The Fifth Element #71
In 2009, I wrote about Luxman's entry-level solid-state integrated amplifier, the L-505u ($3700), and their near-universal (no Blu-ray) disc player, the DU-50 ($4990, now discontinued). I was very impressed by their performance and their quality at those prices. Indeed, I think I commented on these models in no fewer than five columns back then.
When I borrowed a pair of Vivid Audio's B1 loudspeakers ($15,000/pair), I asked Philip O'Hanlon, whose company On a Higher Note imports both brands, to send me some Luxman gear that made sense with the Vivids. He sent me a D-05 SACD/CD player, a CL-88 tubed preamplifier, and an MQ-88 tubed power amplifier. For reasons I could never pin down, the CL-88 suffered from radio-station interference. I wasn't able to get rid of the problem, so O'Hanlon replaced the CL-88 with a C-600f solid-state preamplifier, with which I did most of my listening.
Luxman D-05 stereo SACD/CD player
First up is the D-05 SACD/CD player ($5000, remote control included). At 18" wide by 6" high by 17" deep and 32 lbs, the D-05 is unusually deep and heavy. It's very solidly built, and was extremely quiet while playing. Its disc tray, for example, is die-cast aluminum. Unlike the DU-50, which had video and multichannel outputs and played DVD-Video and -Audio discs, the D-05 plays only CDs and SACDs, and the latter only in stereo. (It also can play CD-Rs and CD-RWs, but not MP3 CD-Rs.) The D-05, like the MQ-88 and C-600f, is made in Japan.
There are photos of the D-05's insides on On a Higher Note's website. Its workings are cleanly and neatly laid out, with isolated sections for power transformer, transport (Luxman's own), digital circuitry, analog circuitry, and control and display functions. The transport is claimed to be mounted on a particularly robust block that functions as a subchassis. The display has not only the usual dimmer, but also a Zoom button on the remote control that expands the track-and-time readout to the full height of the display window.
The D-05 I received was an early-production unit with only a TosLink optical digital output (no electrical S/PDIF on RCA jack); I'm told that later units have both S/PDIF digital and TosLink output. Analog output is via high-quality, gold-plated RCA jacks or Neutrik balanced XLR jacks. The power connection is a standard IEC receptacle. The detachable power cord appears to be of better-than-average quality, but lacks a ground connection, as does the D-05's IEC inlet. Nor is the cord polarizedboth blades of its plug are the same width. I tried it both ways and chose one.
Like an increasing number of players these days, the D-05 provides direct access to its DAC stage via a rear-panel S/PDIF RCA jack, this input selectable via a button on the remote control. The D-05's digital chipset is based on Burr-Brown's PCM1792A, and is claimed to "extend" 16-bit/44.1kHz "Red Book" data to a depth of 24 bits. The D-05's DAC will accept an external input up to 96kHz. Therefore, with an affordable USB-to-S/PDIF converter, such as Musical Fidelity's V-Link ($169), you can minimize box count and complication while porting your computer music files to your stereo system.
I listened to the Pavel Haas Quartet's justly fêted new coupling of Dvorák's String Quartets 12 ("American") and 13, Opp.96 and 106 (CD, Supraphon SU 4038-2), first from the CD in the D-05, and then, using the D-05's digital input, with the ripped AIFF files on my iMac running from Amarra's Memory Cache via Markertek USB and S/PDIF cables in and out of the Musical Fidelity V-Link. The Amarra/computer sound had greater dimensionality, tactility, ambience, and dynamics than the sound from the spinning CD. Hmmm. About this lusciously recorded CD: Even if you don't usually listen to chamber music, just buy it.
The D-05 performed flawlessly, its only quirk being somewhat leisurely access of tracks. Also, from the fact that a previously selected track continued to play for a bit while the newly selected track was being accessed, I surmised that there might be some kind of data buffer. One omission I found a bit disappointing was that the D-05 does not have the DU-50's front-panel switch for Luxman's Fluency DAC, a minimum-phase algorithm that eliminates pre-ringing in PCM digital, and which I found more musical than the DU-50's "Shannon" DAC.
The word listenable might be perceived as mocking with gentle irony, but in this case it is not. To preclude that conclusion, I'll say that the D-05 was both listenable and sophisticated. Although I have to rely on memory, I think the D-05's sonic performance was a definite step up from the DU-50's, as good as that was. This shouldn't be a surprise; the part of the DU-50's build budget dedicated to video and multichannel playback could in the D-05 be dedicated to two-channel sound. Evidently, it was.
Listening to the D-05 with Vivid's B1 and K1 loudspeakers, Luxman's C-600f solid-state preamp and MQ-88 tube power amp, and Cardas Clear interconnects and speaker cables, I found the D-05 to be delightful with both CDs and SACDs. I think that a direct comparison to Bricasti's incomparable M1 DAC that I wrote about in August 2011 and March 2012 would be meaninglessyou can guess the outcome. I then still had on hand, however, Ayre Acoustics' entry-level CD player, the CX-7eMP ($3500).
Each of these players has its own virtues; you just have to choose which means more to you. Comparing on the basis of CD playback, the Ayre was more articulate and focused, with the more emphatic bass; the Luxman was fuller and richer in the midrange, with a deeper soundstage (though the Ayre's soundstage was larger overall). Despite its lack of tubes, the Luxman sounded more tubey and a bit more "euphonic" than the Ayre.
With Endless Teares is a fantastic SACD of not overly familiar English lute songs of the 17th century, with Dutch soprano Johannette Zomer and theorboist Fred Jacobs (Channel Classics 26609). I first played the CD layer on the Ayre, then the DSD layer on the Luxman. Well, well, well. What arresting realism. That must be where the $1500 price differential in the Luxman's favor went! With the SACD, there was immediately much more detailintakes of breath and sounds of articulation from the theorboas organic parts of the presentation. There also was more ambience of the recording venue, and more soundstage depth. But, perhaps paradoxically, the theorbo sounded a bit softer and more midrangey, and Zomer's voice had slightly more sibilance.
Switching from the D-05's single-ended outputs with Cardas Clear interconnects to Ayre's (Cardas-sourced) balanced interconnects on the balanced outputs resulted in a mellower sound with less sibilance. But, of course, such things are system and room dependent. The important take-away is, I have never heard better singing or a better recording job in this repertory.