The most exquisite sound available (to my ears) in 1986 was the c-j Premier 3 preAmp with the 200 watt Premier 5 monoblocks driving the SoundLab A-1s. I lived in San Diego at the time, and was unusually fortunate that my local dealer helped me to audition and actually A-B everything of quality then being manufactured.
I'm now in Amherst, Massachusetts, and am in the process of building a new system for my new house. The idea of demo-ing everything is clearly out of the question, particularly in light of the sheer numbers of hi-end tube equipment now available. Hence, I am relying quite a bit on the A'gon members' thoughts.
My Premier 3 is currently at the conrad-johnson facility, being cleaned up and refurbished in preparation for sale (let me know if you want a Pr. 3). I have replaced it with the Premier 17LS (bought used on A'gon). This decision was based on reviews, forum comments, and my own respect for c-j's sound and excellent service. I might do some comparisons for kicks, but if I do, it will be limited to the Supratek models, the First Sound, and maybe the H-Cat.
In regard to amplification, my first instinct was to stay with tubes, either the c-j 140 or SET monoblocks by Cary or Audio Note. However, the low output of most triode amps made me re-think things, and I came to the c-j 350. My thinking at this point is that, if such strides have really been made in solid-state sound, then perhaps my tube digital source (Audio Note) and tube PreAmp (the c-j 17LS) might just be complemented, or at least not be adversly impacted, by the ss 350. This choice is also important in light of the 350's ability to drive most speakers, as my SoundLabs died and I took them to the city dump...I'm leaning toward replacing them with Quad 989s or ?.
So, my personal choice at this moment is the conrad johnson 350. I anticipate exceptional sound through Quads. I'm therefor looking for one now, and if it sounds as good as it should, I'll keep it. I am so very much a cj fan, based upon 20 years of experience with them, that any minor improvement in sound from a different unit, if possible) would not be enough to sway me.
But of course, the only way to know for sure is to listen. I realize that all this has been absolutely no use to you, but when I get the 350 and do some listening, I will report to you my impressions.