22 September, 2014

Parasound JC3

1011para.bac.jpgpics from Stereophile. Click to enlarge.

Talk Vinyl: Parasound JC-3, Part I
Letter from NYC (38) 2014 (10): Parasound JC3, Part I

Written in HK

Vendetta? The Second Coming
Vendetta Research My interest, as with most purchasers of the JC3, centers around the fact that the unit was designed by John Curl and that the design was closely based upon his legendary Vendetta Research SCP-2, which has several incarnations. Now, being an analog addict, that is the phono amp I have always wanted to own. For excellent info on this legendary unit, you must read the many articles in Stereophile (which owned the unit for reference purpose) grouped under Gordon Holt's wonderful review, (as I also own and highly regard the ARC PH1, I was particularly interested in Robert Harley's comparison with the Vendetta) and perhaps this more current one from TONE.

JC3 Since its introduction, the JC3 had been widely and rave-reviewed. Read the Stereophile review  (I like BD's review and also particularly Bob Reina's comparison with the Vendetta; click links at bottom), TONE, Soundstage and Quotes from TAS.

Plus and Minus
My unit is in NYC, hence the subtitle of this belated article. This is the original JC3. In response to demands, Parasound has recently introduced a new version with adjustable loading (as well as other changes in power supply etc) called the JC3+. If you ask me, the "+" indicates a modest change, sort of a "signature" version rather than a radical change; otherwise it would be called JC4, no? Attesting to the modest change is the fact that the JC3+ has so far received fewer full reviews (the best one is from Neil Gader in TAS, who compared the two side by side; read also Stereophile). The good thing for me was that I was able to buy a used version of JC3 for a good price on Ebay.

One caveat about my unit: the conscientious seller wrote clearly that due to gain issues in his system he had sent the unit back to Parasound to lower the gain by a few db. This is of import, as you shall see later.

I listened to the unit in my main system for all the 3 months that I stayed in NYC:

Turntable 1: Linn LP12/Ittok LV II/Air Tight PC-1
Turntable 2: Clearaudio Concept/Koetsu Black
Turntabel 3: Technics SL-1200MKII/Decca ffss III (I reported the sound here)
Phonoamp 1: Parasound JC-3
Phonoamp 2: Fosgate Signature

Phonoamp 3: AQVOX 2CI MkII
Preamp: Manley Neo-Classic 300B
Amp: Wavac MD-811
Loudspeakers: YL 4-way horns

My impressions:
  • Difficult to describe Some of the best equipment that I owe have sound that is difficult to describe (the superior Leben RS28CX comes to mind), so even-handed they are. The JC3 falls half-way into this category, but a few comments can be made upon some aspects of its performance.
  • Background Noise (lack of ) Without question this is the quietest MC phonoamp I have heard. Do not mistake me, but in some ways (but not completely) my initial reaction to the JC3 blackness recalled a little the question I asked when I was evaluating the iFi iPhono: Dynamics, or Is there Life in Low Noise? (link here). Again, make no mistake here, the JC3 is better, and dynamically more powerful than the iPhono. But the JC3's black background, allied to its smoothness over most of the frequency range, is a far cry from more excitable phonostages (like the ARC PH1 Robert Harley compared to the original Vendetta, and perhaps like Fremer's various review unit phonoamps du jour) and I'd think not necessarily for everyone (as is the much cheaper iPhono, my budget benchmark).
  • Suppleness When it comes to imaging, the JC3 is definitely not in the (usually artificial) pin-point camp; while images are focused, they are fleshy, though without the presence that the best tubed units can bring. Dynamically it is very good, but sometimes lacking the last degree of speed and excitement. I'd say the JC3 is supple - nothing about it is overdone or wanting, a good balancing act. I can listen to it for extended period.
  • Doubt about the Treble The aspect that bothered me a little about my particular unit was a somewhat papery quality to the treble. I perused all the reviews and it seems that should not be the case. Finally I decided to open up the modules and what did I find? Resistor R7 sticks out like a sore thumb. In communication with Richard Schram I found out the resistor was altered to lower the gain for the previous owner (though still plenty of gain; no wonder the JC3+ lowered the gain). Parasound probably did not have the original brown Vishay-Dale at the time and substituted the blue one. Schram later sent me the original 220 ohm ones, but they arrived too late for me to work on my unit. Whether restoring the JC3 back to the original condition would bring a purer treble, we will have to wait for Part II next year. And thank you Richard Schram for your communication - Parasound is well regarded for its service, and my experience proves it.
Conclusion With the JC3, nothing stands out for the wrong reasons, so much so that it is also hard to describe its virtues.  Suffice to say it is eminently listenable and worth every penny, although at this moment I still prefer my reference Fosgate Signature. I am ultimately a tube man.

06 September, 2014

Tannoy: Factory Visit 1972

My friend pilotrol posted this elsewhere. I took the liberty of  posting it here. From Gramophone 1972