2x Toslink). The USB input can handle PCM resolutions up to 24bit/384kHz and DSD to DSD256 while the S/PDIF inputs max out at 24bit/192kHz. A pair of heavy-duty 24k gold-plated 5-way speaker binding posts, AC Voltage Selector, IEC inlet, and power switch fill out the very full back panel.
For this review, I focused on the HINT 6’s built in DAC, feeding it from the Bluesound Node 2i’s Coax out with a length of AudioQuest Coffee cable, and its MM phono input getting its analog input from the Rega P3/Nagaoka MP-110 MM Cartridge budget-friendly combo. On the system output side, the DeVore Fidelity O/93s and Golden Ear BRX produced the sound waves.
While I can fall under the spell of the warm caress of low-powered tube-based amplifiers, I am equally attracted to clean, clear, pure power. Music making, via the hifi, that is fast as music demands, can start, stop, and slam on a dime, and adds the thrill of nearly unbridled force can make for a fun ride. A good, long, fun thrills and chills kinda ride.
The Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier delivers such a ride. Perhaps contrary to popular belief systems, the low power friendly DeVore O/93s also enjoy some juice. The HINT’s high bias Class A/AB power amplifier section offers 160 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms which equals lots of juice when mated with the DeVore’s 10 Ohm / 93 dB/W/M load. The DAC section of the HINT 6 also hails from the clean and clear family of sound so what you get from digital sources is the sense that very little stands between you and what’s in the recording. This clarity lends lead vocalists their spotlit center stage, with a level of detail that invites close inspection on inflection, breath, and timing.
Music’s power and drive is in ready supply, which translates into excitement over dynamic swings, rhythmic boogie, and orchestra-sized presence. There is simply no sense of a lack of power or drive when listening to the HINT 6 driving the DeVore’s or the more common kinda load of the Golden Ear BRX. This power-on-tap had me holding onto the handy included remote more than normal so I could swing the volume level according to the music and my mood. “Up” being the generally preferred direction.
I also fed the HINT 6 with the analog output of the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer to get a feel for just the amplification section and to offer an unreasonable comparison, in terms of price, of these DACs. As I expected, the totaldac added to the things on offer from the HINT 6’s own DAC in most ways, delivering more flesh, more texture, and a larger more vivid sound image. That being said, if I bought a HINT 6 I’d live happily ever after with its DAC and focus on the differences between all of the new music I’d be compelled to listen to.
The same holds for its not surprisingly wonderful phono stage. I say not surprising because I own, use, and love the Parasound Zphono Phono Preamplifier so it’s no wonder Parasound outfitted the HINT 6 with a beauty. I’ve been re-building my record collection, slowly and surely, and have to say that working from a clean slate has made purchasing decisions feel special. One recent re-addition is the smashingly groovy 12” 45RPM single Trench Town from Bob Marley & The Wailers (1983 on Tuff Gong) that has a crushing bass thump with The I Threes backing Bob Marley’s soaring searing vocals and the HINT 6 drove that thump home with heart pounding conviction.
I’ve been on a bit of a Jessica Pratt jag of late and her self-titled debut from 2012 on Birth Records is a simple and lovely LP featuring just Jessica on guitar and vocals. With so little going on, complexity-wise, focus moves directly to the quality of tone, timbre, pluck, and overdubbed harmony. The HINT 6 passes this simple test with flying colors as my attention immediately moved to Jessica’s quirky voice and hypnotic finger-picking style. From sound to music in no time flat which is exactly where we want to be. The HINT 6 loved, or had me re-love, both the DeVore O/93s and Golden Ear BRX. Its sonic traits transferred to whichever speaker I decided to listen through. Big, crisp, bold, and rather beautiful.
After a few weeks of listening and enjoying, I rolled in the Hegel H95, another wonder of an integrated amp with Streamer and DAC that comes in at $2000 (see review). The Hegel does not include a phono stage so we’re nearly talking about apples and apples when it comes to price. I also fed the Hegel with the Bluesound Node 2i to keep things as common as possible. In terms of sound, the Hegel and Parasound have much in common but no one wants to hear that! In general, I’d say that the Hegel sounds a bit sweeter and smaller than the Parasound. There’s a softness to the Hegel H95 that I appreciate as it makes music sound a bit warmer and more inviting as compared to the Parasound’s clearer and more forthright approach. That being said, the Hegel did not produce the same sense of nearly overwhelming dynamics, drama, and scale of the HINT 6.
I admit to being a fan of both companies and find that Parasound and Hegel offer great products at great prices. It’s worth noting that the Hegel H95 offers 60 Watts of output power (into 8 Ohms) so there’s that. In terms of which is better, they both are. I would say that for those looking for an integrated amp that will help tame otherwise hard-sounding speakers, the Hegel may tickle that fancy. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a relative powerhouse that’s about crystal clear clarity and drive, the Parasound HINT 6 is screaming for an audition. Especially so if you enjoy spinning records.
The HINT 6’s headphone amp drove the AudioQuest NightOwls with ease, offering that same clear and powerful portrayal found through loudspeakers. In an unexpected move, I moved the Red Chair nearer my rack so I could sit and enjoy some alone time with the HINT 6 and NightOwls sweet caress. Richard Bishop’s Intermezzo from 2012 is a wonderful twisty, turny guitar jag which set just the right mood for headphone time.
While not as exciting to type about, the Parasound offers a number of features that are more then welcome. These include the ability to save your favorite volume level via the remote which allows you to jump to that level with the press of a button on the remote, set a Turn On Volume Level, engage or disengage the Tone Controls, extensive Subwoofer Setup options, Home Theater Bypass, and a total of 6 line level inputs (1x XLR, 5x RCA) in addition to the 4 digital inputs (USB, 2x Toslink, Coax). We’re talking full function and then some. I also find the Parasound’s 33lbs of goodness to be well made with a workman-like appeal. Think solid and a pleasure to use.
The Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier is another product that is easy to recommend. It is chock full of features, offers a built in and very good sounding DAC and a wonderful MM and MC phono stage coupled with 160 Watts of pure musical brawn. Sometimes power is a good thing.
Parasound HINT 6 Halo Integrated Amplifier
Company Website: Parasound