A CD player with added streaming capabilities, Paul Rigby bathes in digital goodness
It’s an all-in-one, isn’t it? Well, of a sort, I grant you that. A digital all-in-one might be more exact. A ‘digital hub’ if you like your key words. While there’s no internal amplifier, there is an integrated CD player combined with a network-based streamer, controlled by either a phone or tablet-based app or a physical remote control and based upon the ESS Sabre 9018 chip.
For Leema specifically, the chassis is relatively svelte and elegant even though it might be considered quite substantial for most companies out there.
You see, I’m used to Leema boxes that look like tanks and are twice as heavy. There’s nothing wrong with that either. Leema is good at offering their customers 70s-era level of perceived value and 70s-era level of build quality. Industrial. Massy. Heavy. HiFi…for…men (cue video of a growling, bare-chest, sweaty, ripped blacksmith smacking an anvil with a sledgehammer backed by AC/DC soundtrack).
That kind of thing.
SIZE AIN’T EVERYTHING
It’s a surprise that the Stream IV knocks the dimensions down along with the weight: 435 x 95 x 330mm (approx. 17 x 4 x 13in) while the 5.5kg (just over 12 pounds) weight is still reasonable but positively buoyant compared to normal Leema fare.
Oh and I didn’t get the above specs from the manual which is lacking in terms of information and poor in terms of production values. Especially at this price point. It looks like it’s been printed on Dad’s colour printer as part of a snotty oik’s weekend homework. Not impressed. Leema has been producing sub-standard manuals for years now and I’ve been telling them off about it for years too. Sort it out, people!
The front of the chassis is topped by a slim CD tray. The far right shows a large rotary knob. Press it in for three seconds to switch on the unit and one second to eject the CD tray. I disliked this because I kept getting my timings wrong and turning the unit onto standby when I wanted to access the CD tray. I got the rhythm in the end but I shouldn’t have had to do this in the first place. Just give me two small buttons for goodness sake: a power button and an eject button. Why complicate matters?
Rotating this same button provides a slow/fast reverse scan.
You get another large knob on the left and more complex timings. Press this knob for a second to play the CD, pressing again during play pauses the CD play. Pressing the knob for three seconds stops CD play and enables the streamer. Rotating the knob anti-clockwise zips through the tracks numbers in reverse order. Rotating the knob clockwise runs through tracks in play order.
Look, if you want to control this unit, use the remote control. It’s solid, small-ish but straight-forward to use.
The rear looks a lot less eccentric. There’s a pair of analogue outputs, a coax and optical and a USB-A port for thumb drives. There’s an Ethernet port too and twin Wi-Fi antennas to encourage a stable signal (and it was too).
To begin the tests I grabbed the self-titled CD from Design. An expanded 50th anniversary release on the the Vacancy label of sunshine pop that covers content from 1971 and 1972. This is a complex vocal harmony UK outfit of male and female vocals. A 6-piece outfit consisting mainly of ex-BBC staff, trivia fans, which I thought apt because Leema was also founded by ex-BBC staff.
You see? This review malarky does have some thought behind it, you know.
The track Coloured Mile features percussion, a lively bass guitarist who’s quietly freaking out in the corner, orchestral brass, secondary percussion (i.e. tambourine) and acoustic guitar. So plenty for the Leema to get to grips with here.
To begin, I looked at the CD portion of the Stream IV, comparing it to my Audiolab 6000CDT transport configuration which amounted to a similar price point (ish) with the connected DAC. I have to say right now, this comparison was little unfair but I felt that it had to be done because I knew the question would arise at one point from you, dear reader. Hence, I compared, just for the record.
Now let’s recall here. The 6000CDT is a specialist CD transport with a high-end DAC connected with an audiophile cable. Even the CDT’s coax port has de-noising technologies applied to it. Then there’s the isolating effects of the separated products.
Add all of this together and what do you get? The Stream IV was surprisingly good, that’s what. It wasn’t as good as the Audiolab set up but, to be frank, I didn’t think it would be. I’ve already completed this sort of test when I originally reviewed the CDT so I had a feeling that upper mids from the Stream IV would be a tad noisy when compared to the CDT.
Now my CDT set up has bested specialist integrated CD players costing £2,000-£3,000. I’m talking about players that do nothing else but play CDs. Let’s remember that the Stream IV is packed with a CD transport, DAC and streaming equipment so high-frequency noise is bound to be higher, at least in a relative sense, in the Stream IV. The results were expected. No blame can be placed upon the Stream IV. It’s the nature of beast, you might say.
So, moving on, in general terms, the Stream IV offered an excellent CD performance. I was most impressed by its general performance. That is, without getting into specifics, for an integrated CD player, the Stream IV provided a neutral and balanced performance. There wasn’t a hint of brightness. For an integrated player, there were no edgy upper mids. Frequency discipline was good. I never felt that bass encroached into the midrange area. It never artificially boosted the mids or masked treble. In fact, if anything, the Stream IV provided a slightly smoothing suite of mids. Not actually warm or sweet but just prodding a little into that direction. Many listeners will love the sonic approach from the Stream IV.
How does the Stream IV actually compare to other specialist CD players? I brought in another integrated. One from Leema, actually, and one I thoroughly recommend. The Elements is price around £1,500. Actually, it’s a little under that figure but performs very well for that price.
During play, the Elements provided a similar sonic delivery to the Stream IV. I could hear an almost house sound here with the broadly neutral presentation edging slightly towards a warming area. Both the Elements and the Stream IV were very pleasant indeed. Almost old school in sound terms.
The Elements did offer a lower noise floor during play, though. Both the midrange and treble didn’t offer any hint of high-frequency noise encroachment but again, that was to be expected because there was no streaming equipment sitting cheek by jowl, in the same Elements chassis as there was in the Stream IV.
But that’s not all. While the Elements might provide a lower noise floor, the Stream IV did offer a superior overall performance in terms of midrange insight and detail presentation. Hence, the reverb (i.e. echo) effects from the acoustic guitar strumming was more apparent from the Stream IV. There was more space around the soundstage from the Stream IV while bass had a greater impact than the Elements. The Stream IV produced bass with a real sense of focus and precision. So there were swings and roundabouts here in terms of integrated CD performance.
To solve the noise floor issue from the Stream IV, I would look at grounding accessories which will suck out a lot of that noise to enhance sonics further. Give me a shout if you need further information.
I then turned to streaming and hooked the Stream IV to my home Wi-Fi, via a wired connection to maximise the sound quality. I controlled the audio with the MConnect app (downloadable via iOS or Android). Once the app had found the Leema (which took a second or two), I first played Nina Simone’s Love Me or Leave Me and remembered just how good the Leema streaming hardware is.
I was floored. Streaming is quite superb. Considering this sound file was a lossy affair and was thus crippled, even before it even got out of the gate, the sonic presentation was civilised. Surprisingly so, in fact. The sense of clarity raised my eyebrows in the first few seconds.
Simone was full of eccentricities when she performed in the studio. She didn’t care. She just did her thing. So little clicking noises made by her mouth, her breathing and piano style were all distinctly ‘her’. A lot of these traits made it through the Leema which was a surprise. The soundstage was quiet, even in tone with lots of space on offer while the piano itself, a horrendous instrument to translate by any HiFi system, was effectively tamed (as best as you can via a streamed lossy file, at any rate).
This initial test was a tough test but the Leema past it with flying colours.
Playing a selection of songs from Can via Qobuz continued to prove the point in sonic terms, adding to the joy from the streaming medium as bass offered a firm, solid foundation, adding weight and impact while the upper frequencies, specifically via the electric guitar and vocals not only provided an impressive degree of excitement but also some measure of considered emotion to the performance.
I then switched to a more physical source and inserted a USB stick into the rear of the chassis and played ripped files from the John Foxx album, Howl plus a selection of tracks from various LPs from The Byrds.
The USB stick didn’t suffer from quite as much high-frequency noise as the CD player – mainly because the sound source sat – literally – outside of the chassis although there wasn’t quite the same level of sophistication as offered by the CD player, either. If I was being hyper critical, I would say that the mids were a little tense from the USB – imagine scrunching your shoulders and holding that position. The internal CD player didn’t do that.
It roamed around a larger space enjoying the extra room to manoeuvre. As I say, that was my super picky opinion when comparing it to the CD player. In broader terms, the sound from the USB stick remained very good indeed. If you hadn’t had heard the CD then there was nothing obviously wrong with it but plenty that was right: disciplined frequencies, crisp bass output, evenly toned mids and decent treble.
In broad terms, the Leema Stream IV is easy to use, works well and sounds – in general terms – excellent. It has none of the confusing complication of many modern, competing streamers and network hardware that you find on the market. Some of those competitors look like they’ve been ripped from the bridge of the starship Enterprise. The simplicity of the Stream IV – when controlled by the remote – is quite refreshing in fact and should be a big selling point all on its own.
The sonic performance from the CD player is very good indeed. If you added a couple of noise-sucking grounding accessories then it would blossom, in fact while the streaming performance is quite superb.
Let’s also remember that the Stream IV is effectively an all-in-one so a higher noise floor is to be expected but it also means a smaller footprint for those lacking in viable space, you save money by buying all of these components in one go and you don’t have any cabling headaches to contend with. So there’s lot going for the Stream IV.
LEEMA STREAM IV CD PLAYER & DIGITAL HUB
Buy Here: https://ebay.us/TFJKej
GOOD: general streaming performance, basic CD presentation, ease of use, solid build
BAD: chassis interface
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