要數音響界書架式楊聲器的經典中之經典！英國 LS3/5a 絕對是 當之無愧。這款其貌不揚的小書架揚聲器原本由兩名 BBC 錄音工程師設計而成，他們將錄音室的收音標準到重播時的標準統一並納人到揚聲器設引之內，而其他揚聲器生產商無論以任何物料製作產品都必須要符合 BBC 工程師所制定的標準才算合格，從然得到 BBC 認証生產 LS3/5a。當然，要達至 BBC 的嚴格要求，最簡單的方法就是選擇原始設計時的單元、箱體物料、 阻尼物·接線等等。不過亦正因為原單元供應商 KEF 停產了該單元， 各廠商唯一的出路就是要另實單花來完成製作，各施各法在LS3/5a 的規格上變奏出符合標準而又截然不同的新型書架式揚聲器。
本次試聽的思奔達（Spendor）S3/5R2 SE 黑檀木特別限量版書架音箱，其歷史可謂源遠流長。看到“3/5”這個數字，稍有經驗的朋友都知道它代表的是 BBC 一代監聽名箱 LS3/5A，其中的 “3/5” 表示該類型音箱的箱內容積是 3/5 公升，“A” 表示為改良型號。正是Spencer及其合作伙伴確定了 BBC 監聽音箱的聲音風格，而思奔達順理成章地成為了這一市場先行者，並且直到現在一直是正統 BBC 監聽音箱的守護人。
思奔達 S3/5R2 SE 的老前輩是1997年該品牌發布的S3/5音箱，當時由於 KEF 停止供應 LS 3/5A 音箱的相關喇叭單元，思奔達改用自家研發的的發聲單元，遵循 LS 3/5A 監聽音箱的理念和標准，推出了 S3/5：
●再之后又更新設計，推出了思奔達 S3/5 SE。
試聽室的面積約有20平方米，搭配的是Creek（朗泉）Evolution 100 CD 播放機和Evolution 100A 合並式功放。對於S3/5R2 SE這樣的小型書架箱，買家多數會用於書房、臥室等小型聆聽空間，這樣的搭配無論是價位還是方便程度還都是相宜而簡潔的。
思奔達 S3/5R2 SE音箱的聲音表現給筆者的第一個印象是良好的通透感。無論是播放人聲、流行歌曲還是小編制樂曲等，音樂透明晴朗，節奏清晰，動態反應敏銳輕靈，彷佛在月明風清的晚上，空氣中毫無雜染。重播 Jerome Harris 爵士樂專輯《Rendezvous》中的 “The Mooche” 一曲時，其中的 solo 樂段精致優雅，音樂氣息纖細微小而不失韻味，樂句尾音的消失也刻畫得柔滑細膩。S3/5R2 SE 的聲底依然是思奔達好聽、耐聽、音樂性極佳的韻味，聲音通透但不蒼白，清朗而富有溫潤，人聲和樂器聲質感真實。不像一些現代派監聽音箱由於過分追求聲音通透而喪失了音樂韻味。
思奔達 S3/5R2 SE音箱給人的第二個感覺是聲音鮮活細致，試聽 Dorian 的專輯《Tribute to Sarasata》可以感到小提琴聲在真實之外更有一份細膩鮮活的特質，音樂線條優美流暢，思奔達改進后的喇叭單元顯得更為靈敏，可以把小提琴擦弦最細微的聲音都表現了出來。拉到小提琴較低把位時琴弦的共鳴更加真實過癮，這得益於 S3/5R2 SE 更大的中低音單元和寬懸邊設計。音樂中鋼琴的琴音相當豐富，規模感宏大，而且三頻的銜接順滑，聲音風格具有高度完美的一致性。當然，對於這樣一對緊湊尺寸的書架箱，你不可能過於苛求它的低頻量感，但是在聆聽人聲、弦樂、小編制樂曲時，你絲毫不會感到低頻的缺失，倒是讓人驚訝於它低頻的優雅質感和鮮活沖擊力，整體音樂的極小極大動態范圍表現得很完整，沒有被壓縮的感覺，這恐怕要歸功於思奔達針對喇叭單元的分頻器重新設計以及厚薄得當的箱體結構。
總體來說，S3/5R2 SE 音箱給人的感覺在保留了監聽名箱 LS3/5A 的靈魂之外，更加完善了針對現代用家的聆聽需求，比如更高的解析力，大動態音樂的適應能力以及更多的高品質低頻量感。可以說，它既具有古典音箱溫潤而甜美的聲音特質，又具有現代音箱的分析力與動態，高音純正甜美，中低音飽滿豐盈，音樂美感十足。此外，它小巧而不佔地方，密封式箱體的箱體類型讓您的較小聆聽空間內的擺位異常靈活。如果您考慮在小面積客廳、書房或者臥室購置一套HiFi系統，S3/5R2 SE音箱稱得上物超所值的理想選擇。別忘了，它可是最經典英國名箱的限量供應，而且正如思奔達的設計追求：我們的音箱是可以讓您用一輩子的！
Spendor may be one of the oldest (and most respected) names in the UK audio industry, but since its acquisition by Philip Swift (once of Audiolab) its products have been anything but old-fashioned. Admittedly, the Classic Series products look the ‘pipe and slippers’ part -all nostalgic finishes and appearance – but even here, beneath the skin these venerable designs have benefitted from carefully considered upgrades and technological improvements – developments that have filtered down directly from the unmistakably modern A- and D-Line products, whose slim cabinets are themselves anything but The-too’ versions of modern thinking, You don’t have to look too far before you find the evidence that Spender may build on the solid foundations that made speakers like the BC1 world famous, but it is only too ready to invest in modern technology and investigate practical solutions to modern concerns, The A6R, a slim, floorstanding two-way that looks remarkably conventional is anything but, at least in musical terms. Instead it manages to offer all the advantages of two-way operation in a compact enclosure that (in stark contrast to the competition) doesn’t sing along with the music. Then there’s the D1, a compact standmount of such remarkable musical coherence that it’s capable of challenging all those high-end miniatures that cost many, many times its modest price. And that’s the thing: it’s not just what these speakers do (which is impressive enough), but how they do it for the price that is the burning question, The arrival of the D9, a new flagship for the line, neatly encapsulates current thinking at Spendor, offering the opportunity to dig a little deeper into what makes these products not just perform, but exceed expectations.
Outwardly at least, there’s little to separate the D9 from the other tall. slim floorstanders lining the walls of your local dealer’s showroom. Narrow, deep cabinet – check: Plinth base – check: Vertical array of multiple drivers – check. But examine the detail and the differences soon start to emerge. Even a cursory glance suggests that there’s something different about the tweeter, while the plinth base barely extends beyond the cabinet footprint itself. Meanwhile a look round the back shows a complex port arrangement that’s a world away from the simple drainage pipes of yore. Look at the numbers and you’ll see that Spender suggest an in-room bandwidth that goes as low as 27Hz – not in itself unusual, but difficult to do well from a cabinet this size. Most speakers claiming that sort of extension achieve it at the expense of lumpy, uneven, and often one-note bass. Yet listen to the D9 and the first thing that strikes you is its clear and linear bass output. The bottom end of this speaker goes lower than you expect (suggesting that 27Hz figure is a lot less fanciful than some manufacturers’ numbers), but it’s also articulate, tuneful, and agile, with no overhang and no thickness to clutter and smudge the midrange.
To understand why that is, it’s necessary to dig a little deeper and take a look at the D9’s constituent elements – and what’s been done with them. The 180mm Kevlar-coned bass drivers were developed specifically for the 09, their physical and electrical characteristics tuned specifically to match the requirements of the bass enclosure. So what we have here is a bass system, in which the various parts are designed in tandem to create a coherent whole. That’s not unique, but it’s the rest of the box that makes the D9 stand out from the crowd, both in terms of what’s in it and how it sounds. The box itself is constructed from specially selected HDF, and the walls are thinner than those on much of the competition. Instead, resonance in the structure is dealt with by strategically sited low-mass resonators, small, constrained layer slabs placed at vibrational nodes to absorb energy and dissipate it as heat. The result is a cabinet structure that’s both better behaved and stores significantly less energy than conventional constructions. Add to that the lack of internal wadding and the use of Spender’s Linear Flow port technology, and you have an incredibly quiet cabinet that prevents stored energy belatedly finding its way back into the enclosed air-mass to muddy the output and limits spurious output from the port itself polluting the room.
With all that attention paid to low-frequency linearity (and it’s a lot easier to describe than it is to achieve) you might well think that Spender would want to provide the most stable footing possible – and you’d be right. So what’s with the diminutive plinth that barely extends beyond the cabinet edges? Look underneath and you’ll find that each corner of the solid plinth is supported on a substantial steel disc, 45mm in diameter. On the outer edge of each disc is the threaded hole for the M8 spike. It’s an arrangement that combines a narrower plinth with the wider footprint associated with much more obtrusive structures, a happy match of aesthetic, domestic, and mechanical requirements. The discs deliver a strong, stable, precision coupling of spike to cabinet, making for easy attitude adjustment and good energy transfer. Best of all, the mechanical stability allows the use of nice, long spikes, which allow easy adjustment in the crucial vertical dimension. The end result is both more discrete and more effective than many far more obvious (for which read ‘ugly’ or “intrusive’) arrangements.
At the other end of the range, we find Spendor’s innovative LPZ tweeter. This soft dome, coupled-cavity driver is familiar from both the D–1 and D7, but it should still be noted just how effective and musically accomplished this apparently simple design really is. The perforated face plate acts to equalize phase and pressure across the face of the driver, producing time- and phase-coherent output, while the equivalent cavities in front of and behind the diaphragm means that the moving parts constitute a linear, balanced-mode generator: simple but effective.
Of course, all that effort expended on the cabinet, bottom end, and high-frequencies is wasted if the midrange isn’t up to it. But then, mid-band has always been a Spender speciality and the 180mm midrange driver with its in-house EP77 polymer cone won’t disappoint. The inherent self-damping and even mechanical behaviour of the driver allows it to be used with shallow crossover slopes that lead in turn to an easy impedance characteristic — meaning that you are going to get the best out of your amp, too. Like everything else, the crossover components are carefully selected, as is the internal wiring and the single-wired terminals. And in many ways, that’s the basis of the Spendor story: there’s a clarity of vision, fastened on the rigid, low-storage cabinet and in-house drivers, but the other side of the coin is the attention to detail that’s been lavished on everything from the port to the spikes, the product’s domestic impact to its packaging. It’s a long and rocky road between an initial design and a viable end product. Look at the D9 – or any other Spendor product – and what becomes obvious is that somewhere in the factory, there’s a large sign that reads “No Short Cuts”. It’s a philosophy that becomes even more apparent once you listen to this speaker.
“The D9’s deep, linear bass is remarkably well behaved — a factor that can easily lull you into a false sense of security.”
The D9’s deep, linear bass is remarkably well behaved – a factor that can easily lull you into a false sense of security. Put it down almost anywhere and it will sound pretty good – but it won’t sound as good as it can after some time spent on optimising position and attitude. Once you’ve found the right spot, make sure that you level the speaker and then experiment with its height from the floor, using the spikes to lift or lower it. If you start with the spikes set tall and position it with them set that way, lowering the cabinet closer to the floor will bring added weight and dimensionality without any compromise of pace, pitch, or clarity. Once you’ve done that, it’s worth checking rake angle and lateral tilt, as both can have a significant impact on the music’s sense of presence and purpose.
Although their easy load characteristics mean that the D9s don’t demand supremely capable amplification, their performance certainly deserves it. Run with amps as varied as the latest TEAD Linear Bs, the VTL S400-11, or the Levinson 585, the speakers responded with enthusiasm to the character and quality of the signal they received. The astonishing clarity and innate sense of musical organisation that makes the Linear Bs so special was well to the fore, as was the S400’s presence, body, and dynamic authority. But of these options perhaps the 585 is the D9s natural partner, both in terms of cost and capability. In fact, just like the similarly priced Vienna Acoustics Liszt, these are speakers crying out to be hung on the end of today’s super integrated amps, whether that amp is the 585, the Neodio Origine A2, the Gryphon Diablo 120, or even a Lavardin IS Reference. The 09 might not match the sheer scale and bandwidth of the Liszt (even though they are virtually identical on paper) but it is a far more friendly load – which is where the little Lavardin promises to be such an interesting match.
With so many stellar new entries in the 210K speaker stakes, the 09 is going to have to carve its own niche. It does so by doing what Spendors do. Play something quick and clean, like Eleanor McEvoy’s Yoke [Moscodisc], with its crisp dynamics and surprisingly deep bass and the D9s don’t disappoint. The bottom end is deft and sure-footed, with plenty of instrumental character, rhythm, and definition, pushing things along at just the rignt pace; tight enough to be interesting without sounding hectoring or driven. Melodies and phrasing are articulate and the vocals – oh, the vocals: intimate. affecting, direct, and communicative, those vocals make this a captivating and addictive listen, one of those speakers where you set out to play a track and end up playing the whole side. Work up to larger scale works and the 09 might lack the expansive palpable acoustic space thrown by the Liszt or Wilson Sabrina, as well as the unburstably enthusiastic dynamics of the Sopra 2, but it more than makes up for those deficiencies through its sense of integration and musical integrity. Everything just slots in around that natural, expressive mid-band, underpinning voices and solo instruments with an unforced sense of musical shape and context. Did I mention the tweeter? No – that’s because you just don’t notice it, at least not as a separate entity. It’s simply a beautifully integrated extension of that open and intimate midrange. From this it might be easy to assume that the 09 is a beautifully balanced but fatally polite offering: nothing could be further from the truth. You want rude the D9 can be positively bawdy when required. It just doesn’t make an unwelcome habit of it.
Put those attributes together and what you have on the one hand is a classic British speaker, pace, rhythm, and timing all present and correct. On the other – you have a classic British speaker, tonally neutral, linear, and musically coherent. In a very real sense the 09 combines the two great traditions of UK speaker design, without diminishing either. It delivers the superbly open and communicative mid-band of a model like the D1, but succeeds in grafting on a bottom end that is as impressive as it is effective. Does that mean you can have your cake and eat it? Yes it does – and you can enjoy it with a surprisingly wide range of partnering amps too. In fact, the D9 is so system and room friendly that in many cases it might well be the best speaker you’ve ever heard, especially at the price – simply because it works more readily than the competition, With elegant lines to match its thoughtful engineering, and a range of attractive finishes, both modern and traditional, to match its room friendly bass voicing, the D9 really hits the sweet spot of attainable price, achievable performance, and acceptable domestic impact. Indeed, it’s so unmistakably English and so precisely suited to the English market that it probably needs a passport to travel. But when it arrives, I suspect it’s going to shake up more than a few of the locals. Tall, slim, and innately understated, this English gentleman might not shout, but the message is still delivered with purpose, clarity and where necessary, definite intent, A superbly balanced and beautifully judged design, this is the best Spendor yet – and that’s no mean feat.
Type: Three-way rear-reflex loaded loudspeaker Driver Complement: 2x 180mm Kevlar coned LF, 1x 180mm EP77 polymer MF, 1x 22mm Spendor LPZ HF Bandwidth: 27Hz-25kHz ±3dB in-room Sensitivity: 90dB Load: 8 Ohms Weight: 35kg ea. Dimensions (WxHxD): 222 x 1125 x 409mm Finishes: Natural wood veneers, satin white, Spendor dark high gloss or slate grey high gloss Price: £8.500 per pair Manufacturer: Spendor Audio Systems Ltd.
The style may be ‘retro’, but this powerful integrated amp from a Far East legend is no exercise in nostalgia: it lacks fashionable digital inputs, but has serious sonic appeal Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller
OK, so it may help explain the whole ‘vinyl revival’ thing, from portable record players with greater tracking weight than a Caterpillar bulldozer to supermarket own-brand LPs, but looking to the past will only get you so far. Forget all that longer summers, colder winters and ‘jumpers for goalposts’ stuff: even nostalgia’s not what it used to be. Products must stand on their own merits in today’s competitive market.
You see, there’s not exactly a shortage of big-money integrated amplifiers out there, and launching the £8500 L-509X into that arena sees Luxman facing rivalry not only from other manufacturers, but also from within. After all, the company has a handful of integrateds on its books, all of which look somewhat similar at first glance, distinguished only by the colour of their meter illumination and price. The designation echoes the original L-509fSE, which first saw the light of day back in 2002 as an attempt to combine the virtues of preamp and power amps in a single chassis, while slightly confusingly there’s already the similarly-numbered L-590AXII [HFN Apr ’16].
Now we have the L-509X, and while the basis is the same, this is a somewhat different animal, with a claimed output of 120W/8ohm, rising to 240W/4ohm – not that the L-590AXII proved exactly starved of power when PM lab-tested that one, delivering 95W/8ohm and 165W/4ohm. I have to confess to being something of an adherent to the maxim that a bit of extra grunt never goes amiss when it comes to the ease with which music is delivered, and so it proves with this new Luxman.
A bit of extra grunt may also be what you emit when called upon to unbox and set up the L-509X for it weighs a not insubstantial 29.3kg. At least the effort gives you a reassuring sense of where all your money’s gone, an impression that’s reinforced when you have the amplifier in place, connected up and switched on.
The star turn, as on all current Luxman amps, is the presence of the two illuminated meters, placed exactly front and centre, but the symmetrical layout of the substantial fascia is also highly pleasing, as is the attention clearly paid to the feel and weighting of the controls. There may not be the knowingly retro flip-switches of the wood-sleeved ‘Classic Series’ Luxman products, but even before you start using it in anger the L-509X has a sense of substance and total quality – luxe indeed. The design here is very much classic‘ preamp and power amps in one box’, with the two sections able to be split if required. And at heart this is a very simple amplifier, with none of that built-in DAC nonsense, let alone a sniff of a Wi-Fi antenna or Ethernet port – it’s resolutely analogue, with no more than four line-ins on RCA sockets plus two sets of balanced inputs, plus a switchable MM/MC phono stage.
‘The Mael brothers’ sound is an exercise in studied chaos’
HARD AS BRASS
Record out and monitor sockets are provided, along with pre-out/power amp in – you could use the last of these to integrate the L-509X with an AV receiver or processor – and there are two sets of switched speaker outputs and a fascia headphone socket. The controls, though there seem to be a lot of them on the front panel (somewhat at odds with the ‘input selector, volume control and that’s it’ trend), are similarly simple. The input selector is one of the two beautifully precise knobs either side of those meters, while the identical-sized adjustments arranged below allow MM/MC cartridge selection, record out, speaker switching and tone/balance controls, bypassable using the ‘Line Straight’ button. Oh, and there’s a remote handset provided [see p39], also able to ‘drive’ a Luxman disc player – and turn off the L-509X’s meter illumination too.
The volume control bears the legend ‘LECUA’, which looks like one of those meaningless Japanese terms, right up there with Acura, Regia and Canter (the last of these an unfathomable designation for a range of trucks). In fact, LECUA is the Luxman Electric Controlled Ultimate Attenuator, here in its latest LECUA 1000 version, which controls both volume and balance with a system directly connecting the substrate of the attenuator and amp circuits to reduce noise, and offering 88 steps of volume adjustment. Other claims for this design include greater resistance to the effects of vibration, enhanced accuracy across the volume range, and long-term durability.
This system is inherited from the company’s C-900u flagship preamp [HFN Sep ’15], as is the buffering circuit in the preamp section, designed for optimal drive of the power amp stages. The output stage itself uses a push-pull configuration equivalent to that in the company’s M-700u power amp, and outputs through copper alloy terminals said to have the conductivity of copper plus the hardness of brass. The switched connection to the output stages is via high capacity/low resistance parallel relays and thick copper wiring to maintain the claimed high damping factor. The whole plot is sustained via no fewer than six independently rectified/regulated PSUs fed from separate transformer windings – even the protection circuitry has its own supply. The substantial 600VA transformer, Luxman says, is a ‘high inertia’ design ‘that does not shake even under load fluctuations’. Well, that’s all good, then. The vibration-resistance goes beyond that hefty, thick panel work in evidence in the ventilation grilles in the top panel, for rather than use fancy damping feet in exotic materials, the L-509X simply sits on massive cast-iron supports. Sometimes a little brute force is the best way!
SWEET AND EASY
Not that there’s anything brutal about the way this amplifier plays music. Give it a while to settle down from cold – as PM noted during his lab testing [p39], when set to play at a given output level the meters kick up a bit after a while of running, at which point the L-509X can be assumed to be cooking pretty well, and good to go. And the immediate impression is that, while there’s no mistaking this for an amplifier with anything less than ‘more than sufficient’ power under the hood, it sounds sweet, refined and entirely at ease, whatever the music you choose to play through it, and whichever source component you opt to use.
It’s not quite a ‘take no prisoners’ ultra-revealing amp of the brash and bright school, though the amount of information it delivers is frequently breathtaking, and it never leaves the listener with the sense that something’s missing. So however big and rich the bass may be it’s also entirely controlled, tight and rhythmic as well as having wonderful character. From the growl of orchestral double-basses in a spot of Wagner from the excellent overview of the composer’s work by Iván Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra [Channel Classics CCS SA 32713; DSD64], all the way through to the snap and punch of Kyle Eastwood’s instruments on his recent In Transit set [Jazz Village JV570146; 44.1kHz/24-bit download], this is an amplifier fully able to convey instrumental textures and techniques.
What’s more, while the brass duo leading several of the Eastwood tracks can sound overly aggressive via some amps, the L-509X conveys them in fluid, attractive fashion without blunting either their breathiness or the metallic edge to the sound. In other words, it does excitement to spellbinding effect – just without the irritation. Even with a really dense mix, such as some of those on Squeeze’s The Knowledge [Love Records LVRCD004], this amplifier manages the impressive task of delivering the big, majestic wash of sound while still allowing the usual masterful lyrics and the individual instruments due clarity.
NO EXCUSES NEEDED
The L-509X rewards both ‘lean back’ and ‘lean forward’ listening, not least because it always seems entirely in control of the speakers, with no sense of speed-impeding smear or overhang. Notes start sharply and decay realistically, giving a sound that’s both immediate and delivered with real presence. It’s a sound that even the wilful mayhem of the latest Sparks set, Hippopotamus [BMG 538279612], can’t catch out. Yes, the sound the Mael brothers deliver is an exercise in studied chaos, but even those falsetto’ish vocals are clearly audible in a track like ‘So Tell Me Mrs Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play?’, which is every bit as bonkers as the title suggests. It may not be quite what the Luxman engineers had in mind when they designed the L-509X but the fact it works so well shows that their amplifier has wide-ranging capabilities beyond the breathy jazz of so many hi-fi demonstrations.
That said, when you do treat it to a demonstration-quality recording, such as Classical Opera’s lovely set of Mozart’s Il Sogno diScipione [Signum Classics SIGCD499, 96kHz/24-bit], the LX-509X’s warmth and vitality come together to create a truly exciting presentation, the soundstage broad, deep and detailed, the presence and ambience almost uncanny, and the dynamics so wide open that one could easily forget all the machinery involved between performance and the listening experience. This amplifier is no mere exercise in rose-tinted nostalgia, and needs none of those ‘ah, but in those days…’ excuses to be made. It’s simply special.
HI-FI NEWS VERTICT
Big, rich, sweet and totally controlled: sounds like something of a soft listen, doesn’t it? Yet the truth is that the L-509X is all of the above in a good way, and none of those in a bad: it simply conveys the music in a manner that always seems exactly as it should. Don’t look at the styling and expect all those clichés of amplifiers of yore – this is a bang up to date design, in both engineering and sound.
Power meters are always fun to watch and, here, are ‘calibrated’ in dB relative to full output. In practice the red ‘0dB’ point is pretty close to Luxman’s rated 120W/8ohm but, perhaps more importantly, a 10W/8ohm output is indicated at –15dB when the amplifier is cold and –10dB when it is warm… So treat the meters as decoration rather than a precise measure of level! Precision is the watchword in our lab reports, of course, and here it was soon clear that while the L-509X might look almost identical to the L-590AXII [HFN Apr ’16] its technical performance suggests a merger of the brand’s C-700u/M-700u pre/power [HFN Sep ’15]. Indeed, where the former racked-up a full 2x145W and 2x250W into 8/4ohm, increasing to 165W, 315W and 551W into 8, 4 and 2ohm loads under dynamic conditions, the new L-509X delivers a very similar 2x155W/8ohm and 2x255W/4ohm with a dynamic 183W, 342W and 507W into 8, 4 and 2ohm. With both the M-700u and L-509X, protection limits output to ~300W/1ohm or 16.7A [see Graph 1, below].
In similar fashion, the integrated L-509X has –1dB response limits of 3Hz-42kHz (–4.6dB/100kHz) while its 0.02ohm output impedance, rising to 0.05ohm/20kHz and 0.43ohm/100kHz still encourages a slightly earlier roll-off into tougher loads. Distortion is also very low at <0.002% from 20Hz-1kHz before rising gently to 0.03%/20kHz (all at 10W/8ohm). Where the L-509X scores, however, is in maintaining this distortion trend with increasing output, so THD is 0.0025% at 1kHz/1W, 0.0026% at 100W and 0.0034% at the rated 120W. Meanwhile, bearing in mind its high +43.4dB overall gain (balanced input), the A-wtd S/N ratio is a solid 86dB (re. 0dBW) while separation is >80dB midband. PM
Luxman’s C-900u preamp and M-900u power amp (£9995 each) are part of the wave of retro-flavoured hardware that has captivated the big Japanese houses, many of whose ‘period-look’ units eschew digitalia.
“The weight, the power, the flow, all conspired to make our feet tap”
As Luxman offers separate DACs and phono stages, they’re not fitted here, eg, the C-900u offers only line inputs and full-function remote control, with tone and balance controls set via large rotaries, but it has no tape monitor facility. The supplied remote allows zooming of the informative fascia display. At the rear of the preamp can be found a choice of balanced or single-ended inputs and outputs, earthing posts should you wish to add an external phono stage for a vinyl source, and a couple of Ethernet remote comms ports.
With its resolutely analogue fascia meters, the matching M-900u power amplifier offers both single-ended and balanced (XLR) inputs, remote power on/off, massive multi-way binding posts – some of the best we’ve seen – and switching for mono bridging and polarity inversion.
INSTANT SWEETNESS Our first encounter was with ‘Rock The Boat’ by The Hues Corporation [Camden (CD)], with the amps hooked up to Wilson Alexias. While the track isn’t overripe down below, it is a dance track with a cool, loping bass, gorgeous harmonies, whucka-whucka guitar, and punchy brass and strings soaring above it all. The Luxman package sounded almost as tube-y as the company’s MQ-300 stereo amp [HFN Nov ’15], but with 25 times the wattage and a far more clearly delineated bass.
Detroit Emeralds’ ‘Feel The Need’ [Atlantic] is more of the same, but with richer, more Motown-y vocals and stronger drum activity. Moving to vinyl, the strings grew even sweeter, but saccharine never intruded because the ’900s possess such balance, with true equanimity from top to bottom.
After a double-dose of disco, we were drawn to mixed percussion, and Santana’s ‘Oye Como Va’ from Abraxas [Mobile Fidelity] did the trick, with the track’s congas, woodblocks, guiro scraper and other paraphernalia. Here the weight, the power, the flow, all conspired to make our feet tap – critical listening be damned! And that’s pretty much as high a compliment as one can pay.
Then in place of the Wilson Alexia speakers we hooked up Spendor LS3/5As, and loaded up ‘Rock The Boat’ once more. The little gems ‘disappeared’ and we were reminded of why we’d worshipped them for so long… the soundstage bordered on the epic.
What clinched it for us, though, was neither the punch nor the percussive majesty of the above tracks, but the subtlety of At Last from Lou Rawls in tandem with Dianne Reeves [Blue Note].
These units worked faultlessly, the remote was a joy to handle, the sound blissfully natural, while the units are made with the sort of finish that’s as cool as Swiss air.
The Diamond A1 is a relatively high-end pair of Bluetooth speakers, and the active, more attractive version of the Wharfedale Diamond 220.
If you’re after something more room-filling and high-fidelity than the army of one-box wireless speakers out there, these are a truly impressive option.
Wharfedale Diamond A1 – Design and features
Unlike the majority of Bluetooth speaker systems around, you don’t get one box, or even two boxes; three separate boxes for the Diamond A1. That’s because, in addition to the pair of stereo speakers, there’s a wireless control box that handles all the pairing and physical inputs.
But let’s start with the speakers, which are really rather classy. They might be based on the Diamond 220, but aesthetically they have far more going on, with radius corners and a choice of either gloss white or black for the front baffle. The real touch of panache, however, comes from black leatherette wrapped around the edges of the cabinet.
Mounted into the baffle of each is a 130mm mid-bass driver and a 25mm fabric dome tweeter, driven by 50W of internal amplification. There’s no slave and master here, with both speakers having their own power – they’re identical, and each has a switch to designate whether it’s the left or right channel.
Of course, this means that the speakers don’t need to be tied together by any kind of cable. The downside is that each requires its own power input, and Wharfedale has chosen to use external power supplies rather than integrating PSUs inside the speakers.
The choice to have a separate control hub adds yet another mains adapter and plug socket into the equation, so the wireless dream could turn into a nightmare if you can’t easily hide all those wires, transformers and plugs somewhere.
The Wharfedale H1 hub looks a little like a router. On the front is an IR receiver for the supplied remote control, while on the top is a small display and touch controls for power, volume up and down, and source selection. Around the back are coaxial and optical inputs for digital sources, and an RCA stereo phono line input. There’s also a micro-USB socket for firmware updates.
The remote control is light and plasticky, but looks far nicer than many of the cheap units usually supplied with Bluetooth speakers – when they have a remote at all.
Wharfedale Diamond A1 – Sound quality
Setting up the Diamond A1 is a bit of a faff, mainly a result of that separate control hub. There’s a series of button presses required, as well as ensuring one of the speakers is set as the left channel and the other as the right.
With that done, and a Bluetooth device paired, it’s all ready to go. And it impresses immediately.
Starting with something expansive – The National’s ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’ – the Diamond A1 rose to the challenge, forming a wide soundstage and reproducing the guitar particularly well.
A run through Massive Attack’s iconic ‘Blue Lines’ album proved the Diamond A1 have a tightly controlled bass – although since their bass ports are on the back, this will be affected by how much space you give them to breathe. At the very least, I’d leave a gap of three inches behind to avoid booming and a disconnect with the mid-range.
There’s a handy trim control on the rear of each speaker, though, with the ability to boost or reduce the bottom end. I found it worked well to increase the bass when using the A1 in a larger room.
Something a little subtler, such as Iron & Wine’s ‘Beast Epic’ album, exposes the Diamond A1’s limitations. Vocals don’t quite have the realism, and the mid-range doesn’t have the separation that can be achieved by spending a little more on a dedicated hi-fi system. For the money, though, this still offers impressive performance.
Should I buy the Wharfedale Diamond A1?
The Diamond A1 are super-impressive for the money. They offer excellent scale and power, as well as revealing a decent level of detail. For truly room-filling hi-fi sound, there’s very little that can touch them at this price. And they look far more expensive than they are.
The lack of aptX HD support – so no wireless Hi-Res Audio streaming – might concern, but the Diamond A1 don’t quite have the finesse to resolve that extra detail. Really, you’ll need to spend quite a lot more to get to that level.
Excellent-sounding Bluetooth speakers with a ton of sonic scale for the money.