Feb 042018

I’m a huge fan of integrated amplifiers. In fact some of the finest amplification I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to music with has come from integrated amplifiers, like the Leben CS-600 and the Spec RSA-M3 EX.

I get quite a few messages from integrated amplifier owners asking me what separate components would better the performance of their systems, and while I love to explore all kinds of hifi amplification components myself, my typical answer to that sort of inquiry is to say something like, “there’s lots of good separates amplification out there, but I think you’ll be sorry if you sell your integrated amplifier to get it.”

In my opinion, integrated amplifiers can be the best choice for a lot of music lovers!

Leben CS-600 with Sophia Electric EL34-ST tubes.

Take for example the Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier which I’ve had for 10 years now, and which has continued to delight me with almost daily use over that 10 year period.

The Leben CS-600 is very well made, beautiful in appearance, and has been utterly reliable in the 10 years I’ve been enjoying its charms.

The only quibble I have with the Leben CS-600 is that there isn’t an optional top cover available for it that allows for the use of taller vacuum tubes like the Sophia Electric EL34-ST in the photo above.

I would encourage Mr. Taku Hyodo, founder of Leben Hi-Fi Stereo Company, to offer such an optional top cover, it would be a real asset to Leben lovers everywhere, and I’d volunteer be his first customer for it!

Leben CS-600 with the Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers.

My Leben CS-600 with the Sophia Electric EL34-ST’s as power tubes has been a particular delight powering my Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers in my AV system.

I encourage you to read my posts from days gone by about the Leben CS-600, like the Winning Combinations or A Simple Guide to Creating a Musically Satisfying Hi-Fi System posts from 2010, as well as others.

If you want to get a fantastically musical vinyl system just try this recipe:

  • One Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier.
  • One Leben RS-30EQ phono preamplifier.
  • A pair of decent two-way loudspeakers (restored vintage Altec’s with new crossovers are a great choice!).
  • A couple pairs of Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects wired up Yazaki-san style (you’ll need the shielding for Leben products).
  • Some Duelund DCA16GA or DCA12GA for speaker cables.
  • A turntable with an Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII stereo phono cartridge mounted on it, and a suitable SUT for it.

Back 10 years ago when I first wrote about the Leben CS-600 with the Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers as a system, after listening to the pairing for a while I was so enamored with its musicality I sold off my rather more ambitious system of Avantgarde Duo loudspeakers and TEAD electronics, and even those are also great hifi kit, I’ve never regretted it for a moment.

I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my life, but the Leben CS-600 & Harbeth combo wasn’t one of them, and it stands as a recommended system to this day, particularly so for those with smaller listening rooms.

There’s lots of great two-way loudspeakers that would be a good match to the Leben CS-600, and it has been uncanny how my very large 2-way vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers have gelled with the CS-600. I marvel every time I listen to music or watch a film with that combo.

I haven’t had phono in my A5 AV system yet, but I’m thinking of adding in my Leben RS-30EQ and Thorens TD124 so I’ll be able to enjoy vinyl in two of my systems.

The Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier has great sonics and musicality, is beautiful, is utterly reliable, is very flexible in tube rolling, and is just all around great hifi kit! Highly recommended!

SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier

My admiration for Yazaki-san’s Spec RSA-M3 EX integrated amplifier has continued to grow over the 3 years I’ve been listening to it.

The Spec RSA-M3 EX integrated amplifier gives up absolutely nothing in sonics and musicality to a fine vacuum tube integrated amplifier like the Leben CS-600.

The Spec RSA-M3 EX integrated amplifier is made to an ultra-level of quality, is beautiful to look at, has been completely reliable in use, and has a level of sonic & musical prowess that is world class, making it the easiest of recommendations for an integrate amplifier to base a high-performance hifi on.

Stokowski Altec A7’s with Spec RSA-M3 EX.

The Spec RSA-M3 EX has been my amplifier of choice to power my vintage Altec “A7” loudspeakers that were custom made by Altec for conductor Leopold Stokowski back when he lived in the USA.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Spec RSA-M3 EX is a fantastic match to the Stokowski Altec’s, as Yazaki-san has an vintage Altec based loudspeaker system in his home system that he listens to his designs on during their development. Synergy!

Yazaki-san’s Altec-Onken loudspeakers.

If you follow the same advice I gave for the Leben CS-600 with the Spec RSA-M3 EX you’ll also get a superbly musical system.

My modest little nuevo-bungalow house is laid out kind of unusually. It has a big living room area that is open to a kitchen, dining room, and entryway hall space, where my Westminster-based music system lives.

The second biggest room is the master bedroom, which is nearly the size of my living room, and actually ends up being a lot of wasted space.

Until recently, I’ve had my Harbeth’s in there as part of a simple bedroom system, but I’ve always felt a little wary with tube gear in my bedroom system, for fear I’ll fall asleep while listening and burn the house down when a tube blows.

Leben CS600 integrated amplifier with Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers in my bedroom system.

Death by tube immolation is probably not a very realistic fear, as I’ve never had a tube failure that resulted in flames, but there’s no fear at all if the Spec RSA-M3 EX is the amplifier for my bedroom system!

So the plan is that I’m going to figure out how to make my big master bedroom double as a nice listening room, and coincidentally a local hifi pal, Howard, and my 93 year old Mom, independently suggested the same thing to me at almost the same time – it must be a sign! 😉

So my path forward is to figure out how to rearrange my master bedroom to do that.

I’m thinking that my new to me vintage 2-way Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers, once I do a little restoration wiring and do a few cabinet tweaks, and get some good Hiraga-style crossovers for them, will be my loudspeakers of choice for my master bedroom listening room.

Vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers.

I suspect that my Spec RSA-M3 EX combined with my Altec 832A Corona’s will be a match made in heaven – the stuff dreams are made of!

I also suspect that the Spec RSA-Me EX combined with the vintage Corona’s, a musical digital source, some Duelund DCA12GA speaker cables, and Duelund DCA20GA interconnects will make for a mind-blowing system by any measure!

To summarize, if you’re thinking about putting together a world class audio system with superb musicality and sonics, I think either the Leben CS-600 or Spec RSA-M3 EX integrated amplifiers as its beating heart would make a superb choice for you, as they certainly have for me.

Anyways, as always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 1:23 pm

  7 Responses to “Long-term report on the Spec RSA-M3 EX and Leben CS-600 integrated amplifiers!”

  1. Hi Jeff, at the risk of sounding like a Luddite, I have to ask why two-way speakers? I’ve recently had my budget and listening room both servilely clipped, and have ended up with a CS600 hooked to a pair of Omega Super Alnico XRS single driver speakers – they fit my needs perfectly and the results have been stunning. I’ve previously owned SHL5’s along with a myriad of solid state and tubed amps but nothing that came close to offering up the musical pleasure of this combination. That said, I don’t think I ever got he best out of my Harbeth’s even though I tried several different amplifier and and cable combinations.

  2. Hi Jeff,
    I am owning Spec RSA 717ex and I tried different speakers(Totem model 1, Triangle Ez tower speakers, ATC SCM7) not able get the magic that I am after, what would you suggest for realistic vocal and bit energy on the upper frequency for Spec RSA 717 ex.

    • Hi Murgesh,

      I’m not sure how to advise you on your exact question, as I haven’t heard the Spec RSA-717EX or the specific speakers you mention, but I can offer a few suggestions.

      First let’s assume that the Spec RSA-717EX performs similarly to the Spec RSA-M3 EX that I have, and that the Totem, Triangle, and ATC loudspeakers you mention are similar to other models I have heard from those loudspeaker manufacturers (didn’t do much for me).

      I suspect you’re experiencing a bit of a mismatch between the Spec RSA-717EX and the loudspeakers you mention, but I suppose it could be the source or interconnects / speaker cables you are using, as well, that are causing the dissatisfaction.

      Here’s an easy and relatively inexpensive experiment for you to try based on what I’ve found to work well with the Spec RSA-M3 EX: First, try your Spec RSA-717EX with the interconnects and speaker cables Yazaki-san recommends, Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects (grounded only at the source end), and vintage Western Electric WE16GA wire for speaker cables. If you can’t find the WE16GA, use the Duelund DCA16GA wire as speaker cables, which is very similar and a tad better.

      If that doesn’t do it for you, then I would recommend auditioning the following loudspeakers: Devore Fidelity O/96 or O/93, Tannoy’s (I’ve found my Westminster’s to be a really nice match, but I suspect the smaller Canterbury or Arden could be a good choice too), and Harbeth Super HL5’s, which I’ve found to be a good match.

      I hope that is of some help.

      Kind regards,


  3. Hi Jeff,
    That is big write up as help, based on your advise I have already Belden interconnect and Duelund cables.
    Next step should be speakers, I will keep you informed

    Thanks, with regards

    Murgesh J

    • Murgesh J,

      The three speakers you mentioned are inefficient and hard to drive type, a low power class D amp likes to see more efficient design and easier load than these. Wires alone won’t fix your fundamental problem.

      • Hi Griffin,
        Thanks, I realized after purchasing and listening to above mentioned speakers, they not nice fit with Spec.

        Recently I purchased Harbeth C7ex3, and the matching is good with Spec, with the cables Jeff mentioned.

        I was assuming why Harbeth get high appreciation, they live up to their hype.

        Now I am in search of stands for Harbeth

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