Leema Stream IV CD Player / Streamer Review
Combining CD and streaming smarts, Leema's Stream IV is one box to play them all. Jay Garrett gets connected…
CD Player/Audio Streamer
To stream or not to stream, that is the question. The digital camp is divided – on the one hand, there are diehards who see little reason to get into networked music, and on the other those who wonder why people are still faffing around with silver discs. However, caught between these two polar opposites are music fans who both love Compact Discs, and want to stream. For them, the question of which is better is academic because they have extensive disc collections and want access to the likes of TIDAL, Qobuz and Spotify, or their own hard drive-based music. Enter Leema's new £2,295 Stream IV.
The company understands that you might already have a sizeable silver disc collection and – furthermore – you can still add to it for pennies if you keep an eye out for preloved discs. Yet all the market research now unequivocally shows that networked music is where most music fans are now heading, thanks to both the range of titles available and its convenience. That's why the new Stream IV sports a high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz streaming module and the highly regarded Stream Unlimited CD mechanism sourced from Germany.
Like its Pulse IV integrated amplifier stablemate in Leema's mid-price Stellar range, the Stream IV comes in a choice of two finishes, black and silver. Inside its stylish full-width casing you will find the respected ESS 9018 Sabre DAC chip, which works with the streaming module and CD mech. However, should you already own a high-performance DAC, you can hook it up using the coaxial and optical digital outputs – and there's also a USB input for hard drive connection too. The result is a do-it-all, multitasking machine that can, in theory, replace a number of your existing digital source components. It renders streamed audio by employing the MConnect UPnP/DLNA app, more of which later. Through this, you can access and playback from networked music devices.
Attaching the Leema to your network can be done via either wired or wireless operation, the latter simplified through the pressing of a blue WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button at the rear. The rear panel also sports a pair of Wi-Fi aerials, plus and a power socket that leads to its built-in Noratel linear power supply. It hooks up to your preamplifier or integrated via its pair of RCA analogue outputs. Easy enough, then.
The high-quality fascia has crisp, clean styling, with a large bright blue display below the slim disc tray. The latter is bookended by two large multifunctional dials. As well as being able to rotate each way, they also work as chunky push-buttons that let you open and close the CD tray. If you prefer to keep fingerprints to a minimum, however, there's a basic but well-equipped remote control. Overall I found the Stream IV worked well and proved pleasant enough to use.
To send music from anywhere to the Leema, including from Dropbox or OneDrive, the manufacturer recommends MConnect; this is a free-to-download UPnP app and comes in iOS and Android flavours. It's uncluttered and easy to find your way around. Connected up, I was browsing the contents of my Network Attached Storage drive within moments (as shown below).
Selecting a track to play is also highly intuitive, yet still, MConnect isn't without its foibles. Having added tracks to the play queue, I expected that by setting the first in line to play would then trigger the next, once the first had finished – but this isn't always the case. Also, the app likes to refresh and restart itself every-now-and-then which means you have to start your browsing journey all over again and, with a 5TB hard drive of music to scroll through – this got a bit tedious.
As the Stream IV is open to other control apps such as Bubble UPnP (shown above), of course, you aren't tied down to just the one.
Leema's Stream IV is talented at pulling all the ones and zeros together and presenting them in a pleasing way, no matter whether they're spun up from CD, streamed from one of the popular providers or come courtesy of your very own music library. Although lacking SACD skills, silver disc-based music is treated with the utmost respect here. It has excellent rhythmic insight, vibrant tonality and impressive dynamics – although there's precious little colouration, so no attempt at sweetening the musical pill is made.
One case in point is the three-and-a-half minutes of angry heavy rock otherwise known as No, You Don't from Nine Inch Nails. This track follows on from the subversive marching band stylings of Pilgrimage, segued by a comparatively calming ambient pad that slowly builds and sweeps in a drum loop. Trent's vocals kick in after sixteen bars and are accompanied by thick, distorted guitars. The Leema's moody treatment of Pilgrimage was quite haunting, so it was a relief when No, You Don't arrived and wrapped me in warm, fuzzy guitars and synths.
Despite the relatively narrow bandwidth of this track, Trent's canny use of the studio means that there's still room for plenty of dynamic contrast. The Stream IV skilfully picked out the way in which the initial drum loop accompanies the verses, then mutates into a faster beat with a feverish tambourine pulse playing sixteenth notes. I was impressed by how the Stream IV held everything together, even as the track's pace built to a noisy and sudden climax. Lesser machines might have smoothed down the edges of these contrasting tracks, but that would have ruined the overall effect of the track sequencing.
The Stream IV's soundstaging is particularly good, too. Sat in a darkened room, I streamed Björk's Hunter from my customised QNAP NAS drive, and it filled my room with sound from its sparse yet mesmerising beats. This track is a dark combination of strings and layered synths, sat on the foundation of a militaristic electronic snare beat. As the snare sound skips across a series of bass counterpoints – in what can only be classed as techno in its attitude – this player's handling of the rhythmic panning grabbed my attention. As the violins carved out a clearing, the cellos advanced as Ms Guðmundsdóttir continued her vocal mission. The way the Leema managed to reveal the mix's multiple strands, made for an expansive sound that held my attention convincingly.
This player proved highly adept at conveying the timbral accuracy of a piece of music, too. Jellyfish's The King is Half Undressed typified what this digital source can do. It showcased the band's unconventional chord progressions and those sublime vocal harmonies that leave The Beach Boys sounding sloppy. I loved how the Stream IV picked out the sumptuous harmonics of the acoustic guitar track, never letting them fall behind the backing band. The shimmering tambourine and clattering of tubular bells added texture and depth, too.
It was clean and accurate enough to hang on to the lead vocal line all the way through, despite there being an apparent army of musicians behind the singer. Indeed I loved the way it carried the clavi/harpsichord keyboard work too – something that made this band stand out at a time when grunge was finding its feet and flying its freak flag high. Then, at one minute, twenty-five seconds on the counter, Chris Manning's bass is finally unleashed – and seems incapable of resting until the bridge comes in. During the flurry of bass gymnastics, the Leema tracked the playing unfalteringly, producing round lows, vibrant highs and expressive slides. This player also allowed the exquisitely layered vocals to come through with heartwarming realism.
Designed, engineered and manufactured in Welshpool, Leema Acoustics' Stream IV is built to a pleasingly high standard – and this isn't just externally, but on the inside too. Aesthetically, it is attractively yet soberly styled, being visually subtle enough to fit in with components from myriad other brands. Yet it still retains much of its own distinctive look – underlying that it's not just another 'me too' design from any old manufacturer.
Sonically, it really flies. It's distinctively Leema in the way it sounds, which means clean, fast, lithe and detailed with a natural rhythmic flow that's fun to listen to. It has a controlled and accurate character, yet is most certainly not overly forensic. Happily, this holds for both the CD playing side and the streaming. To me, its downside is the associated MConnect app, but that's hardly a deal-breaker. Indeed, it has a rare combination of fine sound, flexibility and ease of use. Well worth an audition then, if you're interested in streaming but just can't say goodbye to silver disc.
For more information, head over to Leema.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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