Sometime around 483 BCE, in Kushinagar, the capital of the Malla Republic in what today is the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an aristocrat named Siddhārtha Gautamaknown better to us as the Buddha, or the Awakened Onepassed away. For 45 years, he had wandered the North Indian River Plain teaching a method of overcoming ignorance, craving, and the cycle of death and rebirth to a growing community of followers. As he lay dying, the 80-year-old teacher was surrounded by disciples, many of them crying. Gautama was by no account a sentimental man, and several times he told the monks to cut it out. According to a Pali scripture called the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, the Buddha’s last piece of advice to his disciples was “appo dipo bhava,” most commonly translated into English as “Be a light unto yourself.”
This teaching was radical for a South Asian spiritual teacher living in the 5th century BCE. It is also easily misunderstood. To be a light unto yourself does not mean to dispense with teachers or received knowledge; instead, the Buddha was encouraging us not to follow teachers blindly or turn knowledge into dogma. The value of every parcel of wisdom, every precept, every conviction, he told us, must be borne out in personal experience. Otherwise, it is useless. Ultimately our own experience is the only teacher. Really, how can it be otherwise?
More than many other pastimes, perfectionist audio is rife with dogma, pet theories, rival camps, and oversimplifications. Many among us swear that tube amps are “more musical” than transistor ones, others that tube amps are hopelessly colored, or that horn speakers are more dynamic than conventional ones, or that horn speakers are an incoherent mess, or that measurements are crucial to musical enjoyment, or that they are entirely irrelevant to it, and so on. Most equipment manufacturers align themselves with some of these positions and eventually double down in overinflated marketing claims.
Once in a while, however, an obsessive appears who questions every assumption about what makes listening to recordings at home enjoyable and moving. Usually, or hopefully, the questioning involves 1) a recognition of how genuinely complex this process is, and 2) tens of thousands of hours of experimentation and listening (footnote 1).
These obsessives embody the Buddha’s final teaching. They also tend to be uncompromising, eccentric, and on occasion, pains in the ass. One who springs to mind is the late Ken Shindo of Japan’s Shindo Laboratory, a man known for showing up at listening events with priceless magnums of rare burgundy. His amplification designs rely on tubes not used since the dawn of electrical recording, unexpected circuit designs, field coil speaker drivers, decades-old capacitors and resistors, and exacting and sometimes peculiar choices regarding every aspect of his products: the cases, wiring, connectors, feet, even the colors. Shindo believed that they all affected the listening experience and were worth investigating carefully.
The subject of this reviewa moving coil phono stage called the Lejonklou Entitycomes from the mind and hands of another obsessive, one Fredrik Lejonklou (pronounced Lay-YON-clue) of Uppsala, Sweden. Compared to Shindo’s, his amplification components rely on solid state devices instead of tubes, tend to be utilitarian in appearance, and (with one notable exception) are somewhat more affordable than Shindo’s components. A cursory scan of his company’s website showed me that Lejonklou is not interested in flattering anyone’s assumptions or playing nice with the measurements crowd. “I don’t really care whether it sounds ‘correct’,” he has written about his design process. “I care about how it feels. I want to be moved.” Many of Lejonklou’s US dealers also sell Shindo equipment. Perhaps they specialize in weirdos and free spirits.
With further clicking, I learned that Lejonklou designs using the Tune Method, popularized by Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn. In brief, it entails comparing two components by listening to 1020 seconds of the same song and determining which makes the melody more tuneful and easier to follow. Lejonklou suggests that this is best accomplished with mediocre recordings heard while standing outside the listening room, a technique that obscures sonic differences and makes it easier to focus on the musical ones. A pdf on the Lejonklou website offers more detail about this process.
According to Thomas O’Keefe of Nokturne Audio, Lejonklou’s US importer, Fredrik Lejonklou learned the method while working as a Linn retailer and applies it during hundreds of comparative listening tests, which he relies on to select everything: transistors, wire, solder, even the washers used in his components’ casework. He seems to embody Linn’s motto “If it sounds better, it is better” but takes it to singular extremes. Here’s one: He suggests that his digital streamer, the Källa, is best used for streaming music from Spotify, which Lejonklou believes sounds better than lossless streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz.
After learning about this rather daring opinion, I knew I wanted to hear Lejonklou’s components. His question-everything approach reminded me of another Buddhist proverb about the dangers of dogma and assumptions, this one from the Zen tradition: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.” I called O’Keefe and asked to borrow the Entity, a phono stage designed for low-output moving coil cartridges that retails for $2695. The Entity uses the same basic circuit as the Lejonklou SINGularity, although the latter has four power supplies, a pure dual-mono configuration with two independent, annealed-copper chassis, and several other differences, including a retail price of $55,000.
Footnote 1: Of course, speaking broadly, positioning yourself as a maverick can itself be an effective marketing strategy.Jim Austin
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Lejonklou HiFi AB
US distributor: Nokturne Audio
8259 Hugh St.
Westland, MI 48185
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