A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
When a company whose history is filled with award-winning products creates a product named Classic, you know it must be something special. The $1,750 Classic from Conrad-Johnson is their entry-level tube line-stage; it is also available with a phono stage for $2,500.
The Classic is the culmination of everything that C-J has learned over its storied thirty-plus-year history, in a package priced within reach of nearly every music lover. As this is a budget-oriented product, one could assume that the designers were forced to work with lesser-quality components or perhaps skimp on sound quality. This is Conrad-Johnson after all, so that's just not going to happen. The Classic is filled with all the good stuff you would expect in a C-J product, including precision, metal-film resistors and polypropylene and polystyrene capacitors. The heart of the line-stage is a single triode amplifier direct-coupled to a high-current output stage. The phono section adds two triode amplifiers, separated by a passive RIAA equalization network. Both circuits operate with zero feedback and are designed to faithfully recreate the natural textures, harmonies and spatial information from any recording. The Classic provides five single-ended inputs and a pair of outputs should your system include bi-amplification.
There is no defying the laws of economics, however, so certain features are missing on the Classic that you will find on its more feature-laden siblings. Most obvious is the lack of a remote control and the understated though still handsome styling. The face is finished in classic Conrad-Johnson champagne, with the rest of the chassis black. Two large knobs provide source select and volume control functions. A sturdy toggle switch controls power and a single red LED indicates that the unit is operating. The Classic is beautifully crafted with heavy gauge materials, built with the intention of being passed down for generations.
Read about the high points and low points of the Classic Preamplifier of Page 2.
- The Classic is a wonderfully designed preamplifier utilizing high-end
components, made by people who know how to craft great-sounding gear.
- At $1,750, the Classic may be the all-time performance-to-price ratio champion.
- Understated but elegant styling will always look good on its owner's equipment rack.
- Build quality is fantastic and will no doubt last a lifetime, or several.
- If convenience is paramount, then this preamplifier probably isn't
for you, as every adjustment requires a stroll over to your equipment.
- While I personally love the champagne color of the Conrad-Johnson products, it may not be for everyone.
The Conrad-Johnson Classic is just what its name implies. It is the
type of component that company reputations are built upon. It is
designed to do one thing and do it well: make music. If you are willing
to forego a remote control, the C-J Classic will reward your efforts
with full-bodied, texturally rich music and provide a lifetime of
reliable service. I highly encourage anyone looking to get his or her
feet wet with a tube preamp to audition the Classic.