Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A mention of 2 amplifiers

fineTONE was basically created by me with the primary aims of: (1) stirring up interest in music playback, a dying hobby with each passing day; (2) sharing notion that we could attain a thoroughly-satisfying sound without need to spend mega bucks on cost-no-object gears; (3) providing insights of some DIY projects that I have personally undertaken; and lastly (4) penning down thoughts (some could be quite wild indeed) and latest news on the subject of music and audio gears.

The recent emergence of several new audio blogs to the local scene has really been encouraging and should be applauded by us, folks with likewise hobby. It would be redundant, however, if the topics so covered by the local blogs overlap with one another. Consequently, my approach and subjects chosen ought to be radically different!

I am sure that a well-setup (read expensive) system in a dedicated sound room with careful attention paid to room acoustics, racking and power supplies would sound incredibly awesome than more down-to-earth systems residing in the living halls. And such systems would justify the use of exotic cables in attaining micro details, accuracy in tonality (音質) and timbre (音色). However, I am more inclined towards the macro dynamics, PRaT and musicality-as-a-whole perspective. When asked if I would opt for the pre and power separate amplifiers route if I were to upgrade from my present Simaudio Moon i3 integrated amp, my honest answer is, "I don't think so" for I cherish simplicity and minimal box count with lesser cables. I am also consulted as to what integrated amplifiers are to be acquired at a given budget of say RM5,000 and RM8,000. On both occasions, I think I may have answered Krell KAV-400xi, an amplifier readily available locally but I myself would likely bypass it for another 2 amplifiers currently not having any distributorship in Malaysia. My sincere apology. Which 2 amplifiers? The answer is LFD Zero LE Mk4 and Lavardin IS Reference. Sam Tellig of Stereophile pronounced the former amp the best-sounding integrated amp in his review here: http://www.generubinaudio.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/lfd.pdf and his review of the latter amp here: http://www.soundscapehifi.com/lt-stereophile-rev-mar2005.htm. See also the comparison of the latter amp pitted against Naim SuperNAIT: http://forums.naim-audio.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/48019385/m/3732986417 and excerpts of rave reviews compiled by Soundscape Hifi, S'pore: http://www.soundscapehifi.com/lavardin-reviews.htm, all which only made me drool!

Addendum on 01.10.2009:I am flattered to find many responses to my above posting after being away from my desk for one and a half days! I must clarify that fineTONE is merely a blog and not a website comprising of equipment reviews or other uniformed contents. I also opt for a more 'freestyled' approach in subjects covered and have chosen in this posting to mention 2 integrated amplifiers which sparked my interests after reading raved comments by others even without any audition. The 2 amplifiers are currently not being distributed in Malaysia (a shame if we're deprived of great-sounding gears just because they are not sold on our soil) but if their sonics are really as positively raved by so many others and a posting like this is able to generate enough curiosities that turn into demands, perhaps a local hifi distributor should consider picking up the distribution line. This is pull strategy in marketing term as opposed to push strategy whereby a distributor sends a new equipment for review and it starts selling thereafter. If this does not materialise, we could always fall back to sourcing them from overseas. Do note that I am extremely fond of either ordering or physically picking up equipments from abroad myself!

If only I had the means, I would certainly love to own a pair of Harbeth loudspeakers (which eluded me all these years), a LFD / Lavardin integrated amp (MOSFET design with passive pre) with inbuilt phono card and a Naim cdp which shall be icing to the cake. Life goes on as usual in the meanwhile with heaps of other more important commitments to be met before fulfilling an aspiration in hifi, a hobby to me.

I have also written to Mr Howard Popeck of Stereonow Ltd in UK, a dealer of LFD gears who professes to being able sell to all countries with exception of USA, Belgium and Holland in the meantime and he replied me enclosing a 25-pages pdf file which I append its extract below (removing the sales pitch part) as the original version is way too long. Have fun reading it and you be ultimate judge to the content yourself!

"The LFD File or … Howard Popeck’s combined knowledge of LFD amplification (one of the UK audiophile industry’s best kept secrets) and associated products gathered over many years and right up to 21.09.2009 (last update) in which he promises to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. The document is a work in progress because Mr Popeck learns more on the capabilities of LFD equipment as Dr. Bews reveals more of his magic, his philosophy and his designs.

Why I chose LFD? In a nutshell … 100% reliability, impeccable design expertise, over-specified, very high musicality, can bring out the best in even cheap speakers, UK-built and, with a very enlightened and cost-effective attitude to owner upgrades. All that and a complete absence of hype, bullshit or egomania.
I don’t stock Naim, but it’s true to say that I very much like the sound of some of their earlier offerings and from my personal perspective, LFD equipment encompasses all of the very finest attributes of early Naim equipment – but without any of the characteristics that seem to irk and irritate some people on some forums that host Naim-basing threads. LFD? Unhesitatingly recommended!

The back story … Well … it’s hard to ignore the facts, however inconvenient they may be – if one truly believes in integrity rather than insincerely repeating the speechifying.
The fact is that quite a few of my friends have owned and continue to own LFD equipment, including the legendary DAC-3 (just 75 made and now out of production because of the unavailability of the preferred chipset) and I’ve not been able to demonstrate anything more satisfactory – at any price.
Moreover, they didn’t buy their LFD stuff from me and yes, we all remain firm friends. I’d be an idiot to ignore the reality. For many experienced and might I say more mature listeners who’ve ‘been around the block’ quite a few times, LFD is the ultimate – if musical credible reproduction is valued more than anything else..
On top of this, despite its stark appearance, LFD gear doesn’t look, feel or weigh sufficiently badly enough to justify being housed in a bunker! Wife acceptance factor (WAF) is quite high. Sometimes very high.
On top of this, I’ve owned and continue to own pieces from LFD’s past. Their integrated amps, in terms of sheer listenability without any fatigue whatsoever are frankly astonishing. The current iteration of those early designs is even finer. Moreover the LFD linestages (preamps) and the LFD power stages (power amps) are outstanding.
I’ve owned numerous Krell power amps, Audio Research power amps and Accuphase power amps. The finest, in musical terms of all of those was the Accuphase P-60 full Class A. That’s now in Belgium. My LFD PA3 mono power amps are everything that the P-60 produces, but with substantially more muscle and with superior low-volume detail retrieval.
In fact the PA3s sounds like Class A, but aren’t Class A. These are my reference power amps. The line stages and phono stages are, within their respective price bands, in a class of their own.
What’s the difference between the integrated Zero Le Mk3 & Mk4?
I caused a bit of a fuss revealing the Mk4 version. Here’s the situation. Mk4 was/is my unofficial term. Recently, after the serial number #400 of the Series 3 was shipped, Dr. Bews decided on a small modification to slightly change the extreme bass characteristic of the Mk3. To make it slightly more towards the extraordinary bass performance of the LFD NCSE super-integrated and the PA2M (SE) power amp. It’s unofficially the Mk4 – and there’s no increase in price.
In my opinion, for most users, this small change is comparatively insignificant and not worth the hassle and cost of return a pre #400 unit for the change.
If you want the next stage up, then you should seriously consider the NCSE super-integrated. Here’s what can you expect if you upgrade from a Zero Le Mk3 to a LFD NCSE, the logical step up. This super-integrated has a speed, weight and solidity to the bass which is quite far ahead of the Zero LE Mk3. In fact the bass is so taut, musical and defined that it is the benchmark standard through the entire LFD range. By this I mean it is slightly ahead of the range-topping PA3 mono amps and equal to the magnificent PA2M (SE) twin mono in one chassis power amp.
Let me be clear here in that the treble detail on the LFD NCSE is no better than the LE Mk3 simply because that unit is excellent in this respect and a hard act to follow. The midrange of the LFD NCSE is as detailed, but slightly more forward in presentation to the LE Mk3.
Where the LFD NCSE really scores is in detail retrieval at low and very low sound pressure levels. The comparison is extraordinary. At low levels the LE Mk3 (although superb, in isolation) seems a bit lightweight and a little feeble.

The LFD isolation feet :
There are three ‘values’ of LFD Sorbothane isolation pads. These thick Sorbothane discs sit inside carefully machined stainless steel cups and look rather fine – in addition to making a significant contribution to reducing microphony.
• Level ‘A’ is for units from around 5kg to around 8kg i.e. one pad per around 2.5kg
• Level ‘B’ is for 8kg to around 15kg i.e. one pad per around 5kg
• Level ‘C’ is for beyond 15kg.
Dr Bews feels that three pads are better than four!
Interestingly for say a 15kg item, using 6 x ‘A’ @ 2.5kg capacity each will not be as effective as say 3 x ‘B’ @ 5kg capacity each.
Do please bear in mind that while LFD units have no interference problems by being stacked on top of each other, the weight adds up quite quickly. Thus merely having say the MCT on top of the NCSE or vice versa would require level ‘c’ as the base three with 3 x ‘b’ in between the top unit and the one below.

The new and rather remarkable LFD Hybrid loudspeaker cable :
Overview - This cable uses PC-OCC multi strand and LC-OFC ribbon that is relatively expensive and labour cost is high (it’s a pain to make), but it’s the only way the makers have found to make a really good sounding single wired speaker cable.
LFD have been trying to manufacture this super single wired speaker cable from copper for nearly 10 years. The LC-OFC ribbon gives the very good bass and the PC-OCC multi strand gives a nice midband/top, either cable made as a single wired speaker cable have issues at the top end or the bass. It might be a mad idea, but it works, it is really comparable (not the same) with their reference silver speaker cable, at a lower price.

The fuller story
Okay. First things first. All conventional speaker cables have are marked +ve and –ve so that the positive from the power amp is easily connected to the positive of the speakers. These markings are only for illustrative purposes i.e. the construction of +ve strands and the –ve strands are identical. I won’t get into the issue of directionality here, even though I have heard this curious effect myself, as long ago as 1979. That’s a story for another time.
Secondly, with all audiophile matters like this it’s crucial to distinguish between ‘different’ and ‘better’. Some people get ‘it’ right away and other don’t. Over the years, I’ve found the following statement to be the most useful in such situations: “For a sound to be ‘better’ it must be different from the preceding sound. However, being different does not automatically mean that it is ‘better’”
Or put different, one person’s perception of ‘better’ is different from another person’s. Which is just as well really because otherwise none of us would be able to help buyers chose.
The LFD Hybrid RC speaker cable is unique in its objectives, unique in how it achieves those objectives and unique in what if offers the end-user.
This cable has one conductor made of solid core cable and the other of multistrand flat ribbon cable. For the purposes of this discussion we’ll assume that the +ve is marked red (positive) and the –ve marked black (negative). You start by using the cable conventionally i.e. red at the amplifier to red (+ve to +ve) at the speakers, and so on.
The first thing you’ll notice usually (and of course the extent of this is very system dependant) is an uncanny clarity to the treble detail, a mid range openness and clarity that is extraordinary and a very tight and solid bass. These speaker cables, like all speaker cable does benefit a little from an extended burn-in process. However the effects described above are immediately noticeable for most listeners. Over time, they become refined.
Here’s where the clever bit comes in. Play a well defined track with a noticeable bass line. Preferably, to make this immediately easy, jazz, blues or rock. This will give you bass sound #1. The free Stereonow Bass Test disc #1 is ideal for this.
Then, reverse the connections on both the amp and the speakers. Thus the red +ve is now attached to the -ve on the amp and the –ve terminals on speakers and the black (-ve) is connected to the red +ve terminals on the amp and the red +ve on the speakers.
Taking care to listen to the same track at the same volume as previously you’ll hardly notice a change in the mid or top. However in many instances a significant change in the bass performance will be apparent. We’ll call this bass sound #2.
Bass #1 will be different (yes, that word again) to bass #2. It’s up to you to decide which is better for you.
What’s the point of this you might wonder? Am I correct?
Some speakers if placed in a room less than optimally e.g. too near a rear wall or too close to a corner can on some music give a bloated, plodding bass. Experimenting as described above could possibly reduce that effect.
Another example might be with stand mounted speakers that are sounding a little bass-light. Experimenting as described above could possibly increase the bass depth.
Sometimes these effects are dramatic and sometimes less so. There is no way, and I mean No Way that the effects can be predicted in advance. Anyone who in instances like this claim they can very probably lie about other things too!
So in summary, the benefits of the LFD Hybrid RC speaker cable are in the bass area. It is, if you like, a sort of bass adjustment device. And of course when compared to inferior speaker cables, the usual LFD attributes of terrific detail without harshness, unrestrained dynamics and the open, spacious mid range are immediately apparent.

The limited edition (16 units only) LFD NLE power amp :
The NLE is a rather special power amp designed and built to Stereonow’s requirements. An initial run of just 16 units is now in production. Its bass characteristics are derived from the LFD state-of-the-art PA2M SE twin mono power amps but at 40% of the price. The mid range and top are as close to the characteristics of the very highly regarded LFD Zero LE Mk3 (now Mk4) integrated amplifier.
Stainless Steel front panel.
A very conservative 60 watts RMS into 8 ohms and at least 90 into 4 ohms. V x a for short periods, e.g. to milliseconds is between 200 to 300 depending on the load. 36 months parts and labour warranty.

The on-board phono stage for the LFD Integrated Zero LE Mk3 :
For the money, the on-board phono stage on the LFD Mk4 zero LE integrated amplifier (the phono stage being no different to the one on the Mk3) is fantastic value. It is switchable internally by making or breaking a pair of soldered links. This is nowhere near as complicated as it might seem. Dr Bews is convinced that sonically this is superior to the sound you would get from a silver plated switch.
The onboard phono stage is not, repeat NOT retrofit-able. This means it must be ordered at the time that the amplifier is ordered. This is because the board layout for the one with phono stage is different from the one without.
Sonically this is the most musically credible phono stage I have heard under £600. The UK retail price for the on-board LFD phono stage is £250 inc VAT.
Of course, it’s not just Dr. Bews’ excellent design of the phono stage (bearing in mind his state-of-the-art and not for sale battery-driven stage is used by SME’s R&D department) but the fact that by being hard-wired into the circuit board you avoid the effects of external interconnects and related issues.

FAQs on LFD equipment :
1. Issues with volume control at low sound pressure levels
I have a new LFD Zero, with the silver casing and single set of speaker terminals. My one issue is that with my Opera Grand Mezzas, I have almost no play on the volume pot. Whisper to a scream is barely a nudge of the dial, never over 7:00 on the dial for room filling sound. Would attenuated interconnects help give more volume control range or is there a better solution. This is very difficult adjusting at low volumes.
I understand your problem in general. What you don’t mention if this occurs when using all inputs, or just one. One issue might be that if you have a phono stage, you might be using MM cartridge into an MC loading. Alternatively you may have a digital device that is giving too high a signal level.
Either way though, the most elegant and least damaging solution (and I have used these myself with a STAX preamp which had oversensitive inputs) are the Rothwell Attenuators. Great value. I cannot sell you any as I’m not a retailer for them, but I do recommend them unhesitatingly based on my direct personal experience. The link supplied here is of relevance, and might be of interest.

2. The PA2M evolving into the PA2M (SE)
“Has the PA2 ever existed as a stereo amp in one box and if so, is that the evolution that has led to the PA2M? Also, did the PA2M evolve into the PA2M (SE) - or have all of these been the same and the confusion is that owners don’t know what they have?”
The PA2 stereo is bit like the PA1 you have (sonically and power etc.) has not been sold for at least 8 to 9 years. The PA2M (mono amplifiers in one chassis) was first developed in 1995 and was made in to PA2M (SE) about 3 years ago. The SE version came out of PA3 development, i.e. cheaper version of PA3 with two mono amplifiers in one chassis. Some customers want a single chassis, slightly lower quality and a cheaper price compared to PA3. And that’s precisely what they get with a PA2M (SE)

3. Suitable cartridges for an LFD phono stage:
It is pretty clear that we are both impressed by the products that Richard at LFD has produced. I have auditioned may items which do not seem to match up with LFD within & beyond their price ranges…here is my question. Do you have or have you had the chance to listen to the LFD MMC phono-stage? & if so what Cartridges would you recommend which would work well as i am currently looking to upgrade my phono-stage / cartridge.
My system comprises of LFD pre & Power (updated by Richard) LFD Cables, Transparent Audio cables, Michell Orbe/ SME IV (complete VDH 501 silver cabled), Magneplanar 1.4’s. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Yes, I have heard the MMC at a friend’s home. It is a first-rate phono stage. However, whereas LFD amplifiers don’t in my view have many rivals, the recently released PS Audio Phono stage (I’m going to be getting one within the next fortnight) at around £780 (roughly half the price of the LFD MMC) puts the value aspect of the LFD into some question.
On balance, I suspect the LFD will be marginally more natural. My good friend Christopher Breunig (writes for Hi-Fi News) wrote that the PS Audio retrieved more detail than he’d heard previously. But then again, he’d not experienced LFD.
Re cartridges, given that I have used most of it, and even though I don’t sell cartridges, my preference would be for anything from the Dynavector range, possible Benz and possibly the newly released Audio Technica AT OC9.

4. LFD Versus Anatek
I am in the market for a phono stage, I have narrowed it down to a LFD MC1 or a Anatek MC1 in your view what would be the best choice, cartridge is the Sumiko Pearwood.
As you probably know, it’s always my policy to be as truthfully as is possible re audio matters. With this in mind I have to tell you that although I cannot sell you an Anatek, I have heard it in a customer’s system and it sounded very good. Certainly if you can pick one up for a good price you are most unlikely to be disappointed.
Personally though, when it comes to phono stages I’m and LFD man through and through. Despite my Sale-or-Return policy, I’ve never had one returned, other than a customer having traded up to the next LFD level. Additionally, considering the vast (in hi-fi terms) resources of SME it’s interesting to note that they selected Dr. Bews (LFD main man) to build for them a cost-no-object phono stage. In short, all SME’s R&D is and has for some years used the battery-driven LFD phono stage. My guess is that they concluded that he knew as much about vinyl replay credibility as anyone.
There is as you might expect a ‘trickle-down’ in terms of performance all LFD phono stages, both new and pre-owned have the characteristic of tremendous dynamics, noise-free performance and treble sweetness which is almost valve-like. They all have it. the more expensive ones do it better than the less expensive ones.

5. The LFD Anniversary phono stage
Is it going to appear, ever?
The Anniversary phono stage, if Dr. Bews gets around to it – which is doubtful currently – is going to be based on a mains powered version of the LFD battery disc stage. Unfortunately it is going to take a VERY long time to produce anything sonically better than the MCT (or SE version of it) as it is currently, since the these are rather good, i.e. they are the best sounding mains powered phono stages regardless of price.

6. A LFD SACD player?
Are we likely, in the foreseeable future, to see an LFD SACD and/or DVD-A machine?
No. Dr. Bews is only interested in the 2-channel market, small though it is. He takes the view that the uncertainty (format wars) in the market has effectively destroyed the market for very high performing 2-channel digital replay, except for components that offer the capability of decoding both formats. What’s more unfortunate, is that most Audiophiles don’t have any (or only a small amount of) software to take advantage of either SACD or DVD-A.

7. Balanced (XLR) versus single-ended (RCA) at LFD
What is the LFD view?
LFD believe in simplicity, so over-complication should be avoided. Balanced operation has advantages in environments of high noise or where cables have to be very long. Studios are a good example. The domestic environment normally doesn’t require balanced operation from a technical viewpoint. Balanced operation came about, because certain US manufacturers could give some technical bullshit to sell their amplifiers!
Balanced operation invariably adds complication, which can lead to problems, so why make the life of an amplifier more difficult than it needs to be?
It’s difficult to make a simple amplifier sound really good and so doubling the amount of circuitry (as often happens in balanced amplifiers) just makes it more difficult. When LFD amplifiers interface with amplifiers with balanced inputs or outputs, they prefer to use specially designed transformers to convert between single ended and balanced operation. This is simple, but does put demands on the circuitry and the design of the transformer.

8. Digital inputs in LFD amplification
To date, they have chosen not to build digital inputs into their amplification – even though they built CD players and DACs. Why is this?
One has a decision regarding gain control (pot) and input switching, i.e. to perform these functions in the analogue or digital domains. LFD believe that these two functions are best carried out in the analogue domain, since a well designed analogue linestage possess a much lower noise performance compared to the output of a DAC; and also NO analogue source is compromised by its conversion into the digital domain using A/D converters.
Obviously digital sources must be converted into analogue prior to gain control and switching. Our digital to analogue converter switches between 3 digital inputs, so multiple high quality digital sources are catered for. The inclusion of cheap D/A converters in an analogue amplifier would compromise the performance of digital sources to an unacceptable level. It takes a lot of effort, time and money, to manufacture excellent sounding D/A converters.

Dr. Bews talks about the Anniversary Linestage (12/08/09) :
This is what he told me 22/08/09 and is unedited: “The Anniversary Linestage is similar to LS3, but the switching of inputs is simpler and each input is total isolated from each other since the grounds are switched as well as the positive (produces a slight click when inputs are selected, compared to LS3). Also the inputs and 1 and 2 use reference silver wiring. Parts are slightly different. The sound is more open and has more scale with Anniversary linestage.
Anniversary power amplifiers are same as PA3 technically, but parts are different, elna silmic capacitors and more tantalum resistors, etc. ALL wiring is multi diameter silver wiring (even the wire to the electrolytic capacitors!). It is very GRAINFREE, makes other amplifiers sound crude (including my own).
It has a tube type of midrange (good tonal colour and scale), but the bass is defined, which is a big advantage against tube amps. Sometimes you think detail is missing, but is because the grain has been removed.
The Anniversary stereo amplifier is still not available since no back panels yet, they will arrive in about 6 weeks, but the sound is almost there, but not quite. Anniversary Stereo power amplifier (two mono amplifiers in one chassis) will be available in about 8 weeks I imagine. It will be more forward sounding like the PA2M(SE) compared to Anniversary power amplifiers, but will have superior midrange compared to PA2M(SE).”

My observations on the LFD Anniversary series :
I believe it’s fair to say that until the Anniversary series, all other LFD equipment was built to a price. By this I mean that the best possible quality was achieved within the price band and that anything sonically superior to the best that could be achieved within that band moved into the next price band up. In contrast it seems that the Anniversary series has (and continues to be) developed as a cost no object exercise. Or, put differently, these models are the very best that Dr. Bews knows how to build currently, given the level of expertise and the quality of the components available. My guess is that he didn’t have one eye on the price.
Anniversary units are expensive, but not excessively so. The quality of the components including the complex multi-diameter silver wiring is the very best that money can buy. LFD Anniversary models are by no means the most expensive in the world. They are by no means the most expensive in the UK either.
I’m not going to be writing a ‘review’ of the units here. Apart from anything else, I’ve not heard them in familiar surroundings. However what I can do is give you an insight into Dr. Bews’ objectives. My comments here are based on an in-depth face-to-face discussion with him in late July 09.
It’s important I think to get some idea of the words he and I use to describe the sonic performance of audiophile electronics in general and LFD in particular.
One word he and I both use a lot is ‘compelling’. By this we mean the tendency of a piece of equipment to make you want to listen. And by this we mean paying attention to the music rather than having it playing as a background.
Another word we use is ‘lively’. By this we mean that the sound is full of life and energy, being clear, distinct and vivid. For us, and people like us, vivid is a key component of compelling. We doubt if it’s truly possible to have achieve a compelling sound without it being lively. However, we are very mindful that some makers produce equipment which is both brash and bombastic. By this we mean that the music might be ‘translated’ by the amplification into being aggressive – whereas when it was written originally it wasn’t this at all. By bombastic we mean equipment that is designed to sound impressive when in fact properly engineered audiophile amplification should not add that characteristic at all; it should be letting it through (if it’s there in the first place) rather than adding it if it isn’t there already.
I could go on and on (and on) about descriptive terms here, but it’s only of limited value. So I won’t. What I will do though is to try and describe the objectives and achievements of the Anniversary series – in relation to the other LFD models.
Let’s take the word ‘lively’ for example. For most users in most systems, the comparatively modestly priced integrated Zero LE Mk3 (unofficially Mk4) is the most lively in the entire range. It’s part of it’s charm and why it performs so well in demonstrations. It’s not that the other models in the range are slow, or dull or boring. They are none of those. It’s just that, well … the LE Mk3 is very lively. However in comparison to the super-integrated LFD NCSE, it’s a bit light in the bass.
Ordinarily you’d not notice this. The LE Mk3 does have great bass. It’s just not as weighty as the LFD NCSE and in fact not as weighty as the NLE or PA2M (SE) either. However, neither the NLE nor PA2M (SE) are (irrespective of the partnering LFD preamp / linestage) quite as lively as the Zero Mk3. You can see where this is leading can’t you? You’re probably saying, well why can’t he build a unit which is as lively or even livelier than the Zero Mk3 with the bass characteristics of the LFD NCSE? It’s a good question. A very good question in fact and I’ll come back to it shortly.
Next, we come to the crucial area of mid-range neutrality. Coloration is most easily noticed here. All LFD amps pay particular attention to minimising this. All LFD amps have very low mid-range colouration and the PA3 monos monoblocks have less coloration than any of the others. This is what you’d expect given that other than the Anniversary mono amps, the PA3s are LFD’s state-of-the-art offerings.
However the PA3s are not as lively as the Zero Le Mk3. But they are less coloured in the mid. The PA3s have a deep, rich and nicely warm extreme bass, but they don’t sound as fast in the bass as the LFD NCSE. See the problem?
Okay, so where does this take us to? First, Dr. Bews tells me it is very difficult to (for example) combine extreme liveliness with state-of-the-art mid range neutrality. To take another example, deep, solid bass which is both tuneful and tight is in itself hard to achieve and much more so if you want to preserve liveliness too. And that’s before we’ve even consider the effects of pace, rhythm, timing, stereo image, height, perspective, low sound pressure level detail retrieval and tonal consistency across all sound pressure levels. A complex balancing act.
Thus what the Anniversary series seeks to achieve is to combine all the best aspects of every one of the different LFD models in one preamp (linestage), one twin mono (in one chassis) power and one pair of stereo power amps. This has taken literally years to achieve. Both Dr. Bews and I seriously doubt if there is a truly perfect amplifier built by anyone. It might not even be possible. Based on what I’ve heard so far, he’s got as close to anyone in achieving it – via the Anniversary series.

Important news on LFD amplification and Townsend loudspeaker cables :
Here is what I received from Dr Bews regarding a problem that has developed with one of a pair of PA2M power amps which were working perfectly until the owner used some second-hand Townshend Isolda DCT loudspeaker cables.
“I think it could be inappropriate cables, if the sound is there, but interference is also present. If interference is the only output from amplifier, it could be the sound attenuated and distorted, i.e. fuse (quite likely since speaker cable was changed). Also we do not recommend the Townsend speaker cable (old version, without Zobel network), since the old cable was very capacitive and can cause problems of stability. If you want a ribbon type sound (good bass), it’s the geometry of the conductor (see our hybrid ribbon), not the rubbish Max talks about regarding characteristic impedance.” "


TSQ said...


From your post, I gathered that you'd recommend the LFD and Lavardin over the Krell. Have you heard all these amplifiers yourself under similar condition or in your own system?

I ask this because I was expecting your post to elaborate on these amplifiers' qualities, but instead you just gave us links without any personal observations. Are you saying that the LFD and Lavardin are better than the Krell just based on you reading these links without hearing them yourself?

Y.C. said...


Hi. I've heard Krell KAV-400xi on several occasions, although not in my own system, but not both LFD Zero Mk4 and Lavardin IS Reference. I'm actually not recommending any of the latter amps over Krell per se but am merely highlighting and linking comments by others on them and stating fact that I'd probably buy either one of them when I upgrade from my present amp. And hence the apology for recommending an amp not within my own consideration!

If you read my other posts, you'd notice that I'm actually buying audio gears/accessories from all over the world without first hearing them out, based on either gut-feel, whether correct or otherwise, or impressions posted by forumers or reviewers alike.

Coming back to the poser of whether I had actually hear and compare them all to arrive at a fair recommendation, it'd still be a subjective one assuming I had already done so as we all own different gears with different characteristics and our mileage would differ vastly.

kkthen said...

Hello do you remember me?
I am using LFD + SF concertino now.

unker vic said...

Is the Lavardin amp the amp that was used to showcase the JM Lap Utopias, at its launch? I have a friend nearby my place who uses the Lavardin to drive the Living Voice Speakers.

Btw what sort of sonic features do we expect of any amp?

unker vic said...

There will always be some sort of matching and technical problems of amp and speaker combinations. But someone had brought forth a new and radical idea. Not new actually, it's introduce some 20 over years ago. This idea was 1st brought in to incorporate into amps but that didn't catch on, now it's into speakers.


I find amp with this circuitry design exhibit very good linearity in the audio spectrum output performance. Some hi end amps with variants of this design do. But that's really an unfair comparison. But if u do it yourself and incorporate this special design into your amp, it will push your amp performances many levels up. It's just food for thoughts unless one has got to have one of those amp with a proven records, like what's mentioned here.

Not trying to throw a spanner into the works, just looking at the situation from another perpective.

unker vic said...

Extracted from the link......you will find an idea that was purported useful in amp design...but used here in a speaker design instead The idea is to predict what distortions
are expected of amps, and preset it in the circuitry. So why am i talking about amp designs when the rest are talking about a good choice of amps. I have heard larvadine and amps of this category, but none even come close to the accuphase amp that 1st incorporated this design. However, its demise doesn't mean it doesn't work. I've tried to recreate what the accuphase had done, and i think it's really worth the trouble put in.

Please read extract.......


In order to reduce the distortion and create a “synthesized” single point source speaker system that could mimic an omni-directional microphone, I found it necessary to design a specialized circuit that would reduce the wave form distortion, along with compensating for imbalances in the different transducer types used for bass-to-treble, as well as "harmonically” blending the different frequency bands together without creating additional forms of distortion from an overly complex circuit. Aha, the solution is never quite that simple, as we will find later in this discussion!

My novel solution was to use a form of “servo control” in the crossover circuits that could be pre-programmed in advance, knowing what causes the distortion and what it looks like after it occurs. Note that I am not claiming to have invented this technique: an unknown Japanese scientist leading a team of researchers at a Japanese amplifier company invented the "look forward" circuit I adapted when they designed an active circuit some 20 years ago to reduce amplifier distortion. This circuit would “know” what the distortion was "in advance" so the error correction would be more efficient in time coherence. Essentially this is another method to implement servo control, but in advance of the occurrence of distortion, not "after-the-fact.” For instance, when you install a motion detection sensor on the voice coil, then use a feedback loop to attempt to stop the voice coil from going "non-linear," the voice coil has already gone non-linear and the circuit is attempting to push it back! You've already lost the war on bad sound that way and it will not easily work with midrange and treble drivers. Of course, this “old school" servo-control does work in the deep bass range, but the method is used primarily to control woofer motion, a la Infinity/Velodyne/et al.

I had to first discover, then quantify, the waveform distortion. Finally, I had to design pre-EQ correction for the non-linearities by using good ol’ circuit design and application the old-fashioned way: using my brainpower and thought process. As many other scientists in this industry realize, circuit design is almost a “lost art” and has been replaced by software programs that attempt to help the “speaker designer” come up with a suitable circuit to chop the music into bass, midrange, and treble frequency bands. Then the “speaker designer” sends these chopped signals into drive units that attempt to reassemble the signal into music. This technique does not work as well as “speaker designers” believe! No software program and a $300 sound card is going to teach someone how to actually design a good speaker, it takes years of experience, years of education, and years of R&D, along with some really good ideas and novel thinking process.

unker vic said...

Interesting reading if u ask me.....


extract.......u mustn't miss.....

Seventy years later, vacuum tubes, and especially triodes, continue to be the lowest distortion amplifying elements ever made. No germanium or silicon transistor, JFET, or MOSFET has ever approached the distortion performance of the direct-heated triodes, with indirect-heated triodes following closely behind. In addition to low distortion in the absolute sense, the distortion spectra of triodes is favorable, with a rapid fall-off of the upper harmonics. (This is less true for beam tetrodes, pentodes, or solid-state devices, which are intrinsically less linear and have higher-order distortion curves.)

If you ever want to put a solid-state designer on the spot, ask them which transistors were designed for high-fidelity audio applications ... and are they still on the market, ten or twenty years after they introduced? You can expect a long silence after this question - when a transistor model goes out of production, that's it. Don't expect to find stocks of obsolete transistors, and you can be very sure that nobody wants to collect them or use them in a vintage-sound product.

The sad fact is that solid-state devices have linearity well down on the list of design priorities, with feedback needed to clean up devices that were never primarily intended for audio. The automotive equivalent would be cars modified to use truck diesels ... OK for Soviet Russia maybe, but do you think you'd want to buy something like that if you had a choice? Yet this is the state of affairs in solid-state audio, with the electronic equivalent of an industrial diesel pressed into service in so-called "high-end" electronics.

That's about this much to say about solid state amps, by many including this writer of this article! Hi end solid state is like using industrial diesel in your modern car!!! This a good one!!! The look forward circuitry I mentioned earlier was an attempt by the Japanese to address some of this problems, but then many may still think that if one could get tubes, new productions or NOS, why bother with this new design. If u ever had a chance to listen to a solid state amp with the look forward circuitry don't give it a miss unless of course u don't even want to bother to know! ;-p

Y.C. said...


Yes, I do and how are you? You're probably the only owner of LFD Zero, presumely a Mk3, in Malaysia that I know to-date. Of course, there may be be other owners not known to me.

Unker vic,

Hi, Victor. it's extremely nice of you to share your comments with us here. They are interesting read, thank you so much!

unker vic said...

Hi YC,

You are welcome. And I see u are very open to learning new informations & experiences in this hobby/past time. Which is very good!!! I believe too that the learning experiences that will carry us very far, how far will really depends on our own interest & drive!

This much I have got to say. Listeners who like valve amplifications are not without reasons. The linearity is probability something they like besides the 2nd order harmonics and the euphonics. Reliability will not be a problem to these owners of valve amps, just get some stocks of their favourite tubes and used them till it last!

The special circuitry I mentioned has its reliability problem big time!!! Hence only the hi end boys will adopt it(not the original version but an adaption of it) and it's suitable for circuits with discreet parts and not very good with chip based hardware. Replacement cost is very high, practically inhibitive to hifi enthusiasts on a budget.

So if u want to experience such sonics, do let me know. I don't know how long this can last in my modified amp(near original version). 5 years? 10 years? Then I have to get back to reality, and used the usual ss amps that everybody else owned! Sigh......

It's like travel back in time 20 over years to experience something that one never had a chance at it.

unker vic said...

This extract u don't want to miss....

Have we being wrong for the last 50 years?!


The Effects of Feedback on Harmonic Structure

The Williamson amplifier of 1947 was the design that did the most to popularise the "feedback cures all ills" philosophy. It is interesting during the period from 1948 to 1956, almost all commercial hi-fi amplifiers were Williamson topologies (with minor exceptions for Quad II, McIntosh, and EV Circlotron). During this formative period the mantra of "more power, lower THD" became the driving force in the industry. By 1960, ultra-wide bandwidth, heavy feedback, and Class AB EL34 and 6550 UL circuits ruled the industry.

In the span of twelve years, the traditional audio-engineering prejudice against high-distortion devices faded, opening the door to high-power pentodes and Class AB operation. Each "improvement" was characterized by an increase in device distortion, which was then "corrected" by more and more feedback. Transistors circuits with even higher feedback ratios were the next obvious step - after all, they had more power, lower THD, more bandwidth, and most important of all, cost less to build.

Norman Crowhurst wrote a fascinating analysis of feedback multiplying the order of harmonics, which has been reprinted in "Glass Audio," Vol 7-6, pp. 20 through 30. He starts with one tube generating only 2nd harmonic, adds a second tube in series (resulting in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), and then makes the whole thing push-pull (resulting in 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th), and last but not least, adds feedback to the circuit, which creates a series of harmonics out to the 81st. All of this complexity from "ideal" tubes that only create 2nd harmonic!

With real devices there are even more harmonics. In terms of IM, actual amplifiers have complex and dynamic noise floors thanks to the hundreds of sum-and-difference IM terms. That's not even counting the effects of reactive loads, which adds a frequency dependency to the harmonic structure! (With reactive loads, additional harmonics appear due to the elliptical loadline seen by the power tubes. The elliptical load-line dips into the very nonlinear low-current region, resulting in an instantaneous increase in upper harmonics. This spectral "roughening" is most audible with strong low frequency program material and hard-to-drive horn or vented bass drivers.)

As Crowhurst noted, feedback mostly reduces the 2nd and 3rd harmonics, leaving the upper ones more or less alone, or sometimes even greater than before. Feedback fools the simple THD meter, but the spectrum analyzer sees through the shell game. Too bad raw power and almost useless THD measurements became the end-all and be-all for more than 50 years. If more engineers and reviewers had access to spectrum analyzers, the misleading nature of raw THD measurements would have been discovered earlier, and amplifier design might have taken a different course.

If device-level linearity and absence of high-order harmonics become your goal, then direct-heated triodes are the only way to go - they have about 1/3 the distortion of triode-connected pentodes and beam tetrodes. The spectral distribution is better as well. Seen in this context the Sakuma amps with their 300B direct-heated driver tubes start to make sense - with a 300B swinging 65V rms into a high-impedance transformer load, the driver will have very low distortion, maybe as low as 0.1% for push-pull drivers.

For once, the driver tube would be out of the picture as far as distortion is concerned — and this is much more rare than you would think. Very few amplifiers have driver sections with distortion 1/3 of the output stage and 5 dB or more of headroom — this is true for triode, pentode, or transistor amps as well! Much more typical is 1/2 or more distortion compared to the output, and 1 to 2 dB of headroom. As a result, 2A3 and 300B amps all sound different, depending on the linearity and current delivery of the driver circuit.

kkthen said...

yes, I may be the only one LFD owner in KL. I am very satisfy the musical of LFD zero mk3. When I pair it with SF concertino, only the bass shy problem, But the vocal & high is good enough for me. I get a lot of information of LFD from your blog, Thanks for your information. I hope I can got a chance to audit the SF concerto to know how different to my small SF concertino.

Y.C. said...


Thank you for the kind words. Your LFD Zero LE mk3 amp is a 60 watter and should ideally be matched to and drive Harbeth 7ES-3 or SHL-5 instead of SF Concertino. And since you already complained of bass shyness with the Concertinos, it many not have enough juice for my SF Concerto Home. However, other peripheral equipment such as the source component and cables could be the culprit instead.

Unker Victor,

You guessed me right in the sonic flavours I seek when I mentioned these 2 amps. I fully concur with you that tube amps would yield a better sense of realism, tonality, timbre and sound staging capability than solid state amps. At this moment in life though, my preference is still a solid state amp for daily use with minimal or no fuss on its maintenance and tube-rolling issue. Later, perhaps! Thank you once again.

The asking price for both the 2 amps in a nearbouring country are way above what I deemed should be their fair asking prices, though.

keithwwk said...

Wow wow wow....glad to see this blog man!

Glad to see kkthen here too. Wow you had changed your spk to SF. I hope you still love your LFD Zero LE III. It is really amazing.

Hi all, I am LFD owner too. So far I know, at least 3 LFD owners in Malaysia now (all nvr met till now). Maybe there is a 4th owner but I do not know. :)

Currently, I am using LFD Zero LE mkIII and LFD Mistral LE (the very 1st LFD Zero LE or call it LFD Zero LE mkI). Speakers are Harbeth SHL5 and Compact 7.

From a very reliable source, beside the Zero LE mkIII and NCSE, there is no LE mk4. But why Stereonow sold mk4? well, I really do not know. :P

Unlike the old time no body will notice Harbeth. But today, Harbeth's sound is famous. I would like to take this chance to talk abt LFD Zero LE.
To me (yeah, to me), the LEIII excel in timbre accuracy, tonality purity, harmonic richness and excellent decay. The overall sound is very presence, transparent with right thickness, responsive, engaging, boogie, PRAT and highly involving but no harsh at all. It's bass is quite different from most of the commercial or mainstream amps. The bass is transparent, deep, fast, rhythmic, colorful and tuneful. Due to the bass transparency, people who used to bass sound from mainstream amps can feel it's bass is light-weight. It's bass is comparable or very near to live unamplified acoustic instruments sound, say , jazz and orchestral which is correct bass sound. In short, the LEIII sound is very near to live unamplified acoustic instruments sound. Any flaws in the sound? Well, nothing is perfect and all thing have to compromise. It is not for people who love absolute loudness.

Let's enjoy the music...yeah ! :)

Y.C. said...


Thank you so much for your invaluable comments from the perspective of an extremely proud owner of LFD Zero LE 3 amp.

There is no mk 4 per se and as explained by Howard Popeck of Stereonow UK, he labelled those later mk 3 units bearing serial nos. greater than #400 as mk 4 which have seen some slight improvements in circuit design.

Once again, thank you.


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