Parasound Z Phono XRM MM/MC Phono Preamp Offers A lot For $595

Parasound’s $595 ZPhono XRM is a compact, versatile MM/MC phono preamplifier that offers flexibility and features not usually found at this price point including gold-plated balanced XLR outputs (and gold-plated single-ended RCA outputs), a mono switch, an 18dB/octave rumble filter and for its MC input, continuously variable loading from 50ohms to 1050ohms.

Separate circuitry for MM and MC allows you to have two turntables simultaneously connected. Unlike some other modestly priced phono preamplifiers, instead of a “wall-wart” type external power supply the ZPhono XRM features an internally mounted linear high capacity/low-noise one. That’s an awful lot for $595! MM gain is switchable between 40dB and 50dB. MC gain is between 50dB and 60dB

Job number one for a moderately priced phono preamp like this is handling MM cartridges. Considering the high price of today’s low output moving coil cartridges most buyers would not likely consider mating even a moderately priced $1500 MC with a $595 MM/MC phono preamplifier but it’s there if you need it (let’s say you buy this for your MM cartridge and then upgrade to MC before having the money for a phono preamp upgrade).

A “rumble” filter is certainly useful at this price point, especially for use with lower-priced, rumble-prone turntables, but the “mono” switch is the real prize for vinyl fans whose arms have non-removable head shells (Rega, Pro-Ject, etc.). Flip the switch and all of the useless vertical components “cancel out” giving you a good taste of what true mono playback delivers.

Moving Magnet Mode

I used the best MM cartridge I have here, the Audio Technica AT150ANV, which sold for $1549. I know, that blows my theory about how much someone buying this might spend on a cartridge, but I have this one here and I know how good it is (sapphire cantilever, titanium body, MicroLinear stylus, etc.). I also ran the unit single-ended.

The first record I played was one I’d never before heard. It’s the one Charles Lloyd mentions in the interview: A Different Journey (Reprise R9 6078) featuring Lloyd, George Bohanon (trombone), Albert Stinson (bass), Gabor Szabo and of course Hamilton.

This copy isn’t even an original “deep groove” Reprise. It’s a second cut done at Columbia and those usually are not as good but this one through this $595 phono preamp drew me right in. Surely through the “big” phono preamp the sound will not be as bright or forward as here and the bottom end and especially the midbass will be more fully expressed but the first listen through was fully enjoyable: big stage, quiet backdrop, nimble though not the deepest bass, wide stage and free of the steely or alternatively, the rolled top you sometime get at this price point.

I flipped the mono switch and played the ERC mono Way Out West (ERC 053M), which is the best version of this record that I’ve heard (I believe an affordable and available one is coming soon cut by Kevin Gray from the same mono mastertape) and again, this Zphono XRM impressed with clean, reasonably deep and nimble bass, clean cymbal transients and a surprisingly full accounting of the space around Rollins’s sax, which was also portrayed honestly. Manne’s drum kit had plenty of wallop too!

An original mono Parlophone issue of Help (PMC 1255) delivered clarity, transparency and thanks to the mono switch, quiet backgrounds. The vocal double tracking on many cuts was cleanly laid bare. The A-T is among the finest MM cartridges ever made (in my experience anyway) and this modestly priced phono preamp well communicated that.

Moving Coil Mode

This was of course ridiculous: I plugged into the $595 phono preamp the SAT CF1-09 arm to which was fitted the Ortofon Anna D.

The Anna D has a super-low .2mV output and likes to be loaded way down so I set it for 50 ohms. The Hamilton record sounded better than I could possibly have imagined though the top end was somewhat squelched (even opening up the loading) dimensionally flattened, and dynamically somewhat limited. I can hear Parasound’s Richard Schram saying “Waddaya expect for $595?” Frankly I wasn’t expecting it to sound this good! Or, using a .2mV output MC, this quiet.

Conclusion

Unlike the more costly phono preamps in Parasound’s lineup, the $595 ZPhono XRM was not designed by phono preamp guru John Curl, which is no great surprise, but I think if he gave this a listen he’d be impressed by its features and performance, especially given the price. Build quality is quite high too, both inside and out.

If your budget is around $600 and you consider these features useful for you and you are considering upgrading to MC in the near future, the ZPhono XRM is certainly worth considering. There are some others at around this price point, but none that I know of with built in power supply, as useful a feature set, and enclosed in such a deluxe package. On the other hand, if you plan on sticking with MM only, you might be better off putting all of your money into a MM specific phono preamp, although Parasound has so aggressively priced this, and it offers so much sonic performance for the money, finding a better MM-only phono preamp for around the same money it might be difficult! (as would finding a similarly priced phono preamp with such detailed and well-measuring specifications).

Specifications

Frequency response”
20-20kHz±0.2dB

THD:
0.02@1kHz

S/N ratio MM 40dB setting

>94dB, input shorted, IHF A weighted
>90dB, input shorted, unweighted

S/N ratio MM 50dB setting

>94dB, input shorted, IHF A weighted
>90dB, input shorted, unweighted

S/N ratio MC 50dB setting

>92dB, input shorted, IHF A weighted
>88dB, input shorted, unweighted

S/N ratio MC 60dB setting

>82dB, input shorted, IHF A weighted
>80dB, input shorted, unweighted

Inter-channel Crosstalk

>80dB@1kHz

Input impedance

MM: 47kOhms
MC:50-1050ohms

Output impedance

Unbalanced: 150ohms
Balanced: 150ohms per leg

Input Sensitivity@1kHz, 4mV input

40dB: 5mV for 500mV output
50dB: 5mV for 1.5Volt output
60dB: 5mV for 3Volt output
Input Sensitivity@1kHz, 1V input

40dB: 10mV for 1 Volt output
50dB: 3.5mV for 1 Volt output
60dB: 1.8mV for 1 Volt output

Total gain

40dB/50dB/60dB (unbalanced output)
46dB/56dB/66dB (balanced output)

Rumble Filter

40Hz high pass, 18dB/oct.

Dimensions

Width:8.5”
Depth:10”
Height with feet:2”

Weight

Net: 3.9lbs
Shipping:6.8 lbs

COMMENTS
timuroguz's picture

”Continuously variable loading”, and “separate circuitry for MM and MC that allows having two turntables simultaneously connected” are excellent features. If I did not have preamps that I’m quite happy with I’d definitely try this one.

mrl1957's picture

...40 Hz 3rd order? Quite high to my ears.

OldschoolE's picture

Not really when you think about it. 40Hz is quite low considering what we are talking about and at 3rd order harmonics, which also covers 1st and 2nd order. So really, not bad at all.

OldschoolE's picture

Oops, I overlooked something. I was thinking something else about order harmonics. 1st or even 2nd order would be better, but then again most folks looking at this phono preamp are not likely running speakers that reach down solidly to 40Hz anyway. Of course, if they have a sub coupled in, that is a different story.

Ortofan's picture

... close to a decade ago, the Audio-Technica AT150ANV was priced at $799.
When MF included it in a nine-way comparison test, he listed the price as $995.
$1,549 is the current price from a scalper.

Unless you're going to buy a Soundsmith or a Grado cartridge, it's unlikely you'll be spending upwards of $1,500 for a high-output/fixed-coil cartridge.
Low output MC cartridges are available starting at about $250 from Audio-Technica, $300 from Denon and $350 from Ortofon.
$1,500 will buy such cartridges as a Hana M, Dynavector 20x2 or Ortofon Cadenza Red.
Another $500 brings you into Lyra Delos territory.

The next step up in the Parasound phono preamp lineup, is the $1,500 Halo JC 3 Jr.
If MF wants to do another comparison test, perhaps he could pit the Z Phono XRM along with one of the $1,500 price range MC cartridges noted above versus a lower priced MC cartridge, such as an Ortofon Quintet Blue/Bronze, Hana SL or Audio-Technica AT-OC9XML/XSH/XSL, along with the Halo JC 3 Jr.

Regarding the Z Phono XRM, with an 18dB/octave slope, the cutoff frequency of the subsonic filter should have been set closer to 20Hz.
It's rather unfortunate that adjustable loading for the MM input was not implemented. How much more would this have added to the cost?

OldschoolE's picture

Well, in my opinion the JC3 Jr is the next step up in the Parasound lineage, performance-wise a bit more than the next step up from the ZXRM

OldschoolE's picture

Finally! I have been wondering when you would get around to reviewing this phono preamp.
I must say, I am not only surprised, but pleased at your findings on it. I was considering it before I got a JC3 Jr, which is more than one step up in performance in my opinion. This Z phono XRM is impressive for the money. What stands out to me is:
It can handle both MM and MC. Most folks like myself who would be far more lined up with the price of the Z XRM would also not be buying expensive low output MC carts either.
It has a built-in power supply with an ICE connect and likely a beefy power cable.
It has a (all important) Mono switch
Rumble filter (rare at this price)
It also offers both single ended and balanced connection- no other phono preamp at this price or less offers that that I know of. Balanced connection if one can use it, offers slightly better output.
Anyone can build a solid case housing even at a lower price, but few can build a well performing featured unit in a solid housing at $600.
Of course, I am not about to give up my JC3 Jr for anything. I think the JC3 Jr is the last phono preamp I will ever need (despite a slight lack of a full range of MM loading options, to my surprise I found I don’t need them) and I also believe it is among the top 3 best out there at any price (my opinion).
That said though, I have a second system that I am presently using exclusively, that is half vintage. The current engine is a 1970’s Marantz 2236b “receiver” (I have a bigger engine) driving a pair of Paradigm SE6000f and running a 1970s Pioneer PL510A turntable (so it’s vintage and old, but those are nearly bomb-proof too and the thing has deadly accurate speed). While I have the table hooked direct to the receiver of course, I am thinking about a separate phono stage at some point and this Z XRM is at the top of the candidate list.
Parasound just makes fabulous solid stuff, period,…well, mostly.

LTLee's picture

Did you have a chance to review the SQ of the RCA and XLR outputs. I'm looking to upgrade to fully balance system. Thanks.

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