Any fan of Parasound Audio gear knows all too well the “JC” moniker in their Halo line stands for John Curl. Before joining Parasound to work with founder Richard Schram, John Curl became legendary for his Vendetta Research SCP-2 phono preamplifier. About 200 were produced, all were hand-built. Not much to look at frankly, the SCP-2 was coveted for its low noise floor – the essence of a phono preamplifier.

Parasound Halo JC 3 Jr front

Introduction

Although John Curl is also touted for his Parasound amplifiers, his efforts with the original Halo JC 3 phono preamplifier were extraordinarily well-received and reviewed. In and around 2013, Parasound made some adjustments to the JC 3 with the JC 3+, adding MC cartridge, adjusting the circuit boards and power supply. Secrets crowned his revised Halo Preamp, the Halo JC 3+ Phono Preamplifier with a Best Of award.

Completely aware of the large market for more affordable turntable phono preamplifiers, Parasound developed for half the cost, the JC 3 Jr. Once again with John Curl designing the circuitry, the new compact Jr. may become legendary on its own – I placed it in my setup along with my Halo P5 preamplifier and A21, both mainstays in my reference system for a while now. It looked good, sounded even better!

PARASOUND HALO JC PREAMPLIFIER SPECIFICATIONS
Frequency Response:

20-20Khz, +/- 0.2dB

Total Harmonic Distortion:

< 0.02% at 1 kHz

Signal to Noise Ratio, 40 dB Setting:

>85dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
>80dB, input shorted, unweighted

Signal to Noise Ratio, 50 dB Setting:

>89dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
>84dB, input shorted unweighted

> 94dB, input shorted, IHF A-weighted
> 91dB, input shorted, unweighted

Input Impedance:

MM or MI: 47k Ω
MC Variable: 50- 550 Ω

Output Impedance:

Unbalanced: < 100 Ω
Balanced: < 100 Ω per leg

Total Gain:

40 dB / 50 dB / 60 dB (unbalanced output)
46 dB / 56 dB / 66 dB (balanced output)

Dimensions:

Width: 17-1/4” (437mm)

Depth: 14-3/4” (375mm)

Weight:

Net: 13 lbs. (5.9 Kg)
Shipping: 19 lbs. (8.6 kg)

M.S.R.P.:

$1,495.00

Company:

Parasound

SECRETS Tags:

Parasound, Parasound Product, Products reviews, Parasound Review 2018

Design

It would be natural to compare the Halo Jr. to the original JC 3 and more recently the updated Halo JC 3+. The immediate and obvious visual difference is the size, about 2” shorter. This is accomplished by replacing the large gain modules used for each channel, with a single board combining the channels. The board designed by Carl Thompson handles both the left and right channels, unlike the independent boards on the JC 3. The power supply is partitioned between the two, and the combination thereby reducing the chassis size. Gone is also the AC line conditioner. Additionally, the dual-mono power supply was replaced by one with a single shielded toroid power transformer.

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That was perhaps the bad news, the good news is what still exists and what the Halo JC3 Jr offers: high quality resistors and capacitors keep the RIAA tracking to within 0.2dB, 24k gold-plated RCA jacks, balanced and unbalanced outputs, variable MC impedance from 50 – 550 ohms, a switch for three gain settings, 40, 50, and 60dB. And like every other Parasound product, they always include 12v trigger turn-on options.

Lastly, the only other button on the face of the unit is a mono switch, for playing older recordings, or re-releases of mono recorded music.

Parasound Halo JC 3 Jr rear

Setup

The gear I’m using is probably right in line with the value and affordability of the Halo JC 3 Jr preamplifier: A Marantz Reference TT-15S1 turntable with a Clearaudio Virtuosso wood ebony MM cartridge (47k Ohm loading with an output voltage of 3.6 mV). As such, the settings on the JC 3 Jr are limited to the gain selection only, for me I was happy at 50dB. More settings as I mentioned above are afforded to an MC cartridge. The beauty here with the Halo JC 3 Jr is that you do not have to remove the cover to make the adjustments, typical of other phono preamplifiers.

Having the Parasound Halo P5 preamplifier, I did use the balanced outputs from the JC 3 Jr. After trying both unbalanced and balanced, I found the latter more open, slightly richer sounding.

In Use

I had no expectations, owning several Halo pieces including both amplifiers and preamplifiers, I immediately found that the JC 3 Jr sounded solidly neutral, in control. I didn’t hear the JC 3 Jr adding a sonic signature, the essence of getting out of the way is what I did hear. The new Halo Jr had a nice balance across the spectrum – the mid-range especially taut.

I was struck by the very quiet nature of the JC 3 Jr without a record playing, turning up the preamplifier to ungodly volumes is the only way to get any hiss out of the Halo JC 3 Jr, and ultimately my system.

Secondly, I didn’t get an edginess to the music – some might prefer that illusion of detail, I heard it to sound natural. The Halo JC 3 Jr will not cut edges like a figure skater, (Olympics just ending, easy analogy) through the music, around voices and instruments. But it does articulate.

John Coltrane’s Blue Train record is a good example of The Halo JC 3 Jr’s ability to articulate instruments, not only Coltrane’s tenor sax but the brassy and airy trumpet, the full trombone and the warmth of the piano. Although the upright base could have been a bit deeper and punchier, it nonetheless was ample to compliment the trio of horns.

Thirdly, the Halo JC 3 Jr is solid state, I would almost expect besides a lower noise floor, less distortion and more control. Any fear I had that it would sound sterile, or clinical was out the window, evident playing women’s voices, especially.

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Diana Krall’s, Quiet Nights is her bossa nova and jazz standards cover album that shows a softness to her voice, or maybe she was just in love with hubby Elvis Costello when she recorded it. Either way, the Halo JC 3 Jr was expressively warm and delicate. Her breathing, her sultriness matched the dreamy character of the instruments as well. The piano in “So Nice” is so sexy and fun, flirty. But just so, I would have expected a tiny bit more sparkle at the top. Yet the timbre for the piano was excellent.

Parasound Halo JC 3 Jr rack

Fourthly, I liked the nice pace and timing out of the Halo JC 3 Jr. Did it ever sound like it was spinning too slow or that the music didn’t quite resolve itself? Nope, and nope.

David Gilmour’s lovely mellow and melodic album On an Island, features more than just his legendary guitar playing but some interesting sound effects that can be lost on an inferior phono preamplifier, not so with the Halo JC 3 Jr. Not only does the JC 3 grip the music, it pushes it forward, resolute and once again, articulate.

Conclusions

My mother used to say, don’t set your goals compared to underachievers but rather to those that you aspire to. THE HALO JC 3 JR aspires to perform like a phono preamplifier priced much higher. What would I compare it to? Probably the Rogue Audio RP-1 at about $1,800 but you would give up balanced outputs and on-the-fly adjustments for loading.

I’m not sure anymore if a phono preamplifier that sells for just under $1,500 would be considered affordable – are you likely to be using a similarly priced turntable package? What’s my point? If you’re trying to eek every nuance out of your turntable with a modest setup, the Halo JC 3 Jr is perfect for you. In fact, it would take a significant upgrade in equipment to feel that perhaps the Jr is doing your system a disservice. In that case, the JC 3+ now available to you makes more sense. I for one find the Halo JC 3 Jr outstanding for value and performance.

Sure, there are preamplifiers costing just several hundred dollars but not with these features and this pedigree. If you’re even considering spending more, still, give the Jr a try.

Likes
  • Adjustments easily accessed
  • Balanced output
  • Quiet
Would Like To See
  • None
  • Don Disbennett

    Nice review, Piero. Did you have a chance to compare the JC Jr. to the built-in phono stage in your P5? I also have a P5, in part based on your earlier favorable review, and was wondering if I would gain much with the new Jr. Best Regards.

  • Piero Gabucci

    Hi Don, that’s a very good question, one which I will answer shortly. I had to move onto another phono preamp review but wanted to do some one-on-one comparison between the Jr and the P5. Before I received the Jr though, I asked Richard Schram the same question and his response was, “entirely different animals”.

  • Don Disbennett

    Thanks for the reply, Piero. I will look forward to your findings on that comparison, but I suspect Richard’s comment is pretty telling. In a related matter, the local audio society did a blind comparison between the JC3 and a high-end tube phono stage. Since most of our audio society are “tube guys”, I figured that the JC3 didn’t have much a chance. However, from the first needle drop, it was apparent to everyone there that the JC3 sounded better, despite the fact that the tube phono stage was more expensive! Parasound makes some great gear!

  • mp

    “Fourthly, I liked the nice pace and timing out of the Halo JC 3…”

    How can a phono signal path have pace and timing? I don’t even know what that that could mean. I know that on my Fender amp I can adjust for reverb, and add some modulation effects. Is that what “pace and timing” mean? Why would you want that on a phono preamp? Am I missing something?

    Really, I’m sure this is a good product, but I don’t think it has pace and timing. And I’m obviously tongue in cheek, in order to make the following points:

    If it doesn’t have pace and timing, what does it have? Were the MM/MC stages phase inverting? Was the input impedance within listed tolerance? Is the RIAA deemphasis accurate? To what degree do both channels track? What about measured channel separation? Phono overload? THD distortion? Weighted and unweighted S/N? Build quality? Am I asking too much for a review? Back in the day, all those are things would be routinely reported. But now audio reviewing no different than judging Olympic figure skating, an analogy used by the reviewer. Actually, I’d use another metaphor. Audio reviewing is more like restaurant reviewing. Yet it is easy to understand why that is.

    My guess is that any JC design is going to be pretty much SOA. Just like the Pass phono stage in another review, on this site. So why bother measuring? I’m serious. What would be gained? That is why equipment reviews has taken on the attributes of restaurant reviewing. Those guys don’t go into the kitchen in order to see how it’s made; they just tell you how the dish looks on the plate, and how it tastes. Because with modern equipment design, there is really no measurable differences that are meaningful (outside of loudspeakers).

    I don’t want to come off like a crank, but even back in the early Levinson days, Mark couldn’t tell you why his JC designed phono stage “sounded” better than any other product. It was just as mysterious then, as now. But if you read reviews (and those going back 40 years) everything is incrementally better than last year’s product. In fact, some products even “blow away” what went before. How can that be? Was the old gear that bad? No one wants to face this situation in equipment reviewing.

    But here’s the reality. I’ve got some older solid state gear, and I cannot hear any difference between that and the newer stuff; at least if I am honest with myself. [Tube amps from the late ’50s and early ’60s are different–I would say there is a noticeable difference between, say, my home built 40 watt mono tube amps, based on the David Hafler-Ed Laurent Dyna design, and modern solid state. For what it’s worth, I actually prefer the old tube stuff, but that’s a personal thing, and doesn’t have anything to do with tech. The objective performance of my tube amps are laughable compared to modern day amplifiers–see my comments on Bob Carver’s comments, below].

    What about other, exotic designs? On my own I have never been able to tell a sonic difference between Class A, and properly working A/B. I once owned an amplifier that let you switch between the two, and it was impossible for me to tell, as long as the listening level was not high. Played loud, the amp would go in to clipping in Class A.

    What about FETs v bipolar transistors? I have heard a difference in amps with certain speakers. My erstwhile Acoustats needed a beefy amp to play loud, and Jim Strickland’s 200 watt/channel MOS-FET amp did the trick. But that had to do with the amp/speaker interface, and not the other amps, qua amps. With less demanding speakers I could not reliably tell the FET amp from any other solid state amplifiers.

    In a recent interview Bob Carver said that amplifier sound differences were likely a result of the amp-speaker interface, and not anything going on “inside” the amplifier. He said that he cannot reliably “hear a difference” between his expensive tube amp and others, but admitted that he liked to “watch the glow” while listening to music. I can appreciate both that, and his honesty. Especially coming from a guy who modeled his solid state amp (null test) using a Levinson ML-2 class A amp, and now makes super expensive tube amps.

    Both the Benchmark group and Nelson Pass argue that, at extremely low power levels, distortion may be a factor in making some power amps sound different. With a 1kHz test tone, at 0.01 watt, ABX testing is reported to be positive between the Benchmark amp and another unnamed amplifier. But who listens to 1 kilohertz test tones at less than a watt? Or at any level? Whether this could be an issue on loud symphonic music through speakers (that add much more distortion themselves), who knows? I understand that if you are listening with highly efficient horn speakers, you would probably like a Benchmark amp, with its 130dB plus S/N.

    But in this particular review we are talking about very low level RIAA and pre-preamp signals. I know of no good explanation of why two properly designed low level phono stages would sound differently. Back in the late ’70s people like Tom Holman, Mitch Cotter, and others (like the Boston Audio Society folks) really ran this down. No one came to any solid conclusions. On the test bench, all was good.

    So, are these differences wishful thinking? I am inclined to think so. Maybe playing my Les Paul a bit too loud has damaged my hearing. I’ll admit to that. On the other hand, at least with a figure skater you can judge with your eyes how sharp the turns, and with a guitar amp anyone can tell when you switch from clean, and crank up the gain. Would anyone really hear a difference between this JC design, and the Pass design? If the covers and price tags were hidden? What about the expensive Accuphase or Lux phono boxes, imported from Japan? Or even a lowly op amp Project Phono Box?

    Which gets me to thinking, now that my tongue is back in cheek. Will I get better pace and timing if I change out my stock pickups for that set of Seymour Duncans I’ve been thinking about? I know my guitar already has a “rhythm” switch, so I’ve got that part of the pace and timing thing covered. LOL

    PS: sorry for the length of this. But I was not able to say it in fewer words. Thanks for the time.

  • Piero Gabucci

    Interesting.. Although can’t assume tubes will naturally sound better with vinyl.

  • Piero Gabucci

    Firstly, thanks for reading the review. (tongue-in-cheek reference to your opening statement). I actually agree with many things you say. But let me concentrate on your critique of my phrasing of “pace and timing”. Although somewhat interchangeable, I mean the ability to reproduce the music where it sounds like the tempo of the music is as recorded. Now obviously the entire system can contribute, but that’s more about dynamics to me, how an amplifier can handle punchy bass or extreme highs.
    I do understand your restaurant analogy though. Isn’t the final dish, how it looks and tastes the entire point? Do I need to know how long the sauce simmers to appreciate how it tastes? Audio gear can sound very similar, agreed. But if you spend enough time with certain reference gear, by which you measure (good or bad) all other gear, it is in the hearing that you can decipher differences, are the highs slightly more extended, is the voice clearer, chesty or thin? This may be subtle most of the time.
    We do not measure every piece of gear; I have my personal beliefs about what bench testing and measurements provide. “On the test bench, all was good.” Agreed, it’s not the end all for what a piece of gear sounds like. Do you believe that if you can’t hear a difference but a bench test “tells” you one piece of gear sounds better than another, that it must be better sounding despite no audible difference? Because you can’t make the argument both ways. If you can’t hear the distortion, why bother fussing about it if a bench test tells you otherwise?
    A few years ago, and I won’t mention the brand, a DVD player had rave reviews, great picture, etc., until someone discovered it had a minor flaw, but nobody could possibly see it during a movie playback, yet the bench test ruined it’s reputation. People loved it until a machine and software identified the flaw.
    Perhaps I got off topic for you, and I truly appreciate your thoughts because we/I am always looking to make the reviews here more meaningful as well as informative and even entertaining.

  • mp

    Indeed. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve heard differences in amps and preamps. But at the same time, I’ve heard differences in the same gear, at different times. How to explain it? Maybe it’s simply psychological; maybe it’s differences in atmospheric humidity; maybe the moon phase. Honestly, I don’t know. I do know that it is easy to fool oneself, especially after making a huge purchase. But if an expensive phono stage makes a person happy, then I’m happy for them. We need more happiness in the world, that’s for sure. If I could afford it, I’d own it all.

    I certainly expect anything from John Curl (or Nelson Pass) to be first rate. But I am not convinced that they offer anything audibly superior to what came before, as long as we are talking about something properly designed in the first place. What is wrong with the old stuff? Capacitors may need replacing and switches cleaned. Tubes could need to be replaced, which brings me to another point, if I may.

    I’d argue that a tube only design is not the best thing for a phono stage, due to noise. Especially when using MC generators. I recall reading where Michael Elliot (of Counterpoint fame) complained that his SA-2 MC tube stage was a mistake, because 6DJ8s were just too noisy. Back in the day (I’m an old guy) I used this product with their SA-3 preamp for a while, and was not impressed. Not as good as solid state, from a noise standpoint. I have also found that inexpensive op amp-tube hybrids (such as the relatively inexpensive but popular Bellari phono stage) suffer from too much noise. On the other hand, I’ve had good experience with my current hybrid (JFET into dual 12AY7 triode phono stage, followed by a four 12AU7 triode line stage). This is very quiet–or at least it is quiet enough for me. Go figure.

    For MC use I wonder whether anyone has really improved on Mitch Cotter’s transformers from the ’80s. Of course for ultimate flexibility at an ultimate price, I can’t imagine anything better than either the Accuphase C-37, or Lux EQ-500. But it would surprise me whether all that flexibility is necessary, or whether one could really hear a difference between those very expensive items, and the simply expensive JC or moderately expensive Pass designs.

    PS: even though I was sort of joking, I urge everyone to replace their standard pickups with anything from Seymour Duncan. Seymour knows tone. 🙂

  • AG

    So this is a preamplifier with 1 input and no volume control? What do I miss?

  • Josep Navarro

    because this is a PHONO preamp, just to be used a a pre between a turntable and a preamplifier without phono stage.

  • AG

    Oh I see. Sorry I missed that 🙂

  • Your A Looser Trader FotD™

    Piero – nice review. Wondering if there’s any chance you or someone else at HTH has plans to review the Graham Slee Accession?

  • Piero Gabucci

    Thank you. We do not have plans, but we could look into it. It’s not a new unit, so there may be a saturation of reviews!?

  • Piero Gabucci

    Most preamplifiers do have a phono stage but phono preamp separates that section out.

  • Your A Looser Trader FotD™

    There is not an overabundance of professional reviews actually..