Luxman L-509Z integrated amplifier Page 2

Unlike many manufacturers that insist you download the owner's manual, Luxman included a copy, which, as Art Dudley wrote in his April 2020 review of the Luxman CL-1000 preamplifier (footnote 1), "suggests a manufacturer who gives a shit about the customer and who realizes that anyone who spends this much money on a single audio product might be presumed to have more than a passing interest in how the thing works."

Once secured in my audio rack, it was a joy to slide my left hand over the L-509Z's silken casework as my right hand removed the rubbery plastic caps that protect the back-panel RCA and XLR jacks. The L-509Z is beautiful to behold and pleasant to operate.

Sigmund suggested 200 hours of break-in for the L-509Z, and he wasn't kidding. It sounded confused and bloated on initial hookup—I feared something was broken. But after two weeks of constant streaming, it had come into its own.

I experimented with the tone controls and found the efficacy of the "Line Straight option," which bypasses the tone controls, to be mostly recording or whim dependent—not sure which. Generally, activating Line Straight made music sound cleaner, better focused, well organized, and orderly but perhaps a little rigid. With Line Straight disengaged, music was less tidy and seemed to fill up the room with sound more easily. I mostly stuck with Line Straight for its exacting sonic signature.

Alongside Mono, Mute, Phase Reverse, and Subsonic, the L-509Z offers Loudness, which increased low-end weight to a greater degree than any '80s era integrated I remember. Engaging Loudness was like wrapping the music in a soggy wool sweater; I liked it, but it made me break out in a rash. Increasing bass via the tone controls didn't achieve the same deep-in-a-sauna effect that the Loudness feature did. Some of these controls are only on the handset.

What immediately struck my ear, brain, and backside, to a degree beyond other tubed or solid state amplifiers I've had in-house, was the size and stability of the L-509Z's presentation. L-509Z images were large, dense, and spatially profound, presented within a soundstage of considerable scale. The L-509Z recreated recordings with nearly life-sized portrayals of musicians, vocalists, and the ambient space in which they were captured—all this in my small listening room. The amp's pure sonorities in the upper mids through the treble captured my ears. This is an amp of brilliant purity and fluid communication. Its squeegee-clean top end allowed cymbals, guitars, pianos, and percussion to resonate and communicate direct to my gut.

Recordings I know well, such as Miles Davis's Miles in the Sky (LP, Columbia CS 9628), trumpeter Matthew Halsall and the Gondwana Orchestra's Into Forever (LP, Gondwana Records GONDLP013), the Horace Silver Quintet's Finger Poppin' (LP, Blue Note 4008), and drummer Kendrick Scott's Corridors (LP, Blue Note 4552189) were presented in near-3D on a generous stage with munificent images. In those respects, the Luxman outperformed other integrated or separate amplifiers I've reviewed or had/have in house. My reference PrimaLuna and Shindo Labs tubed electronics sounded tonally sweeter; the Luxman inhabited my room as if it had won an election and was implementing its own agenda.

Playing Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Swings Lightly (Verve MGVS 64021) using the Luxman's own phono stage, I relished the delicacy of her voice and responsiveness of the ensemble. Equally, my 1957 Lexington Ave press of Sonny Rollins's Blue Note BLP 1542 (Sonny Rollins Vol.1) sounded pungent, powerful, and barking-mad dynamic: I defy any Tone Poet to sound this good. The Miles Davis Quintet's Workin' (Prestige PRLP 7166) smacked me with its potency, presence, and transparency to the source, especially Paul Chambers's tractor-beam acoustic bass.

The L-509Z was beyond quiet, presumably due to Luxman's noise-suppressing technologies. Beyond its bass-to-midrange neutrality and superpure, upper-tier clarity, the L-509Z had no obvious signature. It was largely music and equipment agnostic. It allowed recordings, whether from streaming or vinyl, to speak. It did, however, provide a clear view of the accompanying equipment, most of which does have a sonic identity and personality.

I was impressed with the Luxman phono stage. The tubed Manley Chinook had a larger presentation and a more relaxed and swinging sense of flow, but the Luxman stage had serious clarity and drive.

Up to this point, I had done all my listening with the Volti Audio Razz speakers, which, with their high sensitivity coupled with the Luxman's power, superbly charged bass-oriented instruments with drive, and music in general with excellent space and depth, providing consistent delight.

I pulled out the DeVore O/babies. They revealed the Luxman's purity. The DeVore's explicit tweeter, though, requires careful matching. I pushed them closer to the back wall. The resulting sound was crystal-clear and graphic with a tight, solid low end. Music didn't bloom as with the best tube amps, but the L-509Z's presentation left no detail uncovered. The Luxman/DeVore combination was consistently engaging, with superhigh resolution and excellent front-to-back layering.

Seeking synergy closer to that of the Luxman/Volti audio pairing, I invited the venerable, tried-and-true Spendor BC-1s to my even more venerable (circa-1860) tenement apartment.

In his October 1978 review of the Spendor BC-1, J. Gordon Holt wrote, "Its assets include truly remarkable reproduction of depth and superb imaging and scale. ... Despite their manifest shortcomings, these speakers can recreate the gestalt of live music like few systems—so well, in fact, that we found ourselves digging out old records we hadn't listened to for years and enjoying them for their content as well as for their naturalness. ... Summing up, then, we would characterize the Spendor BC-1 as a music lover's speaker system rather than an audiophile's system."

I wish he could have heard them with the Luxman.

The Luxman didn't overcome the BC-1's wooly bass, but as Holt stated, music sounded live and natural; the Luxman driving the Spendors was a natural fit, like Mingus's bass with Dannie Richmond's drums. The duo made music feel good, effortless, and fun. Records pulled me into a large, deep stage, liquid yet punchy and large in scale. I could've listened to this jam all night.

That little speaker with the big voice, the GoldenEar BRX, also sounded alive and liberated when driven by the L-509Z. The amp paired smoothly with the speaker's expressive folded-ribbon tweeter and 6" mid/woofer, providing a luminous stage with dead-center focus and an airy, ambient glow. Playing Coleman Hawkins with the Red Garland Trio (LP, Prestige Swingville SVLP 2001), the master tenor player sounded relaxed and airy, guttural and grooving, the other trio positioned a step or two behind him on the stage. The Luxman provided a swinging, happy gestalt that moved and liberated this listener.

Some amplifiers make you work to understand their meaning and message. Others shout their personalities like "Swifties" about to see their heroine. The Luxman L-509Z never shouts, barks, or begs. Its message is clarity, balance, coherence, seamlessness, quietude, and a certain invisibility—in keeping, I believe, with a Japanese audio aesthetic of delivering music artifact free, above all else.

As Luxman's evolving noise-suppression technologies make the company's amplifiers more silent, what is left behind is purity and focus. The L-509Z builds on tradition without losing the plot. It's an exacting integrated amplifier with a good phono stage, a bevy of control options, and plenty of power. The Japanese company's flagship integrated merits a "Sai-kōkyu" designation. We call it Class A.

Footnote 1: This was Art's last review.—Jim Austin

Luxman Corporation
1-3-1 Shinyokohama, Kouhoku-ku
Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa 222-0033
(518) 261-6464

jtshaw's picture

I was surprised several months ago when I noticed several L-509X amplifiers posted for sale at TMR Audio, and I suspected that a new flagship had launched. Indeed, the L-509Z was available and some audiophiles were likely looking to upgrade to the latest and greatest.

For me, the L-509X proved my offramp from the upgrade highway. I have it paired with Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeakers, and the combination is as good as I could ever have hoped for. Expensive, but not beyond reason and within my window of affordable. If I ever manage to hit Powerball, there is likely a combination of Gryphon amplification and Rockport Technologies loudspeakers that would beckon. Even so, I certainly never feel deprived when the L-509X and Pulsars fill the room with music.

My best wishes to those who audition or purchase the Luxman L-509Z. Based on my experience, you will find yourself in the presence of a truly great amplifier. In addition, it may well represent the point at which the curve of diminishing returns arcs almost vertical. For the vast majority of us, that's likely the best target to have when assembling an audio system.

Stevens's picture

This new model was first released in Japan almost a year ago. The first UK review suggested there’s only a knat’s whiskers’ difference between X and Z. I bought an X a year ago new open box at trade price because the dealer is getting on in years and could not physically lift it. I was doing him a favour, and he certainly did me one as well. It certainly not straight wire with gain, but has great warmth and detail with a massive soundstage in the right room. The price increase is a bit steep, but it still seems a bargain compared to the competition. A standout feature for me is the maximum power consumption of only 390W, which is remarkably efficient and practical for such a beast.

avanti1960's picture

than the X imho. I could get along with the Z. Even with smoother speakers like Harbeth. Some Harbeth models were too rich for the X for example.