Ok, here’s my review of the LDR300x.V3! Quick disclaimer, I was an idiot and forgot about the included hex wrench, so I only ran it in active mode. I wanted to open it up to change up the settings but realized none of my metric hex wrenches fit and I didn’t have time to go to the hardware store to pick up another set that would work. Only when I packed it up to ship it out again, I realized you included the correct hex wrench. So for anybody receiving it next, keep that in mind!
I’ll preface this by being honest, I was very sceptical this would do anything positive for my system. The current preamp I am using is a Schiit Saga which tested incredibly well in terms of distortion figures on audio science review:https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-schiit-saga-tube-pre-amp.6520/
The only issue that it has is that the impedance changes quite a bit throughout the volume range, but it is very low from about 75-100% volume. In tube mode, on the lower volume section, this impedance issue changes the frequency of the sound a lot, predominantly by rolling off the low end. This causes the sound to be very bright and unbalanced in my system which is why I only run it in passive mode where this should not be an issue. Bass is very important to me as my partner is an upright bass player, so I often have the opportunity to compare live upright bass playing and great recordings of upright bass players in my system and in the same room. The upright bass is such a fascinating instrument because it produces very low and visceral bass without ever being boomy. This led me down the path of chasing down the best bass possible in my room which led me to an open baffle 21 inch subwoofer. This produces a very realistic sounding bass response in my regular system with the Schiit saga.
The moment I hooked up the LDR300x.v3 though, I immediately noticed that the bass became more full yet with more control. This was a very pleasant surprise and totally not expected, so for the first day or two, I listened to a bunch of electronic music. Some albums I listened to were Aphex Twin - Ambient Selected works 85-92, Haruomi Hosono - Medicine Compilation From the Quiet Lodge and Surgeon - Europa Code. They all sounded much more controlled, fuller and smoother than with my Schiit saga. Strangely enough, I was turning up the volume to very loud levels without realizing it because everything sounded so smooth. I would try to talk to my partner, thinking the volume was low enough to do so, but then realized we couldn’t understand each other because the volume was up quite high. Switching back to my Schiit saga this week, the opposite happens, I have the feeling that the music is a lot louder but then when I try to talk to my partner, I realize the volume is not up very loud because we can easily hold a short conversation. My thoughts are that with the LDR300x.v3, content below 500 hz is being beefed up a little bit more in comparison to the Schiit saga. On the audio science review analysis, amirm found that the Schiit Saga in tube mode with a low impedance load of 600 ohm, started to droop at 500 hz. In passive mode he did not find this, however, we have to remember that the analysis is only slightly representative of a real-world listening situation. Perhaps even in passive mode, the Schiit saga is taking out some content below 500 hz in my system. This would explain to a certain degree why the LDR300x.v3 sounded fuller, smoother and more balanced, likely because it has better linearity.
Now in terms of the harder to quantify stuff like soundstage and imaging, I felt like the LDR300x.v3 produced a slightly larger soundstage that made the music sound more engaging but at the expense of imaging. I use my system for both movies and music, and I feel like movies are a great way to test imagining as I should be able to clearly correlate somebody's mouth moving with speech. This is where the LDR300x.V3 fell a bit short when compared to the Schiit Saga. The Schiit Saga produces pinpoint imaging, making it really easy to correlate a mouth moving with speech, but the LDR300x.V3 felt a bit more “diffuse” making it harder to pinpoint where sounds are coming from. Switching back to music, I noticed the same, the LDR300x.V3 sounds much more diffuse and I noticed less instrument separation. I believe this is another reason why the LDR300x.V3 sounds smoother, the overall presentation of music sounded more “gelled together” at the expense of some detail and imaging. There are two ways to look at this, and in my opinion pinpoint imaging is not exactly the most natural sounding presentation of music. I thought the sound of the LDR300x.V3 was more natural and pleasant sounding. As Delta77 mentioned, this results in very little listening fatigue. I wanted to listen to music for hours and hours on the LDR300x.V3 whereas with the Schiit saga I can get some listening fatigue at some points, especially when listening to more complex music.
After my first day with electronic music, I switched over to some acoustic music (Ketama - Songhai, Joe Pass - Virtuoso) again everything sounded natural and smooth albeit a bit diffuse. I think for more critical listening, the Schiit saga does a better job with acoustic music, especially with something like Ketama - Songhai because it does a better job at separating the instruments from each other. However, for more enjoyable listening and a more natural presentation, the LDR300x.V3 does a much better job.
Next up was some Jazz and I went through this playlist:https://www.whathifi.com/us/features/12-great-jazz-recordings-to-test-your-hi-fi-system
All fantastic albums and good recordings. This really put the LDR300x.V3 to the test. We turned off all the lights and settled in for a serious listening session. Overall it was very enjoyable, albeit maybe slightly too laid back for my tastes. The Schiit Saga has a bit more bite which especially for the highly dynamic jazz recordings like those from Rahsaan Roland Kirk, makes things sound a bit more exciting. This however does come at the trade-off of faster listening fatigue.
Alright, now some more practical stuff. The volume control is super smooth and I loved the added flexibility in volume adjustment over the Schiit saga. The preamp looks fine, just a simple black box and it feels nice too. That being said, I prefer the visual appearance of the Schiit saga, but who the hell cares about visuals, sound is what matters here! One of the things I really did not like about the LDR300x.V3 is the apple remote. At first, everything worked fine for an hour but then I started having issues with the LDR300x.V3 locking up every time I used the remote to turn the volume up or down. I quickly realized it was because the remote was also interacting with my apple TV which I use for watching movies. This basically rendered the remote useless for me, so for the rest of my time with the preamp, I just manually turned the volume up and down, which is totally ok, although a remote is nice. Especially when it is pitch black and I’m on my second beer, making the mistake not to check the ABV (13%...ouch!). Stumbling around to turn the volume down in the dark is not a whole lot of fun, and I love having a remote for this purpose. At first, I thought this was just a minor issue for me, but switching back to the Schiit saga, with its custom remote I realized that for me at least, the apple remote is not ideal, at least not when it produces locking up issues. When the apple remote did work, however, it was very nice to use.
One more issue I was having was that the LDR300x.V3 was putting out a very low level but audible bleep sound every two minutes or so. This was super annoying when my system was on but with no music playing. Probably just a firmware thing, but annoying nonetheless. Now if I have to be super nitpicky, I also am not a huge fan of the turtle swimming around on the screen which drew a lot of attention to itself in the dark. It would be nice if there is an option to turn this off.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the LDR300x.V3 and to me, it is a worthy upgrade over the Schiit saga!