Ironic then that in many ways the hybrid ET250S sounds far more typically solid-state. It offers speed, clarity and transparency, leaning for most of its range on the front half of the note in a way that has become familiar from many a brand over the years. And it does it to great effect. The issue here is simply that it doesn’t sound like previous c-j designs, which is an observation not a criticism. And it means that you really do have to assess this amp on its own merits.
Right about now you might be wondering where the “tube-like” quality I mentioned earlier fits in… You’ll find it in the easy flow and relaxed yet communicative way in which music is paced. So, the Pepper track might not enjoy the tightest bass notes, but its dirty, funky groove is undiminished. It’s the naturalness and flexibility in the timing that replaces the regimented and mechanical quality that infects too many large solid-state designs that betrays the presence of those glowing bottles. It’s a real strength and not to be underestimated. The question is, how to get the benefit?
Having run the c-j with four different pre-amps including the Ayre K-1xe and the Vibe, in an attempt to aid the definition of and tighten up the low-end, I actually got the best overall coherence from the all-tube and distinctly vintage VAS Citation One. Which in turn brings me back to our experiences in Denver. There, c-j’s CT5 proved a perfect foil, for whilst we still experienced some looseness in the bass, the vibrant colours and more holistic (or should that be “less etched”?) presentation of the acoustic space helped integrate the sound of the system as a whole, while the Avalon NP2s probably helped by not going low enough to get themselves (or us) into real trouble. Meanwhile the clarity and dynamic range delivered by the 250 made differences at the front-end all too apparent. The lesson to be drawn from this experience? System matching with the ET250 S will be critical to the sound you achieve.
So, if we accept that this amp represents a different sound or perspective to the classic c-j designs, the question becomes whether or not it represents a whole new direction for the company, or just recognition of a new market sector? The ET250S can undoubtedly deliver good results, but like any product that incorporates inherent discontinuities those results will always be heavily dependent on system matching and compatibility issues. Not surprisingly, c-j themselves offer a perfect partner in the shape of the CT5, but step outside the family and you’ll be entertaining the black art of system building. What I find myself asking is, “Why go there?” I know the ET250 offers more power, more obvious clarity and runs cooler than previous designs. And yes, you can build it into a cupboard and switch it on remotely too, but whether those benefits outweigh the beautifully balanced musical coherence that typified the Premier 350, only time will tell.