Laughter. That's the sound most associated with the Lecson badge. I mean...of all the off-the-shelf names a fledgling manufacturer can resuscitate, why Lecson? Sure, it once meant 'stylish' and 'innovative', but the name is also associated with unreliability, eccentricity and -- eventually -- the brand's disappearance. By any measure, naming a company 'Lecson' is calling a ship 'Titanic'.
But all that is about to change.
Once you get past the chuckles, you notice that the first Lecson product, while hardly sporting the kind of radical styling which identified the original products bearing the name, is nonetheless smart. It won't ever be mistaken for anything other than a British integrated amplifier, but the Quattra is nicely made, cleanly attired and finished to a high standard. But integrated amps with UK origins, selling for #350, aren't exactly in short supply, so the Lecson has to have something more than a mirth-inducing name.
And, bless 'em, the new bearers of the name have endowed the beastie with a feature which -- while not unique -- adds a desirable option previously accessible only to those with fat wallets.
Unless you've been living in Kamchatka, you'll know that one of the buzzes fuelling the hi-fi habit for the past 15 years is the bi-amping/bi-wiring option fitted to myriad loudspeakers. By the early-to-mid 1980s, this had trickled down to the budget/mid-fi sector, and you can now find loudspeakers sporting two sets of terminals for under #150. The desirability of splitting the amplification for direct, or near-direct feed to the relevant drivers is above dispute, the audible gains being greater control and transparency. In a feeble attempt to end this argument, I don't know any hi-fi users who have tried bi-wiring or bi-amping who have gone back to single-wire set-up.
Bi-wiring spread quickly because it was 'almost free'. All the user had to add to the system was another set of speaker wires. But bi-amping -- the ultimate state -- means another power amp, and therefore a greater outlay. That's where the Quattra enters the fray.
As the model name implies, there's something 'four-ish' about this unit. On the surface, it's a full-function, 45W/channel integrated amplifier, with a generous complement of inputs (including a decent phono section), record-out facility, balance and mono controls. In this form, it has to fight it out with established champs from Arcam, Audiolab, Mission and just about every other UK make, plus an increasing number of Oriental suppliers who have noted the success of the 'audiophile-quality integrated amplifier' as receiver sales all but disappear in the UK.
Then you look at the back and notice a surfeit of speaker terminals despite no A+B option. Clearly marked so that even the most inept of installers will have to work hard to get it wrong, the terminals offer conventional hook-up or true bi-amping. When the extra terminals are employed, the Quattra turns into a 19W-times-four amplifier. And that means more fun and tweakability, at levels not usually associated with amps in this price bracket.
Armed with a half-dozen pairs of speakers with bi-wire/bi-amp capability, I tried the Lecson with each model using not two but three configurations. In addition to the single wire and bi-amp options, I also ran the speakers in conventional bi-wire mode, running two sets of leads from the 45W terminals. The results say as much about the three configurations as they do about the Lecson, but first a few words about the Quattra as run in pure, two-channel 45W/mode -- the easiest way to judge it amidst its rivals.
What I didn't expect to find was an animal, capable even in bi-amping mode of yielding acceptable levels (if somewhat restricted in dynamics) from Apogee Stages and -- are you ready for this? -- the Sonus Faber Extremas. What this says for the active devices and the power supplies is, 'YO!!!'
Now I'm not gonna tell you to stop saving up for the Krell, but I will say that the Lecson delivers enough grunt to allow you to redistribute the funds in a fixed budget system. Or choose a less-sensitive speaker which you may have eliminated from your shopping list because you didn't think you could afford the necessary wattage.
Fortunately, this power is delivered with grace and refinement, unlike budget hot-rods which give you loads of grunt and the ride of a John Deere. Whatever the source (including phono) and with levels below the straining point, the Quattra handled subtle, delicate, fragile notes with kid gloves. The only time such details were buried occurred when the amplifier reached its limits -- with the Stages or the Extremas. As only a lobotomy candidate would think of running these combinations (except for reviewing purposes, of course), such conditions are unlikely to mar the Lecson's existence. Rather, it's best to consider the Quattra with sane mates, like TDL's 0.5 or even the Celestion SL700.Read more about the Lecson Quattra on Page 2.
It's worth mentioning here that the Lecson has a strange 'volume distribution' throughout the arc of the control knob. You're offered a lot of travel for fine level adjustment from 7 o'clock until 2 or 3 o'clock. Then the amp kicks in with a wallop just when you were about to write it off as gutless. Just make note of this as 'normal', so you won't worry during bouts of loud playback when you may be used to amps which pack most of their punch between the 10 and 2 o'clock points.
Matched to a speaker which will exploit the power capabilities without asking for Hackney-levels of subsidy, the Lecson is a smooth operator. Indeed, it may be too smooth for some, as if the opportunities for nasties to appear have been banished. In most cases this manifests itself as a sweetening of the sound, a freedom from sibilance and a removal of 'edginess'. But the effect, not quite a filtering of the sound, means slightly less transparency than is available from other amplifiers in its price category. The obvious alternatives, less forgiving but more open, include Musical Fidelity and Mission offerings, both of which seem to pursue true audiophile goals rather than an easier, more universal applicability.
In real terms, it means that the Lecson is less sniffy about the gear with which it's partnered, and systems building with this amp at the core will be an easy task. On the other hand, the amplifier will show its limitations more readily when the owner moves down that perilous upgrade path, a Mission Cyrus with the extra power supply, for example, being able to drive speakers way beyond its price category with aplomb, or a Musical Fidelity offering of like price producing not just power but more finely-etched detail. What saves the Lecson in this company -- four amps aside -- is its near-holographic imaging and a consistency from top to bottom which really does compensate for the softness.
Then we get to the wiring option. And here's where the trade-offs enter. With the amp run as a 45-watter, refinement is marginally compromised, but the sense of greater dynamics is undeniable. Sujective loudness remains the same, but the Lecson appears to show less strain when the swings vary at their widest. This was particularly well-illustrated by the deep percussion on the introduction of Willy de Ville's 'Assassin of Love' (the single mix, rather than the truncated LP cut). In 45W mode, the snap (or should I say 'thud'?) had greater impact than it did in bi-amp mode. So, too, were sharply plucked or punchy notes in the mid and upper ranges -- hot brass, electric guitar, rapid synth activity -- in possession of greater attack.
But the bi-wiring offered much which wasn't available in full-range mode. Transparency increased markedly, to a degree comparable to moving from a good cable to a great one, and mid-band clarity benefitted enormously. Listen to the Judds or Emmylou Harris or Nanci Griffith or any clear-voiced yahoo warbler through the Lecson in bi-amp mode vs full range and you'll hear something akin to a change of microphones.
But, and this isn't meant to pee on Lecson's parade, the best sound was a compromise smack in the middle. Running off the 45W taps in bi-wire mode, I heard sound with the best balance of both topologies' virtues and weaknesses. I tell you this because it means that the Lecson comes 'standard' with three levels of operation. Depending on your tastes and priorities, you can run this amp for maximum dynamics at the expense of transparency, for maximum transparency but with slight compression, or -- in bi-wired mode -- somewhere inbetween.
In absolute terms, the Lecson is a fine example of the genre but not one which 'blows away' direct rivals. What it offers, though, in 'quattra' mode is an option that none of its rivals can proffer, and those who wish to exploit or will benefit from four-amp need look no further than this product for optimising a speaker with twinned terminals.
Innovative? You bet. Even if I didn't like the sound -- which I most certainly do -- I'd give Lecson the nod for showing that novelty needn't mean specious crap sprinkled with fairy dust. This is a real alternative to conventional amplifiers, devoid of any con-artistry.
Now, when do we get the ribbed cylindrical power amp?