Preamps better than Parasound JC-2 ?


Hello,
I am looking to try out the active preamp route in my system. The TVC has served me very well. But when I want to play my wife's iPod or try to connect a Logitech bluetooth adaptor, there is simply not enough gain in my system.
Since I have a Parasound A-21, I am naturally looking to a JC-2 from Parasound. I was wondering if anyone on this forum as come across a killer (non-tube) preamp that is in the same price range, that can beat the JC-2. If the sound quality of the recommended preamp equals that of JC-2 and the cost is below JC-2, that would be preferred. I am eying the Oppo 105D or the newly released Yamaha CD-S2100 as my future source upgrade. Rest of my system is listed on this site.
I have not visited audio stores in more than 3 years, nor have I been to any trade shows, hence asking for feedback.

Thanks!
milpai
I'm not exactly sure what the JC-2 costs, but I feel you would probably be safe with an Ayre K-5. When I say safe, I mean that you are going to buy without listening. My personal opinion is that anything less, will not sound as good as your passive.
I've heard the JC2 several times in a friend's system with JC1s and Vandersteen 5As and the sound quality was superb.

The JC2 is hard to beat at that price point.
I will not be selling my TVC. It is a awesome piece of gear. Nick had put in the Elma switches, stuffed with cotton, etc. It really is transparent.
Most review of the JC-2 are glowing and I plan to audition it in a day or 2 at the local dealer. If I buy the JC-2, it is going to be from my local dealer. I will find out if I have a Ayre dealer around. Thank You for suggesting that. Also I will be requesting a home audition of the JC-2, because I know my system so well. I don't know how the home auditions works though. They might ask for some security deposit, which I am perfectly fine.
MODWRIGHT makes some of the most musical Tube based preamps I have heard. I recommend the SWL 9.0 (older) or the 36.5 line stage, with tube rectified power supply (newer). Also, the LS100 is the Newest preamp they make.
I agree with Stevecham. The JC-2 is an amazing piece at the asking price.
Thanks folks. I did listento the JC-2 in the dealers system. The system as a whole sounded nice.....but that did not mean much to me, since I do not know that system. One thing I am not sure about the JC-2 is - would it be as clean as my TVC?
I have planned to get the preamp on loan and listen to it in my system next weekend. If that does not work, then I might have to look at some higher sensitivity speakers.
I have owned both Parasound and Bryston gear over the past 20 years, and both provide excellent sound quality and value. At present, I am using a Parasound JC3 phono stage with a Bryston BP17 preamp. The BP17 has not gotten much publicity in the audio press, but I have been VERY impressed with it. It's 20 year warranty is unbeatable, and it is about $500 less expensive than the JC2. Before you buy, try to audition the BP17 -- I think you'll like what you hear.
"I have planned to get the preamp on loan and listen to it in my system next weekend. If that does not work, then I might have to look at some higher sensitivity speakers."

That's really the best way to do it. Then you'll know for sure. If the JC-2 doesn't work out, you don't have to get rid of your speakers. If you just need to add ipod and bluetooth to the system, you can always get an inexpensive active line stage and plug it into one of the inputs on your TVC. That should fix the whole mess without loosing sound quality.
Sdcampbell,
Thank You for the suggestion. But the BP17 does not have XLR in. I want that for my future "source" purchases.

Zd542,
I did not think of connecting an inexpensive line stage to the TVC before. Thank you for suggesting that. Yeah, I do love the TVC so much.
I have a Bryston BP6 in my system and it's the closest thing to "straight wire with gain" I've heard in my system, so I agree Bryston preamps may be a very good option given your experience with a passive pre. Crystal clear transparency with an expansive and very dimensional and layered soundstage with pinpoint imaging is how I'd describe it. There's a nice BP26 for sale here now that has balanced connections and is about $1000 less than a used JC2. You could always sell it for little/no loss if it's not to your liking. Best of luck.
For a tube preamp Audio Horizons TP2.3 with full mods is the biggest sleeper I know of in high end audio.
I disagree on the Audio Horizons. I heard this against a 30 year old Counterpoint SA-5 last year and the Counterpoint tore the AH to pieces in portraying space and harmonic overtones. It's very very rare that I hear a tube line stage or preamp sound as flat as the AH. In the $2-3K range, there are many many options and the AH would not be on my list.
JC-2 is now in house. Did a brief comparing this morning. I am somehow feeling that my TVC is more transparent than the JC-2. The JC-2 seemed "louder" and I cannot go past 9 O'clock position for my normal listening position. At that position, it is already loud.
Honestly, I am finding it a bit difficult to "like" the JC-2. I had very high hopes for sound improvements. What would you specifically look for when comparing pre-amps? I used the following CDs for comparison:

Eva Cassidy - Live At Blues Alley - Fields of Gold
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
Big Joe Mahar - Got My Mojo Working
Cassandra Wilson - Lover Come Back to Me & The Very Thought of You

I will continue to listen and compare the pre-amps again tonight, before returning it to the shop tomorrow.
"Honestly, I am finding it a bit difficult to "like" the JC-2. I had very high hopes for sound improvements. What would you specifically look for when comparing pre-amps?"

That's why you need a really good line stage if you want better sound than your passive. One thing you need to do before making a final decision on the JC-2 is leave it on for a while. I've seen many times where SS gear benefits greatly from letting it warm up for a day or so. If you leave it on from now until tomorrow, it should sound better. I still don't think you'll keep it, but you never know. If you want to try a different active, I still recommend the Ayre K5. There's a good chance you may like it better than your passive.

"The JC-2 seemed "louder" and I cannot go past 9 O'clock position for my normal listening position."

That's normal. A passive preamp doesn't have an amp. An active one does.
Reno Hifi will let you demo a Pass Labs XP-10 which is great and in your price range. Good luck!
Just as a fyi, this is a JC-2 BP. After your suggestion, I kept the unit warmed up for several hours and did some critical listening again. I did find that the dynamics were a tad bit sharper than my TVC - but I am really "trying" very hard to find the differences. In fact I called in my wife for 2 songs and after patiently listening to those songs her comments were the same - the JC-2 is slightly "sharper" than the TVC. But this could also have been that the JC-2 was set to higher volume level. The concern is it's volume starts at 7 O'clock position and I cannot go beyond 9 O'clock.
I will keep the unit on for the whole night and see if that makes a difference. I am not sure if that extra circuit for the "BP" in the JC-2 is making it sound different than what the reviews for the standard JC-2 says. On this forum as well as audioasylum, there are folks who swear by active line stage and would never go passive. I was under the impression that when the JC-2 would be introduced in my system, it would really show all those deficiencies of a "passive" line stage.
When I moved from the power amp section of a NAD integrated to my A21, it did not take me more than 2 mins to hear the difference. Same thing when I moved to the TVC from the same integrated amp's preamp section - this was much more prominent. And here I am struggling to find improvements by the $4795 JC-2 BP over my $1675 TVC.
A box upgrade should sound immediately better to your ears, at least in a demo situation with a broken-in unit. If not, keep what you have. I define "better" as allowing you to enjoy the music more and the system less, if that's possible. You should just want to sit down and listen, as opposed to getting up and screwing around with something. IMO, that's how you know something's "better".
Let me just put a bug in your ear. The Jeff Rowland Design Group Capri S2 sells for approximately what you paid for the JC2-BP and offers the option of phono or DAC cards on board in the first input. Rowland gear is very strong in the areas of refinement, build quality, pride of ownership, reliability, resale and sophistication. I have used my older Capri with a Parasound A-23 and found no compatibility problem. I'll leave the sound up to you. No one else can judge that for you.
I'd definetly be keeping the TVC, sounds like the JC is not a good "fit" in your system. Personnally I've heard several Parasound gear and have never been impressed. I tried myself to like their JC-3 phono but for a solid state found it noisy!
Keep the TVC and be happy.
07-21-14: Milpai
I will keep the unit on for the whole night and see if that makes a difference. I am not sure if that extra circuit for the "BP" in the JC-2 is making it sound different than what the reviews for the standard JC-2 says.

There isn't really much "extra circuit" for the BP version. From what I've read the BP version has relays that slave out Volume and gain control and put a fixed resistor in place for unity gain bypass mode. This happens on the separate volume/gain pcb, I believe the active channel pcb's are unchanged from the original non-bypass version. Parasound claim no sonic difference between the models and I've never read that anyone identified a sonic difference between the two versions.

I'd definitely give the JC2 at least a week powered up before making any decision.
Chayro/Rsf507,
I guess you guys are right. IF I did not experience a "jump" in performance, I would rather trust my ears than the reviews.
I did get couple of emails from several TVC owners who feel that TVCs, in the right system, are very hard to beat - price/performance ratio. $4K was my max and I cannot stretch beyond that.

Tobes,
You are probably right regarding the BP and non-BP. I did check with Parasound and they have asked me for the Serial number of the preamp I am listening to - I don't know why.

Pass and Jeff Rowland - I might give it a try. Thank You for the suggestions.
As an update, I found out from Parasound that the JC-2 BP which I had as a loaner had a faulty board and so had a 8db extra gain. Apparently, it also affects the sound quality.
The dealer will get this corrected and I plan to audition it again in my system after that.
If I were in the market for a non-tube pream, then Pass Labs would be tops on my list.