Conrad Johnson Lp 140 monoblocs review.

The system the new Lp 140 Monoblocs was tested in was as follows: Nearfield Pipedream 21 system with 2 depthcharge subs . The Pipedream towers are powered by the LP 140 amps. The subs are passive and are fed through the Conrad Johnson Premier 350 solid state amp. The Conrad Johnson Act 2 is the preamp . All cables are Kubala Sosna Emotion , all Line conditioning is Sound Application Reference Line Stages . The CD source is the Fully upgraded APL from Alex Peychev with 6 dacs per channel . Isolation and stands are Sistrum , Symposium and Vibraplane. Frank Changs Resonators in Silver and Gold for Tweaks . Dedicated , isolated 10 gauge romex into a seperate subpanel and grounding rod into 6 Sound Application outlets provided power to the seperate Sound Application Reference Line Stage Conditioners. Musical evaluation discs include the SACD versions of both Modern Cool and Cafe Blue from Pat Barber , as well as various Diana Krall , Chris Rea , Telarc , Chesky and FIM discs. Axis dvd - a was used as well. This is a first impression based on 0-120 hours of listening and follow-up remarks will come later to complete the evaluation. I encourage questions . ... The Lp 140 Vacuum Tube amps are the latest from CJ. As many know , the company took a fresh direction with the introduction of Teflon caps and new topologies with the Premier LS 17 2 preamp , Premier 350 ss amp and Act 2 preamp. In my opinion , it blazed a new path for the company and I was sold on the direction some time ago. I have always respected the company . The humble attitudes , the conservative buisness model and reliable forward progression has been admirable. Many have loved their past gear for its heart and soul sound that was at once rich and multi layered with a bloodstained midrange that simply drew you into the music. Many on the other side of the fence saw the sound as having too much bloom and gravitated to gear like ARC. The new gear from CJ has bridged the gap in so many ways in my opinion . Its still captivating in the midrange with a luxuriousness that will not aleniate CJ fanatics but now aims both barrels at lifting "veils" at an astonishing pace. That said about the direction of the company and its latest products I will begin the review . {Without naming names and embarrassing the competion I can only state that I have had some well respected solid state and tube amps come and go. I know many of the owners of these fine companies and think highly of them . I will not go into what each amp failed on in comparison as my respect for them and their contributions to our industry are enormous .} ... Zero to 4 hours was an initial burn in as I left the home and started the grill .A great evening begs a great start . Coriander scented Muscovy duck breast fanned on an Asian inspired Mescalun salad with charcoal fruits and a port - balsamic reduction topped with seared thick slices of grade A fresh Sonoma Foie Gras sprinkled with a drop or two of rich honey and Fleur de Sel from the salt marshes of France began what I sensed as a special evening with the LP 140 Monoblocs. An Opus 1 , 96 slid down the rim of the crystal . I was expecting something special if my experience with the Act 2 and 350 was any indication . To quote someone , I think it was Michael Fremer , without descending into Hyperbole Hell, I will attempt to refrain from exaggeration . For me , capturing the recording space with all its nuances is a prime objective of mine. Gear changes and upgrades which often cost a fortune often yeild noticable albeit incremental improvements. You strain into improbability to discern these micro changes exclaiming " I KNOW you must hear that honey" as she rolls her eyes in frustration as she sinks effortlessly into " audio debt hell " . What I can say without hesitation is that what I used to kill myself to capture now exploded into my listening room . You would have to be deaf not to hear it. It was errie actually. The stage was alive in the room . You can very easily see into the soundstage as if it was all lighted in different colors. The seperation from front to back extended dramatically and this made it easy to hear each note in its complete form as it slipped into black. I guess I could say that it eleminated all congestion and was faithful to the recording in a respectful way. A friend came by who I went to high school with . He doesnt even know what an I Pod is so when he asked me to play Led Zeppelin "Presence" I almost cringed.It was an original copy from "the day " . Not the crummy but slightly better remestered version . I love every Zep disc but the mere thought made me sick .I obliged and sure enough , it sounded like I was microwaving metal. What goes in comes out with this gear. Magnificent recordings breathe with an organic presence that is romantic { in a good way of course } , full of air and detail and have a top end liquidity that makes cymbals shimmer unlike any single audio component I have ever experienced. Percussive instruments are attractive to me and the weight and snap is something I need . This amp is the Grand Master Champion in this regard. The decay of the notes were so obvious I was in shock . Vocals , male and female are unveiled and full of body and impact without a hint of strain . Chris Rea was having dinner with me it seemed and Eva Cassidy opened the wine God rest her sweet soul. Deep bass is extraordinary for a tube amp , nearly matching the control of the Premier 350.I put on Blue Man Group s The Complex and it blew through it with ease . This is all for now as I have another 200 hours to go. If it gets any better , I will marry it in a ceremony at the CJ factory . I say this because it was an agonizing break in pocess for both the Premier 350 as well as the Act 2. Right out of the box ,this work of art { oh , btw ,the pictures no NOT do this hunk of metal justice. Its gorgeous with its T bar shape, exposed tubes , lucite rings and killer curved metal gold face. The Premier 350 certainly is to be bought for its performance , not looks.No offense guys at CJ . Here , you are rewarded this time with something that is also a work of art !! }I will report back after 200 plus hours . I hope this enthisiastic review can be seen for what it is . It is an honest passionate non technical view from a rabid lover of audio. Thanks
Nice reading about new CJ stuff. You enthusiasm comes across and being a long time CJ fan, it was fun to read.

You made me hungry though.

Any experience with the Premier 140, that has come and gone quickly and I would be interested if you had a chance to hear one.

Regards, Steelhead
Hi Brainwater,

Thanks for the early impressions of the LP 140's. Just
curious to know how they compared to the 350? I know
its a bit early but curious if you had any first impressions?

The LP 140's are way out of reach for me but if I had
the cash ....better stop, I'm starting to drool.

Cmach , the LP 70 stereo version is basically the same as the 140 version so maybe its not out of your reach . Smaller transformers and less wattage of course but said to be identical sound wise. Personally , I adore the 350 . It bested my 20 k Classe Omega dual chassis monobloc mega amp in all but the last ounce of control. The 350 and Lp 140 share some of the same characteristics like being clear , detailed and dynamic with a sedctive midrange . The 350 was as much tube as solid state sounding as it walked a fine line in this regard.The 140 is all tube baby and to hear one is to want one . The 140 just excedes the performance of the 350 by a fairly wide margin . They both have their place and one might be suited to your needs better than the other as the 350 has a relentless iron grip on the speaker . Steelhead , I have indeed heard the 140 that was retired but not in this system so my comparison would not be completely accurate. My comparisons are comntrolled and carefully evaluated therefore i am not comfortable expressing an opinion on this , Im sorry.
Thanks for sharing your experience with the LP140s with us!
Youre welcome Kw6. If the direction of the Act 2 is something one finds to their liking , the Lp 140 in conjunction will take the sonics in the same direction at hyperspeed.
"... I will marry it in a ceremony at the CJ factory..."

I understand that service is a free gift with purchase at the factory when you buy amp and preamp. After all "Virginia is for Lovers."
It sounds like CJ has broken it's big amp jinx (except for the premier 8).
Brainwater, could you please elaborate a little more on the differences tonally and dynamically between the prem 350 and LPM 140's.

I own the 350 and have extensively tried both the ACT2 and CT5. I am afraid I like neither pre amp. cj has gone too far in its neutrality and IMO has lost its signature warmth and bloom. This has made far too many recordings unenjoyable to me.
I also tried the discontinued prem 140's and they were hardly warm sounding tube amps, but they were only tried with the ACT2 and CT5.

Me personally get a little concerned when I hear quotes like "it sounded like I was microwaving metal". Admittedly Led Zep is not audiophile, but neither does it sound like microwaved metal. Pat Barber, Eva Cassidy, Dianna Krall will sound great on alomst any system, so it is hardly surprising it sounds good here.
Don't get me wrong I am not trying dampen your enthusiasm for the LPM 140's, hence asking for more information re the sound.

Downunder, LOL, I'd look elsewhere in your system, NOT the ACT2, which to me is a stunning, beautiful masterpiece that threads the needle of musicality and resolution like no other preamp I've heard,period, and I've heard or owned almost all of 'em. Try a Lamm L2 if you want DEAD neutrality.. The ACT2 most certainly is not a preamp band aid that's going to fix problems in other areas if you're looking for added sweetness, fatness etc. you're not going to find it here. but in a neutral system it's going to be a true musical instrument and tell you what's going on but with only a hint of what previously was the CJ hallmark sound-a stunning and unparalleled achievement IMO. I tried the 350 in my system and found it to be IME perhaps an echo of your comments above. If you have another component that in too sterile and SS on the analytical side of things then you're going to have to (try to) fix that upstream and down IMO. Going into transparent spkr cables, tubey sounding preamps and perhaps you strike a balance, however THAT creates a totally separate set of issues, LOL.
Allright , microwaving metal was too harsh . It sounded more like what a person might utter if subjected to chewing a wad of tin foil while shaving his head with a cheese grader. Does that sound better ? I grew up on Zeppelin and think they are untouchable . Sonics on their cds are atrocious . Downunder , Owl is correct . The Act 2 and Ct 5 are more transparent and accurate than many of their earlier models but the tradeoff is one of delicate , harmonious balance that does not sacrifice musicality at its expense . Have you ever heard the saying .. " garbage in , garbage out" ? This should answer the Zep question without elaborating. Yes indeed Pat , Diana and the many audiophile discs do indeed sound good in many systems but you are missing the point. Its a relative difference I am speaking of. As the system you are creating and improving becomes more resolving and accurate , the information on these fabulous recordings is slowly unearthed that was hidden or lost in congestion . These discs are tools to gauge your work if you allow them to be. Its not just Jazz masters that sound good either . Try Tour De France by Kraftwerk or Chemical Brothers or anything from say Crystal Method and the floor will split and your pulse will pound. These are excellent recordings from dedicated engineers. It doesnt HAVE to be a David Chesky , disc to sound good but it certainly helps if the aim is to create a resolving , musical system .{On another note , these engineers that spend enormous time money and effort in making great recordings for all of us are the unsung heroes of our passion . } I did say musical and I find the Act 2 in combination with the 1 Lp 140 extraordinarily musical. Downunder , I know where you are coming from however with your criticism of the CT 5 and Act 2 in relation to their past gear. The earlier CJ products were warmer , tubier sounding that was a very attractive sound for many . The midrange was so deep and lush that it was " bloodstained " as I wrote earlier . I was a fan of it too and in a bedroom system , I still am . It came however at a cost . This cost was one of slight sluggishness and congestion .There is a lack of palpability , a veiled presentation was not natural sounding to me. Listen to a Halcro amp and preamp combination or the ARC Ref 3 and one of their top of the line tube amps for example. Conrad Johnson is meeting the competetion head on with this new gear . Personally , in my opinion , the gap made by the Act 2 and Lp 140 is perfect....... as it addresses the deficiencies of earlier gear but retains musicality as its foremost goal. Rest assured Mr Conrad and Mr Johnson will never let go of what has etched their nanes in audio stone : making involving audio gear for music lovers that need the connection with the "music ". This new gear is in no way a sellout to meet and greet the competetion as you may be suggesting but an attempt to make the perfect combination . I for one feel they succeded , thus the over the top sensationalistic review.
I wanted to answer your question seperately Downunder concerning the sonic differences between the 350 and Lp 140 . The 350 is a most extraordinary solid state amp . It too is a gap bridger as it retains an unusual balance of midrange warmth and micro dynamics yet has a rather sweet top end that is unlike so many beefy solid state designs. It sounds somewhat like Olde Lund of Gamut had his innovative hands on the design and voicing . I was struck by the 350 s ability to convey minute details in decay first and foremost . Capturing " air " surrounding an individual instrumental note in recording space is the domain of tubes right ? Well the 350 cut a wide path in getting its foot in the door here. I also was struck by the 350 s lack of congestion at high levels as the instrumental soundspace seemed to expand and breathe in the room so effortlessly. Remember now , it was used with the Premier ls 17 2 and then the Act 2 when comparisons were made. {Also remember that the teflon caps take forever to burn in . They say 100 hours and I say 300 hours of real playing time burn in so some of your dissatisfaction may possibly be due to this factor.}Control of low bass notes was excellent with the 350 . Try Blue Man " Audio " or Tweekend by Crystal Method . Remember that it is a solid state amp . To ask it to behave like a tube amp is asking alot . Thus the LP 140 and LP 70 monoblocs. Ok , the differences are not subtle. The Lp series is back doing what these guys do best . Midrange. Its so "there " you can taste it. Rick Rubins engineering of System of a Down is awesome for example. {I assume by your thread you like rock maybe ? } . The DVD A Emerson Lake and Palmer will have you rething the DVD A format as it is expansive , dynamic and has tons of atmosphere. Retrieving atmosphere is another facet of the LP 140 s strenghts . It captures the recording space so effortlessly that you find yourself pulling out recordings that have molted. No it will not make crap sound like goose liver but in reality , thats not going to happen . You must resolve yourself to either strive for a musically resolving system or not . To do so can be extraordinarly rewarding. You just have to get a cd visor and put all those mud sounding , highly compressed discs in your car.... like i do. Downunder , you sound like you really love music . This field survives on people just like you . Ones with the passion for simply listening to their music rather than fussing over which tube sounds better . I applaude you . You have chosen CJ for their reputation for getting you into the music which is obviously what you love . You are aiming high too : the 350 and ACT 2 or CT 5. Make SURE the units have burned in completely before making a firm decision on its sonic merits. I found the ls 17 2 , Act 2 as well as the 350 sounded thin and uninvolving well past 100 hours but be patient . It all comes together at 300 and it settles in . You will have your musicality , and your passion .
OWL, I didn't say the ACT2 was bright or etched, just a little too neutral for my tastes. I prefer the older warmer cj pre amps.

Brainwater, thanks for your further thoughts. The ACT2 and CT5 each had at least 600 hours on them, so burn in was not an issue.
Good to see you like and play rock'n roll, electronica and alternative music. yes a lot of it can sound bad, however plenty of it sounds awesome. Rick Rubin does know how to get great sound.

Personally, taking on ARC or Halcro head on is not what I consider enhancing the SOTA musically. But others will differ.

Downunder , I just studied your system and if it sounds half as good as it looks then you must be a happy guy!! Awesome job putting together a sweet system in a fabulous room to boot!!!
Hey guys - I'm hoping the core of the issue here is tonality, which imo, is really a matter of personal preference and not the arena where one piece of gear is 'better' than another. We can talk about tonal preferences (light/dark, cool/warm) all day and never disagree - imo, its impossible to 'disagree' on *that* attribute - we just have different preferences.

A component's facility with dynamics we can assess. A component's facility with temporal accuracy we can assess. With soundstage, imaging, dimensionality/palpability, coherency, continuity we can assess. By 'assess' I mean judge the merits one component relative to another. And with enough specific examples across a mix of musical genre's I believe we can arrive at both a claim of one piece of gear doing better than another *and* arrive at a package of personal preferences that each of us can live with. Since there is no 'perfect' component, by the latter I the set of positives and tradeoffs a piece of gear brings to the table that we personally can live with. That's my take, anyway.

I like to think myself a follower of the evolution of CJ gear over the past say 10 years or so. (I've had earlier, but sonic memory fades quickly into generalities.) I agree with Downunder that CJ tonality has moved toward neutral relative to where they were with, say, the Premier 8s. I like the old HP yin/yang analogy. If Yin is Warm/Dark and Yang is Cool/Bright and Neutral is Zero smack in the middle, then CJ tonality has moved along the Yin scale towards Zero, but they have not hit Zero nor gone beyond it. In my opinion. ARC has always been on the Yang side of Zero as have many (but not all) SS gears.

I'm also coming to the notion that 'sweet' as a descriptive word is not the same as 'warm' although they often go together. I tend to think of 'sweetness' as a product of a musician's facility with an instrument, where that is possible. Felix Pappalardi can't play his Hammond B3 sweetly because he's not controlling the instrument's tonal character (though he can use different stops), whereas Robin Trower can play his Fender Stratocaster with savage sweetness, his fingers directly on the strings. Jascha Heifetz (Mr. Cool) doesn't have the tonal warmth of Francescatti but both can play sweetly.

Tonality is very much a part of what each of us likes - we have our preferences. And if a component is not tonally "right" for us, then perhaps no other combination of component attribute goodness can "make up" for that "not rightness". And so it goes.

HOWEVER, CJ has also made great strides in other areas. I'm gonna guess (tell if I'm off base here) that we don't disagree about the value of those improvements. One area is overall resolution, or lowering of the noise floor. CJ has become increasingly more resolving. Another area is their handling of timing - this may be a product of better resolution, but I'm not certain about that yet. Newer CJ amps and preamps do a much better job capturing and presenting the differences between the start and stop of individual notes. Take that built up from individual notes and you have part of what timing is all about - the absence of smearing of notes one into another, each getting its temporal due and no more and no less. I would say this progress is also a move toward neutrality - perhaps 'accuracy' is a better term here. The accurate 'management' of an electronic charge that portrays the sound wave from which it was created. So neutrality of accuracy here is in comparison to the live event.

Timing is part of dynamics as amplitude goes up and down over time and here likewise CJ gear has progressively moved toward the neutral or 'more accurate'. And so it goes too with soundstaging. Imaging, dimensionality, 'blackness' - these characteristics I haven't come to an evaluation yet as they, imo, are the most dynamic, the most fleeting.

Now in the case of the amps, warmth may be as much a product of tube characteristic as anything else. I find it *very* interesting that CJ has gone to a 6922 as the phase splitters in the new LP70/140 models and not re-used the 6H30 they adopted in the Prem 140. There is no off-the-shelf drop-in alternative for the 6H30, but there are many many ways to change tonal character with a 6DJ8/6922/7308 and the LP series uses 3 of 'em. Same for the 6550 - swap those stock SEDs for NOS GEs and bingo - more warmth. (While I haven't heard the LP-series yet I can assure you that - for these ears anyway - there are lots of amps that are tonally 'less warm' than the Prem 140.)

The tendancy is for components with a warm tonal character to also be a bit more laid back, a bit looser in the area of dynamics, timing, and perhaps also to be a bit less resolving, (but less of a tendancy wrt resolution). I can't say this is anything more than an association of attributes - who knows all the causal factors in play. Look at Koetsu cartridges or EL34 power tubes. What comes to mind? Warm, Lush, Opulent tonality. But also looser transients, a tad less snap and verve. (You won't find ARC using EL34s. What are they using? 6550s, 6N1Ps, 6H30s.)

What are the alternatives for Downunder - an amp in a similar family vein - ie, to the proper side of Zero on the Yin/Yang line, but further from Zero than 'modern' CJ. AND still closer than farther in terms of an equally modern adeptness with dynamics, timing, and resolution. Quicksilver? Definitely Thor - I've only heard their 30 Watter and it is certainly sweeter than the Prem140, but I don't know if I'd say warmer. Their bigger amps would certainly be worth a listen if there is an Aussie distributor - kinda pricey, but excellent build quality. Any others to suggest? Neither are the CJ sound, but likewise neither is that far from it.

Ok - sorry for the ramble. Thanks for the write-up Brent! I'm enjoying being a voyeuer to your process of discovery with the LP140M. :)

thnks Brainwater. Always going to be hard to sound better than Elvis looked or sang! Impossible if you ask my wife :)
BTW the VTL pre is gone, hence me trying out pre amps. Just a pity the cj did not work out for me.

I am trying to get to a stage where I have my more transparent source with the dyna XV-1 and my slightly more organic source headed by the overachieving denon 103R. That will give the opporturtunity to better enjoy those musically wonderful/sound not so wonderful records.

Looks like you need to update your main system as those pipedreams must sound devine.

anyway, back to listen to side 2 of Sebadoh after a Chris Isaak afternoon.

cheers Shane

you drank that opus 96 without us?!?!?
" Shane from Downunder " ... that just sounds cool . I will have to get that Chris Isaak...... Rob!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where have you been?? I would have waited but getting you and the misses up here is harder than getting a straight answer from this Adm. I have a few other classics in the wine closet . The invitation is still on and are you sure you want 4 plates of Foie Gras this time?? Tim , that was an extraordinary post . Thank you for the intelligent insight comparison notes on older gear. I completely agree with what you said and offer only that the sonic characteristics of the Lp 140 are worthy of an audition if one is in the market for what I feel the current state of the art in tube amplification .
As a side note , during the review , i put the amps on my Aerial 20 t and ESP Concert Grands thus my refrerences regarding my observations of the amps ability to handle low bass notes. Break in went well with the amps really just settling in .340 hours now . No startling improvements like the Act 2 and 350 provided.They both were rather plain with zero hours . No so with the LP 140s . Suble changes and improvements were as follows .. The bottom tightemed and the top smoothed out. Images regained focus and lifelike size and shape. Transient bursts of percussion became distinct and clearer . For the most part , they just continued to bring more of the same to the table. That btw is a very good " same " ,
Your review is dead on. I have the LP70S, ACT2 and 90db JMFocal Diva Utopias. The LP70S is already great with the stock tubes but went to another plane of consciousness when I replaced the stock tubes with GE6550's and Siemens Gold Pin 6922's. The Siemens (ECC188C's)in particular really elevated the performance of the amp. I've spent tons of money over the years on audio gear but this combination is the best ever.
Brainwater...i have seen you on various threads, and erally respect your opinions & feedback. However I too recently audtioned the LP140 and found it very disappointing...perhaps a system match issue. The system was Metronome CD player, CJ CT5 and Kharma 2.3F speakers. The speakers are the same as the ones I own. For whatever reason, the sound stage was narrow, dynamics were at fail and it sounded if everything was laboring very hard. Because all of this the supposed beauty of tone & tubes really did not come to fore. This was at dealer. We then switched the amps Gryphon's Sonata Allegro preamp and Encore power amp and every thing improved massively. The Kharam's have sensitivity rating of 89 for what its worth....I was very surprised as I had expected a lot better. Given your experience perhaps the equip was defective(?) but the dealer too didn't have answer either...
Cant explain that Henry . Defective? Who knows but i wouldnt assume anything until I exhausted that possibility .
Great system BTW Henry!
Thanks u may have noticed from my own system thread, I've just ordered datzeel's pre-pwr. Canit wait until i get them home!
The DarTzeel gear is fabulous. Good listening!!!