Parasound Halo JC 2 line preamplifier John Atkinson, March 2009
One of my references for relatively affordable preamplifier performance is Parasound's Halo JC 2 ($4000), which I reviewed in March 2008, and which was one of Stereophile's Joint Amplification Products of 2008. Wes Phillips has been enjoying the Halo these past few months, but when the review sample of the Ayre KX-R preamp was returned to him in December, so that he could finalize his thoughts on the humongous YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Professional speakers (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), I took the opportunity to retrieve the JC 2 from his listening room.
With the Musical Fidelity 750K Superchargers driving the Revel Ultima Salon2 speakers, the signature of the Parasound preamp was still apparent: a superb ability to resolve spatial information; clean, grain-free high frequencies; and excellent definition and weight in the low frequencies. But in this system, the Halo's lightish overall balance did not work as well as the more robust-sounding Simaudio Moon Evolution P-7. In Close to the Edge, the ping of Chris Squire's wirewound-strung Rickenbacker 4001 bass was emphasized even more than usual with the Halo. By contrast, the P-7 let through enough of the instrument's lower harmonics to make more musical sense.
Playing back two recordings of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 3Byron Janis with Antal Dorati and the LSO (SACD, Mercury Living Presence 470 639-1), and Vladimir Ashkenazy with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (CD, Decca 417 239-2)with the two preamps' levels matched, both pianos sounded a little more fleshed out into the lower midrange with the P-7. The big bass-drum beats that conclude the work had slightly more body with the P-7, more leading-edge definition with the JC 2. The recordings' spatial aspects were still more convincing through the Parasound, but the Simaudio was no slouch in this area, and better presented the rather jingly sound of Janis's instrument.
And if you like to rock out on low bass, the Simaudio did justice to the LF excess on Kanye West's "Love Lockdown," from 808s & Heartbreak (CD, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam). As I report in my Follow-Up on the Revel Ultima Salon2 elsewhere in this issue, the combination of the P-7, Musical Fidelity 750K monoblocks, and the big Revels allowed this recording to be played at Richter-Scale levels without any loss of midrange clarity. The Evolution P-7 has to take its share of the credit for that. With the Halo JC 2 in the system, the sound became a little more cerebral, which I'm sure was not the producer's intent.
In my current system, I preferred the Moon Evolution P-7 overall; but with a speaker darker-toned than the big Revel, or one whose low frequencies aren't as well controlled, the Halo JC 2 might get the nod.John Atkinson