Conrad-Johnson Premier 3 preamplifier May 1985, Conclusions

Overall Conclusion

Which would I buy, the Klyne or the C-J? That could be a tough decision to make, but I think I've made up my mind!

As long-time Stereophile readers may have noticed, I harbor strong ambivalences with regard to the "tubes versus transistors" debate/ Twenty years after transistors were introduced, I have still not really decided which I prefer: ihe clarity, detail, and control of good solid-state equipment, or the euphonic distortions of good tubed components. Tubes have always had a remarkable ability to render front-to-back perspectives and a you-are-there quaity of aliveness, which no solid-state components have been able to equal. But the unequivocal weaknesses of tubes—the flabby midbass, the sweet, but muted highs—have in the past represented tradeoffs that many listeners have found to be an unacceptable price to pay for the tube's positive attributes! All this, however, has been changing.

The finest tubed preamplifiers, as exemplified by the Conrad-Johnson Premier Three and (reportedly) the Audio Research SP-10, are now approaching the top solid-state amplifiers in those very areas where tubes were previously most severely flawed. In addition, they have lost none of their strong points along the way. I no longer feel that the trade-offs in tube sound are unacceptable, and I still delight in those things that tubes do so well. Thus, while admitting without hesitation that the Klyne SK-5 is probably a more accurate preamplifier than the C-J, I will also state without hesitation [hat I prefer the Premier Three. I derive more musical enjoyment from it and I am less distressed by what I hear when I come home from an orchestral concert and listen to canned music through it. In other words, I choose the C-J.

Please note that this is a purely personal judgment and one that I realize will not be shared by all of our readers (Larry Archibald, for example, prefers the Klyne). It is also possible that had I been Iistening to loudspeakers that are more forward-sounding and projected than the ones I have on hand (and the Watkinses are more so than many), I might well have found the Klyne to be more rewarding than the C-J. I harbor no doubts, however, about: the standings of these preamplifiers relative to their competition: both are wor1d-c1ass preamps, equalled by few and possibly surpassed by none.—J. Gordon Holt


Our review sample of the Three had to be shipped back to C-J because it all of a sudden didn't sound right (though according to C -J there was nothing wrong). When I went hack to the C-J PV-5 preamplifier, I encountered a problem that may also affect the Premier Three because both use essentily the same input switching arrangement. (When the Premier Three was returned—with nothing repaired—it did again sound wonderful!)

Here's the problem: under certain circumstances we noticed an incredibly loud and potentially devastating PLOP when switching from phono to CD or back. It turned out that the problem occurred only with CD players, and only when the CD player was installed in the Tuner inputs, which are located immediately adjacent to Phono on the C-J selector switch. For some reason that's not entirely clear (to us), the problem doesn't occur when switching from other sources (such as my PCM-F1) to CD when they're immediately adiacent on the selector switch.

The source of this problem? The Yamaha players produce significant DC offset when in the Play or Pause mode. In fact, we've heard that a number of CD players have this most uncivilized problem, hut we've only experienced it with the Yamahas. (The Sony 52OES has no such problem.) You also will not notice the problem on your C-J preamp if you connect a CD player to some input that is not adiacent to Phono, because then it will be isolated by the intermediate contact position of the selector.

C-J buyers should exercise caution when installing any CD players. To safely check for the DC offset condition, attach your CD player with the volume control almost all the way down and switch from Phono to Tuner. If you hear a mild pop, you will have to move your CD player to a different input. If you hear nothing, you can safely use that hookup! But be careful: a single pulse of that magnitude could take out an amplifier and a pair of woofers in an instant. We will endeavor to survey CD players for this condition and report accordingly; in the meantime, manufacturers such as Yamaha would be well-advised to clean up their act.—J. Gordon Holt

Conrad-Johnson Design, Inc.
12733 Merrilee Drive
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 698-8581

Zarathustra's picture

"I have recently found the Krell solid-state equipment to be particularly impressive, and there is one hell of a band of designers trying to make tubes truly obsolete."
Well Krell surely did not make tubes obsolete like Mark Levinson didn't.
Jeff Rowland and Threshold did a better job in that area.

I love the sound of CJ equipment but loath their build quality especially in the eighties. Premier One (b) amp still sounds great to my ears.