Leema Xen review

For those who see speakers as art

TechRadar Verdict

It's like having a set of professional 5.1 film studio monitors in your living room

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Broadcasting on TV and radio in the UK is split into 'Auntie' BBC and all that is paid for by the TV licence, and the independent sector funded by advertisers. Few would argue that the BBC's technical training is second to none, which explains why the broadcasting world is littered ankle-deep in ex-Beeb people who have been trained to the highest level in their field before decamping to pastures new.

The Beeb is also known for selecting only top people as technicians. So high are the general standards of accuracy and excellence within the corporation, that any product deemed to be good enough for general issue has simply got to be good.

Consequently, the BBC-flavoured Rogers loudspeakers, LS3A monitors in particular, became legends in their own lunchtime. Two such BBC top line technos are Mallory Nicholls and Lee Taylor, partners in Leema Acoustics. (Oh I get it, and to think I nearly called to ask what Leema meant...Doh!). They have channelled their desire to build fine BBC-broadcast grade micro monitors into a fully fledged loudspeaker company with a decent selection of products from centre speakers and towers, to bookshelvers and subwoofers.

Speaker designers, in my experience, come in different flavours and I would put the Leema guys firmly into The Dark Art Of The Passive-Meister bracket, rather than transducer boys. For Leema has sourced very high quality drivers from Peerless for its rugged rock-hard woofers, Tymphany for its tweeters and Seas of Norway for its midbass drivers.

They use air-cored inductors and posh Clarity caps in their huge, panel-filling, passive crossovers. The boards are PCBs, but use multiple tracks to connect everything up to allow plenty of conductor path for the power.

Art for speakers' sake

Leema speaker products are definitely for people who appreciate speakers as art in themselves. The four corners of the system reviewed here comprise two pairs of the wee Xen enclosure. Reminding me powerfully of certain other mega-performance bookshelf speakers, these do have a look all their own. The main enclosure bodies are steel, with a sodding great bracing bolt holding the sides together at the point furthest from the corners.

The back and front are held onto this casing by sixteen gold-plated Allenheaded engineering bolts per panel. I gather they have to send these bolts off to be cleaned up, then gold plated just for them! The Xen's back looks equally tough with the two pairs of Scorpion gold-plated binding posts used on all its main speakers.

They are gold-plated jumper-connected until such time as you wish to bi-wire or bi-amplify them. There's even a response curve diagram printed on the backplate above the CE mark and individual serial number. The front baffle is a sexy thick lump of wood, with the golden bolts sunken into it, rather than proud as they are on the back. There are no grilles, no Eelon locations for them on this model. There is, however, one upon the centre enclosure. This uses two Norwegian Seas 100mm drivers rather than one, of a slightly different impedance to that used in the Xen. The tweeter is the same lovely silk dome with both neodymium magnet and ferrofluid loading to improve both power handling and smoothness of sound.

I gather that the enclosures are lined with two layers of sound absorbent bitumastic matting and then loosely filled with long fibre wool, which comes from Germany, despite the company being Scottish-Welsh in its locational origins! Two big ports, upper left and right of the Xen's front drop, are stoppered with some grey open-weave polymer mat that allows air to flow through.

Active and driven

The active 250W powered subwoofer, known as the SPLX10, can be supplied with another passive enclosure to back it up, or else as a 12in driven product. It has a hugely potent 10in Peerless driver with 1.5in wide top roll surround, and can go to and fro a very long way. The speaker fires directly onto a thick wooden baffle that affords just the right acoustic loading that the driver needs to be able to heartily shake the ground with its roar. It has a sweepable phase control, as well as a bypassable crossover section with both gain and crossover point selection knobs.

You can input and output at speaker level or input via phonos. You can only use either high or low level input, not both at the same time. The enclosure itself is very handsome and the routedout logo on the front is as good looking as the last routed-front speaker I saw was horrible.

My lord speaker

Jason Statham in The Transporter is pure cool. I used the start of the film as well as my usual music sources to test the Leemas out. I knew they were good, I knew where they were coming from design-wise, but I was still utterly slapped in the face at just how awesome these small no-compromise speakers really were. I thought I knew Stanley Clarke's score pretty well. By Golly did I! The scene where the car starts up in a parking garage and squeaks off to the bank - it's fat, rich, and with a real sense of the echoic space.

At the bank you can practically count the sparrows chirping in the background in the rears. As soon as we meet the villains and the extra dude has been shot and dumped and the Transporter finally drives his clients off, the score leaps into action and I found out that car horns are woven musically into the film, along with all the other rhythmic mayhem, which no matter how loud, remained with near perfect definition, imaging, placement and authority.

This amazing system easily sounds as large in scale as my Energy Veritas reference test speaker system.

On 5.1 music, the effect is instantaneously involving, beautiful and just totally enjoyable. You can hear the edges on massed strings, even the brassy rasp of horns cuts through when the whole system is running at high power. This set of smallies is actually suitable for home cinema hooligans as well as audiophiles.

This visually striking system may not offer the deepest bass performance ever but it is one of the most detailed resolvers of definition, imagery and placement that you will find out there. It is also superbly accurate. Indeed this system is like having a set of professional 5.1 film studio monitors in your living room. I love them and I suspect that you will too!

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