Sondek, this is, without doubt, the most entertaining, comprehensive review I've read in a long, long time, maybe ever. I was grinning ear to ear. Your way with words draws the reader in. Seriously, what's your profession? Surely it has something to do with writing...author maybe? Anyway, after reading that, I am definitely wanting, at the very least, an audition. The only question I have, and was asking the folks at Turned on Audio was, is the CS300 or CS600 the better match? I have read though, that some prefer the little CS300, mentioning it has a bit more sparkle at the top end while the CS600 has a slightly darker mood to it. The idea of sparkle bodes well with me though, so once again, it's a tick in the CS300's box. Not to mention with the price difference, a Leben phono and Auditorum 23 SUT is on the cards. Do you have experience/opinions on the different characteristics between the CS330F and CS300XS? Thanks again for your input. Love it :-) Alex
BIGAL REVIEW: LEBEN CS300F Integrated Amplifier I wanted to add some further thoughts around our little LEBEN CS300F... The professional reviews I have read about this LEBEN model have been overwhelmingly positive, despite the fact that they all provide caveats of one type or another around "...within its power limitations" etc., etc.
These caveats arose only because not one of those reviewers carefully matched the 15w LEBEN with a suitably efficient speaker. Not one! It seems that they just merrily hooked the little LEBEN up to whatever transducers they had on the shelf at the time and gave it a go. A HARBETH here, a TRENNER & FRIEDL there; let's try a FRITZ... Talk about epic mismatches! And they wondered why the little LEBEN occasionally ran out of steam?
Nevertheless - rather tellingly - all of the reviewers adored the little LEBEN for what it does so well - despite being totally mismatched on every outing. All of which begs the question: How does the LEBEN sound when the speaker match is ideal?
As mentioned above, matched with your KLIPSCH FORTE, the LEBEN is a veritable powerhouse. This is an ideal partnership.
I'm not exaggerating when I state that with the 15w LEBEN driving your 99dB speakers, its identical to taking an 84dB speaker - like a pair of brand-new pair of TRENNER & FRIEDL ART 2 (85dB, actually) - and driving them with a 480w solid state amp. Yes, the electrical calculation is more or less identical. Would anyone dare call that a potentially under-powered partnership? Would anyone really question whether there was enough power on tap? Of course not!
In this type of scenario, the LEBEN becomes a vicious beast, straining to be unleashed! With headroom aplenty, questions of available power become totally irrelevant. The only question that remains is: What does this amp / speaker partnership sound like? Almost to the same extent - our KLIPSCH RP-160M is 3dB less efficient than your FORTE - this is the matching environment that our little LEBEN operates within, in our home. This environment is precisely how the LEBEN should be reviewed.
Under these idyllic conditions, I can tell you that the LEBEN is no "pipe and slippers" polite little number. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The LEBEN is big and ballsy; and bursting to breakout!
The LEBEN can rock out with the best of them. Demanding genres such as Hard Rock, Metal, Electronica and Dubstep are smashed out with alarming attack. Bass is full, tight and deeply extended and there's absolutely no polite, syrupy, treble roll-off. Tops are crystal clear and extended. Fenders crunch, analog synth textures grind, cymbals crash and shimmer; and it's all held together in total chaotic coherence. Then in a blink - with a quick change of program - the LEBEN can gently immerse the listener into a pool of intimate, palpable, lushness. SET-like, the LEBEN delivers quiet music for quiet times, beautifully. The LEBEN is a quick-change artist, delivering whatever it is that your source is serving up.
Believe it! The LEBEN is a nasty, thrashing brute one minute, a purring, fluffy little kitty the next - and everything in-between.
Orchestral warhorses with Tchaikovsky in full cry? Bring it on! Classical, Chamber, Trios, Quartets and the like? Superbly rendered. Jazz? Oh yes, Jazz. The LEBEN loves Jazz and you can truly hear which artists have "got it" and which ones ain't. Reggae, Prog Rock, Military, Folk, its Saul Goodman. Whatever the genre, with the LEBEN, music is portrayed with all the sparkle, colour and vividness of a live event. There are a few sonic constants (read constants - not constraints!) that permanently reside in the LEBEN sonic palate. These include: -
Dynamics. Even at low-level listening, the LEBEN is fully loaded with the safety catch off. Yes, the jump-factor can be quite startling. Massive dynamic shadings send transient snaps firing out of the speakers, like sonic missiles.
Truth of timber is ever present. Vocals sound like flesh and blood. These are real people! Likewise, musical instruments. This is where pianos sound like pianos with felt hammers striking wires under tension. Where leading edge piano notes are portrayed in stark relief. Drum kits sound like hard wooden sticks striking taught animal skins - not like the sound of Dr. Martin shoes kicking-in a flimsy dunny door. Fretless bass lines really carry that boogie factor. Brass instruments deliver that spitty, crackly, metallic blat that used to have kids like me following the Sally Bands around the streets each mid-December evening. These are real instruments! Imaging and Soundstaging is stable and sonic cues are a revelation. Granted these aspects strongly depend on the capability of the partnering source and speakers, but when the fit is right, the LEBEN will show you where everything was lurking on recording day. This might include apparent venue cues that extend way beyond the confines of your own listening space. Whilst many of these spatial effects are now "created" in the studio (well after the band has headed off for a beer and a smoke) early stereo recordings (such as the legendary RIVERSIDE Jazz catalog, where they just recorded what happened and put it straight onto the vinyl lathe) prove without a doubt that such spatial aspects do exist on simple recordings. If it's there in the mix - no matter how it got there - the LEBEN will expose it, as created; intended or otherwise.
I could go on and on - I've already gone on and on - but I'd like to leave you with one final set of thoughts.
Earlier, I likened the LEBEN / FORTE combination to driving a pair of brand-new TRENNER & FRIEDL ART2 speakers with a 480w solid-state amp. However, there is one aspect of this scenario that (I believe) the LEBEN will deliver upon, that no solid-state amp (that I've heard, including Nelson Pass' FIRST WATT marvels) can ever match. And that is the utterly unique "tube" sound. To my ears, tube sound is totally distinct in the following three ways.
Firstly, almost all tube amps deliver an accurately dense harmonic saturation of the (critical) mid-range and upper bass, which causes music to sound natural. Best revealed in the human voice, you know it when you hear it. It's the sound of flesh; living, breathing, swallowing and singing - complete with all the rich resinous tones that make the human voice, flutes, trombones, cellos, violins and guitars so unbearably beautiful.
Secondly, by virtue of their inherent design, all tube amps - even lesser designs - deliver a continuous flow of signal. The sound of this flow is very hard to describe - but easy to hear in the music generated. It's the reason why Grandad's old valve radiogram sounded so magical, all those years ago! Tubes allow the signal to gain (voltage, amplitude – as the design requires) as electrons magically leap through a heated vacuum, in a constant, unbroken flow. There is no switching on and off. There is no frequency. There is just a continuous flow of signal. The beautifully unbroken music flow reveals this miraculous gain process, to my ears and (evidently) to the ears of every staunch tube amp enthusiast. Every other amplifier technology (excepting transformer-only amps. Another story, another time...) uses ultra-high-speed switching (on and off hundreds of times per millisecond) to achieve their required gain. In those amplifier designs, the precious music signal is sliced and diced in the same way that digital processes sample only a portion of the full sinewave of analog recordings, in order to transfer the music onto CDs. Sadly, the human ear can hear the difference. This switching is not good. Tube amps don't do this. Tube amps are good. Thirdly and finally, tube amplifiers tend to present the sound of spatiality differently to other amplifier topologies. Whilst alternative designs can match or occasionally surpass tube amps in the left to right rendering of space, tube amps go the extra mile in the realistic portrayal of front to rear soundstage. This creates space - or at least, the sound of space. With good tube amps, recording venues can sound absolutely cavernous and everything sounds just a little bit more stereo; a bit more 3D. Everything is just a bit more palpable and in focus. With tubes, you just want to reach out and touch it, the illusion so darned complete.
Be sure to give the little LEBEN a good, long listen. I suspect it might be an end-game amplifier for you, as it was for us. In any event, enjoy - and please post thoughts on your experiences.
BIGAL I had read all that good stuff about the HERESYs too, but we were super disappointed with the HERESY IIIs. We were ready to pay big for them thinking they would be an end-game speaker for us... and kill the little RP-160Ms. Nope!
Truthfully, we could not have lived with the HERESYs. The RP-160Ms slaughtered them in every department!
Interestingly, with an RP-160M on one channel and a HERESY on the other, we could discern no difference in sensitivity/efficiency - and that was being driven by our FIRST WATT J2... (No slouch!) This was very curious because the HERESYs are supposedly higher in sensitivity (99dB) and higher in Nominal Impedance (8-Ohm) than the RP-160ms (95dB/4-Ohm) - factors which suits the Single Ended FIRST WATT J2 and should have given the HERESYs a useful advantage. Nope! In short, either the HERESYs are badly overrated - or the RP-160Ms are badly under-rated in these respects. We believe a good chunk of both.
I'm sure the FORTEs and the CORNWALLs are in a whole other league over and above the HERESYs. Have to admit, we've never heard either. On to the LEBEN PHONO and the AUD23 SUT. We love them. That said, they suit our LO MC SHELTER 501 II cartridge - and our sonic taste preferences.
Phonos, SUTs and Cartridges are very match dependent and taste-dependent. So, I guess you'd have to suck it and see with your Micro Benz Ace.