Conrad-Johnson Premier 18LS line preamplifier Page 4

Gustav Holst's Chaconne (CD, Reference RR-39CD) displayed a deep, wide image, with air around the instruments. Playing the opening Kyrie of Misa Criolla (CD, Philips 420 955-2), the C-J/Quad system portrayed a seamless choral fabric behind tenor José Carreras. And at the end of pianist Anna Maria Stanczyk's performance of Chopin's Scherzo in b-flat, Op.31, from Stereophile's first Test CD (STPH-002-2), I heard Stanczyk's manager's "Well done!" correctly through both preamplifiers: at the extreme left stage.

The Premier 18LS and ESL-989s produced an acoustic illusion of a waterfall spilling into a pool at the beginning of I Ching's "Running Water," from Of the Marsh and the Moon. Soundstage depth and width excelled on "Naris," from Patricia Barber's Blue Café (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 21810 2). Percussion was open, airy, and fast.

The 18LS's treble register was extended, neutral, and effortless. This allowed me to hear both the shimmer of the cymbal in the opening of "The Mooche," from Rendezvous: Jerome Harris Quintet Plays Jazz (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), and the rich harmonies of the guitar's metallic strings on "I Get the Blues When It Rains," from Etta Baker's Railroad Bill (CD, Cello Music Maker 91006-2).

The Conrad-Johnson Premier 18LS performed admirably in my system, revealing dynamic contrasts both subtle and bold, holographic soundstaging, and solid, deep, tuneful bass. The remote has the widest angle of effectiveness I've encountered in a consumer-electronics product, and the preamp's front-panel display is readable from 10' away. The 18LS's ergonomics are the best I've encountered.

But keep these caveats in mind: Because Conrad-Johnson preamps are single-ended designs, you can't use them to drive amplifiers with balanced inputs, or use balanced interconnects to minimize hum and noise pickup with long cable runs. And if you play LPs, you'll need to add a phono stage and head amp. Although the 18LS was transparent on most recordings, more expensive line stages, like the long-discontinued Mark Levinson ML-7, sounded even clearer.

That said, I recommend the Conrad-Johnson Premier 18LS. For $3495, it offers outstanding clarity and sound. Add the three-year warranty and the compact size and you've got a very desirable product.

Conrad-Johnson's gamble in crossing over from tubes to solid-state has paid off. Be sure to get in on this sea change and audition the Premier 18LS preamplifier.

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Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 698-8581