Zesto Audio Leto Line Stage Preamplifier

by Audiophilia on September 14, 2012 · 1 comment

in Preamplifiers

by Henry Wilkenson

Zesto Audio burst onto the audio scene quite recently with the launch of the highly successful Andros PS 1 phono stage. While it may seem that Zesto Audio’s excellent reputation developed extraordinarily fast, that’s not quite how it happened. I asked George Counnas, founder and chief engineer of Zesto, how he decided to start manufacturing audio gear.

Counnas had career as an audio and a recording engineer that spanned some forty years. He said that after working in the studio for ten or fourteen hours, the last thing that he wanted to do was to come home and listen to music. Being involved in audio for so long as well as being a musician, once he retired from engineering, it wasn’t long before he was in the mood to again do some serious listening. The problem he encountered was all of the available consumer equipment he tried left him be totally unsatisfied. So, what is a musician and former recording engineer to do? He designed and manufactured his own equipment, thus Zesto Audio as a company was born.

The Lento shares the same elegant appearance of the Andros — which isn’t surprising since the industrial design & aesthetics of both were designed by George’s wife Carolyn, who is an artist in her own right. The circuitry and parts are designed to a very high degree of quality. Some of the features of the Leto are three sets of gold plated RCA inputs, two sets of true transformer coupled balanced inputs. Coupling the balanced inputs in this manner is much more expensive however it results in quieter operation. What is also noteworthy are the balanced outputs. They to are transformer coupled (expensive Jensen transformers), but they also have a ground lift switch that allows the ground to break loops and eliminate hum. I’m not aware of any other consumer line stage that incorporates this feature. The 16 gauge zinc plated steel enclosure is designed to shunt magnetic fields, in effect shielding the electronic components, also resulting in quieter operation. In addition, the Leto also sports a front panel balance control and a mono switch. Everything shouts quality.

Zesto Audio Leto preamp rear panel

I have spent many hours listening to the Leto and Andros combination at Wes Bender’s NYC/Studio. I have also listened to the Leto with the EAR 324 phono stage. The sound of the Leto is on the warm side of the spectrum but not so much as to be in any way objectionable. To be clear, this is not an ‘old school’ tube sounding amplifier. From top to bottom, the sound is very well balanced. It has enough resolving power to allow vocal and instrumental textures to be clearly heard. The Fairfield Four’s Isaac Freeman’s bass vocals are presented with their full richness, bloom and textures intact. I have heard this group’s vocals on other line stages that glossed over these details resulting in a bland presentation. Not so with the Leto.

Shelby Lynne’s version of Just a little Lovin’ is a fantastically good recording. Listening to it through the Leto was especially pleasing. The exceptional dimensionality of this recording is unimpeded by this preamp. The palpable intimacy that seemingly puts her in the room with you has to be heard to be believed.

The size and impact of symphonic music is also very impressive. Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man is a good case in point. All of the sections of the orchestra are easily discernible but nothing is etched or pulled apart as some transistor components can and often do. Strings have the sheen and shimmer that make them sound like the real thing. Overall, the presentation was very good.

I really like the way the Leto handles bass. It is full and extended with a good measure of control. Ray Brown’s Solar Energy is one of my favorites and through the Leto it is as good as I have heard. The full bodied bloom and weight of Brown’s double bass comes through with no loss of control, which is easy to do when going into the lower registers.

The top is extended, sweet with an absence of hardness. Cymbals have the right metallic ring and shimmer. The decay of piano as well as cymbals is also excellent. Overall, this line stage acquits itself very well.

I compared the Zesto Leto preamp to another line stage that cost six times asking price of the Leto. If you wanted an instrument to analyze music, then the higher priced unit would be for you. However, if you want a line stage that allows you to hear the richness of music and allows you to make an emotional connection to it, then the Zesto Leto is for you. I easily preferred the Leto to the more expensive unit.

There are many components that claim to be bargains or to be ‘over engineered’. The Zesto Audio products are built sensibly with truly high quality components. The build quality alone would justify a much higher price.

If you are looking for a line stage anywhere near the price of the Leto, you simply have to check out this superb line stage preamplifier. Highly recommended.

Price: $7,500
Source: Distributor loan

Specifications

Inputs:

5 Inputs
3 sets of Single Ended inputs with an impedance of 100K Ohms
2 sets of true Balanced transformer inputs (pin 2 hot) with an impedance of 10K Ohms
Maximum input level of 4 Volts RMS

Outputs:

4 Outputs
2 sets of true Balanced transformer outputs (pin 2 hot) with an impedance 150 Ohms
2 sets of Single Ended outputs with an impedance 150 Ohms
Maximum output level of 10Volts RMS +20dB
Independent ground lift switches on the left and right Single Ended outputs
1 set of Single Ended Cinema bypass outputs from input #1
Detailed Specifications

Frequency response 10Hz to 100Khz - 1dB with 10K Ohm load
Distortion ~ 0.02% at 1V RMS input
Gain 12dB
Signal to noise ~ 100dB below operating level
Non inverting output polarity
Cross talk >90dB
Front panel adjustable balance control
Remote control volume, mute and mono
Remote bypass switch on rear panel (just in case the remote is misplaced)
1% metal film resisters throughout
Polypropylene capacitors throughout the audio path
Power

Power consumption 27W, 0 drain when off
Voltage 110/120V AC 60Hz
Optional factory installed 240V AC 50/60Hz
Standard 3 pin IEC power connector
ON/OFF power switch conveniently located on the side panel
Two internal high quality linear regulated power supplies, 250V and 12V
Active Components

Two (2) Gold pin JJ ECC83S/12AX7 vacuum tubes
Two (2) Gold pin JJ ECC82/12AU7 vacuum tubes
High quality ceramic sockets

Other Features:

Each unit is hand made in the USA
50 hour factory burn in on all circuits and vacuum tubes
Dimensions 17” W X 12” D X 5” H
Weight 23 lbs.
16 gauge zinc plated steel enclosure
Award winning Isonode anti-vibration feet
Two year limited warranty
Six months warranty on Vacuum Tubes
Recessed RCA and XLR connectors are Gold plated with an isolated ground.
All switches and knobs are easily accessible, nothing hidden inside to adjust.

Zesto Audio Leto Line Stage Preamplifier

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