Conrad-Johnson Premier 16LS preamplifier Page 2
The preamp is somewhat deco in overall styling, while still retaining a sense of the modern. The faceplate resembles the ART's and is made of thick extruded aluminum. Along the lower left front are an array of buttons: Source, EPL 1 and 2 (External Processor Loops), and Mute, as well as Volume up and down. To the right of the tubes and below are the Power button and its LED.
Above this row of buttons on the left are two red-tinted "portholes" showing the volume reading of each channel. A third porthole, somewhat more to the right, picks up the signals from the remote control. To either side of the volume readouts are source-selection LEDs: to the left, Input LEDs; to the right, Source, EPL 1 and 2, Mute, and Standby.
The all-aluminum chassis is "protected" with a "durable epoxy paint finish...the tubes housed in an attractive cover outside the chassis allowing easy access by loosening two screws." The pagoda-like structure on the 16LS's right front surrounds the 6922s, each tube jacketed with its own pair of anti-resonance rings, supplied by Conrad-Johnson.
Because it's basically a single-chassis ART, the Premier 16LS's overall feel, cosmetics, and control interface are also very ART-like. It's anything but boring, ordinary, or typical, and definitely not styled to "disappear" into your living-room décor. Audiophile droolage is sure to be induced in your audio buds. The tubes in the four-plate, pagoda-like cover make it all look a bit '60s—very Philip Johnson, to get architectural about it.
It has a nice, heavy, substantive, milled-from-aluminum champagne-colored remote, so...would it kill Conrad-Johnson to put some soft feet on it? I didn't feel at all happy plopping the remote on the beautifully finished flat top of a JMlab Utopia. C'mon, gentlemen, soft footers to protect your customers' fine foinacha 'n' speakahs, if you will!
Setup and other considerations
First, one must prepare the Premier 16LS for active duty. If your dealer hasn't installed it for you, find a good location for the preamp. While schlepping the 16LS around the loft, I noted that it was heavy, wide, and flat. The top cover was a touch resonant, so after listening for a while, I dropped a Silent Running isoDome on it, as much to balance the tangle of heavy cables plugged into its single-ended rear as to damp vibrations. Putting DH Labs jumbo cones under the 16LS allowed me to swivel it well to the right on the Silent Running VR Series base I've spiked to the top PolyCrystal shelf, the easier to flash the 16LS with the remote.
Before plugging in the 16LS, add the tubes. The "tube guard" is what C-J calls the pagoda-like cover. Loosen two captive screws and you can lift away a layer or two of Special Pagoda Heatsinking Material™ (just kidding) and lay in the tubes as marked. Note the presence of damping material on the underside of each tube-guard plate. Once the tubes are socketed, fit a pair of the supplied silicone-rubber rings around each of them. They slide right on, like contracep—er, you know what I mean. Place them at the one- and two-thirds positions of the tube's length. That's the manufacturer's instructions, I'd like to point out; objectivists and other Show Me types are advised to keep their composure. Manual: "These rings will minimize the effects of airborne microphonics on the tubes."
Don't forget to remove the transit screws that hold down the 16LS's circuit board. This is exactly what Lew Johnson himself forgot to do when he came over to install the preamp with the help of local C-J man-about-town Tor Sivertsen! The transit screws are easy to identify and unscrew. Please do so for best sound.
Another consideration: electromagnetic interference (EMI). While C-J says they've gone to great efforts to prevent this, when it comes to the 16LS's susceptibility to radio-frequency interference, they've elected not to compromise "accurate reproduction of recorded music...by the application of heavy-handed RFI filters, or by using grounding practices that reduce RFI at the expense of degraded audio performance." Okay, I respect that.
In fact, C-J's entire Premier series of composite-triode preamps is very sensitive to interconnect capacitance, something made very clear in the documentation. So I stuck with low-capacitance interconnects: Cardas Golden Reference and Synergistic Research Designer's Reference, Discrete and Active Shielding. Once again, Active Shielding really floated my boat.
Conrad-Johnson suggests keeping interconnect lengths to 3m or less to avoid typical EMI-induced problems. Heavily shielded cables are best, in their view. And now, I chuckle, from the manual: "Physical location and cable 'dress' can be an important factor in minimizing hum pickup." Did someone say "Fine Tunes"? C-J's notion is to position the 16LS well away from the power amp while keeping the AC cords "dressed to remain at least 4" (100mm) away from input/output cables."