Test Report: Parasound Zphono-USB Phono Preamp Page 2

USB? You tell me!

When I compared recordings made from the Zphono-USB with recordings made from the NAD PP 3, I heard … well, why not listen for yourself? While we’re at it, let’s make it a blind test.

Here are two 20-second snippets recorded from a couple of LPs. You’ll hear each selection first with one of the phono pres, then with the other one. Both files are in uncompressed WAV format recorded at CD-quality 16 bit/44.1 kilohertz, using my ProJect RM-1.3 turntable with the Sumiko Pearl cartridge.

Here’s selection one, a snippet of “Moment of Truth” from big band composer/arranger Gerald Wilson’s album of the same name.

Here’s selection two, a snippet of “My Life Is Rich” from Big Star’s #1 Record.

Made your decision? OK, click here to find out which one is which.

Did you hear what I heard? ’Cause I didn’t hear much difference. Maybe the Parasound gave me a slightly more vivid midrange in the Gerald Wilson tune. Maybe it gave me slightly more midbass punch on the Big Star tune. Maybe the NAD gave me a tad more treble detail. Regardless, we’re really splitting hairs here. There’s no question that both units can make a nice-sounding dub from your turntable.

Surprisingly, I noticed a bigger difference in sound quality when I used the Zphono-USB and the PP 3 as straight analog phono preamps, plugged into my systems. The Zphono-USB had, to put it simply, more kick. Willie Wilcox’s snare on Utopia’s “Love in Action” from Anthology (1974-1985) had more snap and impact through the Zphono-USB, and I felt a little more drive in the midbass from Kasim Sultan’s bass lines. On Larry Coryell’s The Restful Mind, the acoustic guitars played by Coryell and Ralph Towner benefitted from that same extra oomph in the midbass; I got a better sense that I was hearing the acoustics of the guitars’ sound chambers.

Some of this may have to do with the fact that the gain from the analog output of the Zphono-USB is much higher than the PP 3’s — from the MM inputs, it’s a whopping 11.8 dB increase. I compensated for the level difference when I did my comparative listening, but it’s quite possible the Zphono-USB’s extra gain just got better performance from the downstream gear.

Bottom Line

The Zphono-USB is quite a nice phono pre for $350. The USB gain knob alone may win it fans among people who do a lot of vinyl ripping. The sound quality — using either the analog outs or the USB out — is great. And even if you don’t need all those extra features today, they’ll be there when you do need them.