Parasound JC 3 Jr. Phono Preamplifier

All in the Family

Equipment report
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Parasound JC 3 Jr.
Parasound JC 3 Jr. Phono Preamplifier

Even on a familiar mono track like The Beatles’ “Revolution” (fast tempo, not “Revolution 1” from the White Album) Jr. hit me with an onrushing wave of guitar distortion and nerve-shredding feedback so fraught with intensity that it was almost like hearing the cut anew. Low-level detail was equally superb while lower mids and bass octaves were taut in pitch, dense in timbre, and brimming with complexity. A prime example was Tony Levin’s marvelous bass playing that closes the 45rpm LP version of the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush duet “Don’t Give Up” [Virgin]. Jr. was revelatory in expressing the dark, moody character that underscores this track.

Imaging and spatiality go hand-in-hand with this phonostage. To be sure, it lacks the full dose of hall ambience conveyed by the 3+ but Jr. taps an appreciable amount of front-to-back depth and dimension in its own right. For example, as I listened to the track “I’ll Be Seeing You” from the marvelous reissue of Rickie Lee Jones’ Pop Pop, the delicate interplay of the classical guitar and clarinet conveyed a wealth of expressive harmonic weight and acoustic realism. Even years after its release, the abundance of ambience and micro-information that emerges from this LP continued to surprise and astound me. Jr.’s resolution of inner detail was similarly excellent. For this I often key on background harmonies. One of my guilty pleasures is the prog-rock band Yes and its 90125 album (the Bob Ludwig/Masterdisk pressing). This LP was not only a Top 40 success but with hits like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” it is laden with weird cross-pans, phase shifts, and plunging bass lines. And on tracks like “It Can Happen,” I key on whether a phonostage can adequately resolve the layers of vocals and high-pitch harmonies—details that are easily smeared. In its ability to clarify these things, the JC 3 Jr. proved its mettle.

Turning to the challenge of classical music reproduction, I listened to the Solti-conducted Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performing Beethoven’s Ninth. In this setting the JC 3 Jr.’s character added a slightly darker element to the string sections and a more forgiving top end. The famed Chicago brass section didn’t quite have the sparkling pop and transparency that the 3+ captures nor the extension and definition at the frequency extremes, although the difference is relatively small. The signature kettledrums were not quite as lively and textured. And there was a slight veil around the bass-baritone soloist, which the 3+ did not have. Image retrieval was also of a high order, although at the lowest levels that magic “open window” sense of transparency has a bit of soft shading. In soundstaging Jr. didn’t quite gather in all of the ambient cues to deliver back-of-the-hall dimensionality, but was very good, nonetheless.

A Chip off the Old Block
Truthfully the JC 3 Jr. is not a 3+. But it comes uncomfortably close to the original JC 3, the phono pre that would later evolve into the 3+. For the vast majority of vinyl owners, Parasound’s JC 3 Jr. will stand the test of time and be a willing partner to cartridge or turntable upgrades that might accrue along the way. Its winning musicality proudly upholds the family name. As a side note, in my exchange with Richard Schram I had to ask whether he now considers the Parasound phonostage lineup complete or whether there might be something new in the offing. His answer was playfully noncommittal: “The definition of a ‘complete’ lineup is a moving target for an independent audio company that’s as customer-centric as Parasound. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.” Being an optimist, I think I’ll take that as a “yes.” At least, I sure hope so.

Specs & Pricing

Phono input impedance: mm, 47k ohms; mc, 47k ohms/variable 50–550 ohms
Gain: 40dB/50dB/60dB (unbalanced output); 46dB/56dB/66dB (balanced output)
Dimensions: 17.25" x 2.5" x 14.75"
Weight: 13 lbs.
Price: $1495

2250 McKinnon Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124
(415) 397-7100