PARASOUND HALO JC 3+ phono preamplifier
I fell hard for the original Parasound Halo JC 3 when it hit the market here in Malaysia some years back. I made the stretch to buy one and have been enjoying it since. As I’ve never been one fortunate enough to have a handful of different moving coil cartridges sitting ready to be mounted and played at any one time, and could not afford the exotic ones which were reputed to be particularly demanding of how they were loaded to give their best, the lack of MC loading options on the original JC 3, limited to either 47k or 100 Ohms, never really bothered me.
But it did bother others enough to cause them to pass the JC 3 by. Designer John Curl was persuaded to re-look at the design to incorporate more flexibility in varying the MC loading, which he did. He also added more plus points to the performance that could be extracted from the design, so we now have the Parasound Halo JC 3+.
BITS AND PARTS: While the JC 3+ review sample came in black (which I preferred to my own original’s aluminium-ish silver finish), no overt changes to the chassis from its predecessor were noted. Someone at Parasound just loves plastic fascia end-caps/cheeks, so yes, that gets carried over from the original too.
It’s only when one looks at the rear of the unit that one notices two little potentiometers that weren’t there on the original. These low-noise dual-gang potentiometers were made especially for Parasound by Vishay, allowing for the variable-load fine-adjustment capability for moving coil cartridges ranging from 50 to 550 ohms. One can still select 47K ohms if that’s what suits one’s MC cartridge via the little toggle switches beside the pots. The same little switches also allow selection of the use of MM cartridges.
All the good stuff from the previous model are present and accounted for – the same Vampire brand 24k gold-plated RCA jacks and Neutrik XLR jacks. The non-visible improvements claimed include using 24k gold-plated copper traces on the phono module boards for better conductivity, larger power supply filter caps and a larger R-core power transformer for greater reserve for more low end impact as compared to its predecessor.
Also included is a new switch which allows users to turn off the red illumination in the front panel P logo, essential if it should somehow not sit well within the colour scheme of lights from one’s component collection when listening in the dark, perhaps? Whatever the case may be, the Plus now carries a US$650 higher price tag than the original.
IN CONCERT: Critical listening started with the MM input, a Garrard 401-Rega RB300-Rega Exact combo being employed. The first slab of vinyl to be heard was Webb Wilder’s Hybrid Vigor album. Tracks from an album like this would play into the original JC 3’s strengths and would surely let the Plus stretch its legs.
It didn’t disappoint! The fast and engrossing performance of the original JC 3, which I have come to be familiar with, was there in spades and more so. The improvements were more incremental than shock-inducing but they were there to be heard. Dynamics and drive are noticeably better than the original, which already inhabited a superlative level when compared to lesser, though well-respected, phono stages. The band’s driving power came through free of any noticeable grain or background noise that was not already on the recording.
The level of warmth and body shown was to a satisfying level that one wouldn’t worry whether solid state or thermionic devices inhabited the insides of the Plus. The drumming and bass interplay was so much fun that I sought out similar music to binge on – John Mellencamp’s Authority Song and the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up took on a level of enjoyment that opened up a substantial gap over that experienced via my ADL GT-40.
Moving on to un-amplified material, and on better recordings, the Plus showed a delightfully open and revealing midband, moving upward to a treble range that was blessed with fine levels of air and detail. The midband had wonderful subtlety with voices brimming with energy and emotional input, all conveyed without being constricted to the listener – the sum total of the aforesaid on Mahler’s Symphony No 3 Fifth Movement had me quite mesmerised.
The weight and scale of the lower registers were also up to the standards showed in the other parts of the range. Here, the vinyl set-up took on digital at what is technically the best part of the latter’s own game and stacked up very well on many a recording where I had both vinyl and digital samples, to my ears (I was using an Exogal Comet DAC, a not inexpensive unit that was in for review).
Coming now to the raison d’tre for the Plus’ existence, testing the variable MC loading, when set at 100ohms for comparison with the original (using a Roksan Xerxes-RB1000-Benz ACE-L red combi), the little improvements noted mirrored those heard with the MM setting. From experience, I already knew the ACE to not be too sensitive to loading, but I noted a higher loading could give an impression of a little more airiness. The effect is slight and the honest truth is that, in the context of this set-up, if I left the room and someone turned the little pots on the Plus to all of its 550-ohm upper limit, I probably wouldn’t notice upon coming back in.
APPLAUSE: The incremental improvement in performance goes quite some way toward making up for the higher sticker price (see ‘But’, uh, below) which the JC 3+ now commands, by my reckoning. It may be different for you if you’re in another jurisdiction, but in the end, this kind of performance, for this kind of price, where the music sounds so heavenly, would still be worth it for many a vinyl junkie.
BUT…: The hike in price makes it much less of a bargain than its predecessor was.
FINALE: Even if I wouldn’t quite leave my heart in San Francisco like Tony Bennett would, I wouldn’t mind some of my cash ultimately finding its way there (Parasound is based in San Francisco) if I were to be shopping for a phono stage in this price class today. Recommended, with a plus plus.
Sources: Roksan Xerxes-Rega RB1000-Benz Micro ACE L, Garrard 401-Rega RB300-Rega Exact, Thorens TD124 Mk 2-SME3012 series 2-Rega Carbon / Amplification: Parasound JC 3, ADL GT-40 (used both as pre-amp and headphone amp, as well as comparison phono stage), diyparadise Scarlett and Promitheus Audio transformer volume control units with Mesa Boogie Baron power amp, Exposure X integrated amp / Speakers: Sonus faber Guarneri Homage, Triangle Ikoto / Headphones: Sennheiser HD414, Stax SR-30 / Wires: Euphonic Research Dendrites, Axons, Western Electric interconnects and some diy stuff