My name is Chris and I am a slot-a-holic. There, my anonymity is blown but I feel better for sharing this dark secret. What is a slot-a-holic? Don’t waste energy looking it up because I invented the word. Here is my definition: a person who, when presented with a device containing a CD ripper, feels the need to rip as many CDs as possible. First indications that I had this compulsion came in about 2014, when a Naim Unitiserve arrived at the prestigious London retail emporium where I was working. For many days I lugged in, on the train, a bag laden with compact discs, which were then fed into the machine, until eventually almost 2TB of hard disc had been filled. About a year later I purchased my own Unitiserve and went through it all again. I then got drawn into the wonderful world of reviewing, and a Naim Uniti Core came through my listening room. With great difficulty I stopped myself ripping more than a couple of hundred discs – far more than I needed to evaluate the machine. So when I was offered the chance to hear the Leema Acoustics Sirius, the slumbering slot-a-holic within me felt that frisson of excitement – I was in.
Founded in 1998 by two former BBC engineers, Lee Taylor and Mallory Nicholls, (hence Leema), the company initially built highly regarded professional loudspeakers. It was not until 2006 that they unleashed the Tucana amplifier followed a year later, by the Antila CD player. Both these products garnered much praise from the hi-fi press, with awards and sales success following. Today, Leema Acoustics offers three ranges of electronics – Elements, Stellar and Constellation. The Sirius server is part of the latter group, which are flagships for the Leema brand.
Within its full width case work, which has substantial finned heatsinks on both sides, the Sirius holds a Western Digital Red hard drive, which on the review copy had 2TB capacity. Purchasers can specify up to an 8TB drive. A TEAC optical drive handles the CD. The mother board is equipped with 4GB of memory, into which music is buffered for replay. Power comes from a custom-wound transformer, used because it helps to filter out mains borne noise, because it is inherently quiet, highly reliable.
The internal DAC is an ESS Sabre 9028, elected for its exceptional analogue replay quality. This can be bypassed by connecting the Sirius to an external DAC via USB from the rear panel. The only socketry on the back panel are two RJ45 ports, one marked LAN and the other Streamer, a second USB port for connecting an external hard drive for back up, a VGA port marked Service and two pairs of analogue outputs, one XLR and one RCA. An IEC socket with an on/off rocker switch completes the back panel.
The front of the Sirius is very minimalist. The CD slot is placed in the centre, and on the right hand side is a standby switch, equipped with a blue LED that glows only when the unit is in standby by mode. Pressing the button to bring the unit to life extinguishes the LED. The idea is to leave the Sirius switched on, as it draws almost no current when idle.
I connected it to my network with a Network Acoustics ENO filter and ethernet cable using the LAN port and used XLR cables to take the analogue output to my Lyngdorf TDA3400 integrated amplifier. I was ready to start ripping some CDs, my inner slot-a-holic was unleashed. Over the review period I ended up ripping some 300 discs to the Sirius. Rather than just going for my usual suspects – step forward Love, Pink Floyd, Dave Mason, Cream, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler et al – I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with discs which I have not played for ages. In the end, I thought that this was a major benefit of the ripping process, since albums and artists were so easy to call up via the app rather than having to locate the disc, insert it into the CD player then reverse the process once the disc was finished. It also made setting up playlists a simple task. If you have, as I do, more CDs than you can remember, this is an excellent way of making them all almost instantly accessible.
For the most part I used my rather ancient iPad as my controller for the Sirius, but I also tried it with my Android mobile and that worked just as well. Whatever your preferred OS, you will definitely need a smart device to interact with the Sirius.
Listening to the Sirius
I started with my boxset of The Beatles In Mono, followed by the similar Rolling Stones in Mono set. The ripping process is very straightforward. Present a disc, label side up, to the slot and push it in a little way. The TEAC mechanism draws the disc in the rest of the way and the ripping process starts, creating a FLAC file. Depending on how much data is on the disc, this can take anything from 2 to 5 minutes. Once ripped and verified, the disc is ejected far enough to be retrieved easily. Progress is easily checked on the my.innuos app, the operating system in Sirius is by server specialist Innuos.
At this point I decided to have a listen and called up my music on the app. It showed a headline folder of The Beatles in Mono, and within that each disc was numbered, and each track on the disc listed. I chose to play Rubber Soul first and from the first notes of Drive My Car I was hooked. This was a fast, propulsive presentation, more analogue than digital in character, with all four band members coming through loud and clear, the George Martin production clean and clear. Similarly, when I then switched to the Rolling Stones’ Now, which I had bought on vinyl in the American PX in West Berlin in 1965, the opening track Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (which fans of the Blues Brothers movie will know well) came thundering out of the loudspeakers. It was irresistible.
For most of the next two weeks I ripped a lot of albums to the Sirius, mostly rock, jazz and blues but also some classical box sets, such as Ravel – The Complete Edition on Decca (14 CDs) and Tomás Luis De Victoria’s Sacred Works on Archiv Productions (10 CDs). Now in the interests of full disclosure let me say that these are not discs with which I am overfamiliar. Over the years I have purchased a lot of magnificent classical box sets, but in most cases I have at most listened to only a few of the treasures within. The Sirius gave me no excuse not to explore them, and over the weeks that it was here I did indeed listen to music that I have owned for years for the first time, and my goodness it sounded simply wonderful.
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611) was one of Spain’s finest Renaissance composers, and this collection of his masses and motets is utterly beguiling. Performed here by Ensemble Plus Ultra under the direction of Michael Noone, the acoustic of the various recording venues is very easy to hear and each piece is a masterclass in the recording engineer’s art as well as the skill of the performers.
Maurice Ravel’s output was much more varied and across the 14 discs we have works for piano, chamber music, songs, orchestral music, operas and and cantatas. Listening to at least part of each disc I was totally drawn into the performances, taken from several decades of Decca recordings. I kept feeding music into the Sirius and whatever I played sounded good. This is a very musical device indeed, as happy rocking hard (Motorhead and Deep Purple) as it was communicating Nick Drake’s fragile world view from my SHM box set of his albums.
Where the Sirius really scored for me over my Unitiserve was in its ability to stream HD music from both Tidal and Qobuz. Navigating both services was very straightforward through the Innuos Sense software, and when I wasn’t immersing myself in playing my own CDs I was happy exploring new music through those streaming services. Once again, the Sirius delivered a terrific performance.
There seems to be a reappraisal of CD as a medium well under way at the moment. Having been dismissed by many as rather passé, it is regaining some of its lost ground among audiophiles. Investing in a Leema Sirius makes a huge amount of sense for those who have not flooded the charity shops with their CD collection. It is a fine device, and in the weeks in which I had it here it never missed a beat, never swallowed a disc without giving it back and never failed to deliver maximum musical pleasure whenever I used it. The choice of Innuos software by Leema was the right one, because it is robust and easy to use, and seemed to have no problem sourcing the correct album artwork for everything I ripped to it. I personally loved the absence of any screen or even an LED when the Sirius was active. It simply sits on the rack and gets on with the job. The excellent build quality, the ease of use but above all the wonderful sound quality make this a very easy recommendation. If I had the wherewithal I would not hesitate to acquire one for my own system, and that is not something I say about much of the excellent equipment which passes through my system for review.