|Conrad Johnson Premier 18LS AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Ed Masterson|
|Thursday, 01 May 2003|
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Over the last 25 years, Conrad-Johnson has earned a reputation for its mastery of the art of tube-based amplifier design. Many of their amplifiers and preamplifiers have received considerable praise from music lovers and AV industry professionals alike. As a statement piece, Conrad-Johnson’s ultra-expensive ART preamplifier has earned its way into some of the world’s absolute finest music playback systems.
Until now, if you wanted a reference quality preamplifier from CJ, you had no choice but to deal with the maintenance and cost associated with tubes. Conrad-Johnson has released a new solid-state preamplifier, the Premier 18LS, in an attempt to satisfy those in love with CJ’s sound who simply are not willing and/or able to deal with the unavoidable hassles associated with owning a high-performance tube component.
At $3,495, the Premier 18LS is the least expensive preamplifier in the Premier series. Even so, CJ spared no expense. As with all of the Premier preamplifiers, CJ uses a single-ended zero negative feedback circuit design, full of the highest quality parts available. These include polypropylene and polystyrene capacitors, as well as laser-trimmed metal foil resistors. The amplification circuit in the 18LS is based on field effect transistors (FETs). Conrad-Johnson believes that FETs sound more like tubes because they also tend to produce only even-ordered harmonic distortion. CJ puts great emphasis on an optimized power supply, which is said to minimize impedance at even the highest frequencies. CJ also employs a discrete resistor-ladder volume control with 100 incremental steps of 0.7 dB each, instead of the typical potentiometer, which is inherently noisy.
The 18LS is a line-stage-only preamplifier, so a separate phono stage will be required for those with turntables. Otherwise, the 18LS has inputs for tuner, CD, video, aux/phono and aux 2. In addition, it has two loops for external processors (EPL), such as theater processors or equalizers. Only a single pair of main line outputs is provided. Additionally, a full function remote control is included. The 18LS measures 15.25 inches deep, 19 inches wide and 3.31 inches high, weighing 16 pounds.
The look and feel of the unit is just what you’d expect from an audiophile electronics manufacturer. The component is built like a tank, with looks to match. I personally feel that although this look is solid and professional, it has become dated. Those wishing to integrate this piece into modern décor may have issues with its appearance. The unit is constructed with a combination of black powder-coated extruded aluminum sides, black semi-gloss heavy gauge steel top, bottom and back, and a gold anodized machined aluminum faceplate. The faceplate has two distinct textures. Approximately one-fourth of the faceplate on the left side has a brushed finish, while the remaining three-quarters have a matte finish, slightly recessed. The two areas are separated by a machined groove that curves in an arc pattern from top to bottom. The display consists of a pair of circular two-digit gold numerical LEDs to indicate volume level, and individual LEDs for each source to indicate when they are selected. Controls on the front panel include buttons for source, mute, level up and down, theater loop, and EPL. The rear panel carries gold-plated, machined single-ended connectors for inputs and outputs, as well as a receptacle for a detachable power cord. The Premier 18LS provides single-ended I/O and does not provide balanced connectors. The remote is made from a machined aluminum block and has a simple layout with durable feeling buttons. Did I mention that it is built like a tank?
As you might expect for a two-channel preamp, set up and operation are pretty straightforward. I used the 18LS mostly for two-channel listening, but I also ran my theater processor through it. I connected my Muse Model II/ Theta Data Basic combo to the CD input of the 18LS. I ran the main outputs for the theater processor into the video input on the preamp, without using either of the processor loops that were available. I used both the Linn Twin and Classe CA150 for amplification; my Revel F30s played the main speaker role.