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Parks Audio's Almost New Puffin

01-27-2022 | By Ron Nagle | Issue 119

I am happy to tell you about a little device that will do things you might never imagine possible. It is something that feeds my restless pursuit of perfect sound.

You might simply call it a phono stage. But that would be like a fairy tale with only the, "They lived happily ever after" ending. Read on. There is far more to this story.

This is the Puffin

It's not a bird. It is a $489 Digital Signal Processing engine that opens up a world of possibilities. You can purchase it direct or online from Amazon. Basically, it is designed as a phono cartridge preamplifier. The Puffin is powered by a separate power supply, a 12 Volt DC wall wort transformer. It operates on an analog signal, converts that source to digital, and outputs it back to analog. It can handle an analog input from almost any source as long as it is less than 2 volts. You can adjust the Puffin amplification factor to accommodate a higher output from, let's say, your CD player. Typically a CD player outputs 2 volts and this happens to be at the Puffin's upper limit. The gain of the Puffin can be adjusted to compensate for this higher level input voltage.

The Puffin concept originated from the fertile mind of Mr. Shannon Parks. He is the founder and chief engineer of Parks Audio LL C. You will find the Puffin housed in a small carbon fiber face and black aluminum body, measuring 4" wide by 51/2" by 2" thick. At the center face of the Puffin is a window containing a red dot matrix display. The Puffin has three controls, a standby button, a select function knob, and a select button. The standby button turns the Puffin on and off. The large center knob scrolls through the list of available settings, and the select button takes you to a list of sub-menus and settings.

Here is an example: push the standby button to turn the Puffin on, rotate the select function knob till you get to the cartridge type, then activate the select button. One push will select Moving Magnet and a second push will allow you to select a Moving Coil cartridge. This is one of the simple sub-menus you might choose. But other settings, like, RIAA compensation or cartridge loading will be far more detailed.

You might, with some justification, call the Puffin the ultimate vinyl tweak. But with justification, I call it a learning tool.

It was designed primarily as a MM, or MC cartridge step-up device. When it functions as a phono cartridge preamplifier it can provide adjustable gain and RIAA equalization for most every type of MM or MC phono cartridge. The beauty of it all is that the range of functions makes it something far more useful than any other phono amplifier. It is in fact, the most flexible consumer audio component I have ever come across. Parks Audio tells us, "Our phono stage will be updated and improved constantly with simple firmware updates."

That's precisely what I experienced; I purchased my Puffin phono stage over a year ago. Originally it came with V-1.2.1 level firmware. That first version kept me enthralled for days experimenting with every possible control and its effect on the sound. As Yoda might exclaim, "Happy was I."

The new Puffin firmware

Mere months ago, an improved V-1.30 firmware download became available. If you have the older version of the Puffin the firmware download process is made as simple as possible. You will find it on the Puffin website, http://parksaudiollc.com/index.html. This adds six additional controls to the original 16 controls.

There is a video online at Parks Audio showing a step-by-step procedure as it applies to updating Puffin firmware from Windows 10 or from the macOS, Big Sur. 

Let's Take a Look - New V-1.30 Download

First step is to download V-1.30 firmware from the Puffin Website. Next, is to remove the Puffin rear cover and to connect a USB cable (supplied) from the computer to the Puffin's internal processor. Once the USB connection is made, a small red LED illuminates on the internal PCB. This indicates you now have supplied power to the processor. After you have a secure connection and have downloaded the new firmware, a green LED illuminates to tell you the download has been successful. 

Once you have downloaded the new firmware you will have more options. For example, by using the select function knob you will be able to choose stereo or mono modes. Choosing mono allows you the choice to listen to just the right channel or just the left channel or sum both channels.

Some of the function settings have fanciful names. An example would be the MAGIC setting. This gently attenuates your record's pops and clicks, making your old LPs sound better than ever.

Another very useful feature can adjust your cartridge's azimuth for better channel balance. Note: Some real-time dynamic adjustments must be made using a fixed frequency test track from a vinyl recording. For instance, I used the Acoustic Sounds test record with separate left and right channel thousand cycle test tracks to set cartridge azimuth.

The new firmware also allows you to alter frequency response using tilt, air, treble, bass, and bass boost settings.

 Version1.30 Firmware

With the update there are now 22 very interesting possibilities. The new firmware has transformed the Puffin into what is essentially a new phono stage. Many controls are unique to the Puffin. At this point I would refer you to the website for a complete list. I have just given you a small sample of what is possible.


So normally my reports would conclude with an evaluation of the sound quality pros and cons, but in this case that is impossible. The only way for you to know is to dive in, try one and then make it your own. I am having a ball and months later I am still learning what things affect the sound I prefer. Additionally, I have been able to play some recordings that were not in very good condition that I had shelved.

My reasoning goes like this. I have gone through every control and every sub-menu and made adjustments, only to come back the next day and decide I liked something else. The more control you have, the more power is given to personalize what you hear, the more it affects emotions even at subliminal levels of awareness.

I am ever curious, like that Peggy Lee song lyric, "Is that all there is"? If you are anything like me, then you have never stopped wondering what lies over the next hill.

Semper Hi-Fi

Puffin Phono Stage - Digital Signal Processing Engine

Retail: $489 

Parks Audio