Leptoni Headamp

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Apr 29, 2018.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    This was the thing that @Bill-P brought over from Vietnam where the manufacturer wanted honest input. The Leptoni has SE inputs and SE and balanced outputs. There are preout RCAs and XLRs on the back. The tubes are EL84 and ECL82. The ECL82 is an oddball in that is a triode / pentode combo. I don't know much about the ECL82, nor do I know much about the amp's topology or how the ECL82 is used. @Bill-P indicated that this amp is SET. I didn't have anything to compare it to other than the Af. I'm posting these early impressions at @Bill-P's urging.

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    Impressions are that this amp is very good. It's a good sounding amp. I only have a few nitpicks, and really, they are nitpicks. As configured with the tubes, the tonality is a bit hollow (there is warmth and good highs, but lower midrange body seems attenuated). In addition, I feel the lowest octave in the bass just isn't quite there. The Af by contrast is more even throughout the entire band with fuller mids and a extended bottom octave. The space and layering isn't quite as deep and separated. On occasion, the Leptoni has a hole-in-the middle presentation without a strong center image. Again, also nitpicking here - all headphones sound like this to me to some extent. Overall microdynamics and microdetail is excellent, equivalent to the Af, with the exception of spatial detail. Bass seems just a tick less tight and also with less slam compared to the Af. Af edge macrodynamics was the first that that I had noticed - the most immediate difference to me.

    I will listen to this amp a few more days to make more sure of what I am hearing. The differences are not huge. This is definitely good amp and it took my some time and repeated listenings to discerne the differences. Bill-p can attest to this. Normally, if something is junk, it only takes me 2 seconds.

    Now @Bill-P and @brencho will offer their 2 cents.
     
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  2. Bill-P

    Bill-P Level 42 Mad Wizard

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    Ah, cool. Thanks, Marv!

    Just to clarify a few things...

    The amp is called Leptoni DT Alpha. I didn't bring it over. One of the creators of the company had his brother bring the amp over and ship it to me some time last month. I kept it for a week, then brought it over to @brencho and left it with him for a week, then I delivered it to @purr1n on Friday.

    Product page link: http://leptoni.com/single-ended-output-transformers-tube-amp

    I got to meet up with Leptoni's founder some time in January and they expressed interest in getting our community's feedbacks on the amp. So... that's what's happening.

    Also, if you can't access that website up above, this amp supposedly has a price tag of around $3299 to $3999 depending on configuration. So it's not cheap, and definitely should be compared to Zana Deux, Aficionado, and the likes.

    I talked to Leptoni and asked them to make an account here just so they can answer questions directly. I'm not affiliated with them and it gets annoying when I have to relay info back and forth, so there's that. :p

    As for this amp, honestly, I feel that it's quite decent, but not quite there yet at the price point. I put it through its pace... using HD580/HD650/HD800, the regular suspects, and some planars (HE-4XX, T-X0). While over at brencho's place, we had Utopia and Clear as well. Courtesy of @Melvillian. So both @brencho and @Melvillian have also heard this amp and they can chime in here.

    The Mullard tubes used in the stock configuration seem to be main culprit affecting the sound. They have this weird... slightly congested/claustrophobic sound to them. I still remember that that's what happened when I used Mullard with my Crack. Tung-Sol or Amperex might have been better here, considering the slightly relaxed/smoother tonality of this amp. Granted, it's still a tube amp so I'd say this is more like an intimate stage with some breathing room.

    Just as Marv said, it's lacking a bit of low, sub bass extension/impact. This is not very unlike how ZD does bass (I own a ZD now, btw, for those who don't know), but at least ZD has a very wide and big stage to make up for the lack of impact. The DT Alpha is just... a bit weak, and a bit too closed-in. I guess the right analogy here would be to say ZD sounds like HD800 staging, and DT Alpha is like a typical ortho/planar magnetic headphone in staging. It's a bit... held back, like the stage just doesn't want to open more to the sides, or to the front. In contrast, ZD opens a lot to the sides, and Af pushes a very deep stage from direct comparison.

    Also to my ears, the treble is a bit... lacking in resolution and layering. Maybe I'm too used to the EC amps, but regardless of what headphone is used, I feel like treble resolution is better with EC amps. Treble with DT Alpha is just a little bit gray, and I have heard this with at least 2 setups at this point so I don't think it's just me.

    Most of the above may be nitpicky but... considering the price tag, I think this amp should be held to that standard. If this amp started out at around $2K, with options to go up from there, I think it would be a more reasonable proposition but I also understand that in Vietnam, it costs more for Leptoni to procure high-end audiophile parts to put into the amp, so there's that. They did make the output transformers themselves, though, and I think the transformers are very good. Just that the stock tubes could be something better than Mullards.

    Also, I should note that Leptoni does have a higher-end model than this one... a $12,000 amp that drives both dynamic and electrostatic headphones. I have briefly tried that one out as well, and I think that was the better amp than the DT Alpha. Would be interesting if we can get that one for review.
     
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  3. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    In-house transformers too!
     
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  4. Bill-P

    Bill-P Level 42 Mad Wizard

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    Yeah, they are quite clean sounding. They weigh like a ton, though.

    Also, Leptoni said that we can do a loaner tour on this thing so if you're interested, you can check it out in person.
     
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  5. geniekid

    geniekid Almost "Made"

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    According to their product page that was probably their flagship DT-Reference, although their DT-HWT ($9K - $11K) is also capable of driving electrostats and dynamics. These are the kinds of amps I love reading about, since I will never own one.
     
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  6. mphuongz

    mphuongz MOT: Leptoni

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    Thank you @purr1n & @Bill-P

    I am very happy to follow up with you guys about our products here.

    There is an article from Porta-fi about us when we were on tour in Singapore and you are welcome to learn more about Master Dinh Thuy, the founder of Leptoni, and understand his philosophy and approach behind.
     
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  7. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    [​IMG]

    Listening to this now (loaner program).

    WOW.

    It transformed my stock unmodded hd800 to totally different can. Something very romantic, very pleasing, and very relaxing.. Kinda feeling emotionally connected to the music.

    But somewhat sounds like guilty-pleasure. Will collect thoughts more before writing down my impression.
     
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  8. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    @mphuongz

    Your website says this amp costs $3,299 to $3,999 (presumably depending on configurations/options?).

    As a potential reviewer as well as a potential customer, I am having a couple of questions:
    1. What options are available and how much does each option additionally cost?
    2. What is the price of the configuration of this loaner unit if it is sold regularly?

    PS. I am kinda considering to buy one for myself.. seriously. So far, while it did not score well in the standard criteria (there are quite a few nitpick-able issues), overall synergy and experience are too tempting...
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2018
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  9. mphuongz

    mphuongz MOT: Leptoni

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    Thank you @Vtory

    It's always good to hear that our amp matches your headphone setup and especially your taste.

    (1) The price structure of DT Alpha is:
    • The base model costs $3,299 plus shipping
    • Custom look & feel will add $200 more
    • Handpicked tubes (set of 4) will add $500 more
    (2) This loaner unit costs $3,799 so it features a set of carefully handpicked tubes. You will save the waiting time to build (~8 weeks) & shipping cost to the US (~$200) if you end up taking that one.

    At Leptoni, we believe our gears are tools for enjoying music, not for demonstrations of performance at the test bench. They might not be for everyone. However, if you value your musical enjoyment over brand-name show-offs and bigger-the-better spec sheet, these amps will never fail your expectations.
     
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  10. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Loaner impression (Part 1?)

    I've had this amp in my house for nearly four days. While I want to hear it more and more, want to share my impressions so far.

    My background and purpose
    • I was pretty satisfied with the performance of Schiit Lyr 3 (bought late March). It satisfied 95% of my needs. From my previous experience with Decware Taboo 4 and many auditions of similarly-priced SETs/Hybrids, quite sure any upgrade to $2k-2.5k tubes won't fill the gap of the last "5%" to my liking. Thus, I became curious about potentials of more expensive offerings. My purpose for this loaner program was to get the internal data points for 3k-4k range amps.
    Gears used
    • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800 (wo any mods)
    • Amps: Leptoni DT-Alpha (loaner), Dragon Inspire IHA-1 (loaner), Schiit Lyr 3 (reference)
    • DAC: RME ADI-2 DAC (no crossfeed, no eq, inverted polarity)
    Non-sonic impressions
    • Build quality is very nice. Wooden chassis with metal plates look a bit semi-antique (in a good sense). Four glowing tubes in a row are very satisfying to my eyes. Quite sad that my camera skill set is not good enough to deliver 10% of what I really feel visually..
    • For this level of asking price, I would like to have XLR balanced inputs, which can benefit some super sources (e.g., Yggdrasil A2).
    • I initially assumed the switch between two headphone outs was an output-selector, but it wasn't. It's a Lo-/Hi-Z selector.. Anyway, if there is a hp output selector, it will be very convenient for using two headphones together.
    Sonic impressions
    • While DTA is very good at resolving details and dynamics, I immediately picked up something weird from the day 1. Indeed there were a number of seemingly-strange issues in DTA's sonic characters.
    • Compared to Lyr 3, sonic background was not very black, rather warm and colorful grey-ish. Bass attack was soft and effortless. Imaging was slightly diffusing. A bit closed sound stage. Layering felt somewhat continuous (as opposed to too distinct feeling of IHA-1). Microdynamics was great but clearly non-linearly exaggerated.
    • You know what? All the above typically-considered-as-bad traits DID NOT SOUND BAD AT ALL. No. Never. They were magically harmonized, generating very unique listening experience. Lushness and sweetness to die for. No joking. Dare to say this is the tubey sounds done right. Thought I hated such direction. However, it didn't take long until I admitted my secret desire.. DTA+HD800 touched and impressed me with lots of guilty pleasure. Who can imagine just one amp can dominate HD800 and ADI2-DAC to play so (usually these components are never regarded as good at emotional pleasure..).
    • This "magic" was particularly strong with HD800 among my collection. I will examine synergies with other headphones later.
    Closing thoughts
    • While this amp is far from the modern SS-sounding tube amp trends, overall experience was just fantastic to me. I am not sure whether the magic(s) of DTA came from Vietnam (or Asian) culture or Leptoni people's philosophies.. probably the combination of the two. I don't think this amp is everybody's cup of tea. Can easily think of some IRL people who may quickly hate this sounding. Nevertheless, I recommend anybody to try and give a shot for DT-Alpha (hopefully with stock hd800). Guarantee that it would be a valuable audio experience, no matter whether you end up with liking or disliking. TBH I am very eager to own this amp, enough to re-think my audio upgrade plans from the scratch.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2018
  11. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio (Thread Judge Code-6 District)

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    Loaner Impressions -

    I feel like @Vtory summed it up quite well (and I don't have much to add in terms of the non-sonic qualities), but I'll try to embellish on some other things and synergies with the other gear I used the DT-A with.

    Chain: V800 V2 > DT-A > LCD-2.1 / LFF HE-5LE / LFF HE-6 / HP-3 (loaner)

    My main rig has been V800 > Valhalla 2 / Sys > DIY Pass ACA Monoblocks > Headphones for about a year. Definitely apples and oranges compared to the DT-A but this is my point of reference.

    It's probably a good idea to mention that the DT-A was my first experience with a proper transformer-coupled tube amp at home in my own chain (spent some time with EC Af at a meet or two but never with my own cans or source). I have owned the Valhalla 2 for years but this is of course a completely different topology and presentation.

    General impressions:

    - feels like a guilty pleasure / valium to my ears
    - extension a bit attenuated on both ends
    - eliminates D/S DAC edginess
    - might flatter bright / lean headphones
    - can sound syrupy with dark / warm headphones
    - grey background
    - microdynamics and microdetails present but not exaggerated
    - punchy yet rounded dynamic presentation
    - staging is pleasant but doesn't stand out as a strong suit of this amp
    - sounds best at fairly high listening levels

    The above traits might not sound positive as individual points but work together to provide a unique and distinctive sonic profile. The colorful character is always apparent, and for that reason, the DT-A couldn't be my only amp. Could be a nice complement to a SS amp though. Definitely a radically different signature compared to my reference rig.

    I'll break down further impressions per-headphone and in comparison to my reference chain (apologies I don't have a better-known components on hand):

    LCD-2.1 (my pair is a lot like the 2C's I've heard in tone, just with a slightly thicker texture):

    - highly forgiving syrupy euphonic sound, flatters poorly mastered pop recordings
    - mid-bass feels somewhat accentuated due to previous point and slighly recessed lower mids
    - wall-o-warmth / lots of bloom in the mids compared to what I'm used to
    - mids through treble response smoother than usual (treble peak slightly less apparent)
    - treble grain certainly reduced from the SS pairings I've heard with the LCD's
    - LCD staging remains unchanged

    LFF HE-5LE:

    - confusing pairing (not for me)
    - loses that nimble / sparkly / snappy presentation I'm used to from these cans
    - rounded mid-treble transient response creates a sense of dynamic compression
    - reduced fatigue at the expense of reduced excitement with fast-paced and electronic music
    - guts the soundstage (less contrast between extremes across the headstage)
    - very smooth and pleasant vocal presentation (too bad I listen to instrumentals 95% of the time)
    - sounds best with soft acoustic (but not classical) music (not my primary preference)

    LFF HE-6:

    - confusing pairing (but in a good way?)
    - this is a planar?
    - no more one-note HE-6 bass
    - thicker bass texture with greater quantity and clearer pitch differentiation
    - just the right amount of warmth and body in the mids
    - plankton and microdynamics excellent in the mids - beautifully lush texture. Wish I still had the Theta Gen V
    - absolutely zero treble fatigue (can listen at HE-6 appropriate volume indefinitely without periodically wincing)
    - soundstage feels more in front of the head than around or within the head, but loses a bit of height
    - reminds me of how my Magnepan 3.6's sounded, but with superior bass extension and a lot more bite
    - not the last word in slam compared to SS speaker amps with the HE-6 given smoothed treble transient response, but the improved bass adds enough punch to compensate with certain recordings
    - didn't get a chance to try the DT-A as a preamp in line with a powerful neutral SS amp into the HE-6 but I can imagine that providing exemplary synergy.

    HP-3 (loaner):

    - molasses
    - slightly audible background amp noise
    - loses the sparkle of the top half of the V / feels a bit blurrier up top
    - very round and punchy, but with little to no snap in the treble
    - no change to staging
    - I preferred the HP-3 with the Valhalla 2 or directly out of my Galaxy Note 5

    Closing thoughts:

    - I need to get into tubes
    - I like a good dose of color
    - The HE-6 is a chameleon
    - Out of my price range for now but a thoroughly enjoyable experience
    - Not for everyone but there is quite a bit of magic to be found here if the synergy is right up and downstream
     
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