Elements Ultra Phono Stage.
Leema always feel to me like something of a recent addition to the HiFi world, I was quite surprised to find they’ve been going for some time. A couple of ex-BBC engineers, Lee Taylor and the wonderfully named Mallory Nicholls started the firm back in 1998, (I like to imagine this was between arctic expeditions), however, mainstream products (in the form of the Tacuna amp) didn’t hit the shelves until 2006.
Since then they have steadily pushed the top end of their range into the high end, while back-filling with more affordable products in their “Elements” range. This latest offering is in the Elements Ultra range which sits somewhere between the two at £1295.00.
Unlike many manufacturers faced with fast expansion, they have resisted the urge to outsource to China and have instead found a Welsh firm to build their designs, and they do so with some skill. Build quality is exceptional, at every price point. One never feels materially cheated when confronted by a Leema. And that’s always a nice start, It certainly shows a passion and determination for quality on the part of Leema as a company.
It’s hard not to be impressed at first listen, but only after some nerve wracking dip-switch configuration. The base of the unit has a disarming array of switches, of course these are to enable the educated customer to find the perfect loading/gain match for their cartridge. I often wonder with such things, whether I’m as likely to set it up wrong as I am right. Certainly, I had to dig out the box for my Benz Glider and try to translate what I found there into what I saw on the bottom of the unit. Having worked for an electronics firm for the last 20 years, I suppose this should be easy, but I’m in sales.. so.. Some Googling and a little bit of trial and error later, I was getting a good sound level with no discernible distortion.. in fact, I was getting no distortion, or noise of any kind..The Leema is amazingly quiet, quite remarkably so..
I decided to use the unit stand-alone, rather than using my step-up into the MM input. That is after all what the unit was designed for, and indeed how I suspect the large majority will be used. There is a mono/stereo switch on the front, power to the rear. I would have preferred that the other way round, but as it’s a solid state unit I doubt any Polar bears were harmed in the making of this review.
Grabbing my big black CD of Daniel Avery’s Drone logic I sat back and was instantly struck by the layers of detail being retrieved from the groove. I normally use a valve phono stage (puresound P10 and T10 step-up) which is a nice foil to my fast and pacey Leema Antilla CD player. Some days I want that visceral attack, other times I want a bit of a smoother ride. The Leema Phono stage brought that drive and attack into my vinyl replay and exposed a trait of my cartridge many have commented on, but I have never noticed for myself. The slightly dry and highly revealing nature of the cart was amplified by the highly revealing nature of the phono stage. Bass was taut and pacey, mid range actually had good projection and the treble was quick and incisive. This is a very HiFi sounding bit of kit. Truth be told, perhaps too much in my system. My Triangle speakers, pre-amp and cartridge are all very revealing. The valves in my phono stage and to some extent the Class A smoothy power amp are very deliberate attempts to tame this. With the Leema installed it was hugely exciting, amazingly revealing, but did become a mite wearing after a couple of hours. It was a case of revealing squared, the speakers and the phono stage became greater than the sum of their parts and rather than compliment each other they were conspiring to damage each others reputations.
To counter this, I went back to my Mulidine Allegretto speakers. They had been looking lonely in the back room since the Triangles arrived, and I had been missing them. It was time to get them singing again and see how they worked with the Leema. This was a far better set up, the silk domed tweeters not reacting so dramatically to the pacey Leema gave a more pleasing sound. Things were still full of pace, and rhythm, but now with less edge..
With things less strident, I decided to re-visit some old James Brown LP’s I’d picked up years ago in a boot sale. They were all pretty well recorded and in surprisingly good nick… And boy did we get up on the good thing, mmm mm.. wowzer.. all that pace really paid off. The Leema really came into it’s own here, dynamics to die for, tonally revealing, controlled bass with depth and at times the sound was quite breathtakingly good. It’s great fun and in the right system would be a keeper for many many years. I was really surprised at how nice the mid-range sounded, often a more dynamic sound is at the expense of a lush mid-range, but that really isn’t the case here, that was probably what stood out more than anything else. It does revealing and warmth, with tonally honest bass reproduction, yet the Leema never brushes over anything.
It was time to rock, clearly the Leema wanted to party, so who am I to deny it the fun? ACDC’s back in black on the spinner, and ooof, hahahah absolutely stunning. It felt like Angus was strutting across my living room. Now this is not a disk that gets much airtime on my Puresound.. what a nice diversion. But all this fun got me worrying, what would the Dianna Krall fans make of this, is it a one trick pony? How does it handle less dynamic source material..Thankfully, Dianna’s voice was beautifully revealed, perhaps not as lush and creamy as with my valve system, but with a nice timbre and a very enjoyable honesty. Guitar notes were particularly noteworthy, nicely balanced volume and clearly defined leading edges, without being overbearing or etched.
The Leema has been fun to use and got me digging in the back of the collection for new experiences, it certainly wasn’t a rock only type device, I went from Wevie Stonder to Faure’s requiem and enjoyed everything I threw at it.
I haven’t heard many solid state phono-stages in this price range, so can’t tell you how it compares to the competition, but in the right system you probably wouldn’t need to shop around much. I could live with it. Happily.
Positives: Reveals exactly whatever your cartridge discovers in the groove. Quiet beyond anything anyone could reasonably expect. Great pace. Quality mid-range. Bass notes fully revealed.
Negatives: May need sympathetic system matching.
Discussion thread here: http://www.hifiwigwam.com/showthread.php?115873-Leema-elements-Ultra-phono-stage-and-Synergy-lessons&p=2028940#post2028940
Sensitivity MM: 2mV / 4mV RMS (42/36dB)
Sensitivity MC: 75 / 125 / 150 / 175 / 250 / 350 / 500uV / 1mV (28/24/21/18 dB + MM gain setting)
Resistive Loads MM: 47k/100k Note: all MC loads may also be applied to MM input.
Resistive Loads MC: 47/49/54/57/64/68/77/83/97/107/132/152/209/264/497/1k
Capacitive Loads MM/MC: 47/94/147/194/267/314/367/414/517/564/617/664/737/784/837/884 pF
Nominal Output Level Unbalanced RCA/Cinch: 250mV RMS
Nominal Output Level Balanced XLR: 500mV RMS