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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 4
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parasound

HCA-1500A amplifier

as reviewed by Francisco Duran, Larry Cox, and Victor Chavira

 

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as appeared in Issue 13 of audioMUSINGS, 2001

 

 

 

VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magneplanar 1.6 and B&W DM 302.

ELECTRONICS
Kora Explorer integrated. SCE Harmonic Recovery System.

SOURCE
Audio Electronics CD1 player.

CABLES
Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Blue Heaven speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Monster Cables HTS 1000 AC center. Vibrapods, Lovan Trisolator, and Echo Busters.

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes)Parasound has a reputation for offering well-made audiophile and home theater products at reasonable prices. The HCA-1500A, which is in the middle of their amplifier line, produces 205 watts into 8 ohms (315 watts into my 4-ohm Maggies) and is THX Ultra certified. Hand matched JFETS are used in the input stage, while MOSFETs are utilized in the driver stage. The amp weighs a hefty forty pounds, none of which is wasted on useless casework. The large heatsinks are inside the case, covered by a well-ventilated bent metal shell.

Every time I connect my speakers to a high current transistor amp, there is a dramatic improvement in drama and momentum. The panels snap to attention. When this occurred with the Parasound, I took advantage of the situation and fed the Maggies a steady diet of pop music. With Steely Dan's Two Against Nature, a disc I've been enjoying lately, the 1500A produced powerful, controlled bass and crisp musical lines. The bass drum was punchy, fast, and tight. I was equally impressed with the 1500A's clarity of line in the midrange and vocals. Surprisingly, sibilance sounded smooth and much easier on the ear than I had anticipated from a transistor amp in this price range. Switching to my reference AMP1, this same disc produced a warmer, less defined foundation and a richer vocal palette, while momentum was somewhat more reserved. Snare drum carried less "crack!" and impact.

Steely Dan was followed by Dire Straights' Greatest Hits. This is when the panels exhibited something I didn't think they were capable of: deep growls of synth bass, synth bass, and more synth bass! All you subwoofers can kiss my arse. Maggies are in the house! Alright, I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. The Parasound was not all brute force, however. The midrange was clear and captivating. Mark Knopfler's distinguished tone on guitar was rendered with detail and accuracy.

After the Parasound proved to be a powerful performer with pop music, it was time for the amp to show its softer side. Could the amp breathe life into an instrument like Omara's voice or Miles' horn? Yes. When the material called for grace and tact, the Parasound responded accordingly. When I played "Blues for Pablo" from Miles Ahead, the 1500A produced a less burnished tone than my Anthem. Conversely, when the massed horns on "New Rhumba" kicked in, the Parasound more effectively conveyed the spread and impact of the large band. Piano was another forte of the 1500A. The Parasound more accurately traced the size and mass of a concert grand than my reference amp. Piano was rendered with brilliance and splendor. Notes rang into the depths of imperceptibility. The Parasound enhanced my appreciation of the artists' skill when implementing the pedals of the instrument to dampen or sustain notes and chords. The Parasound 1500A was a very impressive amplifier, and an ideal match for my Magnepan 1.6s. It exhibited power and control over the Maggies, yet was able to convey harmonious beauty. If I wasn't so enamored to the warmth of tubes, the 1500A would surely be my reference amp. Victor Chavira

 

 

 

FRANCISCO DURAN'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
ProAc Response 2 with Osiris 24" stands.

ELECTRONICS
Monarchy SM-70 amplifiers (mono). Reference Line Preeminence lA passive line stage.

SOURCE
Musical Concepts’ Pioneer DV414 DVD Epoch VII Signature player. Taddeo Digital Antidote Two.

CABLES
Superconductor+ interconnects and a double run of JPS Ultraconductor speaker cables.

ACCESSORIES
Panamax power conditioning. BDR cones and Vibrapods.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)The Parasound 1500A amplifier kind of reminds me of the Denon POA 8200 that I bought a few years back, but quickly returned to the Good Guys. The Parasound's stamped metal work and the fact that it has lots of features made me think of the Denon, but the comparison ends there. The Parasound is certainly built a lot better. To say that this $1000 amp is a killer would be an understatement. You get 200 watts of power, advanced technology, and two cool volume controls on the back of the amp (for you minimalists).

When I first plugged in this amp I admit that I was not impressed, but after a period of break-in, the music snapped into focus, and little by little I was drawn in. This amp has no sibilance, no crashing cymbals, snare drums, or transient peaks, but neither does it smooth over detail in favor of making the music sound euphonic. Quite the contrary, it pulls off the hat trick of providing smoothness and detail reminiscent of amps costing considerably more. This amp has a surprising amount of bloom. Does it have the 3-D, liquid sound of a luscious tube amp? Well, no, but it went a long way in that direction without losing microdynamics or the frequency extremes. After all, it is a solid state amp.

Cranking some Stravinsky from Naxos, Eliades Ochoa on loan from the Chavira household, and a new Higher Octane music sampler really gave me a handle on what the Parasound could do. I also liked what this amp did with rock. On Tom Petty's Wildflowers, the guitars sound slick, clean, and polished, but still rough-and-ready. However, while I appreciated the clean presentation, I also felt that guitars in particular sounded warmer than neutral. What is a neutral guitar sound, you say? That's a good question. What is a neutral-sounding anything? Let's just say that in the frequency range where most guitars reside, the Parasound sounded a bit warmer than my own amps. I'm not saying that's good or bad, just that that's how I heard it. While I am nitpicking, I also felt that the Parasound could be a bit more open and airy. It wasn't bad, but for that extra bit of spaciousness you are going to have to pay quite a bit more. One funny thing, though-this amp totally unhooks the speakers from the music. Orchestras sound smooth, detailed, and powerful. The string section sounds round, sweet, and wide open. The bass sounds full and powerful, more so than with my amps. With rock or jazz CDs, the bass was full, with good pace and rhythm.

When I switched back to my amps for comparison's sake, I found that my Monarchy monoblocks were not as dark sounding as the Parasound, which is not exactly a plus with my ProAc speakers. Background details were more noticeable with my amps, and they have a more up-front sound, with a less deep stage. There was more texture to the music, but the string sections of orchestras didn't sound as round, sweet, and relaxed. But, fully warmed up, the Monarchys are fast and punchy, with plenty of detail, and they are slightly warm and sweet in their own right. As my grandmother used to say, "Its system matching, pendejo!"

After my initial listening, the Parasound made the rounds of the reviewers for a while, and then I got it back. I put it in my system, forgot about it, and just played music. After about a week of casual listening, I came home from work one evening and put on one of my Taj Majal discs. As I was walking around the house and listening, I said to myself, "Man, what did I do to my system?" I heard a clean, grainless, and real slick musical presentation. The music had a pleasant bloom. Then I remembered that the Parasound was back in. Pay attention, Francisco. That big chunk of metal was playing some good music. For a very respectable price, the Parasound will give you a lot. The Parasound 1500A has the power, features, and sound quality to compete with amps costing many times more. Don't let the price fool you, this one is a keeper. Francisco Duran

 

 

 

LARRY COX'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
ATC SCM 20.

ELECTRONICS
Majeel Labs Pristine S-10 amplifier. E.A.R. 802 preamplifier.

SOURCE
Pioneer DV 525 dvd or CAL Audio Icon Mk.II CD players.

CABLES
Quattro Fil interconnects and speaker cables made from Belden 1219A wire.

ACCESSORIES
API Power Pack and ACPEAM line conditioners.

 

three.jpg (8484 bytes)The Parasound HCA-1500A amplifier is a bargain at $995. For that price you get 205 big watts of power, a presentation that is easy to live with, terrific fit and finish, and a generous warranty that makes this recommendation a no-brainer.

Is this the best amplifier I’ve heard? No. The $14,000 E.A.R. 549 mono tube amps are more liquid, with a fuller bottom end. These amps also present detail in a sort of hide-and-seek way that reveals where the players are hiding—no announcements are made, but things or people pop out of corners, from behind doors, what have you. You discover things in the music with the E.A.R. in the way you discover those hiders—it’s like an adventure unfolding. At $14,000, excitement and adventure should be assured, and they are. At about $6000, the Chord SPM1200B is faster, cleaner, and has better extension than the Parasound, despite having only 45 watts more power. The match of the Chord with my inefficient (83dB) ATCs was damned fine, among the best I’ve heard, creating an effortless, nearly signature-free sound that almost seduced me into buying, though at the purchase price I wanted a bit more sweetness. Similar things can be said of other products, including the Pristine S10, the Birdland/Solid Tube amp, the Kora Titans (ooh, loved those puppies), and others, all of which cost much more than the Parasound.

Compared to the big, expensive E.A.R. (and the Chord), the Parasound is more withholding. Listening into the sound is required and, unlike the E.A.R. amps, listening in won’t guarantee that you’ll hear the micro details. Happily, with the Parasound you won’t have your head taken off by harsh, edgy sound. You’ll miss the sense of timbre and rich tonality that the E.A.R. amps provide, though—you won’t get the inviting, suave presentation that an additional $13,000 can buy you. The Parasound’s signature is warm, rich, and relaxed, closer to Row W than Row C. Female vocals are warm, perhaps overly warm, almost more male than with the Chord or the E.A.R., or even my Musical Design DM100B.

The bottom end lacked the drive and propulsion that the Chord exhibits at high and low volume levels. There is a substantial bottom end to the HCA-1500A, it’s just not as dynamic and well-articulated a bottom end as the one the Chord offers. Is the Parasound’s bottom end acceptable? No, it is more than acceptable, but it just isn’t up to the extraordinary performance of the Chord. Imaging isn’t the Parasound’s strong suit either. I mention this because I know some of you really care about that. Me, I’m still partial to a tonal balance that matches the room sound, which is to say slightly soft. Imaging is a little make-believe when you are in a room that seats 200-500 people sitting fifty feet from fifty performers. Hell, in a REAL hall, the sound of an orchestra is stuffed in an undifferentiated middle, just as it is with a crappy stereo!

No way is this an offensive product, unlike the Chord or my Musical design, which can be offensive at times—if a recording sucks, that comes through loud and clear. The Parasound’s warmer balance tends to obscure the crappy part of a recording. Yes, this is a coloration, but with speakers like the Soliloquy 5.0s, at a similar price, the Parasound is wonderful. The combination of the slightly lean midrange of the Soliloquys with the HCA-1500A’s warmth can fool you into thinking you are getting more than you really are. Would you mind being fooled and saving more than $5000? Sounds like a fair proposition. If your underwear is a little tighter, you can always opt for something more "transparent," spend way more (like two to three times as much), and suffer on bad recordings. You choose.

What I’d prefer from the Parasound is a bit more bottom end kick, a bit more transparency, and a slightly lighter touch to female vocals. This isn’t a product that provides the delicacy and sweet suaveness available from expensive solid state and tube products. Still, for the money you get a very well made product with nice aesthetics, plenty of power for most sensible speakers, and a ten-year warranty. What’s wrong with that? As I look at buying a house, having a kid, and stuff like that, it isn’t as easy to say "Waiter, I’ll have a Chord." Getting good sound for way less money is damned appealing. For me, audio is part of life, it isn’t life itself. I need financial room for stuff besides late night listening sessions. Want a great buy? Get a Parasound HCA-1500A. It’s not a perfect amplifier, but it’s easily worth what it costs. Larry Cox

 

 

 

HCA-1500A amplifier
Retail: $995

Parasound
web address: www.parasound.com
TEL: 415. 397. 7100

 

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