The Fifth Element #91 Page 2

A product listed in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" has the "[b]est attainable sound for a component of its kind, almost without practical considerations." Channel Islands Audio's E•200S amplifier is not quite that good, but its sound quality puts it well above the line that separates Class C from Class B: "the next best thing to the very best sound reproduction." The E•200S also deserves our "$$$" mark of distinction, for a product that performs "much better than might be expected from its price."

Well done, and recommended for audition if your power needs stretch up to 200Wpc. And if they don't, the 100Wpc version, the E•100S ($1695), should be available by the time you read this.

Enter the Luxmen
The Luxman Corporation's small footprint in the US market doesn't represent the quality or value proposition of the company's products, and that's a shame. In April 2009, I reviewed Luxman's then-entry-level solid-state integrated amplifier, the L-505u ($3500), since replaced by the L-505uX ($3990). The feedback I received from readers who took the plunge and bought an L-505u was enthusiastic and appreciative. You can't say that Luxman suffers from middle-child syndrome—as far as I know, it's the oldest high-end audio company still in business. Luxman traces its roots back to a radio-parts shop founded in 1925, a time when Yamaha was still making only pianos and reed organs, and Quad, McIntosh, and Marantz were as yet undreamed of.

Luxman's lineup extends from relatively affordable models, such as the DN-10 CD player ($1499) and the absolutely charming SQ-10N tubed integrated amplifier ($2399), to their battleship-class, 141-lb monoblock B1000f power amplifier ($54,000/pair), which Wes Phillips reviewed in February 2011. The immense B1000f is a conventional high-power (250Wpc) class-A/B design; instead, I was following what was once described "the enduring fascination of low-power solid-state class-A amplification." That's why the first Luxman power amp I received from Philip O'Hanlon of On a Higher Note, Luxman's North American importer, comes from the other side of the Luxman family tree.

That fascination has endured a long time—one of the most musically engaging and satisfying components I ever heard was Plinius's SA-50 power amplifier. I chalked that up both to it being capable of pure class-A operation, and the fact that its output stages consisted of only two power transistors per channel. The Plinius SA-50 was a favorite of Dick Shahinian's, and also of Sam Tellig's. That architecture of just two output devices per channel was also a feature of Krell's KSA-50 50Wpc stereo amplifier (JA has never let go of his), and of darTZeel's breakthrough NHB-108 power amp, the design of which seeks to minimize timing errors.

In November 2008, when Michael Fremer reviewed Luxman's M-800A, a 60Wpc, class-A power amplifier ($16,000), he concluded: "The Luxman's harmonic presentation was as fundamentally correct as I've heard from any amplifier, tube or solid-state. And in addition to its notable tonal and textural balance, the M-800A developed the sense of 'continuousness' I usually associate with tube amps, especially those with tube rectification."

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I requested a sample of the M-800A's less-powerful sibling, the M-600A ($9000), thinking that its 30Wpc rating might indicate that it, too, had an output section consisting of only two power transistors per channel. However, when it arrived, a glance at the circuit diagram in the owner's manual showed that that was not the case. Furthermore, it appears that the M-600A operates in balanced mode end-to-end only when set up and switched to bridged-mono mode, wherein one side of the stereo amplifier amplifies the in-phase leg of the signal, the other side the anti-phase leg, and the speaker is connected to both positive terminals. Oh well. And, as JA commented in his measurements of the Lindell 20Wpc class-A amplifier (an amplifier I fondly remember and still think of as an extreme bargain), how an amplifier sounds is more important that what its schematic looks like.

Given that both Luxman amplifiers discussed here have their XLR pin assignments to the obsolete standard, with pin 3 hot, and not the international AES standard of pin 2 hot, I recommend using the single-ended RCA input jacks in all cases except bridged mono. The M-600A measures 17.2" wide by 7.4" high by 16.4" deep and weighs 58.3 lbs.

It didn't take me long to fall in love with the sound of the M-600A, though not so blindly as to ignore practical realities. The good news is that the M-600A sounded so sweet that a great recording could move me to tears. That sound was characterized by delicacy, the sense of being enveloped by the music, and the same sense of tube-like "continuousness" that Michael Fremer ascribed to the M-800A. The last amplifier that had such a powerful emotional impact on me was darTZeel's legendary NHB-108.

The Luxman M-600A's sound is comparable to a magnificently aged Riesling from Germany—whereas I would compare the sound of the CiAudio E•200S to a fresh young New Zealand sauvignon blanc. And there you have it in a nutshell.

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Where reality intrudes is that, even with the massive power supplies that account for much of its 58.3 lbs, the M-600A's 30Wpc rating means that the partnering speakers must be of at least average and preferably above-average sensitivity—and, further, that having a smallish room will help. Speakers designed on the assumption that "watts is cheap!" and placed in a large room will lead to frustration and unhappiness.

If a speaker's designer specifies 50Wpc as the minimum power required, you second-guess the designer at your own risk. You need not go all the way to horn-loaded designs intended for single-ended tube amplifiers of 10Wpc or so, but an efficient ported design is called for. Neither ATC's sealed-box SCM19 nor Wilson Benesch's Square One (which, though a vented design, also has a rear-mounted passive radiator with a very stiff inverted surround) gave its all when driven by the M-600A.

But, sooner than I expected, Luxman has discontinued the M-600A. Sales will continue until stocks are gone, but the M-600A is being phased out and replaced by the M-700u, a class-A/B design of 120Wpc, with refreshed cosmetics—the M-700u looks like a million bucks—and the latest version of Luxman's proprietary Only Distortion Negative Feedback (ODNF). The M-700u made its debut at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, and should be at dealers by the time you read this. (My review sample was the CES demo unit.) Anecdotal reports from CES are that the M-700u, driving Vivid's newly updated Oval V1.5 speakers, made for some of the most easeful and engaging sounds of the show.

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Perhaps Luxman feared that the M-600A wasn't quite heavy enough; though nearly identical in size and shape to the M-600A, the M-700u outweighs it by 2.2 lbs. There are a few telling industrial-design upgrades: The vertical yellow light bars that were the M-600A's (defeatable) indicators of output level have been replaced by more traditional, illuminated VU-style meters with needles. The side edges of the faceplate are no longer rounded, but the bottom front edge is beveled. The top plate is highly polished, with rows of beveled, square and rectangular mesh-filled openings over the internal heatsinks. The rear panels of both models have the best, most rugged speaker binding posts ever, and Luxman's unique telltale light that warns if your wall outlet is improperly wired.

The huge family resemblance of the M-700u to the M-600A the overshadows their few sonic differences, which I had mostly to strain to hear. With Ella Fitzgerald's performance of "Easy to Love," there was a trivially greater impression of the tape hiss before the music begins through the M-700u than through the M-600A. This gave the M-700u's sound an ever-so-slightly "modern" feel, as well as slightly more forwardness and spatial specificity.

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While neither the M-600A nor the M-700u is what I would call out-and-out euphonic, the pianos in "Blue in Green" and "Court and Spark" sounded more rounded and continuous than through the otherwise unimpeachable Channel Islands E•200S. Furthermore, the M-700u's 120Wpc had no trouble getting what sounded like almost a full octave more bass extension out of the Wilson Benesch Square Ones than had the M-600A.

The 30Wpc M-600A could be the last amplifier for the right listener with the right speakers. But the 120Wpc M-700u, which debuts costing 11% more ($9999), is more of an amplifier for all seasons: very well done, highly recommended, and, in my opinion, a solid pick for Class A of "Recommended Components."

String-Quartet Sonic Spectaculars
No, that is not a contradiction in terms. By strictly adhering to all of the composer's tempo markings and repeat indications, the FLUX Quartet spreads Morton Feldman's String Quartet 1, of 1979, over two CDs—this performance lasts 89:49. The two CDs in this set (Mode 269/270) also include two earlier works for string quartet: Structures and Pieces. To permit uninterrupted listening to String Quartet 1, also included is a 24-bit/96kHz DVD-Audio disc with stereo and multichannel options.

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Having listened to half a minute's worth of Feldman's Quartet 1, a wag might quip that it was merely a transcription of the solo part of Alan Hovhaness's And God Created Great Whales. However, if you make the effort to meet the music halfway, it can become an immersive experience—one that, for me, called to mind the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, after the computer HAL has been disconnected and the mission's sole surviving astronaut is determinedly pressing on to Jupiter: the same kind of not-quite-desolate, not-quite-emptiness. As annotator Linda Catlin Smith writes, "No sound is too ordinary, too small, or too plain—in fact the small, ordinary, plain sounds are given a certain radiance, a renewed and rich inner life."

I had never before heard a recording made in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's EMPAC facility, but the senses of space, perspective, and tonal authenticity of this recording are truly extraordinary, and the dedication of the musicians to this sparse, almost Gnostic music is admirable. Highly recommended for adventurous listeners, or even those interested only in how realistically a string quartet can be recorded.

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But if you're unready for a 90-minute, single-movement string quartet that at times seems to contain as much silence as music, 2L, the Norwegian SACD, BD, and high-resolution download label, meets you at least halfway. The Engegård Quartet's Volume IV balances Schubert's String Quartet 13 (D.804, "Rosamunde") and Haydn's Quartet 77 (Op.76 No.3, "Emperor") quartets with Britten's Quartet 2 and Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje's Tale of Lead and Light, an elegy for the victims of a 2011 mass murder in Norway, and which quotes from Beethoven's Quartet 7 (Op.59 No.1). Recorded to DXD (24/352.8) in the Jar Church, in Norway, this multidisc, multichannel set (BD/SACD/CD, 2L 2L-105-SABD) is another string-quartet recording of sonic-spectacular quality and top-flight musicianship—and, at 74:03, another generous program.

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COMMENTS
dce22's picture

What is this a comedy magazine, there is no such thing as digital audio amplifiers you can't amplify digital data, you can convert it to analog, there are digital PCM to PWM convertion methods that are used on Equibit/TACT audio amplifiers that are obsolete now because its stupid to introduce all the convertion problems that a normal dac can have to a high voltage/current device all class d amps today use analog design that is simpler and of higher performance that any "Power DAC" can theoretically achieve.

As a highly popular publication these kind of incorrect classification cause a big problem into the uninformed public that adopt these terms and propagete them infinitum, just because there is squarewave involved does not make it digital , there is no quantization happening pulse modulation happens in any time its needed there is no predetermined grid it has infinite resolution only limitation is the universe physics of the specific circut just like in any linear amplifier.