Does Curl's Jr. Have the Beef?

First released in 2010, Parasound’s JC 3 MM/MC phono preamplifier began as a dual-mono John Curl-designed phono section retro-fit for its JC2 line stage. With vinyl’s popularity on the rise, Parasound’s Richard Schram figured a stand-alone version priced right might find an audience.

Parasound doesn’t divulge numbers but clearly his hunch proved correct. A few years ago the company introduced the upgraded JC3+ version, which in 2014 AnalogPlanet most favorably reviewed.

Now comes a “Jr.” version priced at $1495, or half the cost of the JC3+. With its ultra-thin profile it more resembles a “slice off the old block” than it does a chip!

The overall circuit topology is more similar to the JC3+’s than it is different. So how did Parasound save both cost and space? A single board behind a single shield accommodates both channels of gain and equalization circuitry whereas on the JC3+ each is on a separate board and separately shielded. Both channels here share a power supply. The JC3+’s is dual-mono.

Yet like the JC3+, the Jr.’s power supply utilizes a shielded toroidal power transformer, high speed/soft recovery bridge diodes and background noise eliminating common mode inductors. The circuit board layout and design was by Curl’s long time cohort Carl Thompson and uses high quality parts including REL capacitors, Vishay-Dale resistors and chassis-mounted Neutrik XLR and Vampire 24k gold plated RCA jacks. Muting and mono selection are via relays.

The back panel includes a single set of RCA jacks that can be switched between MM and MC. In MM loading is fixed at 47kOhms. When set for MC, a rotary knob allows for continuously variable resistive loading between 50 ohms and 550 ohms. This is a carry-over from the JC3+, which also offers this flexibility—something the original JC3 did not. A three-position switch selects gain of 40dB, 50dB or 60dB (46dB/56dB/66dB balanced).

All of these features and the build quality are, to say the least, unusual at this price point where “wal-warts” and dipswitches are far more common. Also unusual are the low noise specifications (see below).


I auditioned the JC 3 Jr. with an Ortofon 2M Blue in MM mode and both a Lyra Atlas (standard .56mV output) and an Ortofon Anna (.2mV output). Yes the two MC cartridges are surely “overkill” for a $1495 phono preamplifier but they were what was installed as part of other reviews underway for Stereophile and I thought it would be interesting to hear how the JC3 Jr. handled them—especially the super low output Anna mounted on the new 9” Kuzma 4 Point arm on the Continuum Caliburn.

But first, the JC3 Jr. with the 2M Blue, which was mounted on a modestly priced Oracle Audio Origine turntable ($2000 with arm)—review coming shortly. I started with Analogue Productions’ 45rpm reissue of Dean Martin’s sublime Dream With Me (AAPP-076) originally released in 1964. It’s about as intimately recorded an album as you’re likely to hear. Martin is just about swallowing the microphone as he sings unadorned a selection of boozy, late night ballads backed by Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell on double bass, Irv Cottler on drums and Ken Lane on piano.

I’m listening for the bass articulation and freedom from hangover (no pun intended with Deano singing!) and the extra warmth lesser phono preamps tack on. You want the bass notes to have a clean, nimble attack, a tuneful sustain and a natural decay. The combo handled all of this very well. Ditto Kessel’s guitar filling in the space on the right channel.

Where you really notice the difference between a $200 cartridge and a $2000 one is in the vocals, which are slightly “canned”, opaque and sound more two than three-dimensional and less “ethereal” and less “Dean lives” than you get from the best front ends. Transients were somewhat blunted, sustains limited and decays shortened.

However, when I plugged the 2M into the MM input of the $50,000 CH Precision P1/X1 combo, while it was, of course, much better than it was through the JC 3 Jr., most of the P1’s performance was wasted. The 2M Blue can do only so much. The point is, the JC3 Jr. extracts probably 90% of what’s possible from the 2M Blue for a fraction of the P1/X1’s price. That said, if you’re running MM only and plan on not moving to a MC, consider a dedicated MM only phono preamp.

The “mono” button is a valuable addition for those who enjoy older mono releases, many of which are again being reissued and appreciated for what they often do better than their “stereo” counterparts. Rhino’s recent Otis Redding mono box is a good example as are Mobile Fidelity’s double 45rpm Dylan mono reissues. As most of you know, the “mono” button cancels out the superfluous vertical modulations that consist of noise and rumble, thus producing a far more enjoyable listening experience.

Switching to the Ortofon Anna provided a far more accurate window onto the JC3 Jr.’s actual performance because that of the low cost cartridge would not limit it. Because of the Anna’s low internal impedance of 6 ohms, the recommended load is “greater than 10 ohms”.

I found 50 ohms best but it made me realize that users unfamiliar with variable loading may go where the brightness lies—it’s just human nature. So when you’re adjusting and listening, try to listen at a given setting after letting your ears adjust or you’re likely to find the sound “muffled” and move to a higher position on the dial.

The JC3 Jr.’s 60dBs of gain and low noise spec made it more than capable of dealing with the Anna’s low .2mV output. The Anna has a full, rich bottom end that the JC Jr. well expressed. Exhibit Records recently reissued John B. Sebastian (eXLP 44066) John Sebastian’s first solo album originally released in 1970 on Reprise. Kevin Gray cut from the original master tape—something that would be obvious first listen—and the JC3 Jr did a fine job of expressing the fine recording’s dynamic power, bottom end weight, three-dimensionality and rich harmonics.

I thought the record corny when it was first released but in retrospect it’s much better than that and the sound is superbly natural. Guests include Stephen Stills, The Ikettes, Dallas Taylor, Buddy Emmons, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Buzzy Linhart among others, all of whom add instrumental luster to some underappreciated Sebastian tunes. Check it out!

Having enjoyed the record for a few weeks through my reference rig made clear what you miss while keeping $48,500 in your bank account. The good news though is that the JC3 Jr “nips and tucks” more than it produces glaring additive problems. Most noticeable is a lack of air and “sparkle” on top (not related to loading), and a textural dryness in the midrange.

On the other hand the bottom end is solid and well-extended and the preamp’s overall tonal balance is refreshingly neutral and very similar to what I noted with the JC3+: “The JC3+’s midrange neutrality and transient cleanliness and its lack of grit, hyper edge definition or on the other side of that divide, softness, challenge the performance of far more expensive preamplifiers.” I’ll stick with that here too as well as with my JC3+ conclusion:

“It does everything well and its minor acts of omission will not be noticed or missed on the kinds of systems in which it’s likely to be used. In real world priced systems it’s likely to max-out vinyl performance and keep you locked in to listening for years to come.” Overall then, the JC 3 Jr. is not quite as good as the JC3+ but at half the price it comes surprisingly close.


See the Parasound website

nagysaudio's picture

killer! Curl is the man.

isaacrivera's picture
GruvyWade's picture

is a must since in this price range most systems don't include a two-tonearm table with dedicated mono and stereo carts. Personally I'm tired of swapping in and out a pair of y-cables. I'm glad they included it!

Have you compared the sound from a dedicated mono cart to either a stereo-cart through a 'mono' button or a stereo-cart through a pair of y-cables? I assume the sound is essentially the same?

I'm debating between this JC Jr and the Graham Slee Accession. Just need to decide if I want the MC option. Either will hopefully be an upgrade over my nearly 20 year old Musical Fidelity X-LPS.

thanks for the review!

foxhall's picture

What's the title of the Dean Martin LP?

analogdw's picture

I trialled a JC3+ in my system for over a month. It sounded very detailed and precise, but lacked the "boogie factor". Almost like listening to a CD. However the main reason I sent it back was due to a hum that I could not get rid of. I even tried two units. The hum was not present using my old iFi iPhono v2. After also trialing a Sutherland Duo, I ended up with a Herron Audio VTPH-2. No hum and magnificent, musical sound with huge soundstage and excellent detail. Head and shoulders better than the others.

Steelhead's picture

I would love to go over to Mr. Curl's house and check his closets, basement, and nooks and crannies and steal a Blowtorch.

wgb113's picture

Looks like a nice unit for the money - I wish it had a USB out - at least as an optional add-on.

treyroscoe's picture

Any chance to compare single ended vs balanced outputs?

jtsnead's picture

I bought one of the JC3 JR recently compared to a LKV Phono 2-SB, Gold Note PH-10, Tavish Audio Adagio and kept the JR, very good phono stage for the money, quieter than the other ones actually dead quiet, easier to use, plenty of gain very happy I think I would have to go up to 5K to better it

jtsnead's picture

If I did not mind meesing with tubes (trying to get away from them) I would of kept the Tavish it was a dead heat

analogdw's picture

Shame you didn’t try the Herron. It’s spectacular!

tjingram's picture

I bought the Pro-Ject Phono Box RS based on MR. Fremer's review,and I'm glad I did. My question is would I benefit by purchasing the Parasound JC3 jr ? The sound of the Pro-ject is great. My cartridge is a Clear Audio MC Concept.I don't want to go backwards in sound. I would like to have a mono button instead of using Y cables.