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Conrad-Johnson Premier 16LS
7 Reviews
rating  4.86 of 5
MSRP  7995.00
Description: Tube Preamp


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Reviews 1 - 5 (7 Reviews Total) | Next 15

User Reviews

Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by gmeades a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: March 23, 2011

Bottom Line:   
This is simply the best preamp that money can buy.
...and I don't say that lightly, either.

As a musician, I performed in orchestras, in Jazz groups, and in rock bands for many years, and being trained as a recording engineer I've got very critical ears. I know what instruments truly sound like and it takes very little to earn my disapproval. Although I've been listening to music with a critical ear all my life, I never got bit by the high-end audio bug until I came across a system that was driven by a CJ LS-16 MkII a number of years back. The realism of the phantom band that was playing on the soundstage in front of me was for lack of a better term - 'scarey good'. So 'scarey good' that it actually gave me heart palpitations as I listened to it. While my ears were saying "hey, there's a live band playing right in front of you", my eyes were saying 'where?!! where?!!!' and this kept going on as I reviewed track after track from a number of different CD's, in a number of different musical styles.

After this initial experience, I became obsessed with high-end audio. I thought about it day and night, and imagined having my own system that would produce that same holographic and incredibly detailed and realistic phantom imaging on my own soundstage at home, though there was no way I could afford the $35k the system I first heard would set me back. So, I began searching for alternative components to put a system together with, with the goal of achieving the same quality of sound but for significantly less money... and I succeeded, too.

I initially picked up a CJ CAV-50, then as I grew the system, I ran the CAV-50 preamp out into my power amp. Once I had everything else in place, I knew I was close, but I had no idea where else I might tweak the system, so I went back to the dealer and asked to listen to the system again that I'd originally heard. Again there was the absolute lifelike realism one has to experience to believe is even possible. After listening for a half hour or so, I had my frame of reference again and was good to go. As I was about to leave, the dealer suggested I take the 16-LS MkII home for an audition over the weekend. I jumped at the opportunity, and gave him all the info he needed, and he boxed the unit up and I drove home with it.

The first thing I noticed when I hooked the 16-LS MkII up to my system, was how closely I had actually come to matching the sound of the original system I'd heard. It was all there. The depth and width of the soundstage, the fine detail and subtle nuances of every sound, the clarity, transparency, and air, the palpable quality of the images appearing on the soundstage, the total accuracy of timbre of every instrument.
My heart was racing again as I listened to what was taking place on my very own soundstage.

Then I plugged the CAV-50 back into the system. Again, I was surprised at how close the sound was in so many aspects - the soundstage width and depth, the height and placement of the images on the soundstage, the accuracy of timbre, and so on. What was different though was the fine details, and the transparency. I had done quite a bit of tube rolling with the CAV-50 prior to this and had quite an extensive collection of tubes on hand, so I began swapping the three different types of tubes from the preamp section and noted what sonic characteristics were affected by each swap I made. By doing this, by Sunday evening I had actually gotten the CAV-50 to come to within perhaps 1% of the absolute realism I'd heard from the LS-16 MkII.

Being the perfectionist that I am, as I drove back to the dealer with the LS-16 on the seat beside me, I resolved that if the dealer gave me a good price on it, I'd end up having to put out the extra funds to have it, but with my system now so close in every way, I could certainly live with it if the dealer was firm on getting MSRP. Well, the dealer heard my enthusiasm and thought he had me and wouldn't budge off of getting full retail. So, I drove home, feeling happy and content that my system was giving me performance that was virtually identical to that first system I'd heard... I figured I was a happy camper and one lucky guy.

But, ya know, every time I listened to my system after that, internally my mind was comparing the sound of what I was hearing to what I'd heard with the LS-16 MkII. That little 1% that was lacking was, to me, a degree of realism that was not coming through. But hey, there was a big difference between the CAV-50 at $1,600 and the LS-16 MkII at $8,000.

So, I began reading reviews on other preamps. Specifically preamps in the $2k range or so. I kept coming across review after review from people saying how they had upgraded from some preamp to the one they were reviewing and how their new acquisition was the best preamp made, the best preamp they'd ever heard, or the last preamp they'd ever own. I was in a good position financially at the time, so I began searching for these various preamps that were supposed to be "the best" and buying them to try out for myself.

Over a period of perhaps 4 months or so, I managed to buy and audition a total of 18 different preamps, all in the $2k range or so. At times I had between 4-6 different preamps to compare at the same time in my listening room. I wish I could give everyone this experience, as the difference between these preamps in their own price range is one thing, but comparing them to the LS-16 is just totally unfair. Some preamps narrowed the soundstage unbelievably; some were overly bright and harsh (and I had plenty of IC's and tubes to play with, believe me), I finally found out what 'fatiguing to listen to' was with one preamp (it actually hurt my ears after 10 - 15 minutes); with others the "pacing" was wrong. Now that's a phenomenon I hadn't understood and wouldn't have believed had I not experienced it myself. The perception of how fast the music is playing. The music actually sounded unrealistically paced through those preamps.

In all, every one of those 18 preamps were flawed in their ability to reproduce music with any degree of accuracy, and at first I couldnt' understand it. Each of these had been rated as "the best" by their owners, and yet they were so flawed I couldn't bear to have them in my system. Then it finally dawned on me. While I had absolute realism as conveyed by that very first system as my standard by which I was judging everything I was listening to, these other affecionados were comparing what they had to the next level up. Big difference. It was also interesting that every person who I in turn sold each of the 18 preamps to when I was done reviewing them raved afterward about how that preamp had improved their system, and I made quite a number of friends who stayed in touch afterward in this way.

I upgraded to the 16LS-MkII not long after that.

In short, in my personal experience, there is no other preamp that comes anywhere close to the absolute realism that the Conrad Johnson LS-16 MkII conveys. It accurately reproduces every aspect of the original performance unfailingly and puts the listener in the actual venue, transported in time to the time of the event and original recording. The original LS-16 is a bit euphonic, being somewhat warmer in the midrange, which to my ears is not as accurate or and doesn't convey the original performance as well, although some people perfer this warmer coloration to their sound. As for myself, absolute realism is what I'm interested in, and for that there's nothing else out there that I've ever heard that compares to the LS-16 MkII.

P.S. If you do find an original LS-16 available somewhere, you can always call CJ customer service up and ask if the upgrade to the MkII is still available. It provides additional transparency, extended highs, provides more detail, and corrects the unnatural coloration and warmth in the mids, for those who like me desire absolute accuracy.

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   2001



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by Finn Magne a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: March 27, 2002

Bottom Line:   
CJ Premier 16 is a BIG step up from my previous preamp: the Audio Research LS-25. CJ has better dynamics, more detail, much more liquid midrange and much better low level resolution. The ARC LS-25 also lacks the Premier 16's big depth of the soundstage.
ARC is a little soft at the frequency extremes. This is not true with the Premier 16 that has lots of punch in the bass. The ARC has a more grainy midrange compared to the lovely and liquid presentation of the CJ.
It is now much more fun to listen to live recordings: Jazz and classical recordings sounds much more realistic and alive!

I've also tried the BAT VK-50SE, another great preamp. It is a little more neutral than the CJ and ARC. But it is also a little more revealing to bad recordings.

This preamp is very sensitive to interconnect cables. I've got BAD results with the Transparent Audio MusicLink Plus cables. The sound was bright and soft. But when I changed to the Transparent Audio MusicLink Reference the sound changed dramatically to the better.

This is the biggest upgrade of my system ever!

Rest of my system: Audio Research VT-100 mk.2, Avalon Avatar speakers, Audio Aero Prima CD-player and Transparent Audio cables.

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   1999

Purchased At:   Audiofreaks



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by john a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: November 26, 2001

Bottom Line:   
Had mine upgraded to Mk2 version. This thing has a wonderful ambiance and detail.Its sound is its own, and it is super.I also feel it is the coolest looking preamp out there.I like one box units.

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   3 months to 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast

Product model year:   1999



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by Michael Due a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: October 15, 2001

Bottom Line:   
I was on my way to Audio Outlet, MT Kisco, NY, to give the Conrad Johnson 17LS a listen. Yes, the CJ 17LS at 4.5K! I listened and I liked but then I spied another pre-amp that was sitting above the CJ 17LS and asked if I could take a listen to the CJ 16LS. I was blown away! It just did everything that much better than the CJ 17LS. (The CJ 17LS is probably one of the best 4.5K pre-amps on the market). The CJ 16LS even did some things better in the mid-range than big brother, the ART. The ART, however is ever so slightly better in the inner detail, bass areas, and resolution in the extreme highs. The ART also sells for 8k more than the 16LS and I believe for the money is not worth stepping up to.

Other characteristics of the 16LS is the way it sounds with the BEL MKIIIa amplifier. The BEL is the best solid state amp at any $$$. I never heard the BEL sound so good and I believe it is due to the CJ 16LS passing the BEL qualities through like a great pre-amp should do. The soundstage is deep and wide and the instruments are in the right place all the time. Everything I threw (music that is) at this pre-amp sounded amazing from classical, jazz, new wave, folk, right down to disco. I could have just listened for days without a break. THAT IS HOW GREAT THIS PRE-AMP IS!

If you have the money to spend please take a listen to the CJ 16LS @ Audio Outlet in MT. Kisco, NY and plunge into music heaven. It is the best investment you can make!

My system includes:

Metronome CD1 - CD Player
Conrad Johnson Premier 16LS - Pre-amplifier
BEL MK IIIa - Power Amplifier
Audio Physic Virgo - Speakers
Siltech cables (all around)

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   2000

Price Paid:    $6900.00

Purchased At:   Audio Outlet, Mt Kisco, NY



Overall Rating:4
Value Rating:3
Submitted by Przemyslaw a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: March 17, 2001

Bottom Line:   
Very good preamplifier,but not so good as it can be for the money. I prefer new Audio Research preams with 6H30 tubes.
C-J has very warm sound - too warm to me, and a little smear bass. But for those who like C-J sound - it's really very good choice.

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Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   2000

Price Paid:    $7000.00

Purchased At:   Audio Klan




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