Audio Research or Conrad Johnson Tube Pre-Amp???

I am looking at the purchase of an Audio Research SP-9 or SP-14 or Conrad Johnson PV-9a, PV-10, PV-11 or PV-12 pre-amplifier. It's very difficult since I've not been able to hear every one of these pre-amps. However, I do want a tube pre-amp to mate with my Threshold S/300 and Mirage
OM-9 speakers. Later I plan to purchase Magnapan 1.6 speakers. I will also be using an Elite Rock Turntable with Excalibur tone arm. I will also be using two professional tape decks for recording and playback.

I really need assistance regarding the following:

1. Which pre-amp will work well.
2. I also need to know which tubes are the best for a particular pre-amp?
3. how long do tubes last normally with 2 hours daily use?

Any other information you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much all.
4. Does turning on and off the tube pre-amp hurt it?
I would pick the Conrad Johnson PV-9a over the two ARC only because I like the CJ sound and better power supplies than in the sp-9 and 14. My opinion only, sure some will disagree?
I have owned or sold every model that you list. I like the older CJ sound, but like the ARC better. IMHO, the ARC gear is built much better than this vintage of CJ gear. I almost always had trouble with dirty volume and balance pots, bad turn-on relays and noisy switches with the CJ. Never a problem with the ARC.

The CJ sound tends to the warmer, darker, sweeter side of life and the ARC has better bass control and throws a wider and deeper soundstage.

If you decide on the ARC, make sure you get a SP9MKII or MKIII. The SP14 is wonderful. I think the phono stages are superb in either one. Plus, these only require 1, (SP14) or 2,(SP9)of the same tubes. Makes tube rolling easy and inexpensive. The CJs have many more tubes of different kinds to replace.
I owned the S300/series Threshold and tried the Audio Research Sp 9 mk1 and mk2 ..Hated both..Way to bright and shrill...If you going to go to Audio Research to match with the Threshold you might consider the older sp8 or sp6 ..Also as mentioned the C/J would be a good choice..Another very nice piece which will mate very well with the Threshold is the Classe 5 preamp..Very Sweet Solid State pre but sound gorgeous with the Threshold..The Classe has the sound of tubes without the hassle..Also built to last....
To get the best sound out of the Conrad or ARC make sure that the input impedance of the S/300 is at least 10x or 100x greater than the output impedance of the preamplifer. That is why Thorman thought that the ARC was bright and shrill and why the Classe sounded very sweet.

If build quality makes a difference the ARC is better.
There is a rating on the HIFICRITIC web site, they have tested most of their preamps and keep the ratings current.

Audio Research LS 7 28
Audio Research SP10 11
Audio Research LS5 II 21
Au Audio Research LS 15 25
Audio Research LS 9 24
Audio Research LS 15 25
Audio Research PH-2 18
Audio Research LS 2 25
ARC SP11 II 15.5
Audio Research LS 8 20
Audio Research PH 1 22
Audio Research LS 22 30
Audio Research LS 3 b 25
ARC REF Phono 36 mc, 45 mm

Conrad Johnson CT5 90
Conrad Johnson ART 57
Conrad Johnson ART II 68
Conrad Johnson ACT-2 105
Conrad Johnson Premier 7 36
Conrad Johnson LS 17 mkI 46
Conrad Johnson 17 LS -II 44
Conrad Johnson PV 14L 24
Conrad Johnson PF-R 22
Conrad Johnson Evolution 20 20
Conrad Johnson Premier 15 PHONO 39
Conrad Johnson Motif (line) 23
Conrad Johnson Premier 16 49
Conrad Johnson Premier 14 39
Conrad Johnson Premier 16LS 49
Conrad Johnson Premier 18 28
Conrad Johnson Songraphe fet pre 15
Conrad Johnson 18LS 30
Conrad Johnson PV 10
Everyone, thank you so much. This is tremendous and great information that I can use to help me decide which direction to travel in. I am more than thankful.

those HIFICRITIC ratings are bullshit

The cj ART sounds better than either the ACT2 or CT5.
Yeah, I was heading down the CJ path for a tube pre-amp until I was quite disappointed with the controls and build quality for the price when I actually saw the newer units in person to the point that I was not motivated to stick around and listen. Then I saw and heard the ARC gear and never looked back and have had no regrets since.
My friends,

As you can see I am a guy who does not have the big money and is starting out to reach where many of you are. Presently, I must buy used audio stuff and am presently looking for the best Conrad Johnson or Audio Research pre-amp amongst the models I've mentioned above. What I urgently need is for someone to help me pick out from the models mentione the best that can be had. That is what I can afford at the moment. Thanks much to everyone.

They are both top notch companies with excellent products and support........ Cary Audio is another one........You will not make a bad decision irrespective of which one you choose .......... however they all have substantially different sonic what someone suggests may not be what you are looking for sonically speaking.....
Agree with Czbbcl.

If you buy used, then you can always change easily without a big financial hit. Just make sure you know what you're getting including which tubes and that you do not overpay.

The other technical factor to consider if you like is to match output impedance of the pre to the input impedance of your power amp.

A pre-amp with a lower output impedance may have an advantage for cleaner more dynamic sound depending on the actual input impedance of your amp. It might be worthwhile to know these numbers before deciding, all other things aside.
I suppose downunder refers to the location of your head so you should know bullshit when you see it.
Stanwal - you are a funny guy - not

why don't you keep your mouth shut and give your opinion when you have actually heard something you are dribbling on about, rather than relying on reviewer numbering systems.

Martin Colloms is a professional hifi writer and almost every new piece of cj or ARC equipment is so much better than the previous piece. or so you have to believe, otherwise he will be out of a gig
Downunder, when I want your opinion I will beat it out of you. Martin Colloms has been one of the most respected Audio writers for over thirty years while you are just some shithead.

1. Either will work well. You can't have someone else tell you what you will like best.

2. The 6922s are a fantastic tube to roll. You may want to go with a brand that is more sweet or more neutral. We have no way of knowing what you will want.

3. At 2 hrs a day, probably 5 to 10 yrs.

4. No, but don't turn it on and off several times a day. On when you want it on and off when you are done for the day. Someone will tell you to leave in on 24/7. Try it and see if does vs how it sounds after being on for 1 hr. Doing the math, 2 hrs a day = 730 hrs a yr. 24/7 = 8760 hrs a yr. Tubes don't last forever.

Other info: I don't think you can go wrong with either brand. Just get the nicest one you can and live with it.
Some day in the future you will get a chance to demo the other brand and if you like it better, make the change.

For the record, I own the CJ ART series 2 and the ACT 2 series 2, different, but love them both. I was surprised at Colloms ratings of the CJ's. He clearly favors the 6h30 sound over the 6922, rating the CT-5 way above the ART. That's his opinion, value it or not.

Keep in mind, when you ask what is the best "whatever", you're asking for opinions and you will end up with a poll. If 90% felt "a" was better than "b", that would be pretty convincing but you might be in the 10% group that prefer "b". Your system fits "your" ears/taste.

Are you going to upgrade the ART to series 3, or happy where you are at now?. me I am debating as the upgrade is a considerable sum and don't want to loose the magic.

I believe the ACT2 series 2 is a lot better than the original. Even Lew from cj told me they had made a mistake with the original ACT2 in it being too lean, hence the series2 so quickly after the original.

yes Collums review of the ACT2/CT5 being so far ahead of the ART certainly was puzzling. that is why, if possible always try to listen to a piece before comitting. replying on lists is very dangerous.


I am happy where I am now BUT am thinking ahead about the series 3 upgrade. I know what you mean by "magic", hard to describe but you know it when you hear it. Would I lose any of it, who knows and it's a $12000 gamble. For now, the ACT 2.2 has its own magic so I can go with the mood.

The couple of folks I have spoken to have all said the upgrade truely is an upgrade with no downside, however as you said it is an expensive upgrade which you cannot go back.
I am like you at the moment and swap with my Mac pre amp if the mood feels like it.

IMHO, you shouldn't try and pick audio components on other folks recommendations. Are we going to listen for you too? You need to use your own ears, and there is simply no substitute for that. If you chose something that is recommended to you on this forum, you will be choosing what someone else likes, with his/her other components, in his/her room. As you can see already, there is no universal concensus here. So make your own - go visit some local audio dealers and LISTEN! Doing it any other way is just a crap shoot.
IMHO makes a good point. However, there are many of us who do not have the opportunity to listen various audio components. I fall into that catagory. So to all who have rendered honest opinions, THAN YOU MUCH! Believe me I do appreciate.
I have been a big fan of CJ's Premier 10. Owned three, still use one in the HT set up. Affordable, huge soundstage, not too warm. Also check out the Motifs... best of both worlds.

if you can't listen, you take a big risk. you might as well flip a coin.

i have owned sveral cj preamps, but not the one's you are considering. i have heard the pv 10, as i auditioned it in my own system. i wouldn't own it.

if you can't listen, get a good deal and be prepared to resell the preamp.

i won't recommend one or the other, because only you can determine what you like.
I want to thank each of you for responding to my request for information. Your kind suggestions are appreciated.

Bob, i have owned the SP9 (Original) and the SP14 thereafter. I was happy with the sonic attributes of both but most particularly the SP9. Now i own ARC REF2 MKI and REF Phono along with Classic 120's, all modified by GNSC.
Look for a SP9 MKII or MKIII version here on the Gon. On rare occasions, one comes up modded by GNSC. That would be my choice if money is tight.

As for Colloms ratings, not sure what they all mean. One rated at 25 and another rated at 100, does it mean that the one rated at 100 is 75 times "better" than the one rated at 25. I did not know until now that those "ratings" even existed.
Just looked at AUDIOCRITIC's website. His ratings are interesting. Just looking at his preferences statistically- he seems to prefer SS over tube gear and has a bias for British equipment. Everyone develops a particular taste over the years and that seems to be his. Still, I would love to hear some of the setups that he seems to favor.
I own a PV10a and a PV12L, they both deliver that exquisite CJ sound. NOS 12au7 RCA Blackplate tubes take them to a whole new level. Get copper or brass tube dampers when you order tubes. I get my tubes from Brent Jessee recording. My tubes have lasted for years.
I know you will enjoy the music more with this combination of tubes and preamps.