I met Justin Weber at the mini-con meet in Arizona in early February of this year. I was there on vacation for a week or so and just dropped in to see if there was anything there I hadn’t yet heard. I had no intention all of making a purchase, since I retired four years ago and am in the process of downsizing rather than adding to the gear I already have.
There was a spot open at the table AmpsandSound was sharing with Audeze and since I’ve been a “tube guy” for years, I decided to sit down; chat with Justin and give the Audeze LCD-4 a listen, pairing it with a couple of his amps. Not only was he a pleasant person to talk to, the amps sounded so good that even in the noisy atmosphere of a head-fi meet, it drew me in. After a time, I thanked him and left. What I hadn’t counted on was being unable to get what I had heard out of my mind.
I’ve been an audiophile for over 40 years and have had the privilege of owning some very nice equipment. I’ve only gotten into head-fi for about the last 6-7 years, but have owned a wide variety of headphones both electrostatic and dynamic, as well as amps, both tube and solid state. With that said, I found myself in just a couple of days talking to Justin on the phone about amps to pair with my headphones as well as my desk speakers in my office. (Harbeth P3esr)
When he recommended the Leeloo, I was a bit leery as to whether it would have enough output at 2.6w for my Harbeths. To cut to the chase my fears were unfounded. Now that I have written a long preview and have some time with the amp, here’s my review.
1. PC running Win10 and JRiver media center. Media ripped in either flac or apple lossless and upsampled to 24/96 via the software.
2. Burson Conductor Virtuoso used as a dac/preamp/solid state amp
3. AmpsandSound Leeloo used as headphone amp and speaker amp
4. Morrow Audio interconnects and Signal Cable speaker wires.
5. Headphones: Senn HD800, Audeze LCD-2 and for the review Senn HD650.
1. Female vocalists: primarily Jennifer Warnes, Halie Loren, Anne Bisson, Linda Ronstadt and Holly Cole.
2. Guitar: Dakota Dave Hull, Nils Lofgren, SRV, Clapton, Buddy Guy, John Fahey and others.
3. Jazz: Dave Brubeck, Ray Brown, Herbie Hancock and others
4. Rock: Mostly classic rock. Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Fabulous Thunderbirds etc.
5. Classical: Too wide a range to mention from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky. Big pieces and string quartets.
First, the easy things: My Harbeths have never sounded this good! In my small home office (10’by 10’) I listen with the speakers on my desk and I sit primarily in near field. The soundstage stretched wall to wall and given the speakers are against the wall, there is good depth of stage as well. Tonality is spot on and within the low end limitations of the monitor, the amp provides good punch and drive. Transient response is also easily on par with the solid state amp I was previous using, an Emotiva X-100.
I bought this amp to drive my Harbeths and my HD-800’s and was hoping for good synergy with the Audeze as well. Long and short of it: I love the pairing with the Audeze! Plenty of power, good low end extension, clear, beautiful midrange and smooth highs. The Burson also pairs wellwith the LCD-2’s, but liquidity and clarity the Leeloo brings to the table wins the day. I have never minded the weight of the Audeze and this is a combo I can listen to for hours on end
A brief mention of the HD650’s. Due to their mid-bass and warm midrange, I slightly preferred the neutral presentation of the Burson, which also helps with the highs a bit. The Leeloo, however, was a perfect foil with the 650’s on some of my less than sterling recordings of 70’s rock and turned some of these old tunes into a guilty pleasure for me. This is not to say that the highs were rolled off in the least. They were extended, but not piercing.
The HD800’s at first sounded pretty lean on the Leeloo, but it had no hours on it, so I settled back to burn it in. My patience was well rewarded! The amp was shipped with JJ tubes and at first, I found myself using a Sovtek long plate tube in the driver stage of the amp because it added a bit of warmth and low end drive that the 800’s were missing. As the amp burned in, I found myself returning to the JJ 12AX7 it shipped with. They are super quiet and have an open, clear tonality that pairs well with the Sennheiser’s.
The 800’s are well known for their soundstage, and the Leeloo delivers exactly what is on the recording. In listening to the Turtle Creek Chorale “Psalms”, the location of each section of the choir was obvious as was all of the background instrumentation from kettle drum to organ to chimes. As I listened to SRV and Albert King “In Session”, the tonal differences between Vaughn’s Stratocaster and King’s Gibson Flying V were obvious and mico-details in the playing styles as well as some of the banter back and forth with the band were laid out clearly, adding to the live feel of the recording.
As I write this review, I realize that it could end up being far too long, so I will truncate it a bit. Female vocals are a pleasure with the Leeloo. It is transparent and doesn’t romanticize the tone, which brings out the torch singer qualities Ronstadt had before she stopped leaning on her voice so hard. Jennifer Warnes is a long time favorite of mine and both the “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “The Hunter” albums provided me with new details I had not previously noticed without being at all analytical or etched.
In closing. The Leeloo has earned a permanent place on my desk. I haven’t found anything it doesn’t do well (for my purposes) and in most instances does what I bought it for exceptionally well. When you add the sound quality and the responsiveness to questions and the support that Justin provides, it’s hard to go wrong. I would gladly do it all over again.