I don’t understand the sex appeal of audio gear, but the Parasound JC 3 Jr. phono preamplifier ticks my lustful audiophile itch. Perhaps it’s the John Curl circuit design, a pedigree harkening to the Vendetta Research phono stage that catapulted Mr. Curl into the audio spotlight. Or perhaps it’s because it’s the younger sibling to the acclaimed Parasound JC 3+.
Words and Photos by Graig Neville
Parasound offers the JC 3 Jr. in silver and black; the black just speaks to me as svelte, simple, and almost, but not quite plain, and I love it for that. Perhaps it’s all three, I don’t know and I don’t really care. You find your love in life where you can and don’t ask too many questions.
Perhaps it’s not pedigree, but price-to-performance ratio. Released into the wild back in 2018, the Parasound JC 3 Jr. retails for $1,699 so I might be a bit late to the party. But I’m just too excited about the product to not review it!
Paging Mr. Curl, Mr. John Curl
Few names elicit as much cachet in the audio industry and John Curl. Perhaps Nelson Pass, Paul Klipsch, Andrew Jones, or Henry Kloss can compete in that rarified pedestal of audio genius. But John Curl has partnered up with Parasound on a variety of products, including the Parasound JC 3 Jr. Perhaps my favorite gear from Parasound has been their phono stages and I think much of that can be attributed to John Curl. There’s a rightness to their phono stages. This initially became evident when I reviewed their Halo P6 Preamplifier, and the phono stage in that unit blew me away. It was only natural for me to dig deeper into this gateway John Curl product.
As a budding vinyl novitiate, I’ve been exploring modestly priced phono stages to pair with my Rega P3. The focus has been on units under a grand. I could have reviewed Parasound’s Zphono or Zphono XRM, but after reading Marc Phillips’ review of the Parasound JC3+ I really wanted to check out the Parasound JC 3 Jr.
Inside the Parasound JC3 Jr.
The Parasound JC 3 Jr. supports moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. Moving magnet only gets a 47k Ω setting but moving coil gets a Vishay-Dale resistor controlled variable impedance knob from 50 to 550 Ω loading. The JC 3 Jr. supports RCA-only inputs but provides both RCA and XLR outputs for those focusing on a mostly balanced system. I think this connection to their studio roots is very cool, providing flexibility as it seems balanced designs are gaining popularity in the consumer side of the industry, at least in the high-end.
Front buttons are simple, power and mono. The rear panel is where all the meat is provided with selections for voltage (for different countries), MM or MC, gain settings, etc. Gain for the Parasound JC 3 Jr. is selectable at 40, 50 or 60dB. Add 6dB if you run balanced outputs. Details such as internal shielding and higher end parts quality abound contributing to impressive specifications such as RIAA accuracy within 0.2dB, signal to noise as low as 94dB, and THD below 0.02%.
You Said Sex Appeal
I’ve been infatuated with red gear lately: a red turntable (Rega P3), a red amplifier (SPL s800), and a red preamplifier (Backert Rhumba Extreme). Alas, Parasound does not offer red, but the black with the gold accents is still a beautiful piece of kit. For me, Parasound in black strikes that perfect balance of understated elegance, which I find sexy. Design that is overly flashy fades in popularity as the new kitsch takes the stage, while too plain and industrial is just boring. Elegant and well-designed products endure in popularity despite not adhering to the bleeding edge trends. I love gear that I can look back on years later and still enjoy their looks and ergonomics, and the Parasound JC 3 Jr. ticks that box in my opinion. But that’s not the only reason this phono preamplifier is sexy.
A phono preamplifier has a singular purpose, and that is to provide gain to a little tiny needle screeching in a plastic groove. And what a glorious screech can be produced by this mechanical and archaic system! There’s a smooth butteriness to vinyl; it’s intrinsically analog and due to its flaws it approaches perfection. Resonating with a higher noise floor and harmonically pleasing distortion, it seduces the ear and the senses. Here be the land of goosebumps and elation where the muse provides that gentle sensual touch.
A phono stage has to strike the right chord of elegance and suppleness balanced with authority and strength. For me, many of the tube phono stages lean a bit too far on the elegance and suppleness, becoming a bit too smooth and buttery, a bit too analog. I really like butter on a nice warm slice of fresh bread, but I don’t want a full stick of butter. And to me, many tube phono stages are too buttery for my tastes. I think that’s why I prefer a solid state phono stage. There’s a culinary contrast to the sound; the buttery goodness of vinyl with the hearty heft and dynamics and dare I say it, a slight sterility, of solid state that forms a marriage resulting in a sexy muse.
Parasound JC 3 Jr. Sound
The Parasound JC 3 Jr. is poised to be what you need it to be. Play rock ‘n’ roll albums and the Jr. has dynamics, bass, and slam. Play classical and the Jr. provides a wide soundstage with excellent transients and a quiet background where the subtleties of the music can leap out of the speakers. On jazz and world music, the JC 3 Jr. grooves and lets the musicians take you on their progressive journeys.
For my musical tastes, the Parasound JC 3 Jr. provided the perfect balance of what I am looking for in a phono stage. The British have a saying, “It does what it says on the tin.” At first glance this would appear to be perhaps a slight against the JC 3 Jr., but it’s really a compliment. So many products have a sound or character, and though the JC 3 Jr. does, it mostly gets out of the way and lets the turntable take the stage. It adds a little flavor, but mostly it does not detract from the sound of the source material. This is in and of itself no easy feat, as I’ve been noticing with phono stages lately. Many, even including some rather expensive ones, need to insert their own opinions of what you should be hearing. I never felt that the Parasound was doing that.
So, if the Parasound JC 3 Jr. isn’t pushing the dancing sultry muse in your ears, how can it be sexy? Some products overtly flaunt what they do in your face and it might be sexy, for a short period of time, and then it often digresses in vulgarity. Others, like the JC 3 Jr., are more subtle, more tactful, more refined; it’s the wry look from your soulmate from across the room that strikes that flare of passion in your heart. The JC 3 Jr. says, “I’m here for you, go have fun.”
I could go on about how the dynamics leapt from a dark soundstage, the rock solid imaging that had width and depth, how the bass had authority and tightness, or how the highs were crisp and clean, but other phono stages can do that. So what makes the Parasound JC 3 Jr. a standout? There’s smoothness, a nice buttery flavor, added to the mix, but not too much, just enough. It could be the JC 3 Jr. is allowing more of the vinyl analog sound through than some of the other phono stages I’ve been listening to lately, but I think it is really the Jr. adding just a hint of smoothness. Other units, such as the Rogue Audio Ares and the Musical Surroundings Phonomena, might be a little smoother, but like I mentioned above too much buttery smoothness can be distracting.
And the other aspect of “doing what it says on the tin” is making a product that you can set and forget, knowing the Parasound JC 3 Jr. is there providing an excellent foundation and is a cog in the proverbial audiophile machine that I don’t have to chase down and tweak and worry about upgrading. It is a great reviewers’ tool, as in my system it just seems right. I can focus on other tweaks in the system like isolation, cartridges, platters, mats, ad nauseum, knowing that the JC 3 Jr. is doing its job, dependably, reliably, and sensually.
Parasound JC 3 Jr.: Wedding Bells
I won’t lie, the Parasound JC 3 Jr. was above my initial budget for a phono stage to mate with my vinyl rig. But it sounded great with a variety of cartridges. The Hana SH was one, where I used the moving magnet setting to great effect. The Dynavector 10×5 was another, along with the cart that is my favorite so far with this unit–the Zu modified Denon DL-103.
I’ll likely continue exploring cartridges, but as I said I feel that the Parasound JC 3 Jr. is an end game product for my current Rega P3 setup. Perhaps if I go considerably up market with my vinyl rig in the future I will revisit the JC 3 Jr., but for now I’m very happy with my marriage to this sexy, dependable and decidedly unostentatious unit.
So much so that I’ve purchased the review unit.