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.
回到純粹播放 CD 的原點
近年的光碟播放機除了能謓取 CD 及 SACD 光碟之外還加入了大量功能，已變成多功能的播放器，例如增設大量輸入及輸出接口、網上串流播放功能、USB 輸入及解碼播放高清檔案、無線接駁等等多不勝數的功能，可是這樣需要非常複雜和精密設計的線路及大量高質電子零件，並需要有良好的抗干擾措施和高階的電源供應等等配套才能達到高音質的境界，如此一來生產成本便會變得高昂。 D-380 CD 播放機的設計重點以簡單直接為主，就是純粹為了能將CD光碟的訊源如實地重現出來，所以不設任何額外的附加功能，機背只設有一組立體聲非平衡模擬輸出及兩組數碼輸出 (同軸及光纖，可於遙控器開啟或關閉)， 對於純CD發燒友來説絕對足夠。
再聽聽 Derrin Nauendorf – Live At The Boardwalk 輯，這位 Derrin 結他演奏家在 Boardwalk 倶樂部的現場表演，大部份時間都是他在自彈自唱，並且配合 David Downing 的敲擊拍和。第一首 Ghost Town 開始時的結他獨奏已感到聲音充滿跳躍的彈性，空間感十足，而低 頻絕大部份是以結他彈奏弦線或敲打各種敲擊樂器出來的聲音，因此並沒有猛烈雄渾的低頻，而是量感適中線條清晰的低頻。隨後而來 Derrin的歌聲亦充滿活生感，嗓子略厚而且感覺磁性迷人。D-380 以真空管輸出模式來播放，結他的音效感覺既真實又自然|人聲則渾厚並充滿感情。此外雖然歌曲編排十分簡單，但聲 音密度也頗高，整體感費豐富迷人。
LECUA的全名是Luxman電子終極音量控制器（Luxman Electric Controlled Ultimate Attenuator），最早出現在1996年發表的C-10前級中，運作原理是以兩組數值經過精密計算的電阻陣列互相搭配，達到調整（衰減）音量大小的目的。這種設計可以看做是傳統級進式音量控制器的進化型態，傳統作法必須靠旋鈕切換電阻的接點，達到改變音量的目的，LECUA則是利用晶片感知旋鈕位置，進而控制兩組電阻的搭配。LECUA有三大優點，一是沒有接點氧化問題，使用再久也不會出現雜音。二是每一級音量只經過兩顆電阻，將失真降到最低。三是LECUA的線路板是垂直立體架構，將訊號路徑縮到最短，將雜訊干擾降到最低。目前Luxman C-900u旗艦前級使用的是LECUA 1000，這是了全平衡架構的頂級製作。最入門的DA-150 USB DAC同樣配備LECUA技術，雖然是將電阻陣列做在晶片裡面，但是特性仍比一般音量控制器好上許多。
LxDTM – 徹底排除轉盤振動干擾
Luxman原創轉盤機構（Luxman Original Disc Transport Mechanism）的縮寫，由厚鋼板與鋁合金板構成重量級轉盤外殼，外殼厚達9mm，整體重達7公斤，鋼板與鋁合金兩種材料的組合，是經過無數次實驗之後，抑振效果最好的選擇，可以同時抑制拾取機構的馬達振動，以及外界振動干擾。旗艦D-08u SACD唱盤所使用的LxDTM轉盤，還附帶一個會自動開闔的「門」，承盤進出動作無比精密優雅，日本的機械工藝，實在無話可說。曾有國外訊源廠商想要購買這個轉盤機構，可惜產量有限，只能Luxman獨享，就算有錢也買不到。
早川齊接任社長之後，做了一個重大決定，成為Luxman成功進軍歐美市場的關鍵，那就是大膽任用年輕工程師Tim de Paravicini進入研發部門。如今音響迷都知道Tim是音響大師，但是在1972年，Tim只是個二十多歲的小伙子，在南非音響界發展，曾經替幾個搖滾樂團設計過音響系統，並且替一些音響店擔任諮詢工作，雖然擁有一間小工廠，在當地小有名號，但是絕對稱不上大師。那時他在南非工作的一間音響店，剛好是Luxman的當地總代理，Luxman慧眼視英雄，發掘了Tim的音響設計才華，於是延聘他到大阪工作。