Luxman DU-50 universal player

When US audiophiles think of the oldest firms still making high-performance audio equipment, they usually think of McIntosh Labs, founded in 1948. The UK's Quad traces its corporate origins back to 1936. Japan's Luxman, however, has them both beat: Luxman began making transformers and switches for radio sets in 1925. This is to the good; the company obviously has a sense of history. The iffy part is that Luxman's product line, which blends modern and heritage products, is a bit quirkily confusing. Luxman is by no means alone in having a product line that does not make intuitive sense to the uninitiated. A prime example is Harbeth's having two loudspeakers both costing $5000/pair, the Monitor 30 and the Super HL5.

I discussed Luxman's DU-50 near-universal player ($4990, it plays SACDs, DVD-As, DVD-Vs, and CDs, but not Blu-ray discs) in no fewer than five columns in 2009 (February, April, June, August, October).

The DU-50 has front-panel pushbuttons to disable its video functions and to change from the standard digital filter to Luxman's proprietary FE or Fluency DAC, a minimum-phase algorithm that eliminates pre-ringing. After quite a bit of listening, I decided that the Fluency did something I liked but couldn't really define. One point is that the Fluency DAC is not optimal for SACD playback; when playing SACDs, you must manually deselect it.

The Luxman DU-50 has a light on its rear panel to alert you if your house's AC outlets have neutral wired to hot, or vice versa—in other words, inverted AC polarity. This is just another example of how much real-world experience has gone into this component, which is completely ready for prime time.

The US importer sets up the DU-50 to play the stereo DSD layer of multichannel SACDs as the default. However, as far as I can tell, changing this requires that a TV be connected to the player, so you can navigate among the menus.

I put together a system comprising Harbeth's Compact 7 loudspeakers (from importer Walter Swanbon) and Luxman's remarkable duo of the L-505u integrated amplifier and DU-50 not-quite-universal (no Blu-ray) disc player (from importer Philip O'Hanlon). I hooked them all together with Cardas Neutral Reference interconnects and speaker cables.

O blessed synergy! Mama mia, what a great system! If you're in the market, do not pass "Go"—head straight to where you can hear it, or arrange a home audition. The Luxman combo retails for $8500, the Harbeth Compact7—until further notice, Sam Tellig's choice in get-off-the-merry-go-round speakers—for $3500/pair. The total, with stands and cables, falls within the $12,500–$15,000 "sweet spot" that Stereophile's survey data indicate is the average our readers have spent for their stereo systems. I'm certain that any rational person who buys the Luxmans and Harbeths (or Harbeth's larger Super HL-5, at $5000/pair) will be tremendously content for a very long time. More about that later.

With the PSB Imagine B bookshelf loudspeaker, I chose Donald Fagen's The Nightfly (CD, Warner Bros. 23696-2) as my test disc, and as a baseline began with the Luxman DU-50 universal player and L-505u integrated amp. The first thing I established was that the PSB Imagine B really could take advantage of superior associated equipment. However, even higher-priced electronics didn't allow the Imagine B completely to escape its humble origins. The sax solo on "Maxine" (I assume it's the late Michael Brecker) lacked the necessary degree of urgency. It didn't grab me the way it does through more ambitious—and far more expensive—speakers.

With Luxman's category-killer combo of the DU-50 disc player and L-505u integrated amplifier, hooked up to Aerial 5B louspeakers, a quick listen to Consortium Vocale Oslo's Exaudium Eum (SACD, 2L 43SACD), the chant SACD I raved about in December 2009, showed a much deeper, somewhat wider and taller soundstage than did the Carat I57, with even better retrieval of low-level information. Mated to the Luxmen, the Aerials were the champs at "disappearing." The sound was smooth and natural, with first-class coherence. The music was just there. Of course, that laurel wreath must be shared with everyone who worked on that amazing SACD.

Luxman Corporation, Japan
US distributor: On a Higher Note, LLC
PO Box 698
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693
(949) 488-3004