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Parasound NewClassic 200 Pre Review

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I have been successfully using Parasound components for almost 30 years. I purchased the Parasound HCA-1200 power amplifier brand new back in 1993, which then had a list of $845.00. I have used the amp all this time, initially driving Acarian Systems Alon 1 speakers and currently Magnepan MMG speakers. The reliability of this Parasound component has been incredible. There is a notion on the internet that the capacitors on most amplifiers should be replaced after about 20 years. I talked to the Parasound technical manager and he said that capacitor replacement is not required for Parasound products, which, he said, are built to last indefinitely. After all of these years of constant use, I have to believe that he was absolutely correct; the Parasound HCA-1200 with the Magnepan speakers still sounds wonderful, as if it was still new. I also purchased the Parasound PHP-850 preamplifier and the HCA-600 power amplifier 25 years ago, which one of my sons has been using for the past 20 years. I recall the list price on these products was $399.00 each back in 1997. These components have never needed service.

Parasound’s current product line is grouped into four product families: Halo, which includes the premium and highest-priced products, many of which were designed for Parasound by the legendary John Curl; the ZoneMaster and Z lines, which are mainly targeted to the home installer market; and the NewClassic line, which includes current models that are comparable to the Parasound products that I purchased in the past. Parasound describes the NewClassic line as “a fresh interpretation of the classic designs that have earned top reviews and customer allegiance for over 25 years. NewClassic models deliver maximum ‘bang for the buck’ performance and reliability.” NewClassic includes an integrated amp, the 200 Pre preamp, and three power amp models ranging from 90 to 275 watts per channel.

I have in-house both theNewClassic 200 Pre preamplifier ($999.00) and the 90-wpc 275 v.2 power amplifier ($899.00). This review will cover the 200 Pre and I will tackle the 275 v.2 power amp in a later article.

The 200 Pre offers both digital and analog inputs. Digital inputs include USB, Optical, and Coax into a DAC section using the same Burr-Brown 192kHz-24 bit DAC as Parasound’s earlier Halo P 5 preamp. There are three line stage analog inputs on the back panel. Of those, INPUT 1 can be switched from line stage input to moving magnet or to moving coil phono input, which represents surprising and very welcome flexibility in a preamp at this price. Gain for the MM setting is specified as 40 dB (47K ohms impedance), while the MC setting offers 50 dB of gain and 100 ohms impedance. There is an additional line level input on the front panel that accepts a 3.5 mm stereo aux cable, meant for connecting a phone or portable player. When in use, it overrides anything connected to INPUT 3 around back, as well as adding +12dB of additional gain to compensate for the low output of portable devices in order to maintain volume consistency among connected sources. Per Phil Jackson of Parasound, “after all, this is the differentiator between the 200 Pre and competitive units.”

In addition to the main preamp outputs for connecting to an amplifier, the 200 Pre has a pair of fixed outputs for tape out or other applications needing a fixed output. Plus, there is a set of variable outputs labeled Subs, one of which is full-range and the other low-passed at 80 Hz. And if you are using subs, the main preamp outputs can be engaged (or not) with a  high-pass crossover variable between 20 Hz and 140 Hz, which you can use to reduce the bass-frequency demands on your main speakers, which you may want to experiment with if they are smaller and don’t extend full-range in the bass. In case you aren’t getting the picture that this is a very flexible and full-featured preamp, I’ll add that it includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, a set of home theater bypass inputs, and, via the front panel INPUT/MULTIFUNCTION knob, adjustments for BASS, TREBLE, BALANCE, and subwoofer output level. There is also the 12-volt trigger connections, IR, and RS-232. The user can also set the power-on volume level and favorite volume level.

The front panel graphic display includes a large volume indicator and input selector information. I very much appreciate that I can clearly see the volume setting and can set it to the exact volume desired.

I started this review by connecting my Thorens TD-147 turntable mounted with the Nagaoka MP-110 moving magnet phono cartridge that I reviewed last year. I also used the Parasound NewClassic 275 v.2 power amplifier in this setup, connected to my ancient ESS Translinear speakers as well as the inexpensive Paradigm home theater speakers. I played a variety of jazz, classical and rock records similar to my other reviews. Initially, I noticed a much darker presentation than either the Rotel or my Wyred4Sound mINT integrated amplifier. After several days of listening, the Parasound components opened up to display the refined natural sound that separates high-end components from mass-market gear.

A built-in phono stage can be a big advantage and convenience. At higher price points, a separate phono stage is the way many prefer to go, but in the range of the 200 Pre, having it built-in generally means there is less opportunity for noise to be introduced due to the extra set of connections as well as possible compatibility issues between components. The 200 Pre phono stage exhibited no noise and proved to be a great pairing to the Nagaoka phono cartridge. Since I play a lot of vinyl on a regular basis, this preamplifier was starting out on my good side. Every record I played had that natural sound that makes you forget you are listening to electronics. I would say the 200 Pre is great for music lovers, getting out of the way and letting the music shine through. To me, this is the most important contribution an audio component can make.

Switching over to CDs, I used the Parasound’s built-in digital to analog converter (DAC) via the coaxial input. I wanted to see how the Parasound’s DAC section compared to those in  the Rotel A14MKII and Wyred4Sound mINT integrateds, both of which I think are excellent. I reread my prior reviews to make sure that I played some of the same CDs. Based on memory, the performance was comparable. The biggest thing I noticed was the lack of any noise. There was no sound with the volume turned up until the music started playing. The same clear sound that lets the music through and makes you forget you are playing a stereo was evident. My big band jazz CDs sounded spectacular. There was a lack of harshness without rounding off the frequency extremes. These modern DACs are so analog-like that it makes me almost want to forget about playing records and just use the convenience of playing CDs or even just streaming. But this will probably never happen because old habits die hard.

Remote control: Bass & Treble +/- Raise or lower the amount of bass and treble with these buttons. Subwoofer +/- Raise or lower both subwoofer #1 and #2 output levels simultaneously with these buttons

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