Conrad Johnson vs. Audio Research - Sonic Comparison Impressions

Hello all...and Happy New Year!

After getting some great input from several forum members (jafant, oblgny & prof), I wanted to get some opinions from you all regarding the sonic differences, in general, between these two fine manufacturers.  For example, between them, which sounds warmer/revealing, which is more laid-back/has more speed, which has a better bottom-end/has more up-top, etc.  

Reason I'm asking is that my current speakers are Thiel CS-3.5's, which I enjoy immensely.  However, while my integrated is doing a fine job of driving them (160 watts @ 4-ohms), I know that getting them better amplification (not just more watts) will open them up even more.  Also, I do think that getting some tubes in the system will help tame some of the brightness I get with some of my CD's and digital files, as the Thiel's can be ruthlessly revealing at times.  I am somewhat hesitant to switching to an all-tube system, as I really enjoy the speed and "slam" afforded by solid-state gear, not to mention the relative "worry-free" operation.  But, I do not deny the lush musicality that tubes can bring...that almost vinyl-like sound no matter the source.  Count me among the conflicted, I suppose.

Thanks for any thoughts or suggestions...Enjoy the music!


C-J has always had more of the classic tubey sound to my ears which is a little fatter and warmer.  

ARC has inched closer to solid state sound while still being able to capture the meat of the tube sound in the mids where they matter most.

While not on your list, the Cary SLP-05 is the finest tubed preamp I've had in my system.  It has everything that it sounds like you're looking for.  It splits the difference between the C-J and ARC house sounds IMO.

That's my experience anyway... good luck.

The older CJ equipment would fall into the warmer/lusher-sounding equipment.  I once heard a pair of CS 3.5s like yours driven by a CJ Premier amplifier (I think it was the Premier 3 or 4, a big stereo unit) that made the Thiels sound absolutely gorgeous in the midrange and highs, but it lacked some control in the bass that you could only get from a solid state amp.  At the time I opted for a Krell KSA 80, mainly because I was switching from Thiel CS3s to Duntech Princesses, but had I been staying with the Thiels I would have opted for the tubed amplifier, it sounded so beautiful with them. 

The ARC house sound has always stressed high resolution, and many of their products have been more neutral (early ones, like the hybrid M300s, VT  hybrid series and Classic 60 and 150s) could be characterized as comparatively dry-sounding).  Over the years the CJ house sound has, from the few times I've heard it, become more neutral, though never quite as neutral as those earlier hybrid ARC designs, and ARC's designs have become a little warmer, but not at the expense of resolution.

Personally, if I had to make the choice now I'd lean towards the old CJ, can't get that one audition out of my head., but finding one of those (and in good shape) would be difficult  A more recent ARC like a VT 200 might work well with the Thiels as well.  I think a VAC amplifier like the Phi 200 might also be something you should consider (I own one and like it a lot), it has a very nice midrange and excellent bass control. 

  jafant may have a better opinion here since he also has Thiel speakers.

 In general Conrad Johnson is a bit warmer\lusher. ARC is a bit more holographic and detailed. But it really depends on the piece and even time period. I might suggest you start with a tube CD player and or DAC. Tube front end pieces are a lot less hassle than a tube amp as there are no power tubes. So there are no tubes to bias. I have an ARC Ref CD 7 and it is very smooth and analog sounding. The CD7 DAC does not have any inputs but there are many other tube CD players that do. 


Theil 3.5s were my 1st truly High End speakers. Reference speakers IMO.
I have driven them with Forte’ class A electronics and Spectral. Both were fine. Never had Tubes; so cannot really comment.
Owned my pair for 8 years and used / not used the bass equalizer.
Decided that w/o the equalizer; that they were more transparent.

My Forte’ amps are 75w CL A and did very well in a 15’ X 15’ Room.

When I moved to a room 23’ X 35’ the Thiels needed more power. The Spectral amps at 200w were “Magical” ; Some kind of synergy going on there.

This hobby is about your preferences. Room size will dictate power requirements. Everything upstream of your Thiels will make a difference. Get the best you can afford. The midrange of the 3.5s ; “Is to Die For”

Best to you on your Journey 
Thanks for the recommendations and well-wishes, everyone!  I'm working on purchasing my first piece of tubed-gear...will keep you all updated!

I'm having a great experience learning on these forums because of members like you...Thanks again!

Why Thank You- lostbears

you nailed it down my audiophile friend. I could not have reported better.
At this level, one has to audition many hours for the best purchase outcome.

Happy Listening!