Luxman DU-50 universal player Page 2

The Tallis Scholars' re-recording of Allegri's Miserere (CD, Gimell CDGIM 041) was startlingly clear and crisp through the Aerial-Luxman chain. There was no trace of the muddiness that can result from an overported enclosure, or from an excessively self-damping polypropylene driver. The 5Bs (with the expensive Luxman combo, but not with the affordable Carat) decoded the Miserere's distant semi-chorus and high soprano as well as has any pair of speakers I can remember hearing that track through, and better than most. Quick listens to Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony's recording of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem (CD, Telarc CD-080092), and Otto Emanuel Olsson's Jul, from Oscar's Motet Choir's Cantate Domino (CD, Proprius CDP 6672), demonstrated excellent dynamics, and established that the 5B's bass, while not delivering anything near the full bottom octave, was at least past the point of "There's just not enough bass here."

David Gray's White Ladder (CD, RCA 69351-2), a perhaps underappreciated major-league pity party (while naming it one of my "Records To Die For" for 2006, I commented that it should come with a label warning that combining it with alcohol late at night might result in your drunk-dialing old girlfriends), sounded rich and full at moderate volumes, a trick many small speakers just don't seem capable of. The Aerial-Luxman combo excelled at delineating reverberation tails and other artifacts of production. I apologize that I haven't yet given the Luxman combo the space it deserves, but hear it if you can: Extremely careful listening suggests that the DU-50's switchable Fluency DAC (for PCM only, not DSD) does have a phase response different from its default Shannon DAC.

I very favorably wrote about Peachtree's Nova D/A integrated amplifier in August 2009. Great as the Peachtree Nova is, however, it's not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; it's just an overperformer in the budget marketplace. The opening track of Court and Spark features some pretty ham-handed piano pounding, closely miked to boot. Through the Nova's internal DAC (S/PDIF), the piano sound was steely and strident. Switching over to the analog outputs of the Luxman DU-50 (Fluency DAC engaged, Kimber Hero analog interconnect), the stridency nearly vanished, and the entire soundstage suddenly snapped into a new, more realistic focus—nor were these differences I had to strain to hear. Similarly, there was less nasality and more body in Mitchell's voice, and less wire and more wood in the 12-string guitar. I preferred the Luxman's sound in every way—and for $5000, why shouldn't I? Just a reality check. No free lunch. Get the Luxman if you can.

Checking in on the Luxmen
I held a monster listening session while preparing my October 2009 column, to compare the Luxman DU-50 universal player with L-505u integrated amplifier, the Carat I57, and the Arcam Solo Music and Solo Mini. Loudspeakers were the monitor-quality Aerial 5Bs, which I profiled in June. In the interest of keeping things from spinning totally out of control, I limited my test tracks to two: Harry Connick, Jr.'s poignant "Drifting," from We Are in Love (CD, Columbia CK 46146); and the Canto funébre from 2L's magnificent recording of Terje Boye Hansen leading soloists, choir, and the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in Sigurd Islandsmoen's Requiem (SACD, 2L 36SACD), which I picked for "Records To Die For."

Harry Connick, Jr.'s We Are in Love is either a near-great or half-great album—I can't make up my mind. The high points are stellar. However, song to song, the quality of the songs, the arrangements, and the interpretations is quite variable. Former US Plinius importer Vince Galbo has told me for years that he uses track 6, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," while setting up a system, so I eventually bought a copy on eBay. Immediately, I heard what he means. But there's a little too much artificial reverb for me to enjoy the track as pure music—it keeps reminding me of its origins in the padded cell of a studio.

However, I found "Drifting" to have a much less intrusive production, and that's the track I now use. Poignant definitely is the word for this performance. But half the tracks on this album I just plain avoid, because I think Connick can be of two minds, or perhaps two hearts, about some of the songs—perhaps he feels a need to distance himself from them with a knowing, ironic smirk. That said, the other half are golden—you really should hear this record.

I played both Connick tracks on all the electronics, but began with the Luxman L-505u integrated amplifier ($3700) and DU-50 near-universal player ($5000, no Blu-ray playback). I went about it that way because I borrowed and have held on to the Luxman gear as a benchmark for truly great audio equipment, so there would be a reference standard well outside the price range I'm exploring for a complete system costing $2500 to $3750. In my view, the Luxmen occupy the sweet spot just before the point of substantially diminishing returns. Yes, carefully spend more than the Luxman duo's $8700 and you'll probably get better sound, but not as a linear function; more likely you'll spend twice as much to get, at most, another 10% improvement in sound quality.

Perhaps the Luxman combo embodies the same thinking as the real-estate lore about buying the cheapest house in the best neighborhood—Luxman's other offerings ascend into the ionosphere, price-wise. Don't look to me for real-estate advice, but I can assure you that the Luxman duo is fantastic audio value for money. The L-505u integrated amp has become my new default recommendation.

The Luxmen's role has been very important. By beginning a listening session with them, I can assess what you might have to give up at each ratcheting-down of price for the less costly components surveyed.

The Connick track sounded just great with the Luxman combo. I can't remember any aspect of the sound of the Luxmen driving the Harbeth Compact 7s that I preferred. Great center image, great resolution of low-level detail. No excess vocal sibilance or strident strings. Echo tails very clear. The Joel Dorn–esque triangle or chime was in good stereo perspective. Strings were full and warm, the overall sound superbly integrated.

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