I don’t know about you, but I really appreciate hand built high-fidelity components.
And when it comes to integrated amplifiers, few are more bespoke than what British amplifier manufacturer LFD are offering. While many of the most coveted small-batch UK amp makers are literally undertaking a cottage industry for their hair shirt designs, LFD takes that premise even further in that each amplifier made is put together start-to-finish by one man. That man is Dr. Richard Bews, and he personally builds, and tests every amplifier that leaves his modest shop.
This attention to detail, and personal investment by Bews has paid huge dividends over the years as his designs have racked up numerous hifi-review accolades as among the most sonically-revered solid state integrated amplifiers in production.
I’ve had limited exposure to Bew’s amps, but I’ve been deeply impressed by them every time I’ve heard them, so I always take advantage of an opportunity for a listening session with an LFD-based system. In Los Angeles at the LAAS it was in the Gene Rubin Audio room on the fourth floor of the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. Here the LFD NCSE MKII Plus Integrated Amplifier ($6,795 USD, $9,150 CAN), and LFD LE/SE Phono Stage ($1,790 USD, $2,400 CAN) was fronted by an Acoustic Signature Challenger MK III turntable ($4,995 USD, $6,720 CAN), with an Acoustic Signature TA 2000 9-inch Tonearm ($2,395 USD, $3,220 CAN), and a Dynavector 20X2L cartridge ($995 USD, $1,340 CAN). The digital front end was comprised of the Aurender N10 Server/Streamer ($7,999 USD, $10,770 CAN) feeding into a CanEver Audio ZeroUno DAC ($7,990 USD, $10,755 CAN). Loudspeakers were a pair of the exceedingly transparent, and dynamic Harbeth Monitor 30.1 ($5,495 USD).
While I was in the room there was mix of analog, and digital being routed through, so I had a chance to assess both formats, and whether it was the Acoustic Signature/Dynavector or Aurender/CanEver combo, this was a rich, and musical playback experience. Voices had real human texture, and presence, with wood-bodied instruments being reproduced with life-sized resonance, and uncannily realistic timbre – especially piano. Drum flourishes crashed, and simmered, and notes lingered in the air with bloom, and decay that reminded me of 300B-tubed amplifiers I’m familiar with.
The Harbeth M30.1 speakers are one of the most neutral transducers I’ve heard (and owned), and the DV20X2 (also owned) is a meaty, yet balanced cartridge that gives plenty of bounce for the buck, so being fairly familiar with some of this system’s attributes gave me further respect, and admiration for the LFD NCSE’s amplification abilities. Open, warm – with accuracy – and real visceral punch to percussion, the LFD gave nothing up in air, and space on the top end while delivering convincing weight in the middle registers. In short: An amplifier I’d like to spend a lot more time with in my own home. I think I need to drop Dr. Bews a line regarding a review sample.