- Exceptional sound quality
- Good connectivity
- Superb build
- Control app is limited
- Setup more involved than rivals
What is the Leema Acoustics Quasar?
The Leema Acoustics Quasar is – according to Leema at least – an integrated amplifier with on board streaming module. For those of us who are a bit broader in our definitions, this represents Leema’s first foray into the business of making an all-in-one streaming system.
Should you be waking from a Rip Van Winkle-esque slumber and deciding that this particular review is how you want to kick off your newly regained consciousness, you need to know that this category is an increasingly hotly contested one. Ever since Naim and Linn in particular began to demonstrate that there was a demand for such a device, the interest of other manufacturers has been piqued. When CD began to fall away as a ‘must have’ fitment, it meant that the packaging for these systems became simpler and this increased demand further.
The current pick of the pack from the perspective of AVForums is the Simaudio Moon Neo Ace. This combines a killer specification with well-thought out control interface that is slick and easy to use. Finally – and no less importantly – it sounds absolutely excellent. Leema knows a thing or two about the business of making great hi-fi and the spec of the Quasar looks extremely impressive but can Leema take the fight to the Canadian all-star and stand at the top of the podium?
Leema’s description of the Quasar as an integrated amplifier does make a degree of sense when the specification is viewed objectively. Based on the connectivity and features, the Quasar might be seen as a steroidal version of the NAD C368, a product that is very much an integrated amplifier, but the nature of what a system needs in 2017 to be a successful example of the genre is more in keeping with this implementation that something we might have recognised as an all-in-one a few years ago.
To this end, the Quasar is first and foremost an amplifier. Not a small amplifier either. Leema quotes power output at a healthy 180 watts into 8 ohms at very negligible distortion and this amplification stage will swing an enormous 12 amps of current while it does so. For the avoidance of doubt, these figures aren’t being generated by a Class D ‘icepower’ derivative either. The Leema is a class A/B unit and has the whacking great heatsinks to prove it. The circuit is broken down into a clear left/right layout rather emphasised by the speaker terminals being clearly visible at either end of the rear panel.
In terms of conventional inputs, the Leema is fitted with four analogue inputs, one of which is on an XLR connection and the other three on RCA connections. No internal phono stage is fitted but Leema does make a selection of devices themselves and it would be easy to select one that was a stylistic match if you wanted it.
The decoding section of the Quasar is also entirely bespoke. Leema is one of the small subset of components that shuns conventional DAC chips for this work and instead uses their own solution called ‘Quattro Infinity’ (which you end up saying in a Gene Hunt voice whether you like it or not) which combines decoding and filtering into a single FPGA and borrows nothing from any outside company meaning that Leema has complete say in what they expect the system to do. This is combined with the equally bespoke ‘M1’ USB interface for a completely in house effort.
This digital decoding is shared across no less than eight inputs. There are three optical, three coaxial, a USB-B connection to make use of that M1 interface, a UPnP streaming module and Apt-X Bluetooth. This leaves the Quasar able to handle a truly biblical selection inputs if you were minded to do so. What it won’t handle is DSD so if this is a format that truly matters to you, you’ll need to look elsewhere. On the plus side, Tidal is supported natively as is Spotify Connect.
The Leema is equipped with wireless and wired internet connections for the streaming interface (two of the three visible aerials are for this and the third is for the Bluetooth). Wireless setup is a little involved (more on that in a bit) but entirely stable once done. The other derivation from a true integrated amplifier is the display on the front panel which is able to show selected input, volume and incoming sample rate as required. The specification is finished off with a headphone socket on a 3.5mm connection.
If Leema Acoustics has a ‘mood room’ in which they mull over their design ethos – and I strongly suspect that they don’t – it would probably contain a life size cutout of the Ronseal advert man and the words ‘Business like’ in a good solid font. To be very clear, it isn’t that the Quasar has no styling – that’s an absurdity and it actually has some excellent detailing – but absolutely none of it gets in the way of the Quasar being a study in functional elegance. In the interests of scrupulous accuracy, not absolutely everything on the casework is functional – the little curved sections on the outer edges of the front panel probably don’t add anything to the performance and the holes in the top panel don’t need to be in the shape of a Leema symbol but they are and very smart they are too.
It must also be said that the Quasar is exceptionally well assembled. It has a solidity that is unusual even at this relatively lofty price point and it weighs a ton. All the connections on the rear panel are tremendously stout and the controls move with a slickness and precision that suggests that they are going to last for long periods. The only slight let down is the remote. I went and criticised the Neo ACE remote for being over complex and having too many buttons and I’m now going to criticise the Leema remote for being the opposite. There’s no direct input access and the input and volume buttons aren’t well differentiated. It’s not a great piece of industrial design.
Happily, the Quasar has a control app and it handles the business of UPnP control extremely well. The limitation with the Quasar however is that the streaming module is self-contained so the app itself doesn’t extend to full control over the unit. This manifests itself in a few unusual ways – there is no input selection from the app and this means that if you are using the USB input and decide you want to check something via Spotify Connect, while the streamer section will switch over automatically, the Quasar won’t. It’s also worth noting that the display won’t bring up information on the track or album playing. It is fair to say that the app is a piece of software that has been adapted for the Quasar rather than written for it and at times this shows – startup and selecting the Quasar as the output device can be very slow for example.
Depending on what you need from a product, this might not matter. I need to make it clear that the Quasar is far from difficult to use. It is simply the case that the competition has tied the control and feedback of their products together in a way that the Quasar doesn’t currently do. As we shall see, the Quasar has some other enticements that may tip the balance for you.
The Quasar is exceptionally well assembled
How was the Quasar tested?
Getting the Quasar on a wireless network is a little more involved than some rivals – you will need to be able to connect it via a wired connection to your router at least initially. Once setup, it has performed exactly as prescribed. The Quasar has had a busy test period. In the time is has been here, it has been used with the KEF R500 and Quad Z-4 speakers as well as the Linn Majik LP12 turntable via a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage. It has generally been connected to an Isotek Evo 3 Sigmas Mains conditioner for testing. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, Tidal, Spotify and vinyl.
Should you get the chance to listen to a Quasar set up in a space you are familiar with and partnered with equipment you know, I’m going to stick my neck out and say you are going to find it an eye opening experience. Leema Acoustics, as noted, do their engineering in-house and the Quasar is in some regards, so far ahead of the pack that it might as well be in a different universe.
First up, this is a monstrously powerful device. While some products have some big headline power outputs but never feel that beefy, the Leema feels like it could put the drivers of any speaker you might feel inclined to connect to it in orbit. At no stage during testing have I exceeded 29 on the volume control – the control incidentally goes up to 220 (no, I’m not completely sure why either). There is no speaker I have encountered in the last ten years that this unit will struggle to drive.
If brute force was the sole forte of the Quasar, it would be amusing but not truly noteworthy but with this devastating power comes a seriously lovely presentation as well. The Leema is able to balance the contradictory requirements of sounding powerful and exciting while also offering sumptuous levels of refinement. This makes for a product that can handle pretty much anything you care to throw at it. The 24/88.2 download of Spiritchaser by Dead Can Dance is one of the best recordings in my inventory and as such, the Leema is completely at home with it. You can then go straight into the CD rip of the Foo Fighter’s One by One, and the Quasar will still deliver a seriously satisfying musical performance.
Some of this is undoubtedly down to the quality of decoding as well as the amplification. The Quasar has a trick up its sleeve that is seriously tricky to elucidate but is critical to why it sounds as satisfying as it does. Essentially, the way that the Leema presents information is to all intents and purposes, free from embellishment. There is, however, a constant sense of integration and sheer cohesion that means it is startlingly immediate. While backing up and clearing out my old computer I found a FLAC rip of the Soulwax revision of Standing in the way of Control by The Gossip. This is a big, unsubtle and somewhat compressed lump of drums and synths. With the Leema, it is fast, incredibly exciting but still – somehow – composed and exciting.
While there is no DSD support, the Leema also makes an excellent argument for decent recordings and high resolution audio. The 24/96 download of Mark Knopfler’s Privateering is exceptionally immediate and detailed but more than anything else it has a naturalness that leaves it free of any sense of processing or the sense that anything other than the lightest of touches is being applied to it. This seems to help the Leema deal with compressed and poorly mastered material surprisingly well. Spotify Connect sounds more than listenable on it and only when you start looking at the thin end of compressed files – and if you are using those, I’m not sure why you’d be spending out on a device like this.
Trying to find fault with the way that the Quasar performs is not easy. While extremely refined, it isn’t a device that sounds warm or especially cosseting and if this is the sort of thing you might need in your life thanks to bright or aggressive speakers, this is probably not the device you need – although in fairness, I don’t believe that Leema intended for it to be such a thing. Judged on its own merits and the spirit of how it was designed, the sonic performance of the Quasar is effectively viceless.
The Leema is able to balance the contradictory requirements of sounding powerful and exciting while also offering sumptuous levels of refinement
Let’s kick this off with a bold statement but one I believe to be factually accurate. The Leema is the best sounding all-in-one I’ve yet to test at this or any other price point. It is an elegant lesson in the results possible when a company has the depth of knowledge to be in complete control of all of the design aspects that matter. We do have some interesting and important new arrivals due in this category soon – not least the Naim Uniti units – but I’m not sure if in terms of pure sonic performance, they are going to better the Quasar. If you want the best sounding self-contained system going, this is it.
This barnstorming sonic performance has to be seen and balanced against the consideration that the Quasar is not as slick or integrated as key rivals at the price point. The Moon Neo ACE can’t match its sheer sonic fireworks but it is an easier and slicker device to live with an app that is a generation on from the Leema’s effort. Likewise, I wait with interest to see what the Naim Uniti family can do but I can already guarantee that they will be simpler to set up, more flexible and better integrated. Choosing the Leema brings with it the understanding that you will be missing out on some of the bells and whistles possible at the price point but for many people, the sheer sonic ability of the Quasar means that they simply won’t care. It isn’t perfect but the Quasar is nonetheless highly recommended.