Van de Leur Audio is a relatively young company with just two products in their portfolio – the 402 power amplifier and the 002 preamplifier. Both products are designed and hand-built in Holland and the power amplifier is of a class D design using Hypex modules, whilst the preamplifier uses valves. Both units come with a five year guarantee and arrived double boxed and very well packed.
We first bumped into Pim Van de Leur on the last day of the Munich High end show, but we never got more than a cursory listen in less than ideal conditions to what looked like very interesting first products from a young, vital and funky Dutch company. You only need to take a look at the company’s website to see they’re setting themselves apart from the often straight-laced high-end branding that is prevalent.
The 002 preamplifier certainly looks the part with its brushed aluminium fascia, hefty carrying handles and “Van de Leur” engraved top plate. On the front you get a large volume control knob, source selector, a funkyly lit on/off button, a balance control knob and a headphone output.
Move around to the back and you have four line inputs, a home theatre pass through and inputs for both moving coil and moving magnet cartridges – when ordering the 002 you will be asked the MC cartridge brand and model you intend to use and the unit will be set specifically for this cartridge. The moving coil input uses Vanderveen MC10 step up transformers. You get outputs for power amp, record and direct out for connecting to another pre/processor.
All in all the 002 is a very well equipped preamplifier and the included infra-red remote is weighty and well made with just volume up and down buttons.
Tubes used are two E88CCs for the line stage, four 12AT7s for the phono stage and wiring throughout is silver.
Plug the pre in to the mains and the on/off button glows red. Press it and it glows light blue whilst the preamp sets itself up and then brighter blue when ready to use – set up takes a few seconds. Nice!
The 402 power amplifier matches the looks and styling of the 002 preamplifier perfectly and the pairing certainly looks handsome and purposeful on the rack. On the front you get an on/off switch, whilst round the back you have switchable inputs for RCA and balanced XLR. Now this struck me as a bit of an odd one – clearly the 002 and the 402 were created to work together but the preamp doesn’t have the option for balanced XLR output. You also get a pair of Audio Note silver plated speaker connectors which will accept banana or spade connectors.
The amp is dual mono, delivers 2 x 400 watts via its Hypex modules and inside looks very clean and tidy.
Let’s Have a Listen
Naturally the sensible thing to do here is to listen to the preamp and the amp together as they were made to compliment each other. Straight into the main system they go with the VAD DAC, the usual vinyl front ends and the hORN Mummys. First up is an album that’s hardly been off the CD player since it arrived and Sano “Sano”. Bass is deep, bouncy and well controlled with the stereo mix being fairly wide and with good depth – sound effects do jump out from the mix as they should. The overall character is quite “analytical” and very accurate and dynamic which may not be to everyone’s taste and I think this is down to the nature of the Class D amp, but the pre-amp does seem to be tempering this Class D-ishness a tad. Cranking up the volume you get more of the same and you get the impression that the amplifier is barely even breaking a sweat – given its quoted output it certainly shouldn’t be.
Popping on “Apostrophe” by Zappa you get the vocal very much centre stage and slightly forward in the mix. Lead guitar has good attack and decay and is fast in that not lingering in the air kind way that I hate. Instrument separation is very good with instruments being positioned left to right and back to front correctly. Where the Black Pearl integrated we reviewed recently was quite “warm”, with the Van De Leur you seem to get what is on the recording without a great deal of embellishment – some will enjoy this whilst others may find it not to their individual tastes. I suppose like a lot of things we all have our own personal way of preferring how things are done – and the World’s a better place for it! The Van de Leur amplifier certainly could never be accused of being warm in its character; it’s very matter of fact “here’s what you gave me and that’s what you’ll get”.
If you enjoy an accurate portrayal of the studio mix then you’ll love this pairing as there seems to be very little added or taken away. There is certainly plenty of detail in the sound and with “Cosmic Debris” you really can hear everything that’s in the recording – it just hasn’t got that X factor for my taste – some will say that the X factor I’m referring to is an artifice and shouldn’t play a part in true high-fidelity audio reproduction anyway.
On Vibert/Simmonds’ “Rodulate” there is a real power to the music with the machine drum hats sounding just like they do on the actual drum machine. Here I found myself thinking that this would be the perfect amplifier to have in the studio. Bass is deep and powerful and does that stop start thing that I like – no overhang. On complex passages in the mix the pairing is nonplussed and just gets on with banging out what it is presented with without getting befuddled or confused in any way. Sub bass sounds (Room 28 Rap) go LOW and are very well controlled.
I think that what shines through with the Van De Leur pre and amp pairing is that there is an overriding sense of the amp being very much well implemented Class D in that it sounds accurate, fast and detailed …but bit lacking in creating an emotional involvement with the music for my own taste. This is all very subjective I’m well aware and I know lots of people will really love the no nonsense approach to the presentation!
Pop the pre in front of the Tellurium Q Iridium power amplifier (SECA) (at around double the price it has to be said) and here things seem to take a leap towards what I’d consider to be a great pairing. Gone is the sound I’d like to hear in front of a pair of monitors in the studio and out comes a fabulous bit of home audio.
Jean Michel Jarre’s “Sessions 2000” simply comes to life and is the best I’ve heard with any pre in front of the Iridium. The detail is still apparent but the preamplifier doesn’t seem to be there only to give the amp a bit of character as it seemed with the Van de Leur amp in the chain.
The Van de Leur pre adds something to the Iridium that has my own preamplifier cowering in the corner, afraid to show its face – musical is the word I’d use I suppose – gloriously musical!
Fat Freddy’s Drop again comes to life with “Shiverman” bouncing along in the bass department and being nicely controlled too. The reverbed sound effects come out of the mix in a totally 3D fashion and the soundstage is deep with excellent height. Vocals are very clearly defined as being separate to other instruments and the whole thing is wonderfully coherent in a believable home-audio-experience sense. There is delicacy when it’s needed and there is whoomf when it’s needed.
Switching from CD to vinyl and the MM input using the Wilson Benesch Circle turntable, Origin Live Silver arm, the Cartridge Man Music Maker III and the SECA amp in place you are rewarded with a great sense of the music. Hats are snappy, bass is deep and controlled and vocals just sound right. This is certainly a step up from my Electrocompaniet phonostage I hate to say. Gus Gus “Arabian Horse” is deep in the bass, shimmery in the tops and the mid frequencies bring everything together nicely. Vocals leap out from the mix and are correct in tone. There’s masses of detail and a wide and deep soundstage …much more so than with my reference pre and phonostage in place.
Time to switch turntables and over to the Technics 1210, Origin Live Silver arm and Audio Technica EV33 Moving Coil cartridge we go. There’s a little toggle switch on the back of the preamp to switch between moving coil and moving magnet – it would have been nice to have it on the front, but to be fair I’m sure not everyone who buys this pre is going to be switching between MM and MC every five minutes.
Fleetwood Macs old faithful “Rumours” comes out of hiding and there just seems to be a whole lot more of the record there than I’m used to with my pre/phono combo – lots more detail and on “Second Hand News” and there’s an extra layer to the top-end which sounds sublime. “Dreams” is bouncy with the vocal silky and hats sparkling and crisp. I love this album and this is as good as I’ve heard it sounding anywhere with any pre/phono/amp combo. Guitar strumming is fast and controlled and there’s a nagging hi-hat noise that I’ve honestly never been aware of before. The sound is hugely detailed, delicate and yet powerful. “Songbird’s” vocal is wonderfully rendered and the sense of space within the recording is very apparent. Again, as with the MM section of the pre there are certainly no complaints here.
As a bit of an experiment before the Van de Leur amp and preamp are returned to Holland I thought I’d plug them into the little Concept 20 loudspeakers from Q Acoustics – they’re still in the main listening area and firing across the room. Now I wasn’t going to bother with this as price-wise this is a complete mismatch…but how wrong I was. There certainly seems to be a bit of a synergy thing going on here. Yes you’ve still got that overall sense that the amp is Class D but the combination is very pleasing. The amp just seems to grab hold of the little Concept 20s and it drives them really well. Well whoda thunk it – a few hundred quids worth of loudspeakers on the end of €8498 of amp and preamp? Actually I’m a bit gobsmacked by the combo. Bass is rendered tight and controlled on “One Night in Comene” whereas Phantom Limb sounds nice and fast with a lovely velvety rich tone to the vocal. There just seems to be a little more musicality brought out with the 002, 402 and Concept 20 mix than with my Mummy speakers – vocals in particular stand out as being well done, appearing warmer and more rounded, whilst still accurate, but without that analytical feel I mentioned – bass is deep and powerful. There’s definitely more of an emotional connection to the music than with my own speakers. Perhaps a bit of clever loudspeaker partnering with the amp is what is needed to bring out the very best from it!
It’s good to see a headphone amp on a pre and this looks like a feature more and more manufacturers are embracing…and that’s a good thing for occasional headphone users. There are certainly no complaints from me with regards to the headphone output. It drove all the headphones I plugged into it very well and the sound was good, clean and well balanced. For most but the diehard headfi fanatic the included output will be more than satisfactory.
Build of both the 402 amp and the 002 preamplifier is of very high quality and the overall design aesthetics will please many – they manage to pull off that “guy-fi” image whilst maintaining an elegant stance on the rack which will satisfy those in need of keeping domestic bliss. I can see it appealing to those who want to have a fantastic looking bit of kit on display and who want a no nonsense, accurate and powerful reproduction of their music collection.
One of the things I enjoyed about the 002 preamp in particular was the inclusion of a full function phonostage and a headphone amplifier. The phonostage is easily better than my current Electrocompaniet stage and would stand its ground in company of stages up to the £1500 mark, perhaps beyond, I would have said.
In isolation the stand out product here is the preamplifier – it’s musical and has a host of features that add to the usefulness and value. When paired together you have a very competent duo that compliments each other very nicely.
The preamp comes in at €4999 and the amp is €3499 which isn’t a drop in the ocean by most people’s standards, but for your money you get well made, great looking kit that delivers on sound quality. The Class D amp will not be to everyone’s taste I am well aware (some folk just don’t get the Class D sound whilst others do), but even if you aren’t a fan of this implementation you really should give the Van De Leur pairing a serious audition as this is Class D done well.
Author – Stuart Smith