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Product Review - Parasound C/BD 2000 CD Transport and Parasound HCA-2003 Amplifier - January 1997

By John Sunier

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Parasound C/BD-2000 Belt Drive CD Transport; Top loading with 3/4 lb. disc clamp, Belt drive, fully programmable and remote control; coax and AES/EBU balanced output with optional AT&T fiber optic; External remote control connector; Tiffany-style RCA jacks; Size 3 "H x 19"W x 15 "D; weight 23 lb.; Black metal chassis, clear acrylic sliding cover on CD well; Grounded AC; $1550; Parasound Products Inc., 950 Battery Street, San Francisco, CA 94111; 800-822-8802.

Though their numbers are dwindling, there is a phalanx of audio skeptics who have questioned, from their introduction, the need for separate CD transports and D/A Converters (let alone all the other little black boxes that have come on the scene). Having had numerous such separates pass through my system, I continue to use and enjoy a single-box player (though a very high end one) which I find still sounds better than the separates on many piano CDs. One must consider proper matching of separates, the added degradation of the additional cables and which type of cable format to use. Having started just using the digital out on a single-box player to a DAC, to my present Audio Alchemy pair - the DTI v.2.0 jitter filter and the HDCD-providing DDE v.3.0 DAC - with many others plus many different cable approaches and add-on chachkas, I would observe that (at least at the mid-high-end area in which I deal) the current focus of audiophile high anxiety on this whole CD reproduction area may not fully be worth the time and cost for the ever-so-subtle improvements or differences involved.

Differences between processors seem more pronounced than those between transports. In fact, before obtaining the 2000 for review I briefly used the old Radio Shack Optimus CD3400 portable as my CD transport and it sounded terrific. Yet each of the three different CD transports I have lived with over the space of a couple of years have yielded a subtle but noticeable increase in transparency, soundstaging, and "air" over the previous component. They included one model (CAL Delta) that was made to order for tweaking with resonance-control materials and various feet/plates, making audible improvements apparent.

The Parasound, which I plan to keep, replaces the Audio Alchemy DDS Pro transport which had a number of frustrating problems due to poor QC as well as lack of planning in design (IMHO). The top-loading feature of the 2000 may seem to some users a retro step, and it meant I could no longer stack one CD player atop the other since access is required to the top of the transport. The belt drive design is the compact, trickle-down economy version of the outrageously expensive but highest-rated CEC belt drive CD transports. This idea grows out of the Linn turntable design which started the whole audiophile turntable business years ago; the vibrations of the drive motor are isolated from the spindle of the CD platter by the belt.

The entire unit has a very high mass and is heavily damped, and the massive separate disc clamp helps achieve a solidity of CD-spinning that could not be matched by any drawer-type CD transport. With a heavy-duty phosphor bronze main bearing, there is no worry that the weight load of the clamp might destroy the motor bearing, as with some CD tweaks. It is also easier to add tweaks such as AudioPrism's BlackLight disc without fear of destroying the mechanism when the drawer closes. And one doesn't need to remember each time to turn the CD upside down as required by the Pioneer-type "stable platter" design. One does need to remember to put on the disc clamp and slide shut the plastic cover or the transport will not operate. And butter-fingers prone to dropping the clamp on their stockinged feet will doubtless have a strong comment or two about the top loading arrangement as well. The extremely solid construction of the Parasound transport doesn't prevent further mechanical tweaking. I found placement on a thick MSB isolation plate with a Bright Star Little Foot pressing down on the right side of the chassis (allowing just enough room to slide the CD well cover back) to upgrade even further the already superb contributions of this transport to the sonic experience. I sampled several different digital coaxial interconnects between the transport and the DTI filter. Although with the DDS Pro some differences among them had been heard, with the C/BD-2000 no discernable differences were audible. I settled on a one meter Sound & Video 75 Ohm digital cable.

The Parasound/Audio Alchemy trio of components creates a synergistic result that would require two or three times their total cost to surpass, and then only in the most subtle fashion and only on certain program material. Both the Audio Alchemy transport and the Parasound have extremely low jitter; therefore the DTI or any other jitter filter has only a very subtle enhancement effect on the resultant sonics. For the listener on a tight budget I would suggest holding off on the jitter filter and just pairing the 2000 with either the DDE v.3.0 or Parasound's own excellent DA - Model 1100.

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Parasound HCA-2003 Three Channel High Current Amplifier; THX approved. 200 watts rms per channel into 8 Ohms, all channels driven; 300 watts rms per channel at 4 Ohms, all channels driven; Direct-coupled; 60 amps peak current per channel; DC servo circuitry; twenty four 15 amp 60 mHz bipolar output devices (eight per channel); 1.5 kVA power transformer w/ separate windings for each channel; 90,000 uF power supply; Full-power bandwidth: 12 Hz-80kHz; THD: +-1%; dynamic headroom: 1.5 dB; Size: 7 "H x 19"W x 19"D with rack-mount ears; weight 60 lbs.; black metal chassis with handles front & rear; grounded AC; $1650; Parasound Products Inc., 950 Battery Street, San Francisco, CA 94111; 800-822-8802.

The 2003 follows on the heels of the well-reviewed HCA-1206 six-channel power amplifier. The three-channel version benefits from some subtle upgrades to the circuitry. It would be perfect for the home theater fan who already owns a good stereo basic amp of this or lesser wattage, which could then power the surround channels - the 2003 handling the three front speakers. With just a surround processor (such as Parasound's P/SP-1000) one is in business with a high performance surround system.

Even for audio-only systems (such as my own where the 2003 currently resides) the L-C-R three-front-speaker setup is coming back into vogue, bringing memories of the Klipsch Heresy center channel speaker setups of yore. Blumlein's original stereo patents of the early 1930s never seriously proposed only two speakers anyway; he found three speakers (with the center being fed a L + R mix) to be the absolute minimum for effective stereo. The enhancement provided by the center speaker is especially welcome on concertos of all sorts and most jazz and pop music, where the soloist is normally recorded with a dead-center positioning anyway. The featured performer stands out more clearly from the backup musicians, and the artifacts of 30-foot-wide pianos or "Mr. 5-by-5" vocalists are minimized. Identical speakers are even more of a requirement in this usage than with most home theater.

Construction quality of the amp is tops, and with its size and weight the handles on the rear were most welcome. In my CWD cabinet the front of the amp was forced to stick out about two inches not including the front handles in order to allow fitting the thick cables at the rear plus access to the handy rear-mounted level controls - one for each channel. There are very large heat sinks on both sides of the chassis. Five-way binding posts grace the rear panel along with a single screw-out 15 amp fuse. The front panel sports a normal/standby light along with the power switch and also adds overload indicator lights for all three channels which have yet to flash on me.

John Curl designed the 2003's circuitry, which uses high-bias Class A/AB operation. This is said to cause the amp to run somewhat hotter than normal, but I found it only slightly warmer to the touch than my previous Aragon 4004s, and they were only two channel amps. Of greater interest to me was the absence of any acoustic hum or buzz originating in this oversize, fanless component; this had been a problem with the Aragons.

Feeding a wide variety of technically demanding CDs, DATs, LPs and laserdiscs through the 2003 resulted in superb, uncommonly neutral and open wide-range sonics without any identifiable negative artifacts. In bass and overall transparency there was an improvement over the Aragon 4004s. Three different surround processors were sampled to direct the signals to the three channels: the passive PhaseAround, the Fosgate Model Four and the new Circle Surround 5.2.5 decoder. Soundstaging - whether in two or three-channel mode - was excellent with the 2003. It was only slightly degraded when plugged directly into the AC instead of via the TAD Power Purifier I normally use; The Aragons were greatly degraded without the Power Purifier, indicating perhaps superior circuitry at the point where the AC comes into the 2003.

If you need 200 watts a channel times three for your audio or home theater system I doubt if you could find a better value for your dollar than the 2003. The comparable 3-channel Aragon 8008x3 has also received reviewer acclaim but it is $950 more.

John Sunier


Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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