Conrad-Johnson Premier Eleven power amplifier VAC Comparisons

Sidebar: VAC Comparisons

Wes Phillips compared the Premier Eleven A with the VAC PA80/80 in March 1996 (Vol.19 No.3)

My longtime reference power amplifier, the Conrad-Johnson Premier Eleven A, costs $700 more than the Valve Amplification Company PA80/80 and provided an instructive contrast to it. While retaining many of the tube virtues, the Premier Eleven A sounds even less like a classic tube product than the VAC does—it's more extended at the frequency extremes, which also gives it a tauter, leaner sound. Its deeper, slightly more controlled bass lacks the midbass punch that gives the PA80/80 much of its drive. Many will prefer the '80 for the excitement generated by that punchy propulsiveness. But the C-J has a degree of harmonic refinement that I value immensely and that the PA80/80, for all of its juicy, visceral impact, lacks.

For years, tube-lovers and solid-state fanciers have had a rich debate over the merits of their respective preferences. These days, that debate has gotten a lot more complicated, as the distinctive sounds of each have given way to a far richer diversity within each category. It would be too simplistic to say that the C-J leans toward the solid-state camp in its frequency extension, while the VAC exhibits more of that classic lush tubey sound—but there would be a kernel of truth to that reduction.—Wes Phillips