Which is REALLY the best Conrad Johnson Preamp

I would like to start a discussion about what you think is the best sounding CJ Preamp. Just because the manufacturer needs to change to sell more boxes and Magazines need advertising dollars doesn't always mean that the sonics have improved. For example some audiophiles like the older art series over the new GAT Preamps and it's lesser siblings. Would like the informed opinions of those lucky audiophiles who have heard both. I like the old CJ sound but haven't heard the new offerings.
I have owned CJ Premier 14, 16 and now the ET5.

There was a dramatic improvement in going from the premier 14 to 16. The 16 was significantly better than the 14 in every way: Wider soundstage, deeper soundstage, more detail and stronger bass.

I never felt the need or desire to upgrade to the ACT/Composite triode series of preamps.

I dropped my premier 16 off at CJ for some repair work one day and started talking to the technician. Based upon his description of the differences between the premier 16 and ET 5 I decided to try the ET5.

Whether the ET5 is better than the premier 16 is a matter of taste. To my ears there are significant differences. Both preamps exhibit the CJ house sound. The premier 16 has the golden glow, more recessed soundstage and stronger bass than the ET5. The ET5 presents more detail, wider soundstage and provides a more forward soundstage.

In summary I really like the ET5 and glad I made the change.
Are you including full preamps with phono sections or only line stages w/o phono? Tube or SS?

I have owned and had long-term listening experience with several CJ preamps, but I cannot say that I have heard or could rate them all. There was a large change in the CJ sound starting around 1998, or about the time that the Premier 16 was introduced. So there is a fuzzy line there; some guys prefer the "old" CJ sound, and some (like me) prefer the newer genre of preamps.

Having said that, I think that there are few people who will disagree that the ART and ART-inspired preamps are not amongst the finest preamps on the market.

Here are my favorites, keep in mind that I am a value-oriented buyer. I tend to not acquire the super high cost stuff unless I can find a hell of a deal.

CT-5 - one of the best I have ever heard
CT-6 - almost as good as the CT-5 for considerably less gelt
Premier 17 - all around great performer
Premier 18 - same as above, if you can find one at the right price
PFR - a hell of a SS preamp for the money IMO
PV-10B - not the best sounding, but a heck of a tube preamp for the money
Classic - again, a lot of preamp for the money
If you ask CJ the only sensible answer is the most expensive currently produced model. I don't know a lot about them but give them credit for using 5751s in a commercial product and personally like the warmth nay virtual glow from the old PV 10. When people ask me for a warm sounding pre I send them to listen to CJ products.
I bought a Premier 10 locally which apparently is the same preamp as the Premier 14 without the remote. I also have a VTL Ultimate which I have used for some time. The VTL is much more neutral but the CJ is more engaging to listen to. It is quite interesting to go back and forth listening to them. The VTL seems more transparent but the CJ has that midrange bloom with better soundstaging. The VTL has better definition and dynamics but the music seems more alive with the CJ. Maybe the CJ is a guilty pleasure. Wondering if these later CJ preamps would be more like the VTL. Seems that the later CJ 16 had better definition than the Premier 14/10 from what I read. With the Premier 10 it is more fun to listen to Classical music . It sure makes CD more listenable!
I would say the first ART and Premier 16 were the best CJ pres. Because they were built in the transition between the older "CJ sound", lush anf warm with blooming midrange and the neutrality of the newer lines.

Best of both world !
I started with a pv10a which seemed glorious as long as I didn't push too hard. After leaving c-j for a number of other brands, I eventually came back as follows:

Pr 17 nice
Pr 17s2 big improvement and easily the best buy
Pr 16 nice, but not really an improvement over the 17s2 to me
Pr 16s2. again, nice but for $$ the 17s2 was a better buy
CT-5 big step up in transparancy but still tonally wonderful. My favorite preamp that I have heard.

I have not heard the current line up of ET-3, ET-5 or GAT. My only temptation would be to consider an ET-3SE with phono and down size the CT-5 and pr 15 to save some money/space, but only a thought at this time.

I also have not heard the CT-6 or the Pr 14 and 18's, but I assume they all have similar sonic signatures. I personally prefer the c-j sound to any solid state I have heard or to the Audio Research pieces I have tried. Of course, everyone's taste is different.

I loved my pv10 for same reasons as Mechans above.
The ART is the one I'd vote for and I did vote...TWICE...(have the series 2 and 3).

Even for one specific individual, the "best" might change due to a different amp/speaker/room but so far (3-5 years) the ART(s) work so good with any of my amp/speaker combos that I have no desire to change them.
I can't speak for the rest of the CJ lineup . I have had a CT 5 for over 5 1/2 years and am more than satisfied and cant think of any reason to change. Any meaningful improvement would take me to a GAT @$25k. No idea if the ET 5 is a better preamp and have no real interest in finding out.
I love my Conrad Johnson PV-12. It has a nice smooth response. I used to use a Conrad Johnson PF-2 but I slowly fell in love with the "tube sound." The great thing is that you can pick up a used PV-12 for under a $1k which is a great bargain.
I had a CT5 for a few years and never really got on with it. I found it too neutral and I sold it for what I paid for it. I just figured that I am not a big fan of the 6h30 valve.
Went down the Shindo road for a year. A month ago I had a chance to take home the ET3SE and I must say I have enjoyed my last month with this preamp more than any other preamp over the last few years. Maybe it's a synergy thing but I am looking to buy the high gain phono version of this pre.
I miss my ART2. I was an original owner of no. 116 and after a $10 power supply resistor failure on the left channel which canned the whole unit and that had the machine float back from Oz to the U.S. for repairs and back again, a well traveled unit anyway, costing me several hundred dollars and taking my wonder as to how they could allow one of only 250 units to have such a stupid, untested and/or un-QA'ed mistake in such a premium line drove me away. I had recent to this event a problem with most likely a $1 hardened steel pin on a Krell KPS-25s in the unit's stunning swinging door and 2 + 2 = 4 and the CJ just topped that bitter cake and it went. So did all my Krell.

However I find myself in this very thread due to the fact that I have been wandering about the 'net reading about the CJ ART pre-amp line and missing whole-heartedly that machine. It's somewhat a sick yearning.

It had a sound, a signature. Which to many Folk in our business is counter to requirements, but I loved that pre. exactly for that signature. And its looks and heft too. It was a strong contender and would have suited me for years to come. It had a power and a drive and an excitement like most American designs, a glorious edge. I would probably say the signature was a rawness to its sound with a type of Purple Haze. Listening to an electric guitar track always brought out the guitar amp. in the unit, very powerful presentation and very raw.

It could play anything very well, just as a by. Jazz was lovely.

It ran as the pre. to a Kondo Shinri for a little while before bye-byes. It was definitely a pre. that could have been worked and dabbled with to find a synergy. It believe it would have been a quick process to find that; and I do not like to tinker with my rigs too much once I find what I like.

Anyway, lossing the point here. The ART pre-amp. line-up from 1997/2001/2007 would get my vote.
I love my vintage PV-10a but, the last several months it has developed a problem where at times the left channel wiil start to distort and fade to almost 0 volume. I've found that if I give the balance control defeat pushbutton a little wiggle it will crakle to life again for another day or 2. The unit must be 25 years old so I suppose it needs to be thoroughly re-fitted to bring it back to glory. I found Hamid Sheikh to re-do the pre for about $500-. He is going to dismantle and clean the switches, etc.
or should I send back to CJ?
Sorry for the hi-jack.
Great thread!

I want to demo the ART series. I have heard the Act2 Series2 pre-amp and it is my reference until I can hear the ART.

Happy Listening!

Enjoyed reading your post (all the while listening to my ART 2). Good description of them.

Sorry for your bad luck. I would be real disappointed if that had happened to me on such an expensive unit and I would have nowhere near the distance to ship that you did.

In case you ever think about getting another, my ART 2 has had zero problems in its circa 10 yrs. It is about 40 numbers beyond yours but I don't think that makes any difference. My ART 3 was one of the last 10 made and it too has not given me a single problem.

Things don't last forever and seeing as these are not under any warranty anymore, CJ was nice enough to send me a schematic so that a local tech (I have a very good one) could repair it if anything were to go "bump in the night". Hopefully you could do the same if you ever desire one again.
I ran the ACT2.2 for a couple of years. I enjoyed it immensely but it was always a little too cold/neutral for my tastes and a wee bit hot in the treble. Still a fabulous amp though and one you could live with for good if forced to. That said I have heard the wondeful majestic ART3 before and would have that in preference. More emotion, more music.

I now have the GAT though and would take that over both of the above. It was quite a large step up from the Act series 2, a step that I wasn't expecting tbh. In fact, I would say its a very different amplifier ... more of everything in the way you'd expect but a lot more natural sounding and with more warmth and lower mid/upper bass fullness but not in a manner that subtracts from dynamics, speed or accuracy. The coherence and unravelling ability it brought to the table was also pretty spellbinding, so much so that it made the ACT2.2 sound a bit muddled with certain allbums.

How much does CJ charge for it? The other thing you may consider is selling it and buying a "new" PV10 as they go for not much more than it would cost to repair yours. You may also want to crack the lid and do some cleaning. Not much chance that you would do damage from just cleaning it, and it doesn't cost you more than $10 in cleaning products vs $500 of having somebody else do it for you.
i have an act 2.2 which to me was a marked improvement over the ct5 and much more so the ls17. every improvement i make in getting synergies correct yields results. my point is that at a certain price point it is not only personal taste but synergies. point number 2 it is easy, very easy to lose synergies thru an incorrect move. i could not believe how the wrong (expensive) power cord on the act alone could cause so much loss in the tonal balance i had achieved with a cheap shunyata. i have had great synergy with cj and shunyata.
I have owned the prem 16,ART series 1 and 3 and now the GAT. All these preamps sound absolutely glorious and all are very special.
The GAT is the best sounding of them all, it is more transparent than the previous models but it still retains the cj warmth and musicality.

As far as cost for performance, the prem16 with the cj Teflon cap upgrades would be sensational and beat most preamps out there.

I have taken the PV-10 out of the loop and I am going to clean up under the hood and lube the controls. De-Oxit the tube contacts, etc and see if that helps. I had no idea you could buy a new PV-10, that could be a good option. I love the phono stage and miss it already.
I was lucky to snag a barely used GAT on Agon a while back and it's a big leap from the CJ CT 5. With tube rolling EH 6922 > Seimens ECC 88s >Seimens CCa, this is an incredible preamp in terms of texture with absolutely no grain, silly smooth highs, tight bass and an awesome soundstage. IME the best CJ pre by a long way.
Until I demo the ART3, my choice is the Act2 Series2.
I know it's no GAT but my new c-j Classic 2 SE is quite special. My system has never sounded so good....
I find the sound of my CJ PV 10 to be on the warm side of the 50 yard line. It still seems nimble, almost fast to react to changes in the music. Never rolled, it seems to be a pretty clean window to whatever front end you are using.
I realize you get a different level of dynamics and refinement with the more expensive CJ pre's but would you say that CJ has a sonic signature that is consistant in their various preamps?
you never rolled tubes. That can be a lot of fun if it doesn't become an obsession. You would be surprised how well some gear responds to rolling.
Just bought an ET5…wow!