Leben CS600: An Appreciation

"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever" John Keats on the Leben CS600

Device Type: Integrated Amplifier
Input: 5 line inputs (RCA unbalanced) plus Tape Monitor
Output: single-ended RCA pair
Output power: 32W x 2 (6L6GC) at 1KHz, 28W x 2 (EL34) at 1KHz
Dimensions: 450 (W) X 360 (D) X 142 (H) mm
Weight: 22.5 Kgs.
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Price: $6500.00
US Distributor's Website: www.toneimports.com

Ce n'est pas une critique

The Leben CS600 has been in production since 2005. This is either great news or not, depending on your point of view. In audiophileland, especially in hi-fi reviewerville, the search for the newest-best-thing is often the focus. In real life, that's not such a great thing.

I owned and enjoyed a Leben CS-300SX for many years. For most of that time it drove a pair of c.1967 Alec Valencias. A perfect pairing. When we moved to our new/older home a few years ago, the Altec's no longer had a home (they outgrew our living area) so I eventually sold them and the lovely Leben went away as well.

I wrote my first review for 6moons in 2005 and my gig at that time was to focus on high efficiency speakers and flea power amps. This made sense because that's what I was interested in. I spent years listening to and living with a host of single-driver speakers and beautiful tube amplifiers and preamps. You could say those days were filled with a golden hue (wink).

I became Editor of AudioStream in 2011, the site launched a few weeks before RMAF. At that time, I owned 2 main systems; Pass Labs INT-30A/DeVore The Nines, and Shindo electronics paired with the Auditorium 23 Solovox. The former was my review system, the latter was vinyl-only, i.e. pure pleasure.

I eventually replaced the Pass with the wonderful Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amp and the DeVore The Nines gave way to the bigger and more barn-filling DeVore gibbon X1. Our house-system morphed into a Bluesound Soundbar. So you see, for the first time in more than 20 years I was tube-less. While I enjoyed my barn system every day, I felt as if there was an itch it couldn't scratch.

Enter the Leben CS600.

There's been an ongoing debate between tube and solid state amplification lovers for as long as there have been lovers. While I can see some of the points raised on both sides as having some validity, they only do so within the confines of audiophileland and reviewerville. In real life, not so much.

The Leben CS600 is among the most controlled, incisive, and articulate amplifiers I've heard or owned. When I say "heard", I mean more than a quick listen at a show because if we count all of those, we're talking silly numbers.

But every amplifier in existence is only as good as the system it sits in. You can say the same for every other hi-fi component. We also want to make sure the amplifier we buy works well with the speakers we own (I prefer and recommend that order of events). Since my DeVore gibbon X present an easy load (91.5dB/W/M, 8.5 Ohms, 16 Ohms max, 7.3 Ohms min @ 26Hz), the Leben CS600 provides more than enough power to drive them to real-world like-live volume levels. Barn-rattling fun.

But power is such an overrated spec. Don't you think? The Leben imbues music with "flesh and blood" (those are Herb Reichert's words and they are among my favorite words written about hi-fi). Its ability to turn signal into music transcends genre2 and topology.

The CS600 ships with 6L6GCs but the amp can also run EL34s. I chose to mount a quad of Genelec Gold Lion KT77s, a drop-in EL34 alternative, which to my ears add a bit more funk, fury, and drive. This ability to slightly shift the sound of the CS600, or any tube-based amplifier, by switching tubes is nothing but a good thing. Some people don't think so but they're apparently wrapped too tight to simply enjoy the result. The Leben also offers Bass Boost (+3dB, +5dB), a Balance control, a Headphone amp, and the ability to bypass everything but the amplifier section (making it a handy tool for reviewing DACs with volume control).

I've already spent many a long night, after many a long day, listening to music for pure pleasure and I am very happy to report that the Leben CS600 has become another welcome member of the "I'm dancing and singing with joy" barn music-making system. Consider my itch scratched.

1. It has been the case that a move to a new home leads to new speakers (i.e. appropriate for the new room) and amplification (appropriate for the new speakers).
2. I cringe when a component or system is praised for its ability to play a specific musical genre—"...particularly well suited for lute and bow tie."

Associated Equipment

Stephen Dupont's picture

I've had a similar experience with a new home, necessitating new speakers (actually, two pair) and hence new amplification. in my main system i now have an Icon Audio ST40, and a switch to GL KT77s effected a change along the lines you noted. this is indeed a good thing.

my other system does double duty for music and video. its not quite settled, but i may have found happiness in a Lyngdorf TDAI 2170, an all-in-one with room correction that would not be out of place in the pixels of audiostream.

norma's picture

I bought a Shindo Masseto preamp (which I love) that feeds a Leben CS1000P amp, which I planned on replacing someday when I win the lottery with a Shindo amp. But I love the Leben's sound, as you said. I also replaced the tubes recently and put in Gold Lions. Now I love the Leben even more. The Leben may not go anywhere for a long time. It's good to see some appreciation for Lebens. They seem to fly under the radar.

SpinMark3313's picture

Anxiously awaiting my order of a Leben CS-300F to go with a lovely pair of ultra-sensitive ZU Omen Def Mk. II's. I suspect it will be a killer pairing. If not, look for a mint condition Leben on the used market in about 6 months...
Rolling in various JAN-6197's will be a bit of interesting fun.
Musical enjoyment through Hi-Fi is just such a wonderful hobby, no?

AudioDoctor's picture

Perhaps one day I will get to it.This, or the CS300-X would easily drive my Druid MK5s. Maybe I need multiple amps AND multiple speakers as well.

Campo007's picture

I also was running the Gold Lion KT77s in my Audio Note Kits mono blocks until i discovered the Sophia Electric EL34s. Michael, if you love "flesh & bone" served with your music, the Sophia's have it in spades. So much so, they make the KT77s sound anaemic. Check them out if you can.

PeterMusic's picture

A very nice piece, and you've piqued my curiosity on Leben for a second time. I've been sniffing around a McIntosh 275/C22 combo and also the Luxman L-590-AXII in the pursuit of "flesh and blood". Any thoughts on how these might compare? Cheers!

DrJohn's picture

I use a Leben CS660P power amp with Audible Illusions L3A preamp into Harbeth SLH5 speakers (match made in heaven for me). It's the most wonderful sound I've had at home after over 30 years of trying. Nottingham analogue vinyl front end with Lyra cart. After trying a number of valves, I swap between NOS RCA Black Plate 6L6GC (warm and fuller) and Gold Lion KT66 (brighter and a little punchier).

As to valves vs solid state, analogue vs digital debate - I solve that problem by having a Naim Supernait2 with Chord DAC system in the dining room. Not anywhere near as revealing, but has all that rhythmic, foot tapping involvement that Naim is famous for.

Dog Walker's picture

Somewhere sometime ago I lost my way and ended up chasing my tail trying to match a succession of higher powered amplifiers to inefficient speakers. The Leben CS600 paired with the Omegas has brought me back to a time that music put a genuine smile on my face - no matter the media or genre.

sheffield's picture

After 45yr in hifi, I have finally settled with Leben cs600. It does not have the appealing look of the Jadis 50 nor McIntosh 275 I once had, but when it starts to sing, it is something else. It is not hifi, it is pure music with emotion that had kept me listening for hours day after day. I need now a bigger closet for my growing vinyl collections!

BigTuna's picture

I have a CS-300S driving Altec Model 19s which is a heavenly pairing. I have a CS600 on order and probably looking at 3-4 months on delivery. I am going to give these Gold Lion KT77s a try. I can't wait - I am hooked on Leben and Line Magnetic's big triode amps. Both are just such amazing values.