Though I received the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier, designed by John Curl, along with the Parasound P 6 2.1 Channel Halo Preamplifier and DAC, I felt that each product was different enough that they warranted independent reviews. I’ll get into why I felt that way below, but first let’s dive into this refined beast of a power amp.
John Curl has worked as Parasound’s premier designer since 1989. Before that he designed and built a variety of kit for the likes of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Mark Levinson, Wilson Audio, and Mobile Fidelity. Mr. Curl has the audio pedigree to produce something special and the creativity and knowledge to implement an interesting design that I have never seen before in another amplifier.
Under the Hood
Parasound has an informative in-depth brochure where you can look under the hood of this Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier. I’ve never seen an amplifier use JFETs, MOSFETs, and bi-polar transistors all in one chassis. Everything about this 400W into 8Ω and 600W into 4Ω with 12W of pure Class A transitioning into Class AB oozes thoughtfulness and attention to detail. Stability into 1.5Ω ensures that the Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier will drive just about any load on the market.
The Parasound Halo JC 5 weighs a hefty 73 pounds. Thankfully, large pro audio-style handles on the rear assist with lugging the JC 5 around. A rack-mount option also comes in the box along with a meaty power cord and 12V trigger wires. The trigger function is a really nice touch when paired with a preamplifier with this feature.
Hit the power button, and with a short delay to check for status the JC 5 turns right on. There is also an audio turn-on setting that the manual explains in more detail. It describes what you need to do if the unit doesn’t turn on and how to adjust the loudness trigger if the music level is low (such as quiet classical passages). Honestly, I didn’t even mess with this setting. I’m good with turning on a preamp and letting the JC 5 power up.
The Parasound Halo JC 5 finish choices are brushed silver or black. The looks are clean and authoritative in my opinion. I received a silver copy which I think looks very nice. You even get a John Curl signature on the front and back just to let you know the JC 5’s pedigree.
The rear panel isn’t quite as busy as the Parasound P 6 2.1 Channel Halo Preamplifier and DAC, but this baby still has back. There are two pair of speaker binding posts, a 12V trigger input, a power switch, a power cable port, the two handles to lug around the amp like a rock concert roadie, and a right and left channel input. The inputs accept RCA and XLR.
The ability to connect XLR and RCA inputs allows the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier to fit into many different systems. I especially liked the CHK Infinium speaker binding posts. Besides accepting a variety of connectors, the extended knobs allow fingers to get good turning force on spade lugs or bare wire. The attention to these little details impressed me as the additional cost for the plastic knob is miniscule in comparison to the retail costs of a $5995 MSRP amplifier. It shows a level of attention to detail that some more expensive products miss.
Each channel has an independent gain knob. I played around a bit with these, but ultimately turned them all the way up as that seemed to work best with the P 6. I didn’t understand why each channel had a switch to select balanced or unbalanced operation. I can’t think of a situation where one channel would be XLR and the other RCA, but you could do that if you really wanted to and then use the gain knobs to try to balance out the volume. Finally, there is a bridged mono switch to crank out an impressive 1200W in 8Ω. If you notice your electric bill go up, you’ve been warned.
Parasound replied as to why each channel has a separate switch per channel: “The JC 5 is a dual mono design from the transformer windings on. This means each channel has entirely separate circuits and switches.”
The front panel is far simpler. There’s a power button, a pair of lights indicating the unit is on (blue) or if there’s a problem (red), along with the John Curl signature etched just above the lights. I think it’s an elegant look, certainly not traditional, but certainly not avantgarde.
What a Curl Can Do for You
The Parasound Halo JC 5 power amplifier needed a little break in before sounding its best. The bass was a little thin until I got maybe 10 to 20 hours on the unit. Parasound confirmed that bass would improve with break in, so don’t freak out when you first hook it up. Imaging had a solid center image, a good soundstage spread between the speakers, and crystal clarity without being harsh or dry. Bass was taut and punchy.
With the JC 5, my Vandersteen Model 3s actually disappeared for the first time ever with music appearing holographically in the room. That alone impressed me, big time. The more I listened the more the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier really impressed me; it kind of grows on you over time. It’s not flashy, it doesn’t draw a lot of attention, it just sounds good.
For you car guys out there, the JC 5 reminded me of a BMW M5. The looks are refined but understated, the performance is impressive with gobs of power and precise steering, but you can still drive it daily and get sensible utility out of it.
I pulled the Vandersteens out of the system and added in the Living Voice and a pair of Rythmik F12 subwoofers as a comparison. The midrange improved, the bass tightened up a bit, but the sonic character of the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier and P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier and DAC held true. I’ve been hearing a fair bit of solidstate electronics in the price point of the P 6 and JC 5 and they sound more similar than different. There’s a clarity and accuracy that these well-designed systems have that really lets the music come through and that’s what I was hearing with the combo.
Listening to vinyl or digital garnered similar musical enjoyment and I think the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier is neutral enough that either format works great. Of course better recorded music sounded better with the JC 5, but even pop and marginal recordings didn’t sound bad. It wasn’t because the JC 5 didn’t faithfully reproduce the recording, the amplifier is neutral and very accurate, but it doesn’t have a bit of strident crunchiness that some highly accurate solidstate amplifiers have.
Back to the M5 reference, some more taut sport cars can have a suspension that is razor sharp and might be great at the track, but it would rattle your fillings out on a long road trip. In comparison the M5 suspension is taut, steering feel is precise, but ride comfort and ergonomics are thoughtfully designed and integrated into the entire package. I felt the Parasound Halo JC 5 embodied these qualities. Accuracy, imaging and soundstage, neutrality, and punch, but with a refinement and smoothness that ensured a pleasant and extended listening session.
Here’s where the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier and the P 6 2.1 Channel Halo Preamplifier and DAC depart. Sonically, I think the JC 5 plays in a different league than the P 6. I know both are part of the Halo series, but I kept feeling that the JC 5 was capable of more. My reference Schiit Ragnarok 2 has pre-outs so I gave it a try. The Rag 2 preamp stage sounded nearly identical to the P 6, so that didn’t help to confirm my hypothesis. I happened to have a Rotel Michi preamp that came in towards the end of the Parasound review period and I did hear some improvements, but I wish I had a purist tube preamp in the $3000 price range to play around with.
The Parasound Halo JC 5 had a clarity in the midrange that beat out the other solidstate amps I’ve had in my system lately. I have a couple of tube integrated amps I compared as well and the Curl-designed JC 5 didn’t have quite the midrange sweetness of these amps, but the treble and bass were certainly tighter and more accurate. Most tube amplification certainly is more colored than the JC 5. Soundstage and imaging were about equal which I think is high praise for the JC 5.
I really enjoyed what the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier brought to my rig. It provided a fine balance between the fork in the proverbial audiophile road of good sound and accuracy. Inherently neutral, accurate without being dry, no solidstate etching or harshness whatsoever, and imaging and soundstage that could compete with similarly priced tube amps – this all adds up to what I think is a big win for Parasound.
Parasound’s design objective for the JC 5 was to meet customer requests to distill the essence of the acclaimed JC 1+ monoblocks into a stereo power amp. I haven’t heard the JC 1+ yet so I cannot comment on that, but in my opinion the Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier is a winner. If you are looking for a beefy solid state power amplifier under $10k I suggest giving the JC 5 an audition. Highly recommended.