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!
1fac383d 104c 422d a598 d76f4d19b348milpai
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.
Reviving this old thread. Since getting the new loudspeakers in place, I want to try an active preamp in my system. The reason for this is the new speaker has great resolution and bass depth and I would like to explore if an active preamp can enhance this experience even further.
There are 3 preamps that I am considering are:1. Jeff Rowland Capri S22. Bryston BP-17-33. Parasound JC-2And that is the order I have been recommended.Based on that recommendation, I started looking for reviews of the S2 and came across a review that really let me down on this preamp:
http://www.hifi-advice.com/blog/review/analog-reviews/amplifier-reviews/jeff-rowland-capri-s2-and-12...

The latest Stereophile review of the Bryston is very positive and JC-2 is a well know preamp.
What are you guy's experience when it comes to these 3 preamps? Any other preamps to consider in that price range? Unfortunately this time, I cannot travel for any in-person demo.

I know that in the past people have recommended a Pass (XP-10/12?). But looks like it is out of my price range.
Any particular reason you can't do with tubes?
There are some excellent balanced tube preamps available.
Ralph,I have never had any experience with tubes. So never investigated into tubes. I am worried that when a tube goes bad, it might cause some damage to the system. Besides tube rolling is expensive and I have no experience biasing the tubes.What are your preamp suggestions on balanced tube amps in the $3-$4k range? Will they be compatible with the Parasound A21 amp?
Hi   @milpai 

I was on the preamp trail for awhile, tried a few and lost money on some.  I had a Coda preamp, not well know for pre's ,but really enjoyed it, but always wondered "why no love, there must be something better".
One pre that I heard was an SST Ambrosia,  It was organic, detailed, great soundstage and loaded with features, so I have recommended it many times.... most being around $4000 used, I never wanted to spend that much, so I never considered purchasing.  
I was also considering the Rowland Capri S2,  I came very close to pulling the trigger. I was then able to borrow an S2, In short, I preferred my Coda,  wider soundstage, more dynamic etc.  
Well recently,  I came across an Ambrosia in the low $3xxx.  I bought and have been enjoying it for just a couple of months.  This pre is a joy. A hint of warmth, detailed, wide transparent soundstage.  I did snag the older version, so I now have a world class phono section as well.  I the past, I had compared my Coda to a Pass X10,  they were more similar than different.  
 I'm not sure that this helps, but it has been a real experience trying to find a better pre on a budget.  
Good luck brother,  Tim 
Thanks @timlub 
Thank You for the suggestion.
What were your thoughts about the Capri S2? What were the differences you heard between the S2 and the Coda? Curious where the S2 fell short of your expectations. I known that Coda has very high demand in Europe and not in the US. There was one on sale here a couple of days back and I guess someone purchased it.
I have never had any experience with tubes. So never investigated into tubes. I am worried that when a tube goes bad, it might cause some damage to the system. Besides tube rolling is expensive and I have no experience biasing the tubes.What are your preamp suggestions on balanced tube amps in the $3-$4k range? Will they be compatible with the Parasound A21 amp?
Its unlikely that a bad tube would damage the system or tubes simply would not still be around :)
You don't need to 'roll tubes' to hear tube sound although some collector tubes are pretty nice. I stay away from that stuff myself and it does not seem to hurt.
I'm not sure what you can find at that price- does it need to be new? If not, ARC, BAT, Atma-Sphere (disclaimer, I am associated with Atma-Sphere), Shiit, and a pile more I'm not remembering off hand.
@milpai
Coda CL vs Rowland Capri S2
It wasn’t that the Coda walked all over the S2, that would not be a fair statement, but In My System, The Coda had a wider soundstage, the Coda had a bit more detail and the Coda was more dynamic. For me, the choice was clear.
I will say that I did purchase 1 pre that I have for sale now. It was a T+A Elektroakustik.... For me this was a trade off with my Coda. It presented music differently and had a different character than the Coda.
The Coda is a bit more forward sounding than the T+A. The T+A was equally smooth and detailed but a bit more laid back without losing dynamics. It was by far the best pre that I’ve ever owned for how it presented Classical music, the soundstage was extremely wide and showed better height than I was accustomed to, but I listen to 80% + Jazz and for that small ensemble, I preferred the Coda slightly. The T+A cost me a lot more than the Coda was worth.... and suddenly the SST fell in my lap. I purchased the SST. The T+A is its equal in many ways, but with the extreme amount of versatility of the SST Ambrosia and me always lusting after one, I grabbed it. 

I hope all of this helps in some way, Tim
Thank You Tim.Yes, it helps. Based on the feedback I got here and through personal communications, I am thinking of dropping the JC-2 altogether and more inclined towards the Bryston BP-17, since I am not sure if I will be able to lay my hands on the SST Ambrosia. It is beyond my price range. Will look out for used ones.
I think I have narrowed it down to the Jeff Rowland Capri S2 Vs the Bryston B-17 cubed. As anyone got a chance to compare these? The Capri S2 is 5 years old vs the Bryston is less than a year old.
Post removed 
Anyone heard the Merrill Audio Cara? Any feedback, compared to the Bryston/Parasound/Jeff Rowland?
The JC-2 punches nicely above its’ price point. 

milpai


the Bryston BP-17 cubed is on my radar as well. I hope to get a demo very soon.  Happy Listening!

I'm using a JC 2 BP with JC 1 monoblocks, but I have a K-5xeMP that I haven't sold since I bought a KX-5 Twenty.  Used, both preamps are about $2.5K according to the Audiogon Bluebook.  In his 2011 review of the K-5xeMP, John Atkinson compared it to the JC 2, and preferred the K-5xeMP, although noted it lacks some of the "air" of the JC 2.  That air might be what you find harsh.  I've been intending to try the K-5xeMP with the JC 1 amps before I offer it for sale.  Either is a damn fine preamp.

db 
If I'm you I'd buy a used BP26 and save a couple grand over the BP17.  If you read the Stereophile review I think you'll see there doesn't seem to be a night and day difference between the newer and older models.  If you don't love it you can sell it for little or no loss.  As I mentioned a few years ago, my BP6 was the closest thing I've heard to straight wire with gain, and that seems exactly what you're looking for.  FWIW...
@jafant ,What is your current preamplifier?

@dbphd ,When I auditioned a JC2 years back, I did not find it harsh. But I found that it had too much gain. Later I found out that that shop demo piece had an issue. My current loudspeakers are far too revealing compared to the previous ones. And that is one of the reasons that I have reconsidered the JC2. For some reasons, I am not in the "Ayre looks". Nothing against them.

@soix ,I have read the Stereophile review as well as James Tanner's opinion on BP-17Cubed Vs the BP26 at audiocircle. He feels that overall the BP17 is an improvement over the BP26.
Do you guys think a used Pass XP-10 would be better than the Parasound JC2 and Bryston BP-17? My dealer is suggesting the Jeff Rowland Capri S2 as his number one choice. His second choice is the Bryston followed by Parasound.I want to make sure that I get a pretty good active preamp. Don't want to keep upgrading over a period of time. So sometimes I feel, if I can stretch a bit, it will be good in the long run. Any other suggestions?
Seriously, just try a tube preamp, and see if you still want to play with solid state. You may find that to get similar or better sound, a tube preamp is less expensive.
+Atmaspere .

Try a Tube Pre.  Tubes in Pre-amps last years if not decades, also most pre-amp tubes are relatively inexpensive (compared to power tubes) so tube rolling is not an expense you need to worry about too much in a Pre-Amp.  Tube Pre to SS amp best of both worlds some say. Also as Atmasphere suggested you can get more for the money in a tube Pre-amp normaly. 
@milpai 

I’ve owned a lot of tube gear. When a tube gets “weak” on the way to failing, it gets a bit more white noise rush and lower output. I usually replace the suspect tube(s) when I detect it. It’s pretty discernible during causal listening. No overt system crashes or other collateral damage. 
@glennewdick 
Audible Illusions products include circuits that run tubes ragged. Plan on replacing those tubes in their products much more frequently than tubes of other products.  
So, I researched a few tube preamps and I would like to have one with XLR in/out. One such preamp is the Backert  Labs Rhumba 1.2. But I believe tubes have their own issues - like hum.
http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/review-backert-labs-rhumba-1-2-preamplifier.732674/
One reason I like this tube preamp is, it has a top cover to change tubes. I looked at other like BAT, and they don't have covers like this one. One thing I don't know - can you keep the preamp "on" 24X7? Or will that kill the tubes?
Another point to note with tube amps is that their output impedance is always higher than a SS preamp.
@milpai 

Hum is not an issue of tube preamps any more than it is solid state. Hum can be caused by a variety of issues- ground loops amongst them, but I suspect its not that in this particular case.
There's no point in keeping a tube preamp on all the time like solid state. They should get to where they are going in 2-3 hours, unlike solid state which might take a week of on time.

In the case of the Rhumba, its output is actually single ended- its XLR connection is there for convenience only (this can be seen in the interior photos). This is why this unit hummed in the review you linked- the XLR cable the guy was using was picking up noise because it was running single-ended!

We make tube preamps with XLR inputs and outputs, and they are in fact actually fully differential and balanced all the way through- and (like the Rhumba) one stage of gain in the line section and zero feedback, and with a low enough output impedance to drive any amp made. So there are alternatives- BAT would be another.
Even if you were to go single-ended though, I still think you will find that the tube preamps have an advantage.

Here is something to chew on. I own a Schiit Freya preamp. It has 3 ways to listen to it. It also has balanced inputs and outputs. 1:) Passive Mode (a straight thru listen) just a volume control 2:) JFET Mode a nice solid state preamp presentation with extra gain 3:) TUBE Mode 4 6SN7 tubes
Anyway.... this is only $699 direct from factory. And I tell you that it is wonderful to be able to press a button on a remote and change to a different type of sound presentation. I listen the tube section quite a bit. But that doesn’t stop me from listening to the same song running Passive Mode or JFET Mode.

The only miscue with the preamp is the volume control emits clicks when adjusting the sound. The Freya uses a 128-Step Relay Attenuator that allows for great sound at low volumes. Many volume controls do not do so well with low volume control, and the stereo separation is not at the same volume.

If you want to hear what your system sounds like "Six ways from Sunday", it is worth a gander at the Freya. I have the Freya in a system that is very expensive. So don’t let the cheap price make you think that it doesn’t compete with the big guys. If you don’t like it, resale value is extremely good for Schiit products. You would have to go with much more money to get anything close to being better.
@bigddesign3, I am not sure about that. I think the Backert pre would be better than that. I have read enough threads and the Freya has mixed reviews with the users (not pro reviewers).

In my opinion....

John Curl is a very talented designer with a long pedigree of success. But the Parasound line (made in China) cannot compete with Herron Audio. The VTSP-360 has to be the stand-out line stage preamp available on the market today.

I own a VTSP-3a (rev 03) which is an astounding performer, but I’m saving my nickels and dimes to get a -360. It seems to be the ONLY preamp that betters the VTSP-3a. At least it is for those preamps I’ve heard, cost no object.

The VTSP-360 does only have unbalanced inputs, but maybe you should reconsider that requirement.
@bpoletti Thank You for the recommendation. Yes, I would like to have XLR. No two thoughts on that. If the preamp does not have it, it is a no starter for me. My amp sounds amazing with XLR instead of RCA, even though it is not a "true balanced" design. Don't plan to change the amp in the near future.

@milpai Your equipment, your choice, your call. :-)