CJ ART / ARC Ref 2 audition

Hi Folks.

My journey towards a reference system reaching a fever pitch lately but always frustrating because the more "top tier" gear I hear, the more I want to have the class "A" system NOW instead of the excellent class "B" system at my current budget. But boy it's a joy to hear new things and seperate the wheat from the chaff in terms of my "absolute sound".

The Art preamp was issued in 1997. Never heard it until last month. The best I had heard up to that point was the CJ 17 followed by the Hovland Hp-100 which impressed the hell out of me and it's a close second to the CJ 17. Let me describe the auditioned system:

CJ ART MK 2 - ARC VT200 - Wilson 7 - Levinson 39os - Harmonic Technology and Siltech cables.

Even through I am not a fan of the amplifiers and the Levinson, as good as it is, is just to neutral for my tastes, the Art preamp is the closest to perfection that I have ever heard. Why? It's the most three dimensional audio component I have ever heard with recordings of all different types of music. It seemed to replicate, with the supurb Wilsons, the physical space of the musicians. The "they are in the room with you" effect. The CJ 17 approaches this and I could be happy with it forever but the Art created a full realization of musical space in a way that I never knew could be possible.

During that same listening session, also heard the ARC Ref 2 which was also excellent but has the trademark ARC dry agressiveness in the treble and midrange. This time, in comparison to the ARC LS 25, the detail and dimensionality was of much higher quality, warmer and less shrill than the lower priced unit. Would I take it over the ART? No. But at that price point, I was very suprised and very impressed at how good it was and I placed it second.

In that room and that system the only thing about the Art that I wondered about was whether it could made be just very slightly more agressive in it's presentation of treble information. Don't get me wrong! I'd take it as is! But there is a clear difference btw both ARC and CJ in this area. The ARC preamp sound (at least the lower priced LS 25) has detail but lacks a small amount of "soul". This is made much worse with their amplifiers which are just lean and cold despite my strong preference for detail over excessive warmth.

The CJ sound has fantastic smooth detail but it is not as "spotlit" in the extreme treble that ARC has a tendency to do at the expensive of musicality (again more in terms of amplifier than preamp).

Does tube rolling the Art or combining it with another kind of amplifier have a major effect on the sound?

Will brighter cables such as Kimber open up the sound even more with a unit of this kind of quality?

Was the Levinson, with the neutrality I dislike, the weakest link in the chain which may have lended itself to the treble issue?

Can't wait to hear the Art on my Thiel's someday. Perhaps that would answer the questions but the Art is not always available to listen to.

Thank you for reading!


The VT-200 is lean and cold? LS-25 Shrill? I have found neither to be the case. Levinson too neutral? Didn't know anything could be too neutral? Were the Wilson's properly set up? FYI, +/- 1/8" (or less) toe in or on time alignment issues makes a huge difference in the Wilson's treble response and comb filtering effects in room. Room treatment, dimensions, A/C, quality of the recordings used in regards to this reference system? I have spent hundreds of hours with various Watt/Puppies versions in regards to room placement in a ground up designed dedicated listening room. The point is there are far more variables in effect in a true reference system to consider before indicting any these fine products with blanket statements such as, all their amps are too this or too that IMO.

Dog Lover is correct. There are too many variables involved to group the Audio Research in the "bright & dry category." Room acoustics is a major issue in ALL rooms. The fluctuations in AC lines will cause problems as well. I am echoing DL's comments because they are FACT!! The only true test is to audition in you own listening room!! I do, however own the CJ ART and Mark Levinson 33H's and I am currently searching for cables for my system. Could you elaborate on the the Cables used in this system? By the way CJ uses Telsa tubes in their gear. Not a bad tube, but certainly not up to par with the Amperex or Siemens tubes.
My LS25 with NOS is a wonderful perfromer and is certainly not shrill. Same for my ARC VT100 mkII.

Danhirsh shows his inexperience, because he fails to consider the context/constraints of the comparisons. A typical rookie mistake.
Hi Danhirsh,

Nice review. Don't mind the ARC fans - every component has its weaknesses, including the ARC and CJ ART, as you correctly point out in your post. We all have our trade-offs we are willing to live with, and those that we are not.

The Levinson 390S, which I have had in our system for many years, is indeed a little cold sounding (aka too neutral, aka the notes have a tendancy to not decay naturally). The rest of the components are also not known for their warmth - so this demonstration you heard would tend to emphasize the strengths of the ART as a bringer of musciality to a system that had little or none.

I do not think brighter cables are the answer. The best cables IMHO are those that add a minimum of their particular sonic signature to the music. There is plenty of detail in the mids of the Levinson and certainly the Wilson (tho not sure what siltechs were used and not familiar with Harmonic Technology at all) but perhaps the pairing of the tubed pre with the tubed amp was a little too much for your tastes and ear? A nice solid state amp would definately bring out more detail in the midrange in that system.

Best of luck in your search,