Cary Classic 120se vs Linear Tube Audio 40 Reference

Hi All - NOTE: title should read Conrad Johnson Classic 120se, not Cary!

I have started a few threads lately and owe many of you responses to questions. Most recently, I asked about system synergy after plugging a Conrad Johnson ART150 and finding out it didn’t quite deliver what I had hoped.

To the point, I am looking for a power tube amp with warmth, air and decay. I’m looking for an ethereal quality and not focused on bass response per se.

My current system:

Innuos ZENith
Merason Dac1
Linear Tube Audio MicroZotl preamp
Audio Hungary 100 watt power amp (out for repair, unfortunately)
Puritan 136 Filter
QLN prestige three speakers (8 ohm, 87.5 sensitivity)
Cardas Clear Cygnus speaker cables
Cardas Clear Power

Room is very large with high ceilings (11 feet)


The system above achieves an incredible sound to my ears - ethereal, insanely good imaging and a holographic quality, lots of air, with notes hanging in the air in a way I’ve rarely experienced. My challenge is I keep having maintenance issues with the Qualiton amp and want to have a backup amp when it’s out for repair.

I’m NOT looking for a neural sound. I have realized, for my tastes, I want an amp that facilitates a relaxing experience.

I recently demoed the Conrad Johnson ART amp and found it sounded incredibly neutral to my ears. Almost like a solid state amp…

My question to everyone, given my tastes, how would the LTA 40 Reference with Mullard tubes or the Conrad Johnson 120se sound?

I love the combo of the LTA preamp with the Qualiton amp because you get both detail and a tube tone. But I’m wondering if the LTA 40 Reference might be too SS sounding? Likewise, based on my experience with Conrad Johnson ART 150, will I find the Classic 120se also too neutral sounding - lacking what I understood the CJ warmth of glow I had hoped for?

Your feedback is much welcomed.


I had a Classic 60 that received a V-cap upgrade by Bill Thalmann of Music Technology and CJ fame, RIP, Bill and I own a pair of LTA 40 Ref +. The CJ is lovely with a traditional warm tube presentation. The LTA was faster, less warm in the mids, bt still lovely and the LTA was more extended at the top and bottom. The LTA is difficult to describe, not traditional solid state sound or warm tube sound. I used both with Magnepan 3.7i, Harbeth 5XD and Dynaudio Heritage Special. I prefer the LTA. Alll the best to you, Tom