Review: Motif MC-8 Preamplifier

Category: Preamps

Motif simply means,an artistic form of auditory communication incorporating instrumental or vocal tones in a structured and continuous manner. That aptly describes this exraordinary preamplifier.

The Motif line, was the ultra high end offering from Conrad Johnson. The Motif line was produced from 1985 through 1991. This was Conrad Johnsons attempt to enter the market place of Threshold, Krell and Levinson. A mighty task indeed,but ultimately failed. A dare say that CJ pulled the plug on the Motif line a bit prematurely.

From a cosmetic view, build quality and over all sonics the Motif line competed very well with those big three at the time and it was certainly not a letdown to choose the Motif line over Threshold,Krell and Levinson.

The Motif MC 8 preamplifier is a pure FET preamplifier, with on board MM and MC phono capabilities. If you remain in analog, the phono section is to die for.

The CD section of this preamp is one of a handful preamps,that take the CD signal and magically take the edge off CDs. I don't know what the design team did with the CD section. But hearing CD playback through the MC 8 is nothing short of spectacular. This is the most analog presentation in CD playback I have heard at this price level. While I have not been a big fan of CD playback, I can attest to the fact that the MC 8 got it all so very right. For once a real pleasure to listen to in the CD medium. The last preamp I heard with a CD input this good was the Threshold T 2, and a used Threshold T 2 will set you back an easy 2K in the used market place.

Cosmetically the face plate is done in argento,slightly brushed with royal blue silk screen lettering above each control. The face plate is quarter inch thick and is rack mountable. The case itseld is high quality brushed aluminium. On the back there are very high quality teflon insulated RCA inputs. The inputs are not labeled right and left. However the RCAs have a small white circle on them to indicate left channel and red circle on them to indicate right channel. There are four control knobs on the front pane. From left to right facing the Motif, they are Input which is Phono,Tuner,CD, Tape 1 and Tape 2. Next is the Tape Monitor labeled Tape 1, Source,Tape 2. Then the Balance Control, which is of the indented type and very precise in adjusting balance. Last control is the Volume which is a sealed Alps pot that is a continous control, not indented. All of these controls are of very high quality and have a solid positive feel to them, that is in keeping with the overall build quality this preamp exemplifies. My only caveat with this preamp is the captured power cord,which is a typical two conductor,two prong variety. Why a preamp of this caliber has this type of power cord is a mystery to me. But nonetheless it performs its function well, but would have liked to have seen an IEC connector there.

The build quality is in keeping with its lofty price with a mil-spec circuit board and way above average parts selection. Fit and finish gives away nothing to the big three.

The overall sonics of the Motif MC 8 is right on par with anything from Threshold,Krell or Levinson during the same time period. And I dare say the Motif MC 8 can more that hold its own with anything today in its price catgeory. There is no sense into going into a lot of superlatives. At this price level we come to expect that a preamp will extract the finest from any source material and the Motif MC 8 easily accomplishes this task without flaw. But keep in mind the Motif MC 8 needs a power amp and upstream components of similiar quality, for it to perform at its very best. However with the given of having components that compliment the MC 8, this preamplifier may well be your last stop in a search for a high end preamp.

Listed below are some of the LPs and CDs used for this evaluation.


Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064)
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)
Paul Desmond/Jim Hall - Complete Recordings - Mosaic(MR6-120)


Ben Webster At The Renaissance (Contemporary Records OJCCD-390-2)
The Royal Ballet Gala Performances (Classic Compact Discs CDSCD 6065)
Peter And The Wolf - Boston Symphony Orchestra (Sony SK 64079)
Jurassic Park Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCAD 10859)
We Get Requests - The Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve 810047-2)
You Won't Forget Me - Shirley Horn (Verve 847482-2)
Sneakers Motion Picture Soundtrack (Columbia DIDP 078100)
On Every Street - Dire Straits (Warner Brothers 26680-2)
Trio Jeepy - Branford Marsalis (Columbia CK44199)
Paris Jazz Concert - Louis Armstrong (RTE 1001-2)
Braveheart Motion Picture Soundtrack - London Symphony Orchestra (London LC0171)
Patriot Games Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA 07863 66051-2)
Hook Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic EK 4888)
Highlights From The Plugged Nickel - Miles Davis (Columbia CK 67377)

At its opening price of $2,250.00 and later to $2,295.00, put the Motif MC 8 clearly in the market realm of Threshold, Krell and Levinson. Its current resale price range of $450.00 to $550.00 is an outright steal in the world of pre owned high end preamps. There is nothing, and I mean nothing in the preowned price range that can compete with the Motif MC 8 preamplifier. It stands alone without peer in the preowned market.

This is the first Motif product to come my way, as audiophiles that have them ,keep them. That is true testament of the Motif product line. With its credentials I expected to be impressed and I was not disappointed, as I have been with other preamps in this category. The Motif MC 8 clearly delivers the promise of a high end preamp. In my opinion after 48 years in this hobby, the Motif MC 8 is a reference quality preamp, no excuses needed.

So if your lusting after a Threshold, Krell or Levinson preamp, here is a solid alternative to the big three and at a preowned price that will put a big smile on your face. the Motif line does not come up for sale that often, but is indeed worth the search to acquire.

In Audio Magazine July 89 issue the MC 8 preamp and MS 100 power amp received a very positive in depth review.

Lastly I should menetion that the Motif MC 8 preamp is not forgiving at all. If any of your source components are not in the same caliber as the Motif MC 8, it will expose those weakness to an alarming degree. In short do not expect the MC 8 to elevate your source components, it will not. I menetion this earlier in this review and it warrants a reprise here. One should note that it takes about seven days of continous power on for the Motif MC 8 to fully develop its signature.

This may well be my last preamp, for to excel the MC 8, will have to dig deeply into my resources and at 63 now, have to watch funds closely.

The Motif MC 8 has clearly exceeded my expectations and at its used price value, is one of the true gems in pre-owned high end preamps. Another plus is that Conrad Johnson remains in business today, so service, if needed will not be a issue. That in my opinion is an important consideration in selecting any pre-owned component.

Additional Motif MC 8 Info:from Audio Magazine July '89(excerpt)

Manufacturer's Specifications:

Preamplifier Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 100 kHz, +0, -1 dB.

RIAA Equalization Accuracy:
± 0.25 dB, 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

Distortion: Less than 0.1 % THD or IM.

S/N: Low-gain phono input, 76 dB;
line, 86 dB.

Gain: Low-gain phono input, 35 dB at 1 kHz; high-gain phono input, 54 dB at 1 kHz; line, 27 dB Phono Overload: Low-gain input, 150 mV.

Rated Output: 5 V rms.

Maximum Output: 10 V rms.

Output Impedance: Less than 200 ohms
Dimensions: 19 in. W x 3 1/2 in. H x 12 1/4 in.

Weight: 9 lbs.

Price: $2,250

A closer look at the MC8 preamp reveals that it is of the "minimum frills" school of design, eschewing the use of tone controls and other elaborate user features. Front-panel controls, from left to right, are a signal-selector switch, a three position tape-monitor switch, a switched-resistor attenuator balance control, and a volume control. On the rear panel are a ground binding post and two sets of phono input jacks, one for MM and the other for MC, with a two-position toggle switch to select between them. The remaining signal jacks, for the high-level inputs and outputs, are to the left of the phono input jacks; an a.c. line cord is at the extreme left. There is no power switch on the MC8, as it was designed to be left on all the time for best sound. The power draw off the a.c. line is negligible. Inside, we find a blue, one-sided p.c. board that seems to be dominated by large, proprietary film capacitors. This p.c. board takes up virtually all the internal area. An enclosed power transformer is mounted on the board, in the right rear corner. A power line fuse is mounted nearby, and the a.c. line cord is soldered right to terminals on the board. Parts appear to be of good quality. A number of jumpers on the component side of the board have been bent away from the straight path between their p.c. holes in order to miss hitting
nearby metal contacts, such as the front-panel switches. The signal in/out jacks are Tiffany and are wired to the p.c. board with 300-micron, linear-crystal, solid silver wire.
Chassis construction of this preamplifier is relatively simple consisting of a bent piece of aluminum that forms the rear, bottom, and inner front panel. Little triangles of the e same thickness material are spot-welded into the four bend corners to reinforce and give rigidity to the resultant structure. Another piece of material is bolted to the outside bottom of the chassis, by the four bumper feet; it is shy of the full width on both sides by about 1/2 inch. The top cover is a bent piece of the same material used for the chassis and forms the top and sides of the preamp, extending underneath about 1/2 inch. This cover is held on by four brass countersunk screws that bolt to the chassis bottom. The bottom has the appearance of one plane of material, a nice touch. A quarter-inch piece of aluminum, 3 1/2 inches high and rack width, is used for the front panel.

Circuit Description We'll look into the preamp circuitry first. The overall signal flow topology is quite usual, with the selected source going into the center-contact position of the three-position tape monitor switch. The two tape input sources, in addition to going to the main signal-selector switch, go to the two other positions of the tape-monitor switch, thus allowing you to monitor the output of either connected tape recorder or the selected signal source. The output of the tape-monitor switch goes on to the balance control and then to the main volume control. The balance control, in this unit, is a stepped attenuator that lowers gain in one channel while keeping the other channel's gain unchanged. The volume control is a nice dual Alps unit. The values of the balance control attenuator and volume control, both 100 kilohms, cause a line input impedance of about 50 kilohms. The output of the volume control feeds the output amp, which always feeds the output jacks. There are two sets of phono input jacks on the rear panel. The MC set directly feeds the MC pre-preamplifier The switch between these sets of Jacks selects the output of the pre-preamp or the MM phono input jacks The wipers of this switch feed the main phono equalizer stage.
The MC pre-preamp appears to be a single, high-transconductance, N-channel junction FET, connected in common-source mode with drain and source resistors sized for a voltage gain of 24 x. This stage inverts the signal, whereas the rest of the preamp does not. If you want to preserve absolute polarity in your system when using the MC prepreamp, it would be a good idea to reverse the polarity of the connections on the system phono cartridge.
The main phono stage is a three-junction FET circuit using N-channel devices. The first stage is a common-sourceconnected configuration that is capacitor-coupled to the second stage through a series resistor. This second stage is also connected in the common-source mode. The drain, or output, of the second stage is direct-coupled to a third "stage, which uses the third device as a source follower. A feedback network, composed of two parallel RC networks in series, is connected from the output of the third stage back to the aforementioned series resistor, which couples the first and second stages. This feedback loop rolls off the openloop gain of the circuit, presumably in a manner like the RIAA curve. Another feedback loop, again consisting of two parallel RC networks in series, is connected from the output of the third stage back to the source of the first stage, thus making the overall phono circuit a noninverting, feedback RIAA equalizer.

There is no turn-on/turn-off muting circuitry in this preamp, as there is no power switch; the intention is to leave the unit on all the time.

My final conclusion is that the Motif MC 8 is a preamplifier of extraordinary sonic capabilities and is often overlooked and is certainly undervalued in the pre-owned market.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Threshold,Krell,Levinson,Klyne,Audio Research,Conrad Johnson,McIntosh,Pass Labs,Dolan, etc
I could not agree with you more. I once owned the Motif MC-10 and just purchased the MC-8. It is much much better than its modest used cost would suggest.

Your review was very well done and accurately describes this unit.

My curiosity causes me to wonder how this unit compares with the more recent higher priced SS preamps from CJ: namely the PF-R and the Premier 18LS.
Many thanks for the kind words and enjoy the MC 8 you acquired.

It would indeed be interesting to do an A/B comparison between the MC 8 and the latest SS offerings from CJ. In my opinion the MC 8 could hold its own with its newer siblings. But that is conjecture on my part.
Based upon this review I searched and found a Motif MC 8 preamp. Everything in this review is correct and spot on.

More than easily competes with the best of today. About half the used price of anything from Threshold,Levinson,Krell, Pass Labs, Muse and other high end preamps.

Replaced my Muse 1 preamp unit and sonically leaps ahead of the Muse 1. I think once word gets out on the Motif MC 8 prices will start elevate. At about $500.00 used now this is a great high end bargain. Anything from the above listed brand names in preamps will cost you used about a grand or more and will not offer anymore performance than the MC 8 is capable of delivering.

This has been my most cost effective upgrade in years. Thanks for the review of this unsung performer
Hard to believe, but the CJ PFR preamp is actually a "cheaper" copy of the Motif MC-10.

The closest thing to the MC-8 is probably the PF2, but I do not know how common they are.

I have owned the MC-8, MC-10 and PFR. The MC-8 is on the warmer side of neutral. The MC-10/PFR is closer to no preamp, ie, no sound signature / neutral.

I have an old magazine review of the MC-8. If anyone wants a copy, email me a fax number and I will send it along. I may try to scan it for email.
Just posted on eBay a Motif MC 8. First one this year to hit auction block. FWIW