• Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

Technology Digital

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Leak Unveils More Vintage Hi-Fi With Cutting-Edge Audio Technology

Founded in 1934, LEAK became one of the biggest names in mid-twentieth-century hi-fi. In 2020, the company was reborn with the launch of its first new product since the 1970s. The LEAK Stereo 130 integrated amplifier and LEAK CDT CD transport generated plenty of interest dues to the combination of vintage styling and state-of-the-art audio circuitry.

As 2022 draws to a close, LEAK has announced a third audio component: the Stereo 230 integrated amplifier. Designed as a step-up model from the Stereo 130, the new amplifier has upgraded circuitry and more power, plus it features an enhanced DAC for digital sources. However, it still has that classic vintage LEAK styling that made the brand so successful in the 1970s.

Completely modernized on the inside, the current LEAK Stereo 130’s wood-clad exterior design directly connects to the company’s Stereo 30 integrated amplifier, the first commercially available all-transistor amplifier when it launched in 1963, around the same time as the Beatles were stoking the files of Beatlemania. Jimi Hendrix and many other stars from the 1960s music scene owned this groundbreaking amp.

The new Stereo 230 integrated amp from the front looks almost identical to the Stereo 130. It has the same aluminum front panel and tactile controls and the same optional walnut wood enclosure to complete the classic LEAK look. Its width and height are the same, but the new amp is 14cm deeper to accommodate its enhanced circuitry and greater power output.

Like the Stereo 130, the new amplifier’s built-in DAC circuitry is suited to digital sources such as PCs and Macs, smartphones and tablets, network streamers and CD players – including LEAK’s own CDT transport. It also offers the convenience of Bluetooth, supporting the latest Bluetooth 5 standard and multiple codecs, including aptX and AAC.

Regarding analog inputs, the Stereo 230 has two line-level stereo RCA inputs, plus an MM phono input. Vinyl lovers will appreciate the built-in phono stage with its high-quality, low-noise, JFET-based circuit.

The digital inputs include an asynchronous USB Type B and a couple of S/PDIF inputs (one coaxial and one optical), plus HDMI ARC for amplifying the audio from a TV. The Stereo 230 has an upgrade on the DAC used in the 130 thanks to a top-spec ES9038Q2M chipset from the 32-bit Sabre family.

The DAC is accompanied by proprietary circuitry to make the most of ESS Technology’s HyperStream II architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator for ultra-low noise and high dynamic range. LEAK’s design team has also paid attention to the post-DAC active filter, using op-amps chosen for their synergy with the Sabre DAC.

There is hi-res digital audio support for handling PCM files up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD to 22.58MHz (DSD512). The MQA streaming technology used by Tidal’s ‘HiFi Plus’ tier is also supported, with full decoding enabling the complete ‘three unfold’ decoding process to be performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’. The Stereo 230 is also officially ‘Roon Tested’, ensuring it works seamlessly in a Roon audio environment.

At its core of the LEAK Stereo 230 is a Class AB power stage arranged in a dual-parallel configuration to deliver 75W per channel into 8Ω, and 115W per channel into 4Ω. A substantial and low noise 270VA toroidal transformer is followed by 2 x 15000uF reservoir capacity, helping the Stereo 230 to keep a firm grip on the music while enabling excellent dynamic range.

A feature passed down from the original Stereo 30 to the Stereo 130, and now the Stereo 230 is proper bass and treble tone controls. These enable the sound to be tailored to suit the characteristics of both analog and digital sources. The tone controls can be bypassed to deliver the shortest possible signal path to the precision analog volume control, driven by a high-quality motorized ALPS potentiometer.

LEAK says that the Stereo 230’s output power and sonic ability make it a perfect partner for all manner of loudspeakers, not least the Heritage Series models from LEAK’s sister-company Wharfedale; the Wharfdale Linton speakers share the Stereo 230’s classic 1960s-inspired design and walnut wood finish. The forthcoming Windsor speakers from Castle Acoustics, set for launch in early 2023, are also a perfect match.

Headphone listeners are equally well served by the Stereo 230’s dedicated headphone amp. With its current-feedback design and high slew rate, the output is dynamic and detailed across various headphone types.

Much effort has gone into the physical layout of the Stereo 230’s circuitry, protecting the sensitive preamp section from noise interference. This, along with the use of independent low-noise power supplies for all critical stages, helps the amplifier excel across various digital and analog sources.

The arrival of the Stereo 230 integrated amplifier takes the revived LEAK brand to new levels of power and quality. It can handle everything from vinyl and CDs to music streamed from computers and smart devices through a wide range of speakers and headphones. However, LEAK claims this amplifier puts the music first despite its versatility. Whatever the source, its performance is consistently engaging, maturely refined, richly detailed, and fluidly dynamic.

Pricing & Availability: The LEAK Stereo 230 integrated amplifier will be available from January 2023, with or without the optional walnut wood enclosure, priced at $ $1,699 / £1,249 / €1,499 and $1,499 / £1,099 / €1,299 without.

More info: leak-hifi.co.uk

Tech Specs:

  • Digital audio inputs: 1 x USB-B, 1 x HDMI ARC, 1 x optical, 1 x coaxial, Bluetooth 5.
  • Analog audio inputs: 2 x RCA line-level; 1x MM phono.
  • Digital audio outputs: 1 x optical, 1 x coaxial.
  • Analog audio outputs: 1 x RCA pre-out, 1 x headphone out, speaker binding posts.
  • Other inputs/outputs: 1 x USB-A firmware update port; 12V trigger in/out.
  • Hi-res support – USB input: PCM 768kHz, DSD512, full MQA decoding.
  • Hi-res support – S/PDIF inputs PCM 192kHz, full MQA decoding.
  • Power output: 2 x 75W RMS (8Ω) / 2x 115W RMS (4Ω).
  • Dimensions with wood enclosure (WxHxD): 328x147x414mm.
  • Dimensions without wood enclosure (WxHxD): 300x115x414mm.

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