Sounds like you will enjoy CJ. I heard the Premier 12 amps and was amazed. They are simply killer.
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I owned a set of those B&W and would not describe them as "warm and inviting." Far from it. Accurate, dynamic, analytical, revealing, but not warm and inviting. They were the type of component that wows you initially but I found them tiresome after the initial wow wore off. Even with a CJ Premier 12 I tried they still did not warm up.
Even though the Sonice Frontiers is not as warm and lush as the CJ stuff, I would consider other speakers before changing electronics.
Well, you could always take a step back to the SFM 160's. They are a classic tube amp design. They are not near as cold sounding as the Power 2. The are very resonsive, tonally to tube selection and powerful. I run mine with SED 6550's and EI 6DJ8's and get a full, detailed sound, which errs off neutrality slighly to the warm side. I saw someone advertise a pair on AGon recently for about 1500. I have used these on Paragons, Quad 63's, and most recently Tylers, all to great effect. But, I haven't heard them with your B&W's.
The Premier 16 is no longer in production, but it is an excellent pre-amp. I am sure you can find one here on the Audiogon. I have a Premier 17 LS, which is still in production, and am amazed on a regular basis with the sound quality. I do not think you can go wrong with either unit, although the 16 will cost you more!
Ya know, when I first decided to have a good stereo I decided that I could spend 2000 dollars per year to aquire a good one. I had a Pioneer reciever w/ pre-amp output jacks and a 100 dollar CD player and JBL LX44 8" 3 way (Best Buy) speakers. The first piece was the SF Anthem Amp1 which I was able to hook up to the Pioneer and it made a big difference w/ especially voices. When I went shopping for a Pre-amp, I took home a CJ PV10. When I hooked that all up I was astounded. All of a sudden I had bass..! and thought..thats what a good pre-amp does. But I did'nt buy it because I wanted the remote control and headphone jack and...features which the SF had. Then came the ProAc SC1's and Goldmund CD player. I know that all of this is good equiptment but the sound has never glued me to the couch. Last time I was glued to the couch and late for work the next day was when I hooked up my Fisher tube reciever to my JBLs and my cheap CD playe with cheap interconnects. That sound was to die for! Soloists were spotlit, everything was on a soundstage and there was a complete vivid picture before my eyes. I wanted to listen to the same cd over and over again. I upgraded the Anthem amp to the SF Power II, upgraded the speakers to the big B&Ws and added a REL Stadium! Interconnects are Straightwire Rhapsody. I have hooked it up single endedly and balanced and balanced sounded like the noise floor was lowered. But with everything I've done I still dont have a stereo that makes me even want to wait for the tubes to warm up. 20 grand into this stereo. And I read Stereophile and have come to the conclusion that they aint helping me at all. I really can't tell from reading their reviews if a component is for me or not. In the last issue they reviewed the CJ ACTII. The review reads like every other amplifier that they review. I've heard the B&W's sound warmer at a dealer hooked up to a SF Power1 amp though I can't recall the other equipt in the chain.
FWIW you are not the first person who tried to put together a system based on magazine reviews and ended up with something hard to listen to for more than a few minutes. Magazine reviewers seem to always be impressed with "detail", the wow factor! Mostly what they are hearing is excessive detail, detail that is not in balance with the detail on the source. It starts with the sources and ends with the speakers. I don't know how good you can make those B&W's sound, but you won't make them warmer with the SF Line and Power amps. These were just plain cold, tonally speaking.
You don't ID your sources, but I expect from you other selections, if based on mag reviews, they could also add to the brightness you hear. What are they anyway?
Additionally, you don't discuss at all your room and speaker/listening positions and what you have done in your room to make your system sound its best.
All of these things play an important role in your end result. Unfortunately its not as simple as just plugging in a new pre-amp and amp based on others opinions.
If you want to lay it all out here I'm sure many knowlegable people will be happy to help you, but IMHO as it stands now all you will get is responses which my be of no benefit to you whatsoever, including mine.
Conrad Johnson against Sonic Frontiers?
No,it's not fair...
I had Premier 14 and a frend of mine had Line 3,Power 2 and Wilson WITT mkII.
We had a comparisation side by side
The results...?I sold my Premier 14 and bought what else...?
I had 802 Matrix in the past.These are monitors and nothing but monitors.It doesn't mean bad speaker or good too!!!
My opinion is buy a Line 3 and buy a more musical pair of speakers and you'll remember me!
Find a JMLAB pair and better from the Utopia line.
Put also a Linn lp12 or an Oracle Delphi and SF Phono1 !!!
Then,HEAVEN can wait for sure...
I want to thank eveybody who responded. For now I'll keep the B&W 801's. Some have said go with the CJ 17 and forget about it. Someone said the phrase 'tonally cold' in describing the SF Line1. I could'nt have described it better. I have the upgrade bug bad, and have my eye on a CJ 16 MKII, but it is $4K. Sonic Frontiers went from a tube sound to SS sound with their products. I'm wondering if CJ did the same thing after they came out with the ART. I see PV10's cheap and wonder if I'll be as happy with a $4 thousand dollar purchase as I would be with a $700 dollar PV10. Does the more you spend get you further away from the classic tube sound that I crave, or does it get you tube sound that has better air, depth, bass and richness? Any takers?
Hell, want to experiment with the lushness and see if you actually like the CJ sound? Get the affordable tubed preamp from them, the PV10 should you wish, and play with it. Then, when you are sure, get the bigger, larger, badder brother up the line and be happy with your gear.
I once had the SF Power 2 amplifier, the sound was not really cold or anything, it had slamm, but the bass was not as I shall say, under tight control. Your preamp will make or break the system as this point.
To advocate selling the speaker is too much to ask, toy with the preamp and for sure, you will end up with something you will like in the sound.
IC can also be used to add some lushness to the sound, pure, continuous copper wire, like the Analysis Plus Solo Crystal and even the rare Chimera Labs might set you in the right path. Supposedly silver wires are not too smooth.
Its not really so much about money as the general direction that tube audio has taken in the past 10+ years. All of the majors, ARC, Sonic's Frontiers, and CJ have moved away from the "warm" sound of tube amps from the 80's and early 90"s.
Its my belief that they were trying to respond to complaints of loose base, warm midrange and rolled off highs, all of which to some extent obscured some detail. Resolution, extended highs, and a tight bass became the priorities of most modern tube units. Some folks will say that CJ's are warm(er) but in comparison to what. When I got my ARC SP10 in 1983 no one would have called this a "warm pre-amp" but today, in comparison to modern pre's from ARC or just about any manufacturer you might call it romantic! Same for tube amps but maybe less so. If you want to get that old warm tube sound your going to have to buy some old tube equipment. If you had less demanding speakers you could get one of these new units made in China that put out about 40 tube wts but that wouldn't be near enuf for your speakers. But, for example, that little Primaluna is a good old fashioned big warm tube unit.
Some of the classic tube pres and amps still bring fairly decent prices 15 to 20 years latter and often they need to be re capped, etc. Think ARC and CJ both. But there are others......have fun exploring the internet. :-)
So I am curious... why so stuck on the speakers? I have never been a big fan of b&w... and while I own a lot of vintage gear (and appreciate their sins of omission) I think the Sonic Frontiers stuff is very musical... and not in the least cold (room playing a heavy factor here... never mind personal preference).
My advice would be to dump the b&w's. I also think things like digital eq and active biamping may generate a lot more benefit than changing pre/amp (then again, if you just want new gear... that is another topic :-).
Brainwater, no I'm not kidding!
And it's not a joke that SF Line 3 is clearer,faster,with better focus,more information,with more qiet signal and more revealing sound than CJ Premier preamp which is dark, mellow,with no neutrality.I'm sorry about that...
The warmer sound IMHO is not the point.
When you hear music from Line 3 the orchestra is excactly right there.When you hear from CJ, the orchestra is somewhere there...!!!
That's the point for me.
Athens , i really thought you were in fact kidding. Sorry. Its hard to tell in writing sometimes. Didnt mean to offend. I do agree with newbee in that the CJ gear i have had in my system was not warn and colored by any means . Those days have come and gone i believe and the musicality of top end CJ gear is second to none yet articulation of the musical notes is clean and accurate. I think the chain is a determining factor of course but i find quite frankly their new products inspiring. I had access to the Sonic Frontiers line stage a couple of months ago and it was as you said , clean and fast but did not remotely posess the soundstaging properties , decay nor musicality the CJ had in spades. Its just my singular experience and is to be taken as such.
It couldn't hurt trying to listen to some different speakers (?) I'm only suggesting this because usually people that love the big, warm, lush, sound have something like old Tannoy 15 inchers or similar crazy stuff.
Regarding the SF Line 1: I have a buddy who has a Line 1 in front of a Canary power amp and Audio Note speakers. Believe me he has incredible, musical, big and warm sound - but his sound isn't out of control warm. It still rocks extremely convincingly.
A Line 1 or Power 2 shouldn't prevent you from having big and warm if your speakers and source are right. Example, if you're going to use a Benchmark DAC you'd probably have issues getting big, warm, lush, to hell with accuracy sound. It wasn't designed for that.
Both of us + other of our buddies have heard different B&W Nautilus models hooked up in various tube-based systems and they have never sounded big and warm. Clean would describe them best (and hard on top too, at least to our ears).
Not trying to insult your speakers, but if they weren't designed to do big, warm, and lush, then any system that they're in will have issues doing big, warm and lush.
I am using Line 1 with Power 2 driving ProAc Response 1SC with Cardas Golden Cross speaker cable.
I did a blind test on my friends by covering the equipments and asked them to comment on the sound. And all have the same answer "Warm sound! Typical tube sound"
So I think it is unfair to say Sonic Frontiers gears sound cold. Speaker played an important part and also speaker cable.
I have the exact same system. The Power 2/Line 1 and the ProAc 1SC's (birdseye maple). I've heard them pull a dissapearing act, but I had the same problem with them as I do w/ my big B&W's- thin sound-no warmth. I'm using 1M Straightwire Encore(red) from my CD to the Pre and 4M Rhapsody(blue) from Pre to Amp. Speaker is Serenade. The Amp is on its own stand spiked to the floor and the Pre and CD are on a Target stand spiked to the floor. I've had the system in 3 different rooms in 2 different houses. Same result. Tried placing equiptment on different supports w/ a combination of cones. I suspect that the cables are not helping and I have'nt experimented enought with them. But like 'newbee' said (above); 'tonally cold'. I hope the Conrad Johnson 16LSII that I just bought helps. I get it next week and I'll let you know the differences.
I have owned a Line3 and Power3s for several years and have owned a Premier 11A and Premier 12s during this time also. I know the SF sound very well as well as CJ. The SF power amplifiers do have the tube bite/lushness but in a different way than CJ. With SVET 6550Cs and 500+ hours of use, the midrange is quite nice and are well mated to speakers that may be tipped in the high-end. CJs premier 11As have a very nice midrange but lack the bottom end. The 12s are very punchy, dynamic, but are very extended in the highend. SF is on the cooler side of CJ for sure. For control of difficult speakers (wide impedance swings), the Power series amps can't be beaten.
With regard to preamps, the SF line series is pretty nuetral sounding but not solid state sounding. Replacing the main output 6922s with Mullard will yeild some very nice textures in the midrange if that is what you are desiring (excellent for vocals). The CJ preamps will be more warm but lack the detail that the SF line series will present. Personal perference will determine which is better.
Several folks have commented on your speakers. The B&Ws are not warm speakers at all. You can change the upstream electronics all you like but the source (What are you using by the way?) and the speakers will make the biggest difference. If you want to experiment with the preamp/amp, borrow a CJ preamp and see what you think. I'd leave the Power2 alone for now as you'll need Premier 12s or a 140 at a minimum to drive the B&Ws. Along with the preamp, I'd experiment with different sources as well.
The source in this sytem is a Goldmund $5K CDTT2 single box CD player. I have a Linn analog rig also but it is'nt hooked up untill I get this tonal balance thing fixed.
I have the CJ16LSII pre amp now and am hearing things I did'nt know existed.
However the balance of the system is too agressive and bright. Only one person mentions he used Cardas cables.
Look back through the responses.
The consensus is, your speakers need to go, and I agree. Nobody says to keep them.
As long as you stick with them you are going to get bright and agressive sound. You say you heard them to be warmer at a dealer, but a brief audition at a dealer will not reveal what you have come to find out, these speakers are bright and agressive.
Let me rephrase that in simple terms.
Your speakers are bright and agressive, they have always been bright and agressive, they will always be bright and agressive, there is nothing you can do to keep them from being bright and agressive, replace your bright and agressive speakers with some that are not bright and agressive.
As a final addendum to this discussion . My experience with CJ preamps is with the ls172 and the Act 2 , both of which incorporate the new teflon caps . These preamps do not have the sonic signatures of older CJ gear and are quite transparent but retain the musicality and timbral richness CJ fans crave.
What tubes are you using in the CJ? Are they the stock tubes? Sovteks 6922s are forward but it sounds like the tonality is quite bright. Some tube rolling will help a bit but it won't be drastic.
For cables, using some Cardas Golden Reference will tame a little of the brightness but it will be a subtle change.
Since you changed preamps and it is still bright, the next change should be your source or speakers. Hookup the Linn and see if that makes a difference. If it doesn't, your speakers are the cause. The Power2 isn't the issue.
One other thing. How is your room acoustics? Is your room properly tuned? I assume you don't have hardwood or tile floors, bare walls, etc?
Well, I feel a little dumb writing this since so many have responded and tried to help but here goes; The addition of the CJ 16lsII is a big step up from the SF Line1 in that I'm getting more info out of the speakers that I've rearranged my system- specifically moving the speakers...The B&W's came with stands which raise them 8-10 inches off the floor. They are like boxes which can be mass loaded which the speakers sit in/on. To make a long story short, I removed them and installed the casters under the speakers to allow me to move the speakers on the carpet. Well, all of a sudden- I have bass. Apparently those woofers need to be closer to the floor in order to couple to the room. I also pulled them out further into the room away from the walls. I listened to 2 Al Stewart cds last night and have never heard my system soung so smooth and warm. I'll probably position those speakers so that their distances from the back and side walls is within 1/4 inch of each other. This is a major improvement.
I'm glad you have sourced your problem. I discovered the same reason for lack of bass with Quad 63's some years ago. Couldn't stand them, took them off their stands, put them on the floor and they became a "full" range speaker! Mid/upper bass suckout from loss of floor reinforcement which the designer incorporated into the initial design.
Now that you have your attention on the speakers and their placement, if you have not already done so I would suggest that you do some reading up on proper placement of the speakers and listening position, how to avoid or take advantage of room nulls and nodes, taming first reflections, adjusting speaker toe in, ad infinitum. Buy yourself a Radio Shack SPL meter and a test disc and learn how to use it to your advantage.
This should keep you busy for a year or so and in the meantime you won't waste any money on new equipment. When you're done I suspect you will be amazed! :-)
My two cents here - I own a pair of CJ Premier 8 amps (currently with a ML No. 26 preamp) and the sound is terrific. I am sure you will enjoy either of the CJ Premier options out there.
I am still willing to try the Premier 17 at home, I did try the Premier 10 but the ML sounded better in terms of dynamics, transparency and musical involvement.
Hope this helps