Leben CS300XS built-in amplifier

Leben CS300XS built-in amplifier

The retro pattern is in every single place lately. It pervades each client product from loos and vehicles to mild bulbs. There is not any motive to imagine, then, that hi-fi ought to escape this therapy, and this built-in valve amplifier from Japanese producer Leben is not any exception.

The CS300XS screams retro from each orifice, from its very engaging gold anodised entrance and rear panels to its giant knobs and delightful Canadian ash finish panels – a hard-wearing wooden that’s used, they inform us, to make baseball bats. Even the on/off change and the selector toggle change for headphones and tape monitor have an unashamedly retro feel and appear.

Leben’s founder is a chap known as Taku Hyodo, who’s a extremely skilled audio engineer who has labored for the likes of Luxman and went on to kind an organization that produced digital parts and PCBs in 1979. He then branched out to fabricate amplifiers below the KFH model for PA use. 

His first mannequin below the Leben model was the RSA-35a energy amp (with 6L6GS valves) in 1995. With a rising following in Japan, Hyodo began to provide lower-cost amps, beginning with the CS200 – the primary within the line that features the CS300XS reviewed right here, the CD300F that our editor reviewed again in August 2021, and the dearer CS600X, which sells for £7,995, provides 32W and makes use of 4 6L6GC energy tubes.

Beautifully put collectively

The CS300XS is fantastically put collectively and has a ruggedness that encourages one to assume it’s constructed to final. Three giant, chunky selector switches on the entrance panel choose the enter. regulate channel stability and, on the far proper, present a bass increase of +3dB or +5dB. I’ve to confess I by no means as soon as felt any want to make use of that. Then there’s a giant rotary quantity knob, whereas toggle switches flip the amp on and off, choose headphones or audio system and tape monitor. Tape monitor is uncommon to seek out lately, and whereas the rebirth of the cassette could also be a hipster flash within the pan, there’s a critical revival underway of reel-to-reel, so this could be music to their ears.

On the rear panel, there are 5 RCA line degree inputs, a floor terminal, 4 chunky WBT speaker terminals and a rotary selector to pick out the suitable tapping from the output transformers of both 4Ω, 6Ω or 8Ω, relying on the nominal impedance of your chosen loudspeakers.

Internally, all wiring is point-to-point with no PCBs. The valves sit in good gold-plated holders, and along with the big mains transformer, there are two newly-developed, custom-made Leben output transformers designed for an prolonged high-frequency response. 

Two EL84 pentode energy tubes are utilized in a push-pull configuration with one ECC83 driver per channel. EL84s are discovered in lots of designs right this moment and had been initially developed by the Philips/Mullard Group particularly for audio use. The amp makes use of a self-biasing circuit that may settle for new tubes with out rebias and adjusts to any variations within the tubes themselves. Leben says additionally they use precision industrial-grade resistors, Nichicon Fine Gold condensers and a 4W high-power cathode resistor.

I’ve been utilizing valve amps for a while now and can confess to a leaning in that course, though let’s not overlook there are some mighty high-quality solid-state amps round lately, too. You’d be mistaken should you had been anticipating right this moment’s trendy tube amps to sound heat and cuddly. They might have nice musicality, however they’ll nonetheless be detailed and dynamic – simply take heed to the Audio Note OTO, Cobra, or the Rogers ES20a II.

Running-in… I’ll move!

Luckily, the importers assured me that no prolonged running-in can be essential with the evaluate pattern. So, I gave it the customary half-hour to heat up earlier than settling again for every listening session.
Obviously, with simply 15W to play with, you have to to decide on your audio system fastidiously, relying on their sensitivity, the scale of your listening room and the way loud you prefer to hear. Avoid inefficient audio system if exhausting rock performed at full tilt is your bag. There are audio system round that supply good sound and excessive sensitivity – take into account fashions just like the Klipsch 8000F II or Forte IV with sensitivities of round 99dB, the Audio Note AN-J at 93dB or numerous fashions from Heco (round 93dB) and JBL (L100 Classic is 90dB). If you discover a speaker to your style with a sensitivity of round 90dB or extra, you’ll take pleasure in even excessive ranges in a standard room with out issues.

I used the CS300X with the Audio Note AN-J LX Hemp and Klipsch RP8000F II, they usually drove completely. I additionally, on the finish of my listening, hooked it as much as a pair of Neat Petite Classic, which has a sensitivity ranking of 87dB, they usually had been high-quality too, however I don’t assume excessive ranges in a bigger room than mine (19ft x 13ft) would have been very best.

Leben CS300XS

As a supply, I used an Audio Note CDT-Five transport and DAC5 particular to evaluate what the Leben might do, in addition to vinyl from an Audio Note TT3/Arm2/Io1 and S9 transformer by the very good Puresound valve phono stage, because the Leben, for all of its retro credentials, doesn’t include a phono stage built-in.

No confusion

The first monitor on the TT3’s platter was ‘A Place for Skipper’ from ace guitarist Larry Carlton’s Discovery album. The complete stability and presentation of the Leben was instantly pleasing. No harshness, muddiness or confusion. Carlton’s guitar had a fantastically crisp sound and the element of how every word was performed was properly introduced, teaming up with drums, bass and percussion to kind a cohesive complete that made sense of the music. Bass traces had been weighty, tuneful and moved properly. I had an excellent, equally priced stable transistor at hand that I additionally favored rather a lot, however whereas it was detailed and coherent, the general sound was someway colder and fewer partaking. Instruments on the Leben had a depth and sense of solidity, fullness and presence that merely made them appear extra actual.

Spinning up Ben Sidran’s CD ‘Shine a Light on Me’ from the Enivré d’Amour album, the Leben was instantly within the groove. It was nice to listen to how the monitor moved and the musicians performed collectively to create a musical efficiency that was simply so tight – as high session guys resembling these all the time are. Sidran’s vocals had been stuffed with emotion and had nice heat and articulation. Rhythmically, the Leben had a grip of iron on the music, permitting fluidity and a way of motion that was immensely pleasing and compelling.

Still on CD, I attempted the ‘Honey Dipped’ monitor from the Saxophonic album by one in all my favorite sax gamers, Dave Koz. Straight off, the Leben captured the funky, driving rhythms of the monitor and conveyed Koz’s sax with energy, element and delicacy concurrently. The monitor moved alongside fantastically on the Leben, and switching again to the solid-state amp simply appeared to take away a few of that cohesiveness and magic that normally brings a smile to my face and will get my foot tapping alongside. 

Leben CS300XS

Up till now, I had been listening to the Audio AN-J, so I rapidly swapped to the Klipsch RP8000F II I reviewed just lately (hi-fi+ 216). They obtained on like a home on hearth – dynamic, vigorous, detailed, melodic, and musically coherent. No nasties. They simply labored and made a mix I might wholeheartedly suggest.

I additionally had no hassle utilizing the Neat Petite Classics (sensitivity 87dB) with the CS300X. It drove them loud sufficient for me in my listening room and was an excellent associate for the very musical and well-balanced Neats. Listening at smart ranges – in spite of everything, I do have neighbours! – I might detect no indicators of harshness or grittiness that may recommend the amp was clipping.

On stability, the Leben CS300XS turned in an admirable efficiency and joins my rising checklist of beneficial valve amps. But what does set it aside is its worth. It’s nice worth with a sound high quality that betters many extra extremely priced solid-state amps. And should you mix them with the Klipsch RP8000F II, you’ve the makings of an exceptionally good system with out breaking the financial institution. 


Technical specs

  • Type: Two-channel valve built-in amplifier
  • Valves: 4 x Sovtek EL84, 2 x Sovtek ECC83
  • Inputs: 5 x RCA
    Outputs: 1 tape out, 1 x headphone jack 6.35mm, 1 x speaker
  • Power output: 2x 15W 
  • Distortion: 0.7% @ 10W 
  • Input sensitivity: 600mV
  • Input impedance: 100kΩ
  • Dimensions (H×W×D): 140mm × 360mm × 270mm
  • Weight: 10.5kg
  • Price: £3,950


Leben Hi-Fi Stereo Company


UK distributor

Midland Audio Exchange


+44(0)1562 731100

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February 13, 2024 at 07:11PM

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