tone imports

Leben CS-300X

(translated from the original Greek)

At the era of the cheap Chinese Hi-Fi, some Japanese are still obsessed with music and still produce audio "jewels".

Japan is certainly "saved" in our memory as a high-technology paradise due to the giants of consumer electronics but also consumer cars it disposes. Thus we tend to believe that Japan's oldest face, the one encompassing dedication to principles and ideals has been abolished at the benefit of profit, but this is a mistake. This far away country disposes of an exceptional cultural scene, with its own school of cinema and music (especially jazz) that flourishes steadily since many decades. We see that Japanese people are not only workaholics but also productive, great appreciators and consumers of works of art; in a nutshell, it is a people that do not leave anything to chance. Having said that, it is not a wonder if the audiophile scene in Japan includes some of the most fanatical and fastidious audio lovers on the planet. Their appetite is generally soothed by local production and their preferences tend more towards lamp ideals and easy feeling speakers. Extremely demanding as they are they despise the old fashioned lamp sound, the slow bass, the coarse middle fields and the cut primes.

Mr. Taku Hyodo is one amongst the most eminent Japanese audiophiles, a musician with a long musical experience. Leben Hi-Fi Co is his personal company that produces audiophile parts, in the frame of which a limited number of fine amplifier models are designed and produced at good prices like the full-fledged CS300X, with a power of 15 W/per channel. Mr. Kenjiro Matsumoto is the president of Mactone, one the most historical audiophile companies in Japan. Active since 1964 in the manufacture of OTL circuits, the company disposes of a great range of lamp amplifiers, eminently push pull triodes, which are renowned for combining the single-headed idiom with the technical qualities of the push-pull. On the contrary of Leben the Mactone products belong to the super-expensive categories and the XM-IIA has a performance of 15W/per channel is Mactone's less expensive product.

We decided to proceed to the co-existence of these two fully fledged amplifiers in a common trial for reasons that go beyond their place of origin and their lamp composition, for reasons related to their retro appearance. Nevertheless, beyond this trial's "light" aspect, one thing is certain: these two amplifiers open before us a new way of thinking, different from the western perspective, offering a new dimension to the dominant issue as to how music should be reproduced at home.

The Leben company gives us a strong taste of the Japanese way of thinking with a full-fledged amplifier based on EL84 which does not cost much. Also, the amplifier is produced in a simpler and cheaper version, CS300, with the same frame and external appearance, but inferior material, from lamps and capacitors to power supply transformers and finishing. Leben's basic visual characteristic, apart from its beautiful retro look, is its small size which allows its products to fit almost everywhere.

Being used to the simple layout of the audiophile amplifiers, I insatiably looked at the exuberant - from the "regulators" point of view - golden appearance of the small CS300X. It is constituted as follows: earphones output with a selector switch of airplane type between it and the sound box output. Channel balance under the "Balancer" unique inscription. Also, amplifying in two steps, +3 and +5db, with the obvious name "Bass Boost", adequate for night listening at low sound level. The back has also an unusual regulator. Instead of different outputs with plugs, obviously in order to spare space, there is a selector with three positions (4, 6 and 8Ω) for the best possible adaptation with your sound boxes. Finally, there is an extra earth terminal. It does not imply the use of an optional phono stage, but the need of an amplifier to earth its frame, when the single ended signal that will come to its inputs does not carry an earth wire (as happens with many sources that do not have an earth wire in the plug or that have one but do not send a signal). Pay attention at this point and pull the wire to an earth wire to the multi plugged device if you become aware of static load on the CS300X's frame. As this is also what happens with Mactone, too, I assume that the Japanese tend not to earth their frames through power supply.

The "X" version, as I mentioned before, is great as to materials, starting with the wood of the sides that is a Canadian white ash and the buttons are gilded with 24K gold. The main upgrading points are the power supply transformer, the two output transformers of increased response and better diode. Of course the four Mullard EL84 are the "highlight" while for the control the two General Electric 5751 (a special type of 12AX7/ECC83) are also found in the simple version. Nevertheless, the base covers here are gilded. Also we find the RMG-F resistors with gilded terminals, the OSCon (Sanyo) and Silmic (ELNA) capacitors for supply decoupling, while on the signal there are some polypropylene metal elements with mesh type armor. The internal manufacture is faultless. The amplifier is divided in two levels with a big metallic partition. On top of it, under the cover, there are lamps and transformers as well as some capacitors and resistors covered with taps with the Leben logo. Under this there are connections without a plate, with rectangular copper bars that contribute to the order of the wiring. Finally, the level potentiometer as much as the channel balance are materialized with blue Alps.

The CS300X exploits as much as it can its small power, only the sound box must bear a cared for resistance. At the start I listened to it with a Harberth Super HL5 and the result was really magic in timbre and clarity, three-dimensional while the fact that the Harberth disposes of a full and absolutely controllable and clear bass must have helped. Then I connected it to a device personally manufactured the main characteristic of which is its use in parties (104db/8Ω), a fact fully exploited by the Leben, demonstrating healthy ends and poweful performance.

The CS3000X can do anything with sound texture and easily succeeds in surpassing its competitors in this field, leaving a very good taste of what the Japanese school can do with lamps. At the same time, its sound is modern or western, as to ends, dynamics and detail.

This texture could be described as extremely sleek and delicate, with great density of harmonious data and flexibility. Naturally, I refer to the widest middle area where Leben teaches us with its timbers, micro fluctuations of ton and rhythm against Manley Stingray, for example, and PrimaLuna Prologue Two. The first presents many similarities as to the timber with the Japanese full fledged, due to the EL84 it uses, while it is more dynamic with more ends and maybe, more detail. The latter is "superior" to Leben in those fields (let us not forget that the aforementioned are 40W). However, both cannot possibly have the brio, description and clarity of the middle CS300X. Its keyword is range homogeneity and time continuity that rules before any detail or "beat". In short, the Japanese "organize" their sound in order for the auditor to listen to it effortlessly and to feel it calmly and deeply, while Americans and most Europeans prefer to ... feed the "hunter ear" and the ear that collects data. Thus, compared to the other two, Leben sounds more focused and dense, with more refined musical imports. But, listening again to the much more precise Mactone I realized that it really follows two masters, with as many similarities as differences with the western sound models. I would say then that Leben, with CS3000X, makes the Japanese way of reproducing sound accessible to Western consumers, as much as for price as for sound physiognomy. But its way of achieving it is so extremely charming...

Power: 2x15Wrms
Response: 15 Hz - 100KHz
Sensitivity - resistance: 600 mV/-
Inputs: 5 line, 1 tape
Outputs: 1 tape, 4/6/8 Ω
Dimensions (...) : 35x13, 8x22, 5 cm.
Weight: 10 kg

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Tone Imports is the North American Importer and Distributor for AcousticPlan, Auditorium 23, EMT, Leben Hi-Fi, LigoLab, Line Magnetic Audio, Sentec, and Shindo Labs