On a quest for a higher end…

By the time I got used to the Rega Apollo CD player in my setup I noticed overall improvements in the reproduction of cd’s but had the feeling I could do a whole lot better with such a source component. My former Yamaha C-45 preamp was – what I believed – the weakest link. Don’t get me wrong. This was a pretty nice vintage preamplifier. I would even recommend this preamp to someone with a limited budget and intention to build a vintage set. But since I was on the verge of my audio adventure, wanting to dwell deeper into the world of high end audio, my system – that (back then) consisted of the Velleman K4000 and those ugly custom built retro speakers – needed improvement.

So I went once again to Alpha High End Sound & Vision. There employee Serge showed me a second hand Parasound p/hp 850 preamp which he sold me for about 350 euro (my budget was quite limited when I first started this hobby). In the store he hooked up the Parasound with a Pass Labs power amplifier & imposing Martin Logan electrostatic speakers so I could hear what this preamp actually was capable of. When he put on the Pat Metheney album “Bright Size Life”  – which I knew practically by heart – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and I could only think to myself: “So this is what high end was all about“. Serge gave me my first encouter with a wide-open, focused “soundstage” combined with an amount of power, dynamics, accuracy and timing I had never heard before. I left with only one thing in mind: persue my quest for a higher end…

Parasound php 850 preamplifier high end John Curl

Parasound php 850 preamplifier

Parasound: brief description

Parasound is a California based audio company producing high end components made available at affordable prices. The company has made some stunning amplifiers that still have “cult” status today, thanks to Parasound engineer & consultant John Curl, a real  legend amongst audiophiles and electronic engineers. Curl makes sure the products he designs for Parasound stand above the herd with the best possible sound quality and features. Among his designs are the Parasound HCA-1500A amplifier, the Multi-channel Amplifiers, the HCA-1205A, HCA-2205A, HCA-2003 and the HCA-1206 . His premier Parasound HCA-2200II Ultra High Current Amplifier was called by Stereophile magazine “a benchmark product against which other amplifiers can be measured.”

When Curl sets to work on a Parasound product, he said, he does everything he can to bring the best possible workmanship and electronic circuitry to audio equipment priced with average incomes in mind. “Parasound makes products that use fairly sophisticated designs,” Curl said with a classic Curl understatement. These products may not have gold-on-gold connectors, or other elements featured in sound systems that can easily cost more than suburban tract houses. But, Curl said, his Parasound designs “are really typical of far more expensive products. What we’re trying to do is make them affordable.”

Curl considers himself a coach. The competition among mid-range manufacturers is a game with few superstars. Curl frequently reminds the factories that manufacture Parasound products that the competitive advantage “can be gained by serious study of the game and good coaching. I like to win this game. I expect my efforts to be taken seriously.”

To say Curl takes his work seriously is to understate. Curl likens his efforts to bringing Porsche’s double overhead cam designs into the price range dominated by push rods. It is his circuit designs that give many Parasound products the superior quality that keeps independent reviewers raving. His attentive work with the factory technicians who oversee production of Parasound products guarantees that what he designs in Walnut Creek, California emerges undiluted in the finished product.

Curl has designed some fantastically expensive products on his own, such as the Vendetta Research phono preamplifiers. Curl founded Vendetta Research in 1981, naming it to describe some of his earlier disappointments with the business practices of some famous people in the audio industry. In 1974, he sparked the quality hi-fi revolution (now called high end) when he designed the groundbreaking Mark Levinson JC-2 preamplifier.

While Curl makes his living consulting on Parasound’s affordable products, the so-called “high end” remains more than an avocation. He was recently asked to evaluate a one-of-a-kind turntable-which, he said, “makes every other turntable look like a toy. Even at forty-something thousand dollars, the designer would ultimately lose money. There’s just too much in it. That’s the problem with high end. More than anything else, it’s a labor of love.” (Source: http://www.soundscapeav.com/parasound/johncurl.html)

Official website: http://www.parasound.com
User experiences: http://www.audioreview.com/cat/amplification/preamplifiers/parasound/p-hp-850/prd_118470_1591crx.aspx