Conrad-Johnson Premier Twelve monoblock amplifier Page 3

Yet when I switched from the C-Js to the VTLs and replayed Neil Young's "I Am a Child," the VTLs disappointed—they slowed the pace, took some snap off the snare and kick drum, and reduced the delineation between the images and the ambience behind. Moving to Gershwin's Concerto in F, though, the VTLs better suggested the hall, and offered a slightly more diffuse presentation that some may find more akin to being there live. As one manufacturer said to me about an update of an unrelated product, "You know what? I like the original version better. I go to a lot of live concerts, and live, you don't get that kind of focus."

The conclusion you expect
A great deal of equipment passed through my system while I had the Premier Twelves for audition: various cartridges, turntables, preamplifiers, and CD players. This can make reviewing tricky: Exactly what are you hearing? How do various combinations change the sound? Of course, the sound of my system changed with each insertion, but throughout the many months I had the Twelves, the sound described in this review remained relatively constant—as did the differences between the Twelves and the VTL 450s. The VTLs' warm, soft midbass made them a poor match for the Jadis JP 80 Mk.II I reviewed a few months ago. The taut-sounding Premier Twelves mated better with the ultra-rich-sounding Jadis, but, as I wrote in my December 1998 review, I still couldn't get the French preamplifier to rock.

Effects of associated equipment aside, the Conrad-Johnson Premier Twelve is the most exquisitely balanced amplifier I have ever heard in my system. It combines the speed and detail of the VTL MB 175 I reviewed in June 1997 with the airy, transparent, lush, and palpable performance of the single-ended Cary CAD805 I spent some time with a few years ago—but with tighter, deeper, faster performance in the bottom octaves, and a top-to-bottom coherence that is extraordinary.

While it performed as if producing far more than its rated 140W, the C-J Premier Twelve is probably best mated to either relatively efficient loudspeakers, or to designs featuring small bass drivers—like the Virgos (no easy load to drive, according to John Atkinson's measurements in Vol.18 No.9). Small- to medium-sized rooms would probably be best too. Were I not in the process of looking for a new home with a much larger listening room, I'd buy the Premier Twelves.

Depending on where I end up, I might anyway. After living with them for a while, I understand why, after five years in production and despite their relatively modest output and steep price ($7000 may not be "steep" for some of you, but get real!), they remain so popular. Listen for yourself; I think you'll agree.

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