Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson were government economists who happened to be dedicated audiophiles—dedicated enough to build their own gear. In 1977 the pair introduced a vacuum tube preamplifier whose champagne casework and lower case conrad-johnson logo brought to mind early Marantz.
Keep in mind that at the time, the only tubed electronics made in America for the audiophile market were those made by Audio Research and Atma-Sphere, both built in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. –Okay, I think Julius Futterman was still alive and building amps one at a time, and there may have been other companies that are now long gone, and long forgotten by me. But ARC, Atma-Sphere, and c-j are all still here, 40 years later. Pragmatic economists Bill and Lew were realistic enough to keep their day jobs for some time, until their company was well-established.
Through the years, c-j’s Premier, Art and GAT lines kept the brand at the forefront of tube electronics, and were consistently well-reviewed. Stereophile’s Sam Tellig had a long-running, occasionally-contentious relationship with the brand and its products. Sam, in fact, brought to my attention a low-key story in The Audio Beat which told that Bill and Lew had sold their company to longtime employee Jeff Fischel, the GM of the company and contributor to many recent product designs. There was no press-release announcing the change in ownership, perhaps reflecting the quiet way in which c-j has always done business.
Lew was a mentor to me some years ago, and I wish him and Bill all the best. We’ll have more details on the direction of the company in future issues of Copper.