Luxman Debuts its DSD DAC at Music Lovers
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 Notedistributor of Luxman, Vivid, Brinkmann, Mola Mola, and TriPlanardelighted 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.
"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.
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 MA 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.