Luxman Debuts its DSD DAC at Music Lovers

Music Lovers' Hugh Fountain shows off the Vivid Giya G3 speakers

Philip O'Hanlon is one smart cookie. Rather than stage the customary new product demo, where attendees must sit through one or more lengthy spiels before they get a chance to hear a single note, he went right for the gold. As someone who loves music, thrives on music, and takes joy in creating demo CDs for friends, the renowned proprietor of On a Higher Note—distributor of Luxman, Vivid, Brinkmann, Mola Mola, and TriPlanar—delighted a full house at the first public demo of Luxman's forthcoming DSD-capable DA-06 DAC ($6000), staged at Music Lovers Audio in San Francisco, by spending close to three enthralling hours spinning music, performing comparisons, and letting the system do most of the talking.

What was the gold? Some of the most colorful and engaging music playback I've ever experienced in an audio showroom, big or small. The tonality was gorgeous, with a sweetness that would make of many a seasoned audiophile a kid in a candy store. Images were perfectly placed, instruments clearly defined, and timbres fleshed out in the most musical way imaginable. The sound was, in a word, luscious.

On a file of David Oistrakh playing a bit of the Bruch Violin Concerto (PCM 24/192 sourced from the 1" master tape courtesy of the Tape Project), the Luxman DA-06 DAC captured both the violin's overtones and its sizeable meaty body. After hearing far too many systems reduce the sound of violins to thin little treble streams, it was a relief to hear a great violinist known for his big sound reproduced with his sonic signature intact. Equally fabulous was the wide soundstage and great depth on an excerpt of Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing part of the first movement of Rachmaninov's Symphony 2 (Channel Classics DSD Master). The presentation wanted only for the bigger, more symphonically scaled images I'm accustomed to hearing from bigger speakers.


Philip O'Hanlon plays DJ, a role he both enjoys and is superb at

"I am interested in music; I am not interested so much in sound per se," O'Hanlon told me before the demo commenced. "My goal is to enthuse people to listen to more music. Music is the ultimate time machine. You can capture the emotion of a moment in the past and feel that chill of remembrance down your spine just by someone playing a piece of music."

O'Hanlon's strategy worked. In fact, it didn't even seem like a strategy. Putting the music first came off as the most natural and sensible thing a music lover would do when presented with a component array fine enough to transform mounds of bits into glorious music.


For the record, O'Hanlon played us high-resolution PCM and DSD tracks, stored on his Apple MacBook Pro and either derived directly from masters or ripped from CD, SACD, open-reel tape, and LP. These he loaded into Audirvana software, and then fed to the prototype Luxman DA-06 via USB.

Although the DA-06 DAC, which shares the same DAC, processor, analogue output stage and power supply as the Luxman D-06 CD/SACD player ($9000), will play DSD files without conversion upon its release in June, it currently lacks the driver necessary to play DSD directly from a Mac. Thus it converted DSD on the fly to DXD (32 bits, 352.8kHz PCM). That is how we listened to DSD files via a Luxman C600F preamp ($9000), Anthem M1 monoblock amplifiers ($7000/pair) that were called into the play when the intended Luxman amplification blew a fuse during set-up, Vivid Giya G2 loudspeakers ($50,000/pair), and an Ayre L5XE AC conditioner. With a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base under the computer, everything was arrayed on Grand Prix component racks, and wired together and powered by a combination of Synergistic and Transparent cabling.

I'm sure I've left any number of things out, because I've already told you far more about the system than O'Hanlon shared during the demo. (I cheated, and spoke to Music Lovers staff afterwards). O'Hanlon was far more focused on the music.


The crew at Music Lovers Audio (left–right): David Divjak (Music Lovers), Philip O'Hanlon (On a Higher Note), Hugh Fountain (MLA co-owner), Jae Wheeler, (MLA co-owner), Josh Rudner (MLA), and Kyle Darling (MLA)

During the demo, O'Hanlon also shared: the Florestan Trio's recording of the Scherzo from the Debussy Piano Trio (DSD file transferred from SACD via Playstation 3); "This Love Is Over" from Ray La Montagne (PCM 24/192 from the LP), "Sigh No More," Mumford & Sons (PCM 24/192 from the LP); "Born Under A Bad Sign," Jimi Hendrix (DSD recording from the LP); "Worship," Ane Brun (PCM 24/192 from the LP); the Pink Panther theme, Henry Mancini (PCM 24/192 from the LP); "When your Lover Has Gone," from Ben Webster meets Oscar Peterson (PCM 24/192 from the LP); and "Fields Of Gold," Eva Cassidy (DSD recording from the LP). In every case, I marveled at the beautiful color and clarity of the presentation.

Then there were the comparisons. Have you ever heard Patricia Barber's "You & The Night & The Music," originally recorded in 24/192, played back at 24/44.1, 24/88.2, 24/96, 24/176.4, and 24/192? Thanks to Paul Stubblebine of The Tape Project, we did. Know anyone who claims that there's no difference between the sound of some of these formats, or that the differences are too subtle to make much of a difference? Either they've never heard them played back on a system this resolving and musical, or they can't hear. You can quote me.

A special treat were two DSD masters from M•A Recordings: "Aria" from the Bach/Ema Ito Goldberg Variations, and the double DSD "Chiquita" from Puente Celeste. The sonic tapestry of the latter, although uncharacteristically soft on the edges, was tremendously impressive when everything got going.

I took a break to gather equipment information while O'Hanlon compared two different DSD rips of the same two LP tracks, Shelby Lynne's "Just a Little Lovin'" and Gene Amons' "My Romance." In each case, the first originated on a Spiral Groove turntable, the second on the Brinkmann Balance. While a demo in a smaller showroom showed off the Luxman D-06 SACD/CD player ($9000) paired with Ayre AX-5 integrated amp ($10,000), Vivid Giya G3 loudspeakers ($40,000/pair), Synergistic Research Power Cell 10 ($5000), and Synergistic Element Tungsten cabling, I returned to the big room to hear the sonic differences between the DSD master of the first movement of the aforementioned Rach 2 and the DSD layer ripped from SACD via a Playstation 3. The loss of sound quality on the latter was dismaying. It's not just analog master tapes that sound better than pristine LP pressings.

Look for O'Hanlon as he dems the Luxman DA-06 at dealers across the country, and at T.H.E. Show Newport and other audio shows. Once you listen, you'll understand why music says it better than anything else.

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COMMENTS
untangle's picture

Sounds like it was a great event, and certainly ably described. The story made me feel sorry that I missed it.

However, two factors got me thinking.

First, the product clearly isn't done. A DSD DAC playing DSD files that have been converted to PCM - even ultra-hires PCM - just doesn't feel right to me.

Second, many (most?) of these tracks were one-offs "from the LP" or "courtesy of the tape project." Even given that the digital portion of the "LP ripping" process was utterly transparent, what does the resulting playback tell us about the DAC? There's just no possible basis for comparison. Maybe there needn't be?

Having said all that, JVS knows good sound and if he says that the Luxman produced great music for an entire evening it must be doing a lot of things extremely well.

And I'm all for great sonics in a product demo. We've all sat through many such events that were anything but fun.

Given my new-found interest in DSD downloads, I look forward to hearing a production copy of this DAC.

Bob

Hibernian's picture

I think JVS mentioned that we were using a prototype DSD compatible DAC.

Luxman supplied an ASIO driver for Windows that allows the DA-06 to play native DSD or even double DSD. We elected to demonstrate the DAC on a MAC & at the moment a DSD compatible ASIO driver is not availble yet for the MAC.  But lets not quibble, the DXD conversion (32 bit, 352.8KHz) sounds stunning.  I have been playing with various music servers at home for approx. eight years and this is the first time I played music from digital files in public.

Hope you get a chance to drop in on one of our demos over the coming months, by which time I am sure the ASIO driver will be sorted out and the native DSD playback will be moot.

Happy listening !

Philip O'Hanlon

 

 

jorgezahr's picture

Nice coverage JVS. Still, I would like some clarification, because I find the next sentences very strong:

I returned ... to hear the sonic differences between the DSD master of the first movement of the aforementioned Rach 2 and the DSD layer ripped from SACD via a Playstation 3. The loss of sound quality on the latter was dismaying.

Are you saying that a file ripped from a SACD via PS3 sounded worse than the corresponding DSD master file (which I understand is available for purchase as a download)?

I think this is very surprising because both, the ripped file and the Channel Classics file, should be 64xDSD containing, basically, the same information. So, do you think the ripping process via PS3 "degrades" the sound?

In truth, it is not entirely clear to me from the text if the comment refers to a comparison between a downloaded file and a ripped file or between the original SACD and a riped file from that SACD.

Many people are reporting very good sound from SACD rips made via PS3 (I have not direct experience here) when using DSD capable dacs as the Mytek or others, which explains my surprise for the "dismaying" loss of quality you found.

On the other hand, regarding

It's not just analog master tapes that sound better than pristine LP pressings.

Well, I think that the processes by which sound quality suffer during a tape-to-vinyl transfer are (more or less) well known, and generally related to mechanical aspects of the transfer process.

In the case of a digital ripping process, do you know or have a hint of what the sources of quality loss could be. I mean, I assuming of course the surface quality of the source SACD was perfect and no other tasks were being performed by the ripping machine during the rip.

What kind of quality losses did you perceive? Tonal inconsistencies, rythmic issues, soundstage...?

Just curiosity for me, because even if all this kind of equipment is simply unaffordable to me, I'm very interested in knowing about the technology involved in DSD.

Thanks anyway for the report.

Jorge

Hibernian's picture

Jorge,

We did indeed play some Channel Classics comparisons:

The DSD download did indeed sound a lot fuller, richer, better fleshed out mid-range compared to the DSD file ripped from the SACD. I spoke to Jared Sacks at Channel Classics and will send him over some of his titles for him to compare at his leisure to the DSD Masters.

Many of our DSD files ripped from the SACDs sound terrific until you get to compare them to the master DSD file. 

It is not the fault of the PS3; I also have master high rez PCM files taken from the mixing console and the same file ripped from the DVD-A and its even worse there. In that comparison the DVD-A file sounds broken in comparison.

Happy listening !

Philip O'Hanlon

 

 

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jorgezahr's picture

Thanks for your reply Mr. O'Hanlon. Still, I find quite disturbing the fact that the ripping seems to alter the DSD content.

Now you seem to recognize thar the rip sounds "terrific" until a direct comparison to the DSD master file, but the comment about "dismaying" quality losses in the JVS report was puzzling (perhaps my limited non native english prevent me to properly measure the meaning of that expression).

I could understand if the faults were clicks or brief interruptions in the music flow (which could perhaps be related to issues during reads by the PS3's optics while ripping).

I don't know if there are provisions for error correction with the PS3 ripping method, as there are with normal ripping software for redbook CDs.

Out of curiosity, have you compared the sound of the downloaded DSD master file to that of the SACD from which the rip originated? Probably not a conclusive test because it implies adding a sacd player to the chain.

I ask this because I wonder if the commercial SACD may not have "exactly" the same content as the DSD master file (issues at replication stage?). Well, pure speculation now, sorry.

Regards,

Jorge

labjr's picture

That makes no sense to me either. If the data is the same, then I would find it highly unlikely that it sounds any different. Maybe there's an explanation for it.

I'm wondering how the SACD sounds on a player like the D-06 compared to the DSD master. If there's a difference then it would seem that something was altered mastering or pressing.

MVBC's picture

I can attest that ripping speed and quality of support do influence greatly the sound of digital files. That is why I really enjoy the HHB blank CDs for my own productions. So what is reported here is hardly surprising.cool

labjr's picture

In my experience, the only time CD files sound different is when it's played back on a CD player. Otherwise, when ripped with any decent ripping software, the files are identical and sound identical. I think Barry Diament has stated he had similar results.

I'm wondering why SACD or DVD-A files would be any different than CD is this regard. Unless, as Jorge stated, there is weak error correction or the files are different than the master files. Either way would be interesting to know why. I'd like to see comparisions done with the master files or downloaded DSD files vs SACD rips.  

wozwoz's picture

So the Luxman DA-06 DAC shares the same DAC, processor, analogue output stage and power supply as the Luxman D-06 CD/SACD.

One can play a native DSD recording on the Luxman SACD player, but the Mac can't play the DSD recording directly and has to convert it to PCM. Hmmm. That doesn't sound good at all. I'd just play it on the SACD player and keep the path as pure as possible.

Axiom05's picture

It sounds like the production version will play native DSD so conversion to PCM first will not be required. 

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