The conrad-johnson staff knows tube preamplifiers, with over 40 years of expertise underneath their belts, building coveted merchandise which enhance with every new era.
The ET7-S2 we evaluate here is c-j’s center youngster preamplifier, sandwiched between the GAT collection 2reference and their entry-level ET3. For $12,000 the ET7-S2 benefits from many sonic enhancements carried out in C-J’s flagship, but at a more accessible worth point.
Like all c-j merchandise, this preamp comes with only one faceplate shade. Gold. And don’t even attempt to convince them in any other case. The ET7 encompasses a hefty build weighing in at 19 kilos (eight.62 kg), and audio rack-friendly dimensions of 19 inches (48.3cm) vast by 15.375 inches (39cm) deep by 4.375 inches (11cm) tall.
It must be talked about that because of the in depth modifications between the original ET7 and the brand new S2, that it cannot be despatched back to c-j for an “update.” Lew Johnson advised us that the S2 has “an entirely new PC board, and this would be prohibitively costly.”
The ET7 comes with an identical, superbly anodized distant allowing a consumer to vary quantity or supply, mute, and alter left-to-right stability from the comfort of a listening seat. The front panel gives the same functionality, with delicate silver buttons and yellow LEDs to indicate consumer choices.
This preamp’s face features an LED display showcasing the quantity degree for each channel. When the numbers are equivalent, stability is centered. As stability modifications, the 2 numbers diverge from one another. When altering quantity utilizing the distant or the buttons on the front panel, the ET7 has a really audible click accentuating every quantity step activated in the digital area. In case you are used to a element with a clean, silent quantity change this sound is a bit jarring. After a couple of days though, it becomes second nature.
All of c-j’s present preamps employ at the least one vacuum tube. The ET7 (just like the ET3) faucets a single 6922 and calling it a hybrid design is simplifying things a bit too much. Mr. Johnson comments, “the important work is all done by the 6922, which handles all voltage gain. Because the output impedance of a tube voltage amplifier stage is too high for most real world applications, we use a MOSFET device as a buffer. This provides much better performance than a cathode follower (all tube) solution.”
Those who take pleasure in tube rolling can open the chassis and make the swap. Some tube gear gets quite scorching throughout use, but the ET7 case doesn’t, even when left on for a couple of days. The ET7 includes a standby mode to maintain circuitry heat, but not waste tube life when the preamp isn’t in use. Miserable the facility button toggles the element on or off. After powering on, the mute button engages whereas the tube warms up for a minute. When the mute shuts off mechanically, you’re ready to rock.
Ins and outs
The preamp contains a single-ended topology and gives solely RCA connectors. The consumer has a selection of five units of pre-labeled inputs, plus two units of “main outs.” The additional outputs prove especially useful for connecting subwoofers ought to the owner select to add them. The ET7 does not embrace a phonostage, however c-j does label one set of inputs for one if the owner needs to attach an external element there to avoid confusion.
The ET7’s capability to handle residence theater pass-through is a welcome function. Whereas I don’t use any encompass sound elements in my listening area, I do enjoy the potential to make use of the preamp’s pass-through capability with a Sonos system. Interconnecting the ET7’s residence theater outputs to a Sonos Join’s inputs, I can prolong sound to the rest of the residence with Sonos audio system enjoying the music from the primary rig.
The preamp consists of c-j’s proprietary CJD Teflon capacitors, refined during the last decade. Nevertheless, they do take a while to interrupt in absolutely. We gave the ET7 200 hours of operation earlier than making any critical judgments, although it sounds mighty good right out of the box. You will not be dissatisfied. Its general character is on the warmer aspect of impartial, however not mushy or overly-lush. The ET7’s bass portrayal renders low frequencies naturally, with the heft or sustain engineered into the recording.
The preamp’s high frequency process presents loads of detail too. It renders the harmonically-complex, however the beautifulring from percussive parts like a triangle or cymbal with grace. It additionally brings a palpable life to soprano vocals and reveals the delicate sonic cues which contribute to the ET7 soundstaging prowess.
There’s a really natural quality about this preamp. The ET7 takes the sting out of edgy recordings, but still manages to disclose the high quality details within. The ensuing sonic signature is akin to taking a seat in the tenth row of a concert corridor moderately than the first.
Soundstaging is equally spectacular. Musical parts prolong in all instructions across the audio system however never bunch up around them. The ET7 additionally does a very good job putting musical parts front-to-back within the soundstage. Vocals reach forward into the room, even when the sound engineer places a number of instruments – like percussion – within the middle of the musical picture too.
After enjoying all genres with the ET7 in the chain, there’s little to criticize and rather a lot to love. Is it right for you? That answer lies together with your most popular sonic signature and the gear you need to pair with it. Those who crave accentuation of every word and detail in a track might discover the c-j’s clean presentation a tad well mannered. A really punchy solid-state amp is perhaps a very good match in that case. Those who need to grab a seat on the couch and dissolve into the bigger musical image, although, better buckle in for an extended listening session and overlook about analyzing the music. The ET7’s extremely partaking sound is beguiling, and a perfect match for my ART150 energy amplifier.
The ET7 collection 2 linestage preamp represents a superb choice for many who search unbelievable musical performance. At $12,000 the ET7-S2 represents an investment. Nevertheless, in the event you prioritize music in your life start saving your pennies now. Contemplating the amount of trickle-down know-how which the ET7 positive aspects from the GAT design, it may possibly strategy flagship efficiency at half the worth.
After several weeks with the ET7 in place, it definitely proved its mettle. Its pure, natural presentation is immersive. Plus, the ET7’s warmer character will help it pair nicely with most amplifiers – and music — of your choosing.
Yes, there will all the time be new elements that come to market, but newer just isn’t all the time better. I anticipate c-j has some tips up its sleeve for future products to debut as they strategy their 50thanniversary in a decade. But for now, the ET7-S2 represents a wonderful achievement, coupled with a three-year guarantee backing it within the unlikely occasion it ought to fail. In the event you seek a preamplifier in the $10,000 range, you’ll want to put the ET7-S2 in your brief record for an audition. You’ll not be disillusioned.
Further Listening: Jeff Dorgay
Having lived with almost each conrad-johnson preamplifier because the PV-1, it’s been a tremendous journey with Lew Johnson and Invoice Conrad. (and now new principal, Jeff Fischel, who has taken over after being involved for almost 20 years)
Their unique amplifiers and preamplifiers again from the late 70s to the mid 90s had a sound that was tonally wealthy and saturated, although criticized by some to be a bit warm and vintage in presentation. But the c-j motto “it just sounds right,” gained them a legion of loyal fans the world over. A lot as a flowery adjective may impress you, that tagline was all the time the essence of their sound.
When the CJD Teflon caps have been first carried out in the early 2000s, it sparked the era of what I’d call the “modern c-j sound.” None of the midrange magic and tonal purity that I’d all the time liked with c-j elements was lost, but c-j elements now had a completely new degree of bass extension, dynamic vary and lower noise flooring.
This began with the ACT2 and ACT2/collection 2 preamplifiers, which have been my important reference elements for many years, then shifting on to the GAT and GAT 2. All four of these preamplifiers have acquired an unimaginable amount of awards the world over, and lots of end customers in addition to audio reviewers have referred to as them the most effective on the planet – for good purpose. There’s nonetheless something unmistakable concerning the c-j expertise. Few preamplifiers have this degree of refinement with no shortcoming. Full circle, “it just sounds right” is as salient in 2019 as it was in 1979. That’s spectacular.
Operating the ET7 by means of its paces here, with a wide range of energy amplifiers from c-j and others. Though the ET7 uses single ended outputs, it (like the others before it) has no drawback driving a 30- foot pair of interconnects to a pair of power amplifiers on the opposite aspect of the listening room. Comparing the sound by means of the 30-foot pair of Cardas Clear interconnects and a 3-foot pair revealed no distinction. The design workforce at c-j has all the time taken a less is extra strategy and it has all the time labored nicely.
The place there’s still a substantial enough distinction in sheer scale and determination to greater than justify stepping up to the mighty GAT 2, offered you will have the system and may justify the expense, a quick comparison to an ACT 2 exhibits simply how a lot the design workforce has discovered. Granted a few of this might be the distinction inherent in the 6H30 triodes used in the ACT 2 versus the only 6922 in the ET7, however the current preamplifier has extra refinement, far more. If this is sensible, the ACT 2 sounds a bit brutal now by comparison. It’s like the distinction between the facility supply of a late 90s air-cooled Porsche 911 and the current automotive: the older automotive had more urge, which grabs you at first, but the new automotive has a much wider energy band and modulation of power that it’s more helpful day-after-day.
Considering that 15 years ago, the ACT2 was a killer preamplifier at $13,500, the ET7 is an distinctive worth at $12,000 at the moment. Therefore, the ET7 will get certainly one of our first awards of 2019, and properly deserved. This definitely is usually a destination preamplifier for 99% of our listeners. It nonetheless sounds right.
Conrad-Johnson ET7-S2 linestage preamplifier
Analog Supply SME Model 10 with SME V and Model 10 tonearms. Dynavector 17D3 and Denon DL-103R cartridges
Digital Sources Mac Mini, Roon Music Service, Simaudio MOON 780D DAC, Oppo BDP-103
Amplification Conrad-Johnson ART150
Speakers GamuT RS3i, JL Audio Dominion Subwoofers
Cables Jena Labs
Power Torus AVR 15 Plus, RSA Mongoose, and Cardas Clear power cords
Equipment ASC tube traps, Mapleshade Samson audio racks, Coffman Labs Gear Footers, AudioQuest Jitterbug, Atomic Audio Labs Mac Mini stand