I had a 16LS, followed by an Art, both series 1. The 16 handily beat my Prem 14 it replaced. The jump to the Art was smaller, so the 16 IMO was the sweet spot in that line. I have not heard the series 2, or the ET3SE.
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I have owned a great variety of cj preamps over the years. A couple of questions:
Do you need a phono pre? if so, the ET3SE with phono is the most economical way to get great sound in a cj set up. The ET 3se is very very good.
If phono is not needed, in my humble opinion, the LS 17s2 is the biggest bargain in the lineup. The 17s2 if you can find it, is one of the first to use the teflon caps. The 16s2 did not have the teflon caps. Of course they are hard to find. The ET 3se linestage only is still a great bargain and one I think you would enjoy. It is also a more modern piece with less age issues.
Thank you both for your insight. This is very helpful.
I currently have a phono preamp I've been pretty happy with (Musical Surroundings Phonomena), so although I'd love to get a built-in CJ phono stage it's not a must-have.
Sorry to be so ignorant, but what exactly are the age issues with preamps? Is it technology or just wear and tear? In other words, is a newer amp like the ET3SE perhaps going to be less problematic? Or were you just referring to performance enhancements a newer unit may have versus an older one.
Again, much appreciation for the advice!
Both preamps are very good but I think you really need to do some listening before you buy anything. There's no other way to get it right. That said, if you are in a position where you can't demo, either one would be a huge improvment over your NAD. But that's just my opinion. Yours is the one that counts.
I own a Premier 16 Series 2 that I am very happy with. Have not heard the ET3SE so I can't offer any advice regarding which may be your better option. Regarding age issues, the CJ units in general are very well built and typically use very good parts. I own two of their amps and two of their preamps, the newest being more than 10 years old, and have never had a problem with any of them.
Regarding the sweet spot for their "older" preamps, my vote goes to the 16. Price wise you should be able to pick one up for not too much more than $3k.
I've owned both the 17LS and the 16LS2. Never had the chance to listen to either the 17LS2 or the ET3SE. From what I've heard (had my Premier 140 power amp upgraded by c-j with their Teflon caps) and read, the Teflon caps bring greater clarity and dynamics to the table. Also, better frequency extension at both ends.
I agree with Marco1 that the 16LS2 was the sweet spot in c-j's older line of preamps and while you might not be able to get one for $3k, for a few hundred more, you could. From what I remember of how the 17LS sounded, the 17LS2 should be outstanding. It also has the advantage of only using 4 tubes versus the 6 needed for the 16LS2.
The 16LS2 is going to sound a little sweeter than the 17LS2, so that may be a factor in your decision. Bottom line, I don't think you'll be disappointed with any of these models.
Notwithstanding the price point of the models you've listened to, you should still have an idea which house sound you prefer. I'm assuming it was CJ, that's why in your OP you asked about the CJ line. I'd recommend following your gut. Additionally, with the amps you currently have, I think you'd probably benefit with a "warmer" preamp like a CJ.