conrad johnson premier 140 pitting against old classic ARC classic 120

i would readily admit that i totally ignored conrad johnson as a premier brand in the last 20 years of my audiophilia journey. i didn't get a chance to listen to their great masterpieces like premier 8, 11 and 12. shame, shame.

now it is time to make amends. you must have remembered how i raved about the solid-state c-j premier 350. but being a tube aficianado, i passed over the c-j 350.

premier 140 is so hernia-inducing (40kg) heavy that my hands were so strained after unloading it from the box. it has an understated beauty about the looks, just like how understated beautiful the sound is. biasing is a breeze; these people in c-j really know how to main tedious task simple. if all tube amps can be so easily biased then more audiophiles would not be fearful of tube amps! audio research should learn a trick or two on how to make biasing simple from c-j.

compared to my reference amp, the trusty ARC classic 120, which is using 16 6550C power tubes (8 per monoblock) to pump out merely 120 watts (triode), the premier 140's use of only 8 6550C to give out 140 watts (ultralinear) is more economical and practical. so no issue about the cost of maintaning tubes; 8 pieces of svetlana winged-c 6550c would cost less than RM1,000.

this connie is a real charmer! sonically, it is sweet and relaxed, musically friendly and smooth. it is far more capable of revealing nuances in music than my classic 120. soundstage capabilities are also superior to my classic 120. the front-to-back layering of musicians are better handled than my ARC, tho' it still loses out to the mighty ARC VT200 in terms of layering, soundtage depth and imaging precision. (this could be due to the extra power of VT200 in pushing my maggie)

i hate to use this - premier 140 is a very "neutral" amp. it does not have the golden yellowish colouration of my ARC. it is interesting comparing the c-j house sound to ARC house sound. the ARC is awlays vivid, lively and high-definition (to the extent of being analytical to some detractors), some kind of solid-state-y, whereas the connie is more down-to-earth sort of tube amp; more human, more organic, less show-off-y and less hi-fi-ish, more well-behaved but also less exciting.

premier 140 has sweet midrange, almost SET-like in its quality. the highs and the bass are sufficiently good. listening to premier 140 is a pleasant feeling. everything is so understated yet so elegant and relaxing.

tonally, it doesn't have the vivacity of the classic 120's triode. timing and rhythm are not its strongest forte. that is not to say the premier 140 is slow but it renders fast-music with a velvety glove - relaxed and in control all the times.

now the real downfall - it has only RCA connections! dang! why manufacturers like c-j, holfi, goldmund only believe in RCA??? i am totally upset by how stubborn these manufacturers are, as i am a staunch believer of XLR balanced connections. with RCA connections, i almost have to turn the volume knob on my preamp close to 12 o'clock or more in order to appreciate the music. the RCA robs the music of some immediacy, dynamic and presence, seriously. this alone may stop me from considering what is otherwise a glorious music maker in the c-j premier 140.

all is not lost, it has been sweet music-making all the way with the connie. i truly revel in the experience!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that interesting review, Les. Just a note to let you and KC know that I enjoy reading your no BS, straight talking and well-written reviews of the latest gear. It's truly refreshing to read your honest impressions without the usual reviewer hyperbole, hidden agendas and the inevitable horde of jaded, cynical readers.

Btw, if the CJ Premier 140 is pushing the right buttons in your system but you want more body and density without sacrificing resolution, I've read that the just released CJ LP140M tube monoblocks do all that and may outperform it's 'premier' brother. Worth a shot if you can get it in for review.

Keep up the excellent essays!


maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

thanks, guan, for the +ve comment.
kc and i are having lots of fun blogging and reviewing. actually, i won't call it review lah. just short impressions... easy to digest and fun to read, that's our purpose.

no equipment is perfect - we will handle shortcomings with tact and care so that we don't offend the dealer who loans the equipment to us.

yeah, i did check out the LP140M. it cost USD12,000! at that kind of price, i expect it to overwhelm my classic 120... which is still quite unlikely :-)

Lil' KC said...


Many thanks for the good words and encouragement!

I hope we are doing good for the community. At least they know what to expect.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

Dear Les,

From the last few reviews of the current crop of higher end amps, it seems like all of them are converging on what you term 'neutrality'. If both sstate and tube camps are converging on this sound in today's age, it may
be that high end houses are starting to agree that there is only one reference - neutrality. Therefore it would be most unlikely you would ever change your amp (as long as it still functions well) to any newer model since none of them would imbue that golden hue that you so belove.