Leptoni is the plural form for Leptone in Italian. Leptone is an elementary particle that has a 1/2 spin and does not interact via the strong nuclear force. In the world of audio fidelity, Leptoni is a Head-Amp manufacturer based in Vietnam. Established in 2015, Leptoni was co-founded by Master Đình Thủy, a talented engineer who has received accolades in the local audio festivals and competitions.
In November 2017, Porta-Fi was invited to visit Leptoni and spent 2 days with Mr Đình Thủy and the team to understand more about their philosophy and approach towards their hand-crafted headphone amplifiers. The visit span across two cities in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City where Leptoni have their experience lab and Vung Tau where it’s R&D and manufacturing facility is located.
During the journey from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport to the Leptoni experience lab in Ho Chi Minh City, Leptoni’s other co-founder Phuong Pham shared with me how Leptoni was conceived.
“I have been very passionate about audiophile headphones since my early twenties. However, it was my first electrostatic headphone experience back in 2015 when I realised that there were limited vacuum tube headphone amplifiers in the world which could realise the potential of power-hungry headphones like the STAX.
I shared this observation with Master Đình Thủy, who has earned a reputation in Vietnam for creating delicately handcrafted amplifiers. Through a synergy of ideas, Leptoni was established to craft the finest handcrafted headphone amplifier with its philosophy derived from its strong passion for keeping things natural, simple and beautiful.”
Soon, we arrived at the Leptoni experience lab where Phuong and I spent the rest of the day experiencing the DT-Alpha and DT-HWT through a range of headphone most notable the Focal Utopia and the STAX SR-009, I also had the chance to experience the classic Sennheiser HD-540.
The day at the Leptoni experience lab was a day of audiophile heaven where time just flew by and soon I was to check-in to my hotel as we were leaving for Vung Tau the next morning at 6 am, where I will get to meet Master Đình Thủy.
Arriving at the Leptoni R&D and manufacturing facility, it is the size of a two bedroom apartment where I met Master Đình Thủy for the first time. He was at his R&D workbench, working on the prototype of the DT-Reference, the upcoming flagship of Leptoni.
Talking about the DT-Reference, how it came about is closely related to Porta-Fi. Phuong got in touch with me the day I posted the review on the HiFiMan SUSVARA and was intrigued by my ending remark where I stated that “only a handful of headphone amplifiers are robust enough to power the SUSVARA”. That started a conversation with myself providing them with the specifications and voltage output requirement of the SUSVARA, and soon Master Đình Thủy started work on the DT-Reference, codenamed DT-156. Why DT-156? Because it features a pair of the legendary Telefunken EL156 tubes. The upcoming DT-Reference will be Leptoni’s flagship headphone amplifier, fulfilling the founders’ ambition of creating a benchmark headphone amplifier that can not only drive the electrostatic headphones but also dynamic and planar magnetic headphones including the SUSVARA.
The set up at the Leptoni R&D and manufacturing facility was professional and minimalist, aligned with firm’s philosophy. We soon find ourselves seated down for a chat over Vietnamese coffee, and finally a chance to hear from Master Đình Thủy himself.
[BY] What is Leptoni’s approach to designing a headphone amplifier?
[DT] Through years of research and product development, Leptoni has established the following design principles:
- More music than gadgets.
- Trust your ears to judge the quality of the sound; do not depend solely on the measurements determined by test equipment, it is our belief that the fundamentals of measures are only supposed to confirm whether a certain device is functioning as intended.
- Only the simplest can accommodate the most complex.
What we consider most important in music reproduction is the liveliness, freshness and coherent of the sound that dwells in the point of contact between the musician and his/her instrument.
For this reason, we need an excellent stabilized power supply that is powerful enough to handle any sudden demand for energy and we coil our own transformers to customise to our design needs. We also minimize the number of parts in a circuit board as much as possible to reduce interference.
We have even shortened the signal pass length to the point where the engineer has to wear a jeweller’s loupe to solder the parts point-to-point.
[BY] Currently, your product offerings are all handcrafted and can be bespoke. Why did the team choose to insist on making products by hand?
[PP] The mass market is not our target market. This is because we seek to build an amplifier that offers astonishing and long lasting listening experience, we choose to put the priority on the sound quality first, not on the efficiency of production.
We want our customers to feel really proud about their investment when they decided to own any Leptoni’s bespoke handcrafted tube amplifier.
[BY] Would you be able to provide some insights to the Leptoni team? The type of talents we have in the team that made these unique headphones amp a reality today.
[DT] Our technicians are individuals who not only excel in electrical engineering but also have developed matured senses for music which I believe only exist when there is passion. This is important because music is not just an aggregate of fragmented sounds, being makers of audio equipment, it has to be in our blood in order for us to offer such stimulation to the customers when it comes to music reproduction.
Following coffee, I was scheduled to make my way back to Ho Chi Minh City for my evening flight back to Singapore, but before I end this piece, please allow me to share the view from the Leptoni R&D and manufacturing facility. Probably the reason why the facility is based in Vung Tau…