Conrad-Johnson Premier 16LS preamplifier Page 5

The 16LS's overall voice is important to note. I found it a hell of a lot more preamp than the rather more primitive PV-5—or the PV9, for that matter. The 16LS had much more extension and detail, its imaging was way better, its air was off the meter, and it was a touch—perhaps a hair—more restrained dynamically than the Lamm L2, the Mark Levinson Reference No.32, or the BAT VK-50SE. But not more than the Krell KCT, which shares that same let's-not-beat-up-on-anyone quality that makes listening to music such fun.

Setting up the 16LS to play SACDs, I dropped in Boulez Conducts Ravel (Sony Classical SS 89121) and listened to track three: my favorite, Rapsodie espagnole. I was so impressed! It was like stuffing my face deep into a clean, soft down pillow and wrapping it up around my ears. I don't mean for a second that it sounded muffled—I mean that it was a wraparound, completely circumaural sound. That's what I live for. I was so happy.

Listening to Rapsodie, I realized that there were no obvious transition points anywhere in the audible frequency range, no "knees" above or below which there were any sonic anomalies. I had the same feeling whenever using any of the other amps I hooked up to the 16LS.

There was a slight but important organic bloom to the presentation of the 16LS that the BAT VK-50SE "lacks," if that even is a "lack." It's a question of each designer's skill and particular vision of what's musically right. In any case, the 16LS embodied a strong, musical, organic sense that was super-enjoyable and made me want to hum along with the music. Perhaps the bass was a hair less controlled when compared to the super preamps I mentioned, and perhaps it wasn't as transparent, dynamic, or quite as extended as those same devices, but it had an overall hugely successful blend of ingredients that spelled m-u-s-i-c.

Just to check myself, I flipped back for a little more SACD—Thelonious Monk's Straight, No Chaser (Columbia/Legacy CK 64886). Yes, the ease and loveliness that are SACD shone right on through the 16LS. So I'm happy to add "transparency to the source" to my list of what the 16LS did right—building very 3-D and palpable images in a wide, quiet, transparent soundstage, especially with SACDs.

Between tracks, there was no tube roar. In fact, the only roar was one of approval—mine. Bravo!

Final considerations
The Conrad-Johnson Premier 16LS, the Mark Levinson No.32, and the Lamm L2 all carve the same hunk of sonic meat with much the same stroke—as does the less expensive but competitively priced BAT VK-50SE. It's all in the flick of the wrist at the end of the cut that determines the difference in sound. One is slightly more acerbic and two are more emotionally removed, but the 16LS was more kind and gentle without smothering the listener.

The Conrad-Johnson Premier 16LS created not only a palpability of soundstage in our listening room, but a palpability of life in which I luxuriated. Ahhh...the openness, the ease, the accessibility were so fine that it made me wonder why it can't always be like this.

Very highly recommended.

2733 Merrilee Drive
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 698-8581