Preamp upgrade: Conrad-Johnson PV-14L

It only took me 34 years, but I finally have a new (to me) preamp in the system, and I am finally a member of the “valve audio” club.  The PV-14L arrived two weeks ago, and I have been getting familiar with it.  My unit has had the “S2” upgrade, which features improved caps, Vishay resistors, etc., and a new spec for the tubes.

Having only seen photos of the front panel, I was afraid it was going to be silver.  Instead, it is a pale gold color, which looks nice with the engraved front panel.  Operation is by pushbutton, with most features available via the remote.  Switching and volume are done internally, so worries about oxidizing potentiometers is eliminated.

The tubes were changed out at some point, as the factory spec Mullard M8080s were replaced with the Philips ECG 6C4WAs. For a quick replacement, I ordered in a pair of Tung-Sol 6C4s which were marked for FAA use.  I have the M8080s shipping from the UK, as they are reportedly less microphonic than these 6C4s are.  The Tung-Sols do sound nice in the system, slightly less bright or “etched” sounding than the Philips pair.

One thing I have noticed with this preamp is that the imaging is rock solid.  Instruments are more clearly placed left to right in the soundstage, and vocals are spookily centered between the speakers.  Clearly my speakers are the weak point (for that “last mile” of improvement), yet I can still hear the differences.  One critique of this preamp was weak bass (boooo….), but the S2 upgrade cured that.  The bass is definitely weighty in the improved version.

It also appears to be a good match to the Nelson Pass-designed Stasis amp (Nakamichi PA-7).

The only thing it does not have is a phono stage.  But, that issue has been solved as well…

I will be back with a long-term update, as well as an update once I get the Cardas interconnects built.

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