Parasound Halo JC 2 line preamplifier Page 2

"Okay." After first wondering at the eclectic nature of Stephen's music—Jeff Buckley, Neil Young, and Marc Bolan rubbing shoulders with son star Henry Fiol—I set it to Shuffle and set off for the bus stop. On came a track that was too interesting to be techno, too musical to be house, too danceable to be ambient or trance. (I was later told that it was "chill-out" music.) An extraordinarily low-frequency bass line rode along beneath out-of-my-head sound effects and sampled robotic voices: "I love this music...I love this philosophy..." It was "Nightwalker," a track from DJ Trentemøller's 2006 album The Last Resort (Pokerflat PFRCD18). The next day, I bullied Stephen into lending me the CD, and the moment I got home I played it, with the Halo JC 2 feeding the Musical Fidelity 550k Supercharger monoblocks the juice they needed to kick the 4 ohm load of each KEF R207/2 with 850W. I turned up the volume to "11" and sat in my listening chair.


The low frequencies didn't boom. Nor were they noticeably distorted. And even at this extreme level, there was no grain, no stridency. But I could feel the walls flexing. I could hear the windows rattling in their sashes. I could see the dust rising from the bookshelves. Something in the test lab next door fell to the floor. Smokey, the last surviving member of our Santa Fe menagerie, ran from the room in feline terror. My son came running downstairs to ask if we were having an earthquake.


Suitable amplifiers
I did much of my auditioning of the Halo JC 2 with the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks I purchased 10 years ago. But I also had on hand the Musical Fidelity 550k Superchargers that Mikey Fremer reviewed last September, and the Boulder 860 stereo amplifier that Fred Kaplan reviewed in December. And Parasound's Richard Schram had sent along a pair of Halo JC 1 monoblocks for me to use with the JC 2.

Depending on the speakers, the JC 2's sonic personality worked better with the softer, warmer amplifiers, such as the Boulder and the Levinson monoblocks. When all things are considered, transparency is a two-edged sword! Like the Halo JC 2, the Musical Fidelity Superchargers have tight, powerful low frequencies; the pairing worked well with the big-hearted, ported KEF R207/2s. But with the sealed-box Magico V3s, the combination of Parasound and Superchargers was just too lean, even though the bass definition was to die for. These speakers worked best with the Mark Levinson No.380S and No.33Hs. By contrast, the Levinsons sounded bloated and somewhat slow with the KEFs. The best overall balance I achieved with the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa speakers was with the JC 2 driving the Boulder 860. Yes, the lows still lacked ultimate definition with the Boulder, but this was compensated for by the huge soundstage and silky highs.

The Halo JC 1
With Parasound's own Halo JC 1 monos ($7000/pair), once they'd broken in, I was reminded of Mikey's comment in his February 2003 review: "The JC 1's ability to separate the vocal from the subtle artificial reverb, both in time and layered behind in space, was a revelation. And it was done without spotlighting or added brightness. The overall lack of smear helped create an impressively coherent, transparent, and detailed soundstage, with the kind of air and reverberant presentation I usually associate with tubes." The JC 2 took this ability of the JC 1s further along the road to the system opening a clean, transparent, rectangular window on the original acoustic of the recording.

Although Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), my ultimate recorded statement of Bob Reina's free-jazz ensemble Attention Screen, is multimiked, over the past 18 months I have also recorded the band with just two mikes in a variety of New York jazz clubs. Though the musical balance is rarely well served, there is something magical about the sound of recordings made with such a purist technique. Listening to the original 24-bit/88.2kHz files of the club recordings with the Parasound Halo preamp and power amps driving the Magico V3 speakers, there was an almost holographic sense of being at the original event, so clearly could the positions of the musicians be discerned within the space of each club—whether the deep recess of the Knitting Factory's Tap Room, or the drier but paradoxically more supportive acoustic of the back room at Otto's Shrunken Head. Going back to the Merkin Hall concert, and again playing the 24/88.2 masters on the same system, I wasn't displeased with the mix. The individual sounds of the instruments were better served than with the purist recordings, and the hall's rich ambience was coherent. But the Parasound pairing revealed how close I was sailing to the edge with the multichannel mix, how close I was to the seams in the illusion starting to show.

This ability to let the listener hear deep into the recesses of a recording's genesis was not restricted to purist, private-label recordings. I recently picked up the reissue of a recording I played to death when it was first released in 1982, La Folia de la Spagna, from Atrium Musicae de Madrid under Gregorio Paniagua (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMA1951050). As well as the usual settings of this baroque-era "hit song" for traditional broken consorts of various kinds, there are such joys as a version of the tune "performed" on control-line model airplanes accompanied by tabla, and even a clarinet, punctuated by car horn, unable to resist wandering off into Pink Panther territory. There are starter-pistol shots and whipcracks to test a system's dynamics, and such subtleties of soundstaging and acoustic as a close-miked thumb piano, a distantly miked hammered dulcimer, an outdoors ensemble of two-stroke leaf blowers, and a drive-by of what sounds like an antique Land Rover, complete with honking horn—in all, a sonic smorgasbord that tests to its limits a system's appetite for punishment. The combination of Parasound preamp and power amps unveiled the depths of the soundstage, maximally differentiated every quirky tone color, and dispatched the dynamics without breaking a sweat. And set to run with its maximum output-stage bias current, the Halo JC 1s kept my listening room nicely warm through the usual holiday cold snap!

Summing up
I had a quibble with the Halo JC 2's plastic remote, which, with its concave bottom and the weight of the batteries all at one end, proved adept at falling off whatever I placed it on. The remote's Volume Up and Down buttons were also a bit trigger-happy; I often over- or undershot the level I wanted, until I became accustomed to the necessary technique: a succession of quick jabs rather than a prolonged press.

But when, in a review of a high-end component, a writer is reduced to criticizing the remote control, for goodness' sake, it's a sign that everything else is pretty much beyond criticism. No, you don't want to pair the Halo JC 2 with lean-sounding power amplifiers or loudspeakers, but otherwise, Sam Tellig called it in his column in the December 2007 issue (p.24–27): "The JC 2 allows music to emerge intact—with body, bloom, and dynamics, with definition and detail—from an utterly silent background....[T]he JC 2 excels at the reproduction of space." Nothing in my auditioning persuaded me that the inestimable Mr. T. had gotten it wrong. In fact, he—and Parasound and John Curl—got it very right. And at a price that will be within the reach of real-world audiophiles.


Parasound Products, Inc.
950 Battery St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 397-7100