Preamp shootout: Joule, CJ, BAT

Just finishing up listening after weekend shootout. Thanks to dealers and my friend. The BAT 50 SE, the CJ 14 and the Joule Electra 100 MkIII (think up a shorter name!) The winner, Joule by a slender margin over the CJ. The Joule had it in bass and layering of instruments and air. The CJ was lush, not as lush as my earlier model, but now a little glare (the difference in signal tubes now used I think, versus the NOS in the Joule.) The CJ has definitely changed its sound and is not as "round" as before. The Joule is just tighter and places instruments in real space better, giving it a seamless sound. The BAT was probably not a factor after the first day. No one (5 total listeners) liked it much, got no votes. Kinda flat and noisy too. The quietness of the Joule might have influenced our verdict on the noiseness of the BAT. Maybe we should have changed the tubes, but no time. All preamps (LS) broken in. Amps included Art Audio monos, ARC 100s trioded to 50 watts, CJ 75 watt monos, CJ 75 watt stereo, Mesa Baron EL. Soliloquy, Merlin and Martin Logan speakers. Totems sig ones briefly. (This is work!) I'm buying the Joule for it's width, depth, quietness, separation of instruments, bass, and best balance between warmth and clarity. For those shopping out there, get the used Joules. They are a bargain at Audiogon prices. Best speakers were Merlin first, Martin Logan second, Totem third and Soliloquy tied with the Totems (pretty good little speakers! But highly modded by my friend, including new wiring, etc.) Wish I had more time...but that's the short version. BTW, all the preamps/LS are about the same price retail. and quick, best amps were Mesa triode zero feedback EL34 tied with Art Audio on efficient speakers. I'll post more later if I can if people want to discuss. The Martin Logans with REL are mine but I think after this exhausting shootout (best cables were Analysis plus and Synchestra Signature) I might go for the Merlins which really shocked me with their electrostatic like disappearing act and bass. (How do they get that bass!) Post again if it flames up.
Thanx for the great post! I wasn't knocked out by the new CJs either. We carry them in my closest retailer and I think they sound a little like the early 90s ARCs--like the SP9. A bit dry in the upper mid-low treble (like sucked out too). Is this because it is a 6922 like ARCs? When they went away from the 12AX7 type and 5751s I think they lost some of the magic, but don't the amps still use the 5751--the best tube, IMO
I also own the Joule preamp, and I'll verify everything that Macinman wrote about it. I have never owned an active preamp that is so quiet; I can advance the gain to full, and at the speakers there is NO noise, hiss, or any sign that the system is on. (M-L CLS IIz speakers) The bass reproduction is the best that I have ever heard from a tube preamp; I'm using a Muse Model 18 subwoofer in my system, and the bottom octave (20-40Hz)is ALL there. Of course, this is in addition to its ability to reproduce very natural music, which is the main point. It is the preamp on which you can build a very satisfying system, and it will compel you to buy a LOT more recordings.
I'm using the same speakers and looking for a preamp. Great endorsement. This has been a valuable post since I've had a hard time finding anyone who can recommend a "best" for me since I live so far from dealers. Quiet is the key word (my CJ is quite noisy turned up--and you know as I do what the MLs will do for noisy sources! Reveal them ruthlessly.) What amps are you using and source? Thanks. I've just finished Paul Seydor in Absolute Sound and think I'm going to dump my Resolution cdp--a little hard and some grain. Seydor says to buy the Meridian too and mentions it is totally without grain, which is what bugs me with Martin Logans/Genesis subs.
I've been using the Joule (it is a "jewel") for some time. One question not even the designer answered is when should you replace the grid bias battery? ...How would you know it needs to be replaced? -Ed
I did the review on the Joule in TAS @ 7 or so years ago. I still have it. You are correct in your assessment. The Joule can sound "mellow" because of the complex harmonics if heard without a point of reference, and especially if coming from lesser pre's that emphasize transients at the expense of space, but in side-to-side comparison you can hear how magical this piece is, particularly in its sense of spatial correctness and ability to let you simply seep into the music. Congrats on your discovery. Oh, BTW the Joule is sensitive to PC's. Electraglide Fat Boy MK.I increases dynamics considerably without sacreficing anything else, which is quite a feat given this pre's performance. I've seen guys dump MkIII's at $1500 - Insanity.
Good piece macinman, I did a similar shoot out about three or four years ago and ended up buying the Joule. It truly is one of the finer preamps out there. However there is a piece that literally blew my mind and that was the Atma-Sphere MP-3, when compared to the Joule directly it stomped it in dynamics, soundstaging, bass control and was more extended on the top. It was quite a difference and yes I was one of the fools who sold my Joule for about 1500.00. I ended up buying the MP-1 MKII and couldn't be happier although I still wish I had the Joule for the bedroom system . One caveat to all this was that I was and am still running the Atma-Sphere amps so there may be a synergistic match going on here, and yes I raced the preamps in the single ended mode. Another great thing about the Joule is the owners Jud and MaryAnne (they're the best)

Question regarding the martin logan / rels. Looking to sell? Send me some email at if so, can't seem to get your email address to work.
Fascinating thread, how do you guys or gals think the Joule would mate with a Classe amp? I'm currently running CJ but about to upgrade, possibly to CJ17, but haven't heard in my system. Thanks.
Yes, Bryceeboy, you are hearing synergy - which is a good thing. Also, Karsten is very high on balanced, even believes cable irrelevant in his balanced configuration, which, of course doesn't mean that's true (its not), but means that Karsten's pieces are "voiced" for that connection and, particularly, to each other. Try to go to balanced if you can. I loved the MP-1 for a lot of the same reasons as the Joule, but it was darker, even with VTL amps. Nice space, though; phono was ravishing. I haven't heard the MP3. One thing people don't know about the Joule: its dynamically compressed without a power cord that juices it. This was a problem with MkI Joule (compressed & remote; PC wouldn't help), less so with Purist wire in MkII, and alleviated by higher output tube sub in Mk III. Electraglide FatBoy transforms Joule MkIII's dynamics and puts this pre in those upper echelons in that regard. Yes, Jud & Marianne are saints. A quality not to be diminished when looking to buy.
No, not selling anything. My yahoo account seems to be screwed up. Thanks for letting me know. I've told them and maybe will have it fixed (I think they've laid off so many people in that unit in this economic downturn that they may have sabotaged accounts!) I agree with Asa. The power cord has to be bigger--and the owner's manual suggests trying one. I found any cord, just any HUGE cord does the trick. One thing I forgot to mention is that the remote is excellent piece of engineering. DIGITAL internal remotes (which is how most manufacturers do it....Levinson, Krell, etc) causes subtle degradation of the sound....all my techie friends say the mechanical way used by Joule eliminates it.) It now comes stock with purist wiring (used to be an added cost) and it is an absolute steal. There are tons of equipment junkies out there (I'm recovering junkie myself) who sell whatever they own, just because they (me too) have some extra cash and just need a new "fix"--it has nothing to do with the actual quality of the equipment. I know. I had a perfect sounding system 2 years ago and sold for no real reason, except the desire to own something new. Take advantage of us nuts and don't hesitate for a minute buying certain items. I read a post here yesterday from a member who sold his Meridian 508 and never got the magic back in his sound. He mentioned Paul Seydor's praise of the Meridian 508 as the best redbook player. Period. It's in the current issue of Absolute Sound under his recommended system. I did the exact same thing! Sold it. Bought a Dodson. Traded it. Bought a Sony SACD. Sold it. Bought a Micromega. Sold it. Bought a Perpetual. Sold it. (Not to mention the Mephisto, CEC transports, etc.) Swallowed my pride and went out and bought another Meridian after talking to them to see if I should buy the NEW Meridian or the "old" 508. They unhesitatingly (shocking for a manufacturer!) told me that the 508 was better and only discontinued because they couldn't source the transport mechanism, but that it represented the pinnacle of what they could achieve in digital. Period. I bought and I'm keeping. The magic is back. Proves that there are some good bargains under the $4000 range. In fact, if you pay attention to serious posters instead of instigators around here, you could easily assemble a Hall of Fame system used/as new from equipment whores: Meridian 508, Merlin VSMs, Joule electronics. And leave everyone looking for audio nirvana by mismatching components from companies that are barely in business! (My Perpetual was so cranky, for example, and the build quality not up to snuff, that I doubt this company will last any longer than their previous incarnation as Audio Alchemy. Yes, I was stupid enough to read the hype and bought that stuff too, once upon a time. Junk and no customer support. Similarly, my CEC from Audio Advisor, try to get that one fixed. No parts in stock. We're waiting on that part from Malaysia. Yada, yada, yada. ) Stick with the classics whose owners you can talk to! Even though they argue with you a bit when you tell them something is wrong at CJ, they do repair it, though bills are high. For customer support Joule, Merlin has a fabulous rep, PS audio does too, Mesa Baron has incredible support, the old CAL--Arthur's original company, etc. ARC was good on the phone (they hired CALs tech guy) though like CJ repair was expensive. I wish more posts on customer support and the bills you get for repair.

PS There is another thread here in digital where Meridian told another couple of posters the same thing. Wow! How unusual a company to tell the truth over marketing a new product with hype of "bigger, stronger, faster, etc."
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You should be writing for a magazine! Much practical wisdom here. And than you Asa too. Great information from the experts instead of these two line posts where someone says my Khorus are greatest ever. I don't even think some of these people even own the equipment like the old idea at AOL where a 89 year old guy pretends to be a 16 year old girl.
Great post. I've spent a lot of time with these units and I think you encapsulate the differences very well. At the end of the day, I decided on the Placette active linestage over the Joule or the BAT because it worked best with my particular setup, particularly in that I am emphasizing high resolution digital on the front end (including SACD).
Macinman, which is the "old" Meridian model and which is the new?
the old, or just recently discontinued was the 508,24 the new is called, I believe, the 588. (see earlier threads on other sites on the reason for change--wasn't sonic quality at all, it was sourcing--some people here got quite detailed about exactly what transport was called--the Phillips pro 12 I think?) They haven't been credit, except Stereophile, etc. for how innovative the design was--for example, how they chose the best opamps, the way it absolutely kills jitter--as their charts showed in Sphile etc. Because Bob Stuart has a huge business in home theater, pro audio, powered speakers, decorders, etc, etc. he may have made a public relations mistake by not pushing the CD players reviews and quality more. Most of us are not into professional $100,000 home theater setups and he definitely (read audioasylum posts by rodgold) thinks the 500 series, including the brilliant 518, are just minor parts of his business. He could have dominated the cdp market, especially at this price point.
Fantastic synergy with Classe. I use a big ol Classe and Joule on my even bigger Magneplanars--the whoppers, and sounds fabulous. I went through more preamps than mac. Probably ten, Audible Illusions, CJ, all the ones you see advertise. Jud barely advertises because there is no way he could be a bigger company and serve his customers properly. It is a small company, like Merlin, that has been really successful remaining small and staying out of the big advertisements that you see in audio mags that cost plenty and force you to sell more units to make a profit, and the first thing that goes is quality. Cheaper parts, higher prices, more employees who need benefits, raises, etc. If you are like me, an older audiophile, you need an excel spreadsheet to list all the "great" audio companies that have gone out of business since I started and began reading the mags. I had the great Hapi One preamp by Hageman, great reviews, out of business. You can go on for months. How many companies has Bob Carver burned through and now he's basically down to a subwoofer company.
One thing original post hasn't gotten around to is the amazing tweaks the owner can do with this preamp, which should cost $10000 to get the attention it deserves. It can be tweaked with a cheap multimeter (Jud coached me on the phone and it took me two minutes!) and one can sweeten it up, make it brighter, etc. It is point to point component wiring with really expensive Purist, they use huge copper traces on a circuit board ONLY for grounding! You can sub tubes for different sound, again user adjustable according to simple instructions from Jud. All the boards are using EAR washers and extensive EAR deadening (just tap on this machine anywhere--its quiet) Lots of other brilliant innovations in power supply (Batteries!) and stuff you can't find at this price point. Frankly, its a steal. You don't need footers or anything, and when you try even Aurios, no difference.
I bought CJ way over twenty years ago and agree about growing a company and keeping prices under control. When they began in their "garage" I got fantastic prices and great customer service. When I came back to the company five years ago I looked inside, and nothing new, not any innovative parts, etc. Everything in the product line was made to a price point. You had to pay more for better this or better that. Check out the gorgeous very expensive Cardas jacks, the expensive nos 5751 and other tubes. You know that super tube that BAT brags about, Joule has already been using all these oddball extra cost Russian nos tubes in their amps, preamps, without bragging about it or asking you for an extra grand. When you buy a Joule, as macinman is going to find out, you can't upgrade the tubes since they are already nos! You won't have to send it back. (My CJ blew up once. They admitted their protection circuit was f#@ked up and they put in a different bigger circuit. Guess who paid for it? Me. And it cost about a third of the total retail cost of my amp to begin with.) You get Joules that don't break, ever. He should brag about it, but he doesn't advertise. So you don't get reviewed unless its a small mag that hasn't got big advertisers whose products HAVE to be reviewed to keep them happy. So Joule stays small and answers the phones and stay in business for decades by giving you tons of performance and better parts for less money. Thats why we all are here, right?
Incidentally, Meridian techie told me that the new 596 DVD player was better for CD than the old 508.24, and that the new 588 CD player was even better than that, although marginally. Maybe he was in the mood to plug the new products, or maybe I sounded naive or uneducated. Maybe it was a different guy...
Thanx Karlojay - is there a website with info on joule? Where can you get info on the company - just curious, might mate one with my Classe/Thiel combo. Great thread - I'm also a big Meridian fan, still using the 200 series trans and dac.
Macinman- I own a Mesa Baron and am looking to move from the 6L6 tubes to el34's. Any recommendations? My amp has been tri tube modified. Was the Joule the clear winner with the Mesa as well?
The best buy is their own El 34s, believe or not theirs are cheaper and better matched pairs. They once had a deal with expen$ive Gold Aero tube company and tho mine were re-labled they were Gold Aeros--I bought 16 for future use! Cheap, matched to many parameters, and warm and sweet. Best I ever heard...probably the highest grade Gold Aeros at a fraction of their retail price. Another audio bargain. Check systems of reviewers, tons of them use it at triode switch with zero feedback switch. Beats my ARC monos easily.
i agree with all the posts--i picked up a joule mk2 for $1200, oh yeah its a keeper. big time. however, the footers can be improved--jud likes the black diamond racing, but i had better luck w/ TG Audio Pointy Things & Pasty Things. the bass got a LOT tighter. pretty amazing.

power cord experiments starting next week---more to come!