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Jeff checking in: Pass Labs, Audio Note (UK), First Watt, Triode Lab, Leben, Duelund, the upcoming Positive Feedback Writers' Choice Awards, and other stuff!

10-07-2020 | By Jeff Day |

I thought it was time for me to check in and tell you what's going on here at Jeff's Place, what is upcoming at Positive Feedback, and about a few other things that are rattling around inside my noggin at the moment.

First off, we are now in the fourth quarter of 2020, and 2020 is going fast, which is a relief to many, including me.

My hope is that 2021 will morph into a better year for all of us, that we'll see the coronavirus pandemic finally get under control, with more businesses reopening, international travel resuming in more typical fashion, and experience a more normal everyday tempo to our lives.

I suspect that it may be the Fall of 2021 before we see that to any extent, but I remain hopeful and optimistic about an eventual good outcome. 

A friend just shared with me he heard the Munich Show is on for May 2021, and if it is safe to travel by then, I would enjoy going. Munich is awesome! Fingers crossed. 

The Pass Labs XP-12 Line-Preamplifier

Pass Labs XP-12 preamplifier.

The Pass Labs XP-12 line-preamplifier is next up for a feature review at Positive Feedback, but unfortunately has been delayed for a couple of non-audio reasons, but is back on track now and almost finished.

Hint: the Pass Labs XP-12 line-preamplifier is superb by any measure!

Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player

Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player

Next up for a feature review at Positive Feedback in 2020 - and probably my last review of 2020 - is the Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player.

One thing I can tell you is that the Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player has completely changed my perception of what Red Book CDs are capable of both musically and sonically - it has been a pleasant revelation! 

Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player with Oto Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier

If you also guessed that the Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player is a match made in heaven for Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier, you would be exactly right. I love this combo!

The CD 2.1 has also been a great match to the First Watt SIT-3 stereo amp and Pass Labs XP-12 line-preamplifier combo, which you'll be hearing more about in the XP-12 feature article.

Peter mentioned he has a few other Audio Note (UK) products he'd like me to listen to, so I'll be looking forward to telling you more about that as I learn more.

The Crystal Ball for 2021 Reviews

While everything is dependent upon this crazy and unpredictable time we are in, here is what my crystal ball review queue view looks like for 2021 at the moment. 

Pass Labs XP-17 Phono Preamplifier

Pass Labs XP-17 phono preamplifier.

First up for 2021 will be Pass Labs XP-17 phono preamplifier. I'll be reporting more on the XP-17 in time, as I need to allow it to accumulate some run-in time, and to figure out the multitude of cartridge settings it allows for, and which ones will work best for the cartridges I have on hand. Like all Pass Labs products it is beautifully built.

Triode Lab Evo Integrated Amplifier

Triode Lab Evo integrated amplifier in British Racing Green livery - I love it!

I am very excited to tell you more about the artisanal Triode Lab 2A3 Evo integrated amplifier designed and hand-crafted with extreme quality by Frankie Ng in Toronto, Canada. It is available in British Racing Green, which elicited a warm and affectionate response from me - I love BRG! 

Frankie's works of audio art are bespoke designs, and Frankie optimizes them with components chosen to best match your loudspeakers and listening preferences, with each one made to order for a given customers' needs and desires.

I love single-ended-triode amplifiers, and I am really looking forward to hearing the Triode Lab 2A3 Evo with the Duelund-ized "Stokowski" Alec loudspeakers. I suspect magic will result!

The Triode Lab Evo is also available as a 45 amp should you prefer that, and I have left it up to Frankie to choose which tube complement he thinks would be the best match for the "Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers.

Much more to come on this one!

In the meantime, check out the very informative Triode Lab link above.

The New First Watt F8 Amplifier

The new First Watt F8 amplifier from Nelson Pass.

Bryan Stanton is in the process of arranging for one of the new First Watt F8 amplifiers to make a visit to Jeff's Place. 

After having heard the impressive First Watt SIT-3 amplifier, which I'll also be using in the review of the Pass Labs XP-12 line-preamplifier, I am quite excited to hear what the First Watt F8 can do!

You can read more about the First Watt F8 HERE.

Leben HiF-Fi Stereo Company CS-300F Integrated Amplifier

The Leben CS-300F Integrated Amplifier.

I became a customer of Leben after buying the CS-600 integrated amplifier after I reviewed more than a decade ago, and every new Leben model released is a reason to celebrate for Leben cognoscenti around the world!

The Leben CS-300F is a small integrated amplifier that puts out 15 watts of power, and uses the unique NOS vacuum tube combination, "the GE JAN-6197 which was developed for use in computers, and we used this tube for audio purpose for the first time in the world. We purchased this tube many years ago and have been seeking for the best circuit design to bring the best performance out of this clean tube. For the driver circuit, we used a very high quality tube 17EW8 (Hi-FI), specially produced for Hi-Fi use by a major Japanese electronics manufacturer."

Other details include, "Lavish employment of highest-grade audio components, WBT type binding posts, and self-biasing circuit accepts new tubes without any bias adjustments. Also can adapt to a consumption of tube power or to unevenness of tubes automatically. Natural wood side-panels made from Canadian White-Ash. This wood is very hard and heavy ... ." 

The design is very similar to the popular CS-300X(S) EL84 integrated amplifier, but is optimized for the use of the NOS GE JAN-6197 and 17EW8 vacuum tubes.

The next Leben production run will be in November, so I'll be hearing more about this one before too long.

Other Tentative Reviews for 2021

There's a few more 2021 reviews I'm awaiting final confirmation on, so when I get confirmation I'll update this list with the rest of those. They are very, very, cool audio kit, by the way, so I hope it all happens!

The Positive Feedback Writers' Choice Awards 2020

Well, it is that time of year when us Positive Feedback writers get a message from esteemed Editors Dave and David that it is once again time to turn in our three Writers' Choice Awards for the year.

For me, this is always a time for reflection when I look back on my year of audio writing, the products I've written about for Positive Feedback, and my long-term impressions about them.

At this time in my life, I choose only to write about audio products that I think will be a good match to my tastes, have the potential to be truly exceptional both musically and sonically, as well as being interesting for you to read about, and I think everything I have written about in 2020 fits those criteria very well.

Of course, that always creates a personal drama for me as I down-select to three from a group of high-performance artisanal audio products that I have written about over the course of a year, which each potentially deserving the recognition of a Writer's Choice Award.

As a preview, allow me recap my 2020 Positive Feedback feature articles for you, and later when Positive Feedback publishes their 2020 Writers' Choice Awards, you'll find out who the 2020 recipients of my 2020 Writer's Choice Awards will be.

The Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono Signature integrated amplifier.

March 2020: The Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono SE Signature Integrated Amplifier – An Affordable Masterpiece!

I was telling Peter Qvortrup (Audio Note (UK)) how impressed I was with the Oto, and Peter reminded me that the Oto is one of their "entry level" products, and their products' performance goes up commensurate with price.

Regardless of its position in the Audio Note (UK) product lines, the Oto Phono Signature integrated amplifier is one of the finest performing audio products I've ever had in my home at any price.

The Oto unfailingly delivers the music in an engaging fashion that I just can't seem to get enough of. Whether I am listening to vinyl through the Oto's phono stage, or listening to digital through its line stage, the Oto never disappoints, and always delivers the maximum dosage of music to my soul.

Renowned mastering engineer Steve Hoffman commented to me, "I use an Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono SE Signature in my studio. It's amazing, especially for the money, a really nice EL-84 unit that does it all." And "the Oto has everything I need in the studio, phono section, tape/EQ loop, everything."

I agree whole-heartedly with Steve, and suggest you give an Oto a listen for yourself.

The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price for the Oto Phono SE Signature is $6330 USD, which I think is a very fair price considering all of its features, its superbly hand-crafted nature, its uber quality of materials, and its world class musical and sonic performance.  

Audio Note (UK) Contact Information


[email protected] 

Leben HiFi Company CS-600X integrated amplifier.

June 2020: The Leben HiFi Stereo Company CS-600X Integrated Amplifier – An Old Friend Gets Even Better!

I’ve been the happy owner of the original Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier for over a decade, and with a little luck I hope to continue to be a happy owner for a couple of more decades!

As a side note, I purchased the CS-600 after I reviewed it, and I have enjoyed every minute with it, which is probably one of the greatest endorsements an audio writer can give a component.

Hopefully, the above statements gives you an idea of how highly I regard the original Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier, and the new Leben CS-600X integrated amplifier that replaces the earlier version is even better.  

The new version has identical features to the original, and betters the original with a new vacuum tube complement for the input / driver stage that improves overall musicality by quite a lot, as well as opens up a variety of current production vacuum tubes for playing substitution games.

There’s lots of fun to be had with the Leben CS-600X!

The new Leben HiFi Stereo Company CS-600X integrated amplifier is imported to North America by Jonathan Halpern's Tone Imports, and retails for $7995 USD.

Leben HiFi Stereo Company Contact Information

Leben HiFi Stereo Company: www.lebenhifi.com

Mr. Yoshi Hontani (Muson Project, Leben exporter) email address: [email protected]

Importer to the USA is Mr. Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports: www.toneimports.com

July 2020: Sexy Blue Tubes, Part 2, The Sophia Electric EL34-ST and KT88-ST Vacuum Tubes!

Deservedly, I have had a long-term appreciation of the high-performance specialty vacuum tubes offered by Sue and Richard’s Sophia Electric, in McLean, Virginia.

Whether it be the Sophia Electric 300B power tube variants, the Aqua 274B rectifiers, the EL34-ST power tubes, the 6SN7 input / driver tubes, or now the Coke-bottle KT88-ST long life power tubes, have all impressed the heck out of me.

Richard told me, "From a design point of view, the Sophia Electric KT88-ST shares similar internal metal material: grid, plate, etc., and mineral coating - in addition to ST glass - as the popular Sophia Electric Classic 300B tubes. The Sophia Electric blue glass KT88-ST tube sounds very much like a 300B tube and delivers 8x more power in a push pull KT88 amp." 

I found Richard's characterization of the Sophia Electric blue glass KT88-ST tube as sounding very much like a 300B tube that is eight times more powerful in a push-pull KT88 amplifier intriguing, to say the least, and that certainly was the case in the Leben CS-600X amplifier that I tried them in.

The Sophia Electric KT88-ST does remind me of the voicing of a classic 300B vacuum tube, with a smooth, rich, nuanced, and voluminous presentation of music and film.

Of all the KT88 tubes I’ve listened to over the decades, the Sophia Electric KT88-ST represents the performance apogee for that family of vacuum tubes, both from a musicality perspective, and with respect to audiophile-style visuospatial performance – it is a winner!

Pricing starts at $125 USD per tube with a 30-day warranty.

Sophia Electric Contact Information


[email protected]


Pass Labs XP-12 line-level preamplifier.

October or November 2020: Pass Labs XP-12 Line Preamplifier 

I'm still writing this feature review up, but this is one heck of a fine line-level preamplifier that I think most listeners would adore. 

Stay tuned for more!

Pass Labs Contact Information


[email protected]

(530) 878 5350

Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player

November or December 2020: Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player

I've already started writing up the Positive Feedback feature review of the Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD Player, and I'll do my best to get the feature review wrapped up for Positive Feedback by the end of the year.

Stay tuned for more!

Leopold Stokowski's custom Altec loudspeakers.

Other Loose Screws Rattling Around Inside My Noggin

Along with the usual loose screws that are always present, there's been some new insights that have dawned on me over the last year courtesy of Leopold Stokowski's custom Altec loudspeakers. 

That is of course due to the Duelund-Altec Project's incredible Duelund CAST tinned-copper crossovers's components that were custom built for the "Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers by the multi-talented Frederik Carøe, and which have pretty much shattered all of my preconceptions about what is possible in high-performance audio crossovers.

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Public domain photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Imagine if you will, that you were watching Breakfast at Tiffany's, and somehow Audrey Hepburn magically stepped out of the screen into your room and whispered in your ear, "Actually, depravity can be terribly boring if you don't smoke or drink, so how would you like to join me for a smoke and a drink?" (Audrey's line from Paris When It Sizzles, with a slight addition by yours truly)

Duelund CAST tinned-copper crossovers installed into the "Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers.

That imaginary fantasy sums up pretty well how I feel every time I listen to the "Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers with their Duelund CAST tinned-copper crossovers. 

I'm as mesmerized by "Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers with their Duelund CAST tinned-copper crossovers much as a teenager is by a first love, and I'm "under the ether", as my Dad used to say.

At times I feel like I must be dreaming, but when I pinch myself it is actually happening! You don't get too many moments in life like this, so I'm really savoring the outcome.

I've been pondering a couple of ideas that have dawned on me based on listening to music with the "Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers with a variety of high-performance amplification components and sources. 

My first and most obvious conclusion is that most production crossovers are built to an affordable price point by market necessity, and as such a listener can't really realize what the level of ultimate performance is inherent in those loudspeakers when using the stock crossovers. Your loudspeakers are likely capable of much, much, more than you are hearing from them with the stock crossovers.  

A second conclusion, at least with regards to the Duelund CAST tinned-copper crossovers in the "Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers, is that they open up a 'very wide listening window' that allows me to listen to a huge variety of recorded music from all eras with varied recording quality, and still be blown away by the fidelity of the music and my emotional connection to it. No more am I stuck with a 'narrow listening window' that only allows me to listen to only a relatively few albums of good recordings, and having to run from the room with my hands over my ears when an average recording is played, the way many contemporary loudspeakers do.

A third conclusion is that amplification electronics are a boatload better than most people realize, but you'd never know it because of the crappy crossovers in many loudspeakers hindering their ultimate performance.

A fourth conclusion is that the third conclusion also applies to source components. Analog can sound like the "voice of God", as a friend once put it, and digital sources sound better than they have any right to, which while not being on the same level as analog, still sound so compellingly musical that you'll enjoy every moment listening to them.

What's exciting for me is that my musical horizons for listening to all kinds of new music have expanded dramatically as a result, and ... I get to listen with some superb low-powered amplifiers that I have been itching to give a try again.

Ok, much more to come, but I'm going to tie it off there, as it is time for dinner. 

As always, thanks for taking the time to stop by, and may the tone be with you!

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