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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Digital: Sony PlayStation 1 SCPH-1001 with Furutech G-320Ag-18F8 power cord, Oppo DV981HD universal player
Analog: Merrill Heritage turntable completely restored by Anthony Scillia, Rega RB300 tonearm with Pete Riggle Audio VTAF and counterweight, Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge [vinyl front end on short term loan from 6Moons reader Joe Kelley via Pete Riggle - thanks guys!]; Auditorium 23 step-up transformer, and Fi phono stage.
Preamplifiers: Leben RS28CX
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 [in for review], Pass XA30.5 [in for review]
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 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]
Room sizes: Room 1 - 20' L x 17' W x 17' H; Room 2 - 11' L x 11'W x 9' H
Review component retail: $5695

It's cold in the inland Pacific Northwest of the USA right now with the temperature outside my window hovering at 7°F/-14°C. That's cold enough to turn my nose hairs into pointy little ice picks. Gross but true. When the weather is this cold, my morning ritual goes something like this: get a nice large hot cup of Starbucks coffee with a little cream & sugar, get the fireplace going and kick back on the couch to read the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times while listening to great music by the glow of vacuum tubes. This morning it was The Sound of Jazz from the Columbia Jazz Masterpieces catalog that lit my winter morning fire.

There's no doubt that the cheery warm glow of vacuum tubes and some good jazz helped me offset the gloomy economic news printed in the Financial Times this morning: "Global Economy: This could be the year the world turns upside down". With the US economy plunging along with the thermometer, I thought I'd better buy the best preamp I've yet encountered -- the Leben RS28CX -- before the downhill avalanche of the dollar inflated it out of my financial reach. The Leben RS28CX full-function preamplifier with MM phono stage is simply the finest preamplifier for music lovers I've ever encountered. Period. It's so good I bought it for my own listening pleasure. I'm beside myself and giddy about it. But I'm also getting ahead of myself.

Side Bar I: The Music Lovers
For those of you who haven't yet come across the Music Lovers articles I've been penning for 6moons over the last year or so, the articles are about audio equipment of exceptional musical merit. They're not about equipment voiced for audiophiles that will impress you with exaggerated whiz-bang sonics during a 20-minute audition in the showroom and then leave you wishing you'd never seen it after a few months of listening cuz it doesn't play music worth a damn. Music Lovers reviews are dedicated to hifi gear that will give you life-long musical satisfaction so you can forget about the gear-buying merry-go-round and focus on the music you love. -
The Man With The Golden Touch
Mr. Taku Hyodo, the founder and design genius behind Leben Hi-Fi Stereo Company of Japan, is a man with the golden touch. It seems that every component Hyodo San designs is imbued with the golden tones of musicality. I ended up buying both the Leben CS300X Limited and the Leben CS600 integrated valve amplifiers as part of my amplifier stable purely for my own listening pleasure. They are both different and both wonderful. Hyodo San has the Midas touch when it comes to designing amplification electronics for the music lover and as such, he deserves special recognition. Leben electronics 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 his background as a professional acoustic guitarist. 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."

Hyodo San used to design vacuum tube electronics for the premium Luxman brand but on occasion made a few one-off creations for his own listening pleasure and for the pleasure of a few very fortunate friends. Hyodo San's combination of musician's insight and electronics expertise converged 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's friends loved the high level of musicality present in his amplifiers and encouraged him to use his prodigious talent for his own audio company. Hyodo San responded by founding a 'private label' electronics company whose products would reflect his philosophy that 'music is life'. In keeping with his philosophy, Hyodo San called his company Leben, German for 'life' or 'to live'. And believe me, the Leben gear is alive with the sound of music!

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 have been available exclusively in Japan until recently and because only a small number of Leben products are handcrafted each year, not too many people have had the pleasure to experience them. The offerings of a particular Leben product are much like special wine vintages that once exhausted will never be available again, making each one an instant limited edition classic. For example, my Leben CS300X Limited Edition integrated amplifier is now out of production because it is voiced around the NOS Mullard EL84 output tubes, which are now in low supply. Other versions of the CS300X are offered now instead and voiced around more readily available valves.

If you're an audiophile who gets his kicks from sonic tricks, that's okay but please don't buy one of these limited Leben masterpieces. No offense - but you probably won't get the musicality thing and that will deprive a real music lover from owning one of these wonders. I'd much rather see someone who will appreciate Leben's intoxicating musical abilities have one. If you are a music lover and you get an inkling that you'd like to have a Leben RX28CS preamplifier after reading this review, you'd best not sit on your hands too long or you may never get another opportunity to buy one. You've been warned.