Friday, April 20, 2007

Conrad-Johnson ART3 and ACT2

Conrad-Johnson. Two legandary audio designers' (they are economist by education) name combined - and as a brand one of the Tier 1 American high-end audio companies. It just sound right, their slogan goes. And one product which put CJ into high-end radar screen was ART (for Anniversary Reference Triode) preamp. ART was first introduced in June 1996 (20th anniversary of CJ) and second incarnation ART2 came in 2001. The initial concept of ART was that CJ would only make 250 units, period. However, somehow only 225 series 1 and 2 models were made, leaving CJ with 25 chassis left over.

Fast forward to 2004 and introduction of another great CJ pre-amp, model ACT2. One of the key factor for ACT2's success in reviews and evidently on the market was extensive use of CJ specific Teflon capacitors. So in 2006 CJ decided that they can use those left-over 25 ART two-chassis, and employ the same advanced materials and Teflon caps to bring to the market ART3. At the time of writing this, all ART3 are gone, but if you own ART1 or ART2, rejoice as you can upgrade from ART1 and ART2 to ART3 for USD 13.000 and USD12.000, respectively. I love audio companies who take their "reference" products seriously, i.e. provide upgrade paths for the loyal owners of reference products. The other great example here is Mark Levinson. Audio Research, take note (no upgrade path from REF2 pre-amp to REF3!).

However, the owners of original USD 13.500 CJ ACT2 (earlier blog entry here) might not feel as exuberated. After only 2 years since its introduction, CJ announced updated Series 2 model with a complete internal makeover. In essence, Series 2 ACT2 only shares casework with previous model, circuit and power supply are entirely different. British hi-fi+ reviewed favourable ACT2 Series 2 in issue 49 - although they gave equally positive review for Series 1. Personnally I would feel a bit embarrassed as a reviewer that the product raved highly recently has much better successor only 2 years after. Remember that original ACT2 was referred as a product which raised the bar for tube preamplifiers.

Initially CJ said that there is no upgrade from Series 1 to 2, however, the word on the street is that there is an upgrade available.

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