Parasound JC2 Preamp




Is All The Hype for Real? 

As the happy owner of another Parasound product that performs way above its price point (the JC 1 mono block amps), I was extremely curious to find out if all the hype about the $4,000 JC2 preamp was justified. The short answer is: yes indeed, baby.   

The JC2 has been rated at or near the top of the preamp heap notwithstanding some competition that is many times its price.  I was particularly interested in finding out how well it would perform with my Parasound JC 1 amps, since it visually matches the JC 1s and purportedly brings out the best in the matching amps.   So, I reached out to Parasound President, Richard Schram, and asked if he would send me a JC2 for review.  Thankfully, he was happy to oblige.

Sleek and Easy to Use with All Needed Amenities

The JC-2, like the JC-1 is designed by John Curl (hence the JC designation), and has the same sleek and modern look as the JC-1 mono blocks, with a very clean, but thick, uncluttered brushed aluminum faceplate, with a curved bevel inset sweeping across the front near the bottom edge.  Along the inset bevel are  six blue LEDS that designate the source, a polarity invert LED on the left, and audio mute LED on right, with a source selector button on the far right, and a button on the far left that lets the user switch the preamp on from standby mode.The front panel has a red logo at the top center, which lights up in brighter red when the preamp is being used.  A large volume control knob is on the far right.To the left of the volume knob are two small knobs that allow adjustment of the gain for each respective channel. 

The JC-2 was easy as pie to use and install, and the front panel is well laid out and quite intuitive, which adds to the ease of use.A remote control is included that performs all functions, including volume,input switching, and mute.  When the mute is depressed on the remote a red LED flashes on the front of the preamp, near the far right of the beveled area.While the rear panel contains quite a bit of options, it is well marked for simple installation and use.


 

The JC2's rear panel layout features two sets/rows of inputs and outputs, the top row for the left channel and the bottom row for the right channel.  Six of the inputs are unbalanced RCA line-level input jacks, 2 of which can be switched to XLR balanced input connectors.  The switch from unbalanced RCA to balanced XLR is situated between the two input types.  Four output jacksallow maximum flexibility (1 main output jack pair is balanced XLR, polarity is switched by remote, 1 main output jack pair is unbalanced RCA, polarity is switched by remote, 1 output jack pair is unbalanced RCA, inverted polarity only, 1 output pair is unbalanced RCA, normal polarity, fixed level for recorders).  The rear panel also features four 12v trigger output jacks for power amp auto turn-on (two 12v trigger jacks are switched by the remote, two 12v trigger jacks are live when the JC2 is turned on), a two-way RS-232 serial port connection (that permits the JC2 to communicate in two directions with home automation and control systems), remote repeater input and loop out jacks (for remote control operation from another room or when the JC2 is installed in a cabinet where its remote signals cannot reach its front panel remote control), and an AC IEC connection for use of an external power cord.

As soon as I walked in the door on the day the JC2 arrived, I was chomping at the bit to unpack the stable mate for my JC 1 amps.  Of course I had other stuff to do, like take a walk with my honey, eat dinner, clean up, etc., so when I finally got the JC2 unpacked and hooked up, I couldn’t wait to hear if this modestly priced toy was all it was claimed to be by other reviewers.  However, recognizing that it would take a couple of days to settle in from shipping and many more hours before break in, I really wasn’t expecting too much, yetI couldn’t resist the temptation to perch myself in front of my system and give it a listen.  

Smooth As Silk, But Articulate as…

What truly grabbed my attention from the outset was the JC2’s smoothness, but with tons of articulation.  Many other pieces of equipment I have hooked up have an initial edginess to the sound, especially solid state stuff.  But, this was definitely not the case with the JC2.  Instead oftaking any notes which would likely be irrelevant at this point, I decided to get a glass of wine, relax and listen.  Hours later I went to bed thinking I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.  I was impressed by the JC2 preamp as soon as I heard the first note through it, so I had high expectations about its ultimate performance.  

After breaking-in the JC2 the suggested 75 hours of continuous music play time, I settled in for some serious listening.  The first CD up was Eric Bibb’s wonderful Booker’s Guitar.  The sound was rich and detailed but smooth as silk.  The Bibb-meister was in the room along with his acoustic guitar.  The rich tone and inflections of his voice were easily discernible.  I could also hear the attack, sustain and decay of the guitar strings throughout the CD.  This is definitely a well recorded CD, but I was hearing subtle nuances that I didn’t remember ever hearing so distinctly before, even with my much more expensive reference preamp, the Conrad Johnson ACT 2.  While the JC2 didn’t quite have the weight and midrange texture of the ACT 2, nor its refinement, this was not surprising in comparing a solid state preamp to tube preamp costing more than three times its price.  But, what the JC2 lacked in midrange magic and refinement it gained in leading edge definition, overall dynamics and top end articulation.  

nottoolate.jpgIt was time to put this baby through its paces with other music that I know quite well and use as my test bed for other system changes(to the point of driving my family out of a room because they are sick and tired of hearing the same tunes).  So, I threw in Norah Jones’ “Not Too Late” CD.  Norah’s voice was crystal clear with beautiful tone, and the bass was deep and articulate with nice blending of the instrumentation. Track 10, Broken, begins with solo guitar, and the apparent reverberation from the pick against the strings was distinct with extended notes hanging in the air.  Very nice string details emerged from a black background, with the bowed bassand outro cellos entering the picture and drawing me deeply into the musical experience. Next tune up was “my dear country” which starts with Norah on Piano.  The piano notes sounded very realistic from the strike of the first piano key.  Norah’s voice had nice texture and inflections.  Not quite the weight of my ACT 2, but beautiful nevertheless, especially for a solid state preamp, and especially one that costs less than a third of the original retail price of my ACT 2.   Wake me up when its over... began the vocals on track 9's Wake Me Up and it most certainly did wake me up from my banging away on my laptop keys - drawing me back into the music. Norah’s voice had such a pure and lovely tone, reminding me of the type of clarity I get from my Quad ESL 63 speakers. All the background details emerged, intricately blending nicely with Norah’s voice. Track 11 begins with the Lee Alexander on bass. Each bass note was distinct and hung in my not so little room.  As Norah’s voice and acoustic guitar entered, I was impressed by the smoothness and naturalness of the overall presentation. Not too late, the title track [13] was just gorgeous with natural strikes and sustains of the piano keys, introducing Norah’s beautiful voice, followed with deep articulate bass notes in accompaniment. The presentation wassmooth, engaging and mesmerizing.  I don’t remember ever getting such a natural presentation using a preamp without tubes.  I noted that the music had a nice bloom to it that one usually associates with tube equipment.  Yet, there was such detail to the musical presentation, to the point of me repeatedly thinking I don’t recall hearing this stuff before.  

What is All This New Stuff I Never Heard Before?

As I went from one piece of music to the next, I kept on noticing little musical cues that I didn’t remember hearing on my system before the JC2 entered the picture.  How could I part with this preamp and miss all this information that I never was aware of prior to this point?  I probably couldn’t.   Ahhh the trials and tribulations of an equipment reviewer.  It’s a blessing and a curse, because you get to try all this new stuff, but the really good stuff you don’t want to let go.  I kept on thinking I have got to go back to my old preamp to see if I can hear this information.  I ultimately did and while I was able to pick out some of the same cues if I listened carefully enough, they were way in the recesses of the background.  So, the JC2 actually consistently brought forward details that were there before but were just not nearly as noticeable, and when highlighted brought a new aspect to the musical presentation.  Pretty good stuff, and at a very reasonable price.  I like it… You betcha buddy!

One of my favorite, but little known CDs is Van Morrison’s "Back On Top".  Track 1, Goin Back Geneva, has wonderful rhythmic drive. With the JC2 this track was rockin; smooth, yet detailed, with drums, bass, guitar and piano easily distinguishable. But, then in comes Van on piano on solo, and I realize how nicely this preamp does on some jamming music.  Then Track 2, Philosopher’s Stone, comes in and what I noticed again was just how smooth this preamp is, on track after track, yet there are no lost details.  I hear everything I have heard a million times before, but with just a tad more clarity and a nice bit of kick in the bass.  I didn’t remember the bass notes being as clear, deep and definitive before.  Ok this is a nice bonus. On Track 5, When the Leaves Come Falling Down, I noted hearing tons of details, but not in your face detail, just there with no edginess, and with an overall smoothness reflective of tube gear.  I could definitely live with this.  The JC2 floored me on my favorite song on the Back on Top CD, Track 12 [bonus track], Valley of Tears, on the remastered version of the CD.   The JC2 presented such a beautifully smooth blending of instruments and Van’s voice that I had to play the same track over when it got to the end.   

JC2 Seemed to Bring Out the Best in Laid Back Speakers and Amps

I tried the JC2 with my Revel Salon 2 speakers as well as my Sun Union Dragon Princes, the latter of which tend to be a bit more detailed than the Salons. I liked the JC2 better with the Salon 2 and its tendency to be a bit more laid back.  Although the Salon 2 are extremely dynamic and do not leave out any details, they just tend to sound more linear and smooth and are not as in your face as the Dragon Princes.  They definitely had better synergy with the JC2 than the Dragon Princes. In my book, synergy is everything.  The Princes mine out every little detail in each piece of music, similar to the way the JC2 carries out it tasks.  So, when joined together, the combo was slightly over the top with too much detail for my taste.  While it wasn’t offensive in any way, it was just seemed a bit too much of a good thingfrommy perspective. 

Since the JC2 was better matched to more laid back speakers that I had on hand, I decided to take a road trip and experiment using the JC2 with the ultra laid back Talon Khorus speakers (which were upgraded with the Firebird balanced crossovers). The Talons have a beautiful engaging and weighty midrange, but tend to need a boost when it comes to high end details.  With the JC2 in the system, I was able to detect significant top end nuances and details previously not noticeable before it was inserted. But, I was still yearning for a bit more detailthat I heard when using the JC2 with some other speakers.  So, I figured why not push the envelope on the Talons a bit further, and see if I could get a bit more detail out of them.  

The Talons were heretofore running with the modestly priced Silver Signal Cable speaker cables because those cables seemed to bring out details in the top end. But, after inserting the JC2 I felt something was still missing, so I decided to try out a pair of Vaughn Silver speaker cables that I brought along for kicks and giggles, knowing just how laid back the Talons tend to be.  The Vaughn cables had been sitting around my house, since the owner of Vaughn loudspeakers arranged for a pair of the cables to be sent to me while I was in the middle of reviewing the Vaughn Triode III speakers. I tried the Vaughn cables with the Triodes but ultimately decided to use other cables I had on hand that were better suited to the system the Vaughn was tested in.  However, to my delight, the Vaughn Silver cables were another story with the Talon system.  They opened up the top end of the Talons even further and added sparkle to the performance, while also bringing forward details that were first detectable with the JC2.  I found that the JC2/Vaughn combo was a wonderful match with the Talons due to its extremely laid back overall character. 

I tried the JC2 with a number of different amps I had on hand and preferred it with the amps that were a bit less forward.  For example, mated with the Parasound JC1 or the Carver Cherry 180M amps the JC2 was a match made in heaven.  But, when I tried it with the more detailed leaner sounding Quicksilver V-4s and VAC 30/70 Mk III Renaissance Signatures, I thought it was a bit over the top.  Again, not edgy or offensive, just slightly too much detail for my taste.  I tend to prefer a more laid back euphonic overall balance, which certainly impacts my assessment.  But, those of you that fall toward the other end of the spectrum may prefer the added details from a slightly more forward amp or speaker.  Just not my cup of tea.  But, when mated to more laid back speaker or amp, I was enamored with the JC2, and its ability to bring out details I never noticed before, while retaining its overall smooth character.  

Acoustic Music Was to Die For

soloacoustic.jpgEvery time I put on acoustic music I was taken aback by how realistic the instruments sounded.  The extension of notes was to die for, and was particularly evident on acoustic guitar music. The notes seemed to hang in the air and the really good material pulled you right into the venue.  A prime example was Jackson Browne’s “Solo Acoustic Vol. 1" CD.  Song after song I was grinning ear to ear hearing many of the types of cues I heard at concerts. Not only did the intimacy of Jackson’s voice immerse me into the listening experience, but I was surprised how much closer to the real deal my system seemed to get when the JC2 was in the mix.  Having been to numerous Jackson Browne concerts, I have a pretty good notion of how his acoustic guitar work sounds up close and personal, and it seemed to get pretty darn close to that experience with the JC2.  It really surprised me, particularly at its rather modest price point. 

Conclusions:

It’s not too often that you come across a world class product at a very reasonable price in world of high end audio, but in the case of the JC2 preamp, I believe it fits the bill.  Yeh, like most equipment it ain’t perfect in all respects, but it gets it all right to a very substantial degree.  Would I like a bit more tube type warmth, weight and texture? Yes, but a euphonic overall presentation has always been my personal preference. However, when I removed the JC2 from my system I felt like something was missing.  I was not hearing all the little details and particularly the resonance of the instruments that I heard when the JC2 was in place.  What I loved  about the JC2 was when it was mated with warmer associated equipment there was a wonderful synergy that struck the right musical balance for my listening taste.  

While I personally preferred the JC2 more with laid back amps and speakers, that mix may just be my preference for a more constrained presentation.  But, for those of you who prefer more detail, it may not weigh into your decision, since even with more forward amps and speakers, the JC2 retained a very smooth and engaging overall character.  

This is one awesome preamp and took my system to a level of performance that I previously did not think was possible using a $4,000 preamp.If you are in the market for a great preamp at a reasonable price, that has exceptional dynamics and clarity, but yet is smooth and has bloomy natural attributes of some fine tube gear, the JC2 may be your ticket to audio nirvana. It was for me, to the point that I bought the review sample. 

Happy listening!!!



 

Specifications:
Price: $3995.00 

Frequency Response

        5 Hz - 100 kHz, +0/-3 dB

Distortion

        THD: < 0.003% at 100 Hz 

        THD: < 0.005% at 20 kHz 

        IM: < 0.003% 

S/N Ratio

        > 116 dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted

        > 104 dB, input shorted, unweighted

Crosstalk

        > 100 dB at 10 kHz

        > 90 dB at 20 kHz

Gain

        14 dB, maximum

L, R Gain Control Range

        - 10 dB

Input Impedance

        Unbalanced: 30k ohms

        Balanced: 30k ohms per leg

Output Impedance

        Unbalanced: < 60 ohms

        Balanced: < 60 ohms per leg

Input Sensitivity

        200 mV for 1 V output

        Total Gain: 14 dB

        Maximum Output: 8 V

XLR Pin Identification

        1 = Ground (Shield)

        2 = Positive

        3 = Negative (Return)

 

AC Power Requirement

        110 - 120 V or 220-240 V, 50 - 60 Hzs

        (Set AC Voltage switch on rear panel)

        25 watt standby; 30 watts when turned on

Dimensions

        Width: 17 1/4" (437 mm)

        Depth: 16" (406 mm)

        Height, with feet: 5 7/8" (150 mm)

        Height, without feet: 5 1/4" (133 mm)

Weight

        Net: 24 lbs. (11 kg)

        Shipping: 36 lbs. (16.4 kg)

Website: 
http://www.parasound.com

 

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