Talented and appealing, the Leema's perfect for those who prefer greyhound racing to Sumo wrestling
Decent levels of build
fast, precise sound
Can sound lightweight and querulous if poorly partnered
We'd imagine Leema Acoustics is pleased to have dipped a tentative toe into the waters of mainstream hi-fi. Having built up an enviable reputation at the pricier end of the market, the company has seen its Xero loudspeakers (£670) make off with a Group Test win. Now it's the turn of the Pulse integrated amplifier to front up in what, for Leema, is entry-level territory.Like its electronic sibling, the Pulse is a chunky, nicely made device that feels good to use and looks good on a kit-rack. The specification of this amplifier is the most impressive in this test, with a switchable moving magnet/moving coil phono stage joining plenty of line-level inputs on the back panel, and a handy 3.5mm input (for MP3 players and suchlike) on the front fascia. There's a set of pre-outs for use with a power amplifier, too - only the somewhat basic remote control strikes a penny-pinching note. Powered up, and with an appropriate volume level selected, this Leema delivers the company's trademark lean, pacy sound. A spin of Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Lightning reveals a detailed, subtle midrange that gives vocals first-person immediacy - Thompson sounds more committed here than through any of the competition - and solid stereo focus. The soundstage is broad and believable, with assured placement of instruments and clean space between them. Pulse feels a bit light Switching to Aphex Twin's altogether more rambunctious To Cure a Weakling Child gives even greater insight into the Pulse's modus operandi. The bottom end, though pleasingly taut and thrillingly quick, does lack a little in outright substance. This low-end leanness tends to shine even more light on the midrange, and the Leema's treatment of vocalists can quite easily shift from eloquent and expressive to right-in-yer-face. The really big advantage this amplifier has over its rivals, of course, is the built-in phono stage - and it's a decent one. Play a heavyweight vinyl pressing of Orff's Carmina Burana and the Pulse's whippet-quick presentation is retained, and the amp makes the most of the fluidity and naturalness that makes vinyl so special to so many people. Providing you don't intend to partner the Pulse with like-minded equipment, and instead look for sources and speakers that will complement its fleet-footed, detailed and dynamic sound, you can put a confident foot on the ladder out of the mainstream and into the exceptional.