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Leema Acoustics Element DAC & Preamp Review

Rate this DAC & Pre-amp

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 17 11.1%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 51 33.3%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 78 51.0%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 7 4.6%

  • Total voters
    153

enricoclaudio

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I wonder why other manufacturers don't include analog inputs. Should not be a big deal. Maybe it takes some space in the back but come on, it's for a good cause!

Matrix Audio DACs/Streamers have Analog Inputs in their entry level mini-i Pro 3 and in their top of the line Element X2.
 

Ilkless

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Thanks for the review Amir. Pretty decent DAC/preamp combo unit. However, considering that one can buy a SOTA preamp like the Topping Pre90 for $600 with balanced analog inputs (+RCA) and pair that with any number of DACs that measure considerably better than this Leema for less than half the price, I just don't see the point of buying it.

The point is to seem discerning and dedicated to the hobby by knowing of, fetishising and buying an esoteric cottage industry product.
 

Cars-N-Cans

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Amirm, It concerns me that you didn't even bother checking it was 230V before plugging it in......... and it took you half an hour to figure it out.
Here in the states since we are 120V at the outlet so it usually won’t hurt things, unlike the other way around, esp. if there is something like a voltage doubler to compensate for our lower voltage. Then things go boom. With a standard IEC connector it’s a real easy mistake to make, which is something designers should keep in mind since any voltage could find it’s way in there. In this case it looks to be internally tapped or switched inside the unit so a converter was needed to test.
 

The Capstan

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I know has nothing to do with audio but more on industrial design. So, how Leema ended up in putting a 3€ display - same I use for my Arduino experiments - on a +2.000$ unit, in turn forcing the UI to be so basic as consequence of 16x2 text display? C’mon, we are in 2022 and we have plenty of graphic OLED and the like out there!
 

Sokel

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C’mon, we are in 2022 and we have plenty of graphic OLED and the like out there!
Would you be able to read an OLED display after 8 years?Even after one if the device is always on?
 

vkvedam

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Leema earned my respect with this performance in 2014, I have always wanted @amirm to review a Leema product. Thank you!
 

Anthony T

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I voted fine. Manufactured 10 years ago, transparent and RCA input.
Downside is it’s expensive but at the right price secondhand could be a good option.
As above, don’t understand why more manufacturers aren’t adding analog inputs.
 

naviivan

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Here in the states since we are 120V at the outlet so it usually won’t hurt things, unlike the other way around, esp. if there is something like a voltage doubler to compensate for our lower voltage. Then things go boom. With a standard IEC connector it’s a real easy mistake to make, which is something designers should keep in mind since any voltage could find it’s way in there. In this case it looks to be internally tapped or switched inside the unit so a converter was needed to test.
A visual inspection before plugging it in would show it's 230V.

You would think visual inspection and a little shake to listen to any rattling would be a good idea before plugging it in when people are sending equipment to him?
 

symphara

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Nice review. I heard good things about this company, especially the amps. A bit pricey though.
 

Ageve

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Thanks, so the analog ins are digitised?

Digital encoders are often used in analog volume controls. It doesn't mean the signal is digitized, just the attenuation (every step on the volume control results in a different resistance).
 

Ken Tajalli

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For reasons I won't get into, this is an abbreviated review.
First of all , thanx to Amir for doing the review. The device was mine, and although Amir had it for a while and I originally didn't put any urgency on its return, but recently, I found a buyer for it and asked for it back, thinking it is too old anyway, so Amir must have reservations for doing the review. Perhaps, Amir didn't have the time to do a full review, I am guessing.
Also, it should be noted it first came out over 10 years ago! so it is a blast from the past, just educational to see how far DACs and preamps have come (or haven't!!).
Leema were two ex-BBC engineers (yes, again :)) that started off making near-field speakers for pro industry, then moved on to other things. The industrial, pro, tank-like design reflects that.
There were two silent versions, this unit, was originally the early version, then updated by Leema for FREE, after warranty had ran out (Thanx Leema).
The early version had a different USB input board and susceptible to noise etc, Leema quietly upgraded the input board to add galvanic isolation to the USB. This is way before most manufacturers started worrying about such things.
The PSU is doing a stellar job, and the whole device (forget about the list price) is very comparable with modern DACs, using latest chips. They certainly had paid particular attention to details, these days we take for granted, hence their assertion The devil is in the details.
The DAC uses four chips (edit: two stereo DAC chips equalling four), and is of balanced nature, hence the reduced 2nd harmonic and increased third. The analogue is not, hence the minute prevailing 2nd (the extra third is only on one channel, could be a fluke).
To me, subjectively, it has always sounded wonderful. And I have modern day DACs to compare it with.
The analog in is RCA only, correct? Also, it looks like the analog in is not digitized (for the preamp functionality), right?
The analogue input was put there originally (back in 2011) for compatibility with older equipments, and Leema also makes Phono input stages.
It is a purely analogue path, but the device can output it in balanced mode too.
For those interested in opamp rollings, this unit uses the 5532! just take a look at analogue performance.
This should be a mediocre/overpriced award,
The $2195 List Price, is historical information, I doubt it is still in production, though some dealers may still have stock. At the time, I believe I paid £999.
I wonder why other manufacturers don't include analog inputs. Should not be a big deal. Maybe it takes some space in the back but come on, it's for a good cause!
Most DACs use digital volume control, to add analogue input, means either using an ADC or analogue volume control. That's where the extra cost and complexity is.
And to do it right, to do justice to the digital section.
No, it is likely using an analog volume control IC with digital control.
That is correct, the encoder is digital, the volume control is analogue, even for the digital section.
It is a digitally controlled resistor ladder chip (4 channel). It controls all volume controls, and has memory. Meaning, it remembers last setting on individual inputs.
You can see small discrepancies on channel volume balancing.
 
Last edited:

AudioSceptic

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A better performing and less expensive Preamp/DAC can be found from the USA manufactured Benchmark Media... they have been manufacturing DACs for over 20 years ....... DAC 1, DAC2 and DAC 3 series.

The sweet spot for me in their range is the older DAC 2L, which has a remote with volume and input control, and includes 2 x RCA analogue, 2 x optical, 2 x coaxial plus a USB for your computer. It has both RCA & balanced. Their HGC models incorporate a high quality headphone amp, which I don't require.

Amir tested their DAC HGC3 here:


I have purchased several of their DACs over the past 10 years, all of which have performed wonderfully well and have been 100% reliable. I purchased a DAC 2L second hand 2 years ago for only US$700, great engineering at a very reasonable price.
I agree. The Benchmark DAC3 L and DAC3 HGC not only perform better but they have 2 analogue inputs <https://benchmarkmedia.com/collections/digital-to-analog-audio-converter>. Surely one is enough for hardly anyone if they don't want a separate pre-amp in the chain? FM tuner, tape deck, turntable...
 

DSJR

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To me, it only looks as if the third harmonic is the issue here as regards dreaded SINAD rankings? It's still below red book requirements and as far as I can remember, CD was still the main digital source ten years or so ago? A grand in UK terms back then was ok I think for a small firm hardly anyone outside the mags had heard of and I don't think Topping and other far eastern companies had started making cheap dacs of good quality back then.

Ten years ago is like yesterday to peeps of my age, but an eternity ago to those much younger. I think we should all celebrate just how far 'digital at low prices' has come in recent times and I suspect it was earlier iPhones that showed the way perhaps?
 

AudioSceptic

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It's using a plug standard that is almost always seen in the US for 120v. I guess there is nothing physically preventing the form factor from handling 230v, but without a reference UK power plug and a working interface...
We've been using the IEC C13/14 plug/socket (sometimes called a "kettle plug" but that's actually C15/16) in the UK and EU for decades now.
 

AudioSceptic

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yeah at this point its pretty obvious what's going on... i never heard of this company before Amir tested this... its pretty clear what's going on... this is one of those classic cottage industries, probably literally... they make a bunch of esoteric equipment... all in the same test instrument style case and they're big on the 'mystique' of audio, low on the engineering and quality... they're big on hyping up the 'magical' side of audio and how 'English boffins' are doing it better... and every piece of £2,000....
I've known *of* them for a while but wasn't really interested. Founded by 2 ex-BBC engineers apparently <https://www.leema-acoustics.com/about.html>. They seem to be aiming for the middle ground, above value brands like Cambridge Audio but below Linn, Naim, etc.
 

AudioSceptic

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A visual inspection before plugging it in would show it's 230V.

You would think visual inspection and a little shake to listen to any rattling would be a good idea before plugging it in when people are sending equipment to him?
Hard to see in the photo but is that "230" hand-written with a felt-tip on the back?
 

Ken Tajalli

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Input board.jpg

USB input board.

DAC chips.jpg

DAC chips.


buffer and output chips.jpg

5532 opamps used everywhere.
 

Ken Tajalli

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Lee Taylor of Leema, had some input regarding this review, here they are:

- We chose the (DAC) chip purely on audio quality but chose to use multiple chips...dedicated left right chips, the digital incoming stream is split into left and right data then an inverse stream is generated for each. The normal data and the inverse data are fed individually to the two channels on each chip, then the inverse analogue stream is inverted and recombined with the normal analogue stream for the single ended output. The + and - audio are kept separate for the balanced outputs.
This process cancels chip noise and provides better averaging.
- the analogue input is not digitised, it is routed to the analogue output stage via a PGA resistor ladder analogue volume control which is digitally controlled, as are all the decoded digital signals.
- The USB interface is our own design, and the driver was included with the Windows creator update some time ago. On a MAC, the driver is already included. The driver was supplied by Thesycon.
- The balanced and unbalanced outputs can be used simultaneously.
 
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