Is the Parasound Halo P5 the best preamp under $1,000?

Parasound Halo P5 Front Panel

I don’t understand why high end audio has to be so expensive.  While expensive is a relative term, for the sake of this discussion, let’s say expensive is anything over $1,000.  When I was in college, I purchased a truly fantastic NAD stereo preamp for a few hundred dollars.  I don’t remember the exact price but I sold it on eBay many years ago for over $250.  I think I sold it for close to what I paid for it.

Today, I saw something come across my inbox and it was a news release from Parasound—a huge name in audio—for their new Parasound Halo P5 stereo preamp.  I was expecting the product to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $2,000 or more. After all, it has balanced XLR inputs and outputs, onboard phono stage, and S/PDIF, toslink optical, and USB digital inputs with a built in DAC.   It has five additional analog inputs, can be powered on with a 12v trigger, has home theater bypass, TWO subwoofer outputs, and high and low pass crossovers.   The price?  $950.  Let me repeat.  $950.  
Parasound P5 Rear Panel
I took to searching the web and came across a slew of reviews for preamps in Stereophile.  $3,000.  $9,000, $3,500, $17,000.   The only sub-$1,000 preamp was an Adcom and it was from a review over 13 years ago back in the 1990s!  I then looked to Rotel.  I was floored.  Of the two stereo preamps, only one was cheaper than the Parasound P5 and had far less features.  The other companies I checked, like NAD, only had integrated amps.

The only company that comes close in features is Emotiva with their XSP-1 differential preamp.  It’s similar in many features to the Parasound as a 2.1 preamp.  However the Emotiva is purely an analog preamp with no DAC at all.

That then left me wondering and scratching my head, “What happened to high end brands making stereo preamps in the $250-$600 range?  I checked out and there were only four preamps under $1,000. But one of those four was only a phono preamp and the other was just a switch box.  Therefore, only two?  And again, none had all the features and flexibility of the Parasound.   Sadly, I then continued to scroll and went from $1,500 Audio Electronics Constellation preamp all the way to $10,500 for the BAT VK-52SE Tube Preamp.
All this has led me to conclude that the best stereo—and 2.1—preamp on the market today for under $1,000 is the Parasound Halo P5.  Yes, I feel it’s the best value out there. I didn’t make the claim that it’s the best sounding sub-$1,000 stereo preamp out there.  Rather, I strongly feel it’s the best value out there.

On the one hand, I’d like to applaud Parasound for coming in under the $1,000 mark for this product.  It’s clearly a significant feature upgrade to it’s predecessor but at a less expensive price point.   On the other hand, the Parasound P5 makes me lament a more nostalgic time when high end audio seemed a bit more accessible to the “average person”—especially the college student.  

For now, in today’s world and in today’s reality, I feel pretty confident making the statement that if you had up to $1,000 to spend, the best stereo and 2.1 preamp available is the Halo P5.  
Read below Parasound’s News Release and full specs on the P5 Preamp:

Parasound has added a new 2.1-channel audio preamplifier to its high-end ‘Halo’ product family. The new Parasound Halo P 5, which replaces the popular and long-lived Halo P 3 stereo preamplifier, adds a high-quality DAC (digital-to-analog converter) with coaxial, optical, and USB inputs, subwoofer outputs with analog bass management, home theater bypass, moving-coil capabilities to the phono stage, and a precision, motorized volume control.

“For 10 years, the Halo P 3 has been a mainstay of our line for value-conscious audiophiles,” said Richard Schram, the founder and president of Parasound. “However, new technologies have changed the ways audiophiles connect to and enjoy their music. So, the addition of a high quality DAC was an obvious choice for the P 5. There has also been a resurgence in turntables, so we upgraded the MM-only phono stage to also handle moving coil cartridges with a choice of load impedances. While the P 3 has outstanding two-channel sound, many audiophiles today have 2.1-channel stereo speaker systems with robust subwoofers. The P 5 actually creates a sub channel output for the 2.1 listening. The P 5 also makes it easy to integrate audiophile stereo speakers with a home theater surround system. The addition of a balanced XLR subwoofer output and variable low frequency and high frequency crossovers makes the Halo P 5 uniquely capable in these configurations.”

The Parasound Halo P 5’s state-of-the-art DAC can process a wide range of digital sources with its coaxial and optical inputs accepting up to 192 kHz rates, and the USB input accepting up to 96 kHz.

The Halo P 5 inputs include one pair of balanced XLR, phono, five RCA line-level stereo inputs and a front panel 3.5mm mini jack for portable MP3 players or smartphones. Its line outputs are balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA, plus a choice of balanced or unbalanced subwoofer outputs. The main and subwoofer outputs can be run full range or placed under the careful regulation of variable frequency analog high-pass and low pass crossovers.

The phono input is compatible with all moving magnet cartridges, and virtually all moving coil cartridges, with a 100 ohm/47k ohm switch to select the appropriate load impedance matching.

The front panel has a headphone jack, controls for source selection, level, bass, treble, tone defeat, balance, and subwoofer level. There is an auxiliary input with an additional 12-dB gain stage to compensate for typically low output of portable devices. An included remote control duplicates these functions. The IC volume control of the P 3 has been replaced with a premium Alps motorized potentiometer.

In addition to upgrades to the analog audio circuitry, the P 5 features a 0.5 watt standby power consumption to meet the new Energy Star requirements. A 12-VDC trigger circuit and a IR connection and loop-out make it easy to interface with sophisticated AV systems.

The Parasound Halo P 5 audio preamplifier will be offered in both black and the traditional Halo silver finish. It will be available in September with a suggested retail price of $950.

Parasound Halo P 5 Audio Preamplifier Product Features
  • Very high quality DAC with Coax, Optical and USB inputs
  • Improved sound, specifications and versatility
  • Home theater bypass function for integration with a surround sound system
  • Analog bass management
  • Creates an independent sub channel to accompany L and R channels
  • Subwoofer output with front panel level control
  • RCA and XLR subwoofer outputs
  • Variable high pass and low pass crossovers
  • Crossovers can be switched off for full range L, R and Sub output
  • Phono stage compatible with MM, MC-100 ohm, MC-47 kohm cartridges
  • Front panel Aux input with additional 12dB gain stage (compensates for low output voltage of portable MP3 players and smartphones
  • 65 watt power supply
  • 0.5w standby power consumption meets Energy Star requirements
  • Alps motorized potentiometer instead of an IC for volume control
  • Available in both silver and black
  • 5 RCA line level inputs
  • 1 XLR balanced input (parallels Input 5 RCA jacks)
  • Balanced XLR and RCA left and right outputs
  • Bass & treble controls with defeat switch (Tone on-off from remote or front panel)
  • Headphone jack with 10 ohm output impedance
  • Rear panel IR input and loop output jacks
  • 12v output trigger
  • Automatic turn on with 12V trigger or AC power
  • Fixed level record output
  • Headphone jack automatically mutes the L, R, Sub out jacks
  • Bass & treble tone controls with defeat button
  • Balance control
  • Remote handset includes tone on/off button
  • Gold-plated RCA jacks
  • Rack mounting adapter available
  • Parasound 5 year parts, 5 years labor warranty
    (For USA purchases only)
Parasound Halo P 5 Audio Preamplifier Specifications
Frequency Response
10 Hz – 100 kHz, +0/-3 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion
< 0.01 %
> 70 dB at 20 kHz
Input Sensitivity
300 mv: 1 Volt Out
Total Gain: 10 dB
Maximum Output: 7 Volts
Input Impedance 
Unbalanced: 24 kohm
Balanced: 100 kohm per leg
Output Impedance
Unbalanced: 100 ohm
Balanced: 470 ohm per leg
S/N Ratio – Line Inputs 1-5
> 108 dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
> 88 dB, input shorted, unweighted
S/N Ratio – DAC Inputs
> 108 dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
> 90 dB, input shorted, unweighted
S/N Ratio – Phono Inputs
MM > 80 dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
MM > 70 dB, input shorted, unweighted
MC > 67 dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
MC > 55 dB, input shorted, unweighted
DC Trigger Requirements
+9 Vdc to +12 Vdc, 2 mA
XLR Pin Identification
1 = Ground (Shield)     2 = Positive      3 = Negative (Return)
Width: 17-1/4″ (437 mm)
Depth: 13-3/4″ (350 mm)
Height, with feet: 4-1/8″ (105 mm)
Height, without feet: 3-1/2″ (89 mm)
Net Weight 
14 lb. (6.3 kg)
Shipping Weight
21 lb. (9.5 kg)
Power Requirement
Standby: 0.5 Watts
Power On: 20 Watts
100-250 Volts, 50-60 Hz (Automatic)
Suggested Retail Price: $950


  1. What about the Peachtree Nova Pre ($799)? Or the Benchmark DAC-1 ($999)? As these examples demonstrate, I think the problem in the preamp category is its impending obsolescence. Line level and digital sources don't need any "preamplification", and if all you're after is switching and volume in the under $1000 price range, that functionality is either absorbed into the DACs or into the integrated amps. Tough to see why you would expect a lot of investment in new stand-alone preamps by manufacturers. On the other hand, in the DAC world, the options under $1000 are exploding, and most include headphone amplifiers, volume, and source switching (like the Peachtree). Of course, if you're after a traditional pre-amp (with phono), the used market has lots of great options under $1000, as people unload their older preamps. In fact, there is a beautiful Audible Illusions Modulus 2D on eBay right now, almost certain to go for less than $1000…

  2. Fred, that's simply an excellent point you make! As you point out, it's really fascinating to see this entire category go through this transformation. There's been a tremendous (and great explosion) in the headphone amp category and also newer players (like Schiit) who are bringing great value and great sound to the categories they are tackling. The problem I'm personally looking at is if you want a true 2-channel preamp and you also want digital sources, your pickings are seemingly getting slimmer and slimmer in the more "affordable" or value-oriented price ranges. Sure, if you want to spend 3k, 5k, 7k, there's some great stuff out there. There's no question that the used market offers great bargains. I'm simply lamenting the changing landscape and the fading affordability and feature set in the sub-$1,000 preamp market for someone who only wants 2-channel. As a new product, from a price/performance/features/value, I just don't know a product better than the Parasound looks on paper.

  3. I'll throw the emotiva DC-1 into the mix. While it's mostly a DAC, it does have a single analogue input. It has a headphone amp but it does not have a phono pre-amp. That same company also has an XDA-2 DAC and USP-1 preamp that together are less than $1000 and still fulfill all of what the parasound does, just in two boxes instead of one.

    I do wish however that there were more affordable pre-amps. This hobby of ours seems to be growing more expensive although audio quality is improving. I love what parasound is doing with this and their Z line.

  4. Head's up, I carry the P5 and it has some wonderful competition now with the Rotel RC-1570. No separate sub out or crossovers built in, but has two each of toslink and coax digital in. Both are wonderful sounding pre's for no money. FYI

  5. Nothing even comes close. Parasound has been putting out some astounding quality from their manufacturer in Taiwan. I have their A23, and sold the A21 because the A23 powered everything I needed it to, including ATC SCM11s, and Dynaudio x18s, with absolute authority. Now, the P5 does everything from Sub processing, xover, and DAC with a top notch preamp to boot. Once I get my bonus in February, I’ll definitely be picking this up.