Had both these preamps in my system recently and it was a pretty quick and easy decision. Both myself and a friend who heard the comparison ended up purchasing the CJ ACT2. Another friend in a different ($1m+) system heard the same thing. In his session of 5 people it was also unanimous. My advice is if you can listen to both and make up your own mind as well.
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I have only listened to Audio Research equipment in showrooms and for a short periods of time but it just never pulled me into the music emotionally. So my vote is for CJ as it has always been my cup of tea just much more musical than any of the AR equipment that I heard. To me CJ is what vacum tube pre-amps and amps for that matter are all about. Obviously at this price point you need to listen to both if you can or if as you state you like the AR sound then maybe your decision is made.
Well my vote goes the other way but not before acknowledging that the CJ ACT 2 is a superb preamp, however IMO the REF 3 is for my money simply the best preamp that I have ever owned. It is magic in my system. I owned the Ref 2 Mk ll which I thought was good but just nowhere in the league of the Ref 3. To me the Ref 3 is what a tube preamp is all about.
What is the rest of your system? If you will use single-ended connection to the amp than CJ ACT2 is better choice(ACT2 is inverting phase as all CJ products). On the other hand if you will use balanced(XLR) connection to the amp REF3 is far better choice! IMO, REF3 is the best balanced tube preamp on the market and one of the best in general!
Fully agree with Oneobgyn.
Oneobgyn is absolutely correct- the REF 3 is an outstanding preamp, certainly among a handful at the absolute pinnacle of the current state of the art, and so is the ACT2.At this level of system performance and price individual amp to preamp synergies and system balance take precedence over declaring something an absolute best over another. You should definitely make the effort to borrow one and hear it in your own system before making the call, IMO. I'd also add the excellent Shindo preamps to your list as well. Any one of them are more than worthy.
Thanks kindly for your feedbacks in this hunt for a perfect preamp. Here are my components:
Preamp: ACT2 or Ref3
Amp: McCormack DNA 500 ( to be upgraded soon to tubes- premier 140? or ARC??) I need help here as well but only have enough money for preamp at this time.
Speakers: Andra II
Cables: Acoustic Zen Top of the line.
Analog: VPI HRX
Digital: Sony SCD1
Analog preamp: Still looking ( currenly using the Audible illusions M 3A with John C gold board)
Ginas, i have heard both the ACT II and Ref 3 at shows; i like them both. what is interesting is that both pre's actually are more strictly neutral than their pedigree's might suggest. i like the sense of control of the ARC Ref 3 and the delicacy of the ACT II.
i try not to hijack threads; but your above comment "this hunt for the perfect preamp" prompts me to add another candidate to your list. particlarly since you are into vinyl. i have a pre-production version of the new battery powered darTZeel preamp in my room. i will just say that if you are truely after "the perfect preamp" and maybe even "the perfect phono stage" then do what you can to listen to the dart. it has blown away all my previous references. and.....as you also are in the market for an amp; the darTZeel amps are a 'silly good' match with the pre.
last weekend i had a couple of guys over; one with SET's and Horns, the other has all Lamm gear (including ML2.1's) and just sold his Avantgarde Trio's. both could not believe there were no tubes in the signal path of my system. the ML2.1 owner commented that until, after listening for 2 hours, i mentioned that there were no tubes, he had not been aware of that. that was a first time of that ever happening to him while listening to solid state.
your Andra II's (designed by Von Schweikert like my VR9's) would sing with the dart gear.
First, a question ... what type of music do you play?
My current system includes the ACT2 and the Premier 140, so I've made my choice. I have not heard the ARC Ref 3 although I am generally familiar with ARC gear. Without intending to confuse further, the VTL TL-7.5 is another consideration.
The ARC vs. CJ comparison goes way back and both manufacturers continue to improve their line while retaining the same familial characteristics - their sonic DNA if you will - that has distinquished them across the years.
In terms of build quality each is best of breed from their respective houses and each will retain value over the years.
Both use the Russian 6H30, which pretty much rules out tube rolling.
In terms of sonics, from a 'classic' audiophile perspective these are gold vs silver, yin vs yang, warm vs. cool. While those terms hardly scratch the surface of each component's virtue, they are at the core of the approach from each manufacturer. There is no confusing their sound. In some respects it should be an easy choice based on your own preferences and priorities. This is not a Lincoln vs. Cadillac decision, more like a Ginger vs. MaryAnn dilemma (sorry) - the differences in approach from the two shops are profound, imo. I'd think of it as a long term purchase decision - what do I want to live with over time?
Wittgenstein wrote 'what cannot be said must be consigned to silence' - I would add, 'or to music'. To my ears the sound of the ACT2 is the sound of music.
Jtimothya, what Wittgenstein also said in the first page of the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is:
"what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.
Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather--not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought). It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense."
'tis all really rather confusin'! I do love the Ref 3, but will not comment about Act 2 as I haven't heard it (LW would be proud of me!). I can suggest though, that a fair comparison between the two should involve identical brands/models/lengths of ICs going in/out of the devices, only difference being RCA vs XLR. Furthermore, it is important that the Ref 3 be run in true balance mode, as it can operate also in single ended mode using XLR connectors, though the sound quality is in this submode and in any single ended configuration degraded.
Interesting in the "who's who of tube preamps.
I have heard that the people at Wilson Audio view the 3 best Reference tube preamps to be the
ARC Ref 3
CJ ACT 2
I also listened hard and heavy to the Lamm L2 preamp hoping that it would add synergy to my system using the Lamm ML 2.1 monos and I found it very cold and very sterile.
I just feel the Ref3 is for "my" ears the best tube preamp that I have ever owned
Just curious, how many 6H30s are out there? Are they still in production and how much do they cost? What is their average life span?
The 6N30P (or 6H30Pi if you parse Cyrillic) is a current production tube. The 6H30Pi-DR is purportedly the NOS version - early '80s Russian military, while the 6H30Pi-EB is what CJ includes as stock with the ACT2. The former (DR) goes for $30-$50 each if you can find them - try Victor Khomenko at BAT or Evgeny at Conus Audio; 'twas Viktor who dubed this the 'super tube', iirc. The latter (EB, from Sovtek) run anywhere from $10 to $30. Some dealers offer them cryoed.
I've tried all three in both the ACT2 and the Premier 140. The DR (NOS) version in the 140 *may* yield a slight increase in top-end extension ... emphasizing *may*. In the ACT2 I have not heard a difference yet and have stopped fiddling with its tubes. Lifespan is a healthy 7500-10000 hrs.
And what do the people at wilson audio know. Not trying to be funny or sarcastic it is just I have just never thought their speakers to be all that great. And believe me I am trying to understand as I have listened to their speakers in dealers showrooms on several occasions; I just can not appreciate them. Oh well different subject...........sorry.
I am now even more confused then when I first posted this subject but all feedbacks thus far are interesting and valuable to me (thanks again). I mostly listen to Piano, Jazz, classical, and a little bit of rock-n-roll. This next question is outside of the preamp subject but can someone comment on Cary Audio, CAD-211 Annivesary Edition amplifier and its ability to drive the AndraII's. Is it powerful enough to get the best out of the Andra II's?
I have just heard the ACT, but have had some previous AR preamps and currently own a pair of Premier 8s.
I second the recommendation to try to go and listen (preferably at your place), generaly speaking I would say thet the CJ line is a tad more musical, organic and involving than AR, which I find more analitic and grainy.
Ginas, I don't understand why are you more confused? In your post you said that you are interested in ARC REF3 or CJ ACT2 and that you will probably move to ARC or CJ amp as well... CJ ACT2 will work nicelly with your DNA500 and you can move later to either CJ new LPM140s(tube) or Premier350(SS). Both will make excellent synergy with ACT2.
If you go for ARC REF3 then IMO next step is either ARC REF210 or REF610T. REF3 is sounding very best via balanced connection... Synergy is everything,IMHO!
Do not forget about new Cary SLP-05, it will go very nicelly with CAD211 AE...
And I agree with Albert, VTL TL7.5 is hybrid as is Lamm L2.
Branimir, my wandering mind got the best of me momentarily but I am now back on track with the ACT2 and Ref3 or else it's going to take me a life time or more to search for the perfect preamp. As stated above, I have heard and loved the ref 3 but just want a taste of the ACT2 before making the final purchase of preamp ( I hope). I almost bought the Ref3 today but in the last minute I was able to convince my self to wait until I hear the ACT2. Thanks again and I will keep you all informed.
Oneobgyn, I usually agree with you but
FWIW.... The perfect preamp is no preamp at allMaybe, but in my opinion it's kind of like a car with no transmission.
Sure, a car with no transmission is lighter, fewer parts to move, and less mass "in the way" for the engine to drive the rear wheels. However, matching load for the most efficient power transfer is frequently more important than removing the "excess" parts.
It's true this opinion is based on my experience with (primarily) analog source, and my choice requires both a preamp and moving coil step up stage.
Looking at the bright side though, my preamp and phono are only 300 pounds and 6 boxes, each about the size of your amps. The sound is wonderful and you hardly notice the preamps when your not home.
Just a bit of sharing. My personal opinion is you should upgrade the source first. The sony SCD-1 seems to be the weakest link in the system. I am not sure if you mainly listen to redbook CD or SACD. If it's the former, I strongly suggest upgrade the CD source first. It has a profound effect of the overall sound. The reason is I have previously owned the SCD-1 and it's hugely disappointing for playing regular CDs.
Personally, I am using CJ 16 preamp, CJ premier 350 power. Previously, I have also owned CJ premier 12 monoblock, ARC LS25 and Ref 2 Mk 2 preamp. I think the choice between CJ and ARC shouldn't be difficult at all since they have a distinct taste in their own good. In my city(HongKong), the ACT2 cost almost double the price of Ref3!
I listen to more redbook CD than SACD. Upgrading the source is next in my list of things to to. Maybe next week i will buy the Cary 306. For right now, I just wanted to focus on buying a nice preamp and the rest of the system will be built or upgraded around it later as needed. Thanks for your advice.Ginas
A'gon member, Jadem6, has just put his SCD-1 through yet another upgrade so I suspect he can offer much information for you. He and I are in the twin cities metro area. I will see him tonight and finally get a chance to hear these latest changes along with some more listening to the Kubala-Sosna Emotion vs. Purist Dominus cables.
He runs with the Aesthetix Calypso and I have the Callisto Signature. I also have a CAT Ultimate II on loan from a dealer for a month. One thing we have talked about is to borrow a Ref3 and try it in our systems but we have focused a lot of time lately on cables. We and another A'gon member, Artg, stop by at each other's homes regularly toting our gear and cables to compare in all these systems. If you're interested to join in, please let me know.
Thanks for the offer of getting together. I would love to do it in the near future , most likely after new year due to holidays and traveling so I will be keeping your information.
Jadem6, after going thru all the upgrades with the Sony SCD1, is it worth it? If you can do it over again, would you or just simply shop for a new player? Please let me know. Any information you can provide will be very helpful. I have been thinking about the Cary Audio 306 player. Thanks advance for you help....
Lastly, if interested, I like to invite both you over for some fun with the ACT2 when and if ended up with it. Have you heard the ACT2???
I have an SCD-1 with four mods - 3 by Richard Kern and one by VSE (their top level at the time.) I can say absolutely that each mod changed the sound for the better.
Would I have had all 4 or bought another player? At the time of the mods, each step was cheaper than the 'other player.'
Today, if I could have all that money back, I might go in another direction. I have to assume that in the passing years some have made great strides. I'd think about an Esoteric or Ayre or APL modded something. dcs would be too pricey for me, as would Emm. Every time I ship the beast I worry for fear the truck drivers will damage it. It's HEAVY!
Ginas: The last time I heard CJ gear was in 1995 when I too was preamp shopping; I ended up with the ARC LS5 II but the CJ Premier 10 was also a most impressive piece. I simply prefered the dynamics of the ARC at the time.
When I see JD (Jadem6) I will let him know of this thread and hopefully he too can throw some insight your way as did Bob Wood.
And yes, it would be cool to have another member of our little audio group. See you next year.
First off I too would like to invite you to join our group. It has been a real treat to find some local friends who share this wonderful hobby. I feel so lucky to have found people who like to experiment and share the experience. This helps me grow and learn in the hobby.
As to the question (S) at hand, I do not endorse the comments that the SCD-1 is the weak link. This is a fairly ill informed observation and so I would first focus on the earlier topics.
I say this because the engineering that went into the SCD-1 is STILL beyond most any product on the market. In effect the engineers at Sony were given the dream problem to solve. The SCD-1 was the platform from which they launched an entire format. They approached the design with little regard to their typical mass market philosophy. Instead they were challenged to build the best machine Sony was capable of. Because of this, the isolation techniques designed into the SCD-1s footers remain beyond any product I am aware of. The custom transport remains the standard for the industry and exceeds the more common Phillips and Technese transports. (I just received my parts back after the mods I had done. I had the lasers and motors replaced at the same time as preventative maintenance.) The drive mount was replaced; this is the highly machined heavy steel bar from which the parts are mounted. Very impressive, and as with most concepts in the SCD-1; it is highly customized.
Of course, the SCD-1 was not perfect; in fact the only way for Sony to hit any logical price point was to load it full of off the shelf common parts, like capacitors, resistors, op-amp and the like. Even with the stock products, they lost a lot of money on the SCD-1 and the little sister 777ES, (The 777ES does not include the extensive and expensive isolation techniques.)
This is where Audiocom-UK comes in. Audiocom-UK is a company that designs custom modifications for components judges by them to be otherwise state of the art and worthy of upgrading. All of there modification packages are custom designed specifically for certain products. The SCD-1 remains their flagship mod package. They continue to push the potential of the SCD-1 higher with redesigned clocks and power regulators along with their original modification package which included Vishay resistors and Black Gate capacitors. (These are the best of each category available. Black Gate is no longer in business, so the stock of capacitors will soon become very low, and never be replaceable with a lesser product.).
Richard Kern (www.audiomod.com) is the SCD-1/777ES guru. No one understands this unit more than Richard, and no one has put the hour into advancing the potential from the SCD-1/777ES player. When the EMM Labs Meitner/Phillips combination hit the market and quickly became the standard of SACD playback. Richard had a fellow Oregonian who owner the Meitner combo agree to a shoot out. After hearing this unit Richard went back home and proceeded circuit by circuit to re-think the entire SCD-1/777ES design. He discovered modifying the transport board, along with using the Audio Consulting silver output transformers and the latest Audiocom-UK Superclock 3 and Superclock 3 power supply allowed the SCD-1/777ES performance to not only match, but exceed the Meitner/Phillips combo. Not only is the SCD-1 able to match all the detail and resolution of the Meitner, but its far more musical (I assume this is the laidback characteristic of the original unmodified unit coming through) I attribute the musicality to the amazing engineering into isolation and transport design along with the mass incorporated into the machines casing.
Since these findings, Audiocom-UK has come out with its second generation of power regulators, which Im sure exceed the original regulators by a quantified amount or the modification would not have been released. This is the only Audiocom-UK/Audiomod modification I have not had made to my SCD-1. The first mods were done in 2001 and I just received the second set a couple weeks ago. The burn in time is over 400 hours for the Black Gate capacitors, so I have another week before I can hear the full benefits, but I can say its going to be very special indeed.
So the question at hand is, would I do it again? YES! For the last five years I have had performance in SACD that remained state of the art. But lets not forget every modification made to the SCD-1 also affected the redbook playback. (Here is where opinion comes in) I believe the redbook playback over the past years has also matched the best available with the exception being possibly the Burmester. Now over the past couple years some excellent SACD and/or CD players have been designed. The Meitner is arguably the top of those designs, with the Remiyo (CD only) being at that same level.
So now my unit is again as state of the art as available with a total investment of one half or more to the best. I expect I will remain among the top for the next five years in both SACD and CD. At that point I will make a judgment, but for now
One reason I decided to again upgrade is I have not seen any truly revolutionary products sense the SCD-1, and therefore what is coming out is basically modified old products, just like my unit. I believe there is a breakthrough coming, somewhere combining Audiocoms mods, dcs up-sampling technology, Burmester and Meitner circuit technologies into a single box. This is coming, but at what cost? In my mind, Im already there and will be for years to come. Sure for some cost I might better the system I have, but I dont have that kind of money, and I doubt Im missing much from the early indications I have heard of my latest mods.
So now back to the original question. I would strongly consider comparing either of your short list components to Jafoxs Aesthetix Callisto. If its possible to set up a home demo from Audio Perfection and compare this with Johns Callisto (which would be fun to hear) I think you will have a very good idea of what is available. If you can get a loner CJ that would be great, I know there is a guy locally who had the Art, perhaps we could find him unless you already have a line on an Art II.
You can write me an email if you want a full breakdown of modifications available. The advice above to at least get the Superclock 3/ Superclock power supply is a must. The others depend on how far you want to go. Superclock 3 will amaze you
Can someone provide more color (no pun intended) btwn CJ and AR preamps? Not what is better or what u prefer but what are the respective strengths or weaknesses or singular "character" they may have. The single ended vs balanced feedback was most helpful but can someone comment more for the curious?
Dave b. No issues with noise with cj stuff especially the ACT2. I run 4.5 metre cables btween myj ACT2 and prem350's. I used to have prem16 and prem8a's and while they were't noisy, they required a bit more work on placement etc as hum could be a problem with bad placement.
Henryhk - cj pre amps place the music as a whole first, then detail where relevent.
ARC has more detail up front, IMO ARC can be more hi fi sounding.
Overall cj easier to listen to over a wider range of recordings.
let the flames begin:)
"ARC has more detail up front, IMO ARC can be more hi fi sounding.
It is not an issue of flames but an understanding of what flavor for each of us rocks our sonic boat.
CJ ACT 2 is indeed a fine preamp. Just not my flavor. The ARC Ref 3 for me and my tastes simply lights up my ears.
I might be able to answer Guidocorona's question. I had a CJ Premier 17LS and explored the Act 2 as a upgrade. I liked the Act 2 and it was certainly a upgrade from the Premier. I felt it increased the detail heard in my system and there was a increase in bass weight but, it did share the same sort of laid back warm sound that the Premier had. I can see how a system with speakers that are a little on the bright side and very revealing would sound good with this preamp. Especially if it is a all digital source system. The "warmth" would make the music more listenable in such a system. However, my speakers are already in the "laid back, warm" camp (Vandersteen 5A) and the ARC Ref. 3 matched much better with them. It really isn't which is better, they are both great preamps. It is what matches best with the rest of your system to acheive the sound you want.
Thank you Agaffer, much appreciated. Your observations confirm my own guess about the sonic signature of the ACT 2. As I said. . . I am 'expecting'. A stork may be finally in the process of leaving the frozen Minnesota tundra with an ARC 3 baby bundled under its beak just for me. In the meantime, there exists a rumour that just before Christmas there was a backlog of more than 30 Ref 3s, and dozens of 'expectant' 'fathers ' are succumbing to the most audiophilic of uncontrollable cravings.
What would OneObGin prescribe to palliate our growing anxiety and discomfort, while we wait for the great bird from the North to land on our roofs and deliver our tubed bundle of joy?
"What would OneObGin prescribe to palliate our growing anxiety and discomfort, while we wait for the great bird from the North to land on our roofs and deliver our tubed bundle of joy?"
I would recommend reading the book "What To Expect When You Are Expecting"
Guido...I was under the impression that you had the Ref 3 in your system.
As a reviewer I'm somewhat reluctant to lay bare my impressions of my own gear in the public forums, so I've kinda been holding back in commenting on the ACT2. Nonetheless, having read Valin's remarks on the ARC Ref 3 I was struck by the similarity of some of his observations to those I made of the ACT2 in my August 1st Soundstage! review. (Of course he is a better writer than I.) This suggests to me both devices share at least a few common virtues. Although I've not heard the REF3, I'll take the TAS review as an accurate account of what was heard, and feel not uncomfortable about making comments within the context of publication.
To give but one example: As Valin wrote of hearing how notes from the REF3 linger in space before those that succeed them, I cashed out a similar hearing with the ACT2 in terms of the absence of smearing across the temporal boundaries of notes. This was in a context almost identical to one he mentioned later in his article - that of a piccolo cutting through an ff orchestral passage and rising above. Likewise we offered similar comments about the realistic quality of strings, woodwinds, and particulary the reproduction of the human voice. I found other comments that, in essence, describe the same characteristics though stated differently.
Whereas the TAS article stuck me as focusing (but not entirely) on nuance, my praise of the ACT2 pointed to its facility in the areas of dynamics and timing. It is the relative character of these attributes that for me - at least in my current stage of audiophilia - most distinquish the great from the near great, and are the most difficult to do very very well consistently across the frequency spectrum. And without commenting on the REF3, it is here that the ACT2 is sublime in refinement.
Dynamics and timing are rudiments of musical performance, and the heart and soul of life-like sound reproduction. Analysis may let us divy them, but they are processed synthetically in the hearing - at least that is my phenomenological take. And when a piece of gear - such as the ACT2 - rightly enables this synthesis it offers "that extant magical whatever that hints at the limbic level that live music is afoot".
The sound of gear from ARC and CJ have had differences for over 25 years, since both companies began offering their wares. And in one sense these differences represent a titanic struggle for your sonic soul, if not your wallet. Yin vs Yang, etc. etc. I do believe the house sound from both companies has grown closer over the years rather than more different while neither has lost their inherent character. When it comes to a purchase we each make our decision. Rather than debate which is "better", I am just happy that we have the choice between fine components such as the REF3 and ACT2.