Conrad Johnson preamp: ET5, ET7 (series 1 or 2) or ET3SE ??

Have always been a CJ preamp fan, but never an owner.  Taking a serious look at them again.  Of the ET series, I have only heard the ET5, and that was some years ago.  So I started looking for a used ET5, and in the process finding 7, 3, and 3SE, making me expand my thinking.

i wonder if anyone has compared the five models?  As I understand it, the 5 was replaced by the 7, which was then updated to the 7 series 2.  Does it necessarily follow that the 7 is better than the 5, with the 7series 2 even better yet?  And looking at reviews, TAS loves the 3SE, so is it “almost” as good as the 5 or7?  I also know that the 3 is upgradable to the 3SE, and the 7 series 1 to the current 7 series 2, providing a couple additional paths to consider.  i should state that all are within my budget, so that while I don’t mind saving money with the 3SE, I have money for the 7 (used) in my audio budget.

I really wonder if someone has really compared any combination of the above, such that you could help me eliminate one or more of the possibilities, or help me focus on one or two units.

I know that it will be system dependent, so I am running Naim digital and Naim preamp into a Primaluna HP amp, driving Proac monitors in a near field set up.  I listen to mostly female vocalists, acoustic rock and acoustic jazz.  I love soundstage and bass is not important to me.

((not that I want the discussion to go sideways, but this kind of opens up the philosophical question of, given a specific company, are the new models better than the past year models, and the more expensive units better than those less expensive, and is an update/upgrade always an improvement.))

thanks for your thoughts,


Meitaflask we are CJ dealers with the ET 3 and we had an ET 5 on display. 

The ET3 was good the ET 5 was way better.

The new ET 7 is supposed to be considerably better than the ET 5 the new replacement of the ET 3 is the same circuit in a newer box for more money.

The Naim preamp and digital which pieces do you have and how did you end up with this unusual pairing?

You may want to consider something like an integrated preamp dac which might give you two upgrades instead of one. 

It really depends on the Naim models you have.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
I have been a CJ fan for years and currently own 2 models - a premier 14 and ET5 which you inquired about. The ET5 is airy, detailed, throws a wide clear soundstage with a very smooth revealing top end. I have used it with the stock EH and Philips tubes which CJ supplies. I prefer the EH out of the 2 and actually have a NOS semiens that I have not tried yet.

I like both units and am actually using my premier 14 with mullards currently. For me, it matches better with my Thiels and gives a slightly warmer, richer presentation. I have not heard the other models you mentioned. I like switching them in and out on occasion but may part with the ET5 one day as I prefer the classic CJ sound. You can’t go wrong with CJ preamps.
Audiotroy-I have the dacv1, a dac/pre unit.  It can be used as a dac only, so I plan to buy a preamp, use the Naim as a dac only, then shop for a dac upgrade.
They just released a new model, ET6, it replaces the now discontinued ET3.  The ET3 is a great pre and I would imagine you could find a good deal on a new one.
Oddiofyl-  Yes, I heard the ET3 has been replaced by the ET6, but it sounds like (per audiotroy) I’d be better off with the ET5.
I've had both the ET5 and the ET3SE for a number of years.

ET5 is awesome...great holographic soundstage, that famous rich CJ midrange, decent tuneful bass, and lovely detailed treble with no harshness.

ET3SE is a great preamp too...just not as good as the ET5 by a long mile. I would say that the sound is similar, but the ET3SE is not as holographic, the bass is a bit muddier, and it does have some treble least compared to the ET5.

I'd put the ET3SE at 60% of the awesomeness that is the ET5.

If you can do the funds, the ET5 is worth it IME.
Sounds like everyone is confirming the ET5 is much better than the ET3SE, which is kind of what I expected.  So that ends that half of the discussion.

the question now is:

how does the ET5 compare to the ET7?

I have owned many. Take the ET5. You should not be sorry if you get it down to $3200.  If you are inclined to go ET7 series 1 used. The you get a more complete and tighter bass.  The new ET6 or ET7s2. Find the Conrad Johnson Dealer in Tucson Az who is usually o. US Audio Mart. He usually has good pricing in demo models.  CJ sound is similar in all cases and the further up you go the more detail to the same CJ sound you get.  I had them all and at $3200 used the ET5 was a great middle ground of content 
I have a crappy old ET3!
It was a pretty good Preamp with great soundstage & ok highs

i upgraded to a Mitsubishi Cyro tube That was supposed to sound like a Telefunken .

my goodness , what a change
Highs are sweet & detailed from stock EH
very grainless & english gentlemanly of the preamps!

I have heard the ET5 with a Vandersteen Treo....It was good, but I think NOS tubes really are great with CJ

I think you cannot go wrong with CJ 


All Conrad-Johnson components are hopelessly colored, distorted, and voiced so as to sound warm, syrupy, and lush to those who are weary of the distortions common to modern digital playback in Music Reproduction Systems.
Hi clearthink, the question is "Conrad Johnson preamp: ET5, ET7 (series 1 or 2) or ET3SE ??"

Your answer is that Conrad Johnson gear is a band aid brand to fix the damage caused by digital playback. Would you mind providing what gear you would recommend in addition to the gear you do not recommend?
@clearthink which ones have your heard?  With what components?

You are obviously entitled to your take but the newer models with CJD teflon caps are anything but what you describe.

And FYI not everyone listens to digital.
Clearthink, have you ever had a c-j product in your system?  To say their gear is a band aid for digital harshness is silly.....
Clearthink  oh my God we are in agrrement with Odiofyl.

If you think that current CJ gear is syrupy you haven't heard CJ in years, older 80,90,s and 2000 era CJ products were like that.

Recent CJ series starting with the ART, GAT, ET 5, ET 3 all of these designs starting 2008 or so are remarkably transparent, with a very clean and uncolored midrange, the amps are also tight and fast

Still have CJ issues, a bit on the noisy side but oh so right sounding.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ CJ dealer
OP here.  Just purchased a ET7 series 1.  Being shipped, should get it early next week.  

So, thanks for your input and comments, and I am signing off of this thread for now.

How are you liking the ET7 meiatflask?
I had an ET-3 SE for about 4 years. It was ok. But it just lacked dynamics. It ate a 6922 every 6-9 months. Top end was rolled over. It did have a nice bottom. A couple of years ago I demoed a Luxman CL 38U SE and it just took a few minutes for me to decide to sell the CJ. Dynamics, detail at the top end the music just came alive. Also very quiet. It's just as quiet as the day I bought it. Also the built in three tube phono is excellent. It has 4 step up transformers and is dead quiet. Price is around the same price as the current ET3. 
clearthink:  keepin' it real!  way to go!  there is some truth to what you are saying.  The PV-5 I had (used with quicksilver mono's) was caramel placed on top of maple sugar.  It was exactly as you describe.  The PFR however was a different animal and pretty much the opposite of lush.  it was incredibly dynamic for the time and a fairly neutral preamp.  It was also the best audio purchase I ever made.