Review: Lejonklou Slipsik 8 MM Phono Stage

Fredrik Lejonklou is the man behind the company that bears his name and he’s got interesting ideas about hifi design, beginning with his stated goal: “I don’t really care whether it sounds ‘correct’ – I care about how it feels.”

Frederik continues: I want to be moved. Touched. It’s all about the thrill. As regular readers may recognize, these words mirror sentiments I’ve expressed on many an occasion.

Here’s something I wrote as part of my review of the Fi 45 Stereo Amplifier, designed and built by the late (great) Don Garber at my request, published in 6moons, August 2005:

I’m not thinking about how faithfully my gear is representing the recording when I listen to music. Give me an experience I can get lost in, in my home, through my HiFi.

The Lejonklou Slipsik 8 MM Phono Stage is, as its name suggests, the most recent incarnation of a design that dates back to 2006, going through a number of revisions through the intervening years to the present number 8.

Here’s Lejonklou’s words on part of that evolution:

In February 2022, Slipsik 8 was released. In this latest version, sensitive signals are buried inside the circuit board, between multiple narrowly spaced layers of copper. The power cord inside Slipsik 8 is also screened with an insulated thin-walled solid copper tube, which is soldered to the chassis in both ends. This improves performance by preventing both mains hum and radio frequencies from reaching the circuits where the music travels.

In addition to the screening of mains power, the circuit board has once again been redesigned, this time using knowledge gained through the development of my dual mono MC pre amplifier SINGularity. The input circuit of Slipsik 8 has also been further trimmed to allow even finer details of the music pass through. The result is the best MM phono preamplifier I’ve ever made.

The Slipsik 8 offers little in terms of frills. There’s no status LED, no power button, no thick aluminum faceplate, and no loading or gain options. What you do get is a pair of single-ended RCA ins and outs, a grounding screw, and a captive power cord. There’s also an extra ground screw in case you encounter hum once everything is connected and there’s an included short ground cable that’s meant to run between the center ground screw and the corner screw to eliminate said hum. If you don’t have any hum, I didn’t, you can ignore all that. The Slipsik 8 is meant to be partnered with Moving Magnet cartridges, offering a 47 kOm input impedance and 41 dB of Gain (at 1kHz).

The Slipsik 8 was inserted into the same review system as the previously reviewed Schiit Mani 2 (review), MoFi StudioPhono (review), Aurorasound VIDA Prima (review), and Hegel V10 (review). The system: DeVore Fidelity O/96 speakers, Leben CS600X integrated amplifier, Michell Gyro SE turntable/Michell T8 tonearm/Ortofon 2M Black cartridge, with cables from AudioQuest.

No frills, plenty of chills. When I think of beauty, when I want to listen to music that is, among other things, simply lovely, I reach for Adrianne Lenker’s 2020 releases Songs and Instrumentals. Let’s start with Songs, where Lenker accompanies herself on acoustic guitar while allowing the sounds that surround her in the one-room cabin where she recorded these wonders, located in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, into the mix. These are intimate songs recorded intimately and they are a great way to introduce you to the Lejonklou Slipsik 8 because it is a master of the intimate, a reveler in nuance and subtlety, a revealer of all things great and small.

Lenker is, to my way of hearing, a masterful guitarist and many of these songs seem to build from the energy she slowly releases from those six strings, building to a kind of meditative rocking rhythm that soothes, floating me away from the madness of the day. Through the Slipsik 8, I was able to hear deep into the delicate workings of Lenker’s masterful guitar work, revel in the beauty of her songbird voice, and feel placed within her quiet wooded wonderland surrounded by birds, creaking chairs, amid all that space. Of greater importance, the relationships between all of these simple elements seemed perfectly portrayed, perfectly placed in space with lifelike detail, scale, and voice. Subtly stunning.

Back in 1978, my high school days, I decided I needed something in my life that helped shave down the rough patches that seemed to be growing rougher, something that wasn’t smoked or swallowed. Library research—in 1978 you had to go somewhere to learn about things you knew nothing about like a library, museum, concert, record store, book store, or club— led me to Transcendental Meditation which I learned and practiced. And it worked as my internal Dr. ordered, offering a state of peacefulness unlike anything I’d felt before or since.

I bring this up to highlight the fact that listening to music on the hifi is also a very personal experience, and one that is dictated as much by internal yearnings, if you will, as external influences. I use music for a number of reasons and one of them is to sooth away the worries of the day and here, every little aspect of reproduction comes into play because I am listening intensely, listening as a form of meditation to a musical mantra to wipe life’s rough edges away. It is here, in these intimate and highly charged quiet times that the qualities of the Slipsik 8’s way with reproduction become much more than a subtle shift in sound. They become the workings, the mechanics like meditation or hallucination, that help get me to an altered state.

My thinking is it takes this kind of quiet state of mind to fully appreciate subtlety so if you’re checking email, watching a video, counting likes, or doing the dishes while listening, the differences between the Lejonklou and any other phono stage will be unimportant. You get what you give, as we used to say in the waning days of hippies and harmony. On a related note, the ambient (background) noise level in the Barn sits at 31dB(A) unless the Barn mice are having a party. This is pretty damn quiet in general terms so I can hear subtle changes in reproduction that may get lost in places with higher ambient noise levels.

Let’s check back in with Miles and his soundtrack for the Louis Malle film Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud that was spinning in the Hegel V10 review. On the surface of sound, the Slipsik 8 and V10’s way with this steamy affair are close, not dramatically different, and it took some quiet listening time for the Slipsik 8 to reveal its own particular qualities. And these qualities drew my attention directly into the music making as far as I cared to dive while never losing sight of the song. Or to put in plainer language, everything felt natural, as you’d expect things like Miles’ trumpet to sound as if you were sitting next to Jeanne Moreau in a Paris recording studio in December of 1958. Stepping back into sounds, the V10 portrayed Mile’s muted trumpet with a bit more bite than the Slipsik 8, a hardness that may or may not be more accurate. To my ears, the Slipsik 8 portrays this music with a golden hue as compared to the V10’s more silvery sheen.

My favorite Rickie Lee Jones record is the 10-inch Girl At Her Volcano from 1983 because it contains “Rainbow Sleeves,” a heart crusher of a song written by Tom Waits (Jones and Waits were a couple in the late 1970s). Here, the Slipsik 8 presented a wonderfully dense sound image that brought Rickie Lee Jones and Waits’ drunken sorrow into the Barn. This density was even more evident on “Under The Boardwalk” with its larger ensemble where the band felt more of a piece, more like a centered ball of energy hovering around the O/96, where the V10 spread this energy out, offering a larger sound image. I typically view a larger sound image as a plus but here I’m not so sure.

The Lejonklou’s more tightly packed sound seemed to add excitement to the presentation, as if the band was more fully in sync, chugging along like a single engine where the V10’s more spaced out sound image made things feel comparatively less energized. The Lejonklou also reproduced the shimmer of cymbals and their decay into space with more color, delicacy and detail, sounding as if it was reaching deeper into the subtleties contained in the recording, the relationships between timbre and timing, between scale and loudness, between silence and sorrow in a more fully realized and more communicative manner.

To close out my comparative comments, these are subtle distinctions I’m drawing between the Lejonklou and Hegel and I could easily see prospective buyers opting for the Hegel’s greater flexibility in handling both MM and MC cartridges, a practical matter that may be of greater importance to some buyers than the finer points of reproduction. I can’t think of single ding or dent in either of these fine phono stage’s ability to reproduce the full spectrum of the sounds of music.

Lush is Lindsey Jordan as Snail Mail’s debut album from 2018 and its a swinging wonder. Another accomplished guitar player, Jordan’s weapon of choice is of the electric variety, a jangly Fender Jaguar based on photos from this era, and these guitar driven songs are infectious and joyous while coping with teen age rough patches. This is also a nicely recorded record and the Slipsik 8 offers up a muscular, rich and buoyant sound that kept me deep in the groove for the duration. Stepping back from comparative listening, a place that can really be the death of joy to paraphrase Mark Twain, its obvious that the Lejonklou’s way with music is highly resolving without ever turning music into sound effect. I chalk this up to a delicate and uncanny balancing act because while the Slipsik 8 is a clear champ in terms of sound quality, when listening to music through it these qualities feel entirely beside the point, with the effect of music taking full control of my thoughts and attention.

In The Wee Small Hours is, by far, my favorite Sinatra record. I found this super delicious 45rpm set, in two mini gatefolds!, which is among my most cherished records. My father was a huge fan, so the sounds of Sinatra wafted through my youth like a persistent cool breeze. This record(s) finds Frank backed by arrangements courtesy of Nelson Riddle at the top of his swaying strings and harrowing harps game. With the Slipsik 8 in command, Frank’s broken heart, rumor has it broken by his failed marriage to Ava Gardner which I imagine hurt more than most, spilled into the Barn with technicolor emotion, his still silky voice sounding out of a materialized Sinatra I could very nearly see in front of me, with the finely dressed band spread out behind him. For many reasons, personal history and artistry chief among them, this record can move me out of the present, swirling and twirling my thoughts through decades of time and the Lejonklou had me onboard and out of time with Sinatra et al leading the way as if they were here or I was there.

When listening to music on the hifi I want to be inspired. Inspired to listen more, to listen with greater focus and without distraction, to be directly connected to the music and the people who made it, to be carried away from the concerns of the day “on wings made of wishes” to quote Tom Waits. The Lejonklou Slipsik 8 provided me with a clear runway, among the clearest yet, by capturing and conveying music’s beating heart, a true master of the intimate, a reveler in nuance and subtlety, a revealer of all things great and small.

Lejonklou Slipsik 8 MM Phono Stage
Price: $1795
Company Website: Lejonklou
US Distributor Website: Nokturne Audio

Technical specifications for Slipsik 8.0

Dimensions (WxHxD): 103x58x220 mm
Weight: 950 g
Mains input voltage (two versions): 230 or 115 VAC
Fuse (inside the case): T1A
Input impedance: 47 kΩ/68 pF
Gain at 1 kHz: 41 dB (112 times)
Output impedance/Rec. load: 300 Ω/>3 kΩ
Power consumption: Less than 5 W