By Don Lindich
Week 10, 2015
Q. I need a stereo amplifier and preamplifier for my Polk RTA-12C speakers. What is your top recommendation, cost no object?
-Rick H., San Jose, CA
A. Be careful when you say, “cost no object” when shopping for high-end audio gear.
The best amplifier and preamplifier setup, cost no object, is probably the Xs preamp and dual mono Xs300 amplifier (one amplifier for each speaker) from Pass Labs. It sells for $123,000. That’s a lot of money for stereo amplification and personally I think it is extreme overkill and of questionable cost-to-benefit ratio. You start hitting greatly diminishing returns before you even leave the five-figure range and audible differences compared to other high-end gear are likely to be negligible, if audible at all. Even if I had billions of dollars in the bank I could not rationalize it. I could see myself buying a Gulfstream jet or a fleet of Ferraris with my billions, but not $123,000 for amplification. That’s just me, of course, and there are others who think differently as a market for these products does exist.
If you have the money and a very strong sentimental attachment to your Polks, then you may want to go ahead and get the $123,000 Pass Labs setup and know they are the absolute luckiest Polk RTA-12C speakers in the whole world. Logically, though, if you do want to spend many thousands on amplification you would be better off upgrading the speakers first. You have very good sounding vintage speakers (they look cool, too!) but in audio you typically want to spend more on the speakers than the amplifier. I have a recommendation that is appropriate for your speakers and will perform at an extremely high level, within a whisker of the megabuck gear and probably at the limits of your Polk speakers’ resolution.
Parasound has been in business for decades and uses John Curl, an acclaimed audio designer, to design the circuitry for their top-of-the-line Halo products. The dual mono Parasound Halo JC1 monoblocks were recently selected and paid for by a member of the Saudi Royal Family for use in their own system. I imagine they could have had whatever they wanted, and they chose Parasound Halo. That’s how good they are. The 400-watt Halo JC1 monoblock amplifiers sell for $9,000 per pair and represent good value at that price, given the competition selling for $50,000 and up.
I recently tested the $2,495 Halo A21 stereo amplifier and was very pleased with its performance. It has 250 watts per channel, is immaculately finished and has seemingly endless power. Your speakers are very efficient and do not need much power, so I suggest the next model down, as all the Halo amps are said to be very similar sonically, with just the power level differing.
Parasound makes the 125 watt per channel Halo A23 for $995 and the matching P5 preamp for $1,095. This is a combo that matches very well to your speakers from a price and power standpoint. It is actually bordering on overkill for your older Polk speakers, but you seem to want something special and this combination represents excellent value and performance. It will bring out the absolute best in your Polks and will be ready for most any speaker you buy in the future. While I caution against overspending on amplifiers, quality amplification is an investment that should last for decades and this combo is well worth the money. www.parasound.com