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The Korf Blog

The inside story: our research,
development and opinions

7 April 2021
We Have Bought a JBL Paragon
Back in the late 1980s, when I was just starting on my audio journey, I was absolutely certain that newer is better. I pored over the latest Japanese catalogues, dreaming of days when I could afford the latest cassette deck, adorned with dozens of buttons, LEDs and custom VFDs. And the auto-everything, electronic tracing, computer-controlled turntable that was clearly superior to my very tired Thorens 145. Which threw its belt off at least once a day.

So naturally, when an acquaintance of mine got himself a Nakamichi CT and invited me for a listen, I was thrilled. While not absolute top of the line (the unobtainable TX-1000 was a step above), it was clearly one of the most advanced turntables available.
No, not this one. This is a smaller brother of EMT 927st, a 930st
When I came over, my buddy had two turntables set up. The gorgeous CT, and some strange ancient beast. It sat on the floor with its guts exposed, the hammerite-painted plinth covered in nicotine tar. Its platter was so huge, a 12" disc looked like a 7" single on it.

My friend put a DMM pressing of Peter Gabriel's "So" on a CT as I sunk into a chair, expecting a revelation. None happened. It sounded... a bit better than my Thorens. There was no dramatic, tectonic improvement. This definitely wasn't what I expected.

After we listened to the whole side in disappointed silence, my friend moved the LP from the Nak to the huge ugly turntable. He manipulated some levers labeled with alien-looking pictograms, and lowered the arm. With the first seconds of the opening percussion on "Red Rain", I knew my life has just changed. This sounded like nothing I have ever heard before.
~

A decade later, I had a similar worldview-shattering experience in one of Los Angeles's smaller record stores, specializing in classical music. Inside, one wall was completely taken by what looked like an immense mid-century designer sideboard. The surly owner went into his room to put the disc I requested on. I turned my back to the sideboard, and a few seconds later was startled by someone behind me taking a deep breath and launching into "Fremd bin ich eingezogen, / Fremd zieh' ich wieder aus" of Schubert's "Winterreise".

It didn't sound like a recording. It wasn't a recording; an emanation of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was in the room with me, channeled by the round-bellied credenza. This was my first experience of JBL's Paragon, and I have wanted one ever since.
~
Very wisely, my guardian angel decided to wait a bit before granting me my wish. There were a few things that I needed to sort out first. End the semi-nomadic life and settle in a suitably large house. Amass a collection of LPs to do the Paragon justice. Get some electronics and woodworking skills. And, of course, establish good relationships with people all over the world who understand the workings of ancient JBLs and can recommend parts for them.

But even after I have checked all the boxes, I was unlucky for a really long time. All available Paragons exhibited some kind of a disqualifying problem. I had my share of utterly mad owners (I firmly believe in buying gear solely from reasonable sane persons). Drove for many hours only to see holes where drives and crossovers used to be. Water damage, earlier "restorations", disappointment after a disappointment.

A few months ago, my wife was browsing the furniture section on the local classifieds site, and called me over. "Doesn't this piece look a bit like the JBL speaker of your dreams?"
Photo by Jacob
Photo by Leio
Photo by Jacob
Photo by Marion
Photo by Jacob
Photo by Shifaaz
Photo by Mike
Photo by Jason
Photo by Sven
Photo by Ed
Photo by David
We are currently restoring it to "as new" condition, and will show you the results once we are done
The woodwork had some damage, but on the positive side, there was a full set of drivers and crossovers. Nobody has ever attempted to "fix" it. Had an interesting history — a JBL Paragon in a small Austrian village is bound to have one. I bought it.

We are currently restoring it to "as new" condition, and will show you the results once we are done.

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