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Don't be deceived by unassuming looks; this is a fair-priced belter and perfect for height channels 4.5 Stars

There are some audio brand names which are simply synonymous with home theater. But that’s not to suggest that premium component manufacturer Parasound is not as highly revered a brand among the audiophile community. Owner and CEO Richard Schram started the company in 1981. He has contrived to build an extraordinary business developing products that continue to earn choruses of approval from critics and customers alike. I have always found the small team of engineers and marketers in San Francisco – a town which itself harbors a legacy of entertainment and audiovisual prowess – to be a delight to deal with. This must in no small part be due to Schram’s own ethical approach to business and, ultimately, his obvious passion and charm. Add to the mix the electronic wizardry of circuit designer John Curl and you surely have a recipe for unbridled success. The Parasound website itself claims that the product portfolio offers “top-tier sound without breaking the bank”. Well, that just about sums it up.

Parasound’s UK representative is Connected Distribution who kindly made available a review sample of the NewClassic 275 v.2 two channel power amplifier (MSRP $749). My eyes were keenly trained on this relatively small-form-factor device, not least because of its easy 1U ‘rackmountability’ and obvious suitability to drive height or surround channels in our ever-burgeoning home theater setups.

Design and Features

Parasound’s commitment to getting things right first time around might account for not often seeing its lineup go through earth-shattering aesthetic or even internal overhauls. The company uses the carpenter’s old adage of ‘measure twice, cut once’. This seems to tie in nicely with my college tutor’s sage advice: ‘you don’t have to be different to be good; to be good is different enough’. As a sequitur, the 275 v.2, part of the NewClassic family, employs a similar front-ribbed steel fascia to the iconic Z Custom and ZoneMaster lines. Outside of the rarified air of the company’s flagship mid-high-end Halo beasts, all three aforementioned product lines mostly represent practical solutions for multi-room and low-profile custom installation applications.

The 275 v.2 offers performance and cosmetic improvements over its v.1 forebear, and can happily act as a two-channel desktop companion. More likely for our readers, though, might be its incorporation into an existing rack for additional externally powered surround channels. Built like a nuclear bunker with its rugged steel chassis and large anti-vibration feet, it’s a no-brainer for integrators to strap this armadillo to a truss or rafter (which has certainly happened to many of its siblings up until now).

As if the flexibility of 90W x 2 into 8 ohms, 150W x 2 into 4 or 2 ohms (stable) and 200W x 1 in bridged mode wasn’t enough, Parasound has thought of every permutation of possible use if you decide to repurpose the Class AB-designed v.2. Awash with features on the rear panel, there are two pairs of speaker outs (with zone A/B buttons), 12v trigger with looping output and audio signal turn on, a front channel speaker lockout, separate gain controls and high pass filter options to maximize the potential of, say, a set of your living room bookshelf speakers.

In Use and Performance

A couple of years ago, I purchased a now-discontinued Parasound two-channel ZoneMaster Model 250. It is a fine-sounding half-width chassis power amp which ratcheted up the performance of a pair of my Wharfedale bookshelves. Consequently, I gave it the once-over with my installation home theater, but its Class D power stage rendered it a little too bright to support one bridged or two immersive height channels. A fun experiment, but there were no such shortcomings with the 275 v.2. I swapped out a pair of my Parasound HCA amps with the latter to drive my front height timbre-matched M&K K7s. It happily melded into my M&K 150 system pack with self-assurance and made its presence gratefully unfelt. The overhead jungle cues and cable-chomping T-Rex in Jurassic Park (1993, 4K UHD) became one with my ear-height front array. This was a genuine surprise but must in part be a function of the v.2’s AB topology and characteristic large toroidal transformer sharing commonality with the rest of Parasound’s disciplined family.

I also drove my front left and right 4-ohm S150s with the v.2 for pure two-channel music from CD. Drawing a comparison with my existing Parasound HCA-2003 300W per channel monster, the 275 was still articulate, yet pleasingly neutral and wonderfully dynamic. There was, however, a slight detectable brashness in the vibrato of Lynne Dawson’s exquisite soprano voice in the Christe Eleison of John Eliot Gardiner’s superb recording of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (Archiv). Here, I would have preferred a little more air and subtlety. But remember this is an $750 slimline amplifier, not a $4,000 reference behemoth. Another striking feature is the v.2’s sheer loudness capability as mid-range organ pipes swamped my demo room without fear of languishing as Samuel John Swartz plays Tournemire’s Improvisation on Victimae Paschali (Perpetua).

The Edge’s guitar on the U2 track, One Tree Hill, hardly the world’s greatest recording, is resolved with beautiful and isolated rhythmic modulations hovering slightly above a mix of tight bass and convincing snare drum attack and decay. Again, not what one might expect from this price class of amplifier. I am always hot on the trail of amplifiers which can breathe new life into dynamically restricted, radio-friendly pop.

Conclusion

Putting any steel box from the Parasound factory through its paces is always an exciting prospect. Whether removing a pocket-size ZoneMaster or home-demolishing Halo from its packaging, you know you are dealing with robust and unflappable kit. Most satisfying, though, is the extreme sound quality this Bay Area team manages to extract from some of the most modest of physical profiles. The New Classic 275 v.2 is no exception to the rule. Stack two of these skinny slabs in your rack for Atmos flyovers, or plonk it on your desk with a streamer for a highly rewarding bask in your jazz collection. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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Published by

Martin Dew

editor