Leben CS300 Review - LP Magazin

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LP magazin - Scheu Premier MK3, Leben CS300

 

LP Magazin - April 2005

By: Thomas Schmidt

 

Leben CS300 Integrated Amplifier

 

"Live In The Room"

 

** Translated from German **

 

Equipment Used in the Review

Turntable:

 

Scheu Premier

SME M2 12"

Denon DL103S

Denon DP6700
Ortofon MC20 Super

Loudspeakers:

DIY Breitbander

Newtroniks Skate

 

Reviewed Against:

Sony TA-F808ES

Audiovalve tube amplification

We wrote in January 2005 that it seems like almost all tube amplifiers these days are made in China.  All ?  No, here is a Japanese company that manufactures handcrafted amplifiers with so much better build and construction.  Being named Leben, which means "live" in German, we were naturally curious.

 

The former Luxman designer Mr. Hyodo, with his background and product experience, brought back his own line of tube amplifiers to manufacturing capacity in the year 2004 in the market. 

 

This covers the two integrated amplifiers CS300 and CS300X, one preamp with phono stage, and two power amplifiers with different tube assembly. 

 

In the same year 2004, the CS300 integrated amplifier was honored with the "Audio Excellence Award" in Japan,  and is also tested here.

 

 

The First Impression

A smile • it is small !  The Leben CS300 has external dimensions of 35cm x 14cm x 23cm.  It really looks dainty and not like the usual suspects on the tube amplifier market.  Embarrassingly, an attempt to position the tiny amplifier on the rack with two fingers failed, and the grin on my face was wiped away.  It was clear that the small exterior was not in proportion to its weight.  The Leben brings a hefty weight of ten kilograms on the scale, and indicated that Leben definitely did not compromise on materials.

 

 

Description

The CS300 is an integrated amplifier of classical design in a proper housing and good components.  At the sides are parallel sets of beautiful Japanese genuine wood.  The front plate is golden anodized with green stripes adorning its top and bottom.  From left to right are the decent aluminum controls for source selection, a larger one for volume control, balance control and the two-stage bass boost.  There are toggles for Tape monitor (!), and headphone/loudspeaker selector -  switches made of black plastic.  In the center of the front plate is the headphone input, and over the power switch a light indicating operational status.

 

Retro looks are similar to early McIntosh, Marantz or Harman Kardon equipment.  However, I have the impression that one or two of the design elements could have been omitted in favor of a calmer visual appearance.  The volume potentiometer would be better if it had more steps, the plastic switches could be better.

 

The rear panel holds the mains fuse, and five inputs, a power cord input and and four solid connecting terminals for a pair of loudspeakers.  These loudspeaker terminals can take rather thin bare wire, spades ,and banana plugs.  One can•t say the unit has missing connection types.  More importantly for a tube amplifier, it has 3 impedance settings that can be used with different  loudspeakers having four, six, or eight ohms impedance.

 

The interior of the Leben is ventilated by a slit cover, and the floor plates sufficiently reveals a lightning-clean and very cleared up structure with a sheet metal chassis, which could originate easily from one of the devices of the classical tube era. 

 

There are  two General Electric 5751 tubes and the two pairs of Sovtek  EL84  in marked bases.  The transformers are made by Leben,  and make a very solid impression.  The complete circuit is altogether is really a "No-nonsense-Design":  solid construction units without Voodoo.

 

And if one values the importance of even more quality, there is no thriftiness with the structure of its sister model CS300X, to a surcharge of EUR 1000 more.  Here, more significant and closely selected parts are used, in addition, output transformers are even better.

 

 

Technology

The circuit does not offer new revealing technology, but those with tube amplifiers for some decades don•t expect any anyway -  5751 tubes with two EL84 in a "single Push Pull" circuit per channel with a power output of nominal 12 Watts. 

 

The laboratory results show these values as actually ten Watts per channel, with which it works already very properly however.  Well, not suitable in a professional public address system, however for all home purposes it is completely sufficient  - assuming one•s  loudspeakers have a at least average efficiency and good impedance, which do not drive each amplifier into heat death. 

 

Leben engineers have done their homework, and the CS300 is an achievement monster.

Listening Tests

The speakers used are small broadband boxes of my own design, named Breitb•nder.  These have an average efficiency of 85db.  The listening environment is quite a conducive one for the CS300, 15 square meters.   A small music room of a HiFi enthusiast, who would like to install a fine system with little space requirement on smallest area.  On test, even with full impact of the volume control, hardly any noise or humming came out of the speakers.  So far, so good.

 

At first, worry and doubts were in mind, but finally a pleasant astonishment:  The Leben, despite the aged circuit concept, sounds only a bit like a tube amp, the sound is so expanded in its high frequency response.  This is not with brightness that make the sound unbalanced, but is one that offers additional information, which I do not find with most otherwise well-known tube amplifiers.  Crystal clear and never irritating highs supplement the sound perfectly.  I would have considered it as never possible that the marvelous spatial illustration of my speakers could ever be improved • but the Leben CS300 does it easily, as heard on the individual guitar of Eric Clapton•s "Cocaine• from the marvelous LP "Slowhand.  The percussion comes strongly and precisely, each impact of the snaredrum drum stops precisely and without trailing resonance.   It is a lot of fun, and the high hats cymbal strikes are so finely resolved, never irritating.

 

Only the bass • the lower bass range in relation to the higher frequencies is less, which is due however more to the physical size of the very small speakers.  A tweak is to use the bass boost controller at + 3dB, and it solves the problem to the fullest satisfaction, with the tonal balance now properly tuned, and the small amplifier and the small speakers play even louder.

 

The listening area was then changed to a listening area over 20 square meters, and a pair of big but more efficient transmission line speakers were used,.  With output impedance set to 4 ohms, and bass boost control at "0•, the Leben CS300 is unleashed.  The expression "Live In The Room• comes to a new meaning.  The fine resolution of the highs,  already obtained before, attains new dimensions with the new speakers' better tweeters.  With the larger speakers, the correct tonal balance is also obtained.  Mark Knopfler•s voice, on his last solo LP "Shangri La" was caught as very present, and the guitar associates perfectly with the intimate atmosphere heard on the recording.

 

The CS300 also can go without a murmur at harder pace music.  The first piece on Elvis Costello•s latest album, "The Delivery Man", gives a hard test.  The Leben delivers the fine tendencies and angry sound of Elvis Costello and his band completely authentically.  In this track the percussionist hammers whining bass and has screeching guitar, but within all the sound chaos nothing sinks into a sonic mess or muddiness, instrument separation remains free.  This title song of the album shows again the marvelous discipline of the Leben, without sacrificing the atmosphere and expression in the music.

 

Only with an album such as John Cougar MeIlencamp•s "Lonesome Jubilee", in which the recording is quite unbalanced and too bright, can the tonal balance go over to unpleasant.  But this applies to all good systems where bad recordings are exposed.

 

Listening to samples of classical music and jazz confirm the above described impressions.  Larger ochestras are brimming in detail in depth and width, with individual instruments clearly outlined.  Solo voices and instruments are represented prominently, but never overemphasized.  The impression of missing substance within the bass range never arose with the larger speakers, the CS300 not only reproduces highs perfectly, but also has dynamic and power in the bass,  and gorgeous in the middle, well-balanced without particularly being overemphasized in any of the ranges.

 

The tubes were then  changed to the highly-praised JJ EL84 tubes, and this brought a somewhat darker presentation to the sound.  This results in a more typical tube sound and is quite pleasant.  Personally, however, I felt some of the highs were curtailed, and the music seemd to move more to the center of the soundstage.  However, this impression may have been because of the fact that the JJ EL84 spare tubes were not yet burned-in compared to the Sovtek EL84.

 

 

Conclusion

One tiny fine integrated amplifier.  One can easily hide the amplifier if needed, but it highlights all the leading strengths of tube technology, and the weaknesses left behind.  The only one little restriction in the recommendation, the Leben CS300 should be partnered with the right higher-efficiency speakers, and it will unfold its sound beautifully, and give true meaning to the phrase "Live In The Room".

 

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Leben CS300 Review - LP Magazin

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