conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage



Build Quality/Controls/Connections

Out of the box (well protected in a custom foam insert) I immediately recognized the cut-above build quality of the Classic. It's a looker too, that is if you appreciate an understated simplicity, and the golden champagne hue of its fascia.

conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum-Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage

Here is another view:

It is understated, yet elegant. Speaking of fascia, the face and side panels look to be milled out of solid aluminum. The face is ¼ inch solid, brushed aluminum, and the sides are about 3/16th. The main chassis seems to be crafted of heavier gauge steel than your garden variety mass-market enclosure. The controls consist of an input selection dial, a volume control, and a power switch. Simple enough… The input selector clicks into place confidently, the volume control is very well damped, and the power toggle is rock-solid. The back panel is nearly as uncomplicated. There are 2 sets of pre-outs, a tape out, and 5 inputs. The auxiliary input acts as the phono input when the optional phono stage is included (as it was in the review sample). All inputs and outputs are gold plated RCA. There is a 45 second warm-up delay at startup.

conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum-Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage

Sound Quality

Does the Classic fulfill its legacy? I was so taken aback when I first fired-up this fine piece that I couldn't keep it to myself. I was giddy. Where's the fun in keeping something that evokes such emotion to one's self? Not to mention, I wanted to make sure that I was hearing what I was hearing. Huh? Anyway, I called in my trusty audiophile-in-waiting son Colin to take a quick listen. I sat him down in the prime listening spot of our home theater. Mind you, he's never experienced anything other than multi-channel music and movies in this space. The first thing I asked him was "how many speakers are playing?" [We have a 7.2 system.] He listened intently for a few minutes. Finally, his pristine hearing confirmed what I knew that I heard. He pointed to the L/C/R speakers, the two side surrounds, the subs, and just as I had heard, he then pointed to a space above each of the L/R mains, and a space toward the top of the side walls, just out from the mains. But, that's 9.2; we only have 5.2 speakers in that space. Besides, this is a stereo preamp. How can this be?