I had an opportunity to listen to these phonostages side by side, and I’m glad I did. Fortunately the essential character and balance of the standard JC 3 remains intact in the “+” version— the air, the impression of warmth and bloom, the fully realized timbres, and the three-dimensional continuity of the soundscape. Backgrounds are still eerily quiet, instrumental colors ripe, and channel separation exquisite. But then there’s just a little something more. Curl’s application of choice go-fast bits-and-tweaks adds up to speed and resolution improvements of consequence. As I followed the backing accordion during “I’ll Be Seeing You” from Ricki Lee Jones’ Pop Pop [ORG], the “+” kicked low-level transparency up a notch with a heightened resolution of dynamic gradients—micro and macro—and cleaner transient behavior.
Critically there’s a subtle reduction of haze and veiling on top, which further sweetened Joni Mitchell’s folksy soprano during “A Case of You” from Blue [A&M]. The lack of electronic noise and hash revealed a fuller expression of the inner dynamics of her voice, drawing more attention to the flutter of her vibrato as she sustained the lyric “And still be on my feet.” Les Brown Goes Direct to Disc [Century] is a clinic for big band dynamics and a challenge for any phonostage. I’m particularly fond of the tracks “Satin Doll” and “Fly Me To The Moon” with their sparkling and colorful clarinet and trumpet solos. On a macro level there was more jump and pace to the performance through the JC 3+. The trumpet solo was cleaner, alive with snappier transients and clearer decays. More dimensional cues were revealed as well. Especially noteworthy was the piano placement. Where it once resided closer to the right edge of the stage, with the JC 3+ it slipped into a comfortable pocket within the band. This goes along with my general observation that this version’s improved dimensionality is likely due to its higher resolution of micro-dynamic nuances.
Further validation of the JC 3+’s broader dynamic contrasts came during the “Winter” movement of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons [Argo]. Overall there was greater resolution of inner detail. The solo violin was sweeter—warmer and simultaneously a little quicker off the mark—and the full weight and micro-dynamic expression of the string section were more keenly expressed. As the melody ascended there was also the slightest reduction of the upper-frequency glare that would sometimes slip into the picture with the JC 3. In addition the “+” reproduced more of the textural gradients of the harpsichord, while also further revealing the ambience encircling the keyboard. The JC 3+ created a soundstage that simply flowed more smoothly from corner to corner.
Original or new and improved? There are no wrong answers. But choosing one or the other comes down to two issues. For those with stable analog rigs who assiduously avoid the cartridge-of-the-week hunt—the obvious choice is to stick to the Parasound original. But then there are those unrepentant analog junkies prone to swapping exotic cartridges, and seeking resolution’s final word. For you (and you know who you are) an extra six hundred bucks is a small price to pay to put a little extra “+” into your records.
SPECS & PRICING
Input impedance: Moving magnet, 47k ohms; moving coil, 47k ohms fixed, 50–550 ohms, variable
Gain: Moving magnet, 48dB; moving coil, 64dB
Dimensions: 17.25" x 4.12" x 13.75"
Weight: 19 lbs.
PARASOUND PRODUCTS, INC
2250 McKinnon Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124