Lejonklou Boazu integrated amplifier by David Abramson
Me, you… Boazu!!
I was once given a test by a professor to determine broadly whether I viewed the world in abstract or was more detail-oriented. I was shown pictures in which there were myriad details. I missed nearly all of them and described only the scene: “That’s a boat on the ocean,” “People on a beach,” and so forth. The examiner, a psychiatry professor, then showed me a picture of a tree and a fly and asked me what they had in common. Without hesitation, I said, “they’re both living beings.” She seemed a bit puzzled by that one, as I recall. Gathering herself, after a few more pictures, she told me, “according to my metrics, you think at the highest level of abstraction. This is unlike the other trainees in your program.”
I had no idea whether to celebrate myself or start reading books about how to be more detail-oriented. It might be hardwired. Fredrik Lejonklou (pronounced Lay-on-kloo) is most definitely not me. In fact, to hear Thomas O’Keefe of Nokturne audio tell it, Fredrik Lejonklou just might be the most opposite person on the entire Lonely Planet from me. You see, Fredrik Lejonklou may be the most detail oriented person in all of the audio industry, if not in all the world; CPAs, number theorists and tourbillion builders included. At long least he definitely would have seen diverse and sundry parallels between a fly and a tree. ‘Living beings’ indeed. Who knows if we could even successfully have a beer together?
To hear his almost equally detail-oriented distributor/collaborator/expert on LP12 turntable setup (aka the ‘LP12 whisperer’) Tom tell it, seeing a kit amp at age 13, Fredrik smack bang fell in love with audio. He went to a top tech school in Sweden but didn’t graduate because he was told he’d have to design something other than audio equipment to qualify for a degree. Bummer. He refused. “The level of precision he goes to is amazing! He tests things no one else tests,” says Tom. The Boazu is apparently the starting point of his detail-oriented fanaticism and the line tops out at a mono moving coil stage at 42,000 dollars.
The Mondo expensivo Mono moving coil SINGularity phono stage (photo right)
Why you ask, is it 42000 dollars if Fredrik believes, as Tom says he does, in “honest hifi??” (Fredrik’s motto). Well, the bottom of the case is a solid billet of annealed 100 percent pure copper, and “there’s only one place in Europe you can get it, and the thickest plate is 20mm, so that’s what’s in it.” “I’m not making this up!” adds Tom, probably sensing my growing incredulity on the phone.
He continues, “The whole case is this pure copper, and it’s so hard to machine two professional machinists said they couldn’t do it precisely, so he went to a third who could. Circuit boards are made to his specs in Germany. Parts are measured to crazy tolerances, like seventeen-thousandths of a percent!”
(The new ones are twelve-thousandths of a percent). It gets better, much better! Objectivists, please! For the very sake of your souls, look away NOW. And no nasty emails!! Tom continues, “the regulator for the positive rail puts out precisely 15.28 volts because, according to Fredrik, 15.26 volts doesn’t sound as good.” (Tom avers it DID make a difference upon audition).
The man, I’m speaking here of Fredrik (photo right), not Tom, tested forty(!) solders to find the best solder and then determined the best temperature depends on the mass of the solder joint at the tip of the joint. By the way, Tom adds proudly, “I’m the only one besides Fredrik that’s allowed to repair his stuff.” Yep. Fredrik LIVES for design precision in audio. A year or two ago, just before he left for vacation, he worked on a 2600 dollar phono stage. He felt he just had to try transformers in a moving magnet stage, so he rang up Lundahl and borrowed every one of 13 transformers with copper windings he could get. Then he rang up Tom and told him he was getting back from vacation and had 13 transformers to test! Tom said it was “Christmas in August for Fredrik! Most people would positively dread such a task; Fredrik revels in it.” That was the REAL vacation!
More? Ok you asked for it!! He listens to resistors and capacitors from every manufacturer and implements them when he hears anything better. Of note, he actually doesn’t usually prefer so-called audiophile parts. He listens to different feet – ten different sets for the phono stages. He asked Tom to try them for himself and “one was great, one was bad and the rest were ok,” says Tom. He then ordered 13 more sets for them to listen to! Tom had a favorite. They went with Tom’s feet. (Dunno ’bout you, but I LOVE this stuff!). 26 different lock washers were ‘auditioned,’ and each was listened to upside down under the screws that held the circuit board to the chassis!
The detail maestro himself
To the matter of screws and bolts, Fredrik specifies precise torques for service on every fastener on all of his products. The casework bolts on the Lejonklou Boazu under review here for example are torqued down to a precise value of “a little under .6Nm (newton meters).” That’s why I’m not allowed to open it to look inside! That, and I’m not Tom.” I’ve of course, saved my Favorite Fredrik-ism for last. When he sent Tom the upgrades for the high-end Singularity phono stage, he sent Tom a bag of solder from “the best roll of the best solder I’ve tried.” Put THAT in you’re A/B/X testing total harmonic distortion pipe and smoke it!! Buyers of the SINGularity phono stage take note; Fredrik uses this best-est solder to solder the SINGularity’s boards and each one takes a week just for circuit board soldering. Yah, the best sounding roll of solder?!! Yah, a fly and a tree are nothing alike for him, and I’m telling you that’s why we should never ever EVER meet.
By the way, in case you’re wondering why you should believe Tom about all this stuff, I’ll tell ya. Tom is one of the top lp12 gurus in the world. Known among turntable cognoscenti as ‘The lp12 Whisperer,’ 14 years ago he discovered he could hear the differences sonically that precise torques on 25 fasteners (the number of them that apparently respond to torque) could make on an lp12. We’re talking precise torques down to one or two-hundredths of a newton-meter here. “Works on speakers and electronics too,” he says. His loyal cadre of customers defer to his Newtonian recommendations and feel Tom himself is not over-torqued.
So they understand each other, Tom and Fredrik. They are on the same (fraction of) a wavelength. Yep, per Tom, Fredrik’s motto is “honest hifi- he doesn’t want to make it euphonic or more detailed. The ideal is as much music as you can get out of your source as possible. Sounding excellent may be a problem as the general consensus is that it has no sound of its own!”
I love it! Feather light at a shekel or two under 10 pounds, there are four inputs which are active all the time. That’s right, mom, no switching! “There’s no switch as good as no switch,” says Tom. Fredrik apparently had input switching in one of the prototypes but lost interest in the music as compared with his pricier fare like the Tundra mono-blocks, so he took the switching out and voila! The musical engagement was returned to his satisfaction. Since all inputs are active at all times, there are no numeric markings on the inputs, and ‘left and right’ aren’t red and black either because colored plastic with the proper resonance and electrical characteristics could not be located. I kid!! I Kiiiid !! Rimshot!
Control of volume is available via the remote, and the amp’s front panel – and lemme tell you it’s another Fredrik-ism! Of course, he couldn’t conscience some Alps potentiometer or something, so he went with a chip and an LED, an LED which varies in hue as you raise and lower the volume. At first, you think ‘oh man- can’t he just do one damn thing like everyone else? I LIKE volume knobs!’ After about the fifth time, you look over at the amp and know exactly how loud it will be because the little LED is yellowish-green or bright blue or magenta with a shade of ochre; you go ‘ohhhh, I get it! So easy to read from far away and this color is louder than that one so I should lower it etc.’ In other words, you get why Fredrik did this and then you start wondering why everyone else doesn’t.
Very fashion-forward lights!!
Due to its switch-mode power supplies, like any iMac, the amp runs only mildly warm and thus needs very little rack clearance. My review sample was left on for the entire review period with nary a peep except when a musical one was summoned forth from it; a welcome change from a ten thousand degrees tube amp or even a big solid-stately beast. The amp does make a Naim style THUMP on turn-off, probably due to lack of some sort of protection or limiter of some kind. To wit, Fredrik prefers switch modes to linear, says Tom, but has to use two of them because “he can’t make them do both a good positive and negative rail, so one does positive and one negative.” “Swiss power supplies are the best he’s found.” I didn’t ask how many brands or nationalities he listened to before choosing these exact and precise particular ones, but doubtless, it’s in the teens.
Much to the chagrin of hedge funders, the Boazu, which means ‘Reindeer’ in the Sami language, is Fredrik’s least expensive amplification offering and is retail priced at about 4000 dollars. Interestingly, for the marketing set among you, Tom tells me, “all prices are based on the actual cost to manufacture, which is not done much anymore and all products have the same dealer margin for the dealer and for Fredrik.” More interestingly, Fredrik initially told Tom the real name of this little integrated amplifier was “Trouble” because he was worried it was too close sonically to the 5 thousand dollars apiece separates, forcing him eventually to upgrade those to create some daylight between them and the ‘troubling’ Boazu!
So… all this precision and listening and newton meter torques and quantum entanglement and enlightenment and lack of paint and… David does this amplifier suck or what??!!
Nay!! On the contrary, according to Don Better, it is…“The Shindo of transistor electronics” – statement Tom attributed to Don Better of Don Better Audio
Is it? Well, putting on our’ seriously serious’ caps, this amplifier earns its market niche by sounding like nothing I have ever heard and in a good way! For it is simultaneously the quietest and most macrodynamic amplifier I have ever experienced. When the musicians stop playing, it is as if someone tip-toeing around just outside your peripheral vision crept over to the amp and turned it off. Dark. It goes dead, and I mean midnight black. Like my dad’s 2000-something Toyota Camry, so quiet you try to start the thing multiple times even though it’s already on! Sound materializes onto the stage and then fades… to.black, then materializes again. And via my Tekton Lore Ref speakers, the dynamism with which it emerges is staying in its suddenness.
“I find it interesting how often I get the comment about Lejonklou electronics being totally silent, phono stages included,” says Tom. “I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are other electronics that measure as lower noise than Lejonklou gear. But Fredrik has found that it is not how low the noise measures but more how even it is across the spectrum that makes a piece sound ‘quiet.’ As an example, a piece with really low measured noise but with a series of noise peaks, especially in the upper mids and highs, will sound noisier as it attracts the attention of your ears. A slightly higher measured noise but one that’s even [in distribution] and balanced will be innocuous and sound quieter. So as with everything about the design of his electronics, it is all about what makes the most musical sound.” I was starting to believe…
With the Schubert Trio No 1 as performed by pianist Lars Vogt and company, I was repeatedly fooled into thinking I needed to turn up the volume as the playing was so pianissimo and dainty and then… BAM! Super loud crescendo and a rush to lower it! On a decently efficient speaker, this amp tracks soft-to-loud-to-soft like nothing in my experience. And when a musical forte fades to piano, it sinks into blackness, nothing—the void. Physicists may find dark matter here. No self-noise, no hum, no gray between players; just door-nail-dead darkness until the next note is struck. Eerie.
For the love of Le-yahn-clue
Moreover, the piano pedal stomps on this trio recording hit with subwoofer depth and power. Weird and special! My girlfriend thought it was one of those cars going by blasting bass for all the world to hear. Nope! Of all things, Schubert tríos over the Lejonklou! Pretty stunning. Speaking of bass, over the Xavian Perla Esclusiva monitors, the word ‘Ridiculous’ came to mind. Fredrik’s reindeer saddled up their little five-inch woofers and rode those little pulpy puppies into the ground with the first track on Carla Bley’s superbly recorded album “Life Goes On.”
My go-to standing bass test track ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ always gives good depth and here it gave me perhaps the deepest cleanest string bass I’ve had in this apartment. In my previous digs, the record-holder was the Atsah Hypex NC 500 Ncore based mono-blocks via the Tektons. This was pretty much the equal of that experience and the Xavian speakers are about a fifth as large as the Tektons and the amp about one-tenth as powerful as the Hypex.
It is an extremely emotionally involving amp too, one of those that makes it really hard to use for background music. Hell- I found it difficult to make coffee correctly if anything was playing that I close to like! Tom tells me customers often refer to it as ‘engaging’ and me thinks they may not be wrong here. Maybe it’s the dynamism, but I’d also credit its impeccable speed. Speed is the new PRaT, you know! I read that on a forum somewhere. It is a speed/PRaT demon! Toe tappingly audacious, like my old Nait 2, the Lejonklou loves to dance; but with MUCH purer tone! Probably because it’s light on its feet; all of like 9 something pounds!! Sure it can dance, but this thing CAN’T hit hard you think, and then… bam! Someone leans into a piano and lightning strikes.
I call it ‘Reindeer Over Wells’
And Lejonklou loves Mozart. Specifically, Pires playing the No. 17 piano concerto on DG under Abbado’s baton. No. 17 is a fun and sparkly romp with an embracing andante, and that’s just how the Lejonklou is. It’s full of fun and sparkle and speed. It’s Mozartean. There is a refreshing upper-end clarity that lends a springy ping to the upper end of Pires’ piano but never seems to step over the line into the surgical and the clinical. As compared with the Wells, there is less thickener in the mid-bass. The sound is less beatified and tube-like. The stage and piano are presented slightly more forward than the Wells. They are just as wide if not wider and there is that defining characteristic of the Lejonklou sound; the nothingness the sound falls into when the musicians go silent. A dark depth from which there can be no return; until the piano starts in again. The Wells, a super electrically quiet amp itself, simply cannot compete in this regard as comparatively, there is a grayish haze like the fine connective tissue between individual instruments. And again with the Boazu, there are those superb micro/macro dynamics during forte passages that, despite its greater power, the Wells can’t quite match.
Possibly due to the utter lack of self-noise and the blackness between the notes, the Lejonklou offers an overall squeakier clean window than the Wells, which by comparison, leans a more toward the gilded and glowing side of the force. A not unpleasant thing (for me!) to be sure, especially with the Tektons, and I love that sound; in fact, I own it! But it is thrown into starker relief by the sparkling clarity of the Boazu.
In terms of staging, Becks Stratosphere from the album Hyperspace is the widest stage I’ve experienced in my current digs. High flyin’ electronica Wayyyyy outside. Importantly, Beck’s Hyperspace and albums like it confirmed for me there is no midbass leanness; a quality subjectively ‘fast and clear’ amps often evidence on closer aural inspection. I would also add with vocals, the Lejonklou acquits itself as clear though utterly grainless. No sand; only purity.
The Wells and the Reindeer; a Headphone metaphor
The Wells/Boazu shakedown, err… shook down something along the lines of the Monoprice THX 887 headphone amplifier I own vs. the tubed ALO Studio Six headphone amplifier I have on (very extended and very gracious) loan. The THX is minimalist and lightweight and high-tech and very clean ‘n pure sounding. The ALO is one huge heavy old skool tube amp and is a bit thicker and weightier, and a bit rounded on top comparatively. If you have a really warm headphone you might feel the THX adds a much-needed clarity, though not of the sterile sort. If you have a more ‘down the middle’ ‘phone, you might prefer the ALO’s touch of honey and big-boned mid-bass weight. Sometimes depending on the headphones, I’m using (Shure SRH 1540’s which have a bit of mid-bass warmth themselves), I could almost confuse one amp for the other when switching between them and doing some menial task while listening. I turn back and go whoa! I thought that was the ALO and it wasn’t!
The Boazu was truly able to put on a dynamic dynamo display through my high-sensitivity Tektons. Still, the added bit of tube-like weight and tonal density afforded it by my Xavian’s added to it what was, for my tastes, a welcome bit of gravitas and density that had the Boazu/Xavian pairing sounded kinda like the Well Majestic/Tekton Lore Ref pairing only better; more refined tonally, each providing the perfect tonal foil for the other’s minor quirks.
As the two people who read my reviews already know, one thing the Wells does really well is tonal density. This density, coupled with a touch of tube-like warmth, endears it to me via the Tektons, though at times via the warmer Xavians, depending on cables and the light of the moon etc., it may come across as a bit much of a good thing. That’s where the Boazu gallops in to even things out back toward (perceived) neutrality. So basically, if you have Sonus Fabers or Reynauds or Xavians or Spendors or Harbeths, a Boazu might be a (particularly) great reindeer for them to ride.
Similarly, if you have extremely high-efficiency speakers and you’re looking for something that heats the room less than your single-ended triodes, the Boazu is quiet enough and dynamic enough to fit the bill. Might I add affordable enough for that bill to be inoffensive?
This just in…
Toward the end of the review period I took delivery of a pair of Dali’s extremely well-received (and rightly so!) mini-floor standing Oberon 5 loudspeakers. Blessed with five-star speed, ease of drive, exceptional resolution and purity as well as with wide dispersion such that zero or only a very few degrees toe-in of the speakers are required, the Boazu paired strikingly well with them. Forming for me among the best’ affordable’ systems for a small to medium-sized room in my memory. Both the Oberon and the Boazu are dynamic creatures pure of tone and of heart and the pairing made for stonking dynamics and taut, well-defined bass. There was a good deal of depth and width on offer as well, and Mikhail Pletnev’s poetic rendering Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto with the Russian National Orchestra kept me up late into the night one night, mesmerized by the shimmering string tone and his ability to reveal pianistic nuance in the interplay of the left and right-hand lines that had escaped me previously. Yup; if you’re on a (relative) budget of 6-8k and want a sexy looking, low box count, dynamic and pure sounding system for maximal minimalism, then it’s Boazu (3999.00), Oberon 5’s (1199.00), A (great) Dac (circa 500 to 2k dollars) and the versatile, fan-less Mac Mini as a streamer and DONE!
Dali Oberon 5 and Boazu (and Wells).
On Dancer!! On Prancer!! On Boazu!! And Blitzen!!!
It can be on perpetually and you’d never know it. No heat. No lights. No noise. No nothing until you press ‘play.’ Or turn it off J “Well, when you get to the power amps,” says Tom, “they are a little fussier. They are the only transistor amps I know that have a port, a meter and a trim pot so that you can optimize the rail voltage for different ambient temperatures. To 100th of a volt precision.” Apparently, a measurement device for the voltage IS included. (Maybe count me out on that particular bit of OCD; though Tom says it only takes a minute or two and is done when the amp is first set up at home or changes locations and not daily with outside temperature changes).
Otherwise and in sum, Fredrik’s design is lean, mean and bare bones but the sonics most definitely are not. It was characterized by detail, dynamism, grainless purity and quietude and possessed of dynamics and bass weight you wouldn’t expect given the amp’s low-ish power and under ten pound weight. It was actually somewhat more dynamic than my fave six-times-as-powerful integrated! With my Tektons and Xavians, these qualities also allowed this reindeer to render a low-level listening joy and sparkling clarity which reminded me of my heady time with the Linear Audio Zotl 10 mk. 2; another lithe and lightweight sonic heavyweight which proved itself a masterful low-level instrumentalist. By aural memory though, Boazu may have a bit more suavity and nuance in tone than that son-of-a-Berning. It’s definitely more dynamic.
In a sense, I’m biased because Boazu is just about a perfect reindeer for me. Is it perfect for you? Do you crave a super quiet, fast ‘n transparent, mucho-macho dynamic, fuss-free lightweight, small-footprint integrated with Rolls Royce-like’ adequate’ power designed to a watchmakers’ precision with nothing added except what needs be there? Did I mention you can leave it on 24/7 and it’s essentially future-proof; growing with you as the redoubtable team of Fredrik and Tom make ever-advancing electrical/sonic discoveries?
Its rhythmic exuberance, eccentricity, precision, exclusivity and utter lack of heat generation are further pluses. You better believe I bought my review sample! You see, I simply HAD to. Lejonklou is about the best sound I have heard in my system in 35 years of high-end audio. Yes sir!!
All aboard Fredrik’s mini reindeer! Yalla Yalla!! We riiiiiide!
I bid you peace.
Dimensions (WxHxD) 350x69x350 mm
Weight 4.4 kg Mains input voltage (two versions) 90-132 or 187-264 VAC Mains fuses (on both live and neutral) T3.15A
Signal input impedance (all inputs) 10 kΩSignal input maximum level 5 VAC
Output impedance/Rec. load 0.05 Ω/4–16 Ω
Output power (all ratings continuous2*24 W into 8 Ω 20-20k Hz RMS at less than 0.1% THD and40 W/ch into 8 Ω at 1 kHz mains voltage >103 or >207 VAC)70 W/ch into 4 Ω at 1 kHz
Output peak voltage 26 V
Frequency range (-3 dB) 2 to 130 kHz
Power consumption 200 W max, 22 W idling
Retail price: 3999.00
Contact: Tom O’Keefe
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