conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage


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conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum-Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage

I cued up Luka Bloom's Turf CD to determine how the Classic presents basic acoustic music, in this case a male voice and lone acoustic guitar. Perhaps more appropriately, what I discovered is how Luka himself (along with his recording engineer) presented the music. On the track "True Blue," the presentation of Luka's voice was fluid. His vocals and guitar were firmly anchored slightly right of center, and that placement never wavered. The pluck and decay of the strings and movement of his fingers on the fret board were all presented as clearly and naturally as if he were in the room. The experience was not like listening to the recording, rather, it was like listening to the performance. Track 11, "The Fertile Rock" starts out with a choral intro sung by an audience at the Tivoli, a club in Utrecht, Holland. The voices were naturally layered, and individually distinguishable through the Classic. The mix had the choral emanating from behind the artist, and it was utterly convincing in dimension. The soundstage was every bit as deep as it was wide.

conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum-Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage

I wouldn't characterize Annie Lenox's Diva as basic music. It's full of synth and heavy bass lines common to '80s and early '90s pop. Regardless, it's well recorded. The track "Why" starts out with synth and heavy, bass, followed by a wonderfully layered harmony anchored by Annie's voice. The bass is taught and tuneful, and vocals are exceptionally clear. The tracks on this CD present an immense soundstage, and the Classic applies gain and otherwise passes it through completely unadulterated. The track "Legend In My Living Room" has several passages where sound pans from one side to the other. The effect through the Classic is completely immersing. Sound not only pans across the soundstage, but it pans well above the speakers, flows down the side walls high and low, and even behind the listener. It creates a holographic soundstage, the likes of which compare to better multi-channel high resolution surround recordings, in this case through just 2 channels.

conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum-Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage

On Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour's Harlequin CD, the piano key strikes and guitar plucks on the title track are presented like the finest life-like portrait. Ivan Lins' vocals shine through like the glorious instrument that it is. On percussion instruments, one can distinguish between sticks and brushes, between high hats and cymbals. There was air in abundance. Bells sound like bells and blocks sound like blocks. No guesswork is required. There is no loss of upper detail through this tube based preamp. The Classic doesn't restrict the timing, rhythm and pace of the faster tracks. Lee Ritenour's guitar work on "San Ysidro" and Silent Message" strikes fast and decays naturally, as does Dave Grusin's piano on "Silent Message." Everything flows through the Classic with complete truth and ease.

Ronnie Jordan's "Seeing Is Believing" from A Brighter Day throws a 3 dimensional holographic soundstage. The natural resonance of Ronnie's acoustic guitar and Ian Martin's bass are presented with superb texture, weight and depth. On Elton John's "Come Down In Time" from the Tumbleweed Connection SACD, the acoustic harp may as well be in the room. The acoustic guitar intro on "Love Song" presents well beyond the plane of the speakers, and the Classic moves out of the way. I could imagine myself in a smoke filled jazz club listening to Jay McShann's What A Wonderful World SACD. The piano, cymbals and upright bass on "Just For You" were immediate and crystalline in their texture and clarity. "Yogi's Dream" from Bob James' Ivory Coast delivers up Bob's Steinway, Omar Hakim's percussion, and Kirk Whalum's sax with the perfect edge. There were no electronically induced artificial edges on cymbal crashes or hard hitting sax blasts. They were just right. I dusted off some Poco, in this case Crazy Eyes. Poco mixed banjos and acoustic guitars with orchestras before it became more mainstream with the Eagles. Richie Furay's and Timothy B. Schmit's distinct vocals underpin the harmonies on the title track. The harmonies are richly layered, the banjo pickin' is clean and fast, and the orchestra is well delineated. However, the pieces and parts aren't very well integrated in this recording. It sounds like a bunch of separate tracks mashed together. I found that this CD was better left to far less resolving gear.

conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum-Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage

The Stereo Fidelity LP Miles Davis Kind of Blue took me right back into that smoke filled jazz club. This was a smaller, more intimate club. This was a different time. The Classic phono stage resolves very well. This is considered true reference vinyl. I compared my reference outboard phono preamp with the phono stage in the Classic. The results were predictable in that the phono stage performed admirably. It delivered slightly less weight in the lower octaves than my thousand dollar stand alone unit, but it delivered all of the texture and detail, if not ever so slightly more in the upper-middle frequencies.

Duffy's Rockferry was an eye opener. I could hear detail on the LP through the Classic's phono stage that I could not discern on the CD played through my reference system. She has a unique, bluesy texture to her voice. The LP also uncovered more nasality, particularly on certain songs. LPs shine in the middle frequencies, in this case presenting a subtle tonal quality and texture that couldn't be discerned on CD. I expected more from the limited pressing of Steely Dan's Aja by Cisco Music. Still, the Classic neither improves upon, nor hides anything in the source.

Madeleine Peyroux's Careless Love on MoFi revealed some of the best attributes of vinyl. The simple arrangements backing her classic voice came through as pristine as they were recorded. Every nuance, the brush on a cymbal, the stick on a snare, the pluck on the bass comes through with an uncanny natural fidelity. Much like Duffy, you hear her taking a breath between words, and there is no hint of electronically exaggerated sibilance. The Manhattan Transfer LP Brasil features several of the same songs found on Grusin and Ritenour's Harlequin. Here, they are presented in English. The rhythm and pace is a little quicker, the arrangements more complex. The Classic phono stage exquisitely resolves each supple layer of detail.