Leema Acoustics’ Elements High-Resolution Streamer is the Welsh brand’s mid-level streamer. Here Alan Mcintosh puts it through its paces.

With many streamer manufacturers in a market offering all sort of bells and whistles it’s always nice to be sent a somewhat understated product who’s designers seem to be “all about the music”,  and less about the bling. I’m a big fan of good quality Hi-res offerings and streamers, and being well aware of their pedigree I was very excited to hear what the Leema Elements Streamer could do.  Although I really do wish they had called it the Leema Streema.

CONSTRUCTION

The smashing together of the first names of its proprietors Lee (Taylor) and Mallory (Nichols), 2 ex BBC engineers gives us the name Leema Acoustics, who since 1998 have been producing very highly regarded HiFi components from speakers to amplifiers and all in between.  Manufactured here in the UK (Wales to be precise) their Elements Range is mid-range, nestled between their Reference and Essential lines but as a mid-range offering its no “also ran” – quite the opposite! I first saw and heard Leema at the North West Audio show a couple of years back and was always very impressed, as were many visitors in their rooms, so it was great to get my hands on one of their boxes.

The Elements form factor is a half-width, full depth design meaning you could fit 2 such boxes on one traditional HiFi shelf should you wish. Options are Black or Silver (I have black for review) and apart from the striking Leema icon and a blue led to signal power, the front face is devoid of anything else, no knobs, buttons, LED/ HD screens – just simple, solid built and, well,  quite classy looking.

With the well know ESS Sabre 9018 technology at its heart and leveraging ESS’s 32-bit Hyperstream and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator technology, the focus is on delivering great clarity of reproduction. It supports resolutions to 24 bit/192kHz and up to DSD64, but not MQA (not an issue for me as I don’t stream MQA anyway).

The Elements Streamer usess the same streaming module as Leema’s Quasar streaming amp and supports Qobuz ,Tidal, Deezer, Spotify and vTuner Internet radio ( a great addition!) –plenty on offer here for all listeners. For those who seek even more you can also stream from Dropbox, Onedrive (albeit at risk of delays due to their servers) and from a connected USB drive – Leema even provide that cable – and of course can pull streams from Leema’s own Sirius server or your own NAS drive.

As combined DAC and Streamer module allowing it to operate as a standalone solution plugged straight into your amplifier via both balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA, or it can be used as a Streaming transport and connected to your DAC of choice via Optical or Coax/SPDIF – no USB DAC connection option is available.  This offers some real flexibility in a world of many boxes and components swapping that a lot of us inhabit. Both wired and wireless connectivity are offered, however, Leema recommends wired and very kindly supply a decent Cat 5e cable saving me scuttling around my house for a spare one. The only connection missing for some is a digital in which I know a number of buyers would perhaps find useful for a CD Transport.

Two Wi-Fi antennae are also provided to support a strong signal and to make connecting simple a WPS button eases the whole router pairing malarkey that can flummox some. Wired set up as well is super easy via the app.

Power is handled by an internal toroid to avoid associated issues with inferior switching type / wall wart PSU’s.

Setup and control is handled via the MConnect Control app, a universal UPnP/DLNA streamer controller available from app stores (both iOS and Android) allowing for connection to multiple compatible devices and online services as well as functions like zoning to group devices.

Overall it’s a decent controller, but for users of say Lightening DS, Kazoo or Roon you will find it a teeny bit lacking and not always the most intuitive – queuing of tracks can be a little painful but connection to services, search and other main functions are smooth and I’ve not had any instability or crashing which can ruin the streaming experience and is still not uncommon in some apps.

SOUND QUALITY

For comparison I’ll be reviewing the Elements Streamer vs my Auralic Aries G1 Streaming Transport + Hegel’s integrated (and excellent) DAC in the H190 amplifier and I’ll be testing it both as an integrated Streamer/DAC and also as a standalone streamer feeding the Hegel DAC. The Leema comes in around £500 lower than the Aries G1 and that is taken into consideration.

After letting the Leema settle in for a week or so I got down to the job of critical listening, running at high enough volumes that I could still enjoy it but enough that allows me to hear the acoustic and dynamic changes if any. Running the Streamer via analogue outputs to take advantage of its internal DAC and playing well-known to me Qobuz playlists for testing it was obvious from the outset that the Leema presentation is very good. Overall dynamics are great, clarity is obvious and moreover music is presented with a strong bottom end bass and weight that it carries that often sought after organic sound and feel. Via the Van Den Hul XLR the impact is slightly improved, but the RCA offering is still very good. When compared to the Aries G1+Hegel’s integrated DAC it’s in that lower end weight that the differences are most apparent.

The G1 presenting an ever so slightly more resolved sound but in a possibly more clinical wrapper, the Leema that bit slightly “warmer” and denser in presentation, but also clear and detailed and so really it’s about personal taste and about paired components such as amp and speakers. At times the Leema really put a smile on my face with its “oomph” factor, particularly when trying bass heavy pieces such as the Bladerunner 2049 OST (a serious system tester).  In this setup I was able to switch back and forth between the Aries and the Leema while streaming the same track, from the same service at the same time so comparison was very easy. Simple Minds’ Someone Somewhere (In summertime) vs its vinyl Mofi Analogue twin was scarily good! Deep dynamics, rich warm bassline but no laziness in the mids and in faster paced sections it performed with ease.

When I moved to running the Leema via the Hagel H190 integrated DAC the differences were less obvious but still evident, the implementation in the Leema of the now slightly older ESS 9018 chipset I feel is the origin of this, as well I am sure their great engineering throughout the unit. Personally, I feel that the newer chipsets chase uber transparency and ultra-low noise, millions of “taps” etc they may have lost some of their organic signature – of course, this is subjective and will vary by vendor. I love a super clear, clean sound so this is no negative for me but many seek their digital to sound “analogue” and so make their choices based on that.

Streaming the 24bit/44.1kHz Qobuz stream of Sonny Rollins’ mighty work Saxophone Colossus (which I also run on a Tape Project Master copy on ¼”, 15ips reel to reel Tape for comparison) it’s big and powerful and refined – Max Roach’s opening drums resonating beautifully but with that tight drum skin thwack. Doug Watkin’s bass is tight but deeply presented so much you can almost see his fingers playing over it and Sonny’s pieces delivered beautifully again with that bold, organic signature that the Leema seems to have in spades. Staging and imaging is presented very well throughout playback, especially evident in Van Gelders productions, where you can place every player in a 3D space so well. For some digital lovers, used to clinical delivery, the Leema may come across as a little on the warm/full side but certainly it’s not muddy or lacking, for those seeking a more analogue sound from digital, but not wanting to lose the resolution and detail Hi-res can bring this is a no-brainer! This is digital done right! 

CONCLUSION

I really like this streamer! Really, really like it!  It’s understated, the price point for me is spot on and I think its sound will appeal to many who don’t traditionally enjoy the “digital” signature sound of many DAC’s – this is among the most organic sounding systems I’ve enjoyed and I am really torn between it and my beloved Auralic. If your budget is anywhere up to £1500 you must audition the Leema Streamer – your ears will thank you! OK, it doesn’t offer album art which is one reason I still prefer my Aries but it works VERY well, has great connection options and simply sounds superb.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Solid, sleek, great number of outputs and control app dies the job well. Class-leading implementation of ESS 9018 chipset but some may seek the 9038 or a more modern FPGA implementation.

Sound Quality: Superb. Plain and simple. Powerful, bold, organic but not lacking in detail – foot-tapping goodness in spades particularly using the internal DAC, but also excels with XLR analogue.

Value For Money: Very good at the price point given the range of quality outputs and sound quality which really is superb and offers a warmth some others don’t.

Pros : Stonkingly beautiful sounding streamer, easy to use, works “out the box” with minimal faff, great selection of outputs and available streaming services. All necessary Cat5e/USB cables provided

Cons: Some may find the 3rd party app packs a certain elegance but that’s me being super-critical. No album art or MQA support which divide some new buyers. Some may miss a digital input for tying a CD transport.

*Please note that the streamer is now Roon-enabled so it can be used as a Roon endpoint or you can use Bubble uPnP as a control point, to get full album artwork. You would only have to use the supplied mControl app to access the set-up pages/firmware update, otherwise, any UPNP/DNLA control point (CP) app should work OK.

Price: Around £1295 rrp but deals are around online.

 

 

 

 

 

Alan McIntosh

Review Equipment: Hegel H190 Integrated Amplifier, Amphion Argon 3s Loudspeakers, WyWires Blue speaker cables and Analogue RCA. Van Den Hull 3T – The Mountain balanced XLR, Chord Shawline Coax/SPDIF. Titan Audio power distribution.  Auralic Aries G1 streaming transport for comparison.

Specifications :

WxHxD :200 x 88 x 340mm

Weight 2.5kg

24-bit/192kHz and DSD64- capable DAC

Digital outputs: 1x optical; 1x coaxial

Analogue Outputs : 1x balanced XLR, 1 unbalanced RCA

Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Spotify Connect and vTuner support

Wired and Wireless operation

USB A for Hard Drive connection

Remote : No – App driven

 

 

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