First Impression: Lehmann Black Cube Linear

During the Sennheiser HD800 launch event in Singapore, the Lehmann Black Cube Linear amplifier was chosen to be the “official” amplifier for auditioning sessions. It was a little hard to judge its performance, given that the headphone (the HD800), the amplifier (the Black Cube Linear), and the source was very foreign to me. Fast forward to roughly one year after that event, and I’m still intrigued to do a proper listening session on the Black Cube Linear, and finally I was able to do so through the help of Audionote Singapore.

My main set up has been the HD800 with the balanced Beta22 amplifier, which many say is the best solid state headphone amplifier. But there are some aspects that I don’t hear on the Beta22, that I remembered hearing during the auditioning session in Sennheiser’s event. The Beta22 is not slow, but I wouldn’t say it’s a fast sounding amplifier. And while the Beta22 has a marvelous sense of realism in the sound, there are some impressions, mainly detail and speed, that I thought I heard during the launch event, that I’ve never heard with the Beta22. So, here am I, finally back with the Lehmann amplifier, this time with a headphone that I know very well (the HD800).

Lehmann’s Black Cube Linear with the Sennheiser HD800

 

During the audition, I used two different sources, one being a high end Blacknote CDP300 CD Player, and the other being my humble Ipod Classic. I was playing tracks from several CDs on the Blacknote: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and André Previn, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, Horowitz In Hamburg, Bob Dylan MTV Unplugged, and Hotel Costes Vol.1 by Stéphane Pompougnac. With the Ipod, I was playing tracks from Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land, Rubinstein’s Chopin Ballades and Scherzos, and Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me.

I really never imagined that the HD800 can have such a fast transients until I am listening through the Lehmann Black Cube. With the Blacknote CDP300, the music coming out of the HD800 had a super fast transients. I had remembered that during the audition session at Sennheiser’s event, I really came home remembering how fast the HD800 sounded when playing some drum beats on a CD that I wasn’t really familiar with. After I purchased the HD800, it was fast, but then it never really sounded that fast. I quickly dissed the “fast” impression as produced by the particular recording of that drum beats recording, and I never really thought about it much after that. Some of the early impressions of the HD800 really highlighted the fact that the HD800 is a headphone with very fast transients, but all these time, I never really get it. I guess I wasn’t listening to the right amplifier.

The HD800 has never been slow, but it wasn’t particularly fast either, at least on all the other set ups that I’ve familiarized myself with, including the Beta22. Not so with the CDP300 and the Lehmann Black Cube. It really made the HD800 sound like an electrostatic headphone. It’s amazing that the HD800 was able to take on that transformation. It certainly wasn’t as fast as the latest lambda such as the SR-404LE that I reviewed, but the HD800 is definitely in the electrostatic speed territory now, perhaps a good match for slower electrostatics and a few orthodynamic headphones. Without turning this review into a dynamic vs planar debate, my point is that I was really impressed at the speed of this amplifier. The Lehmann BCL has this German-precision quality in its sound. It’s very transparent, detailed, and precise.


First Impression: Lehmann Black Cube Linear
4.1 (81.82%) 22 votes

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36 Comments

  • Reply June 16, 2010

    Mike

    I've been reading a bit on the Matrix M-Stage, which is claimed to be a Lehmann clone. The impressions (from people that I trust very much) seem to indicate that the M-Stage has a midramge and bottom end oriented sound. If that's the case, then it's quite different than the Lehmann Black Cube Linear, which strength lies in clarity and speed, and definitely no emphasis on the mid and bottom end.

    Midrange and bottom end emphasis often makes a more musical sound. But the question becomes, can the M-Stage keep up with the Lehmann in terms of clarity and speed?

  • Reply November 18, 2010

    Vlad

    I will compare Matrix M-Stage with Lehmann this week. Got BCL ordered.

    • Reply November 18, 2010

      Mike

      Thanks, Vlad! I will look forward to your comparison.

      I should be able to do the same once the Linear USB arrives.

  • Reply November 19, 2010

    Vlad

    Mike,
    Would be nice to hear your opinion on Linear USB dac as well!

    • Reply November 19, 2010

      Mike

      Sure thing, Vlad. I'll definitely write about it. 🙂

      • Reply November 20, 2010

        Vlad

        Got Lehmann BCL today. It fell in love with my Sen HD800 right away.
        The sound is clear and transparent. The amp does not colorize , neither adds any emotions to the material. I found the amp amazingly balanced and natural.
        Comparing to Matrix m-stage….Well, there’s no comparison (I got modded version with OPA627)
        Simply put, Matrix m-stage can’t handle the HD800 no matter what the gain setting are (0db, 10db or 18db). The sound was harsh in trebles and squeezed in mids. My AKG K240 was more forgiving to the Matrix though. So, I guess the Matrix and HD800 just hate each other 🙂

        • Reply November 20, 2010

          Mike

          Thanks for the impressions!

          I still haven\’t received the Lehmann unit, but your impression totally mimics mine when I last listened to the Lehmann. The components look similar, but somehow there is a difference in the level of refinement. I cannot enjoy the HD800 with the M-Stage due to the same factors you mentioned. But I was totally impressed by the Lehmann HD800 combo when I heard it the last time. Very clear, very precise, no coloration.

  • Reply November 20, 2010

    Kelvin Ang

    Hmm…seems like one of the comments has gone missing….

    Anyhow, any chance for a Rhinelander review as well? It's been said to be like a baby BCL…

    • Reply November 20, 2010

      Mike

      Yep, losing some comments here and there, trying my best not to lose them..

      Rhinelander review, huh? That may be fun… 😀

  • Reply November 21, 2010

    Vlad

    I posted my comments M-stage vs Lehmann BCL yesterday but for some reason they've been removed.

    • Reply November 22, 2010

      Mike

      Vlad! I replied to your postings. Sorry for losing the comment as we're in the middle of setting up the discussion platform.

    • Reply November 22, 2010

      Mike

      Here is what Vlad posted yesterday:

      Got Lehmann BCL today. It fell in love with my Sen HD800 right away.
      The sound is clear and transparent. The amp does not colorize , neither adds any emotions to the material. I found the amp amazingly balanced and natural.
      Comparing to Matrix m-stage….Well, there's no comparison (I got modded version with OPA627)
      Simply put, Matrix m-stage can't handle the HD800 no matter what the gain setting are (0db, 10db or 18db). The sound was harsh in trebles and squeezed in mids. My AKG K240 was more forgiving to the Matrix though. So, I guess the Matrix and HD800 just hate each other 🙂

      • Reply November 22, 2010

        Mike

        And I replied something like this:

        I still hasn't gotten the Lehmann Linear, but from the time that I wrote this impression, I think Vlad's impressions is quite similar to what I had. The Lehmann was very precise and has almost no coloration. The Matrix is less refined and more colored, and through the HD800 all of that shows very clearly. I can never enjoy the HD800 through the Matrix as well.

        Thanks, Vlad.

  • Reply November 22, 2010

    Mike

    I was talking to a friend who's going to buy a HD800.. I told him to postpone any amplifier purchases for the headphone until I received the Lehmann. 😀

  • Reply November 22, 2010

    Mike

    Norbert @ Lehmann audio told me that they're delaying the Linear shipping as they're waiting for the new chrome-plated faceplates to arrive. B)

  • Reply November 22, 2010

    Vlad

    chrome-plated faceplate…Sounds interesting…
    Mike,
    Is there any websites I can go ahead an take a look at those plates?
    Thanks!

    • Reply November 22, 2010

      Mike

      I just went to Lehmann's Facebook and found nothing. I sent an email to Norbert asking for a sneak preview photo 🙂

    • Reply November 22, 2010

      Mike

      Ah, no photos from Lehmann 🙁

  • […] was underwhelmed. What a surprise! I actually like my (much cheaper) headphones at home, and my Sennheiser in-ears much, much better. […]

  • Reply December 17, 2011

    Greg

    I just bought this amp used. If I tilt the amp from side to side I hear something moving inside the amp. Is this normal?

    Regards, Greg

    • Reply December 17, 2011

      Greg

      Nevermind, I just read the instructions and it’s a spare fuse.

  • Reply December 17, 2011

    Joe Coquelle Di Lecce

    Hello Mike,

    Thank you for your perfect review!

    I’m wondering which one is purer:

    RCA
    http://www.headphone-amplifier.com/images/Black_Cube_Linear_open_600.jpg

    XLR
    http://www.headphone-amplifier.com/images/BC-Linear-Pro_open_600.jpg

    :o)))

  • Reply April 3, 2012

    taegyun36

    hey Mike

    As you have recommended me last time, i thinking of buying hd800 (although im going to try to hear hd700 before i actually buy it XD) and so im looking for an amplifier that can go with hd800. Currently im thinking of graham slee ultra linear and lehmann audio linear usb. i know you have written a wonderful review on lehmann BCL however, do you think theres going to be a significant difference between them (BCL and USB style)? and how would you compare them to graham slee? 
    Also im looking for a good usb amplifiers if possible. do you know any good products you can suggest me other than lehmann’s? my budget right now is around 1000pounds.

    warm regards

    • Reply April 3, 2012

      Mike

      I think the biggest difference is that the Lehmann is mostly going to be straight up and uncolored, where the Graham Slee (I would still go with the Solo 2) is going to be a warmer and sweeter sounding amp.
      The Lehmann is great if:
      1. You have an excellent source.
      2. You listen to great quality recordings, audiophile labels stuff.

      The Graham Slee would be good for a wider range of recordings and sources.

  • Reply October 14, 2012

    Billy Wu

    Have you taken a look at the Lovely Cube Premium? It seems a better BCL clone than the M Stage and a few bucks cheaper. How close would it be to the BCL

    • Reply October 15, 2012

      Mike

      Billy,
      I’ve heard about it, but haven’t really considered doing a review on it.

  • Reply December 3, 2012

    Horatiu Mihalache

    Hello Mike,

    I know this is an old review but I would like to ask if you could make a quick comparison between the Black Cube Linear and the Burson Soloist. From the reviews it looks like the Soloist is a better amp than the HA-160 but I would be interested to see how it stands against the Black Cube especially in terms of clarity.

    My DAC is a Tech Young and my current headphones are HD650, but I plan to buy the LCD-3 some day.

    Thank you!

  • […] Headfonia "First Impression: Lehmann Black Cube Linear" […]

  • Reply July 4, 2013

    Anil Kohli

    I sent £650 on this amplifier and it sounds exactly the same as my £300 Meier Corda Jazz. And my Meier Corda Jazz sounds like my M-DAC headphone out. They all sound the same to me…because they are all linear in response, dont add any coloration to the music, and have low distortion. Stop selling snake oil to people.

    • Reply December 28, 2017

      Landloper

      My experience of using headphones with the Lehmann Linear compared to using them with an M-DAC is different to Anil Kohli’s. I have a variety of headphone amps [Lehmann, Myryad, Beresford] and I also own some DACs including an Audiolab M-DAC. I prefer any of my HP amps to the HP out on the M-DAC. Compared to dedicated HPAs the M-DAC HP out seems to lack resolution and power, as well as having a shallower background. As a headphone amp I find it boring. Just my experience – no more or less valid than Anil’s.

      • Reply December 28, 2017

        dale thorn

        Most amps do sound different, and the measurements bear that out. The controversy comes in regarding whether you can hear that difference. The “there’s no difference” guys are telling you that you can’t hear it, but they don’t know. The differences get even more interesting when you try to find the best match to a premium headphone that’s not easy to drive.

  • Reply August 6, 2013

    Aakshey

    How does the Matrix M Stage perform with respect to the BCL? Especially in terms of speed and cleaness? Since matrix is a clone. Is the matrix 90% of it or worse?

  • Reply October 6, 2013

    Eugen

    I recently got one of these and I have to say you forgot the slight midrange warmth it has. It’s not warmth as in tube midrange forwardness, it’s more of a complete lack of etch and hardness in the midrange and upper midrange that’s very appealing. In the highs though it has a kind of extension (emphasis?) that promotes the leading edge of drums and gives the impression of speed. I don’t quite know yet if it adds that or if it’s already there only it’s clearer. I do know a cymbal sounds more like the real thing because of it, and it’s not tinny at all. The bass is perfect for music. It’s has bass definition but it preserves instrument decay like it should.

    • Reply October 7, 2013

      Mike

      I don’t know, I had one on the store for a while and I still think it’s not something I’d associate with warmth.
      IF the recording is warm though the Lehmann will communicate that very clearly.

  • Reply June 27, 2015

    Rogier Schreurs

    Tried this unit a couple of times with my KingRex UD384/Upower and a host of headphones from Grado (sr60-sr325, ps500), Beyerdynamic(DT880, 990, CoP, T70, T90), B&W(P3,5,7) and Ultrasone, and I have to say I absolutely loathe the sound coming from it. Maybe it’s because I’m used to my tube and hybrid amps, but I’d actually rather listen to my earpods over my iPhone than even the T90 over the Lehman. Call me crazy, but I think the BCL is nowhere near as transparent, deep or smooth as my Musical Fidelity X-can V8P.

    • Reply June 27, 2015

      dalethorn

      I wonder if that amp is old and has problems. I know someone who said it really made his HD800 come alive with dazzling sparkle (or words to that effect). Be interesting if you could try another sample of a more recent manufacture.

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