In a world of gadgets, phones festooned with features, and video that exhilarates your eyes, sometimes a simple piece of gear comes along that accomplishes a single task exceedingly and exquisitely well.
That is the Parasound 200 Integrated audio amplifier. It will amplify any source from magnetic phonograph cartridges to CD players to internet inputs at nearly any bit length and sampling rate through almost any loudspeaker.
It accomplishes all of this in a package about 17 inches wide, 15 inches deep and 2½ inches high. It also runs cooler than you might expect from a unit that produces 110 watts per channel in 8-ohms with a mere 0.05 percent total harmonic distortion.
Once upon a time, audio equipment rated as the fad of the day. Now most people consider sound quality an afterthought. Thus, this column devotes most of its attention to TV reception, smartphones, gadgets and the internet. However, every once in awhile, a product, such as the Parasound Integrated 200, comes along that rekindles the joy of great sound.
The Parasound 200 dispenses with the complex for the simple. The thin front panel features just two knobs, a large volume control and a smaller input selector/multifunction knob. If you feel compelled to adjust bass, treble or balance, just press the knob, and it cycles through the choices. Normally, it selects the input. If you really demand complexity, Parasound supplies a remote control that accomplishes some additional, but rarely used, functions.
A small, green backlit LCD display dominates the center of the front panel. To its left are mini-jacks for headphones and an auxiliary input. On the far left, a small power button glows green when on and red when off.
While the 200 looks clean and simple, it hides amazing versatility. Various settings accommodate moving magnet or moving coil phono cartridges, the ability to custom label each input on the small display and the ability to configure the 200 for use as part of a home theater system.
Parasound normally commands stratospheric prices, but the company wanted to let the rest of us in on the joy with the 200 integrated amp for only $1,195. That may seem high to many, but rest assured, it’s a bargain if you love great sound.
Parasound turned to a highly respected Danish company, Pascal, to design the Class D amplifier circuits. Audio snobs once avoided Class D, which is a digital amplifier circuitry, because initial efforts in this technology 30 years ago sounded less than inspiring. Beyond advanced circuit design, Parasound uses Burr-Brown digital to analog converters (DACs), which are the Rolls Royce of DACs.
I wired the 200 to my Bowers & Wilkens 805D loudspeakers and connected my high end audio computer. I edit live music recorded in WFMT’s acoustically superb radio studio with very high-end recording equipment. The 200 regaled me with its clarity and sonic definition. I had been using a very expensive 40-year-old audiophile preamplifier with a somewhat more recent high-end power amplifier. The sound was pleasing and satisfying. After listening with the 200, it will be difficult to return to the previous setup.
I mentioned this new Parasound to my WFMT recording engineer and he smiled. He said WFMT uses Parasound amplifiers for the music studio control room monitors. Even a greater coincidence, Parasound founder Richard Schramm grew up listening to WFMT.
As you might surmise, Parasound, founded in 1981, is not a newcomer to the audio business. It sells worldwide and manufactures in Taiwan. Although it has a few score of dealers around the U.S., none are in Champaign-Urbana. You’ll have to visit Chicago, Indianapolis or St. Louis to hear Parasound products in person. You can find out more at parasound.com.
I’m glad Parasound provided a 60-day review window for the 200 Integrated. Of course, it probably was confident that at the end, I’d probably mail them a check rather than the amplifier.