Conrad-Johnson Premier 11A Amplifiers

Conrad-Johnson Premier 11A Amplifiers 


70 Watt Tube Amp


Showing 1-10 of 18  
[Dec 05, 2020]


Commercial Painting Service I love the quality!!!


I want to buy this!!!

[Jul 19, 2020]


Stable bias once adjusted with the easy to use tool, LED's flash at soft clipping before I can hear it or associated components damaged. Just enough power to drive Hales concept 3's or Polk LsiM 703's (both really need 100WPC or more). Enough to drive Focal Aria 906's to 104 db at soft clipping delivering a stunning 3D image if recorded. Relatively fast warm up like 10 minutes. Responds well to silver plated interconnects and wire. Balanced and dynamic delivery when called upon never harsh. Robust build, sent back three times in 25 years for power supply and/or board issues. Once in 1996 under warranty, again in 2005 for $343, and the last factory service was in 2010 for left channel failure (board) and Teflon cap upgrade for $1,800. No issues since. Classic aesthetics, strong binding posts for any wire, spade or banana. Like the removable tube cage and does not run oven-hot. No hum, hiss, pops, strange noises or behaviors since services may have rooted out weak components from original build. Have considered selling it many times for a more powerful stereo tube amp and then remember I have a classic with no audible faults to my ears though it will bring out differences in speakers or cables within the system. Vintage Sonic Frontiers SFL-1with cryo tube, Rega Saturn CD player, Akai Cassette.... the albums long gone but tapes play incredible...all connected with Nordost Blue Heaven or Heimdall 2.


NOS tubes as-shipped now run north of $900 but last a long time. On my 4th replacement set over 25 years of ownership and could use less expensive tubes but like the sound it was born with. Wish the power cord was removable for easy upgrade but stock seems to work well. Factory service is expensive but well worth the investment in sound and reliability as a result.

Price Paid:
Model Year:
[Jan 16, 2019]


This was my first tube amplifier, and second Conrad-Johnson component owned (the PV14L being my preamp). On first listen, it was somewhat tired sounding, and I suspect that the tubes were the original from C-J, based on what the previous owner had told me. What kicked this up to another level was replacing the tubes. I removed the stock GE 6550s and installed the Tung-Sol KT120s. The 6FQ7/6CG7 I replaced with a NOS set of Brimars, and the 5751s were replaced with new-issue Tung-Sols. With the new tubes, the sound was cleaner overall (less gritty), the bass gained depth and slam, and the mids and highs were sweet like I expected tubes to sound like. While it isn't as powerful as the amp it replaced (the Premier 11 is 70w/ch), it can still drive some Vandersteen 2CEs to an acceptable volume. I actually own the Premier 11. The only difference is that the 11A adds a capacitor to bypass a diode in the bias LED circuit. It is presumably to reduce noise, but this amp is very quiet to my ears--I certainly can't hear it across the room.


The only thing I wish it had were a little more power, as there are occasional recordings which require a little more headroom. I really wanted a pair of Premier 12s, and I am still looking. The Premier 11, 12 and 8 all use the same basic circuitry, the only difference being the number of output tubes. The Premier 12 offers 140 watts (monoblock) with four output tubes, and the Premier 8 ups that to 275 watts (monoblock) with eight output tubes. The 12 is a sweet spot in the lineup.

[Aug 31, 2000]
Hi-End guru

The bass response from my speakers is deeper, tighter, and more dynamic than I've ever heard before. The mids and highs are extremely natural and sweet. Soundstaging and imaging is enhanced considerably over Mark Levinson and Krell amps that sound reticient and dark by comparison. The word that best characterizes the sound produced from the 11a is "authority." All types of music, from classical works (orchestral, chamber, piano, vocal), jazz, and even rock sound remarkable. A 5/5 rating for this beautiful and well-designed amplifier.

[May 24, 2000]


Very open and full of spaciousness


Lack the lush of the mv55

This is a very transparent amp with very good sense of space and very open. However, after auditioning the unit in my system for a week (the unit is a lender from a dealer and the unit has been broken in) I was happy of my original MV55. The 11a's vocals sounded vague and fatigue. I literally have to listen into the music rather than the music presenting itself to me. I suspect it's due to the 6550 tubes (by the way, I dislike the 6550 tubes for that reason). Where as the MV55, although definately not as open, presented female vocals of no parrallel. Vocals seem to present itself in a palpable sense to the listener. I truly regret that the 11a lacks the midrange. However, I still think it's an excellent unit, just that I prefer a good vocal presentation and opted to keep, and have been MV55!........for me, nothing beats an EL34 tube !

Similar Products Used:


[Dec 27, 1999]
Raj J


ability to float an image, even at the lowest volume level


after listening to the Premier11A, you cannot listen to anything else!

If you get the combination of your electronics just about right, I said just about right because it is nearly impossible to get it perfect, then the Premier11A will just shine! Its main strength as I have outlined above, will only take place if your pre-power amp combination is matched well to your liking, then all other factors will neatly fall into place. If you are satisfied with the sound you're getting in this particular "price range", then I can guarantee that you will not listen to anything else! The main fact is, the sound you are looking for should be what your ears want to hear, and this can only be done through you! your ears is the ultimate judge! not what the reviews say or what others talk about because if you have not heard it, then there is no way you will realize how good or bad a product would sound.

Similar Products Used:

Melos, Leek, Tube Technology, and Audio Research are the amps I have auditioned well enough to compare with the Premier11A

[Feb 02, 1998]
Rick Campell
an Audiophile

The cj Premier 11A has been a wonderful addition to my system. The midrange is outstanding. Listening to Cassandra
Wilson's New Moon Daughter her voice is wonderful. She sounds as if she is in the room. mouth sounds, a certain
chestiness and no nasty sibilants. Holly Cole's cover of "Cry" on Don't Smoke in Bed is superb. Holly's slight nasal tone
comes through with out being pinched or exaggerated. Her vocal presentation is whole and coherent, of one fabric. A certain
chestiness and over riding nasal tone and slightly rounded mouth sound around each note, all added to her "bad girl" style so
important for this song. Saxophone and piano also sound excellent with this amp, be it David Murray's for Aunt Louise on
DIW or Keith Jarret's Live at the Blue Note Box set. The cj gets the soundstage, image and overall you are there aspect right.
It does not accentuate the highs or make them sound steely as some solid state gear can do. As well, it does not soften the
image or transients or add a foggy layer to the presentation as dosome solid state amps, i.e McCormack, Krell or Mark
Levinson. If you love acoustic jazz and classical music this amp is a real winner! Instrument timber and harmonic correctness
is another of my priorities. A system should get the sound of the instruments right. An Alto should sound distinctly different
than a Tenor sax. Also, multiple instrumentation should not confuse or cause a homogenized sound. The cj keeps the
instrument's sound intact. For instance Duke Ellington's Jazz Party on Classic records has a wonderful sound. With the cj the
xylophones and vibes on Maletaba Spank are easily distinguishable from one another. Other amps have had a tendency to
reproduce these with a certain sameness.
For reference my system consists of:
cj Premier 11A, Audible Illusions 3A, Linn LP12/Ittok/BPS/Theta Data Basic II, Resolution Audio Quantum DAC, Genesis V
speakers and Nirvana cabling throughout.

[Mar 10, 1998]
Michael Crespo
an Audiophile

I have heard this amp only once, but found its strengths simply beguiling. It produces an amazingly realistic soundstage, a well articulated, involving midrange, and solid bass. The character of this amp is typical CJ--- it has a euphonic golden "glow" that makes recordings sound ravishing. An absolute first-rate amp that, while having only 70 watts, must be considered a bargain for its sound quality.

[Apr 14, 1998]
an Audio Enthusiast

INTROThere’s lots of (what some would consider to be extraneous) stuff in this review. If you have no patience for thank-you’s, acknowledgments, system and room notes, musical selections used in the evaluation, disclaimers, initial perceptions and so on, then you would be well-served to skip to the section entitled THE RANKINGS. I do not purport to be a professional reviewer or writer. I tend to evaluate material objects through a stream of pseudo-consciousness process. Let the reader beware.

Thanks to the JG & H, Inc. (more commonly known as the evil twins) for their support, advice and encouragement. The perspectives of all who contribute meaningful data to the TechTalk forum is also appreciated.

Rogue Audio 88 ($1400 retail): 70 Wpc in ultralinear mode; 35 Wpc in triode mode; auditioned with stock 6550s

Quicksilver M-60 Monoblocks ($2,000): 60 Wpc; auditioned with stock EL34s

Conrad-Johnson Premier 11a ($3,500) 70 Wpc; auditioned with stock 6550s

I know ... what’s the C-J doing in THAT company? One reason is it’s reputation. The other, was the discount I could get on a demo. The third, was that if it was appreciably better (say $1,000 to $1,600 better) how much would spend tweaking a lesser unit over the next two years just to throw up my arms in disgust and start all over again. Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt, and it didn’t fit.

Admittedly, a more fair comparison against the other amps would have been to use the MV55, but I was looking for something that control the bottom end of my Dunlavys and thought 60 W/pc to be the minimum I wanted to toy with. I’m not Jack G, after all.

The C-J dealer mentioned this inequity to me ... He was sure the others would scream "UNFAIR". But, I had done my homework (actually Hyperion did the work ... I just reviewed it and found it to be accurate). I did not want a unit with plastic/nylon speaker nuts or one that was subject to moderate fluctuations in AC mains voltage; where I live, such fluctuations are quite common. So that left the 11a from the C-J line.
Anyway, the C-J dealer was asking how I thought the others would feel when I told them their unit had to compete with the 11a? I said:
1. At the risk of sounding cavalier, I really don't care about their feelings. That is to say, I took their feelings into account when I asked how they would handle it if their amp didn't come out on top. If they were going to complain and/or denigrate the rest of my system and/or bash the competition or whatever, I made it clear that I would find other prospects.
2. They were all told, up-front, that the three amps under audition were the Rogue, the M-60 and the C-J 11a and each stated that their unit could compete in that league. Screaming UNFAIR after the fact would be in very poor taste. I expect them all to stand by their statement.
3. They all agreed not to question my judgment (to my face anyway)—after all, it's my system and the sound I prefer is all that matters, in the end.
4. Each unit had some claim to sonic fame: use of high-q resistors (C-J).; point-to-point wiring (Quicksilver) ; 2-ounce copper circuit board (Rogue); ultra-high bandwidth designs (all of them), etc., etc. etc..
5. Admittedly, Rogue doesn't have the history or following that C-J and Quicksilver do. As I think about this, it occurs to me that I NEVER see advertising for Quicksilver. Could their parts quality be comparable to C-J given what C-J appears to spend on advertising? Now that I mention it, if C-J is so great (and it appears to be, given a look at the used market), why do they spend so much on advertising their "slam-dunks?"

Anyway, the promoter of each product expressed a quiet confidence that it would be a great fit my system .... that it could compete squarely with the other products ... that I would be impressed with the value and sound.

Each of these amps, BTW, has been favorably acknowledged by reviewers from a variety of rags, each of whom has said, about each amp, that it is a benchmark at its respective pricepoint and "can compete with amps costing thousands more."

I would gladly deal with any of the people I encountered in my search again, on a personal or professional level. No hype, no pressure, a genuine interest in my system, plenty of time for review, quiet and appropriate confidence in their product, quick responses to e-mail or phone calls, knowledgeable and no BS. Did I luck out, or what?

My listening room is tough to describe, and clearly far from perfect. If anything, I’d characterize it as bright, with the potential to ring when energized too highly. 14x16 opening into an L (9x12) to right, and behind, of listener; speakers on 14ft wall; couch ten feet back (in front of a set of stairs going down into entry; lots of parallel, but staggered surfaces behind couch.

* * CAL Delta Transport driving CAL Alpha DAC (with 2 Sovtek 12AX7s) via Illuminati D-60
* Audible Illusions M3A preamp (w/ stock tubes and John Curl designed gold phono board)
* VPI HW-19 Jr./PT-6 tonearm/AT OC-9 cartridge (wall mounted)
* Dunlavy SC-III speakers
* Tara Labs RSC Reference Gen 2 interconnects
* Tara Labs RSC Prime 1000 cables (not bi-wired)
* Nakamichi RX-202 deck
* Tice Elite Power Conditioner
* Bright Star air mass under cd
* Townsend sink under pre
* VPI 16.5 record cleaner
* VansEvers tuning blocks (not used for this audition)
* Larry, our six-year old yellow lab , who prefers vinyl to cd; he goes to his room for a nap if he doesn’t see the selector switch on the AIM3A set to phono.

MEDIA (•• = most critically evaluated):
• Arvo Part—Te Deum (cd)
•• Patricia Barber—Cafe Blue (cd)
• Clint Black—No Time to Kill (cd)
•• Mary Black—No Frontiers (cd)
• Ray Brown—Soular Energy (lp)
• Ray Charles—Greatest Country and Western Hits (lp)
•• Holly Cole—Temptation (cd)
• Miles Davis—Kind of Blue (cd)
•• Dead Can Dance—Into the Labyrinth (cd)
• Terry Evans—Puttin’ It Down (cd)
•• Bill Frisell—Nashville (cd)*
•• Hearts of Space—Universe 4 (cd)
• Jimi Hendrix—Band of Gypsies (lp)
•• John Lee Hooker—The Healer (lp)
• Janis Ian—Breaking Silence (cd)
•• Daniel Lanois—Acadie (lp)*
• Lyle Lovett— ... and his large band (lp)
• Adrian Legg—Guitar for Mortals (cd)
•• Christian McBride—Gettin’ to It (cd)
• Liquid Mind—Slow World (cd)
•• Muddy Waters—Folk Singer (lp)
•• Oregon—Ecotopia (lp)
•• Ring—Soul to the Pleasure (cd)
•• Mitsuko Uchida—Shubert Impromptus 899 & 935 (cd)
•• Vivaldi—Four Concerti on period instruments (lp)
•• Jennifer Warnes—The Hunter (cd)
• Trisha Yearwood—The Song Remains the Same (cd)

Prior to checking out these tubed amps, I’ve never even had an extended listening session with anything other than a Jolida 502 (?) integrated. It’s deep and tall soundstage is what got me interested in what valves could do for my rig.

I’ve been tinkering with audio equipment for about 20 years now, just getting serious in the last three. My first system was NAD based, with a Micro Seiki turntable and Advent speakers. The next level involved stepping up to an AR turntable, an ARC SP-12 pre matched with a heavily modified Hafler and Vandersteen 1Bs. After the Hafler bit the dust (thanks to children who don’t understand the phrase “first on, last off”) I moved on to a PSE Studio IV amp. Very nice amp. Still have it ... it’s a keeper. Then came the AI Modulus 3 (and subsequent A upgrade) and a set of baby Magneplaners. Following that, I fell in love with the Dunlavy SCIIIs. The VPI turntable was next followed by the Sunfire amp followed by CALs Alpha/Delta combo. I won’t drag you through the cable and interconnect experiments. Although I prefer to listen vinyl (1,500 albums vs 900 cds). In the end, it was the addition of the tubed DAC that really peaked my system and curiosity.

I am not a professional reviewer. I don’t even consider myself to have golden ears. I do believe that it makes sense to take notes when evaluating equipment (especially when it’s my money on the line).

Remember ... I never had a tubed amp in my system prior to this time. The reviewed amps are arranged in alphabetical order.

C-J Premier 11a
* Heavy and well-built. Nice design. Spousal unit approval factor is high. This allows for placement up front and center in system.
* Both my bride and I were initially (first fifteen minutes) very unimpressed ... so much so that we got up and went about cooking dinner in the next room.
* Interesting, but not what I expected. No lush tubey sound, no tube roar, bass was ample but clearly not as deep ... oh, well.
* The next thing I knew, I was glued to the couch for the next four hours. Some vocals had drawn me out of the kitchen with harmonics I had never heard so well illuminated. Some immediate generalizations:
1. Micro-dynamics that wake the dead
2. Ambiance galore; harmonics seemed quite right
3. Propulsive: very fast (when called for); toe-tappin’, head-bobbin’ rhythmic
4. Cymbals sound like cymbals (quite unusual)
5. Leading edges of transients VERY well defined
6. Drums skins are palpable
7. Trailing edges are very easy to follow
* The piano glissandos on Holly Cole’s Temptation were articulate, but never scratchy
* Pat Barber’s Cafe Blue offered excellent drum timbres, serious ambiance, a voice I’d never really heard before, and plucky (imagine that) guitar plucks
* Hearts of Space #4 and Liquid Mind are both heavily synthesized. Dynamic contrasts were excellent, transients shot out like gun-fire and the soundstage was the biggest I have ever experienced in my system
* Christian McBride’s Gettin’ to It offered a very realistic portrayal of the upright bass. When he, Ray Brown and another legend did the trio on this disc, I was riveted to my seat. That’s a lot of harmonics going on at once. The C-J delivered with aplomb. Articulate, refined and truthful.
* There’s a lot of guitar work going on in some of Jennifer Warnes’ Hunter. On one cut the nylon, arch-top, acoustic and electrical guitars were easy to sort out. My notes remind me that the vocal harmonics were exquisite and the string bass was gorgeous.
* Ring’s Soul to the Pleasure features harp and voice. They all spoke in shades of amber ... something I never thought possible ... now I know what these women’s voices sound like! So much information coming off that harp, yet easy to follow.

Quicksilver M-60 monoblocks
* Very heavy and well built. Solid and simple design and construction. Appear indestructible. Easier to handle than the C-J (since it’s one big 52 pound unit, and the Quickies are two 32 pound units). I really want to like these; they look so cool, in a retro way. (Of course my bride thought they looked like a set of miniature nuclear reactors and said they’d have to hide behind the speakers). Fair enough.
* Nice screw down speaker terminals. Very solid connection.
* Very tube-swap friendly; excellent customer service when I called Quicksilver with questions.
* To be kind (after all, she’s putting up with a lot of boxes and heat, here), I let my bride listen to Trisha Yearwood (her reference album) first. She loves this album. I went to let the dog in, and upon return (less than five minutes), she was no longer in the living room. I found her typing away at the computer in the den. She looked up at me, frowned and said “Slow.” I asked her what she meant. “I got bored ... it’s very slow.”
My turn to listen:
* Bass was much more subdued than C-J; sometimes even missing in places ... even those that didn’t go very deep
* Decay was very good, but leading edges were not
* The M-60s may resolve a bit more detail than the C-J, yet they are not as musical
* M-60s may have the edge in portrayal of harmonics, but do so at the expense of other important factors:
- no slam (half the drums I usually hear on many cuts never even surfaced in a clearly discernible way ... very vague)
- dynamics ... none to speak of ... this is one polite amp ... little bass guitar drive ... transients are more rounded
- sometimes images would blur ... instruments were not as well defined in space and on complex passages, instruments seemed to stumble over one another in very weird ways ... soundstage became wavy/unstable
- soft presentation
* Ambiance was quite nice, marginally more abundant than C-J, but the music still lacked the presence I like ... in one of my notes I wrote that it sounded like someone stuffed a pillow in the hollow of the acoustic guitar on Mary Black’s album

In short:
1. Very laid back ... polite.
2. Slow ... has my sense of tempo been ruined by very fast, solid state amps?
3. Digs a little deeper in the recordings than C-J
3. Smaller and more foreshortened soundstage than C-J.
4. Vocals may be more natural, but a bit too forward for my taste.
5. There are some people that will love this amp. But, it’s not going into my system unless something changes dramatically upon next evening’s listening session.
My last comments to my bride when she asked what I thought at the end of the next evening were that is sounded like a heavy curtain had come between me and the music. My dad would love the subdued presentation.

Rogue 88
* Nice folks at the factory. Unique shipping platform that protects the product en route. Once the lid is off, I understood why. The frame is torsionally unstable without it. Not the most rigid frame I’ve encountered, but hey ... $1400 retail can get you a lot less, in some cases. Besides, it did weigh in at more than 50 pounds.
* “That looks MUCH better than the miniature nuclear reactors,” said she. “Nice and shiny and it hides all the crap.” “I hate brushed aluminum faceplates,” he muttered. “Oh well, let’s pop the top and have a look-see inside.” “I’m gonna’ go read ... have fun,” she replied.
* They sent it with the smaller tubes installed? What’s up with that? Oh, well ... let’s get those 6550s installed.
* Should I even bother to try it in ultralinear mode? Why not.
Ultralinear Mode
* Loud hum on turn on. This hum (from a transformer?) diminished, but did not disappear when switched to triode mode.
* Ambiance, adequate, so far ...
* Good rhythm (got the head bobbin’ again!)
* Bass is tuneful but lacking some weight
* Nice harmonic delineation among vocals, but leaner than the C-J and Quickies
* What’s with this silvery sheen? The piano is a bit sterile compared to the C-J. Am I squinting?
* FWIW, in the end, Ultralinear Mode became known as “Solid State Emulation Mode” in my book.

Triode Mode
* There’s that transformer (?) hum, again. Much softer though.
* Nice vocals and ambiance, but still harmonically lean
* Left to right soundstage shifts still lack some finish
* That silvery glaze discovered in Ultralinear Mode is still present; not nearly as bright though
* Brass has only a two-dimensional bite; where’s the body?

1. Fast and powerful
2. Rhythmic
3. Immediacy is good (especially compared to M-60s)
4. A bit flat, dimensionally (relative to C-J)
5. Harmonically leaner than C-J or QS (vocals don’t have enough body)
6. Soundstage better than any SS amp I’ve owned, but falls a bit short of the Quickies which fall significantly short of the C-J
7. Can’t seem to relax into the music; this amp demands attention

* As I went to box it up for it’s return, I noticed that the factory had not set the taps to 4 Ohms as I requested (when they asked me how I wanted them to prep it). Hmmmm. Should I bother setting this puppy up again? Maybe tomorrow.

The next day:
* Set the output taps to 4 Ohms.
* Ahhhhh. Much better.
* Harmonics improved and soundstage deepened a bit
* Still surprisingly powerful in triode mode (subjectively speaking)
* Piano work is not up to “tonal” snuff, though ... sounds a bit brittle
* Bass still good and deep(for tubes, especially), but lacking in weight/heft

Final thoughts:
Excellent entry-level tubed amp for SS fans that don’t want to stray too far, too soon (you do, after all, get improved soundstage, deep bass and slam from this relatively inexpensive unit)

# 1. C-J 11a. I bought it. Doesn’t stand out in any one area. Doesn’t fall apart anywhere either, though. Just does everything well, with a sense of right-ness about the timing and tonalities that make music sing. Lots of resolution yet it’s very easy to listen to. Four stars 'cause I'm sure there's better things out there. Five stars for performance/price ratio

# 2. Rogue 88. I’d take it over the $2,000 Quicksilvers any day of the week. It might remind others a bit of older ARC gear, with it’s silvery sheen; some would call this the tube-glaze phenomenon; not being very well aquainted with tube amps, I can’t say. Supposedly, some Audio Society back east claimed it bested the ARC Classic 60 in their listening tests. Guess that means I wouldn’t like an ARC amp. Wish I had a VTL-85 in-house to compare this to. Given that the VTL is deemed the Poor Man’s Jadis, it would be an interesting comparison. The retail among the two units is within $200. Three stars overall.

#3. Quicksilver M-60. The Quickies are ... er .... well .... slow. Nice, polite, subdued .... yet forward in the mid-range. I have been told that this is the “classic tubed sound.” Why go on. It would put you to sleep, like the Quickies do to me. Two stars only.

End of story.

[May 11, 1998]
Kelly Holsten
an Audiophile

Holy review! Stephen, the Audio Enthusiast must have had some form of Writer's UNblock.... The man went berserk..but I have to admit, I read most of it. But for the love of St. Nick, where is an editor when you need one? I do admire his candor however.
First things first...this amp DOES NOT put out 200 watts per channel like it outlines above in the specs section. A horrible misprint. But it DOES have one hell of a great sound and at that price is a great bargain. Might not be as lush as an El34 amp but it is oh so open and transparent and seems to get everything about right. If you are familiar with the single ended designs such as the Cary 300se then you will understand what you are not getting... The magic of the low watt single ended amps is hard to beat and I have not heard anything like it... in fact, one must develop a new vocabulary to describe what a single ended amp can do for music.

But the 11a is one hell of a fine has none of those negatives you hear people talk about when describing tube sound, such as the over-lush romantic behavior. This amp sounds very natural and is extremely musical and does not seem to roll off at either extreme.

I sat and listened to a demo at a dealer for over a hour enjoying every minute of it. Too bad you dont find them used too often... it's not hard to see why!

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