Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Test: Sound Culture

In 2020, we felt the first breaths of fresh wind from the past: the famous British brand Leak, after a half-century vacation, introduced a couple of new components - the Stereo 130 integrated circuit and the CDT CD transport. These whiffs turned into a whole storm because the developers got right into the trend.

Vintage-style design, traditional-style sound, plus a pinch of sought-after digital architecture into the circuit - even from the description, the story promised to be interesting. And the tandem of Leak components and Wharfedale Linton acoustics became an example of what a modern retro stereo system should look like.

It cannot be said that the storm has subsided because every time a look at this beauty causes a certain excitement. But more than two years have passed, and from the side of Leak - silence. It was even insulting somehow: was the fresh wind really a fleeting draft? But no! Munich, end of 2022, one of the most important themed exhibitions in the world - and the Leak Stereo 230 is presented

Authenticity and logic

Curious why the designers did not change anything? After all, outwardly Leak Stereo 230 is a complete copy of its predecessor with an index of 130. Put them side by side, panel to panel - and you can play the game "find 5 differences". The same aluminum front panel framed in walnut veneer, the same input and volume controls, a similar tone block with a Direct button.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Of course, a careful look will notice that there are much more inscriptions near the choice of entrances. And the inattentive will note that the Stereo 230 has significantly increased in size in depth: now it is almost 42 cm against 28 for its predecessor.

Of course, we have our own theory about this, which is based solely on spatial considerations. You can, for example, explain the lack of changes in appearance purely from the aesthetic side. After all, the design basis for the new Leak technology was their legendary amplifier from the 70s - the Leak Stereo 30, on which Jimi Hendrix himself listened to his records. And you can’t change anything, otherwise, all authenticity will be lost.

The second option also concerns aesthetics, but in a slightly different way: it was necessary to maintain the visual compatibility of the new Stereo 230 and the CDT transport. This is a very logical scheme, because many people immediately bought a set of amplifier and CD transport. And many will want to upgrade their 130 to a 230, so an amp with a new design would be a spoke in the wheel. But the brand is only accelerating.

And thirdly - try to answer the question yourself, only honestly: what needs to be changed in Leak's design to make it even better? Add indicator arrows? Paint in new colors? The appearance of Leak remains self-sufficient and recognizable. In addition, for the Stereo 230, both versions of the body were retained, as in previous models: in walnut veneer and without. Traditionally, you will have to pay a little extra for veneer, but even with this in mind, the 230 will remain in a reasonable price range.

Stronger, bigger, more modern

The bet on design played two years ago, this is obvious. This appearance will not become outdated and will not get bored. But if in this area Leak are going to play one more game with the same cards, then there is only one direction left for development - circuitry.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Here the engineers decided to break away in full. Perhaps it was they who came up with the initiative not to change anything in the exterior of the Stereo 230 in order to expand their boundaries of what is permitted by saving on designers.

First: due to the modernization of the circuit, the power has almost doubled. Now the torus is 270 VA, and at the output we have 115 W / 4 Ohms or 75 W / 8 Ohms in class AB. Other changes in the analog part are not so dramatic, but still there. For example, attention was paid to the headphone amplifier - it received current feedback. The phono stage is built on low-noise JFETs and remains within the MM framework; for other analog sources, two inputs are left on RCA connectors and an output from the preamplifier.

The following radical changes affected the DAC: they didn’t do anything smart, but simply replaced it with a more high-end ES9038Q2M, which can already process both PCM up to 32 bit / 768 kHz, and DSD up to 22.58 MHz (DSD512). To receive a digital signal, there is optics, coaxial, USB Type B and another indispensable connector in our time, which no multifunctional amplifier can do without, no matter how it flirts with retro style - HDMI ARC.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

But there is also the MQA format, which every self-respecting device should support. The Leak Stereo 230 is MQA compatible at the hardware level and on all digital inputs except HDMI. An official certification from Roon put an end to this issue. Moreover, even the Bluetooth module has been changed: now it is 5.0 standard and supports the modern aptX LL protocol.

As a result, we get the most versatile amplifier with all the necessary functionality that may be needed in a modern audio system. This format has been quite common and popular for several years, but Leak were the first to pack the multimedia universe into a vintage case.

The culture of sound

Let's not break tradition. Before us is a new sample of a modern stereo system in retro style: Wharfedale Linton and Leak Stereo 230. In principle, we have nothing against the previous sample, but progress is inexorable, an upgrade is inevitable. For greater effect, let's add a couple of streamers to the system: Cary Audio DMS-500 - via analog inputs, Pro-Ject Stream Box S2 Ultra - via digital ones. And let's get started.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

It should be noted right away that the increase in power relative to its predecessor clearly benefited the Stereo 230. The Lintons played more cheerfully, more lively, adding dynamics and control in the lower register. And the rest is what happened.

If you evaluate Leak Stereo 230 through the prism of different sources, then even with your eyes closed you can tell which one is playing at the moment. Of course, the difference between streamers is huge and the amplifier demonstrates it well. However, his own character did not succumb even to the monumental pressure of Cary and was easily read throughout the test.

Looking at all this vintage beauty, I want to include something close in spirit to the appearance of the amplifier and acoustics. But we will wait with this for now, and let's start with a breathtaking classic: "Britten: Rejoice In The Lamb, Op.30 - For The Flowers Are Great Blessing". A magnificent little thing performed by the Royal Choir from Cambridge to the accompaniment of an organ.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

At first glance, there should be no difficulties - unless the bass depth should be enough, otherwise the meaning of the accompaniment is lost. The vocalist's tenor cannot be lost in the thick of the hall's reverb. And the reverberations of the hall are needed so as not to lose scale. In general, typical tasks for listening to live classical music.

But for some reason, based on experience, fans of such recordings are one of the most fastidious in choosing components for a stereo system. What did the Stereo 230 show? Here, his honesty and truthfulness come to the rescue: he faithfully conveys the tonality, does not mask details, and the potential in terms of bass notes is very good.

I would like a little more attention to minor details that are not lost against the background of the main games, but are slightly masked by the vintage orientation of the system. True, with Leak Stereo 230 you can significantly expand the choice of acoustics, which will have a certain character (an increase in power allows you to do this) - and thus correct the overall sound of the system. And as a universal option for a variety of genres, the tandem of Leak and Wharfedale is quite appropriate and pleasant to listen to.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Step aside - there is Bjork with "Cosmogony". I liked it right away. Of course, the track is uncomplicated, except that the bass part is not the simplest. But still it was interesting to watch the play of her vocals against the backdrop of the post-apocalyptic absurdity of the motive. We can note the exact rendering of the scene, a good, to some extent even unexpected buildup of the bass speakers on the Linton.

Having once heard this track in triphonics, it is difficult to perceive it afterwards, in systems where there is no dedicated bass link. And there were no special hopes, given the difference in the nature of acoustics and the genre. But Leak nevertheless pulled out this almost tectonic bass from the acoustics, for which he is an honest, frank plus. 

Tests of electronic music passed without excesses. Something calm, like Nicolas Viana - "Everything" is served rhythmically; there are no problems with the atmosphere and the distribution of plans. And on more aggressive tracks, the Lintons' resistance was more aesthetic than technical: the Stereo 230 was in full command of the situation.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Well, in the end, so that the visual range and auditory perception enter into the maximum possible harmony, we will plunge into retro. Steve Winwood, Tears For Fears, Frank Sinatra, Van Morrison, AC/DC - you can continue the list yourself, because almost all of us have favorites from those times, from that music. Here it remains only to smile and nod your head to the beat, because the atmosphere achieved with the help of the combined efforts of designers and engineers turned out to be truly mesmerizing. 

The Stereo 230 was delicate here. The prim British character helped him to work correctly with nuances and bass, the construction of the scene did not raise any questions, and only positive impressions remained from this part of the listening, without any “buts”. And if you take into account not only the sound, but also the appearance, then you understand that it is from such components and systems that ordinary listening develops into something more - into a culture of sound.


Imagine if a stylized black and white display appeared on the front panel of the Leak framed in walnut veneer, on the back panel an Ethernet connector, and on a smartphone the Leak Stream application? This would be a logical continuation for a series of components from the vintage line. But what will the public say? Of course, the Leak Stereo 230's Roon certification closes that question in one fell swoop. But no one forbade us to fantasize.

Leak Stereo 230 Integrated Amplifier Review

Important events are happening right before our eyes: legends become true, interconnects on the shelf are covered with dust - amplifiers have become more functional than ever. A few years ago, such multimedia hubs were a universal recipe for unassuming listeners. And now it is a whole culture, the sound quality of which is now growing in proportion to functionality. And, no less important, you can join this culture for an absolutely adequate price: Leak Stereo 230 is a clear example of this.

adequate price tag sound, wide functionality, stylish appearance

At This Price None

Leak Stereo 230

Type: integrated amplifier

Power: 2 x 75 W (8 ohms); 2 x 115 W (4 ohms) class AB

Frequency range: 20-20000Hz (+\-0.3dB)

Distortion (THD): less than 0.003% (1 kHz at 30 W/8 ohms)

DAC: ES9038Q2M

Maximum DAC resolution: 32bit/768kHz, DSD512

Bluetooth: version 5.0, aptX/aptX LL codecs

Inputs: 2xRCA, phono stage (MM), SPDIF (coaxial), SPDIF (optical), HDMI ARC, USB Type B

Outputs: pre-out, 6.3mm headphone out, SPDIF (coaxial), SPDIF (optical)

Additional interfaces: 12V trigger

Optional: MQA Full Decoder Certified Hardware Decoder, Roon Certified, Current Feedback Headphone Amplifier

Finishes: silver, walnut veneer

Weight: 11.1 kg (silver), 12.7 kg (walnut)

Dimensions (W x H x D): 300x115x414 (silver), 328x147x414 (walnut

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