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  1. #1
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    Conrad Johnson ACT2 preamplifier

    greetings from Melbourne!
    just got hold of the awesome c-j ACT2 preamp, this is a phenomenal preamp! driving my Quad ESL 2905's the soundstage is spectacular, absolutely stunning! the air around the instruments and space between the musicians, plus timing and tonal accuracy are second to none, I have not heard or experienced playback at this level and the detail is simply superb!
    I am partnering the ACT2 with my trusted c-j MV60SE, using a simple vacuum tube CD player by Cayin - this level of transparency I have not heard on any other system to date!
    I have listed to a mega expensive set up of Sonus Faber stradivari driving with Lamm monoblocks costing somewhere around $200 grand... that was indeed nice to listen to; BUT the sound I am getting for around 50 grand equals & sometimes surpasses it! this combination of the ACT2 and Quad 2905 is probably the best I will ever have, unless I was to upgrade to the current new GAT preamp... well lets see now; nope I think I will hang onto the ACT2 for the next generation.
    just wanted to know if there was anyone out there who has a similar experience with their ACT2 or ACT2 series 2?
    also let me know if cables between highend copper wire or silver wire are more suited to ACT2. cables I am currently using are DH Labs Q10, will be using Nordost valhalla's over this weekend. any suggestions/thoughts are welcome.
    cheers, Raj J

  2. #2
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    I am certainly envious I noticed a large improvement when going from my PV-14 to the CT-6. If I had your system my next upgrade would probably be a step up to a higher end CJ power amp. Although I am impressed with the capability of the MV series. I haven't heard the "se" yet. I wish I had a CJ dealer within range. You should consider the LP140 or they have a brand new model out but I forgot the model number. Very nice preamp you have though.
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  3. #3
    Phila combat zone JoeE SP9's Avatar
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    I've been using DH Labs Q-10 Signature cables and BL-1 IC's for two or three years. Previously I was using Kimber TC-8 and Silver Streak. The Q-10 was a definite improvement over the TC-8. I switched from Silver Streak to BL-1 because of a RFI problem. A mini hurricane blew down the offending CB antenna but I had already switched. I liked the Silver Streak a lot. The BL-1 sounds as smooth with maybe a bit less extension. I'm quite happy with it. I think it's the difference between a Silver conductor with Coppoer ground and drain (Silver Streak) and Silver plated Copper (BL-1).

    DH Labs cables and IC's are superb (IMO) and quite reasonably priced.
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  4. #4
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    I've never tried DH Labs. I like the Siltech with my CJ gear. For some reason the Transparent didn't have good synergy with the CJ. I liked both better than the Audioquest I've tried.
    Mark Levinson #512
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  5. #5
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    message from Raj J (melbourne)

    thanks a lot fellas for the info;

    in fact I will be getting hold of a 2m pair of pre-terminated Nordost Valhalla's with matching interconnects for a price close to 10grand! if this all works out I will close the purchase - but if not I will just stick with my DH Labs and enjoy what I am getting out of this already awesome sounding system.

    I don't even know why the hec I want to try to improve on it any further... honestly.
    it's just that when the demo was done for the c-j ACT2 the system's cables were all Nordost top end all the way - costing somewhere around 20+ grand just for cables & interconnects. my trusted dealer/importer mate is willing to trade in my DH labs leaving me with only a small decent balance to pay up. I think it is a fair deal, but only if there is a definite sonic improvement, otherwise forget it.

    cheers! RJ

  6. #6
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    That's the way to do it with any cable upgrade, or component as well, if you notice an improvement then go for it if you think the improvement warrants the expense. For $10k you could get an outstanding CD player though. Feed the ACT-2 a great signal from an outstanding source and it will really sing.
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  7. #7
    Phila combat zone JoeE SP9's Avatar
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    If it sounds better and you can stand the cost go for it. I look forward to reading your impressions of the Nordost vs DH Labs. Considering the difference in price it should be interesting.

    Trade in the DH and leave a "small decent balance"? You must be getting one hell of a deal on the Nordost. DH Labs IC's and cables are a bargain in the US. The two six foot pairs of Q-10 Signature connecting my fronts and subs cost $520.
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  8. #8
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    message from Raj J (melbourne)

    good afternoon gentlemen,
    many thanks for your responses.
    I generally do not discuss prices because I have a very sepcial relationship with my dealer in Melbourne, being with them for over 6 years now; but perhaps will share a few details.
    no, I am not spending 10grand on Nordost cables, the actual offer is less than half for a pre-terminated 2m pair biwire. actual price will be even less since I will trade in my DHlab cables. this nordost cable is kind of unique, it has 4 separate wires/columns running in parallel each having individual strands of silver coating extruded in bi-wire structure. the cable is fairly wide compared to the stuff I have generally used from Nordost in the past. this one is closer to their SPM reference series, which is no longer made I believe. the sound off this cable is pretty good, although my existing DHLabs is as good! there is another cable my dealer does have from Nordost top of line which is 10 grand a meter. I listened to this cable extensively setup with the Quad/c-j gear driving the exact same ESL's and the sound was top notch.

    however, the funny thing is - the preamp in this set up is a simple c-j classic SE preamp, which was mine! my previous classis SE out does all his current preamps except one, being the CT5. he has hooked up the CT5 to a different solid state set up consisting of c-j ET250s amp driving a pair of Vandersteen Quatro speakers. he has decided to keep the classic in their reference system comprising of the c-j LP70s & LP125 monoblocks, driving the Quad 2905's. earlier in this system he did have c-j's top of line ACT2 - but hey I've got that one now!

    so this is where it gets interesting, I was listening to my system last night up till 2am, couldn't listen any longer since I had to get to work this monrning... I must say that the sound I am getting from my humble system outbeats the sound at my dealers showroom even using the 10 grand cable from Nordost! so there we go... obviously it is the ACT2 that makes this huge difference, therefore this weekend I know for sure that what I am going to get more of I hope will only be marginal, not a dramatic improvement compared to a classic vs ACT2.

    I have posted a review on the ACT2, specially learning from what others have experienced from top end brands/models.
    Australia cables and interconnects are not that expensive, it is the components / electronics that are. you can easily pick up a very good pair of cables for around $280, plus interconnects would cost another $250 or so, all added up for $500 bucks you can have very good interconnect to cable matching - but remember this is in $AUD not $USD!

    yes, I definitely agree that the next step to go would be upgrading to a top end CD player, infact I am. I will be getting the new conrad johnson digital playback DP2 player which actaully comes from McCormack designed by the c-j team. it's on order, should have this in by Dec.

    regarding the power amp, I don't really need to upgrade. the Quads do not sound any better driven with higher wattage, all they require is a decent current and stable output, hence virtually any tube amp can drive them. I have listened to Quads driven with mega buck Lamm monoblocks, as well as some humble thing like an old Leek tube amp. both were as good, of course with different dynamics, but overall sweetness of sound was there in abundance on both. price difference somewhere between $700 to $120 grand.

    so NO, I probably won't change my power amp for sometime, the c-j MV60SE is a true classic c-j sound and design, and so is the standard version with EL34 tubes - you cannot really better this unless one was to go for a top of line pair of c-j monoblocks or their new ART power amp. then again Quad ESL's do not require so much power to sing.

    will let you know how the Nordost cables go, this certainly will be interesting.
    cheers mate! Raj J

  9. #9
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    Thanks for sharing your experience. I wondered how well the Classic sounded. I will also be interested in hearing how the CJ digital playback sounds.
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  10. #10
    Phila combat zone JoeE SP9's Avatar
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    I'm right there with Mr. Peabody.
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  11. #11
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Raj J
    just got hold of the awesome c-j ACT2 preamp, this is a phenomenal preamp! driving my Quad ESL 2905's the soundstage is spectacular, absolutely stunning! the air around the instruments and space between the musicians, plus timing and tonal accuracy are second to none, I have not heard or experienced playback at this level and the detail is simply superb!
    Congrats. I've heard the ART III at length in a spectacular system and found all that you said to be true. My approach is a bit different. While I have a good Audio Research preamp, I use it only for phono sources. My CDP has enough gain and low impedance to drive a pair of VTL amps directly through DACT attenuators. I achieve high resolution by eliminating the line stage altogether. There's nothing like the sound of nothing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Raj J
    ... will be using Nordost valhalla's over this weekend.
    The Valhallas are indeed very nice. They were used in the system with the ART as well. Their metrics are very similar to my JPS Labs cables having a similar very low dielectric constant.

    Quote Originally Posted by Raj J
    ...the system's cables were all Nordost top end all the way - costing somewhere around 20+ grand just for cables & interconnects
    Actually, the Valhalla is no longer the top end of the product line any more. That falls to Odin. A one meter balanced interconnect runs $16k and a one and a half meter run of speaker cable runs $23k. The power cable runs $12k. I've heard all of those too, in a later version of a reviewer friend's system. Between Odin in the main system and Valhalla in other systems in his house, he must have about $150k of Nordost cabling!

    I've been a full range electrostat enthusiast for over thirty years. I use a pair of Sound Lab U-1s driven by VTL MB-450s.

    rw

  12. #12
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    E-stat, can you tell much difference between Valhalla and Odin?
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  13. #13
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    E-stat, can you tell much difference between Valhalla and Odin?
    Much? That's a value call. There is, however, a difference. Odin is more transparent.

    rw

  14. #14
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    Nordost vs DHLabs over the weekend

    good day mates! how's it going.
    oh yes! I have listened to those Odin cables; price in Australia is around 30 grand just for 2m pair! quite nice BUT not worth the money. there always will be a limitation to what you can afford, 30 grand cables is not my cup of tea even if I had money pouring out of the taps - I have a wifey and daughter to look out for, hence they are er.. human after all, and your loved ones do come first.

    Over the weekend I did try the Nordost cables & interconnects at length, had the system running for 3 days non-stop from Friday 6pm to Sunday 12:30am. what an interesting session it was. most of my listening was done at night after 9pm up till 4am, all was very quiet zero noise & no background noise other than a clock ticking and my little fish tank's water filter running quietly in the background...

    I played almost everything from Miles, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennet, Michael Buble, Ray Charles, to Dianna Krall, Cassandra Wilson, Dena Derose, Rene Marie, Carla Cook, Carman Mcrae, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, Chris Botti, Bobo James, Four Play, George Benson, Norman Brown, Russel Malone, Kenny Burrel, Duke Ellington, Larry Carlton, Melody Gardot, Patricia Barber, and finally some out of sorts Nickle Back and Dave Mathews Band including ABBA and the lovely Taylor Swift. I even played some high school musical CD's that my daughter was dying to hear...

    well off the Nordost the sound was great! soundstage, timbre, dynamics, transients, acceleration & decay, tonal / timing accuracy, space & ambience and naturalness & live! everything was spot on, and guess what - so were the DHLabs!

    with the Nordost, some areas seemed a tad bit brighter though with more shimmer and sizzle, the highs sounded more icey... whereas with the DHLabs the sound was far more warm, very relaxing and at one point between I even fell asleep...

    conclusion: preferred the DHLabs, although I could easily live with the Nordost, I'm not complaining. But for me the DHLabs work just fine and I also did try the 10 grand cable from Nordost. Now, there was a difference in the overall presentation. it felt more 3 dimensional, and the soundstage was truly spectacular, but then again for that type of money the improvement was only marginal. hence DOES NOT justify the extra expense.

    In the past during my 15 to 20 years of high end audio, I have gone through so many different cables/interconnects, including changing so may systems and upgrading as you go along you will always change your cables. for me, right now in the system I currently have, I think the DHLabs are true value for money and cannot be beaten at that price vs performance.

    lights down low, to the point of virtual darkness, only thing glowing are the tubes, ACT2 front display and the Quad logos, turn up the ACT2 and the soundstage is simply superb!
    when you get it right and it sounds just right - why bother changing?
    cheers guys and keep what you've got unless its truly worth it. only YOUR EARS can be the judge no one elses!

    take it easy, Raj J

  15. #15
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    Very good and sensible review Raj J. Thanks.
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  16. #16
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Raj J
    ... there always will be a limitation to what you can afford
    Absolutely. I was merely pointing out that Valhalla was not their top of the line any more. That would not be the first place where I would sink such an investment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Raj J
    I think the DHLabs are true value for money and cannot be beaten at that price vs performance.
    Agree. I starting using DH Labs about ten years ago. While I now use JPS Labs in the main system, I put the BC-1 interconnects to use in another system.

    rw

  17. #17
    Phila combat zone JoeE SP9's Avatar
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    E-Stat, which JPS cables and IC's are you using?
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  18. #18
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeE SP9
    E-Stat, which JPS cables and IC's are you using?
    Mid line Superconductor + and FX. Full details at my profile over at the Asylum here.

    rw

  19. #19
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    Thanks for reporting back Raj.
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  20. #20
    Phila combat zone JoeE SP9's Avatar
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    Raj;
    Can't wait to hear about your evolving system.
    ARC SP9 MKIII preamp,VPI HW19jr, Rega RB300
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