Reviews

Review: Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier- A Vintage-Inspired Modern Marvel

Review: Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier- A Vintage Inspired Modern Marvel- Leak Stereo 230: Vintage allure meets modern sophistication. Unveil the sonic journey within this amplifier, a harmonious blend of heritage and innovation.

Capturing the Spirit of the Golden Era

Step into the realm where vintage aesthetics harmoniously meet modern audio innovation – the Leak Stereo 230 amplifier. With a design reminiscent of the golden era of high fidelity in the 50s and 60s, the Stereo 230 pays homage to its ancestor, the iconic Leak Stereo 30. Resurrected in 2020 as part of the International Audio Group, the Stereo 230 seamlessly blends retro charm with cutting-edge features. As we delve into the intricacies of this amplifier, prepare to be immersed in a sonic experience that transcends time, offering a nod to the past while embracing the technological advancements of the present.

In this exploration, we unravel the layers of the Stereo 230, discovering not only its vintage-inspired exterior but also the sophisticated technology it conceals within. From its historical roots to its contemporary capabilities, the Leak Stereo 230 invites us to appreciate the evolution of audio amplification. Join us as we navigate through its design elements, features, and the unique character it brings to the world of modern audio enthusiasts.

A Resurgence of Heritage: The Revival of Leak in the Modern Era: The resurgence of Leak in 2020 under the International Audio Group banner breathes new life into the legacy of a brand deeply entrenched in the history of audio excellence. Once a symbol of luxury with the iconic Leak Stereo 30 in the 1960s, Leak closed its doors in 1979, only to reemerge decades later. The International Audio Group brings fresh vitality to the vintage-loving audiophile community, reviving the essence of Leak and integrating it seamlessly into the contemporary landscape. The reintroduction of classics like the Stereo 230 demonstrates a commitment to preserving the brand’s rich heritage while infusing it with the technological prowess demanded by today’s discerning audio enthusiasts.

Specification

General DescriptionIntegrated Amplifier
Design Philosophy and Core Technology· 2 x 75W (8ohm) / 2 x 115W (4ohm) Class AB
· ST MOSFET TDA7293 Dual Parallel Amplifier
· ES9038Q2M 32-bit DAC
· Built-in Certified Hardware MQA Full Decoder (PC USB, Coax, Optical)
· Support Bluetooth 5.0 (aptX / aptX LL) streaming
· Low Noise Moving Magnet Phono stage
· Dedicated Current-Feedback Headphone AMP
· Support USB Upgrade
Inputs2 x Analogue, 1 x Phono (MM), 1 x SPDIF (Coax), 1 x SPDIF (Optical), 1 x HDMI ARC,
1 x PC USB (USB B), 1 x Bluetooth (aptX/aptX LL), 1 x 12V Trigger
Outputs1 x PRE Amplifier, 1 x Stereo Speaker, 1 x Headphone, 1 x 12V Trigger
Sampling FrequencyOptical/Coaxial: 44.1kHz —192kHz
PC USB: 44.1kHz-768kHz (PCM) / DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, DSD512
Preamplifier Section
Gain+41dB (Phono MM)
Input Sensitivity550mV (Line, Volume =MAX)
4.8mV (Phone MM, Volume=MAX)
Input Impedance10K (Line)
47K // 100pF (Phono MM)
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)<0.001% (1kHz @2V, TONE=On)
Frequency Response20Hz-20kHz (+/-0.1dB)
Output Voltage2.3V max. (Volume = MAX)
Output Impedance100ohm
Signal-to-Noise Ratio>110dB (Line, A-weighted); >75dB (Phono MM, A-weighted)
DAC
D/A-converterES9038Q2M
Total harmonic distortion<0.002%
Output level2.3 Vrms
Max. Sampling frequencyOptical, Coaxial: 192kHz, PC USB: PCM768kHz, DSD512
Signal to noise ratio>115 dB
Amplifier power
Gain+32dB
Rated output power2x 75W (8 ohm), 2x 115W (4 ohm)
Frequency range20Hz – 20kHz
Total harmonic distortion<0.003%
Input sensitivity550mV
Signal to noise ratio>109 dB
Headphone amplifier
Total harmonic distortion<0.01%
Output impedance4.7 ohm
Impedance load16 – 600 ohm
General
Standby power consumption<0.5W
Dimensions (depth x width x height)414mm x 300mm x 115mm (silver)
414 mm x 328 mm x 147 mm (walnoot)
Weight11.1 kg (silver)
12.7 kg (walnut)

Craftsmanship and Design Excellence: The Intricate Tapestry of Leak Stereo 230

The Leak Stereo 230 is a testament to meticulous craftsmanship and unparalleled build quality, seamlessly marrying vintage charm with contemporary finesse. Encased in a walnut veneer housing, the amplifier exudes an air of sophistication, inviting a tactile exploration of its surfaces. The optional, clean walnut veneer showcases a precision in craftsmanship that fits like a tailored suit, ensuring seamless integration into any audiophile’s environment.

The design aesthetic of the Stereo 230 is a carefully curated homage to the golden years of high fidelity. Its retro-inspired facade, with grille inserts on the top and bottom, serves a functional purpose in efficient convection-driven cooling and adds a touch of elegance to its overall appearance. The layout is intuitive, with insulated screw terminals for speaker connections dominating the rear panel, reflecting a commitment to user-friendly functionality.

Upon closer inspection, the internal structure’s attention to detail becomes evident. The amplifier draws power from a massive toroidal transformer, contributing significantly to its robust 12.7-kilogram weight. The components are meticulously arranged, showcasing an organized and thoughtful design that prioritizes aesthetics and functionality.

From the retro-inspired exterior to the thoughtful internal layout, the Leak Stereo 230 is a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship. It’s a nostalgic journey for those who appreciate the classic elegance of the past, seamlessly fused with the precision and attention to detail demanded by today’s audiophiles.

Modern Ingenuity Within a Vintage Veil: Leak Stereo 230’s Contemporary Resurgence

The Leak Stereo 230 ingeniously encapsulates cutting-edge technology within its vintage-inspired exterior, creating a harmonious blend of the old and the new. While the walnut housing exudes the warmth of mid-century design, the internal components tell a tale of modern innovation, marking a resurgence of the classic Leak lineage in the 21st century.

At first glance, the Stereo 230’s retro charm is undeniable, with a design that pays homage to the golden era of high fidelity. The walnut veneer, available as an optional touch, not only enhances the aesthetic appeal but also resonates with the vintage sensibilities of audiophiles seeking a visual synergy with their mid-century furnishings.

Beneath this timeless exterior lies a state-of-the-art amplifier equipped for the demands of contemporary audio enthusiasts. Integrating a phono input caters to vinyl fans, while a headphone amplifier acknowledges the growing popularity of personal audio experiences. These modern facets, seamlessly embedded within the retro shell, emphasize the adaptability of the Stereo 230 to diverse audio preferences.

The true marvel lies in the amplifier’s digital department. While maintaining the classic facade, Leak incorporates a sophisticated DAC, HDMI-ARC, and an asynchronous USB-A input, embracing the digital age without compromising the vintage aesthetic. This blend of old-world charm and modern functionality positions the Leak Stereo 230 as a bridge between audiophile nostalgia and the technological demands of contemporary audio immersion, making it a standout in retro-inspired audio equipment.

Immersive Reverie: Unveiling the Sonic Tapestry of Leak Stereo 230

Embarking on a listening journey with the Leak Stereo 230 is akin to traversing through the corridors of history while tethered to the pulse of modernity. As this amplifier recreates the nostalgic nuances of the past, it also unveils a sonic tapestry that resonates with the discerning ears of today’s audiophiles.

The Stereo 230’s inclination towards smaller ensembles and quieter tones harkens back to an era where the nuances of music were cherished. The amplifier’s adept handling of Lana Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell” exemplifies its ability to delicately convey distant vocals reminiscent of a time when the spatiality of sound was a prized characteristic in audio reproduction.

Yet, within this historical nod, the Stereo 230 introduces its character. A subtle and noble pallor emerges, adding a touch of warmth to the mid and lower frequencies. While softening the edges of shrill recordings, this unique voicing invites a sense of familiarity akin to the cozy soundscapes of yesteryears. It becomes apparent that while creating a thoroughly modern amplifier, the development team has not forgotten the historical model that laid the foundation for this sonic journey.

Comparisons with the Musical Fidelity M3si highlight the Stereo 230’s distinctive character. As the listening test progresses, the Leak’s penchant for smaller ensembles becomes apparent, casting a spell that imbues voices with touching substance and the stereo image with an alluring spatial depth.

In essence, the Leak Stereo 230’s listening experience is not merely a rendition of music; it’s a nostalgic embrace, a sonic nod to the historical roots of high fidelity, all enveloped in the contemporary prowess of a 2020s integrated amplifier. It’s a reminder that, even in the world of modern audio, the echoes of the past continue to shape the symphony of our present.

A Symphony of Precision: Unveiling the Digital Mastery within Leak Stereo 230

Within the heart of the Leak Stereo 230 lies a realm of digital expertise, where the amplifier transcends its vintage-inspired facade and steps into the forefront of modern audio innovation. Integrating a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) elevates the listening experience to unprecedented heights, offering a showcase of delights that redefine the boundaries of sonic excellence.

The DAC embedded within the Stereo 230 is a paragon of technological sophistication. Boasting an ESS9038, a 32-bit device with native DSD support and an effective jitter suppression circuit, it promises clarity and precision that aligns with the highest standards of contemporary audio reproduction. This component, a gem within the amplifier’s architecture, epitomizes the commitment to delivering audio in its purest form.

The USB port emerges as the gateway to audiophile nirvana, offering asynchronous and inherently stable data transfer capabilities. The Leak Stereo 230 leverages the USB interface to deliver gripping, juicy, and smooth sound when connected to a computer or a streaming bridge. The marriage of cutting-edge technology with the nostalgic resonance of the past creates a sonic symphony that captivates the most discerning ears.

Notably, the DAC’s capabilities extend beyond the realms of conventional audio. With support for resolutions up to 768 kHz sampling rate and 32-bit word width for PCM signals, the Leak Stereo 230 positions itself at the pinnacle of digital audio reproduction. The amplifier’s ability to accept DSD streams with clock rates up to 22.6 megahertz, including the elusive DSD512, reflects a commitment to embracing the highest possible resolutions available in the digital domain.

To crown its digital prowess, the Leak Stereo 230 includes full MQA decoding, adding a touch of royalty to its repertoire. The LED ring of the input selector subtly signals the amplifier’s ability to unfold MQA streams, transitioning from amber for standard USB playback to royal blue for MQA Studio files, certifying an unparalleled commitment to audio fidelity.

In essence, the Digital Expertise of the Leak Stereo 230 goes beyond mere technical specifications. It crafts an immersive sonic journey where every note, every pause, and every nuance is meticulously sculpted to transport the listener into a realm where the boundaries between the past and the future of audio dissolve into an ethereal symphony.

Unveiling the Technological Tapestry: Delving into Leak Stereo 230’s Inner Workings

Behind the captivating retro facade of the Leak Stereo 230 lies a meticulously orchestrated symphony of technological prowess, weaving together components that marry the nostalgia of the past with the demands of modern audio fidelity. As we peer into the amplifier’s inner workings, a panorama of technical insights unfolds, showcasing a fusion of legacy and innovation.

The power amplifier, acting as the beating heart of the Stereo 230, draws power from a substantial toroidal transformer, imparting a sense of robustness to the entire structure. This massive transformer, a cornerstone of the amplifier’s 12.7-kilogram weight, signifies a commitment to stability and efficiency, harkening back to a time when build quality was paramount.

The power amplifier design reveals a reliance on-chip power amplifiers, specifically the TDA7293. While not a groundbreaking revelation, Leak employs a tried-and-true approach by connecting two TDAs per channel in parallel. This configuration increases power delivery capabilities and attests to the amplifier’s dedication to extracting optimal performance from each component.

The integration of stable, insulated screw terminals for speaker connections dominates the rear panel, reflecting a commitment to durability and user-friendly functionality. The internal structure mirrors this dedication, showcasing an organized arrangement that speaks to the amplifier’s efficiency in form and function.

Upon closer inspection, the Leak Stereo 230 unveils its character through the choice of chip power amplifiers – the TDA7293, known for its reliability and performance. While not necessarily groundbreaking for its price category, the amplifier demonstrates that even a familiar component can yield exceptional results when approached with precision and ingenuity.

The Stereo 230’s dynamism becomes apparent as it approaches its limits, maintaining a softer, more diffuse sound character well before reaching peak performance. This “old-fashioned” approach offers a departure from the clinical precision of some modern amplifiers, instead delivering a tonal warmth reminiscent of bygone eras.

The Leak Stereo 230’s technical insights go beyond mere specifications. They represent a deliberate choice to infuse the amplifier with a distinct character, where the limits are approached gracefully, reminiscent of a time when the journey mattered as much as the destination in audio fidelity.

Seamless Integration: The Connectivity Symphony of Leak Stereo 230

The Leak Stereo 230, beyond its sonic prowess, stands as a beacon of connectivity innovation, seamlessly integrating both analog and digital realms to offer a comprehensive audio experience. The amplifier’s rear panel unfolds like a well-orchestrated composition, providing users with an array of options to connect, control, and immerse themselves in the world of audio.

On the right side of the rear panel, analog interfaces reign supreme. Two high-level inputs, a phono input and a pre-out for additional power amplifiers or subwoofers, are thoughtfully grouped, reflecting an understanding of the diverse needs of audiophiles. The phono input, utilizing two OP amp ICs, including JFET technology, introduces a touch of retro authenticity while maintaining exemplary low noise, ideal for those reveling in the analog resurgence.

On the left side, the digital connections carve a modern path. Coaxial and optical inputs, HDMI-ARC, and an asynchronous USB-A input beckon users into the digital frontier. This thoughtful segregation of analog and digital interfaces simplifies cable management and aligns with the amplifier’s commitment to flexibility.

The HDMI-ARC functionality streamlines connections with televisions and adds a layer of convenience by syncing with TV remote controls. As the TV turns on, the Leak Stereo 230 awakens, switching to HDMI input and obeying volume commands, illustrating a marriage of vintage aesthetics with modern usability.

The USB port emerges as a gateway to unparalleled sound quality. The asynchronous and inherently stable data transfer from computers or streaming bridges ensures optimal performance, supporting resolutions up to 768 kHz sampling rate and 32-bit word width for PCM signals. Including DSD streams with clock rates up to 22.6 megahertz further positions the Stereo 230 at the pinnacle of digital connectivity.

Bluetooth, nestled on the far left of the input selector, completes the connectivity ensemble, offering aptX quality for wireless audio transmission. Though not rivaling the fidelity of wired connections, it adds a layer of convenience without sacrificing audio quality, catering to those who crave flexibility in their listening setups.

Including eight entrances ensures versatility, allowing users to navigate through various options effortlessly. While occasionally indistinct, the rotary switch is complemented by a remote control for precise selection, and users only need to approach the device for balance and sound settings.

In essence, the Connectivity and Control features of the Leak Stereo 230 resonate with the amplifier’s overarching philosophy — marrying retro aesthetics with modern functionality. It crafts an environment where users can seamlessly navigate through analog nostalgia and digital intricacies, embodying a commitment to providing a versatile and user-friendly audio experience.

Elevating Personal Audio: Leak Stereo 230’s Headphone Amplification and Beyond

Within the sonic sanctuary of the Leak Stereo 230, the experience extends beyond traditional speaker setups, delving into personal audio with a dedicated headphone amplifier. This facet of the amplifier, coupled with its broader audio capabilities, unveils a commitment to versatility, ensuring that every listener, regardless of their preferred listening method, can immerse themselves in the amplifier’s captivating soundstage.

The headphone amplifier within the Stereo 230 is a testament to its flexibility, offering low-impedance support for power-hungry magnetostatic headphones while maintaining prowess with higher-impedance options such as the 600-ohm Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro. This balanced approach allows users to explore a diverse range of headphones, showcasing the amplifier’s adaptability to different impedance levels and headphone types.

In headphone amplification, the Leak Stereo 230 reveals a character that aligns with its performance on traditional speakers. While not inclined towards exuberance, it displays a balanced and casual demeanor, ensuring a harmonious and enjoyable listening experience even with demanding headphones. This versatility is a testament to the amplifier’s commitment to delivering consistent audio quality across varied setups.

Beyond the headphone jack, the Stereo 230 embarks on a broader journey into the intricacies of audio fidelity. Its performance shines when operating within a more minor part of its reserves, ideally suited for speakers with higher efficiency. The amplifier’s ability to coax a nuanced and touching substance from voices and create an alluring spatial depth becomes more pronounced, making it an ideal companion for setups where refinement and subtlety are valued.

The weight and precision of the walnut veneer housing further enhance the experience, ensuring that the visual appeal aligns seamlessly with the sonic journey. While not stealing the spotlight, the headphone amplification integrates seamlessly into the amplifier’s broader narrative, offering users a captivating blend of personal audio and speaker-based listening.

In conclusion, the Headphone Amplification and Beyond feature of the Leak Stereo 230 unfolds a sonic panorama that caters to personal audio enthusiasts and those relishing the classic charm of traditional speaker setups. It is a testament to the amplifier’s commitment to versatility, offering an immersive audio experience regardless of the listener’s preferred avenue into sound.

User-Centric Excellence: The Usability and Unique Features of Leak Stereo 230

The Leak Stereo 230 captivates with its sonic finesse and redefines user experience through thoughtful design and a suite of unique features. From the intuitive control interface to its distinctive capabilities, the amplifier is a testament to user-centric innovation, ensuring audiophiles a seamless and enjoyable journey.

Though occasionally indistinct, the rotary switch is complemented by a remote control, providing users with precise control over inputs and program selection. This user-friendly approach extends to the overall layout of the amplifier, where analog and digital interfaces are intelligently segregated, simplifying the connection process and enhancing overall usability.

A standout feature is the inclusion of full MQA decoding, aligning the Stereo 230 with the latest audio technology. The LED ring around the input selector subtly communicates the amplifier’s ability to unfold MQA streams, adding a visual dimension to the playback experience. This integration of modern audio formats ensures that users can indulge in high-resolution, studio-quality sound, enhancing the amplifier’s allure for audiophiles seeking the best digital audio.

The USB port emerges as a gateway to an optimal sound experience. The amplifier achieves stability and precision in playback through asynchronous data transfer, supporting resolutions up to 768 kHz sampling rate and 32-bit word width for PCM signals. Including DSD streams with clock rates up to 22.6 megahertz further elevates the Stereo 230’s uniqueness, offering a wide range of digital audio possibilities.

The amplifier’s Bluetooth functionality, operating in aptX quality, adds a layer of convenience without compromising on audio quality. While not reaching the fidelity of wired connections, it caters to users who value the flexibility of wireless audio transmission, expanding the Stereo 230’s usability in various listening scenarios.

The combination of analog and digital inputs and the headphone amplifier showcases a comprehensive approach to catering to diverse preferences. Whether one indulges in vinyl playback, embraces the digital realm, or seeks an intimate headphone experience, the Leak Stereo 230 accommodates with finesse.

Moreover, the amplifier’s aesthetic design, including the optional clean walnut veneer, aligns with vintage sensibilities while housing state-of-the-art technology. The integration of cooling features, grille inserts, and a well-defined structure contributes to the amplifier’s overall usability and adds elegance to its visual appeal.

In essence, the usability and unique features of the Leak Stereo 230 redefine what it means to engage with a high-end audio amplifier. From the tactile controls to the integration of cutting-edge audio technologies, every aspect is crafted to enhance the user experience, making the Stereo 230 a standout choice for those who appreciate both form and function in their audio journey.

In Conclusion: A Harmonious Blend of Heritage and Innovation

The Leak Stereo 230 is a testament to the seamless fusion of vintage elegance and contemporary audio excellence. Beyond its captivating retro facade lies a technical marvel that pays homage to the golden age of high fidelity while embracing the demands of the modern audiophile. From its meticulously crafted design and versatile connectivity to the nuanced playback experience, the Stereo 230 exemplifies the harmonious coexistence of heritage and innovation, inviting users to embark on a sonic journey that transcends time.

As history notes resonate within its circuits, the Stereo 230 invites audiophiles to revel in a symphony where the warmth of nostalgia meets the precision of modernity. Whether through the analog charm of its phono input, the digital finesse of its DAC, or the immersive headphone amplification, the amplifier curates a multifaceted experience. In Leak Stereo 230, users don’t merely listen; they partake in an audio odyssey, where the past and present converge to create a timeless masterpiece for discerning ears.

Reasons to Consider the Leak Stereo 230:

  • Vintage Aesthetic: Elegantly blends retro charm with modern features, making it a visual centerpiece for vintage-inspired setups.
  • Comprehensive Connectivity: Versatile options, from analog to digital interfaces, ensure compatibility with various audio sources.
  • Unique Sonic Character: Exhibits a distinctive warmth and spatial depth, particularly favorable for smaller ensembles and quieter tones.
  • Digital Expertise: High-end DAC, USB capabilities, and MQA decoding provide an immersive digital audio experience.
  • Thoughtful Design: Meticulous craftsmanship, intuitive controls, and the inclusion of a headphone amplifier enhance user experience.

Considerations:

  • Niche Sound Preference: Its character may not suit those seeking clinical precision, as it tends towards a softer, warmer sonic signature.
  • Bass Performance: Some users may find the bass less extended or rhythmically compelling than alternatives.
  • Price Point: While offering a unique blend of features, the cost may be a factor for those on a strict budget.

Overall Verdict: The Leak Stereo 230 caters to audiophiles who appreciate a vintage aesthetic, nuanced sound character, and comprehensive modern features. While its unique sonic profile may not be for everyone, it is an intriguing choice for those seeking a harmonious marriage of heritage and innovation.