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Leema Tucana II Anniversary - review

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Leema Tucana II Anniversary - review

To make it easier I've split this into parts and only wrote about things that are relevant to me.

If you're after specs you can find them here and if you're after more traditional review please have a look here.

List of equipment and music can be found here.

Believe it or not this is the short version. Hope you enjoy!

Introduction

When I was offered the opportunity to write this review I felt as much of a sense of dread as excitement. It's not only the level of amplification that I've never owned nor one that I would ordinarily demo. It's clearly a step up and would be an aspirational product for me.

So how is it you may ask that I even got my hands on an amplifier with a RRP of £4,995. As usual life writes the best stories and this one goes back to right before Christmas and my infatuation with Densen and a desire to compliment it with a better DAC. Little did I know that with some good advice from Rick at Musicraft in space of weeks I will end up Densen-less and with Hegel Rost. I ended up writing a review for Hegel Rost which I quite agreed. You can find it here

Ever since the whole Hegel saga I got to know Rick and in one of our chats I've mentioned I would be quite willing to give it another go should he have something exciting, something worth writing about. I may not have a YouTube channel but feel I have a good enough hearing and I'm not half-bad laying it out, if you don't mind me saying so Smile I'll be honest when I first floated this idea I didn't really think anything would come of it... well, not until recently. Not until a few weeks ago when Rick offered me an opportunity to review Leema Tucana II Anniversary.

I've long been wanting to hear a Leema.

Part 1 - Confusion

How do you assess the sound of a component? It's not like you can listen to just the source... or an amp in isolation. Putting it in a familiar system helps but what if the familiarity is based on false pretense? How do you distinguish between preference and improvement?  I'm not a professional reviewer, so I was quite confused at first. Unfortunately more confused than I'd usually be and in no small reason because of I've encountered things I did not expect.

The first admission has to be the most damning, I underestimated the importance of a source in a digital chain. You hear it everywhere that all DACs sound the same... I wasn't a great believer of this school of thought but then again I've not experiences massive differences before. Differences... yes. But nothing prepared me to how Leema behaves with different sources. In fact it took me almost two weeks to figure this out.

What made it worse is how revealing the combination of amp and my resident speakers was. I was not prepared for the amount of ambient info I was getting. Which with a good source was great, but when quality was not on par or pairing was not quite perfect the results weren't at all impressive. I won't repeat here my initial impressions as it would be just too much. Needles to say I liked what I heard but that was only the begining.

Listening to different sources revealed another interesting aspect. The character of the source was reproduced so faithfully that initially I associated many traits that of a source with what the amp sounds like. Where in fact only certain traits translated between sources and also different speakers used. But lets leave this for a minute and let's talk about the amp. 

Part 2 - What's it like to use?

The build quality is excellent both for the amp and the remote. The handbook that accompanies the unit looks home made at first but when you look closely it shows off a huge number of individual inspections and very strict quality control that the amp has to adhere to. I like the confident simple and modern look of the amp. LEDs thankfully are not too bright. Great so far.

The one quirk I found was that the balanced inputs were the other way round. I didn't care to look but it didn't take me long to realise after I connected a DAC. Another thing which is not how I'd like however not really a criticism is that the volume up and down buttons on the remote have a mute in the middle. I often pressed it by an accident. What I did like about the remote that it almost didn't matter which way it was pointed and it still would work.

One thing I did not like is the sensitivity of the volume pot or its lack of. Tucana have a serious amount of power and with a balanced source you will find yourself not having much of workable knob-space (yes that's a word). However where this is redeemed and credit for this design is that each input has a gain setting. It's not only useful for AB comparisons Wink but for me by lowering the input gain I've had more control over the volume pot. That's excellent functionality. Worth adding you're also protected from blowing up your speakers as Tucana reverts to preset volume with each input change. Apparently this works differently in AV mode according to a handbook but I've not tried it.

The amp never got hot in operation but it stayed constantly warm to touch even when not in use. It would remain room temp when in standby. I kept it on most of the time as I've notice best performance was with the unit warmed up. Over the 3 weeks I've used it I really have nothing negative to say about it. And that's the bare minimum I expect from hardware that it doesn't get in the way.

Part 3 - Listening

Considering the number of sources and speakers I've used I could go on for pages about every aspect of the sound. How individual changes impacted on the overal results. In fact I did... and trust me there was way too much, so you're going to have to get this shortened version. But I think the point is not in how but what it does that matters most.

I'm mostly an album listener. One thing I really like was how Tucana would grip my attention until the very end. Many tracks I've taken a note of were close to the end of an album. The only album I didn't finish was "Essential Yello" and that's despite of all the effort that went into production. I just couldn't connect with the music and switched off half way through.

My overriding feeling is that Leema reproduces the character of the recording truthfully. It's that authenticity it brings that's so alluring. I guess it is a high praise indeed as there's nothing in the amp's character that adds nor detracts from music. With how it works with different sources you can emphasise certain trait that matter more to you. Music gained an extra dimension that it will be difficult to go back from. 

But how you may ask...  what makes it so engaging? And what do you mean by authenticity? It took me 3 weeks to understand what it is about its sound.

First of, it's the musicality... Wow, you're really creative here insider. It's so easy to spot tonal differences, detail, etc. but musicality... Could you be be even more vague if you tried?

Sure! Are you suggesting I'm not trying hard enough? Well, let's get into more detail then. One of the biggest surprises was listening to Norah Jones and realising "I've Got To See You Again" is actually a Rumba. I've heard this track and the album many times but the subtle way of how each bass note just gives its characteristic groove the certain restraint just accentuated the lyrics which took the track to a different level. It's how it handles every note to achieve this, that's so interesting. I found myself paying attention to different tracks as a result of this.

Listening to Miles Davis "Milestones" (album) has always been a pleasure but this time I somehow was drawn to one track "Billy Boy". It's just a trio here and that's more than enough. Drums are impactful and an amazing bawed bass solo never sounded so good.

This bring us nicely to the next point... Dynamics and control

Drums and bass just sound right. Bass is tuneful and agile. But it's not just that it's the whole expression. It's the strumming hand on the guitar, it's the snare being hit, etc. I had goosebumps all over my body listening to Alice in Chains "Unplugged" as my first album via Tucana. The impact from the begining was huge, but the guitar playing on "Sludge Factory" just shows how much anger acoustic guitar strings can convey. Most people don't play like this.  
But here's an interesting point. I really loved the quieter moments in tracks or the more understated tracks. In fact I preferred them, it felt like foreplay. They'd just draw you in. There was so much subtlety you could pick out. Like Larry Klein's bass on Peter Gabirel's "Mercy Street". So understated and so often obscured by the congas.
Tucana had absolute control of my speakers top to bottom. Never letting go no matter whether it had to deal with System of a Down or Alison Krauss, no matter the volume level. I couldn't play it loud to start with. I'm still wondering why this is, it's either that I needed some adjustment, the DPS filters I eventually reworked or the source (DAC05B). There was also a small matter of me having blasted my system at full volume a week or so prior which might had some impact. However that changed about two weeks in.

Detail and imaging were top notch. But detail impressed in not the obvious ways. It was the texture and richness of instruments' timbre. It was amount of ambient information, the realistic reporduction of reverbs. These things would add to the feeling of being there when listening to live recording. And here we are back at the begining. The authenticity... It was B.B. King "Live at the Regal" that made me realise what all these things I've heard meant. It's when crowd goes absolutely bonkers during "How Blue Can You Get?" you feel a part of it.

It won't make your albums sound nicer than they actually are but neither will it make them sound horrible. But if you have an epiphany and realise that Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" actually sounds quite old,don't be surprised. It will however reveal so much more about the haunting ending to "Gold Dust Woman". Feed it a great recording thought and you're in for a treat. Be it Beck from his masterpiece "Sea Change", Opeth "Heritage" or new Myles Kennedy "Year of the Tiger" Tucana will leave you with a lasting impression.

Part 4 - The Wrap

I should probably start this part once again thanking Rick as it was an amazing experience. It really changed how I view what's achievable in this hobby. At the very same time I want to express my amazement as to how it is that Leema products are not better known. I won't be able to offer up any indication of value for money but then again this was not a point of this review.

Second thanks are to... you, if you made it this far. I'd really love to make it shorter, so big thanks for taking the time. If you have any comments or questions please share and if there's any clarification needed please ask as I should have the amp for a few more days.

If the main criticism of a piece of equipment is that it needs to be paired with good ancillaries then is this really a criticism...

How do you know if you're listening to exceptional piece of kit? It's when it challanges everything you know about the music you know well. It's when it redefines albums and makes you appreciate the tracks you took no notice of before. Tucana did this for me.

If you get a chance go out and listen for yourself, you'll thank me later Smile

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beautifully written , thanks . so good to see an integrated which can compete with many pre power combo`s .  enjoyed hearing it at bristol show 

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Never heard a Leema amp but your write up was interesting and nice to read, especially as you're not an experienced reviewer. Therefore, it relayed the information better to myself, if that makes sense, more a realistic impression?

Makes me want to check one out, to see what differences I find. Top notch, well done sir!

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Thank you Ade! I was well aware that with the amount of text I had to make it interesting. I'm glad you've enjoyed it. 

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Got a text from Rick today and it looks like my time with Leema is slowly coming to an end. It will be going back sometime in the next week or so. And I would be quite upset if it wasn't for the fact it will be replaced with Esoteric F-05. Complete with a DAC board which has now landed in the UK. 

I've been feeling a little under the weather but this news has given me a huge boost. I feel like a kid on the run up to Christmas. 

@whitehart, thanks for a wonderful suggestion.

Rick, I'm not sure what else I could say to express my gratitude. Thank you! 

I've decided to test Leema with my new £40 PA Yamaha speakers. I'm shocked to say that all the traits described above are translated via these cheap speakers. Granted I'm using DSP but even with these cheap speakers this amp just sounds amazing. 

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Super Wammer

Really enjoyed reading that write up Luke, thanks for taking the time to review it so thoroughly. It sounds an impressive piece of kit.

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1 minute ago, greybeard said:

Really enjoyed reading that write up Luke, thanks for taking the time to review it so thoroughly. It sounds an impressive piece of kit.

Thanks Colin, appreciate it. It is indeed a great piece of kit and. By the way,  love the new avatar. 

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Super Wammer

Thanks Luke, just stumbled across this thread. That is a really good write up that I enjoyed thoroughly. It expressed so much more than many professional reviews - thankfully confusion can occasionally lead to enlightenment. I have never heard any Leema kit but after your review I now want to.

And that surely should be the aim of every review.

Good luck and thanks.

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Good write up. I have the Leema Quaser amp, which I think is superb and a keeper. Only weakness is I tried the headphone output and was not impressed. Need to have a play with different headphones and see if it improves.

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Thanks a lot. Glad you enjoyed it.

I only briefly tried headphone output with my cheap IEMs. I don't have anything to report other than it worked. I'm not a headphone listener. It's so bad that I ended up selling my AKG K712 as they were hardly ever used.

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Thanks all for your comments. Leema has returned to Musicraft today, so sadly won't be able to provide any more thoughts on the amp. Had fantastic time with it. Once again thank you to Rick at Musicraft. Its been an absolute pleasure. 

On the bright side it has been replaced with Esoteric F-05 which I've got playing quietly in the background. I'm struggling to focus on what I'm supposed to write :)

New thread and pics coming tomorrow. 

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On 04/05/2018 at 17:39, insider9 said:

How do you know if you're listening to exceptional piece of kit? It's when it challanges everything you know about the music you know well. It's when it redefines albums and makes you appreciate the tracks you took no notice of before. Tucana did this for me.

Having followed this thread with interest the paragraph above is brilliant .. this is what happened when I put the Art Impressions into my system.  The most amazing thing for me was even the albums you didn't like to listen to , because they had been what I regarded as badly recorded, sounded great.  They would never sound as well as those brilliant recordings but the mask that got in the way was lessened and allowed you to get into the music.

I keep on about synergy in a system .. how the components blend with each other to make a cohesive whole.  As you realise the only way to find out if something works for you is to slot it into the system and suck it and see.  

The only thing I would add about how do you know if you are listening to an exceptional piece of kit (or system or whatever) is when you focus purely on the music and it puts a smile on your face.  Where it heightens emotions and thrills you then seduces you.  It is also about spotting where any faults that then become apparent are coming from.  Is it the kit or is it the recording? .. that is an experience thing where you have listened to the same source many times on different kit and you realise that the recording engineer was a bit too enthusiastic about the bite of a sax in his recording .. which if not heard (or sounds even more accentuated) can then be attributed to something else in the system. 

Dear old Serge is not wrong about measurement . if a speaker has a falling top end frequency response it will hide a glassy treble from a poor source etc. etc.  What measurement does not show you though is resolution of detail and those things we cannot measure but hear and feel  ... measurements will give an indication though through poor square wave response and rise times etc etc but it is not the whole story.   Anyway with digital sources they do not all sound the same - to me the majority sound different but compared to vinyl I have yet to find one that to my ears sounds "right" that I am prepared to spend a small mortgage on.  We are all different though and vive le difference and at the end of the day the most important thing is do whatever makes you happy.

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I've not yet had a pleasure to listen to Art Impressions, but I somehow expect I'd enjoy them. There's something quite reassuring for me in speakers that are not that pretty. Apologies if you like the look of them. I just know that they must sound great and I bet if I had a pair I'd love the look of them too. 

Absolutely music is all that matters. Will it lift you up? Calm you down? Help you reminisce... I'm all for measurements and worked hard on acoustic room treatment to maximise my small listening room. I'm very proud with the results. But like you said we still can't measure everything and often are more sensitive than most equipment. 

Leema gave me goosebumps plain and simple. From first track of Alice in Chains "Unplugged" I put on they were there all the way to track 4. I still get them just remembering my reaction to a concert I've heard so many times before. They didn't go away completely from then on just got used to them a little and expected them :)

Most hits of a snare, drum fills, guitar strings being struck hard. That visceral feeling, really something special. 

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