Luxman PD-171 record player Page 2
Installation and setup
In the installation and optimization of the performance of a perfectionist-quality record player, two rules rise above the rest: Never underestimate the importance of good packaging, and never underestimate the arguably unique talent for same that one sees, time and again, from established companies of considerable size. So it was with the Luxman PD-171, whose triple-layer carton was obviously designed with the twin goals of protecting its contents and making setup a snap. When it comes to this sort of thing, you just can't beat a big Japanese corporation.
Apart from moving the heavy and surprisingly large carton from place to place, installing the Luxman turntable doesn't require a great deal of work. The user is required to install the platter, of course, but that chore has been eased by the inclusion of two threaded-rod "handles" shaped rather like the dog tether in my front yard; these mate with diametrically opposed threaded holes in the platter's top surface, for easy lifting and lowering. Then, after installing the drive belt and connecting the AC cord, the turntable is made level by adjusting its four isolation feet, following which one installs the tonearm's counterweightand, of course, the phono cartridge of choice.
Installing and adjusting phono cartridges was a chore of only average difficultyand was, in fact, aided somewhat by the clean, unfussy design of the arm's removable headshell. Using my Miyajima Premium BE mono cartridge as an example, perfect Baerwald alignment was achieved with the cartridge mounting bolts just slightly forward of halfway, at which point the stylus tip rested just slightly beyond the headshell's frontmost edge: a position that I would advise prospective owners to use as a starting point in their own setup regimens. With each cartridge used in this review, I observed a collet-to-stylus distance of just over 54mm, which is 2mm greater than that of the typical Ortofon (footnote 1) or EMT G-style pickup; with a bit of fiddling, users could probably make do with such a thing, although, in the interest of proper alignment, an A-style pickup would be out of the question.
I did, indeed, use my Miyajima Premium BE mono for this reviewalong with a Denon 103, a Miyabi 47, and a review sample of Ortofon's Cadenza Red. Step-up transformers were my Hommage T2 for the Denon, and the internal Lundahl transformer of my Shindo Masseto preamp for all others. The Luxman PD-171 sat atop a borrowed Box Furniture equipment rack throughout the review.
In contrast with other products that pass my way, it didn't take a great deal of time or trouble to get a fix on the Luxman's characteristic sound, which was timbrally slightly warm with all the cartridges I tried, and decidedly sweet, with a treble range that veered toward the meaty rather than the steely, and with no trace of uncalled-for brightness. Bottom-end extension was satisfying: Orchestral bass drums and the like weren't as generously full as with other players, but the Luxman's reach seemed sufficient, and it balanced well the player's sweet and pleasantly rounded top end. In short, too much bass would have left the Lux sounding dark and overly heavy.
Perhaps most notably of all, the PD-171 was exceptionally forgiving of records that are poorly recorded, poorly mastered, or poorly maintained. It tidied up the sound of my otherwise scratchy copy of Alan Price's soundtrack to the film O Lucky Man! (Warner Bros. BS 2710) without blunting the timbral characteristics of the generally well-recorded instruments therein. In particular, Dave Markee's electric bass sounded as colorful and as clear of pitch as I've ever heard from this record, and Colin Green's guitar, which appears to have been recorded with a minimum of studio trickery, was appropriately direct and tactile. The Luxman proved even more astonishing by sailing through all four sides of my thoroughly trashed copy of the Allman Brothers Band's At Fillmore East (Capricorn SD2 802), thus quenching my pentatonic-scale thirst for at least another year.
The Luxman's forgiving way with very worn LPs was a boon to some of the older mono records in my collection, although mono records in generalwhich tend to have greater potential than their stereo counterparts for conveying the physicality of recorded soundshowed the PD-171 to have only an average sense of touch and impact, especially compared with those classic high-torque turntables that were popular when those same records first came out (footnote 2). Listening to the Miles Davis Quintet's up-tempo "Ah-Leu-Cha," from a recent mono reissue of 'Round About Midnight (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-373), Philly Joe Jones's drumming, and even the bass playing of Paul Chambers, were lacking in force compared with the way they sound on my old Garrard.
That said, the combination of Luxman record player and Miyajima cartridge did a superb job with Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin (Columbia CL 1157), putting across the remarkably physical vocal presence captured on this strange but wonderful recording, and even doing a fine job with the sounds of plucked string bass and subtle rhythm guitar. And in the famous Prelude of Bach's Partita 3 in E, from the Electric Recording Company's watershed release of Johanna Martzy's recording of same (EMI/ERC 33CX 1288), the Luxman gave up little to its older and weirder competitor: Yes, the Garrard adds a subtle degree of momentum and pull, but the Luxman captured all of the beautiful, otherworldly presence and tone contained in this groove.
Notwithstanding its slight timbral warmth, the Luxman player sounded commendably open and clear, with an above-average ability to make musical sense of subtle sonic details. On acoustic numbers such as "Miller's Reel" and "Harvey's Reel," from the early Norman Blake LP Old and New (Flying Fish 010), the Luxman did a fine job of keeping separate the solo melodies carried by Blake's lead guitar and the bass runs and rhythm parts in Charlie Collins's second guitar. Additionally, the Luxman allowed those recordings a pleasantly and somewhat surprisingly large sense of scale, and did a good if not quite Garrard 301level job of communicating the force of pick on stringsespecially on Blake's old Martin guitar, which he strings with a notoriously wide range of gauges, from heavier-than-average bass strings to ultralight treble strings.
Overall, the qualities of the Luxman PD-171 were best summed up when I used it to enjoy a nice but not extraordinary LP of Chopin performances by pianist Vladimir Horowitz that I bought used not long ago (Columbia Masterworks KL 5771). Tonally, the instrument sounded even and perfectly well balanced, and the playback was absent harshness or strain. With the Luxman player sporting the Miyajima mono cartridge, I heard a believably large, substantial sense of scale, and the sound was appropriately and satisfyingly dramatic and forceful. As suggested above, the inevitable tics and pops in the 50-year-old vinyl were handled in such a way that the noises came and went quickly, with very little consequence. But there was more to it than just that: The recording sounded human and right, with enough color and texture to prompt me to write, in my listening notes, This lets LPs sound like LPswhich I meant in the best possible way, of course. I can think of no better accomplishment for a modern record player.
As a reviewer, I'm called on to apply a lack of prejudice in all matters; as an enthusiast, I expect to be forgiven for harboring certain preferences for things that, in my not-casual experience, have proven superior at delivering the sonic and musical qualities I enjoy. Thus I'm unrepentant in my preference for turntables with greater-than-average driveand I'm pleased to say that the Luxman PD-171 satisfies in that respect.
I'm also impressed with Luxman's choice of tonal voicing for what I assume is meant as a turnkey productaimed, perhaps, at the buyer who wants to get into (or perhaps back into) vinyl with a minimum of fuss. The player's way with worn records is also impressive, and I'm still scratching my head about how, precisely, Luxman has managed it. I assume that good matching between arm and motor unit has something to do with it, although I also wonder about the contribution made by the exceedingly heavy plinthwhich, by the way, emits very little sound when tapped, even with the stylus on a stationary record and the volume turned up high.
Competition for the Luxman comes from various other integrated players, including 'table-and-arm combinations from VPI, Pro-Ject, Clearaudio, Rega, and Well Temperedthe last of which has impressed me in recent years by delivering the sort of musical drive and impact I seek at lower prices. One can, I believe, spend less and still get the Luxman PD-171's level of performancebut not in combination with the same levels of finish and styling, not to mention ease of installation and use. At $6400, the Luxman is a luxury entry in the field, which for some will justify a price that's higher than the meanbut it's still far less than the cost of going vintage. Though it's more extravagant than some hobbyists will want, the PD-171 is an unassailably beautiful product that has joined the small, select group of record players I could live with quite happily.
Footnote 1: Ortofon's Technical Data Bulletin 0-210019-04 shows this as 51mm, but I have yet to see a cartridge, contemporary or vintage, that exhibits that dimension; most have been between 52 and 53mm.
Footnote 2: This is not a coincidence!