LFD AUDIO: Their DLS compared to Audio Research and Manley

Dear Howard.

Last year I purchased the following Amplifier and cables from you to connect to Harbeth SUPER HL5.

I am very happy with this system and LFD products in general, I don’t see myself moving away from this basic configuration any time soon, but I am now looking at preamps that would be compatible with the above configuration. I have a few options that I would like your view on

  • Audio Research LS17 SE
  • Manley Steelhead RC this would also give me a Phono Stage
  • Manley Neo-Classic 300B RC PreAmplifier.


You’ve set me a most intriguing and may I say challenging question.

Through a process of elimination let me discard the Audio Research only on the basis of not having heard it driving LFD. However I did hear it in Colorado working in a magnificent $200k system using Vandersteen 7 speakers. As an entire system this was one of the most musically credible I have ever heard. My conclusion therefore is that it is ‘up there’ with the others in your list. As a former AR retailer (and things might well have changed, I admit) is that valve replacement and servicing costs on state-of-the-art AR gear via the UK importer can be jaw-dropping and possibly regular too.

A pre-production version of the DLS was used to develop the PA2M (SE) and that prototype was refined to become arguably one of the most musically satisfying solid-state preamps available at any price. Moreover because LFD have an interesting and novel ethos re amplification in general and pre-power in particular, the DLS is a logical fit.

Their ethos is that for an Amplifier to perform at its optimum the characteristics of the Interconnects, Speaker Cables and power chord must be taken into account. Thus an LFD integrated amp, in this context is four items working in carefully engineered harmony as distinct from one working in isolation.

Extended to an LFD pre-power combination, this embraces seven components, two Power Cords, both electronics, one set of Interconnects into the pre and another from pre to power and the Speaker Cables of course. Thus seven components working in complete and carefully crafted harmony as distinct from seven hoping they’ll get on with each other.

I have owned both of the Manley units and loved the sound of both. I truly have never heard valve preamps perform any better than these. My hesitation is that I'm in ignorance regarding the UK service situation should it be required. I suspect an expensive return trip to the US makers might be required with all the associated vat issues.

So with my objective hat on taking into account synergy, for me it has to be the DLS. With my subjective hat on, tough call. All I can tell you is that given all I know and all I've heard then if I could afford to I’d own both a DLS and the 300B.

From me the DLS has a five year full parts and labour warranty which I believe is a market leader in reducing end-user ancillary costs. I never treat customers as walking wallets.

Thank you for this challenging question.

ME but smaller

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