Brilliant Corners #3: On the Horns of a Dilemma—A for Ara speakers, the Lejonklou Källa streaming DAC Page 2

The Lejonklou Källa
Recently, while looking back over what I'd written for this magazine, I noticed that I mentioned "engagement" in nearly every piece. It makes sense. I believe the sole job of audio gear is to bring us closer to our favorite recordings and make us feel things. Musical engagement may sound frustratingly subjective, but in practice it's straightforward: If I find myself focusing on what the musicians are doing, engagement is happening; if I find myself thinking about the soundstage or the transient response, it isn't.

A component's ability to engage and its sound quality are distinct phenomena, but mostly we assume that they are complementary, travelers along the same road to meaningful listening. But what would happen if these roads diverged? What if an audio designer pursued musical engagement at all costs while paying only cursory attention to sound quality? Could such a thing even happen? And which road would you follow?

This is the philosophical quandary posed by the Lejonklou Källa ($8495). The manufacturer's website (footnote 1) describes it as "a digital music streamer designed, built and tuned in Sweden." The next sentence reads: "Its only purpose is to bring you closer to the emotions of music." The italics aren't mine.

I first heard about the Källa from Lejonklou's US importer, Thomas O'Keefe of Nokturne Audio, while I was reviewing the Lejonklou Entity moving coil phono stage. O'Keefe mentioned that Fredrik Lejonklou, designer of the Källa and all other Lejonklou products, believed that using his streamer with lossy Spotify streams offered more musical enjoyment than lossless files streamed from Qobuz and Tidal—more enjoyment, even, than high-resolution files stored locally on a hard drive. This assertion, sure to piss off audiophiles everywhere (footnote 2), had to come from someone who was supremely confident in his listening skills or, in all probability, a knob. (In either case he's got to be a bit of a masochist.) And after listening to the superbly engaging Entity, I figured that Lejonklou was the former.

The Källa—the word means "origin" or "source" in Swedish and is pronounced "shel-LA"—is a featureless black box with only the company logo on the front panel. The back panel has an Ethernet RJ45 input for a network connection, a pair of unbalanced analog outputs, an IEC power inlet, and a power switch. The self-contained streamer/DAC is limited to 16/44.1 resolution and offers no selectable anything. While it can be used as a Roon endpoint, it's designed to work best with AirPlay, a wireless protocol that requires an Apple device to control playback.

If you're curious about what's inside the Källa, or the provenance of its DAC, forget it—Fredrik Lejonklou keeps this information to himself, often filing the identifying markings off the tops of the components.

At first, everything about the Källa annoyed me. I just knew that it was a fool's errand, and not only because it seemed to contradict everything I knew about digital audio. When I began reviewing gear for Stereophile's late blog AudioStream, editor Michael Lavorgna made sure my home setup conformed to best practices: I connected the modem to my router with 55' of AudioQuest's top-of-the-line Ethernet cable, bought a dedicated audio computer that runs Linux, inserted an optical filter to reduce noise on the Ethernet line, and used a digital-to-digital converter that enabled an I2S connection to be used with my DAC. I also began using Roon due to its matchless interface and ability to integrate streamed and local music libraries.

All these decisions stemmed from a series of truisms. Wired connections sound better than wireless connections. Local files sound better than streamed files. And lossy, sub-CD-resolution files are to be avoided like a case of shingles.

The Källa called all of this into question. Fredrik Lejonklou wanted me to use a wireless connection to stream lossy files. Apparently, AirPlay control devices all sound different from each other, too, a development I found galling. According to a list Lejonklou maintains on the company's web forum, the iPad mini 6, which I don't own, sounds best. As my luck would have it, the list ranks my iPhone 12 Mini as the second worst sounding option. Great.

To add to my annoyance, I was instructed to remove ancillary devices, like my optical filter, before playing music through the Källa and to set the streamer to a fixed IP number for "improved performance," a seemingly simple operation that required logging into my router and changing the IP address in the Källa's web interface.

Did I forget my router's password? Did I then perform a hard reset on said router, creating a self-inflicted network outage that took more than an hour to restore? I won't bore you with the embarrassing details other than to share that I was only getting angrier.

Disregarding Lejonklou's directions, I first listened to the Källa as a Roon endpoint, just as I do with my Sonnet Morpheus DAC. Music played through the Swedish streamer sounded lighter and less impactful than through the Morpheus, noticeably less resolute and a bit grayer. I had to admit that it wasn't much better at musical engagement.

Next, I used the Qobuz application on my MacBook Air M2 to connect to the Källa over AirPlay. Now I heard a presentation that was sonically improved and musically livelier but still fell short of what the Morpheus mustered when driven by Roon.

For a while, this brought an end to my experiment. I felt vindicated that Fredrik Lejonklou's AirPlay device was a provocative lark that hadn't reached its potential.

For more than a month, I refused to try the device with Spotify. For one thing, I didn't have a subscription, in part because of the company's paltry remuneration of artists and its opportunistic politics, which led Joni Mitchell and others to remove their music from the service in 2022. And to me there was something unseemly about streaming lossy Ogg Vorbis 320kbps files through a device that cost $8495. Besides, I just knew it wouldn't make much of a difference to the Källa's sound. Not for the better, anyway.

Being old enough to not place much stock in my assumptions, I relented. Streaming from the Spotify application on the MacBook Air, I listened to "Show Me the Place," from Leonard Cohen's ridiculously well-recorded Old Ideas. When I heard Cohen's droll, gravelly voice, I may have squinted in surprise. Captured in 2012, a few years before the singer's passing, it boomed out from between the speakers, sounding as alive and emotional as I'd heard it. By the time the backup singers came in a minute or so later, I was riveted.

Källa + Spotify drew me into my music in a way I hadn't experienced previously with digital. It did away with the invisible glass wall digital often places between the music and the listener more thoroughly than any device I've heard. Even when I tried to dissect the sound, I couldn't do it for long before I became distracted by the music.

What's more, I found myself enjoying recordings that for me have always been nonstarters on digital. Foremost among these are wonderful tracks from the 78rpm era that can end up sounding like mush. Yet listening through the Källa to Djangologie 1928-1950, Pathé's essential 20-CD Django Reinhardt anthology, I could feel the wit, finesse, and swerve of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "I'se a Muggin'" nearly as vividly as I do on the original French vinyl.

As much as I enjoyed this—which, frankly, was a lot—the lossy, low-rez thing kept nagging at me. What was going on? Digging through Fredrik Lejonklou's posts on the company's web forum, I came across the following passage about the Källa's development: "What really helped us understand and make progress was to look at the entire chain of digital reproduction, from the static file to the analogue out of the DAC, and treat the whole process as if it was analogue. When you do that, you find there are certain things that shouldn't matter in a digital context (like the waveform or the compression ratio) but actually do when reproducing music. And things that ought to be crucial (like the digital resolution) that turn out to be less important than anticipated."

Going back to feeding the Källa lossless Qobuz streams, I now heard slightly more solidity, more incisive detail, and maybe a bit more tone color. In other words, marginally but perceptibly better sound. But with Spotify, the music simply soared and jumped, while with Qobuz it kind of sat there, glowering. This situation confounded me. I am an audiophile, after all. I want both engagement and the best possible sound quality.

Still, when I used the Källa to audition other components, I'd fall into the music, switching from track to track, discovering new records, and eventually forgetting about my minor misgivings. Soon I was clicking Spotify's heart icon with abandon and bookmarking several dozen albums from all corners of the world, which I discovered thanks to the Källa: Ghazal's The Rain, J.J. Cale's Naturally, Asnaqetch Werqu's Ethiopiques Vol. 16, Ney Matogrosso's Interpreta Cartola, and Terrace Martin and Robert Glasper's Dinner Party: Dessert are just the most recent. This was proving addictive.

Then, on the Lejonklou website, I encountered this sentence: "Källa will radically broaden your taste in music." I guess Fredrik Lejonklou is on to something after all. Damn it.

Footnote 1: Lejonklou HiFi AB, Skolgatan 3 753 12 Uppsala, Sweden. Tel: +4670 558 0549. Web: US distributor: Nokturne Audio, 8259 Hugh St., Westland, MI 48185. Tel: (734) 612-4009. email: Web:

Footnote 2: Not to mention other designers and manufacturers.—Jim Austin


ChrisS's picture the nuts is eye-opening!

Ambassador's picture

"had to come from someone who was supremely confident in his listening skills or, in all probability, a knob. (In either case he's got to be a bit of a masochist.) And after listening to the superbly engaging Entity, I figured that Lejonklou was the former."

I hate to burst your bubble Alex but Lejonklou's listening ability fails him on a regular basis on his forum. In the worst cases the thread disappears such as the time he asked if a Lejonklou "invented" streamer was broken when the preference was for a streamer costing roughly $60. Said streamer used a case that came with a power supply that caused mains hum. Where was this magical ability to hear badly designed components? There are numerous other examples of the Lejonklou marketing narrative failing him on his forum.

What's inside the streamer you reviewed has not been hidden in hardware terms. The DAC chip used is openly available knowledge as is the use of an Asus Tinker Board. Your research was superficial at best.

Anton's picture

This hobby is full of unrequited love, for me.

Great travelogue and report.

The older I get, the cooler horns become.

Danley is a cool company, very innovative. I wonder why they never drifted into home Hi Fi. Audiophiles might not be worth their headache but brilliant thinking.

This baby might translate to home Hi Fi with aplomb!

remlab's picture

Anton's picture

Now, even more stuff I want to play with!

chuckles304's picture

Believe it or not, but....

I happen to live 10 minutes from Hudson, and met Mr. Kalin around 10 or 12 years ago, while pricing renovations to his house. Nice guy. Never would have guessed he was into audio.

Anton's picture

If you look at the top two pictures, can you figure out his wiring scheme?

It's curious looking.

cgh's picture

For me, this is what it's all about. I appreciate the technical innovations, when they rarely happen at this point, sans marketing or hype; but the artistic expression, the experience, and the shared human connection, hopefully with some sound engineering, this is what it was all about for me. Glad to see people still getting after it, in my family's backyard, no less. And great writing, Herb, as always. It's been years since I took that train. I often hike down to the river's edge by the lighthouse, or general area, and see the train across the bank. Good stuff.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Alex Halberstadt wrote this column. Having said that, the writing is so colorful and filled with curiosity that it's easy to understand why you might think Herb wrote it.

cgh's picture

Ooops, sorry Alex. I think I came from the canjam article when I wrote that but while a misattribution it's also certainly a compliment.

Alex Halberstadt's picture

I took it as a compliment, and thank you for it :)

Bacheaudio's picture

I dream to listen this speakers, no any more demonstration spot?
Good job Alex, hope you find time to make trip to Brooklyn

Surge's picture

Alex’s writing is brilliant!

A for Ara strikes me as a bit strange. I would never pair a high-end horn like this with a Class D amp and DSP — I think that borders on idiotic.