Conrad Johnson Act 2 series 2 First Impressions

This will be an ongoing thread as I will periodically post my impressions as this unit breaks in . I owned the Act 2 series one for over a year and became quite familiar with its strengths and sonic character. The Act 2 series 2 has just arrived and I have 90 hours on it thus far . What is immediately obvious is the improvement in the midrange to the lower midrange . The notes and their color are fleshed out with greater ease and immediacy . I was listening to Diana Kralls Steppin Out and on virtually the entire disc , the difference between the two units is startlingly obvious. There is more depth and decay to acoustic bass notes imo. The brushes as they glide across the drum kit reverberate for a longer period and her voice has more of her chest in it. This is not to slight the Act 2 as I loved every second I listened to it . Its just that this new preamp is digger deeper in the midrange. The Teflon caps in their new gear takes 300 hours to break in in my experience so this observation is initial and superficial . I just wanted to begin this in public so those interested could follow my journey. More to come after 150 hours. Thanks .
Brainwater, don't you sell Conrad Johnson products?
Is that true, you are a dealer and didn't identify yourself?
No , i am not a dealer. I have a company called Rainwater Audio . My lines are Apl Hi Fi , Elrod , Sound Application , Shatki and am in the process of picking up the Modwright 9.0 preamp. I know people that sell CJ gear but I am not a dealer.
I also am a dealer for Critical Mass Isolation platforms as well.
My misunderstanding. Apologies.
No problem whatsoever Tvad. You are one of the most respected members of the entire audio community and I value your comments. I look forward to all of your posts when they pop up on the various forums.
Geez Brainwater,

Tvad is respected! What a load of hooey.

The guy is a virtually a newbee and never contributes anything useful. He rarely ever posts and when he does it's not worth reading.

The truth is that he has a double moniker and he also posts as Bartokfan. Just read the posts from each of them and you will see the similarities:)
Thanks for the report Brent. I'm looking forward to reading more of your impressions.
Nice report Brent :)
Thanks guys but this is a very initial impression . I know from past experience that it dramatically improves once the teflon caps break in thus my truncated initial review. I will report on each 100 hours and a final analysis at or near 400 hours. Thanks for the comments however.
Continuing :

The system I am evaluating this component in is in my 2 channel as well as my theatre - mulltichannel systems. Aerial Acoustic 20 T and Nearfield Pipedream 21 systems respectively. Associated components are listed in my systems open to public viewing.

I don't know if I am obsessive or just fanatically interested in audio. I do however live for this hobby and am dedicated to being a positive part of its success. I love meeting new audio buddies , sharing stories and supporting the various interests in any way possible. When I find a component that knocks me out I want to share the experience . Its positive feedback and interesting interpersonal interaction that drives and motivates me . I have been searching for the one company that "does it " for me and as you can read in my past comments on this site , I sincerely believe in the new direction that CJ is on . I have spoken about my love for the Premier 350 and my intense passion for the Lp 140 monoblocs that I cant stop talking about. I never did a "review ' of the original Act 2 . I didn't know until now why.

The Act 2 is a great preamp . The Act 2 Series 2 however is in another league altogether . I have passed 140 hours of break in . Changes are more dramatic than with the Act 2 series one break in period. I am confident in my statement that even after 140 hours , this unit has passed the performance of the Act 2 in many ways.

First and foremost , I am more involved in listening rather than evaluation. Evaluation is what I am trying to do . It was if the string between the system and my heart was not tight enough before. I never "felt" the emotional connection with my cds like I do now. An example : a snare drum . From a real drum recorded in real space , it breathes as the head expands and contracts. You hear its volume and its associated harmonic textural variance. An artificial recording of a snare drum has a consistent " sameness " to its sound that is flat and one dimensional. Its is but one way you " connect " to a recording . The Act 2.2 captures these variances better and with a greater sense of focus than the Act 2 did. Its now very easy to "peek into " the recording and feel you are a part of it rather than being locked on the outside looking in the way a mechanical event can often be transcribed from an unnatural" Hi Fi " system . I am also seeing or rather hearing a clearer top end extension that is emerging as a new sonic strength. As much as I liked the Act 2 s top end , there was not the crystal open window I expected. Though it still is evolving , it is opening up every day .

Low level detail is another area I see dramatic strides. I now am listening to the same recordings at a level much lower than before. This may be an illusion for a reason I am not aware of but nonetheless, I am doing so with an involvement that's alluring .

Timbre is a tricky subject as it is somewhat subjective in each listening environment. So many acoustical variances can color the perception that not only does the lack of recording studio perspective affect your point of view , but the room itself obscures the timbres "truth". We however do value our timbre and expect it to be rife with color shadings and nuances we can delineate at will. We tube lovers understand this. This preamp fleshes out timbre better than any preamp I have ever used in any system I have owned. This is a huge relief to me as I love the way older CJ gear did this . I am in no way saying that the new direction of the company with its new topologies and use of Teflon caps left their forte in the wind but the huge advancements and strides in bringing transparency and clarity to the Act 2 made the balance seem timid. I feel an authoritative grip on the Act 2 Series 2 . I sense a complete design .

I cant wait for 200 hours
Grant, where are you? Get in here and defend yourself :) Your reputation is under attack!
How does the CT-5 compare with the Act 2 and the Act 2 series 2?
The CT 5 was close to the Act 2 in performance and the Act 2 series 2 was born from the lessons learned from the CT 5 from my understanding .
Its 3 am . Last night I got 2.5 hours sleep. Something snapped last night and all hell broke loose. It was beyond the 100 hour mark that is so infamously etched in stone that CJ claims must be passed before even listening seriously. It was closer to 170 hours and the flood gate lifted . Not subtle but rather overwhelming to be frank.
Dimensionality exploded from the system as if I had something connected improperly before. Spiritchaser from Dead Can Dance opened up in every direction from deepest bass through the midrange right out the top window. Decay improved tremendously . This is not something you have to listen for. Its clear , unobstructed and free from restraint in my room .
I always felt the Act 2 was a masterpiece . Like a great Painting you acquire and hang on the wall. You admire it , show it off and even indulge in its beauty and sophistication while never recognizing this strange detached sense of connection you know you should be experiencing . You take it for granted you are experiencing it correctly. However , if you meet the artist and watch him paint you may feel differently about the work . You feel the emotion and fire he breathes into the strokes of the paintbrush. You come away with a fresh perspective of the work and understand and connect with your painting on a newly formed intrinsic level that is satisfying in so many new and exciting ways. What I am getting at is that though I have not been inside the minds of Bill and Lew, what is coming out of the Act 2 series 2 paints an astonishingly clear picture of what went into this preamp. I " feel " the passion and purpose .
I cannot stop moving when I listen to music. I find myself tapping my foot , hammering my heel, swaying uncontrollably and generally grooving to virtually everything I am listening to. I cannot sit and analyze the sonic characteristics the way I normally do when I evaluate a piece of gear. You have got to experience something like this to be able to convey it in words I now understand
You feel the emotion and fire he breathes into the strokes of the paintbrush ... I find myself tapping my foot , hammering my heel, swaying uncontrollably and generally grooving to virtually everything I am listening to.

Dynamics, timing, and timbre - the fundaments of music - thats what the ACT2 has always been about. Sounds like it is now even better. :-)

Hi Brent,

I was planning on getting a CT5 cause it is close to the ACT2 and now c-j comes out withe a series 2 ACT2. Man, more decisions!*>)
Very nice report, Brainwater. What a wonderful treat to be able to own and enjoy the best available gear!
Geez, Grant, are you ill? I thought surely I would get a little rise out of you :)
Geez, Grant, are you ill? I thought surely I would get a little rise out of you :)
Fiddler (Threads | Answers)
You leetle man weez your beret and penceel moostash, weegling your leetle fuzzy cat toy on your steek. But, zee cat ignores your manualeezm...purr-ferring to lick heez butt veez indeeference to your taunts!

Ferme la bouche, leetle prestidigitator!

Grant. That was really creative. You should be in the intertainment business :-).
I have a side question to you all. Is the ACT 2 series one upgradeable to the series 2? I have an ACT 2 which is excellent sounding. Based upon the detail review above, it seems the MK II is worth getting.
It is upgradable , ask you dealer for information .
Conclusion. Nearly 300 hours of break in is now a reality.
I got an e mail from a friend who is well respected in the industry that has been following the thread. He simply said " you really put it out there in the wind didn't you " ? I had no earthly idea what he meant. I e mailed him and his response was that its unusual for a non professional reviewer to review a benchmark product that absolutely no one had heard yet much less reviewed. The theory was that most who did reviews had at least a few professional comments to base their conclusions on . The danger was that if the product was widely panned in the critic press , my comments and my reputation would go swirling down the toilet quicker than you know what through a goose. I commented to him that I trust one thing... my own ears.
There is not a single area that the Act 2 Series 2 does not improve upon over the Act 2. As good as the Act 2 is , the 2.2 has better dynamics { both micro as well as macro } , better accuracy in timbre reproduction , plumbs deeper in the bass region , has more richness in the midrange and is more open and clear on top with out sacrificing decay and ambience retrieval.
It plays a wider variety of musical genres better as well. The polite , sophisticated Act 2 was not a rock and roll preamp. The 2.2 s attributes make Rock , Electronica and World music come alive with weight and slam . The improved top end and its ability to capture nuances of the recording space made Ambient recordings like Hearts Of Space positively enriching . Especially late at night when the wife was asleep.
Classical aficionados will sink into the massive soundfield and layered tapestry of the recording with a sense of ease that allows the listener to relax and concentrate on the performance and forget about the sonics. This is also a medium that benefits from the improved micro and macro dynamics and the 2.2 will not disappoint!I am simply addicted to two aspects of musical reproduction . The human voice and capturing the entire recording atmosphere in a given song. Lose the first and you lose touch with the humanity of the recording , lose the second and the suspension of disbelief you are experiencing a mechanical event is lost. Here are two critical areas that the Act 2.2 has significant advantages over the Act 2. I assume its a combination of attributes but it seems to me that the improvement in the midrange is directly attributable to the former and the later is something I can only describe without explaining.
I am an audio cannibal. I am addicted to the flesh and bones of the recording. Its what drives me into the Conrad Johnson camp. The Act 2 was not something I could readily sink my teeth into. The 2.2 is bloody tasty. Rhythm , vocal immediacy , space ; its all here in spades. Connecting to the music is the holy grail in my view. I am as close as I have ever been.
I am not a reviewer and this is not a formal review. I am a passionate lover of many genres of music and I need gear that will allow each to showcase its strengths.
Finally , I must admit that it is gorgeous to look at night with its Lucite rings and soft glowing tubes . The modern design is somewhat of a departure for the company but the look is retro at the same time oddly enough.
The magic in audio is all about the midrange and it is the cornerstone of Conrad Johnson designs. If you believe this then you will crave what the 2.2 does .
Brent Rainwater
Hi Brainwater,

Thanks for the in depth review. I've heard the ACT 2 on
many occassions but would love to hear the Series 2. After
reading your report I emailed CJ and asked them if there
were any plans to offer a Series 2 for the CT5. Answer.
Not at this time. According to CJ the CT5 was a bit too
close to the original ACT2 in performance and they feel
no need to upgrade it. Enjoy your ACT2.2 and thanks again
for the great review.
You are welcome and thank You for the kind words . To hear this new gear from the company { and that includes the Premier 350 and Lp 140 monoblocs } is to crave it. Some lament the new direction as the bloomy midrange has been recessed somewhat for a clearer view into the recording but I find just the opposite ; involving midrange palpability with the added bonus of cleaner lines and focus. Its the best of both worlds for me and the 2.2 addressed the shortcomings inherent in the Act 2. Again , thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and to respond.
Hi Brainwater, just upgrade from Act 2 to Act 2 series 2. When I had the ACT2 I didnt quite like it for the price I m paying. I felt that its too polite sounding and cant seems to handle the dynamics of classical music as well as I would like. ACT2 series 2 seems to make a hugh improvement even before break in. I noticed that the background is quieter. Dynamics, certainly much livelier. Overall its certainly more involving and musical. Even on the 1st day I can hear an obvious difference btw the two. Glad to have purchase it. However, I noticed that you have change to Art 2. Must be much better to upgrade so fast. Happy listening
What does it cost to upgrade to the series 2?
I spoke with CJ about upgrading - the have not put a price on it yet. It will require a virtual complete overhaul, new PCB board and power supply.

The retail price has increase from $13000 to $16000 for the series 2. So it seems anything under $5000 would be worth it.

As a short term fix. I have upgraded the tubes to NOS DRs and most important treated the tube pins and RCAs with Xtreme Quick SilverGOLD. The change was dramatic, a big improvment in dynamics. In fact, I almost jumped out of my chair on the first listen. I would also replace the stock PC, I've had alot of luck with the Nordost Valhalla PC coupled with the Thor conditioner - this also increased the dynamics , improved the musicality, and widened and deepened the soundstage.
Baranyi, the cost is 5500.00 to upgrade an existing Act 2 to a series 2. Well , and I mean well worth it.

Audioblazer. I am in awe of what CJ is doing with each new preamp introduction . The Act 2.2 walked all over the Act 2 . Obtaining an Art 3 was a dream come true !! I was able to make it happen and went for it . Live once , live hard.

Here is some info about the differences in the ACT2.2 upgraded from the original:
- improved power-supply architecture;
- eight-fold increase in size and upgrade from polystyrene to Teflon for the capacitor by-passing the input filter;
- upgrading the remaining capacitors in the audio circuits from polystyrene to Teflon;
- improvements in grounding;
- added internal shiled results in a 5dB noise reduction.

Fwiw, I'm running the 'NOS' 6H30П-DRs - *maybe* they yield a faint increase in higher frequency extension. Now that the price has really jumped on these - purportedly the last stock available - I'm not sure there is a lot of payback for this tube roll in the ACT2.

I really wanna hear the new CJ TEA1 phonostage - anyone had a listen yet?

Hi Brainwater, did you do a review on CJ Art 3? What is the difference between Art3 and Act2.2? TQ. Happy listening

Have you tried any treatment to the tube pins? It seemed to make a bigger difference then the DRs and cheaper.

Do you know what the 2.2 upgrade will cost?

Tim - Brent answered the cost question in his previous post - apologies

Rb99 - yes, I used the Walker SST on tubes across my valve gear. It does seem to make an improvement. I'm not entirely sure if the effectiveness wears off after a while, or maybe I just got used to it. Haven't tried the uplevel or gold versions. I'm using a Shunyata Helix Python on the ACT2 - its an excellent power cord.

And fwiw, the price Brent cited is the same as I've heard.


Do you have any details on the cj phono stage including cost. full tube, or hybrid like the Ph7?. more than one input?

Looking to replace the PH7 all ready ? :)

BTW, after a couple of weeks listening to the PH7 at home, it is everything you said it was in the review. Don't really want to play the Xono anymore - and that aint chopped liver.

not quite ready to pull the trigger on the ph7, but I could happily live ever after with it. brings new found respect to the aluminium foil sounding ARC.

cheers Shane
Audioblazer, see my Art 3 mini review .

Hey Shane! I'm pretty happy with the PH7, so no near term changes planned - glad it had enough gain for you. Its not that the Xono is bad - its got verve, air, and is quite flexible - just that the PH7 is better in most areas. I think the latest round of top-tier components from ARC (eg, Ref3, PH7) is a bit of a break-through for them. I expected one thing from the PH7, but got another and was quite pleasantly surprised.

WRT the TEA1 (Triode Equalization Amplifier)... I don't know much. The unit may not officially be released. Sometimes Brent gets his hand on stuff early in the pipeline, so my question was something of a teaser. I believe the TEA1 is CJs latest take on state-of-the-art in phonostages and preliminary info sez: zero feedback, two tube gain stages, two inputs, $10k price tag. Don't know if it has any FETs, etc. I *may* get my hands on one later this year for review.

We now return you to your ACT2 thread. :-)


Thanks for the detailed discription on the 2.2 upgrade.

Do you know if the 2.2 upgrades will make the unit the same as a "new" 2.2, or are there some things that can not be duplicated?

Much appreciated.


Hi Bob - I don't know details of a new ACT2.2 versus an upgrade. Sometimes CJ puts a little metallic 'sticker' on the back of upgraded units. Brent has a good ear and his reports have me very interested to learn the sonic differences. I can never truly imagine what an improved component will sound like until I hear it. Imo, the v.1 ACT2 is a a top-shelf linestage, so when CJ says it the v.2 offers "significantly improved dynamic impact and greater body and weight" along with "higher resolution", it certainly piques my interest. If you get the upgrade done, kindly report back. I'm saving up!

Tim, same here. Too many choices! I think an APL NWO 2.5 or an M1 is first.

I'm actually thinking of selling my garage baby to finance all this.

Good Luck!
The upgrade will replicate the performance of the 2.2 I am told.
Anyone still using this pre-amp?
I have always wanted to demo the ART3 pre-amp from CJ.
Art 3 is an amazing preamp!
Do you own the ART3 -anode4277 ?
Anyone own an ART1, ART2 or ART3 pre-amp?
I did own it and thought it was amazing. Unfortunately I needed to sell for financial reasons. It was fantastic!
which model? baranyi
ART 3. It was incredible! People are telling me the Linear Tube headphone amp zotl 2 is just as good for almost no money. I want to give that a try. Bob