Conrad-Johnson Classic SE Preamplifier Preamplifiers

Classic SE Preamplifier

All Vacuum tube design line stage preamplifier; SE version includes Teflon Caps by c-j design inc. Vishay Resistors and precesion Alps Volume control; no remote, no phono section, mainly designed for dedicated two channel audio, accepts video/DVD input for home Theatre if required. Standard Classic version does not have Teflon caps or vishay resistors. The SE version can be ordered as a line stage for an extra $1,000 or so.

User Reviews (2)

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Manrique   AudioPhile [Jan 20, 2014]

Buying a pre amp has never been on my radar. I have read many reviews about separates and how a good pre amp can bring your system to a new level. I am old school from the Nakamichi days and two track tapes. I have several thousand Grateful Dead tapes and now have a few thousand CDs and since last year gotten into 24 bit downloads that I stream off my Mac to my Oppo player. I hardly go through the effort of finding and then switching out CDs, I can do it all with a push of my Oppo remote and iTunes account ready to stream. In 2006 I got an LSA system and have really enjoyed the tube sound of my integrated amp. But recent purchases that lead to buying a Conrad Johnson Classic 2 SE pre amp have me singing the glory of a tube pre amp. Stunning.

I purchased the CJ Classic SE in November of 2013 ($2800) to use with a meatier Bryston 14B SST ($3100) I purchased the month before. I have been using an LSA Statement Amp (150 watts) with the Statement floor standing speakers ($12500) for a the last few years. I needed more "cowbell" and sprang for the Bryston that pushes 600 watts per channel. I was using an Oppo BDP-105 ($1100) for about a month as the source / DAC, but thought that something was missing. I went ahead, blindly, with the CJ to see if I could hear a difference ...

OMG... it sure has. Knocked my socks off.

Right out of the box, the CJ with the upgraded Teflon Caps, Vishay Resistors and precession Alps Volume control really brought my critical listing room alive. It actually brought a tear to my eyes. I have always enjoyed receivers to control my sound, but an all tube pre amp really brought several new nuances to my listening enjoyment. Now, I am able to crank up the volume on my favorite tracks and have herd things that I never knew were in the recordings. Nothing short of astonishing. Every time I crank on the pre amp it just getting better and better. I probably have 120+ hours on the CJ at this point.

Now a word of caution, the CJ classic has no remote or XLR connections but can be upgraded to include phone. Yes, I have to get up out of my chair and walk over to the CJ if I want to switch input or adjust volume. Honestly, I cheerful get up when I am enjoying the sound so much (actually I have to step over the couch to get to the CJ in my "old school" listening room from the kitchen while preparing dinner, but I still don't mind, not one bit!)

You can spend another $1000 bucks to get the next level of CJ pre amp that has a remote, but you won't get the upgraded components. CJ says that real estate considerations on the next level of pre amp does not allow for the upgraded components, I checked. Go with the Classic SE, you won't be sorry.

I would recommend to anyone interested in achieving a great bang for their buck in improvement to their listing enjoyment to consider a tube pre amp. If your serious, consider the CJ with the upgraded components. Good wiring and interconnects would also be a worth wile investment (thats for another review, but virtue wires are a "cheap" way to start - hats off to Jason!). You will definitely hear a difference that you can enjoy into the wee hours of the nights or early mornings.

Raj J   AudioPhile [Feb 22, 2010]

Well here we go again...
was very happy with my old PV10AL partnered with the georgeous MV60SE power amp, driving my trusted magneplanar speakers MGIIIA.
I was looking to upgrade the preamp, but didn't want something too pricey like c-j's premier line up. So I was targetting either the PV14L or the PV15L which is now discontinued... how sudden was that!

Almost purchased the PV15L just when my trusted c-j importer in Melbourne, Australia - Sound Reference (Mr Damien and David Neilan) top blokes by the way; will give you sound advice for your money and are very honest people in this business - very hard to find good people like this nowadays! Also Damien and David have helped me to gather back my wonderful system of Magneplanars and c-j audio gear that I once owned, which I had to sell off in order to migrate to Australia. Since July 2005 with their continued support & wonderful south australian red wine, I now proudly own a maggie - c-j system that gives me more satisfaction than ever before! To add to that, I had never achieved or enjoyed this type of high quality sound reproduction in my own systems before (and the many that I had previously owned either...)

In Oct 2009, Damien told me that c-j was putting out a new preamp, a very simple design; no remote, no phono stage, no bells and whistles and an added "SE version" with top quality parts that are only used in their top of line CT series preamps. The price was right and so I ordered one unit, which was assembled and shipped all the way from Virginia to Melbourne (and that was quite an interesting trip indeed...)

So the SE version finally arrived somewhere in Nov 2009 in all it's glory and wow was it worth waiting for!!!
Just as they said - no remote, no phono (line stage only version) no frills and added gizmos, just a simple preamp with a hell of a "top end quality" parts interior - simply outstanding!

Why I didn't review this SE version before is because unlike the standard Classic version, the SE version requires around 150 to 200 hours break in, because of the high quality teflon caps & vishay resistors, this preamp needs a lot of burn-in time! I think now it has achieved the required burn-in time since Nov 2009...

First of all, this preamp requires top notch interconnects (please use the best interconnects your money can buy!) do not use cheap or inferior interconnects! Your whole system will suffer down the chain. You really don't require mega buck interconnects / speaker cable, all you need is something that will bring out the musicality factor and make the system sound full of life & energy not dull...
for example, I have previously owned top brands from Nordost and VanDen Hull cable with my previous c-j maggie systems, all sounded very good. However, compared to my present c-j & maggie system, the sound quality is now fantastic! I am currently using DH Labs Q-10 speaker wire and DH Labs Air Matrix Silver Sonic interconnects. Therefore, from sounding very good to sounding fantastic is what I am getting now for fraction of the cost...

After you power up this preamp, I highly recommend that you wait for a warm up period of 15mins, just to let things settle in first... Then start playing your favorite tunes and without even knowing around 5-6 hours of your time would have past... This is the beauty of this preamp, simply breath taking as the unit warms up on endless hours you just cannot stop listening...
As you will notice very dramatically, the soundstage opens up to a level that you probably will experience with preamps costing around $8,000 and upwards. The depth, timbre and tonal accuracy are uncanny, including the air around instruments the spatial ques and suttle nuances are all top notch! Like I said, I had heard this type of quality from maggies driven with mega buck systems costing around 8 to 10 grand. Jazz groups to vocals, R&B, pop and including rock, this is one preamp that does it all too well. Of course acoustic music and vocals, jazz and live recordings with piano, bass, strings and voice are simply outstanding!

At certain times it sounds like a combination of c-j's older classics such as the PV10AL, PV12L and a Premier 17LS all put together. but then again it does have a classic signature of its own.
As you continue to listen into the wee hours of the morning, you will get totally immersed in the sound of the Classic SE version. I have auditioned the Classic standard version (very nice pre-amp for the money indeed, no doubt about it) however the SE version has that extra edge and it is certainly quite a dramatic improvement with those teflon caps & vishay resistors that makes the classic c-j sound glow...

This classic c-j golden glow of musicality is not so apparent in the PV15L; and this is why I settled for the Classic preamp. And the SE version even cost me more than the PV15L. Who cares if it doesn't have remote, just get off your lazy bum and turn those dials, it feels better to grip something too, rather than just push buttons and wait for things to happen. c'mon people get moving you couch potatoes!
The only addded advantage the PV15L has is remote and a good home theatre input selection. therefore if you were obviously integrating the two, then yes the PV15L would be a better choice.

If you are into 2 channel stereo dedicated listening, then I very very highly recommend this new Classic SE version line stage preamp from conrad johnson; you will NOT be disappointed! And I'll be damed if you return it after the burn-in period...

The tubes are the Classic Mullard 8080 input tubes, hence that classic gloden glow is derived from these tubes and have extended life on them. However, please remember to trun off preamp at all times, otherwise you will burn out the tubes within a few months if left on 24hrs. During the break-in period I did not leave the preamp on at all times, I just kept listening more often specially during the weekends, sometimes up until 4am! and still I wasn't satisfied to turn the thing off! just wanted to keep listening... as the weeks & months went by, the sound only got better and readched a platue of true high endness.

A true master peice by conrad johnson, that is sure to take the high-end audio by storm, and that is if enough so called audiophiles are ever willing to even audition the Classic SE, thinking it may be inferior just because it is in an "entry level" category. Don't be fooled by the simple look and plain facia it has with just a led and two controls (input selector & volume), listen first and then you'll probably be saying ah! that's what I call music and you know what? "it just sounds right!"

Well done conrad johnson! Thank you for this awesome product!
cheers, Rajeev J (Raj)
Melbourne, Australia

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