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Leben CS300xs - a dissenting opinion


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#1 robin-hobart

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 05:49 PM

Hope I'm not treading on the toes of anyone trying to sell a Leben.....
But as far as I can tell
(1) there are no active Leben sellers ATM and
(2) this forum is supposedly about sharing advice, experience & opinions.
So;
The upshot being that I have now owned a Leben CS300-XS for some 18 months, from new and, in a nutshell, am very disappointed with it. Unimpressed, even.
Total usage, in the time I have owned it, might be somewhere in the range 100 - 200 hours. I have several amps.
This across a wide range of speakers, including vintage models such as the Spendor SP1, Tannoy 12" HPDs and Rogers JR149.
Don't get me wrong; I think it is a very decent amp - just nothing special.
At various times I have tube rolled, mainly in the driver stage, including trying Military Mullard 12AT7s and 12AU7, but with little discernible difference.
Whilst it has a decent bottom end (much better than the sloppy old Leak Stereo 20 for instance), there is simply no 'magic'; nothing to lift it above the common herd.
In fact, I consider I have a number of amps here, most costing a fraction of the $3.5k I paid for the Leben, which match or exceed its performance.
Recently I sent the Leben to a friend (fiend?) of mine in Melbourne whose ears I trust implicitly. He is an ex-professional musician with a depth of hifi experience most of us can just wonder at.
My thinking was maybe it was a 'synergy' thing; perhaps in his set-up, the Leben would perform differently.
After running the 300xs for three days, he called me today to offer his opinions. And whilst they were much more educated, detailed and specific than my amorphous gut-instincts, the upshot is that he feels exactly the same as I do.
ie, 'Nice' rather than the freak it is usually made out to be in the reviews and marketing.
We are considering experimenting with coupling caps to see if that helps. I like many aspects of the unit (its size, quality of construction, 'feel', simplicity, headphone socket, bass attenuator, etc, etc) and would like to get it to 'sing' if we can.
I am also aware some overseas owners have used V-Caps, Mundorf, in this area. Which also begs the question - why did they feel the need to do this?
I am also interested to note that these amps appear moderately regularly in the For Sale section of this forum - which makes me wonder if I am alone in my conclusions?
(BTW: this is not the first time I have been let down by very highly reviewed equipment and which I have had to return whilst scratching my head.)
Surely my Melbourne buddy and I can't be alone in this dissenting viewpoint.
So, in the interests of frank, open discussion, I would appreciate other users' thoughts on this topic.

Edited by robin-hobart, 23 December 2012 - 08:42 PM.


#2 zipstartcanoe

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 06:00 PM

Robin, I am on the same page. Although I have heard Leben's a few times and think they are nice sounding and attractive amp, I have never understood some of the rampant fanboi-ism. Same with the Trafomatic amps I have listened to.

#3 Audionutz

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 06:31 PM

Another agreement here. I owned a 300 for some time and tried really hard to like it. Rolled tubes madly with some of the best, and most expensive, I could find. It remained uninvolving. Limited dynamic rage along with very tame highs. I could not understand what others saw in it. I have heard 50 yo vintage console amps that sounded better, with less power. I was running Altec 604's at the time too.

Just my 2c worth.

Cheers

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#4 strony

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 06:46 PM

The CS600 is altogether an amp in a different class in my experience. The 300 left me all a little ho hum. I agree.

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#5 mrdave

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 06:58 PM

Not to be an antagonistic arse, but 3.5k is a lot of cheddar for something you are iffy about. Were you seduced by a listen in a different environment and it didn't ever live up to expectations when it arrived home?

#6 soundfan

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 08:31 PM

Nice post Robin.

It's refreshing to hear frank opinions of gear, whether positive or negative. And it seems that you have tried it with a variety of speakers, so IMO it adds weight to YOUR opinion.
I must say I've always wanted to hear the CS300-XS ( and still do), but I'm glad you posted your thoughts.

Chris

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#7 bhobba

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 08:51 PM

I love the Leben but you are not the only one to be unimpressed. No problems - we all like different things. Its euphonic for sure but obviously not to everyone's taste.

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Edited by bhobba, 23 December 2012 - 08:53 PM.

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#8 robin-hobart

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 09:23 PM

Not to be an antagonistic arse, but 3.5k is a lot of cheddar for something you are iffy about. Were you seduced by a listen in a different environment and it didn't ever live up to expectations when it arrived home?

No fool like an old fool might be appropriate :)
Good question Dave;
Down here in the deep South, there is absolutely no chance to audition this sort of thing. So I rely heavily on reviews generally and forums like SNA when purchasing any new kit.
Being retired, I was/am trying hard to fasten down some sort of stable, fixed system that would curtail my endless tinkering and decided this would require considerable more expenditure than I was accustomed to.
So I did my research and after more than a year (having found not a single negative or neutral opinion) decided to go down the Leben / Harbeth path.
(I have also owned several old Leak ST20 tube amps over many years and felt I had a feel for what the Leben might be capable of. So I lashed out rather than die wondering )
At the time I had some Rogers LS7 speakers (which are very much in the thin walled, lossy, 2 cubic foot design vein of the Harbeths), and still have some Whatmough Monitor 202s along with the Spendor SP1s.
None of these rang any chimes for me with the Leben.
That generally disappointing experience plus concerns about importing directly from the UK effectively postponed the planned Harbeth acquisition. Am yet to hear a pair.
Then, about 9 months ago I stumbled upon a pair of Martin Logan Ascents (electrostatic hybrids) locally and they hit the spot very nicely for me. Love at first listen! There is something about dipoles.
I tend to run these with a pair of RWA 70.2 monoblocks and am very happy with the combination.
It has only been recently that I dragged out the Leben, had another go at it, then decided to send it to Melbourne for my buddy's opinion.
His response resulted in my initial post.

#9 mrdave

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 10:06 PM

Fair call Robin, I suspect many of us have made purchases for similar reasons.

Electrostatics and RWAs are a long way away from valves and British monitors.
Glad to hear that's working out for you.

My Weston Acoustics Troubadour and my Rogers LS6es are certainly good friends.
A lot of people rave about EL84s.
I have a pair of PP monos and a stereo SE amp that uses them and I like 'em, but I am not married to them.
I must admit I've never heard anything from the Leben stable. Perhaps the '300 is a little over-rated; people certainly wax happy here about the CS-600.
Maybe the CS300's dozen or so watts really require horns to sing properly.

At the very least, it's nice that your concerns/tastes have been vindicated. Perhaps you should get it onto Audiogon and/or the classifieds here just in time for Christmas.

I'm pretty sure I will have to play the electrostatics game one day :)

Merry Christmas,
D

#10 holdencaulfield2007

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 10:13 PM

Goodonya robin-hobart for offering what seems to be a well informed opinion. I would hate this forum to become a place where anyone should fear sharing an experience they may have had.

#11 RockandorRoll

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 10:30 PM

Wish there were more threads like this on SNA

No one is ever going to be right or wrong, just opinion on what works for you personally.

I love the look of the Leben gear. One day id love to own one. Being in a similar situation to you, with not a lot of opportunity to audition i will probably buy it blind as well.

but, one mans trash is another persons treasure so there will always be a guy looking to take it off your hands.

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#12 djb

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 10:44 PM

Do not know Leben at all.
The phenomenon of sales driven by fans seems to be alive and well on many forums and SNA is no exception.
Maybe two years ago there was a push to promote a lesser known Chinese valve amp here and many owners promoted sales in the classifieds , several sold their self acclaimed amps within a few months too. And the Oz distributor discontinued their affiliation.
I know two oz manufacturers who refuse to even let someone wanting repairs to these amps place the unit on their counter let alone test bench.
Similar stories/concerns have been relayed to me re some small speaker manufacturers. On hearing their much touted products I am not surprised.
Fan boys are a problem. it is dangerous for us to assume that all posters here have the same depth of knowledge

#13 Nada

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 11:12 PM

Respects to Robin for not just offering an opinion that challenges the accepted view but doing this before selling his own Leben.

Edited by Nada, 23 December 2012 - 11:12 PM.

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#14 jojo

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 11:26 PM

Do not know Leben at all.
The phenomenon of sales driven by fans seems to be alive and well on many forums and SNA is no exception.
Maybe two years ago there was a push to promote a lesser known Chinese valve amp here and many owners promoted sales in the classifieds , several sold their self acclaimed amps within a few months too. And the Oz distributor discontinued their affiliation.
I know two oz manufacturers who refuse to even let someone wanting repairs to these amps place the unit on their counter let alone test bench.
Similar stories/concerns have been relayed to me re some small speaker manufacturers. On hearing their much touted products I am not surprised.
Fan boys are a problem. it is dangerous for us to assume that all posters here have the same depth of knowledge


Lets not take it all away from the Leben, its a good valve amp.May be not 3.5 grand good.

#15 Tony M

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 01:15 AM

Kudos to Robin for starting this thread. Not because I have anything against the smaller Leben - I heard one (briefly) at a gtg in about 2006 and it made no impression on me, good or bad. I had come around to thinking it must have considerable merit, given the positive vibes on this forum. Perhaps it has to some (maybe many) people in the right system.

But what's great about this thread is it fearlessly provides another POV, contrary to the general opinion so far. We are here to help each other and we can only do this effectively by being honest with ourselves and others. It's just not feasible in the smaller states to restrict purchases to gear that's been auditioned, let alone at home in our own system. Most of the time its safe and effective to buy something that everyone seems to like - the NAD M51 is the best example I can think of offhand and I'm more than happy with mine. But you have to hope the positive opinions are genuine and not simply purchase justification and that people who have a different experience or opinion are not intimidated from posting because they'd be swimming against the tide of a perceived consensus.

I really appreciate the threads where people present the other side of the story about stuff I have and love - I guess Yamaha NS1000M's and Gale 401's are good examples of this. It matters little to me if someone discounts them as over-hyped, idiosyncratic anachronisms, because I feel comfortable and content with my appreciation and enjoyment of them. It's good to read the dissenting opinions though, especially when they come from people whose opinions I respect. When I listen to the NS1000M's with the Sony Vfet amp, I sense imaging that makes me want to spirit Thomo over from WA, plonk him in the listener's chair and say "Now, try to tell me these things can't image". Would I convert him? - probably not, but I'd love the opportunity to try - and I'd try to understand his POV too. :)

Without dissenting opinions, and an open-minded reception of them, we will all learn a lot less and be poorer for it.

Well done Robin! :thumb:



EDIT: Hey, I just realized posting at 1.45 am is a great way to have the last say on a topic - at least for a while. ;)

Edited by Tony M, 24 December 2012 - 01:32 AM.

Cheers
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#16 John H. Darko

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 01:32 AM

EDIT: Hey, I just realized posting at 1.45 am is a great way to have the last say on a topic - at least for a while. ;)


At least for 47 mins

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#17 Steve M

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 01:37 AM

Not quite the last say Tony! One of the advantages of living in WA is that we get to stay up longer (it's only 11.25pm here).

You see here's the rub with the Leben and I'm wondering what's wrong with it? The CS300 uses the very sweet sounding EL84 tube, it's very hard to get this tube to sound bad. All the EL84 valve amps I've owned have all sounded great. The EL84 sonic signature is that it is sweet and lush, exciting and with excellent clarity. The EL84 sounds like a slightly smoother more refined version of an EL34, which is another great sounding tube.

Robin, I assume you've checked the biassing and tube health on your Leben amp, maybe it's a bit off? Or it could just be a speaker mismatch ...

Regards,

Steve.

Edited by Steve M, 24 December 2012 - 01:44 AM.

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#18 georgehifi

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 06:47 AM

It must have a s**t load of feedback or ringy output transformers on it or something, as look at the response graph 4ohm tap, doesn't matter what the load is it's got a massive peaked rise that starts around 5khz up 20khz. And then look at the 10k square wave, it's allmost gone into occillation, not a very good design from my view.
The 8ohm tap is a bit better controled but still not a good as it should be.

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Edited by georgehifi, 24 December 2012 - 06:50 AM.

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#19 metal beat

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 07:38 AM

I do not believe for Leben you will ever have dealers. Sound labs used to have dealers, however disty and retailer need to make margin, so the retail price was too high.

I believe the Leben products are now competive in pricing, which is great. However, correct me if I am wrong, the disty does not carry STK and will only order with 50% deposit. While Leben is a niche low volume product, with this selling model, why would anyone buy unless they really really wanted it bad.

As far as sound goes, I owned the Leben phono that I bought in Singapore. Why, because the dealer had product to let me listen to, it sounded great and was a **** load cheaper than the then retail dealer pricing model. Leben imo does require a certain type of system with small speakers to really shine. In its new home with auditorium sut, I am sure it sounds superb.

Edited by turntable, 24 December 2012 - 07:39 AM.

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#20 Leon

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 08:03 AM

I do not believe for Leben you will ever have dealers. Sound labs used to have dealers, however disty and retailer need to make margin, so the retail price was too high.

I believe the Leben products are now competive in pricing, which is great. However, correct me if I am wrong, the disty does not carry STK and will only order with 50% deposit. While Leben is a niche low volume product, with this selling model, why would anyone buy unless they really really wanted it bad.


To clarify some things, we now sell direct, some products have dropped $3000- or more since doing this, no plans to change this, sales have increased substantially, so why would we?!

We do actually have most items in stock available for sale or demo. Leben are not a mass manufacturer, they are made by hand and sometimes we have to wait for stock. Currently only the CS-300 (which we rarely sell anyway) and RS-28CX pre-amp are not in stock.

Deposit is asked for when people request an item that is not in stock or they ask for a special order unit. Customers can pay by credit card which is of course protected by the bank in some cases. This we ask for when we do not personally know the person, unfortunately in the past we have ordered high-end items for people which then changed their minds once it arrived.

We also have a demo program, people can buy in stocked products on a test basis and if not happy, return in in the same condition within a few weeks.
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#21 Raksasa

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 08:04 AM

In fact, I consider I have a number of amps here, most costing a fraction of the $3.5k I paid for the Leben, which match or exceed its performance.


Hi Robin, which amps are those ?

Cheers,

R

Edited by Raksasa, 24 December 2012 - 08:04 AM.


#22 bronal

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 08:18 AM

I owned a 300 briefly a couple of years ago. I found it dull and sludgy. A bit like the amps of the 60s it is supposed to emulate.

I will say one thing for it though - it was by far the best amp for dynamic headphones I ever had. I believe some people buy the 300 strictly for this purpose alone.

#23 zipstartcanoe

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:04 AM

I will say one thing for it though - it was by far the best amp for dynamic headphones I ever had. I believe some people buy the 300 strictly for this purpose alone.


To each their own I guess. I looked at the 300 to use solely as a head amp for my LCD2 phones. I much preferred my V200a head amp though. To me, the Violectic sounded far better in every way.

#24 strony

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:09 AM

I agree ZSC - the head section on the Cs600 left me ho hum with my LCD 2's -whereas the head section on the CS600 is amazing with any can. Secondhand the CS 600 is a really good buy.

Best Wishes, Andrew

 

 


#25 Hergest

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:32 AM

I agree ZSC - the head section on the Cs600 left me ho hum with my LCD 2's -whereas the head section on the CS600 is amazing with any can. Secondhand the CS 600 is a really good buy.


I don't understand this post.

#26 metal beat

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:44 AM

To clarify some things, we now sell direct, some products have dropped $3000- or more since doing this, no plans to change this, sales have increased substantially, so why would we?!

We do actually have most items in stock available for sale or demo. Leben are not a mass manufacturer, they are made by hand and sometimes we have to wait for stock. Currently only the CS-300 (which we rarely sell anyway) and RS-28CX pre-amp are not in stock.

Deposit is asked for when people request an item that is not in stock or they ask for a special order unit. Customers can pay by credit card which is of course protected by the bank in some cases. This we ask for when we do not personally know the person, unfortunately in the past we have ordered high-end items for people which then changed their minds once it arrived.

We also have a demo program, people can buy in stocked products on a test basis and if not happy, return in in the same condition within a few weeks.


Thanks for the clarification Leon.

That is great news and that you have stk that can be demoed is better news for the perspective buyer.

cheers

Click-Click Drone


#27 Phantom

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:59 AM

I would also like to thank Robin for listing this thread.
I am pretty sure that a lot of people have had a similar experience when they bought gear that wasn't able to be auditioned before purchase.
Sometimes you do your research and follow your instinct and judgement and mostly you get it right, but once in a while even the best planning and research doesn't make for a great result.

What I do find interesting though, is the near cult standing of the Leben previously on this forum. We can now see that people had some pretty ordinary experiences, but they read all the "happy owner" posts and good reviews and thought it wasn't worth "coming out" or it was just them and in their system.
This proves that it is always a good thing to share experiences, even if you are not boarding the latest band wagon rolling around the joint.

Until this thread I cannot remember ever reading a post about a Leben that wasn't glowing and where the owner wasn't in raptures. It makes ya think.

Very interesting IMO and thanks again to Robin for raising the issue. :thumb:

 


#28 robin-hobart

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 11:16 AM

Well, now I am totally confused.

I wondered about waiting a few days to see what came next before posting this reply but then decided I should, in the interest of fairness and objectivity (if such a thing exists in hifi).
Especially having nailed my dissenting opinion on the Leben to the mainmast.

This morning there was an email from my friend in Melbourne.
He's been experimenting - and seemed a bit excited!
What he's done is insert his NVA (Nene Valley Audio) passive preamp between his CDP and the Leben.
His aim being to see if reducing the output signal from his CDP (from the standard 2v or thereabouts) might help match the Leben's stated input sensitivity of 600mv a bit better.
In his own words:-

" I left the NVA volume at 1 pm and as a result I had to increase the volume of the Leben but ..waw..the sound is so much more hi-fi and so much more detailed and musical.
The amplifier breathes now..before was flat and didnt have much beauty.
And I have a stage and 3D imaging.
In the end, Leben is a very good amplifier.
Very pleased."


Does this insertion make any sense to anyone else? In terms of why it might make a difference? Doesn't to me.
Most amps seem to have an input sensitivity around the same as the Leben's 600 mv; in fact my Sugden A21a has a line input sensitivity of only 170v.

Or maybe he had a few Xmas whiskies....?

Am quite interested now - will wait to see what happens next.

#29 DoggieHowser

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 12:42 PM

I'll say this. Most preamp stages have a minimum level before it would sound good. In some combinations, I can't crank my ARC Reference 5 beyond 40+ before it will shine because the gain, the output of the source and the speaker sensitivities would make the level too loud.

The Ref5SE needs about 30+ to sound good.

This is why I suspect my Plinius power amp sounds better with the lower sensitivity ML2Rs than with my Thiel 3.7s

Some devices like my Ayon CDP have a output gain selector for this reason.

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#30 zipstartcanoe

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 01:49 PM

What I do find interesting though, is the near cult standing of the Leben previously on this forum. We can now see that people had some pretty ordinary experiences, but they read all the "happy owner" posts and good reviews and thought it wasn't worth "coming out" or it was just them and in their system.
This proves that it is always a good thing to share experiences, even if you are not boarding the latest band wagon rolling around the joint.


For me says less about the gear, and more about how unique an individual's audio palate actually is.