The Conrad Johnson Premier 350: Revisited

After a 5-year quest for the right amplifier for my system, I have finally found the real deal. Even though the Conrad Johnson Premier 350SA is a vintage amplifier, it has achieved something a number of newer designs could not; the musicality and transparency that I've always wanted is now present in my living room to a degree that I was beginning to think was impossible. I have never written an equipment review but I feel the need to share with others just how great this amplifier is.

I should say from the outset that my listening space is *not* designed for audiophiles. It's a "real" living room and has not been treated in any special way. It does not have vaulted ceilings and there are one or two reflective surfaces that are less than ideal. Nonetheless, the room is big enough and proportional enough for proper speaker placement and the production of an entertaining soundstage.

My setup consists of Thiel CS3.7 speakers, a Conrad Johnson CT5 preamplifier, PS Audio Perfect Wave MKII DAC, Perfect Wave transport, Shunyata Zitron Anaconda power cords, Shunyata Triton power conditioner and Shunyata Zitron Python speaker cables and interconnects.

I have tried a variety of amplifiers with this arrangement and, while the results have been competent, I always felt that something was lacking. During this quest, I owned the Classe' Delta 2200 as well as their $8500 CA-2300. I have also hooked up a Musical Fidelity KW500, a Musical Concepts H500, a T + A Integrated (can't remember the exact model number) Bel Canto Ref 1000 MKII mono blocs, a 600 watt NCore kit amplifier and the latest Sanders Magtech stereo amplifier to my Thiels. These are all very fine amplifiers but none of them were able to control and energize the mighty 3.7's the way the Premier 350 has.

I was very skeptical that an amplifier that first went into production nearly 10 years ago could so completely blow the doors off of these other "modern" amplifiers. First and foremost, it presents instruments in a way I've never heard with other amplifiers. For example, if you've ever played a Martin D-35 guitar, you know that it has an altogether different tone when compared to a Gibson Hummingird. The Premier 350 brings out such differences in a way that no other amplifier I've ever heard is able to do.

The Premier 350 also manages to present the timing of performances in such an immediate way that I find myself tapping my feet and singing along before I realize what's happening. The amplifier draws me into the music on a subconscious level and the result is that hours go by without any fatigue at all. Just as I can get mesmerized by a great movie and stay up too late at night, turning the system off in the evening can be downright difficult since I hooked up this amplifier.

I realize that this amplifier is not new, but I felt compelled to share how stunning it still is. For me, this hobby has always been about fun and a way to have adventures without even leaving the house. The Conrad Johnson Premier 350SA is a rock 'n roll time machine. This is what I call an amplifier of a lifetime
"Even though the Conrad Johnson Premier 350SA is a vintage amplifier, it has achieved something a number of newer designs could not; the musicality and transparency that I've always wanted is now present in my living room to a degree that I was beginning to think was impossible."

I don't know why you would think its a vintage amp. A good design is a good design. Unless you are making a comparison to something like a class D amp.

I don't use it all the time, but I have the matching preamp (Premier 18), and I don't think of it as a vintage product. I have different sounding equipment, but not necessarily better.
Vance, so glad that you found an amp that performs so well in your system and brings you such enjoyment. The CJ Premier 350 was proclaimed as the best solid state amp ever made by CJ, and was accepted as one of the best in the overall market as well. Its retail price kept going up as parts cost increased, and CJ's decision to stop production was only due to the fact that the retail price was getting to be too high in their judgement. I know of some other audiophiles that like you have found it to be their ultimate amplifier of choice, even compared to some more expensive competition. I wish you many hours of pleasurable listening with it!
Congratulations Vhiner.

I am so glad you found the great Premier 350. I had one and sold it. I'm sorry now but I would love it if Conrad Johnson came out with a re-issue Premier 350. I would gladly put my deposit down. Enjoy your new reference.
Thanks, guys. I'm feeling very fortunate right now.


I apologize for the imprecise use of the word "vintage." I only meant it in the sense that one refers to a car as "vintage" when it is still valuable but no longer manufactured. The fact that I was surprised that the Premier 350 outperforms a number of newer amps is only the result of my own naïveté'. In the future, I certainly won't assume that more newly designed equipment will necessarily yield better performance.


Thanks for the background on why CJ no longer manufactures the 350! I'd heard people say that it would cost more than $15K to produce this amp today, but I didn't know whether to believe such a claim. Given what you say and how the amplifier performs, I now suspect it may be true.
Btw, have you found an amplifier you like? If my memory serves, I believe you were using a Hegel, correct?
I was very happy with Hegel's H20 amp, but when an opportunity
arose for me to get a new Rowland 625 I couldn't pass. I've
always aspired to own Rowland gear, and the 625 is a stunning
design that is an absolute joy to hear. It has a sound that is
seductively smooth and very refined. I can only imagine how
much better the 725 and 925s are, while of course being at
significantly higher prices. There is no end to the
madness in this hobby/addiction!

I've never heard the Rowlands but they are definitely among the most beautiful solid state designs, IMHO. ;-) I know Robert Harley loves them.
Bump for a plea to Messrs Conrad and Johnson to come out with a Premier 350sa reissue amp. I will get inline for one if you offer it up. I want your best technology in this amp. Having just taken delivery of the GAT and ART monos, I am absolutely blown away with these superb examples. You have done an outstanding job on these amps and preamp. Thank you for giving me music in my room.
Vhiner -

Much Thanks! for sharing. I concur. The 350 is special indeed. This is my reference amp, especially, when matched w/ the CJ ACT2 Series2 preamp. And to read about it matching well w/ Thiel speakers (another fave of mine) is the icing on the cake!

My dream demo session would be the CJ ART3 + 350sa power amp w/ Thiel speakers!
Joeinid and Jafant,

You guys are making me drool. The ART series is a very nice target, indeed. I would dearly love to hear the GAT but, alas, no CJ dealer even within driving distance. Guess I better get to a show one of these days.

I'm sure CJ could make a $25K solid state to beat the 350. Not sure why they don't.
I am sure they could do it. I am not sure why they don't. I would love a new SS CJ amp with the sound quality of their tube counterparts, specifically the ART series.
In the current econ state of the world, it would be tough to sell a $25K power amp. CJ has always treated the top tier gear in limited production runs , strictly for this purpose. And to not have that level of performance sitting in their factory on a shelf collecting dust.

I agree it would be a tough sell. However, given the lagging world
economy, I find it difficult to explain the dozens of $50k plus solid state
amplifiers for sale throughout the pages of Stereophile and The Absolute
Sound. I've been told by some fairly knowledgeable folk in the industry that
there are essentially two audio markets right now: Crazy expensive stuff or
the sub $3K sector. Anything that falls in between is struggling right now.

I don't profess to know exactly why CJ doesn't make an uber expensive
solid state amp, but I would venture to guess that it has something to do
with CJ's standing as a premier tube-based manufacturer and that they
simply don't have the inclination to do what it takes to seriously compete
with the already established "élite" solid state brands. I suspect
that they'll sell far more $25K tube amps than they would solid state
versions unless they were to undertake a serious marketing campaign. Just
a guess though.

In the meantime, it feels great to own an amplifier that seriously competes
with gear costing twice as much. For once, market forces have worked in
my favor! ;-)
For those considering the acquisition of a CJ Premier 350SA amp, I came across some info from one of their dealers about their new MF-2550SE. I haven't personally heard this model, but according to their product listing Bill Conrad claims that it is the best solid state amplifier that CJ has ever built. It also costs significantly less, and coming from an authorized CJ dealer the claim should be credible. It could be worth checking out if you have the opportunity.
I saw that amp and I am considering getting one. However one major difference between the Premier 350sa and this MF-2550SE is the transformer weight. I can't find the specs at this moment but there is something like a 40+ pound difference in the amps (the Premier 350sa being much heavier) and the insides of the MF-2550SE looks a lot like the McCormack DNA amps.!!!!-conrad-johnson-MF-2550SE-Solid-State-Stereo-Power-Amplifier
Very nice! Bill K.

when does it show up at dealers/retailers?
4 Ohm power?
I don't see anything about this new model yet on the Conrad Johnson site. It states that they are currently in the process of moving and provides their email address as the best way to contact them. As an alternative I would suggest contacting the dealer linked to in my previous post for additional details since they apparently have the amp for sale. It is also shown in a current product listing they have on Audiogon along with their contact information.
I second your review as I had owned 2 in the past! The only issue with it is that it has very high input sensitivity and gain which will create hissing sound with the wrong pre-amp. Some older versions may have slight humming near close. I was using Thiels CS3.6 with them and had great memory.
I just spotted a used CJ 350SA listed here on Audiogon. I have no connection to or experience with the seller but thought that someone on this thread might be interested.
Interesting? Where would CJ be moving?
We also want to advise customers not to ship product in for repair or upgrade before October 1st, and then to ship to

our new address:
Service Department
conrad-johnson design, inc.
2800K Dorr Ave.
Fairfax, VA 22031
I read that their new location is not far from their previous one, so no worries about them moving to China!
I wish Conrad Johnson nothing but continued success, but the claims that the new MF2550SE is a modified McCormack look to be well founded if you look inside both amps. There's nothing wrong with that, but a comparison of that and the inside of the PR350 as seen below would lead to natural skepticism about claims that the 2550 is better. Just look at how much more Teflon the 350 has and how "over built" everything is.

I am anxious to hear a comparison. You can bet Jeff Dorgay over at Tone will chime in if it bests the 350SA, one of his long- time references.
Bill_K wrote

"I read that their new location is not far from their previous one, so no worries about them moving to China!"

That *is* a relief. Based upon my experience, Classe's decision to go to China has *not* been good for build quality.

great point about Classe'. Trust me, nothing good comes from China.

Bill K, I have acutally been to the CJ operation. Hard to imagine those guys needing another location? Perhaps they do not own the current building???
Thanks! for sharing Joe.
I am sitting right now listening to a 350 premier driving flagship KEFs. Amazing. My home system has constellation driving magico S5 speakers. I have bought and sold VAC statement 450, Hegel h300 etching but have kept my CJ Pr350. They broke the mould.

You prefer the 350 over the H300? I was wondering about that brand, having never heard it. The raves about the H30 had made me consider an audition.
I have a CJ Premier 350 and was wondering what kind of an improvement you got upgrading to the Shunyata Zitron Anaconda power cords?
"03-14-15: Jtrimm
I have a CJ Premier 350 and was wondering what kind of an improvement you got upgrading to the Shunyata Zitron Anaconda power cords?"

Its an outstanding amp. I have the matching preamp (Premier 18). I find that CJ gear doesn't always like after market PC's. 2 PC's that I find sound good most, if not all of the time, are the ESP Essence and the Richard Grey PC. I have them both and they don't do any damage, and both work well with amps. I think Cable Co has them to lend out. If I had to pick 1, I would probably take the ESP.
I am still kicking myself for selling my MF2500A ,,,,,,they used to come around the used market often,not so much any longer.
Many Thanks! for re-visting this wonderful thread. The 350 power amp is too damn good to dismiss. When I was demo'ing this amp back in the 2000's, the cables/cords were Audience 24 au, then 24AU e models. Very nice sound from top to bottom.

To current owners, which cables/cords are you guys using?
Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
I have the c-j CA200 which is a half-version 350 minus the
Teflon caps in the Premier 18LS casework so I'm not really
sure how well this applies. That having been said out of
the power cords and cables I've tried (and there've been
many) my favorites have been Acoustic Revive RCA-PA
interconnects and SPC-PA speaker cables. The power cords
I've liked best are the PranaWire Vajra and PW Satori.
Thanks! for sharing Joe-

you have a nice system my friend. CJ gear is very versatile and will accommodate many, many cable/cords. it is good to learn that Prana Wire is a sonic match. Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
I still have one and the only reason I would sell it is age and sickness. I am thinking of selling mine and my Gamut L5 to get some smaller things as I now live in an apt. It is the best amp I have had and have never heard one I liked better. I understood from CJ that they had decided to concentrate on tubes. I ask Bill if he could not bring it back out before I found mine but it was not practicle to bring it back; look for a used one. Remember it weighs 85 lb. I could carry it around before I was sick but it is HEAVY. PS, it is my age and sickness and not the amp.
I am using a Townshend allegri passive pre with the 650 and it works very well. This is a great pre amp. Full disclosure, I started to become a dealer and ordered one to evaluate it. This was before my brain tumor and I am no longer a dealer but use it in preference to my previous reference which was much more expensive and is still a great pre and has remote etc.
god bless you
Do not give up the music

I just scored a sweet pair of THIEL CS 2.4SE loudspeakers!
Now, the most difficult decision- tubes or solid-state gear?

Keep me posted & Happy Listening!