I have been test driving the new CJ5 preamp for a while now. I am actually dreading returning it to Dennis so much the last I visited the shop to pick up my updated PSE I conveniently left it at home. I couldn’t resist the desire to here my latest Inspire update driven by the latest Inspire Pre.
Let’s back up a bit with a bit of my experience with Dennis’s preamps. About 5 years ago I purchased an lp-2 on the used market to replace a Cary SLP-50 in my system. Since that time I have been lucky enough to upgrade the lp-2 to an lp-3a and purchase a lp-27a to drive an Inspire PSE. I have also been able to travel to Cary a number of times and had listening sessions with his lp-3.1 and the lp-76. Needless to say I have been well versed in the Inspire preamp lineage.
This begs the question; how do they all stack up?
The lp-2 is obsolete compared to the rest. The improvements Dennis continues to make have left that unit in the dust. For those of you who are still running an lp-2, it’s time to upgrade IMO.
On a visit, not to long ago, I brought my lp-27a to compare to the lp-3.1. Though I have always liked my lp-27a, I sometimes think of it as an ‘an old man’s preamp’. An expression Dennis often uses when referring to triodes like 45s and 300bs. The 27 is a beautiful sounding pre but lacking some of the punch of the 3.1. Anyway, Dennis and I did some really serious comparing of the two that day and in the end we both agreed that neither bested the other. Both presented the music equally as well, but different. One thing I would point out. The lp-27 is a tube collector’s preamp, in that it uses tubes that are not made any more. So if you are someone who loves the sound of tubes but does not have the patience for sifting through old tubes to find usable ones and would prefer to go with new production, get a 3.1 which runs 6SN7s
The lp-76 was another strong temptation for me. Also a tube collectors preamp, it runs 76s. Not sure if we will see that on the market but I know Dennis purchased a case on NOS 76s a while back.🤔 I also understand the prototype CJ5 I have was an lp-76 reworked to it’s current configuration, so I have my doubts.
As an aside, I listen to music differently than most reviewers I have read. I have a rather tin ear. I cannot breakdown what I am hearing into it’s component parts nor can I typically tell what is missing or overly emphasized. The one thing I do have is a pretty solid reference to what actual instruments and vocals sound like. Decades of seeing live shows, with and without amplification, has given me that. My criteria for judgement is if the re-presentation is realistic to an actual presentation. That is it. The closest re-presentation I have heard to the real thing is a good recording, imprinted on vinyl, run through SE amplification into a single driver speaker.
That brings us to the CJ5, another tube collector’s preamp. Dennis came up with this prototype a few days before I was set to visit and deliver a pair of speakers I built for him. He was head over heals for this new unit. I had doubts. I know how something new often sounds great, maybe even the best I have heard, only to realize a while later that I have no idea why I was so enthralled. I have witnessed Dennis do the same. I took my lp-27a with me for comparison. We A/B compared the two several times and I could not deny the superiority of the CJ5. Damn it! Oh how he tempts me. He sent me home with the prototype. That was, it seems, a couple months ago as I reflect further. Pandemic time is disorienting... I have driven my 6V6er, my PSE and now it is in my office driving my modified Universal. Hands down it bests my lp-27a and lp-3a. That is really saying something because each of those have an amazing presentation. Much better than any other preamps I have heard. The CJ5 has more detail and refinement than either of my other two Inspire preamps. More like the real thing. As the CJ5 is now close to market Dennis wanted me to get the word out that “The best preamp known to mankind will soon be a reality”. He may be right about that.
Images to come.