Re-Tales #33: Darren Myers joins Parasound

Even if Darren Myers's name isn't familiar, you still may have heard—or at least heard about—hi-fi components he designed, including the PS Audio Stellar phono preamp, which garnered Stereophile's Analog Product of the Year Award in 2020.

After working on projects for Classé and Bowers & Wilkins, Myers was hired by PS Audio, where he ended his tenure as senior analog design engineer. Myers recently joined Parasound (footnote 1) following the company's acquisition by David Sheriff.

Not all audio design engineers are themselves audiophiles, not even in the hi-fi space. But Myers is. He's passionate about both engineering and music, in roughly equal measure. His experience as a music lover and consumer of perfectionist audio has influenced his design work. He's into classic analog design approaches, but he's also a modern thinker, obviously part of a new generation of hi-fi enthusiasts and designers. At PS Audio, he was the brains behind several very well-reviewed class-D designs (footnote 2).

Myers's listening experiences came into play in the PS Audio Stellar phono preamplifier's design, for example. The Stellar, he told me in an interview, was "a project in which I felt both my tech design and audiophile sides would meet." He had owned other phono preamps and thought about how he could improve them. He bought several phono preamps to listen to and evaluate. "I wanted to beat the competition," he told me.

There weren't many audiophiles in Greenville, North Carolina, where he grew up, but when he was a teenager, he heard a system owned by a friend of his father that included Wilson Watt Puppy 5s and Audio Research Reference electronics "with tons of 6550s in them," a PH3 phono stage, a Linn LP12 turntable, and Transparent cables. "I'd never seen or heard anything like that before," he said. "I was just blown away." He especially recalls listening to Hendrix's Woodstock performance. He began buying Stereophile, saved up for a Sony surround sound system, and got into SACDs. This was around 2004; it was, he says, a pretty good time to get started. "SACD wasn't dead yet," he told me. "I started staring at stuff I couldn't afford."

His journey continued in college. He combined his passion with his studies, earning an electrical engineering degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He bought a proper hi-fi system and started experimenting, switching out amplifiers to hear how different they sounded: "I would just rotate stuff on Audiogon and see what it was like."

He also started designing his own equipment, including a 6SN7-based preamplifier "that was so overbuilt," he said with a laugh. "I used power amp transformers for the preamp. That was my first venture into doing something that was completely my own design."

He admired designs from Audio Research and Conrad-Johnson and today cites them as early influences. In time, he started to play around with op-amps. "Then I started getting into the actual designers and learning what was different to every design," he said. Among the designers whose work he studied were Nelson Pass and John Curl.

In one sense, his career has come full circle: At Parasound, Myers is working with Curl. "I'm here to support John on the JC line—to further flesh out his gear and take his circuits and make them reality—and more products moving forward."

Following the recent acquisition of Parasound, "Some are worried about JC being forced out," Myers told me. "But the opposite is true: We'll be showcasing even more of his designs."

Myers told me that at this point in his career, he's less interested in designing cost-no-object equipment than he is in making high-quality equipment affordable. "I want to continue to create stuff more people can afford but [that] offers more of what higher-priced stuff has," he said. "My reference is the really high-end gear." His goal is to get as close as possible to that top-tier experience but at lower cost. "It's about picking the right compromises," he told me. "Do all those compromises lead to a very clear and focused result?"

The creative part of our hobby shouldn't be reserved for designers and recording engineers. Myers believes that audiophiles, too, can learn from their experiences on their journeys to refine their systems. An experience, he notes, is more powerful than someone else's opinion.

It's also, arguably, more powerful than measurements. "Our goal is to make something sound really good. I've always treasured a sense of engagement and realism. Measurements are a tool to get you there. We're constantly refining how we measure things."

Indeed, one of his favorite topics is how measurements correlate—or don't correlate—with what we hear. "It's an ongoing learning process—learning how to hear better and learning how to correlate measurements with what we hear," he said.

Myers says he's learned his biggest lessons when his listening doesn't correlate with what concepts and measurements lead him to expect. "I want to find out why that is. Those are deep-rooted lessons you can't open a textbook for. They're difficult lessons to learn, not surface-level or intuitive solutions." That's another way his first-hand experience as an audiophile has served him well.

It's okay for hi-fi consumers not to care about measurements. "I'll make the argument that customers don't measure the components, but engineers who are interested in audio do," Myers said. "It's controversial, and people question it," but "you have to learn and experience things for yourself."

Hi-fi, after all, "is meant to be enjoyed and listened to."

Footnote 1: See Industry Update in the May 2023 issue of Stereophile.

Footnote 2: See, for example, Michael Fremer's review of the Stellar M1200 monoblock amplifier.

mns3dhm's picture

Rooting for this brand as its products have always represented good value for the consumer. I’m a bit biased; I purchased a Hint 6 based on Ken’s review right here in Stereophile. Hopefully the new ownership and management will develop new products based on this philosophy.

sphillips's picture

Thank you Darren for the amazing job you did with the Stellar and for Stereophile for including it in your recommended components. I love this phono pre-amp.I hope you have a great time at Parasound Darren and can't wait to see your future creations in Hi-Fi. Simon

Allen Fant's picture

Parasound is long overdue for a follow up spinner to the Reference CD-1.