Parasound Halo JC 1 Monaural Amplifier



Parasound Halo JC 1 Monaural Amplifier
equipment report
Parasound Halo JC 1 Monaural Amplifier
Sue Kraft
aster than a speeding bullet
and able to leap tall transients
in a single bound, the JC 1
monoblocks are the latest super
amp from Parasound’s new
upscale Halo line of electronics. Named
in recognition of legendary designer
John Curl (the “JC” of the JC 1’s), these
400-watt burly beasts are a fitting tribute to a veteran engineer and one of the
founding fathers of the high-end audio
industry. Curl’s legacy dates back to the
early ’70s and includes such designs as
the Mark Levinson JC-2, Denneson JC80 preamplifier, Vendetta phono preamplifier, electronics for The Grateful Dead,
and recorders for Wilson Audio and
Mobile Fidelity. John and his cohorts at
CTC Builders can rightfully be proud to
add the Halo JC 1 to their resumes.
According to the “Parasound
Romance story” which accompanied the
amps, the design for the JC 1 was an
evolutionary process going back to 1989
with the original HCA-2200 stereo
amplifier, and continuing in the ’90s
with the HCA-3500. After a decadelong tenure with Parasound, John Curl
joined forces in 1999 with Bob Crump
of TG Audio fame and circuit board
designer Carl Thompson to form CTC
Builders. Over the course of the next
two years, CTC began a series of circuit
board and parts modifications to the
3500, resulting in the limited produc-
tion of the CTC BBQ, which debuted at
the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show.
Later that year, the JC 1 project was
launched when Parasound commissioned CTC to develop a monoblock version of the 3500-based BBQ.
Several years and a major facelift
later, the two handsomely rugged aluminum chassis sitting in my listening
room hardly resemble the CTC BBQ I
remember from CES. And based on what
I recall hearing, the power plant inside
has undergone major renovations as
well. According to Curl, the JC 1 utilizes a beefy 1.9kVA encapsulated
toroidal transformer, which is twice the
power supply of the HCA-3500. Other
refinements include larger heat sinks
and better connectors, wiring, and circuit layout. The JC 1 design is based on
a complementary differential J-FET
input stage followed by two stages of
select push-pull MOSFETs, ultimately
driving nine pairs of the most powerful
complementary bipolar power transistors available today. This translates into
400 watts into 8 ohms with 135 amps of
peak current. The Class A operating
region of the JC 1 has also been
increased to over 25 watts, which means,
save for equipment-torture-test recordings, the majority of one’s listening is
most likely done in Class A mode.
Although Parasound recommends a
minimum 30-day break-in period, I was
impressed with the remarkable speed,
clarity, transparency, and focus of these
amps straight out of the box. I found the
overall sonic character to be fairly neutral, with a pace, rhythm, and effortlessness that was absolutely addictive. I was
also taken in by a number of other
aspects of the JC 1, including how easy
it was to hear through the soundstage,
and hear differences in recordings as
well. It’s not that I haven’t noted these
same qualities in other components; it’s
just never been quite so obvious before.
Originally recorded as a vocal resume for
club gigs, Eva Cassidy’s rendition of
“Tennessee Waltz” (Imagine, Blix Street
Records) was by far the best I’ve heard in
the resolution of inner detail. The
nuances and subtleties of each guitar
pluck were more noticeable and clear.
Eva’s voice was seductively pure,
smooth, and natural, and so perfectly
placed in the center of the soundstage, I
could hear the space around her.
The JC 1 paired up superbly with
both the Ayre K-5x solid-state and BAT
VK-3i tube preamps. The 3i wasn’t
quite as detailed or extended in the
upper frequencies as the Ayre, but added
a little more body and weight to the
mix. My reference Harmonic Tech Pro
Silway 2 balanced interconnects worked
quite nicely, as did some of the new
Purist Audio Design Museaus cables. As
I’ve mentioned before, I usually try to
avoid using accessories costing more
than the component itself, but when it
came to power cords this time around, I
couldn’t help myself. (The JPS
Kaptovators are actually only half the
price of the JC 1, but at $1500 a pop,
still a hefty chunk of change for most of
us.) I have a penchant for these cords
because of their ability to enhance all the
positive attributes of a component without changing its overall sonic character.
And in this case, they did just that in
spades, plus added some weight and
extension to the bottom end.
equipment report
This was perhaps the only caveat I
had about the JC 1. The bass was fast
and focused, with a foundation reaching
down to the bowels of the earth, but had
a slight propensity towards leanness. In
a comparison with the BAT VK-6200
solid-state amp, the JC 1 was lighter and
more nimble, thinning out a bit (and
perhaps losing a little definition as well)
in the lower midrange/upper bass
region. The 6200, on the other hand,
was more robust and muscular in nature,
with more bulk and fullness in the lower
octaves. I’m not sure which amp would
win in a marathon, as both had more
than enough speed and stamina to go
the distance.
The JC 1’s presentation was never
too hard or aggressive, nor conversely
too soft or laid-back. If there was any
error here at all, it was to the forgiving
side. The high frequencies were to-diefor silky smooth, crystal clear, and abun-
dantly detailed. The kind you could listen to all day long without fatigue.
Sometimes you need to just kick back,
put away the “audiophile-quality”
recordings, and have some fun. For me it
was spending an afternoon listening to
my favorite ’60s and ’70s classic rock
car-cruisin’ collection. There wasn’t anything that didn’t sound great on the JC
1. Santana’s “Evil Ways” from The Best of
Santana [Columbia/Legacy] was a blast.
The music rolled from side to side (nearly wall to wall, actually) and rocked
front to back (hence the term rock ’n’
roll?) in a stunningly transparent and
three-dimensional wave of sound. Image
lines were incredibly focused and stable,
with no hint of strain, brightness, or
congestion at any volume level. And
me? I was left with an ear-to-ear grin on
equipment report
my face that lasted the rest of the week.
If you don’t mind the heat or electric
bills, you could always buy a set of JC 1
quintuplets for home-theater use, as these
animals are actually THX Ultra2
Certified. Other features on the rear panel
include balanced Neutrik XLR and single-ended Vampire RCA inputs, two sets
of Superior Electric five-way binding
posts, a ground-lift switch in the event of
hum problems, audio signal trigger and
user-selectable high/low bias-level adjustment. All of my listening was done in the
“high” bias setting, but in the event heat
dissipation is a concern, the “low” bias
setting reduces the Class A operation
from 25W down to 10W.
The only minor user issue with the
JC 1 was in determining if the amps
were turned on or off. When plugged in,
a small, red pilot light in the top center
and blue halo around a power button on
the bottom left of the faceplate remain
constantly lit. The glow became
brighter when the amps were powered
up, but it was tough to remember the
difference in the intensity of the lights
between on and off. So if I touched the
top plates and they were just a few
degrees short of being able to fry my
eggs in the morning, I knew I had forgotten to turn them off again.
The goal of the JC 1’s designers was
to build a world-class amplifier at a realworld, affordable price. Based on the
substantial build quality and superlative
performance of these Parasound amps, I
believe they have succeeded. Even if you
are looking to spend more than $6000
on your next amplifier purchase, the JC
1 deserves a listen. You may be surprised. I know after spending nearly six
months with these amps, it won’t be
easy to send them back. There ought to
be a twelve-step program for reviewers—I’m addicted!
Power output: 400W into 8 ohms, 800W into
4 ohms, 1200W into 2 ohms
Dimensions: 17.25" x 7.67" x 20"
Weight: 64 lbs.
Ayre K-5x, BAT VK-3i preamps; BAT VK75-SE,
BAT VK-6200 amps; Ayre CX-7 and Meridian
588 CD players; Coincident Total Eclipse
speakers; PS Audio Ultimate Outlet line conditioner; Harmonic Technology Pro Silway 2
and Purist Audio Design Museaus balanced
interconnects; JPS Kaptovator power cords;
Coincident speaker cable; Symposium
Rollerblocks; Svelte Shelf isolation devices
Parasound Products, Inc.
950 Battery Street
San Francisco, California 94111
Phone: (415) 397-7100
Price: $6000