Luxman M900u + C900u review
Luxman, the iconic high-end audio manufacturer dates back to 1925, and it remains as one of the most revered names in high-end audio. Many of their tube and solid-state components have achieved iconic status, and are legendary for their exceptional quality and impressive sonic characteristics. Even integrated amps made almost 35 years ago still sound great today, as I recently witnessed with a L-430 1983 integrated amplifier.
A year ago I reviewed the L-509X integrated amplifier and was very impressed by what I heard. And when an opportunity to review Luxman’s top of the line 900 series power amplifier and preamplifier presented itself, I got really excited and immediately took on the review opportunity. After spending two months with this combo, I can easily say this is the best amplification I have ever had in my system, and I am going to sorely miss them when they leave. Read on to find out why.
C-900u Control Amplifier
Luxman refers to their top model preamplifier, the C-900u, as the Control Amplifier for good reasons. It is much more than a simple line stage, but a “Control Centre” as it comes with additional control functions such as treble and bass tone controls, loudness, display options, as well as the ability to control the operation of the connected Luxman power amplifier(s) through a special cable connection.
The C-900u is the result of Luxman’s pursuit of the absolute best tonal quality. The unit uses four independent modules in the balanced amplification circuit that enable hot and cold components of both channels to be handled independently of each other, which effectively suppresses noise generation. Increased primary slew rate and ultra-wide bandwidth contribute to an extremely low level of distortion, especially in the high frequency range. The new and improved version of the ODNF (Only Distortion Negative Feedback) circuitry and a robust power supply achieve higher S/N ratio and improved sound quality without any distortions. Luxman’s original LECUA 1000 (LUXMAN Electrically Controlled Ultimate Attenuator) volume attenuator, which was originally designed for the 80th anniversary C-1000f control amplifier 14 years ago, has since been improved even further. It allows for more precise volume adjustment over impressive 88 steps with no compromise of sound quality from 0dB to 87dB.
The C-900u features a clear fluorescent display that by default shows the currently selected input as well as volume level. Using the Zoom function, the volume level display can be made four times larger.
The loopless chassis design created with highly rigid metal enclosure completely eliminates the ground loops, which degrades the sound quality. Isolator legs made of cast-iron prevent any kind of resonance thanks to their interesting design, where material density decreases from the center to the edge of each leg. They also minimize vibrations from the supporting surfaces and the power transformer. There are no visible screws on the blasted white exterior finish of the control amplifier, which adds to its graceful and elegant appearance.
The back panel features three balanced (XLR) and three unbalanced (RCA) inputs, as well as XLR and RCA options for output and one RCA preamplifier input for an A/V processor. Each unused input is covered with supplied small plastic caps. There are also two interfaces to connect the control centre to one or two power amplifiers (depending on configuration) with supplied RJ-45 cable in order to power the control centre as well as power amplifier(s) on and off with a single click of a button on the remote.
The supplied remote control is also of high quality and underscores the Japanese relentless attention to the smallest details. Using the remote, a user can accomplish a multitude of functions besides the obvious input selection and volume adjustment, i.e. loudness, line straight signal path, external pre operation, various presets and others.
M-900u Power Amplifier
Luxman’s top of the line power amplifier is designed to bring out the best sound from the speakers. By connecting four push-pull structural output units in parallel, rich sound is achieved in the entire frequency range. As with the C-900u, the same high-power ODNF circuitry, now up to version 4.0, is used in this amplifier with 4x2 output configuration. It achieves the rated power output of 150 W per channel 8 Ohms, which doubles to 300 W into 4 Ohms with an instantaneous maximum output of 1200 W per channel into 1 Ohm. This allows the M-900u to quickly and easily provide high energy when source material requires it and drive speakers without being negatively affected by speaker impedance changes. The amplifier features the BLT connection, which allows it to be used as a monoblock with the output rating of 600 W per channel (8Ω).
The suppression of the electromotive force from the speakers is achieved by the damping factor of 710 as well incredible power linearity. The amplifier uses high-performance EI type super-regulation transformer in the power supply with a large capacity of 1,250 VA.
The large needle style LED illuminated power meters provide accurate power readings. The meters are equipped with the ON/OFF switch, which can turn off the needle operation or the illumination or both. The M-900u operates in pure Class A mode up to 12 W.
Just like the C-900u Control Amplifier, the M-900u uses the same loopless chassis design to eliminate ground loops. Once again, cast-iron legs are used for the elimination of any vibration, both externally and internally. The white blasted finish of the chassis with large vents for heat dissipation add to the elegance and stated presence of this massive unit.
Back panel features balanced and unbalanced inputs and large Y-lug supported speaker terminals.
Just by reading through the impressive technical specs and design cues, it is clear that both units have been designed to work together in perfect synergy. So in my listening sessions, I did not even bother trying the M-900u with other preamplifiers, as I knew the results would not be optimal. Throughout the course of my testing, I’ve used three different sets of speakers: my old PSB Stratus Bronze, Audiovector QR5 as well as Esse Quadro L’Una 177 stand mount monitors. My biggest surprise and delight came from pairing with the Esse Quadros and the Audiovectors.
As I get more and more involved in this hobby, I discover musical styles, artists, and performances I never paid any attention to in the past. As a rule, the material is extremely well recorded, which adds tremendous amounts of enjoyment of the music itself. A perfect example of such a recording is American blues artist Sara K.’s album “Hell or High Water”. I was instantly captivated by the opening track called “Stars” with its transparent, rich and very present guitar sound as well as Sara’s voice coming at me straight from the centre of the soundstage. Each acoustic guitar string sounded very distinct and perfectly clear.
My other recent favorite is Kari Bremnes' “Norwegian Mood” album on SACD. Although I enjoy the entire album, a few tracks in particular, like the melodic and ambient “Coastal Ship” definitely stand out by showcasing the true capabilities of the Luxman combo. Absolute transparency of the sound, with all the micro details, complete instrument separation within the soundstage, precise imaging, and deep bass are some of the characteristics of this performance. The faster paced and electric guitar driven “My Heart Is Pounding Like A Hammer” starts more subdued before building to a powerful guitar solo all while retaining the same transparency of each instrument and Kari’s voice.
The recently released album “Alma Oscura” by an American jazz and soul vocalist Lauren Henderson is an amazing Latin Jazz performance, which I have also been enjoying lately. The first album track called “From The Inside Out”, featuring Leo Sidran on guitar, Michael Dover on clarinet & Michael Thurber on bass, is a slow tempo sensual tango piece with seductive female and male vocals. Although the bass is quite boomy here, due to the quality of the production (intentional, I believe), the rest of the instruments, as well as vocals, are quite clear and well distinguished, even when the song picks up the pace towards the end.
Continuing with the Latin theme, my next track of choice was Yello’s “La Habanera” from their 1987 album “One Second”. It’s a very intense yet very dynamic track that can give a system quite a workout, especially with the powerful drum parts. Luxman amp and preamp were up to the challenge without missing a beat. Those drum parts were reproduced with absolute control and confidence, especially in combination with Audiovector QR5 speakers, which go down to an impressive 25 Hz. My other track of choice from the same album was “The Rhythm Divine” featuring the fabulous Shirley Bassey on vocals, whose powerful and emotional voice filled the room.
Staying with the electronic music, I queued up a track called “Closer” from “album title goes here” (yes, that is the actual album title) by Canadian artist deadmau5. Starting with the famous sound sequence from the 1977 Steven Spielberg movie “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”, it slowly builds up to a dynamic and pulsating dance track with deep bass beats that will have you toe tapping and even dancing in no time. Nothing on this track, not even the highest notes, sounded harsh or piercing.
Pivoting musically full 180 degrees, I decided to play a very challenging track called “Intra Venus” by Australian extreme progressive metal band Ne Obliviscaris. The good thing about their music, if you appreciate this genre, is the quality of the production given the complex nature of the music. With two guitars, bass, drums, violin, harsh and clean vocals, the result could easily sound like one huge mess or incomprehensible wall of sound. Yet, each element was reproduced clearly and distinctly, including drum blast beats, bass lines, guitar, and violin leads. This was easily the most satisfying reproduction of the track I have ever heard.
Continuing with metal, I moved onto classic Finnish death metal legends Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, whose 1999 album “Chaotic Beauty” was just reissued on vinyl with a new dynamic mix. My song of choice here was the mid-tempo “Bride of the Crimson Sea” featuring female vocals of Kimberly Goss (Sinergy). The new mix definitely improved things on this intense album and Luxman M-900u and C-900u combo delivered all the power and haunting beauty of this track with transparency, speed, precision, and clarity.
Robby Valentine’s 2018 album “The Alliance” is my go to recording for Queen-inspired stadium rock. Featuring clean and dynamic production, it drew me once again thanks to the Luxman ability to properly reproduce all the musical elements on faster rocking tracks with amazing vocal harmonies as well as slower and emotional power ballads like “Eleanor Robyn”.
In two months of having the Luxman pair in my system, I certainly pushed them hard at times. But nothing could derail this powerful duo. It seems that there wasn’t any musical genre or performance that the Luxman could not handle, and that is a true testament to the company’s long history of producing high quality audio gear with utmost attention to quality and the ability to faithfully reproduce musical performances that are transparent, balanced and very involving from the first notes. I never try to justify the pricing of high end equipment. Ultimately, it is up to an individual user to decide how much they want to spend. Yes, Luxman M-900u power amplifier and C-900u control amplifier are not cheap (MSRP is $14,995 USD each), but for anyone who is a serious audiophile and has the means to support this hobby, this combination is a serious contender not only in this price category, but can even challenge components that are more expensive. As I stated in the beginning, this is the best amp and preamp combo I have ever had in my system that I will definitely miss.
Special thank you to Mark Jones of Audio by Mark Jones and Jeff Sigmund of Luxman America for the review units.
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