conrad-johnson system questions


Hello,

I'm relatively new to the whole audio game, but I'm a quick learner. Let me tell you what my goal is: to require a good audio system, doesn't have to be the best, doesn't have to cost as much as a brand new BMW, but should do a decent enough job to listen to CD's and LP's. I'm guessing almost all separate system will do a better job than my current integrated Akai AM-U33, which makes a horrible buzzing sound by the way (too close to my computer probably, which makes another horrible buzzing sound).

So, recently I've become aware of conrad-johnson, and I immediately fell in love. I like their no-nonsense no-compromise philosophy, and let's face it: it IS highly important, I like their aesthetic designs. An amp should look good. I like the retro look, I'm not too fond of amp that, while thei might be the best, look like a space shuttle. Shiny aluminium and blue leds everywhere are not for me.

So I've been browsing the conrad-johnson sales on this site (nice list), until I noticed that shipping was in 99% of the cases US only. Too bad. But it probably doesn't matter because in Europe we have 220V/50Hz instead of your 110V/60Hz, so I'm guessing the products would not be compatible anyway. If anyone could recommend me a similar EU based site that would sell loads of used c-j components (220V/50Hz), please let me know.

But, I've found a Dutch hifi store that has two c-j products for sale: the MF2100 and the PV10. The MF2100 has a really good price ($520), so I'm in doubt. My favorite combo would be the Classic preamplifier (also won the award of best preamp of 2009 on an other site) paired with either the MF2250 or the MV-60. I'm not sure if I want to combine tube-solid state or tube-tube, certainly since everyting I've read tells me the c-j solid states sound very much tubelike. Could anyone tell me the advantages and disadvantages of both configurations?
I'm guessing a problem is that the MV-60 is only 60W per channel, and that's not much. I haven't encountered any speakers to fit that.

Another problem is the availability of the MV-2250. I haven't seen it in Europe (then again, I haven't found many EU based sites that sell used c-j equipment).

So I guess the MF2100 is the next best thing, a little less power, but I can live with that. Although some reviews are raving, other review tell me to watch out, since the amp can sound pretty bad if paired with the wrong preamp. But I'm guessing all c-j products are compatible, no?

So, there's the question of which power amp to take: MV-60, MF-2250 or MF-2100, knowing that the MF-2100 is cheaply and readily available. Or maybe I could go another way and pair a c-j preamp (like the classic) with thow outlaw monoblocks (since they come cheap and highly rated).

But, there's also the question of which preamp to take. I like the classic. Everything I've seen about it is highly positive. But the store also has a used PV-10 (ex-demo model). Since I haven't found a lot of info about the PV-10 (except one negative review and one positive), what do you people think of it?

So to summarize my questions:

1. EU based webshop for c-j (preferably also used products)?
2. Pairing: tube-solid state or tube-tube?
3. preamp: classic or pv10?
4. poweramp: MV-60, MF-2250 or MF-2100? Outlaw monoblocks?
5. Is the MF-2100 really that bad?

Oh, and any speaker recommendations?

Thanks a lot,

Robbe
swaf
Robbe,

Conrad Johnson, as far as I know does not sell in EU because of the new Power Supply guidelines. EU countries require All power supplies to be switching power supplies and CJ uses all Linear power supplies. As far as a site try Highendbroker.com. Also many audiophiles prefer a tube preamp with a solid state amps so you should have no problems there. PV 10 is a fine preamp, but for a little more I would recommend the PV 12. Also the MF2100 is a fine amp, but be careful they are a little long in the tooth and may require maintenence. Do not read too much into the power ratings of tube amps, due to their nature they sound much more powerful than their power ratings and they do not distort like a solid state amp. They clip more speaker friendly. As far as speaker there are plenty. Try Harbeth or Spendor since they are EU Brands that are highly thougt of.

my .02 cents.
My tuppence: choose your speakers first.
Love cj, but please heed Unsound's advise: speakers first.
The problem is - I don't know anything bout speakers. I was hoping that settling on amps would narrow down the choice, because there are so many possibilities.

I've read some bad things on c-j power amps - no bass. They recommended Cary Audio Design's sixpacks monoblocks instead.
I've been a CJ owner on and off for 10+ years. I've had the PFR, PF2, PV10, PV12 preamps; MV55 tube amp, MF2100 power amps. I've used magneplanar speakers of various varieties, meadowlark and other speakers.
I think their stuff is an incredible value on the used market. I'm an LP person, play a lot of vinyl but also play CD and SACd.
The PV10 is a steal, especially if you play vinyl - it has a very nice phono section. It is a warm, tubey sounding preamp. The ss preamps, PF2, PFR are very different. The PFR is a line stage - was class A stereophile for a few years. More dynamic, detailed and deep bass than the PV10. The PV12 is between the two but very difficult to find.
Amps - the MV55 is an EL34 based tube amp but can also use other tubes. I prefer 6L6 tubes, but I really enjoy the MV55. The MF2100 is one of the best deals in audio - sstate with a nice mosfet type of sound. Better bass than the mv55, no sstate annoying glare. They are getting old, but they are built like all CJ stuff, pretty tank - like.
BTW, I don't agree necessarily with the 'choose speakers first' philosophy - it is but one way to get things done. I've worked with the MV55 55 watt / channel amp as a limiting factor and have found speakers that really juice my lizard.
It's about making everything matchup for synergy. It's a lot of fun. It's a quest.
60 watts from a tube amp is enough for most speakers.
I've owned 4 C-J components so far, all SS. I don't know the MF2100 and the PV10, w/o looking them up. But if "The MF2100 has a really good price ($520)", I can't see how you could go too far wrong.

I'd say, don't overthink it too much, to where you pass up nice used components at a good price. You're just starting out--you may go thru lots of diff. components over the years--that's partly how you (we) learn.

PS-SS amp w/tube preamp can be a very good combo. And don't forget, it's an adventure.....
"I've read some bad things on c-j power amps - no bass"

That's a ridiculous generalization. Caveat: When you either read or are told something that absolute about something so subjective, relative and system dependent, I suggest that you give that opinion scant merit.

"I don't know anything bout speakers"

Sure you do - they make sound. What you might not know is that the sound they make can differ tremendously from the sound you hear because of the way a speaker, and its positioning, interacts with your room relative to your listening position.

IMO, since you're starting from scratch, by far, the best way to proceed would be for you to save your Euros and buy a complete system tailored to your room. If that's too much, at a minimum, let your room and personal listening preferences dictate a speaker/amp combo.
Have had and still have a C-J product. Started out with the PV-11, the only component I've ever regretted selling. Got the MV52 amp and later upgraded to the Premier 11a, a definite improvement. Upgraded the pv-11 to a Premier 16 which is a great preamp, still have it. C-J products always performed wonderfully, reliably, and gave out a great sound. Only switched out in the amp department when I went SET, if C-J made them I would have one.
I'm the original owner of a Premier 11a Power Amp. A beautiful and wonderful sounding amplifier that has sucessfully driven my Thiel 3.6 speakers for the last fifteen years with its orignal 6550 tubes that have never sounded better. It's 70 watts per channel and the bass is natural and controlled, so not flabby or soft.

I've been upgrading my system and will need to give up my CJ at some point soon. A used 11a may be past your price point, but I can tell you that mine has quenched my audio thirsts for quite some time. These are great amps of special value. Good luck to you.
If I say I don't know anything about speakers, I mean I don't know what kinds there are, what brands there are, what classes there are, and what their merits are. In short, I just don't know where to look.

Spendor looks nice though.
Swaf, when I informed you that speakers make sound, I was just being lighthearted with you. But what I said that had value, was that the first step in finding a speaker is room analysis and determining personal listening preferences.

What are your room dimensions?

Do you know roughly where your speakers (and you) will be placed? Is this a dedicated room where set-up will have priority or will the system fall second to aesthetics?

How loud do you like to listen to music?

What type of music do you listen to?

Big question: What level of base content do you require to make the music real for you?

Try to listen to some Focal speakers. They have a broad line and I have successfully paired them with cj before.
Thanks everyone for your input.

The last couple of days I've been researching speaker brands. I've been looking up specs and models of these brands: Thiels, NHT, PSB, Snell, Spendor, Axiom, Paradigm, SVS, Monitor Audio, Dynaudio, Sonus Faber, Meadowlark, Proac, Usher, Salk, Totem, Green Mountain Audio, Ascend Acoustics, Dali, Swan, Revel, Tannoy, Focal, Arx

I've weeded out those that I think are ugly, or otherwise don't meat my specifications (budget floor standing speakers, $1000-2000).

Those that I kept are:

NHT - 3.3 and also the new 4 seems good, but you need a poweramp of at least 200W to make them sound good.

Spendor - The A5 seems nice, can't afford the better A9 model

Axiom - you get a lot of drivers for your money (6 drivers, $1300) but I hear a lot of comment on how they sound overly bright and even shrill. Too bad. I figured, the more drivers the better.

Paradigm - Monitor 11 gets good reviews and isn't that expensive.

SVS - apparently good quality for your money, the MTS-01 uses high quality qpeakers, I'm only worried about the bass, as they expect you to get a sub as well. Anyway, I think this is more for home theatre use, not hifi. I'm looking for a combo, that can be used both ways, but will be used primarily for two ch hifi.

Proac - I can buy the studio 140 for half the new price from a hifishop because there's a new model out (studio 140 mk2). It's just that, when I see all those speakers using 5 drivers or more, it's hard to believe this one using only two drivers can be equally good (or even better).

Totem - both the Arro, Hawk and Staff seems within my pricerange, but again, so few drivers. It's hard for me to trust that the sound coming from them can be compared to the Dali for example.

Dali - uses a combo tweeter: dome and ribbon. The Ikon and Ikon mk2 series seems very nice.

Swan - Diva 6.1 and 6.2 use 4 drivers, seems like a respectable company and the specs are alright, but I need to go out and find some more user reviews.

Revel - The F12 falls within my price range, 5 dreivers as well, but the bass goes only till 52Hz.

Tannoy - what I like about them is that they're using dual concentric domes (mid + treble) for time phase accuracy like Thiel), and that some of their models are affordable (unlike Thiel). I was looking at their Signature series (£1000 - don't know the exchange rate but it's within budget I think).
Arx - I'm intrigued by their A3 design which only uses a ribbon tweeter, but it's a cheap bookshelf speaker, so I have no expectations.

The only time-phase aligned models are Thiel, Meadowlark, Totem, Green Mountain Audio and Tannoy.

I can affor the Meadowlark Kestrel, but since it has only got two drivers I suspect it might be lacking in bass.

The Salk Songtowers also seem desirable, but again - 2 drivers. It looks more like a bookshelf speaker on a stand, and I'm looking for a floor model that actually uses that extra space it has. Otherwise I might as well buy cheaper shelf speakers.

Over the next couple of days I'll be narrowing that list down.
Are you sure that the Tannoy and Totem speakers are "time-phase aligned"? Some Meadowlarks have more than two drivers.
Swaf, before you rule out speakers with only two drivers you should consider a couple of things.

For the same amount of money you were forced to build two rooms with the best windows you could (because the windows allow you to see what is important to you). You built one really big 24 X 24 X 10 foot room and put 5 windows in it. You built another room, much smaller 12 X 18 X 9 foot room, built very sturdy and put two windows in it. Both rooms cost the same amount - which room do you think has better quality windows and is structurally more solid?

Now in the center of each of those rooms, you need to hang some pictures in perfect alignment. In the big room, you have to hang 5 different pictures and they altogether need to be perfectly aligned. In the smaller room, you just need to hang two of the pictures in perfect alignment.

Which is the more complex task to complete? Do you agree that complexity adds to time? Do you agree that time is money? Do you agree that excess complexity leads to a greater propensity for error if time and money are not adjusted to reflect the addition complexity?

The same can be said of speakers. Typically, you can produce a better enclosure and use higher quality components with a two driver speaker than you can a 5 driver speaker - both selling at the same price.

I, and many others learned a long time ago that one cannot judge the merit of speakers on the number of drivers with any degree of reliability.

You should spend some time at a couple of audio shops, tell them you are interested in getting into the hobby - after you do a couple of months of research. Go in at a slow time and you may be amazed how helpful they can be. Don't get too much into brand specifics, stick with general education and they will be most open.
The PV-10 can be taken to a much higher level with NOS tubes. I bought RCA 12au7 from Brent Jesse. For NOS tubes, you can't buy them anywhere; but only from someone who comes highly recommended. The phono uses 12ax7, and I don't use that.