Former rock engineer designs fab high-end audio gear

John Curl once worked his magic on the Dead and on Jefferson Airplane. Now he's finished work on an all-new Halo Series JC 2 stereo preamplifier.

The JC 2 stereo preamplifier. Parasound

If you're not in the "club," high-end audio might look like a bastion of elitist snobs and the idle rich, so it may come as a shock to note that some of high-end audio's greatest engineers started out in rock and roll. Take John Curl, in the early 1970s he worked his magic on the Grateful Dead's concert and recording sound systems and later kept the Jefferson Airplane aloft. That was just before he tackled film sound in Hollywood. All of that led to collaborations with high-end pioneer Mark Levinson; together they raised the stakes, considerably, with the JC 2 stereo preamplifier in 1974.

It didn't matter that the JC 2 was two or three times more expensive than any other component in the nascent high-end market; a lot of folks lucky enough to hear it and afford it bought it. The JC 2 had that effect on people. Curl and Levinson soon parted ways and over the next few years Curl designed a long run of cutting edge electronics for other companies. Levinson eventually departed the company that bears his name, and his old company now designs car audio systems for Lexus. High-end is in the big time now.

When I heard that Curl had finished work on an all-new Halo Series JC 2 stereo preamplifier for Parasound I had to check it out (it's like hearing that Carroll Shelby just built a new AC Cobra). Better yet, for this review Parasound sent along a pair of the matching Halo Series JC 1, 400 watt mono power amplifiers. I reviewed the all-new JC 1 & JC 2 combination for Home Entertainment magazine, you can read the review here.

The JC 1 is a seriously powerful amplifier, its output stage employs nine pairs of high-current bipolar transistors with massive heat sinks to insure long-term reliability. Each amplifier can deliver 400 watts to 8 ohm rated speakers, and 800 watts to 4 ohm models, and if your speakers ever dip as low as 2 ohms, the JC 1 will happily serve 1,200 watts! The JC 1 sounds potent, even when listened to at merely moderately loud levels, and maintains its composure at lease breaking, call-the-cops volume.

Which reminds me, I have been playing Spoon's Gimme Fiction CD a lot lately, but the JC 1/JC 2 combo takes this Austin band's music to another level. Their crazy rhythms kick harder, and I swear I can hear the band locking in like never before.

The JC 1 amplifiers go for $3,500 each and the JC 2 runs $4,000. Right, that's $11K for a preamp/power amp set. It's a lot of dough, but since high-end audio, as opposed to HDTV, is built for the long haul, the JC 1/JC 2 combo will likely be used by their owners for 10+ years. Anybody want to guess what percentage of people who bought Pioneer's $22,000 fifty-inch, 720p PDP-501M display new in 1999 still use them?

I dunno, maybe 10 percent? Point is, cutting edge video gets old fast, today's great audio components will still sound terrific ten years or even twenty years from now. As an investment you can't beat quality audio.

I've used the JCs for a bunch of speaker reviews for other magazines since I wrote the review for Home Entertainment and can't bring myself to send them back. They're that good!

 

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