Rega’s New P10 Turntable

We’ve always been bonkers about Rega’s (almost flagship, they also make the $50k Naiad) turntable, the P10. Building on what they started with the P9 over a decade ago, with it’s machined subplatjer and ceramic composite platter, the P10 is a piece of visual as well as analog fine art.

The refinement provided by every aspect of the table, from the power supply to the new white felt mat shows Rega has left nothing unexamined.

Our review sample is here, and equipped with the new Apheta 3 MC cartridge as well.

At $6,695 with cartridge installed, and the latest RB3000 tonearm, this promises to be exciting.


US Importer:

Lockdown: Day 15

As somewhat of a self-imposed hermit anyway, I’m keeping my head down, staying out of the traffic pattern, and staying busy.

There’s plenty of work to do here, and we will continue to produce content at TONE as if things were back to what we used to consider normal. Our hope is to produce a bit more, in the hope that we can at least provide a minute of distraction here and there.

For those that are interested, we’ll be posting weekly to let you know what’s up and what we’re working on. I truly hope that you are all safe, sound, and out of harms way. Here’s to all the strength that you can muster right now. If we provide a little bit of distraction, that’s great. If you need to be alone and not think of music or hifi right now, we understand.

The new APL-10 preamplifier and AFM-25 monoblocks from Rivera Audio Labs continue to amaze. The ultimate in simplicity, this all tube preamp and hybrid (tube input stage, solid state, Class-A output stage) monoblocks are an excellent match with the 94db/1 watt Focal Stella Utopia Ems. Rounding out the system is the PSAudio Perfect Wave DAC, a Torus TOT line conditioner, and all cable from Cardas Audio.

The overall sound is very natural and open. As a big fan of Class-A amplifiers from Pass, Luxman (along with vintage Krell and Levinson) the Rivera amps have all of that in spades, yet the tube/hybrid design offers a bit more magic. 25 watts per channel won’t be enough for everyone, the other two Rivera amplifiers offer 50 wpc and 100, effectively. We’ll have a full review soon, but these are a true joy.

You can find out a little more here at Rivera Audio Labs…

And, their North American importer, TONE Imports (not affiliated with us, but it has a nice ring to it, eh?)

PS:  I understand that most of you probably have way bigger fish to fry right now, than worry about what your next hifi purchase is going to be, and that to just tell you to “Just take it easy and listen to music for the next few weeks” may not be much solace. So you won’t be getting that one from me.

So, take good care, and stay safe my friends.

Gold Note CD1000 MkII CD player/DAC

Even though there is a wealth of streaming options available to music lovers, the CD is quietly making a bit of a comeback. Not everyone wants to be an IT person, and some really enjoy the simplicity of putting a disc in and pushing play. Not to mention, there are some great deals to be had in the used CD bins.

Over the last several years, vinyl’s comeback reinvigorated the love for turntables. Following on the footsteps of this old-school resurgence CDs are experiencing a surprise comeback too. Embracing this trend, Italy’s Gold Note seeks to bring together the best of CD playback and streaming into a single package with the CD-1000 player and DAC. Indeed, the CD-1000 performs admirably in extracting the most from CDs. However, it also features a USB input so the internal DAC can deliver double-duty in decoding high-resolution PCM files. While Gold Note player cannot decode SACD or DVD-A disks, DSD, or MQA files, listeners will enjoy its prowess with a vast majority of their music collection.

Behold gold

After unpacking the CD1000, it’s evident that Italy’s Gold Note puts a lot of effort into the aesthetics of their products to complement the equally-beautiful sound.

The player comes in a variety of finishes. In addition to the gold anodizing reflecting the company’s namesake, Gold Note offers black and silver options to match other downstream components. While some manufacturers anodize only the thick aluminum faceplate to save production cost, the CD-1000 surfaces all reflect the owner’s color choice. Atop the CD-1000, even the ventilation slits prove attractive. It also features a custom-made aluminum CD drawer rather than the cheap plastic ones used in most players. The unit’s heft also reflects serious build quality. The player weighs in at 33 pounds (15kg) with external dimensions of 17 inches wide, 14.75 inches deep, and 5.3 inches tall (430mm X 375mm X 135mm).

The front panel controls offer the expected options for a CD player. Eject, play/pause, track skipping or scanning, stop, and standby buttons integrate gracefully into the faceplate. A digital display showcases the CD track number and elapsed time. There is no button to choose the input selections, however. For that, one needs to use the included plastic remote control.

Owners have a choice of RCA or AES/EBU (XLR) analog outputs. They can also use the S/PDIF coax output to use the CD-1000 as a transport to an external DAC. However, it would take an exceptional DAC to expect an improvement over the one built into the Gold Note.

Input wise, those using the player as a standalone DAC can connect to it from other sources via Toslink, S/PDIF, or USB. Regardless of input choice, the player’s excellent Burr-Brown PCM1796 dual-mono chip takes the reins for decoding digital information.

Designed for upgrades

Gold Note employs a modular design for the CD player. While the internal dual-mono power supply does a marvelous job on its own, an owner can upgrade the player with a choice of two external Class A tube Output Stage Buffers, the TUBE-1012 taps the aid of twelve 6N1P triode tubes, while the smaller TUBE-1006 sibling uses six. Besides are also available two external inductive power supply the 9 transformers PSU-1250 and the 5 transformers PSU-1000.  According to Gold Note, either power supply bests the internal version. These upgrades don’t come cheap, retailing around $7,000 or $4,000, respectively for both TUBE and PSU. Adding that to the $5,000 cost of the player itself represents a substantial investment.

We’ll need to take Gold Note’s word for the sound improvements these power supplies offer since we did not have either on hand from which to base a comparison. For those CD-1000 owners who seek to unveil every sonic nuance from their CD-1000, the upgrade may prove worthwhile. CD-1000 owners who choose to go that route can acquire new-production Sovtek 6N1P tubes for about $12 each. Necessary re-tubing down the road won’t break the bank.


The Gold Note features a similar sonic voice, whether enjoying a CD or using the DAC for streamed content. However, CD playback is where it truly excels. The sound is exceptionally immersive and it’s easy to get swept up in the music rather than scrutinizing it.

The CD-1000 MkII digs out bass notes in a tight, defined, and concise way. Those who crave heavy bass emphasis may find the player’s voicing a touch polite for their taste. Low frequency, dub-steppy elements heard in Billie Eilish’s “you should see me in a crown” renders with ample punch, though. Listeners pairing the CD-1000 with preamps and amps that excel at low-frequency delivery may find the Gold Note an excellent match.

The Gold Note offers a beautiful midrange portrayal. Vocals seem to take a step toward the listener, exceeding the physical speaker placement. Similarly-impressive is the player’s broad and deep soundstage. Instruments sometimes offer a surprise by appearing to wrap around the edges of the listening space.

On the top end, high-frequency information translates with oodles of detail. The player retrieves nuances that help frame the ambiance around vocalists and various instruments. It layers them in the soundstage deftly. However, that marvelous capability is a double-edged sword at times. When mated with similarly-voiced downstream components, the DAC can introduce a touch of stridency. For example, “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones comes with a bit of hard edge during her vocal crescendos. For sonic comparison between the DAC and CD functionality, we played the same track using the CD-1000MkII’s DAC only, and then the CD player. The Redbook CD playback sounded a little more rounded, even in comparison with a streamed 24-bit/192KHz native file.

I expect the power supply upgrades for the CD-1000 would enhance all the player’s strengths and diminish the few quibbles. Even without the upgrades though, the Gold Note’s voice is lovely and it’s easy to get immersed in rummaging through old CDs to see what the CD-1000 can extract from them. Those seeking more detail and “life” in their stereo system’s digital playback prowess may find the CD-1000 a great option.

Summing up

The Gold Note CD-100 MkII is an exceptional performer and a marvelous choice for those with an extensive CD collection. However, keep in mind that the player decodes streamed music too. Dividing that cost among the player and DAC capabilities justifies the future-proofed investment. Plus, Gold Note’s various power supplies give a prospective owner an upgrade path. If this review whets your appetite for a new CD player, be sure to audition a CD-1000 MkII and see if it’s the solution you’ve been seeking to complement your other system components.

Gold Note CD1000 MkII CD Player and DAC

MSRP:  $5,000


Digital Sources Roon Nucleus, Simaudio MOON 780D DAC, Oppo BDP-103, Synology DiskStation 415 Play, Tidal and Qobuz streaming services.

Amplification Conrad-Johnson ART150

Preamplification Coffman Labs G1-B

Speakers GamuT RS3i

Cables Jena Labs

Power Torus AVR 15 Plus, RSA Mongoose, and Cardas power cords

Accessories ASC tube traps, Cathedral Sound Room Dampening Panels, Mapleshade Samson audio racks, Coffman Labs Equipment Footers

The McIntosh MAC7200 Receiver

In today’s world, and its accelerated pace, so few things are constant anymore. For this audio enthusiast, there is something soothing, about the big, blue meters that adorn nearly every component from McIntosh Laboratory, Inc.

They are an assurance of a number of things: quality – made in America quality, by a group of great people that have been doing this for decades. If you’re 40 or older, chances are some of these people made your parents McIntosh. If you’re my age, chances are some of these people made your Grandparent’s McIntosh. That’s longevity.

This generational thing with McIntosh also perpetuates a consistency in sound and aesthetic. The Mac you buy today will fit right in with the Mac gear you already own and work well, whether just recently purchased, or decades old. Finally, the sound. McIntosh has always stood for great sound, and over the years, their engineering team continues to refine their products for better sound and even better reliability. Other than a few exceptional legacy products (the MC30s immediately come to mind) today’s Mac sounds better than ever.

Our younger readers may remember their parents having a receiver. That ubiquitous audio box that did everything, handling all the formats back then; a turntable, a tape deck (or two) and a glorious FM tuning dial. Keeping with ongoing march of progress, McIntosh has replaced the tuning dial on their receivers of years past with a pair of those big, blue, awesome meters, adding a digital to analog converter that handles everything up to DSD 256.

They’ve also added a moving coil phono section to the phono stage, with its own separate input, so that you can actually run two turntables with your MAC7200 if you’re so inclined, along with an FM tuner for those of you that still have decent radio stations. And the MAC7200s built in tuner sounds lovely, just like vintage tuners from Mac’s past.

Is there anything the MAC7200 doesn’t do?

Not really, and now, it’s even a Roon tested device, so you can use it in the Roon streaming environment.

Where the MAC7200 shines, is it’s engaging, but ever so slightly relaxed tonal rendition. The MAC7200 has more than enough audiophile cred, yet those craving the last molecules of fine detail will probably go elsewhere. That’s not the point, and that’s never been the McIntosh ethos. What really makes the MAC7200 standout is the magic it brings to every recording you own. And for the other 99.99% of us that aren’t fussy audiophiles, this is what it’s all about.

Plenty of power

200 watts per channel assures you can drive anything with the MAC7200. This was the stuff of dreams back in the 70s when the war of the massive receivers reached its peak. Just to make sure I wasn’t just an old guy reminiscing, I managed to borrow a perfect vintage Pioneer SX-1980 (rated at 270 watts per channel) from a collector for an impromptu shootout. While the Mac did not have the tuning dial and tuning meters, it blew the vintage receiver out of the water in every way imaginable.

For those wondering why we might make this comparison, vintage Japanese receivers like the SX-1980 and the Marantz 2325 are starting to pass the $5,000 – $10,000 mark these days and they are 40 years old. Unless you absolutely have to have that cool 70s receiver, the $7,500 MAC7200 is a killer value and has a five-year warranty. Considering McIntosh’s reputation for build quality, and the fact that they still repair 40 – year old components at the factory, this is a major bargain. Not to mention, you’ll be able to hand the MAC7200 down to your kids in a couple of decades.

Utilizing the Autoformer technology that McIntosh has hung their hat on forever, the MAC7200 can drive even two-ohm speaker loads with ease. The output transformer keeps a constant load on the output stage, and the amplifier within comfortable parameters at all times. The result – consistent sound and better durability long term.

Most speakers will work well with the 4 or 8 ohm tap. We found the recent Sonus faber Guareris achieved optimum power transfer with the 4-ohm tap, while the Focal Sopra no.3s and Graham LS5/9s gave their best performance with the 8-ohm tap. Magnepan fans are going to appreciate that 2-ohm tap, making these speakers a lot easier to drive. Again, the MAC7200 offers crazy versatility.

Digital diversity, and no static at all

In addition to the plethora of digital inputs, the MAC7200 also features their proprietary MCT input, so those owning one of their current transports can hear their SACDs in full glory. Rather than converting to PCM, the direct DSD bitstream comes through. We didn’t have one of these for our review, but a few readers that own both pieces have reported it’s a pretty sweet combination.

Here in Portland we still have a few radio stations with decent programming and sound quality. If you are equally blessed, you’re going to appreciate the FM tuner section. Moving through the stations brings back great memories. Taking into account what a vintage Mac tuner hails these days, again you can have an entire system, that won’t need a refurb.

Should you need it, the MAC7200 even receives AM signals. Curiosity got the best of me, since I haven’t listened to AM in decades, going back to WOKY in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a kid. The pickings are sparse these days (at least in Portland) but again, the fidelity is exceptional, considering the limited bandwidth and frequency response the AM band allows.

Lacking the multiple band graphic equalizer of a few of the McIntosh preamplifiers, the bass and treble controls offered on the MAC7200 are still more than welcome, with recordings new and old. Some recordings just sound flat, and if you can get out of the audiophile box, it’s amazing what goosing the bass or treble a touch does for your listening session. Again, McIntosh is the master of flexibility.

Satisfies your inner DJ

Whether you have a turntable with two tonearms, or are rocking a pair of Technics 1200s, the ability to connect more than one table is a major bonus for hard core vinyl lovers. Having the new Technics SL1200G (with Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC mounted) and a 1200GR sporting a classic Shure M44, I was able to put the MAC7200s phonostage through all of its paces.

The phono section in the MAC7200 is top notch, which led to stepping up the phono game somewhat. Sticking with a known American classic just felt right, so A VPI Prime with with Kieseki Purple Heart cartridge proves the MAC7200’s phonostage is of serious quality. It possesses more than enough resolution to discern a major difference between budget and serious cartridges, so you can grow with it as your vinyl enthusiasm increases. Its super quiet output along with 50, 100, 200, 400, and 1k Ohm loading on the MC side, with 60db of gain puts all but the lowest output cartridges at your disposal.

If you want a single box solution that does nearly everything, the McIntosh MAC7200 is certainly one of our favorite choices. Whether this is your first Mac, or one in a line of many, you’re going to dig this one. McIntosh has produced a new classic.

The McIntosh MAC7200 Reciever


Bryston’s 28B Cubed Power Amplifiers

Not wanting to waste the first half of the review with a history lesson, we’ll keep it short and to the point. It’s important to tell you why a product is worth the asking price, rather than leaving it to an unanswered question at the end of the review. So just a little bit about Bryston for those of you that aren’t familiar is an important part of their back story.

Bryston components are hand made in Canada to pro audio standards, and that’s not a bad thing. They are one of the few companies that sell in both arenas, and both camps benefit. The pro-audio customer gets additional value from Bryston’s audiophile side, making for fantastic sound, used in studios around the world, while the audiophile users benefit from rock-solid reliability.

Ever had a friend with a Bryston amp complain about it being broken? Me neither, and I’ve been buying hifi gear for a long time. Bryston offers the best warranty in the business because they make incredibly dependable products, and that’s a huge part of the value proposition here, especially when you’re thinking about buying a $25,000 pair of monoblocks. You can look at them as a lifetime investment, or if you’re a fickle audiophile, they will work flawlessly for the next three owners. But once you get to 1000 watt per channel monoblocks, where do you go?

Let’s get the clichés out of the way

All of the well-worn audiophile clichés apply to the 28B Cubed monoblocks. So, we’ll skip that, eh? In addition to the high reliability/build quality of these fairly dense amplifiers (they weigh 90 lbs. each, but feel heavier, thanks to their compact form), it’s all about the power.

Many audio enthusiasts subscribe to the first watt theory, that if the first watt of power doesn’t sound great, the next 999 don’t matter. To a certain point, that is true, but once that goal is achieved, to really feel like you are living the music instead of just listening to it, a vast power reserve is vital to feeling there.

While you may listen at low volumes, even when doing so, and with small speakers, I might add (in this case the excellent Falcon LS3/5as) the added level of control and dynamics offered by this amplifier rule the day. All too often, we think of dynamics as the ability to handle large, quick musical transients. I maintain that the ebb is just as important as the flow, and the 28B Cubed amplifiers have a fantastic ability to fade back to zero just as quickly as they can accelerate to 100%. This ability to breathe, if you will, is what allows you to hear fingers slide across a guitar fretboard and feel the textural difference when you listen to Stanley Clarke (or whoever your favorite bass players are) go from acoustic bass to an electric. Small amplifiers just can’t do this as easily.

The colossal power supply in each one of the 28B Cubed chassis offers up a level of dynamics and control that very few amplifiers can match. This level of effortlessness brings yet another level of clarity to your system’s presentation. For the internet pundits claiming that the source is everything and that power doesn’t matter, I think a day with the big Bryston monos will make them believers.

Power is good

In the course of this review, I made it a point to use the 28Bs with about a dozen different pairs of speakers. The Falcons, a pair of ProAc Tablettes, the ever-popular KEF LS-50, and even my old Spica TC-50s got pressed into service. Every one of them delivered better performances than they ever have, with more bass offered up than I ever dreamed any of these tiny contenders were able to provide. If you’ve ever noticed, clever speaker manufacturers with the “best sound at shows” often use massive amplifiers in their rooms, even with small speakers and low volume levels.

Moving up the range, a couple of torturous, tough to drive speakers were brought into play: the Quad 2812s, some vintage Acoustats, and some Magnepans all were driven with ease. Extreme ease, actually. It might seem to go past what you know, but more often than not, I’ve achieved much bigger, broader sound with ESLs usually thought of as just needing a polite, little tube amp with a giant solid-state amplifier. It’s that devil control again because ESLs are pretty much like hooking your amp up to a big capacitor and calling it a day. That bottomless power supply inside the Bryston amplifiers is rock solid and unaffected by any of this. I must admit, though, that because the 28Bs were so clean in their presentation, I was a little scared I might just melt the Quads into a puddle. Fortunately, no speakers were harmed in the production of this review.

Finally, pairing the Bryston monos with the Focal Sopra 3s, the Focal Stella Utopia EM, and my Sonus faber Stradivaris proves these amplifiers are worthy in the highest of high-end systems too. A couple of status-oriented audio buddies were shocked to know that these amplifiers were “only” 25 thousand dollars a pair, so it’s all relative. Seriously, putting the 28Bs into a system with some top-shelf gear proves they are more than worthy.

Down to the sound

Everyone likes a different sound or tuning on their system. If your taste falls more to the overly warm, ultra-romantic sound of certain tube amplifiers, the Brystons will probably not be your cup of awesomeness. Those liking a neutral/natural tonal balance to one only a few clicks to the warm/romantic/tonally saturated side can quickly achieve that. Bryston’s flagship preamplifier or any number of others offering that voice will work wonders. Again, if you’d like a bit of warmth combined with the massive power and low-frequency control, this too is easy to accomplish with the 28Bs.

These are fully balanced amplifiers, yet they offer single-ended RCA inputs as well. I had an ample slice of heaven using a vintage (yet updated) Conrad-Johnson PV12 preamplifier, an equal helping of loveliness with my reference Pass XS Pre (slightly warm), and just as nice, but different rendering with the new Boulder 1166 preamplifier. (spot-on neutral, much like the Bryston gear).

Thanks to their natural character, they will be an excellent match with a wide range of tastes. And, you’ll never be hunting tubes down on a weekend when you want to get some serious listening done. Turn your 28Bs on and just enjoy.

Whatever music you enjoy will be reproduced faithfully with the 28Bs. Their vast power reserves make them equally adept at capturing the full-scale dynamics of the heaviest metal band, or the biggest orchestra at your fingertips. Their sheer nimble speed will appeal to those that enjoy acoustic instruments, and vocal performances. There was nothing we found lacking, or less than enjoyable, though again I must admit playing some of my favorite rock, hip – hop, and EDM tracks are so much fun with these amplifiers. Their massive power reserves bring this music more to life than modestly powered amplifiers can.

You don’t realize just how awesome these amplifiers are until you go back to your favorite 60 watt per channel amp. It just feels small. For everyone that’s said you need big speakers to play music on a big scale, you need big amps too. And these are some pretty damn cool amps.

I haven’t mentioned it up till now, but for my music-loving friends that enjoy achieving concert hall sound pressure levels, you will not be disappointed with these amplifiers in the least. Because they can produce so much power, with such tremendous ease, I highly suggest getting a sound pressure meter or app for your phone. Unlike those distorted amps you hear in a live concert performance, the Brystons are so clean you might finding yourself inching that volume control up, up, up to the point of hurting yourself. You’ve been warned.

Even when listening to my favorite live rock recordings, I couldn’t make these amplifiers clip, and if you have even modestly sensitive speakers, your hearing will give out before they do. One final warning, with this much power at your disposal, be sure that if you aren’t using a Bryston preamplifier, that yours does not make any kind of transient pops, etc., should you turn it off first. This much power will harm your speakers. Always be sure to shut the 28Bs off first if you are using a tube preamplifier to avoid problems.

Setup, break-in and such

Other than lifting your 28Bs into place, they are incredibly easy to use and operate. With 15A AC inputs, you should be able to plug them in anywhere. The rear panel claims that they draw 1790 watts at full power, so those who like to really rock should think about dedicated lines. To that effect, while we could never make these amplifiers clip, when they were both plugged into a single 15A AC line, we were able to take the circuit breaker out at the wall.

We suggest having dedicated 15A lines for your 28Bs, and if you’re starting from scratch, a pair of 20A lines isn’t a bad idea. All of our testing, aside from the initial investigation was done with dedicated 20A power lines for each monoblock. While not a huge difference, the dedicated lines to offer that last bit of ease that these amplifiers are capable of delivering.

The 28Bs come out of the box sounding great, and after a couple of days fare even better. I suspect this is just as much due to thermal stabilization as it is “component break-in.” I am a true believer in this phenomenon; however, it seems to be a more profound thing with tube amplifiers possessing a large number of giant Teflon capacitors. None of that is going on here to impede your progress, so you can enjoy your 28Bs straight away. Because they are class AB amplifiers, they do not get terribly warm either, another plus.

Finally, the 28Bs are available with 17 inch or 19-inch front panels, in silver or black. I love the silver, and it’s worth calling attention to the fantastic job Bryston has done in the machine work on these cubed amplifiers. It’s a tremendous aesthetic combination – paying homage to the massive power contained within, yet not overdone in the least. The only decision is whether to get the front handles or not. They look great without, yet are so much easier to handle with, and both models have the rear mounted handles.

Honestly, that’s the biggest decision you face. When we did our initial look at the 28B Cubed monoblocks last year, we gave them one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2019. Yes, $25k is not an idle purchase, but you won’t find a $100k pair of amplifiers that best these. Considering the build quality, Bryston’s dedication to their customers and dealer network, and the top-level performance, if that doesn’t say exceptional value, I don’t know what does. These amplifiers were an absolute pleasure to use.

The Bryston 28B Cubed Monoblocks


Preamplifier Pass Labs XSPre

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Analog Source GrandPrixAudio Parabolica Turntable/TriPlanar Arm Koetsu Jade Platinum

Speakers Sonus faber Stradivari (35th anniv. edition), six pack REL no. 25 subwoofers

Cable Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Reference

REVIEW: Conrad-Johnson Classic 62SE Power Amplifier

Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson have worked together for over 40 years, consistently producing products which represent a high level of sonic performance for the dollar.

At the same time, they’ve pushed the boundaries in tube audio design, investing countless hours of engineering experiments, testing, and tweaking before releasing new components. Their amplifiers and preamplifiers have won numerous awards over the years and the company has a very loyal following.

TONEAudio has reviewed many C-J amps over the years, including both of their recent solid-state designs, the MF2275SE and the MF2550SE; fantastic amplifiers in their own right. Our publisher has owned numerous C-J products and makes no bones about being a fan of the marque. Among their latest tube amplifier iterations is the Classic Sixty Two Special Edition (CL62SE), an evolution of the previous Classic Sixty SE (CL60SE) released nearly a decade ago. And like the CL60, there is a standard and SE version, with the latter featuring upgraded components and in particular a full compliment of CJD Teflon capacitors in critical circuit areas.

The Classic series is aimed solidly at those wanting to experience the magic of vacuum tubes at a more accessible price point than their top of the line ART components. While C-J considers the Classic line entry level, for me it reflects an important benchmark for great sonics. Still rated at 60 watts per channel as the CL60, lessons learned from the ART power amplifiers have trickled down to the Classic series.

Rated at 60 watts per channel as the name implies, the CL62SE reviewed here represents an evolution of the circuitry found in its older brother the CL60SE. Despite the numerical designation, I dare say it is more than two better. Conrad-Johnson went through the amp design with a fine-toothed comb, seeking out anything which could benefit from an upgrade. Some trickle-down technology from their latest flagship ART amplifier encouraged a few key differences in the new CL62SE. Among other changes like the use of metal foil resistors, the tube complement shifted slightly. The CL60SE utilizes four KT120 output tubes, along with a pair of 6922 variants, and a single 6189. In the newer CL62SE design, the 6189 is replaced with another 6922.


As with many C-J products, the amp retains the classic gold color and a humble, boxy form factor. The hefty transformers rise from the rear of the base, with the tubes residing up front. A vented, black powder coated cage surrounds the tubes to avoid inadvertent skin contact. Those tubes get hot indeed! However, if you do not have children or pets who may be drawn to the tantalizing tubes while you are not there to supervise, it is fun to remove the cage and watch the subtle glow unobstructed. The CL62SE front offers a toggle switch for power, and a small red LED to indicate power up. It is rather apropos, though, since something called the Classic Sixty Two should take on a classic, minimalist form factor, right?

Similar to the front-facing appearance of the amp, the rear panel layout remains equally spartan. Two single-ended inputs accept the connection from a preamp, and a single pair of metal 5-way binding posts get a tight grip on speaker cables. As a tube amp, there is no “standby” power mode as seen in many solid-state designs. Controlled by the switch on the front, the 62 is either on or off. Saving tube life is a good thing, however. With power applied, the amp needs about 30 minutes of warm-up time to sound its best. If you listen to morning music like I do, make the amp your first stop after getting out of bed. Two cups of coffee later, you are ready to rock.

Setup and tube bias

Unlike a solid-state amp prepared for use right out of the box, the CL62SE takes a bit of extra setup due to the tube complement. First off, you will need a long, standard screwdriver to remove the protective grille and gain access to the tube sockets. With the cage removed, the second order of business is unpacking all the valves and loading them firmly into the correct sockets.

The final step is biasing the tubes using the included plastic screwdriver. Biasing serves two purposes: First, it ensures the tubes are adjusted to deliver equal power into the left and right channels. Secondly, it helps increase the life of the tubesby setting them at the point where they are accomplishing their role in kicking all the needed electrons to the internalplates, but not going beyond that required call of duty. Each tube has a finite number of electrons to move, so conserving the stream encourages valve longevity. According to the CL62SE manual, a tube complement should last at least two years if used as directed, but as the saying goes, “your mileage may vary”.  Often the tubes last longer, especially when the owner takes care to shut down the amp when not in use.

C-J makes the biasing process surprisingly simple. After power up, four small red LEDs next to the four KT120s indicate each valve’s bias status. If the light is on, the biasing screw next to it needs to be twisted counter-clockwise a bit – just barely enough to turn off the LED. Conversely, if the LED next to each tube is off already, an owner will want to double-check them. Twist the biasing screw clockwise until the LED turns on, then reverse direction very slowly until the LED turns off.  C-J recommends this process be repeated after about 30 minutes of use, and maybe every six months after that. Down the road, when new valves join the amp, the process must be completed again. C-J notes that after biasing is complete, LEDs may flicker just a bit when the amp is in heavy use driving speakers. I did not notice that during my time with the CL62SE, but don’t worry if you encounter it.

After the 62’s requisite warm-up period, with volume all the way down, I put an ear to each speaker to get a sense of background noise and tube hiss. As it turns out, it is hard to distinguish any. One can hear the pings and ticks of the tubesduring warm up, but after that process, the C-J is nearly silent – even more so than most solid-state designs I have experienced.


Admittedly, I have never owned a tube amp and always appreciated the simple nature and bass heft of a great solid-state amp coupled with a tube preamp. Unfortunately for my wallet, I may now be a convert.

Listening to music interpreted by the CL62SE, there are two characteristics which stand out immediately. First, the soundstage of this amp not only extends to the far left and right of the speakers. It also widens well above and behind the speakers – and accomplishes a trick I have heard with few amps – extends the sound stage well in front of the speakers toward the listening seat.

The CL62SE regularly pushed musical elements so far to the left and right of the soundstage, my ears perked from the unexpected, but very welcome, experience. Yes, there are plenty of amps out there that have a wide soundstage, but this C-J generated one of the most expansive and immersive ones experienced in my listening space.

The second surprise in sonics is the way the 62 portrays instruments and vocals. There is not only a very transparent and organic ease to the music, each musical element is exceptionally well defined, even in a very crowded soundstage which overlaps instruments and vocals. Indeed, vocal performances have a level of detail and palpability making them eerily real. Ambient cues, “air”, and sparkle around various musical instruments compounds the miraculous illusion, floating around the room with ease and grace. I had not expected the magnitude of these characteristics and found myself listening for hours to favorite albums. Sometimes, the subtleties make all the difference.

Despite the extreme level of detail, revelation, and a very energetic presentation, there is no stridency to the sound. Soprano vocals, horns, cymbals and other musical elements can have the potential to spark the eardrums. The C-J pours forth all the detail, but without nasty artifacts that sometimes accompany it. This beguiling nature will glue you to the listening seat longer than you might realize.

My concerns about limited, mushy bass quelled quickly as well. The 62 offers quite a bit of muscle despite its modest power rating. Deep bass notes rendered with taught accuracy pour out in a very natural way. Solid state amps can truly excel in the delivery of tight, weighty, and low bass reproduction. Moreover, there is something highly satisfying about punchy bass when one just wants to rock! After re-adjusting my ears to the tubed 62, I did not miss it though. Forget ideas of old-school tube designs with mushy bass and overly-romanticized sound. The 62SE is proof to the contrary. Those listeners who enjoy power over nuance may still prefer a solid-state design, but they are likely to be surprised at what the CL62SE is capable. Despite the “Classic” name, this tube amp is a clear result of modern engineering.


If it is not apparent by now, let me say it plainly. The Classic Sixty Two SE is a stellar amp. Conrad-Johnson’s “entry level” tube amp represents a pinnacle of value at its $5,750 MSRP. If you need more power, C-J offers the CL120SE monoblock version. For those with a tight budget, the standard version of the CL62 sells for $4,250, offering much of the SE sonic prowess.

If this amplifier investment is within your budget, those audio fans who love tube gear – and even those who prefer solid state – should make a point of visiting their local Conrad-Johnson dealer to hear the Classic Sixty Two for themselves. Yes, tube amps do take a little more nurturing over their lifetime, and new valves are needed periodically. C-J offers a full set of replacement tubes for about $500. However, a CL62SE owner will be rewarded in spades for that minimal level of maintenance.

Conrad-Johnson Classic Sixty Two SE Amplifier

MSRP: $ 5,750 (SE version)  $4,250 (Standard version)