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Conrad Johnson CT6 Composite Triode Stereo Preamplifier Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 April 2008
Conrad Johnson is one of most well-known and respected names in the world of tubed audio gear. The CT6 preamplifier reviewed here is the result of trickle-down technology from the company’s famous ACT preamplifier, which itself descends from the legendary ART preamplifier. At $5,000, it is roughly a third of the price of the current ACT II preamplifier that shares its composite triode circuit design. For those of you interested in a technical description of this circuit, I recommend a look at the Conrad Johnson website, which provides more information on this circuit design.

The Upside
Turning on the CT6, I was surprised by the long wait for the unit to warm up, during which no control input is accepted.  I quickly learned to simply leave the unit on and muted in between a day’s listening sessions.
I listened to and old favorite, Marc Cohn’s eponymously titled album (Atlantic Records). I found Cohn’s voice on the well-known “Walking In Memphis” track to be reproduced with body and presence. The midrange was accurate yet relaxed. I listened to some more tracks, including “29 Ways,” which starts off with the drums deep in the soundstage. The instruments sounded great with lots of weight. They were musical and detailed, but not analytical.  The soundstage was large, with the individuals solidly placed. Imaging was strong, but not razor sharp. The overall soundstage and imaging were realistic, fitting my room and the music well.

Moving on to Rickie Lee Jones’ album “Pop Pop” (Geffen), one of my favorite tracks is “Dat Dere.” The Conrad Johnson had a laid-back presentation without sacrificing detail or extension. Jones’ voice, the saxophone and the acoustic guitar all sounded right. Each instrument sounded natural and balanced. Closing my eyes, I could easily picture Jones standing just a few feet behind my speakers.

To sum up the sonic characteristics of the CT6, I would have to say warmth and body are its predominate traits.

The Downside
The CT6 is wonderful as far as it goes, but it is not the last word in resolution and imaging.  I am looking forward to listening to the CT5, which is said to be similar in character with more detail and refinement.  During listening sessions, I found the clicking of the relays while adjusting volume to be a bit jarring at times, so I usually set the volume and left it.

With respect to features, I would like to see options for balanced connections and a phono stage. Also, I found it difficult to tell by looking at the front from my listening position which source was selected.

The CT6 is a musical and enjoyable preamplifier. While it is not the most detailed and analytical of components, it brings out the special powers of the tube. The midrange was clean, detailed and liquid smooth. Low-end extension was good, with nice control of bass guitar notes and the extension of the high end was without harshness.

There are plenty of preamplifiers in the $5,000 price range, but if you like tubes and the CT6’s feature set fits your needs, I recommend that you give it a serious listen.

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