Back in the mid 1990s, the high-end valve power amplifiers to own were the conrad-johnson Premier 8a monoblocks. Commonly considered to be the most musical amplifiers of their generation, the Premier 8a still commands respect and high prices to this day. At the time, the idea of a stereo Premier power amplifier was simply never put forward, and those lacking either the physical space or the financial commitment for the mono amplifiers never got to experience just what c-j at its best was capable of.
The company learned its lesson. The big ART monoblock amplifiers have a ‘little’ brother, the ARTsa. In many respects, the 140 watt per channel (rated into four ohms) stereo amplifier is in the sweet spot, especially for European listeners, because it isn’t two large chassis, we seldom require more than 250 watts in our smaller rooms and because it isn’t north of £36,000 a pair. We felt this is the more comfy place for Hi-Fi Plus’ audience.
The two models look virtually identical from the front, because there is a lot of common ground between ART and ARTsa (the ARTsa being an single mono ART split into two channels, requiring an extra input driver tube and a second set of inputs and outputs). It may sound strange when discussing amplifiers costing tens of thousands of pounds, but this shared chassis layout helps keep costs down. The chassis is a substantial affair, finished in a deep matt black crackle finish, with the distinctive contrasting gold front panel. The input tubes are encased in a lattice of acrylic wedges, while the four KT120 power tubes per side are each enclosed in their own cover, leaving an almost inch-wide channel down the centre of the top-plate from the end of the input triodes to the beginning of the transformer cover. The net result is actually very attractive in a sort of low modernist architecture style; think what Alvar Aalto or Mies van der Rohe would have done with an amplifier chassis. The one grumble (common to all c-j power amps) is that in order to keep those elegant lines, the power valve covers use spring-loaded chromed screws to secure the cover from the inside, and it’s something of a dark art to learn how to do this without swearing.