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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Digital: Apple MacBook with Airport Express, iPhone, Sony PlayStation 1 SCPH-1001 with Furutech G-320Ag-18F8 power cord, Oppo DV981HD universal player
Analog: Vintage Thorens 124 turntable, Rega RB300 tonearm with Pete Riggle Audio VTAF and counterweight, Denon 103 MC cartridge [vinyl front end on short term loan from the vintage collection of Pete Riggle - thanks Pete!]; Auditorium 23 step-up transformer for Denon 103 MC cartridge, and Fi phono stage.
Preamplifiers: Leben RS28CX full function preamplifier (with phono stage) with Acoustic Revive Power Max II Power Cable
Integrated amplifiers: Leben CS600 with Furutech G-320Ag-18 IEC power cord, Leben CS300X Limited, Almarro A205A Mk1 & Mk2
Amplifiers: Fi 2A3 monos, Leben CS-660P with Acoustic Revive Power Max II Power Cable, Pass XA30.5 [on loan]
Speakers: Harbeth Super HL5 with 18" Skylan stands, Merrill Zigmahornets
Cables: Acoustic Revive PCOCC-A oval single core interconnects [in for review], Auditorium 23 speaker cable; various SilverFi interconnects, digital interfaces & speaker cables; White Lightning Moonshine DIY interconnects & speaker cables; Nirvana interconnects & speaker cables; Audio Tekne ARSP-500 speaker cables and ARC-500 interconnects
Stands: McKinnon Bellevue Symphony walnut media cabinet, Skylan isolation platform [in for review]
Music Makers: Indian Rosewood & Spruce Larrivee parlor guitar, Adirondack Spruce & Brazilian Rosewood Gibson Advanced Jumbo guitar, Eastman Uptown AR910CE arch top jazz guitar & Henrikson Jazz Amp & Analysis Plus Yellow Flex Oval guitar cable.
Room and system tuning: Acoustic Revive REM-8 EMF Canceller, RCI-3 Cable Insulator, RD-3 Demagnetizer, RGC-24 Ground Conditioner, RIO-5 II Minus Ion Generator, Ultra Low-Frequency Pulse Generator R-77, Acoustic Conditioner RWL-3, Pure Smokey Quartz Insulator RIQ-5010 & Pure Quartz Insulator RIQ-5010W, Shorting Plugs SIP-8F, RPT-2 Ultimate & RPT-4 Ultimate Power Supply Boxes, CB-1DB Receptacle Base Plate, CFRP-1F Carbon Fiber Receptacle Plate, Power Max II Power Cable, CS-2F Outlet Stabilizer [all in for review]
Listening Rooms: Room 1 - 20' L x 17' W x 17' H, sheet rock walls & cathedral ceiling, concrete slab floor (carpeted), open to a kitchen & dining room of similar size on rear wall, and open to an entry way on the right side wall; Room 2 - 11' L x 11'W x 9' H, sheet rock walls with flat ceiling, concrete slab floor (carpeted).
Price: $9,500

Life in 31 Flavors
For those of you who haven't read the previous Leben articles here at 6moons written by Paul Candy and me, let me provide you a bit of background on the Leben Hi-Fi Stereo Company of Japan and its founder, Mr. Taku Hyodo. Hyodo San is considered one of the seven best vacuum tube electronics designers in Japan and he used to design vacuum tube electronics for the premium Luxman brand. On occasion he also made a few one-offs for his own pleasure and that of a few close friends. Hyodo San's friends loved the musical nature of his amplifiers and encouraged him to use his design talents to found his own audio company. Being a musician and ardent music lover, Hyodo San responded by founding a 'private label' electronics company whose products would reflect his passion that 'music is life'. Hyodo San called his new company Leben, German for 'life' or 'to live'.

Hyodo San's limited production Leben creations have a very lively following in Japan and a group of enthusiastic owners have even established a fan club called the Leben Audio Lovers' Club. Leben products were exclusive to Japan until recently and because only a small number are handcrafted each year, not too many people have had the pleasure to experience them. Hyodo San's combination of musician's insight and electronics expertise converges in his designs with remarkably musical results. Hyodo San told me "the most important thing is to achieve a total musical balance. I am aiming for a natural sound in my designs that allows the listener to relax and enjoy the music, so I always try to consult with as many ordinary listeners as possible, friends and family. I design my products for real people, the unspecified music lovers."

Hyodo San has the Midas touch when it comes to designing amplification devices for the music lover. All of the Leben electronics I have tried are naturally musical, beautifully crafted, use readily available vacuum tubes, sound wonderful and are modestly priced considering their formidable performance. I think no small part of Hyodo San's golden design touch is due to his background as a professional acoustic guitarist: He knows what live music really sounds and feels like and is able to incorporate that essence into his electronics. Hyodo San told me "my experiences performing and listening to live music helped me a lot in designing my amplifiers. Listening to live acoustic instruments guides my amplifier designs as live music always helps people relax and enjoy the music."

Paul Candy introduced the Leben story to North American readers with his August 2005 review of the 15-watt Leben CS-300X Limited Edition Mullard EL84 vacuum tube integrated amplifier . Not having heard a CS-300X I bought one -- just like 6moons readers do -- on the basis of Paul's excellent review. There he said, "I know this sounds like an audiophool reviewer cop-out but blast it, this wee golden jewel from Nippon just played music. The Leben's natural, unforced ease simply precluded critical analysis by yours truly. There's a complete absence of anything remotely mechanical or electronic about this amp. Simply put, the aptly named "Life" is not for gear heads that swap out equipment every two or three months... the CS-300X is for music lovers who value simplicity, nuance and tonal correctness." Paul was oh so right and I couldn't be happier with my CS-300X, for the littlest Leben is a work of music-making art that I have enjoyed my every moment with. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction, Paul!
I also bought the exceptionally musical Leben 32wpc CS-600 6L6GC integrated I reviewed along with the Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers back in February 2007. The combination of CS-600 and HL5 communicated the expressivity of live music-making during listening sessions in what I felt was tantamount to a HiFi breakthrough. I was so enthralled with the Leben-Harbeth combo that I ended up replacing my Avantgarde Duo loudspeakers and Tom Evans Audio Design electronics reference system with it. One of the most impressive attributes of the Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier is its flexibility to bring out the very best in every pair of loudspeakers I tried it with. In this regard, it was hands down better than both my own Tom Evans Audio Design gear and the superb Shindo gear I had in for review at the time.

Being a newly minted Leben fan, I couldn't help but be pleased when I read Robert Deutsch's and John Atkinson's Stereophile reactions to their first Leben encounters at the recent 2008 Festival Son & Image Show in Montreal. Both were impressed with the combination of the Leben CS-600 and the ProAc Response D Two loudspeakers, with John saying "In some ways -- particularly the overall balance and the sheer accessibility of the music -- this was the best I heard at the Show despite the system's affordable price." If John Atkinson weren't already one of my audio heroes, he would have been after I read that comment. Thanks for telling it like it is, John! The Leben CS-600 is really something special. It doesn't cost a fortune and brings the music to life!

I could have easily lived with the Leben CS-600 and Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers as my sole HiFi system from a musical standpoint if it were not for my interest in vinyl (the CS600 doesn't have a phono stage). That and the need to have separate components for reviewing separate amps and preamps and such meant I was on the lookout for separates that could match the musical performance of the CS-600 integrated. Not an easy feat! Then the Leben RS-28CX vacuum tube preamplifier with tube phono stage arrived for review. You can probably predict what happened next: "The beautifully crafted $5795 Leben RS-28CX Premium Vacuum Tube Stereo Preamplifier from the design studio of Mr. Taku Hyodo is a music lover's dream component. Exquisitely voiced, it unfailingly gets the music right regardless of medium. I bought the Leben RS-28CX for my own personal musical enjoyment ... absolutely, freakily good and as such, most highly recommended to music lovers everywhere!"

Which brings me to the 40-watt Leben CS-660P power amplifier that is the subject of this review and which arrived for review along with the Leben RS-28CX preamplifier. To spare you the suspense, yes, I bought the CS-660P too. Reviewing Leben gear is getting expensive. I don't seem able to resist the temptation of its musical charms!