New LFD Zero LE mkIV

The scuttlebutt is that the LFD Zero LE mkIV is a completely revised and much better sounding unit that will be released in August and, obviously, replaces the LFD Zero LE mkIII.
LFD usually doesn't have much to say about their products. Rather allowing others to do the talking for them.

So what do the others (you all) have to say about this new amp?

Personally I am very excited!

The LFD LE III was big disappointment for me. I'm not interested in the next gen at all. The mkIV "looks" worse than the LE III!

Their design is simply unmoving and the on/off switch on the LFD LE III was a joke (I mean come on a cheap plastic switch!). Yes, for a solid state integrated amp it sounded good but aesthetically very unappealing to me. I hope they put some distance between the RCA connectors in the back on the IV and lower the price. A lot.
I've just ordered the MkIV, will be (potentially) replacing my Audio Space Ref 3.1 (300B). I need to trim down the system (maybe slim down is a better description) and am taking a leap of faith with the LFD...fingers crossed I will know by early next week. Personally I don't care about the looks, so long as the sound lives up to the expectations. Shame about the phono no longer being an option though.
do provide us with your impressions when you get a chance!
Received the mk4 today, just installed but no critical listening..a quick run with cd showed a very different bass sound to my audio space, and a different mid range of course, but just running in a bit with simple tv feed. The new unit is similar to the ncse, missing some beveled edges and a different LFD badge. Rear inputs close together still but present a no issue for my cabling. Though the speaker terminals are not marked and don't follow right at top per the inputs. More to come when I can compare it over some familiar songs.
Just curious. When you mention of "different bass sound to my audio space, and a different mid range", do you like the sound or was it something you did not hope for?
Too early to say. All a bit rushed (I think also i was incorrect on the speaker posts not following the input terminal orientation and will verify today). The bass seemed a lot fuller, certainly seemed to be "cleaner", the midrange though probably a little drier than the 300B. So two points i will pay attention to when i can sit a little longer.
The sound overall though was nothing nasty - and this was fresh out of the box - and was certainly easy to tell it was not my old amp running things (better or worse i cant say yet but definitely "different").
Quick update. The speaker terminals do follow the other inputs, so my first post on this was incorrect. No big deal.
For listening i have done a little back to back against my AudioSpace. My setup is with Proac D25 speakers, both an Azur 640v2 and Denon 2930 CDP, Zu Wax speaker cables, Zu birth power on CDP, Enigma Audio power on the amp, and lastly Straightwire Rhapsody S interconnects - same as was being used previously so no changes other than the amp.
Initial impressions are good. Its indeed a very listenable sound being produced, changes i can hear are more detail in upper mids, so some recordings with clean cymbal ride or tamborines really sit in space...vocals i have not had a chance to tune in on too much just yet either.
Bass is certainly more present - a little more low bass and its cause for me to look at moving things around to counter some of the additional downside this creates. I switched back to the AS on the same track to compare, and while that also has some low end bloom it misses a little of the articulation. I'm not a seasoned audiophile so i wont try to pretend i can explain it any more than more detail across all of the "areas" that i tend to focus on.
It's not quite tube smooth, but this is fresh out of the box and may indeed be a good thing. I do however have some poor recordings i unfortunately love too much so this is going to be the real test of sitting through them and seeing whether more detail is going to make them uglier.
The unit is solid, i know there is a pic on a few places. I prefer the grey colour (i had a 3.1 with phono i ended up going to the MK4 over) and the case is quite nice. The inputs are still fairly close together but it looks very much as the back of the NCSE does. The top cover is different, maybe the side as well, but other than the different LFD emblem on the front the power and selector switches look the same as NCSE.
I will update more but so far I see this as a nice swap for my AS, its running cool, taking up less space and none of the "glassy things" i was unfortunately pressed to move on from...
As is typical with Dr Richard Bews, he gives very little away in terms of what it is that he does to an existing model in order to improve it. I’m talking here about the migration or, if you prefer evolution, of the Mk3 and Mk3.1 integrated amplifiers into the Mk4. Dr Bews prefers on balance to discuss, if indeed that is the right word, (and perhaps reveal is a better word?) what the sonic improvements will be as to distinct from how he’s achieved them.

For some while he had been aware that although the bass-end performance on the Mk3 and Mk3.1 was fast and tight, it was a little bit lacking in depth he felt, especially when compared to his legendary PA2M (SE), twin mono in one stereo chassis power amp. Other than the Anniversary series, which has yet to see the light of day, in terms of bass weight, tautness, strength, power, tunefulness and above all integration with the lower mid band, the PA 2M SE represents the ultimate in his current design.

Naturally, if at all possible, he wanted to incorporate that quality of bass performance into his integrated amps. He went some considerable way with the latest version of the NCSE and then he turned his attention to the Le Zero units

As yet, the Mk 4 has not been released other than a few samples in N. America. However, from what he has told me, it is likely that the bass performance will approximate to the outstanding quality of the PA 2M SE. This does not of course make that power amplifier redundant and indeed, the Mk4 LE cannot hope to have the same power and authority as the much heavier (in every sense of the word) NCSE. However, it is certainly true that his efforts have been directed to elevating the overall performance of his entry level integrated amp.

Dr Bews pays particular attention to microphony and the elimination of it whilst bearing in mind that it can never be totally eliminated. He’s been aware for some while from reports around the world that a number of owners of the Mk 3 and Mk3.1 had achieved noticeable sonic improvements by removing the top case and replacing it with a Perspex fabricated case (which end-users had sourced locally) and although Richard, of course as a manufacturer, cannot condone the removal of a top cover where lethal voltages are involved, he was aware that even with his best attempts to apply a bitumen damping to the underside of the top cover of the Mk3 & 3.1 units, it was not an entirely satisfactory solution.

The case work of the Mk4 is considerably heavier and reflects the style an engineering applied to the case work of the NCSE. The cosmetic design isn’t to everyone’s tastes. This matters not one iota to him. his entire motivation is the sound. Aesthetics are in the main an irrelevance to him. given that so few of his 1000s of units rarely appear on eBay or Audiogon, one might conclude that the end-users are pretty much in line that form follows function.

Other modifications and improvements have meant that there is no longer the facility for an on board phono stage. To compensate for this Richard has introduced an entry level phone stage, details of which we hope will become apparent in July.

The waiting list for the Mk4 units is growing and currently we anticipate not being able to fulfil all of the current orders before August or possibly early September of this year.

Howard Popeck
Perspex fabricated case tweak? No thanks. The following article is interesting, but doesn't mention this - Perspex has a low melting point. The LFD unit(s) under discussion generally run cool, but IMO, Perspex is not one of the better materials for a amplifier case:

Perspex is a thermoplastic widely used for making unbreakable watch glass.It was first produced in 1930. Its common use is in the form of contact lenses for those people who want to get rid of glasses.It is the most common and reliable alternative to glass. Perspex is too hard and too tough to shatter. But there are other uses of Perspex also beside personal uses. It is also used for making dentures and artificial eyes. Because of having a good degree of compatibility with human tissues it is used for manufacturing lenses and artificial eyes. Being hard and transparent, Perspex has many industrial uses also such as safety goggles, machine safety guards etc.

Perspex is widely used because of its unique property that it can be molded into any shape. Unlike other plastics, Perspex is made directly into sheets during manufacturing. Its specific name of PMMA plastic is used in making plastic bags, squeeze detergent bottles, washing up bounds, etc.

It is also used in film form for packing because it is cheap, transparent, tough, and flexible. It is also manufactured under different names in different places like Rhoplex in USA and Oroglas in Europe.
The cosmetic design isn’t to everyone’s tastes. This matters not one iota to him. his entire motivation is the sound. Aesthetics are in the main an irrelevance to him.

Are you quoting him or making an assumption that this is Mr. Bews stance? If this is true, it's a pretty arrogant stance. It's evident aesthetics are not important to LFD "except" in their top of the line models - and even here it's still too "simple" to be beautiful (lacking elegant details).

As for me it's "very important" and every bit as important as the sound. Having both makes for an exceptional piece. Who wants to display ugly gear?

The LFD LE III front plate and case look DIY. At the MSRP of above 3K I expect a better fit and finish.

given that so few of his 1000s of units rarely appear on eBay or Audiogon, one might conclude that the end-users are pretty much in line that form follows function.

Another meaningless stat. A search of aGon Virtual Systems finds 3 systems. 2 of which are dealers. So out of all recorded aGon virtual systems only one owner list one. To put it in context.
Dear Notec, why arrogant? I would think "sound" or " music" aspect most important. I think he should be applauded. If he had a fancy faceplate the price would go up accordingly. Perhaps you need to consider another piece of gear altogether.

And dear Airegin, thanks for the nice tutorial, but British maker DNM also uses some type of hard plastic, can't remember exactly what, for their cases, for he wants no metal in his design. And their products are superb.
I still cant convey a lot more detail on the Mk4. It's impressing me sound-wise, and I am very comfortable with the looks. The top plate is now a channeled affair, not a flat piece of metal, and overall the changes with the front panel groove and top cover at least to me look good. As much for me as the aesthetics matter but i agree i'd not want to put an ugly unit on display, but this is far from being ugly. I've seen plenty of gaudy high end amps i'd not want to have openly displayed but i would expect many people try to create a nice look for their gear where its a feature or another family member is focused on that (my move from my audiospace was exactly for that reason).
Bass is certainly an interesting topic. I may have wanted the tighter tauter bass described in the Mk3, as my speakers are ending up needing to be relocated to account for what appears to be "more" bass now with the Mk4. But back to back changes are making me question exactly what there is more of and my environment is difficult to really test correctly in - needless to say there is some subtle difference i can hear, but whether the proac's are now showing up a flaw in their bass handling or there's just a lack of synergy I need to find out.
Thanks for the additional discussion on this, it's helpful to get more information and i am looking forward to others who get the amp to provide real world experience i can learn from. The agent here also noted that this unit has pretty much the same "signature" changes I've seen announced for the North America model. I cant confirm that, and have no plan to open up and its probably far beyond anything I can detect or would notice a difference from anyway.
Perspex was a suggestion that occurred to a number of end-users simultaneously. It isn’t dogma. It was a suggestion. Nothing more than that.

If glass could be bent into the appropriate shape at a reasonable price then no doubt the end-users would have gone for that. You don’t like Perspex? Well fine. The point is though that microphony is not an imagined event. However it is certainly true that not everyone can hear the effect. It’s a question of choice as to what to do about it.

Mind you, to ability to hear the effect is somewhat dependent on the process involved. If for example you take a unit (not necessarily LFD) and play it in the system with its resonant top case attached, and then at the identical volume without the case attached, a slight difference may be perceived. Fair enough.

However in my experience, listeners are more likely to hear the effect when the process is reversed. By this I mean the system is played without the case and then with the case. The latter is more time consuming though.

In each instance, for the effect to be heard, the case must be screwed tight to the chassis. No easy matter with LFD as the deliberately soft-head Allen screws used are not happy about being removed and replaced frequently. Frankly, I do not advise it.

For those that can hear it, and don’t like it, a solution to microphony is desirable. Battleship-type construction is one approach, applying semi-inert sticky panels is another and safety issues not withstanding, removing a top cover (most certainly not endorsed by me as a retailer nor LFD as the maker) is another. That’s the reality. The end-user has a choice. Unlike a number of other UK audiophile makers, LFD recognise that their end-users are adults and, in the main, readily able to think for themselves. Over here in the UK, that’s an approach which is as refreshing as it is rare.

Thank you

Stereonow Ltd
Forgive me, but I'm unclear as to why, on the face of it, your opinion is any more important than LFD’s opinion? Is there some logic to this that I'm missing?

Dr Bews is not a person to apologise for not designing ‘jewellery’ that attempts to play music! He can’t, and so he doesn’t.

He has his priorities as indeed you have yours. If your priorities are incongruent with his then hey, you have a choice – right? LFD are not the only decent-sounding gear on the block. The USA has over the years produced outstanding examples of true state-of-the-art integrated amps and a lot more besides. You could buy those if you’ve a mind to.

If you expect a better fit finish, then don’t buy LFD. A bit of a no-brainer I’d have thought.

You don’t like ugly. Fair enough. Right on! Neither do I - but is your ‘ugly’ the same as someone else’s’ ‘ugly”. If so, how do you know for sure? Who is the arbiter of good taste in visual design? Certainly not me.

Your understanding of a “stat” seems to me to be a variance with the mathematically accepted definition of that term. What I stated was not a stat. Sorry about that. You said ‘to put it in context’. Can you expand on this. Unfortunately you’ve lost me on that one!

In conclusion, LFD as indeed all makers of all items do, is offering an invitation to buy. Not an edict to buy. Not a command nor a compulsion to buy. Merely ….. an …… invitation. So you don’t like the invitation and you decline; well fine. Nobody died did they? Hi-fi is only a tool for reproducing music. In absolute terms, is nothing more than that.

Thank you

Howard Popeck
Stereonow Ltd
Howard. I am aware that microphony is an issue that concerns audio component designers, recording engineers, etc. I certainly have seen my share of see-through covers on audio exotica and on affordable gear too. I have no opinion as to any audible differences these clear panels/covers may or may not provide the end user. I smiled at the use of "gaudy" that "JTsin67" uses in his post. It will offend some here on audiogon when I say I see many audio components as gaudy. Taste is so subjective. As an example, when I've visited listening rooms with huge mono amps with big glowing VU meters that upstage the decor of a residential living room, it immediately strikes me as gaudy and perhaps ostentatious, and I think again about that talk of the male's acquisitions being an extension of their self-esteem/ego. I've often heard it said "I don't care about the appearance of a component, it's the sound that matters most", and while I agree in principle with the premise, I find myself doubting the sincerity of messengers. Call me suspicious and a pessimist at heart, but don't assume I'm naive as to the ways of man.
Hello Airegin.

So you find myself doubting the sincerity of messengers do you? Surely that must compromise the dissemination of both knowledge and awareness? Would you class Bach as a messenger. Mozart perhaps? Monet, Newton, Darwin or indeed the morning call of a blackbird. I'm pondering on how they might be perceived as insincere. Interesting thought! Thank you.

You invite me to call me suspicious and a pessimist at heart. So okay, I will. I don’t feel any better for doing so. Perhaps my heart wasn’t really in it.

I’ve searched the postings here to try and figure out how you might have come to the conclusion that leads to your statement “but don't assume I'm naive as to the ways of man” My response is uncomplicated. Why on earth would I assume that – or indeed anything about you?
Jtsin67 - give your new unit at least several hundred hours to settle in. The sound will change/open up. With your ProAc's it should sound pretty darn good! Is there an acknowledged "break-in" period for the new LFD.

Bigaitch - Most certainly agree - folks have choices. Buying gear is just as subjective as music loving is. I chose to buy the predecessor of the mkIV. Had it in my system for a time and chose to move to something else. I base my opinions on that experience. Not the mere fact of never owning and only on looks - my bad if that wasn't clearly communicated.

I purchased based on an audition and it's exciting ability to reproduce sound so elegantly compared to what I'd heard up until that point; full well knowing I didn't care for the looks. Getting it home, living and poking around with it revealed qualities I took issue with - not sound related - but important to me nonetheless.

Wrt "LFD units rarely show up on eBay & aGon" - and from that conclude "users are happy with the units" - I was merely recognizing that of all the listed systems on aGon only one lists ownership. That's a small pool to aggregate from. Of course aGon members are not the only audiophiles in the world. I feel statements like that don't mean what's implied. Is it a "stat" in the mathematical sense. Not exactly. But you get the idea as indicated by your "variance" comment.

And lastly, my opinion "is" more important the LFD's 'cause a) I'm paying for it
b) I have to live with it.

If the developer's don't care about looks that's most certainly their business. Just one I'm not good with turns out. It's neither right or wrong. Call it self-discovery.
Hello Bigaitch. Please, although you make a fine point or two countering my less than stellar observations, my suspicions of man's sincerity is based upon my sixty or so years walking upright, and as for Darwin, know I'm a student of and an appreciative one at that who finds explaining evolution through intelligent design about as valid as some of the more dubious claims made about audio products. I have found myself on more than a few occasions watching respected audio reviewers getting loaded prior to listening to audio gear at the trade shows. I wonder if alcohol improves the perception of sound? If you got this far, know I respect your intelligence and opinions and realize you, like I, have been around audio for a long time.

Hello again Airegin.

Please feel free to call me Howard. I can’t recall why I came up with the silly Bigaitch name in the first place.

Thank you for this. I would never be so rude as to not fully read what a person, any person in fact has posted here in response to something I’ve said. And thank you for your interesting observations.

Re reviewers being loaded, well I’ve not come across this personally, despite having been an ad-hoc reviewer for Hi-Fi News for a while. Frankly, given all the political intrigue, a thankless task. Yes, I’ve been around a bit – selling audio on and off since 1976. most of it was fun too. and today, in parts, it still is. No way to make money of course, but useful for filling in the cracks between all the other stuff I do.

Using your latest response as a catalyst, then if someone wants to initiate a thread along the lines of ‘one person’s view of the inside track re UK audiophile reviewing’ then I’ll be happy to inflict my two-cents worth on any hapless individual straying across that thread’s path. Or alternatively, I could shut up and respond only to LFD stuff. Any thoughts anyone?


Howard Popeck /
Tell us about the upcoming base phono stage ;-)
I too would love a phono stage!
Listened to the lfd le mk4 signature version with a pair of Neat Mystique. Stunning in every area. More open than the older design and tonality is a real treat. Told that there is no onboard phono option however because casework is more compact than older design. But the sound more than makes up for it. Except for power which is still more than adequate it competes with seperates costing close to 10K. No remote and looks are only modest but unusually high quality under the hood.
"Finally, if you can’t afford or choose not to get the LFD NCSE then buy the latest LFD Zero LE integrated. In its price band, it’s unbeatable. But it’s not the LFD NCSE in disguise." Howard Popeck of Stereonow Ltd
I own the LE3 and a friend lent me his NCSE. Personally, I prefer the LE3 to the NCSE. There is more of what Sam Tellig describes as the illuminated light from within. The NCSE is also very, very good but I found it too clinical for my taste! If the new LE IV sounds more like the NCSE then I will very contentedly stick with my LE3.

LFD makes excellent integrateds! Very musical!
Denjo. The LFD's are great bare bone integrated's (the simple box w/o extras turns off most US shoppers, but their loss), especially a used one with b/i phono stage, the used LE3 is a bargain. I owned an LF3 and had time to A/B with NCSE. Took more than a few weeks to realize the strengths of the NCSE over the LE3 such as the firm control of bass (cello, skin on drum skin, etc.) and revealing of details was better from some of my recordings, but I could have stayed happy with the LE3. P.S. the old Sam Tellig LE3 review irritated me as silly, but it did serve a purpose to make many aware of a small builder like Bews/LFD.
I wonder if the if the NCSE has more current and lower output impedance (damping) than the MKIII - might be that the MKIII works better with easy loads and operates a bit more like a tube amp might, the bass improvement would be more noticeable to users of speakers that benefit from beefier current capabilities.

How does the MKIII, and other LFD integrated stack up against other top flight integrates, tube or SS?
"If it measures good and sounds bad, it is bad. If it measures bad and sounds good, you've measured the wrong thing."
That's true, but the NCSE/MKIII might be better suited to different speakers - damping can be great with some speakers, and choke the life out of others. With my speakers the MKIII might very well be the better sounding amp, a pair of Thiels? maybe not.
I purchased the LFD Zero LE MKIV new about 3 weeks ago.

After a good three weeks of being left on, it looks like it's really come into its own. I've heard many SET amplifiers, including those based on the 45, 421A, 300B, and 2A3. I won't say the the LFD sounds like those -- but then again, every SET amplifier sounds a bit different anyway. But the LFD does sound remarkably similar.

The LFD also has a lit from within quality that I've only heard from a SET 45, a First Watt J2, and an Atma-sphere S-30.

A SET 45 has a bit more presence than the LFD but the LFD has better control. The J2 is more micro dynamically nimble, but on the other hand, the LFD has more body and not even a hint of stridency or fatigue. The S-30 is faster, but the LFD does not drink gallons of fossil fuels.

It has clarity, presence, transparency, speed, sweet and extended highs, micro and macro dynamics, great control over the low end. If I closed my eyes, the LFD would sound to me like one of the finest tube amplifiers and Class A solid state amps out there. Except it runs efficiently and cool to the touch.

My only complaint is that, like most integrated amps, it has pretty high gain -- and 38db of gain is really way over what I need. I wish there were a way to lower the gain and get back more range on the volume control. I've tried a pair of Rothwell attenuators, but it applies a coloration that I don't care for.

But that's my only complaint, and more to do with my system and not likely to be a challenge for most. It's a keeper.

Okay, I've probably said things like this before. But I really do mean it this time ... I'll write again in a few months and we'll see if I still have the same opinion then as I do now.
Your post makes for a very compelling reason for me to try it, especially given the other amps you have had a chance to listen to - very intriguing indeed, as I am always looking for an SS integrated I can live with.

I own the Atma M-60s and have enjoyed the XA30.5 and several Alephs (2 & 3) up to the J. A little intergrated that can be enjoyed by someone use to some the products from Ralph K. and Nelson P. must be a very fine piece of gear indeed. 40 watts, right?
I think it's rated at 60 wpc into 8 ohms. Input impedance is 20K ohms, which is not particularly flexible. But if you have sources less than 600 ohms output Z, then I think you're likely okay with a bit of room to spare.

Having said that, note that the preamp section is no more than a volume pot. All gain is in the amplifier section. So if you have a source which is known to not work well with passives, the LFD may not be a good choice.

It will take awhile to open up. In Sam Tellig's review of the MKIV, he says 1 week. I think it's more like 3 weeks -- but I wasn't playing music all day long, and Sam may very well have been exercising it more.

My system right now is:

Zu Soul Superfly
LFD LE MKIV integrated amplifier
Eastern Electric DAC Plus, with LM49990 opamps
2011 Mac Mini
Audirvana Plus music player with iTunes integration

The EE DAC with the LM49990 opamps is a bit edgy unless you use a great player like the Audirvana Plus, which comes with SRC and dithering by Izotope. You can set up minimum phase, apodizing filters etc. which gives you a smooth top end with no fatigue.

I am surprised that the little EE DAC is as good as it is, but it is only true when I'm using Audirvana. I suspect it would also be good with Fidelia and Amarra, but PureMusic would not be a good match. I have heard / owned all of these players, and I find PureMusic is better for systems that are a bit veiled, where Audirvana, Amarra and Fidelia are better for systems that may be too lit up. In this case, the Sabre DAC chip is certainly on the brighter side of things.
Hi. I found this small piece by the reclusive Dr. Bews (LFD founder and designer) which might be of interest re the differences between the Zero LE Mk4.0 and the Zero Signature.