Leema Tu­cana II An­niver­sary Edi­tion

FOR Pow­er­ful pre­sen­ta­tion; ag­ile lows; nicely fin­ished AGAINST Most of the im­por­tant changes are hid­den

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How time flies. In 2006, a small-scale speaker man­u­fac­turer launched its first elec­tron­ics prod­uct. The Tu­cana in­te­grated am­pli­fier, along­side the part­ner­ing An­tila CD player, es­tab­lished Leema Acous­tics as a pur­veyor of qual­ity hi-fi elec­tron­ics. The brand has hardly looked back since then.

Over the past decade the com­pany’s range has ex­panded con­sid­er­ably, tak­ing in more af­ford­able elec­tron­ics, high-end prod­ucts and a wider range of speak­ers. But the Tu­cana has con­tin­ued to be one of the high­lights of the com­pany’s out­put. To cel­e­brate those first 10 years, Leema has re­leased an An­niver­sary Edi­tion of the am­pli­fier, and we couldn’t re­sist hav­ing a listen.

Fussy/fuss-free

At first glance there ap­pears to be lit­tle to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the An­niver­sary Edi­tion from the stan­dard MKII ver­sion. The case­work seems un­changed, apart from the An­niver­sary badge and re­worked front panel logo. It re­mains im­pres­sive, though. There’s an air of per­ma­nence about the metal struc­ture. It feels im­mensely solid and has an en­gi­neered feel to it – we like the heav­ily ma­chined ap­pear­ance, but some of the de­tail­ing has started to look a lit­tle fussy. There’s no com­plain­ing about the fuss-free way the con­trols work or the con­fi­dence the hefty 18kg weight in­stils, though.

This An­niver­sary model comes with the com­pany’s new Fo­cus re­mote, a chunky metal hand­set that cov­ers all sys­tem func­tions. It’s a lit­tle clut­tered, but re­mains easy to use. The con­trol lay­out is log­i­cal, though the feel of the but­tons could be nicer – the same could be said of the nice look­ing con­trol but­tons on the am­pli­fier’s fas­cia.

In­ter­nal im­prove­ments

As with pre­vi­ous Tu­canas, this one can be in­te­grated into a Leema set-up with the aid of LIPS – Leema’s pro­pri­etary com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem – so the stack of elec­tron­ics op­er­ates seam­lessly.

The Tu­cana’s on­board con­trol sys­tem still al­lows for dif­fer­ent gain set­tings for each in­put. This is use­ful when you want to equalise vol­ume lev­els be­tween sources that have wildly dif­fer­ing out­puts – as, say, the sig­nals from a typ­i­cal phono stage and CD play­ers can be.

So far this unit ap­pears just like ev­ery Tu­cana be­fore it. But delve into the details and you’ll re­alise there’s far more to this An­niver­sary model than just a new re­mote and a cou­ple of badges.

Take the alu­minium lid off and the cir­cuit boards have been up­graded with twice the stan­dard amount of cop­per in the tracks, lead­ing to lower losses through re­duced re­sis­tance and an im­proved power de­liv­ery.

Sound-crit­i­cal ca­pac­i­tors have been up­graded to Nichicon’s Muse types, and all tran­sis­tors are hand-se­lected for op­ti­mal per­for­mance and the low­est dis­tor­tion. The in­ter­nal ca­bling has been im­proved too, by the use of the com­pany’s Ref­er­ence 2 speaker ca­ble and the amp’s power sup­ply up­graded with new, qui­eter mains trans­form­ers. There’s one trans­former per channel in this dual-mono power amp de­sign, with a third for the con­trol cir­cuits.

There’s plenty of con­nec­tiv­ity here, as long as you don’t ex­pect dig­i­tal in­puts. While these are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon on two-channel am­pli­fiers, built-in dig­i­tal mod­ules tend to be a box-tick­ing ex­er­cise rather than a real at­tempt to de­liver top-class num­ber­crunch­ing per­for­mance. Good-qual­ity out­board al­ter­na­tives such as Chord’s Hugo or Ar­cam’s IRDAC II sound no­tably bet­ter than the dig­i­tal mod­ules fit­ted to most high-end am­pli­fiers.

Enough is enough

Stick with ana­logue and you have a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of sin­gle-ended in­puts (six, to be ex­act) as well as a bal­anced XLR op­tion. At the front you’ll find a 3.5mm jack for use with a por­ta­ble mu­sic player or phone (though not an iphone 7, of course). There’s also a tape loop and a preamp out­put for those that feel the Tu­cana’s 150W per channel isn’t enough, though we can’t imag­ine many peo­ple will feel that un­less they have par­tic­u­larly in­ef­fi­cient speak­ers or an un­usu­ally spa­cious lis­ten­ing room.

Leema is quite ex­plicit with its pub­lished power out­put fig­ures, claim­ing 290W per channel into 4 ohms and a mighty 520W into 2 ohms. These im­pres­sive num­bers sug­gest the Tu­cana will be happy driv­ing some of the most

”This is a hugely ca­pa­ble and re­veal­ing am­pli­fier, but you’ll hear its true abil­ity only if it’s fed a top-qual­ity source”

de­mand­ing speak­ers around. We try a range of op­tions (ATC SCM50S, Sonus Faber Venere S and Dy­nau­dio M20) and never feel the am­pli­fier is any­thing else but at ease.

Each An­niver­sary am­pli­fier is sup­plied with an in­di­vid­ual pass­port, with each stage of the pro­duc­tion process signed off by the en­gi­neer re­spon­si­ble. It’s a nice touch.

Sta­ble sonic pic­ture

We’ve al­ways liked the Tu­cana, and it takes just a few min­utes of lis­ten­ing to re­mind us why. The up­grades are fairly ex­ten­sive but the sonic char­ac­ter hasn’t changed, even if the sound has im­proved. It re­mains an im­mensely ro­bust-sound­ing am­pli­fier – those im­pres­sive power fig­ures read­ily trans­late into the sound we hear. Play some­thing large–scale and de­mand­ing such as the Jaws theme tune from John Wil­liams and this amp shines. Its pre­sen­ta­tion is as solid as you like, sup­ported by taut, punchy lows. Those bass notes are un­usu­ally rich, though – ren­dered with pleas­ing tex­ture and no small de­gree of agility too.

Look be­yond the lows and you’ll find plenty more to ad­mire. Dy­nam­ics are de­liv­ered with con­fi­dence as the mu­sic’s men­ace grows. Yet nu­ances are well han­dled too, the Tu­cana show­ing plenty of del­i­cacy when the mu­sic de­mands.

We’re happy with the sound stag­ing – this am­pli­fier paints a suit­ably ex­pan­sive stereo im­age and pop­u­lates it in a pre­cise and spa­cious fash­ion. The sonic pic­ture re­mains sta­ble re­gard­less of how chal­leng­ing the mu­sic gets.

Spot­light on the mu­sic

Ton­ally, Leema has given this am­pli­fier a slightly rich and full-bod­ied bal­ance. The top end is smooth without lack­ing bite, so the am­pli­fier tends not to em­pha­sise the weak­ness of less than per­fect sig­nal feeds. That’s a bonus for those who use the likes of Tidal or Spo­tify on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Don’t think this tol­er­ant na­ture means you can get away with less than ideal sources, though. This is a hugely ca­pa­ble and re­veal­ing am­pli­fier, and you’ll hear the true breadth of its abil­ity only if it’s fed a top-qual­ity source.

We play The Hand That Feeds by Nine Inch Nails and the Leema de­liv­ers the hard-charg­ing beat with en­thu­si­asm, keep­ing a firm grip of the in­sis­tent rhythm track with skill. There’s plenty of punch and power, but also the in­sight to un­ravel the dense pro­duc­tion.

This record­ing is packed with en­ergy, and the Tu­cana is trans­par­ent enough to give us a full dose. Push vol­ume lev­els higher and the am­pli­fier stays firmly in con­trol, the sound re­fus­ing to harden un­til we reach an­ti­so­cial lev­els.

We try PJ Har­vey’s Dear Dark­ness and the Leema shifts gear ef­fort­lessly to de­liver this sparse record­ing with con­vic­tion. Har­vey’s haunt­ing vo­cals are ren­dered with a suit­ably light touch, the amp mak­ing the most of her dis­tinc­tive phras­ing. The song’s min­i­mal­ist rhyth­mic beat comes through with de­ter­mi­na­tion without dom­i­nat­ing.

There’s a lovely sense of space here, as the am­pli­fier gives each sound plenty of space to breathe, and yet still man­ages to tie ev­ery­thing to­gether to make a co­he­sive and mu­si­cal whole. The Tu­cana cap­tures the feel of the song, put­ting the spot­light on the mu­sic while the hi-fi me­chan­ics fade into the back­ground.

En­ergy and drive

The head­phone out­put is good too, re­tain­ing the re­fine­ment and drive of the sound heard via the speaker ter­mi­nals – not al­ways the case even with amps as ex­pen­sive as this. We try both Grado’s PS500S and Sony’s Z1RS to good ef­fect, though ded­i­cated units from the likes of Gra­ham Slee do even bet­ter.

While the Tu­cana’s price has steadily gone up over the years, so has its per­for­mance. This ver­sion may not look all that dif­fer­ent from the unit we re­viewed back in 2010 but we think it still stands up well in to­day’s mar­ket. If you’re af­ter a pre­mium in­te­grated and want some­thing that plays all types of mu­sic with equal skill you’ll have to go some to bet­ter this An­niver­sary model.

Sev­eral new up­grades set the Leema Tu­cana An­niver­sary apart from the stan­dard MKII ver­sion

Six sin­gle-ended in­puts and a bal­anced XLR op­tion – but no dig­i­tal in­puts

The but­tons on both the fas­cia and the re­mote could be bet­ter

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