All ARC vs All Pass Labs vs All CJ system compare

Has any body compared a complete analog set from each of the manufactures?

Have they all ended up evolving to the same sound profile

clear, noise free, detailed, wide soundstages ?

I have a friend with an all ARC and my bet is the sound profiles/house are very close 

just wondering , so many options , so little time, not enough money




A very silly question with an obvious answer. Here's another question: Why is it that no one can spell manufacturers.?


Your response has struck me wrong 

Pretty snarky all the way around

I asked because, I wanted to know 

I did not know that you ruled & were all knowing 


ps: yes ,I can spell





I wish it were so easy. Most components interact differently with the speaker and or room. Especially the amplifier and preamplifier! For instance in a demo with Thiel CS2.4 's the Conrad Johnson sounded nice with a tube warmth but a VTL 5.5 won out to my ears with its more immediate sound presence. Cary was much too syrupy. Who knows though as it may be great with the best matching drivers. I believe amplifier was a entry level krell solid state stereo model because that's what I owned at the time. Was lucky enough to hear Thiel at a friends house with top of the line Audio Research with Classe solid state and and didn't care at all for the sound. It could have been the room acoustics playing a part as well 

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I cannot speak to the contemporary CJ with certainty… but I have a pretty likely true answer. Absolutely No. I have extensively owned and auditioned Audio Research, Pass, and Conrad Johnson.

While at the highest level there has been convergence… tubed getting more accurate and detailed and solid state (Pass) getting more musical. They have converged on very different sounds. Pass, much faster with greater slam (not a compliment) and increasingly musical (much better rhythm and pace recently) and CJ continuing to be really musical. Each has a very distinct sound.

Over the last forty years I moved from Pass to 100% Audio Research. My second choice would have been to CJ… Some folks might have chosen Pass. Those are the only companies I would choose in the $5 to $20K / component category. I would not choose Rouge, Mark Levinson, Rowland, Boulder, VTL. I would consider tubed Atmasphere, and Cary.


Your original post probably rubbed @roxy54 the wrong way. You did not include his favorite legendary American brand…you know the one with blue meters 🤣

Given the new ownerships at ARC and CJ, choosing Pass Labs gear makes whole lot of sense if you’re not oppose to Solid State and truly pursuing the ‘house’ sound.

The current offerings from ARC and CJ are nowhere near the build quality nor the ‘house’ sound of yesteryears, IMHO. 

@ghdprentice Your post was extremely helpful. I’ve been debating between many of these brands, and you laid it all out clearly.

Has any body compared a complete analog set from each of the manufactures? Have they all ended up evolving to the same sound profile clear, noise free, detailed, wide soundstages ?  I have a friend with an all ARC and my bet is the sound profiles/house are very close.

No.  Your bet is wrong and these are three very different sounding designs and are not even close to being substitutes.  ARC sounds nothing at all like CJ, and Pass is solid state while the other two are tubed designs so you’re swimming in three very different pools here.

Lastly, and as with @roxy54 a big pet peeve of mine is that “manufactures’ is a verb that means someone is actually in the process of manufacturing something (i.e. ARC manufactures great products).  “Manufacturers” is a noun that refers to people or a company that “manufactures” (the verb) something.  Got it?  One is a noun and the other is a verb, and much like the disparate three electronics “manufacturers” mentioned above they are absolutely ARE NOT similar nor substitutes.  If you think they are you should do more research and save your $$$ until you learn a lot more.


Thank you @soix ! My intention isn't to be snarky, but bad grammar and spelling bug me. I'm sure that you can spell @frozentundra , but not that word.


I actually wasn't thinking of McIntosh at all, it's just that the question was a little ridiculous since it is commonly known that those three brands have very different sonic attributes.

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If you look at the designs, then you can have a general idea why they sound different.  SS cannot produce the "tube" sound sonically.  So you are better telling us what sound you prefer and then we can recommend the manufacturer offers that sound.  PLUS everything can be modified to change to the sound you prefer for not that much money.

Happy Listening.

Is a national GPS day?

As far as all ARC and all Pass Labs, different sound. I assume we’re talking about modern ARC and latest Pass gear. So it’s tubes vs. solid state. It’ll boil down to your personal preference. ARC, especially their Ref series, tend to sound big, I would say their sound is a bit bigger than life. Very engaging and dynamic with great imaging and soundstage. Pass Labs will give you slightly more realistic view, lower noise floor, but a presentation that is just as engaging.
By the way, combining ARC tube preamps with Pass amps produces excellent results, at least to my ears, in my system.
I haven’t heard CJ in a while so I can’t say how their full stack compares to ARC or Pass.

my take on these brands’ sound (at their higher/highest levels) is closer convergence between c-j and audio research and less close convergence to pass labs


big boy amps from cj and arc now are based on the kt150 power tube which has tremendous linearity and power (and sonic signature, when using similarly high grade output transformers)

but the pass amps are a totally different topology, using power mosfets and no output transformers, so while the tonality may be ’more similar to tubes than in the past’, in actual listening they are not really that close

the arc and cj amps take advantage of their tubed input stages (arc does some fet coupling in their driver stage, but still uses a tubed input stage) and pass of course does not, thus the pass will have in relative terms, a leaner, less diffuse, more exacting sonic signature than the ’modern tube’ sound from the other two, especially noticeable through the treble and mids

where there is more convergence than ever is in bass response, where the kt150-powered amps are better than ever in bass control (think 80, maybe 90% of behemoth solid state) but the highs and mids will still be portrayed rather differently

’converging’ does not equal ’converged’ in my view... not that close really in real listening


That makes sense !  
Are output the tubes the primary “ tube sounding “ device ?

Or , will input tubes offer the same “ tube sounding” , if mated with a solid state amp of the “manufacturer “



Good analysis @jjss49. @ghdprentice I think you meant to write ‘Rogue,’ not ‘Rouge’ since we’re talking about manufacturers, not face makeup or French for ‘red., (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the urge to correct an error that could as likely be attributed to a spell-check function, as could the offending ‘manufactures.’)

  @oldrooney   It’s “manufacturers,” not “manufactures.”  Manufactures is a verb and manufacturers is a noun.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist either — heh heh.  @roxy54 This one’s for you.  

@soix I was referencing the earlier comment by @roxy54 by intentionally mis-spelling the word because it had offended him. It was my ‘one for him.’

As above, those are (3) distinctive companies/house sounds. Luckily, ARC and CJ match well with a Pass Labs power amp.


Happy Listening!


That one didn't get by me, but sometimes I have to be selective. He normally practices good spellling and grammar.



PasLabs XA25, and XP20 

Pros: XA25 was a master grip on my PMC Twenty26. Great bass mids and clear trebs 

Cons: the XP20 was boring. Despite upgrading to seal noise and dampening. Didn’t combine with Esoteric K03Xs CD/DAC, too transparent showing edginess of the Esoteric. A little underpowered for the replacement speakers (MB2SE).


ARC Ref CD9, LS10, D240

Pros best DAC CD player ever. Sweet transparent no edginess just wonderful easy to listen to for hours. Red book CD’s sound like SACD on anything else. Whole set up is EMI RFI sealed. connected using XLR, fully balanced end to end. Just amazing. Detail, tonality, punch and feel. Listening through large horns with 2x12” woofers.

Cons not much I’ve got the tv connected via optical and stream Tidal or YouTube. It sounds great too. 
Cheaper gear used and fabulous sounds.

I’ve had Luxman cd 6u, M900u, and lots of other gear. This ARC gear remains the best set up for me.




I will second the ARC CD9. A very fine player indeed.  I also love my Luxman D-03x.

Happy Listening!



I would like to see CJ build a robust Control (integrated) Amp. The CAV 45 S1/S2,  is very nice, could use a measure more Current and Power.


Happy Listening!



+1 My  Audio Research Reference CD9SE CD / DAC is the best I have heard and I have heard much more expensive.

I have been using ARC pre with Pass Labs amps since 2002.  I love the combo.  I started with the X-350 and am currently using the X260.8 mono’s with the Ref 5SE/Ref 2SE phono.  This combo was great with my Thiel speakers for many years as well as with my current Wilson speakers.  Together they make music fun.  I put about 1300 hours/year on my system per the tube counter in the Ref5 SE.  

One thing about tube vs SS amps- damping factor.  Tube amps have low damping factors compared to Pass Labs SS amps.  Matching tube amps to speakers and speaker cables is much more critical work compared to SS amps.  

I enjoyed my ARC CD player for many years.  I have heard the CD9 in an all ARC system a few times- very nice.   One day I heard someone’s system in their home who was using an Ayon CD (SACD) player.  I was very impressed.  So a couple of years ago I bought the Ayon Stealth XS and CD transport.  I was blown away by the sound.  I also found a good power cord increases the pleasure even more.  The Stealth XS uses 6n6P tubes vs. the Stealth which has the familiar 6H30 tubes in the output.  They also use 6Z4 tubes in the rectifier.  Avon’s top CD player uses 6H30 tubes in the output section.  I opted to go the separate DAC route although it is a bit more money.  The Stealth DAC is also a preamp but I like the sound better going through the Ref 5SE.  The Ref 5SE expands the soundstage width and depth.