The Libra has three analogue inputs that feature both XLR and RCA inputs. These are fitted with their own analogue circuitry and their access to the volume control does not involve any flirtations with the digital side. The Libra outputs via either XLR or RCA connections and these can be either given a fixed value or linked to the volume control. This is a 248 step system that can also be used to mute when switching inputs if your levels are somewhat imbalanced. As you might expect from such a device in 2016, the volume ramp is absolutely linear and the performance of the Libra doesn’t change at any increment. As such, the Libra – while undoubtedly a DAC – is also unquestionably a preamp, too. It is perfectly possible to use it as a line-level device but this does rather knock out a big chunk of what the Leema has been designed to do.
All this cleverness is then encased in the Constellation casework used on other flagship Leema devices. This is a very hefty piece of metalwork indeed, although the heatsinks on the side are somewhat superfluous on a device that has barely exceeded room temperature in the time it has been in situ. Everything feels solid and well finished though and the matt finish silver front panel is understated and handsome. The controls are pretty logical too. The larger of the two circular controls handles volume while the smaller one handles inputs and menu navigation with a push-to-select function.
The Leema has the facility to adjust filter and phase settings via this menu and you can also alter the pin wiring of the I2S connection should your source happen to have a different one to that supplied by Leema. More specific is the adjustment for LIPS (Leema Intelligent Protocol System), which allows for Leema equipment to be chained together to operate from a single remote and to interact with RS232 and home control systems. The only slight fly in this ointment is that the display that handles this information is a little basic and inelegant. It is fairly easy to read and use, but on a product that costs £6,000 it feels a bit on the crude side. Happily, what Leema takes with one hand it gives with the other, and the remote is a hefty and well crafted device that has all the functions and controls you need, and excellent range and off axis performance.
With a Melco N1A supplying a USB signal, a Naim ND5XS a coaxial one, and a Cyrus Phono Signature doing the honours for an analogue feed, the Leema is simplicity itself to get up and running. Like a number of preamp devices being used at fixed level, it pays not to simply wind the volume output to maximum as you’ll find the output levels a little on the high side. In addition, I found the differences between the filter settings are fairly subtle but I have marginally preferred the ‘wide’ setting.
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, there is no immediate sign of any of that considerable processing horsepower making itself obviously apparent in the audio performance of the Libra. Nothing leaps out of the sonic performance as being overly processed or manipulated. It is abundantly clear after a performance of the 24/96kHz download of Bowie’s Blackstar [Columbia] that the Leema has not been imbued with the Quattro Infinity hardware with attention-seeking, demonstration-winning properties that ultimately fade faster than a boy band’s career.
Instead, you get Blackstar in all its melancholic weirdness, unvarnished and unembellished. Listen a little longer and what the Libra is up to begins to make itself more apparent. With ‘Girl Loves Me’, the definition to the curious chord sequence in the lower midrange is defined and presented with a clarity and impact that it never seems to have shown up until this point. As a device for retrieving detail the Libra is truly exceptional but it is what it does with this information that really sets it apart. Instead of drawing your attention to this by throwing it at you in a flurry of information, you get a refined and beautifully integrated picture of what is going on. Everything is there but you get to discover it in your own time rather than being left feeling like the guy in the Maxell tape advert.