Though it was months ago, the AXPONA show still hangs with me. While we’re just about to go into a few other shows this season, some of which I won’t be able to attend and some I will, I am still reveling in the glory of AXPONA 2019.
For me, one of the highlights of any show is getting first looks at new gear before it hits the market. There were several products that caught my eye, but maybe none more exciting than Parasound’s new integrated amp, the $1195 NewClassic 200 Integrated.
Parasound’s room was packed Saturday of the show, but I managed to squeeze up to the front row to a single open seat. Their representative was playing song after song through their system, and new people were convinced they were hearing the big Halo amp. With a big smile, he explained time and time again that everyone was hearing the yet-to-be released integrated amp. I was growing more and more excited as I listened to the purity of this small, single rack space unit drive their bookshelf speakers to a constantly revolving crowd of twenty or so people.
I waited with great anticipation for a couple months until my demo unit arrived. Since this was as brand new as it could possibly come, I allowed for some good break-in time, and then began to intently listen. With my Rotel RCD-955AX CD player running digitally into the 200’s coax input, and outputting to my Vandersteen 2C loudspeakers, I settled into the beautiful simplicity of this system.
Let me back up just a bit. Up until this point, I had actually been a bit on the fence about my Vandersteens. Yes, I knew these were amazing speakers, but I could never quite get the sound out of them I had been hoping for, even with hours of tweaking and placement. It was becoming frustrating. All of that frustration ended the very moment I began to listen with the Parasound 200 Integrated. I now fully understood what people have told me about needing the right amp to drive these speakers. The ‘Steens lit up with a fuller range than I had ever hear from them before. Now they truly sounded like high-end speakers. My purchase had been fully justified. It just took the right amplifier. This was simply 110 watts per channel from a single rack space, but already sounded like so much more!
So here I was, listening to Roger Waters’ Is This the Life We Really Want? and knowing that I’m supposed to paying attention to the feature set of the Parasound, writing about specs and buttons and inputs, but all I could do was lose myself in the sound. It was one of the few times where I even had to stop writing, call to my wife, and invite her into my listening to hear the system. Never has my listening room sounded this incredible. She agreed.
I will start with sound, then, because ultimately I hope that’s what you’re really buying this for. The features are great, and this is a very loaded piece, but if the centerpiece of your system doesn’t sound good, then forget it. But, we’re already established that this isn’t a problem here.
We’ll begin with the built-in DAC of the 200 Integrated, because I believe that it may be the biggest selling feature. With the increasing popularity and growing expense of outboard DACs, to have a really high-quality DAC built in the amp like this is a real treat. What the 200 does with the stream of 1’s and 0’s from the Rotel is simply incredible. I switched over to Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die and was very happy. New life was breathed into this disc, as the flute and piano meshed together much better than I’d heard before. Bass sat perfectly in the middle of the room, while vocals came from front and center, except when being panned back-and-forth. Percussion was super crisp and tight. Tambourine came from way in the back.
Changing over to the analog output of the Rotel, and using another input of the 200, I compared the sound, now not using the onboard DAC. I have always loved the original Philips DACs of the Rotel 855 and 955 players, but even with a disc as dynamic as Peter Gabriel’s So, the onboard DAC of Parasound still sounded better to me. What I was hearing sounded like a blanket over the music now. I had to kick the volume up a bit to match what I had been hearing before, and I just wasn’t getting anything sonically close to what the folks at Parasound had built into this remarkable unit. To prove my point, I switched back. It was instant gratification. What a beautiful DAC!
Speaking of spending gobs of money of outboard equipment, audiophiles tend to fork out lots of dough on phono preamps. I’m no exception. So, when I found out the 200 Integrated had a phono input, I was quite excited! Let’s give this a spin! Out came the Rotel turntable, and my 45rpm EP of Genesis’ Spot the Pigeon. The sound was absolutely splendid. Parasound put a very clean and detailed phono preamp into this unit. I was getting the same wide soundstage here that I got from the DAC, with instruments spread across the listening room with great sharpness and immediacy. Steve Hackett’s 12 string guitar had hair-raising detail.
I’ve had the opportunity to review some truly impressive audio pieces, but maybe none that have illuminated my listening room like the Parasound 200 Integrated. While it has the requisite inputs to make it a one stop shop for a great system, the wise decision absolutely does come down to pure sonics. While amp features can be great (and the 200 has them in spades), not every amp can drive a set of hard-to-please speakers in the way that the Parasound 200 does. The Parasound 200 is one product that I can easily recommend to any audiophile, whether for your main system, or a fantastic second system. Happy listening!
Rotel RCD-955AX CD player
Vandersteen 2C loudspeakers
Rotel RP-1100Q turntable with Grado cartridge
Furman PL-8 power conditioner
XLO speaker cables
Audio Art Power1 1m power cable