Ever since I was a kid, I've been attracted to Japanese HiFi brands, like Sanyo, Fisher, Marantz, Sharp and Technics. But it was many years later that I learned of more serious brands, like Luxman and Accuphase. And when I was presented with an opportunity to review a Luxman integrated amplifier, I was naturally excited.
The history of Luxman dates back all the way to 1925, the year radio broadcasting started in Japan. Their first product was a HiFi radio released in 1928. Over the years Luxman produced a lot of audio equipment, first vacuum tube based and later solid state. Which brings us to their current flagship integrated amplifier - the L-509X.
Design and construction
As soon as you unpack the amplifier, you notice its presence and quality of its construction. It is heavy (almost 30 kg or 66 lbs) and big, as a good amplifier should be. With its retro looks (big VU meters, large knobs and switches), it reminds me of the Japanese components of the 70's and 80's that my father used to have.
The heavy case is made of steel and aluminum, with the latter being used for the top cover, which has a beautiful hair-line finish with large vents for better heat dissipation.
The unit rests on massive cast-iron feet, which are designed to eliminate vibrations and resonance. Other features include copper alloy input terminals as well as high-grade speaker terminals. compatible with Y-connectors, high stability power supply, discreet buffer circuit and increased damping factor.
Similar to Accuphase's Balanced AAVA volume control, the Luxman features the new LECUA1000 volume adjustment control, which is also featured in the top of the line Luxman C-900u control amplifier. LECUA, which stands for Luxman Electronically Controlled Ultimate Attenuator, allows fine volume adjustment over 88 steps.
The L-509X comes with a very sturdy and heavy remote control made of aluminum.
Sound and features
My listening tests started with vinyl. I connected my Pro-Ject turntable directly to the Luxman using its built in phono stage input, which accepts both MM and MC cartridges. All you have to do is select either MM or MC using a switch on the front panel of the amplifier. I began with a trio of my favourite records:
Vanessa Fernandez "Use Me" (Groove Note – GRV 150-1) Serà Una Noche - Serà Una Noche (MA Recordings – M052AV)
The first two have exceptional recording quality and I highly recommend them for your system testing/auditions. The last one by Saint-Preux is great because it combines classical and contemporary music to create a unique combination of breathtaking melodies and engaging rhythms.
Next I played my favorite Soviet record, which was a huge part of my childhood - Zodiac "Disco Alliance" (Melodiya - С60-13771-2). This record was recorded in 1980, but still sounds great today, with amazing instrumental electronic/space rock music similar to Kraftwerk and Jean-Michel Jarre.
Even though I have heard these records many times, listening to them with the Luxman was like hearing them for the first time to some extent, as each provided depth and details previously unheard. Sound stage was deeper, with clearly defined life-like images, lots of air between each instrument (especially on the first two records). The sound was natural, balanced and uncoloured. Vanessa's voice on "Use Me" was very natural and warm sounding and clearly positioned in the centre of the stage.
On Zodiac's "Disco Alliance" multiple analogue synthesizers, bass and electric guitars as well as drums, all sounded very detailed, which synthesizers providing plenty of high frequency extensions.
Even though the speakers in my current setup (AudioSolutions Figaro M; review coming soon) are pretty efficient (92 dB), they were very happy to get ample power from the Luxman, which provides 220W into 4Ω.
For comparison reasons, I also tried the same records with my Gold Note PH-10 stage, connected to one of Luxman's 4 line inputs. This provided lower noise floor and as a result greater dynamics. But the difference was not huge. While the Gold Note is a very capable and versatile phono stage with lots of available options, the Luxman's built-in phono is no slouch either and can definitely hold its own.
Continuing with analog sources, I then connected my old Sony TC-WE635 double cassette deck and played a couple of tapes that were recorded 25-30 years ago. The first track I played was a direct copy recorded from a 12" LP "I Like Chopin" by Gazebo, specifically the 1991 remix (Lunatic Records – LUN 9016).
While playing vinyl records, I utilized the Line Straight feature of the amplifier, which enhances purity of sound bypassing balance and tone control circuits. But for cassette tapes I turned it off and used the treble and bass tone controls on the front panel to further enhance the sound. The results were surprisingly good. I enjoyed the sound of this track with plenty of bass, natural mid-range and clear highs with minimal tape hiss.
Next I played another cassette which was recorded almost 30 years ago. It's a copy of Martin L. Gore's "Counterfeit E.P.", which is a collection of various covers in Leftfield / Synth-Pop style by one of the founders of Depeche Mode. Again, very enjoyable results with Martin's crooning emotional vocals and synths providing interesting dynamics.
Switching over to the digital sources, I used the Gold Note DS-1000 DAC and streamer to stream lots of different music from TIDAL as well as my own local library. My old Denon DVD-3800 DVD player was used as a transport to play CDs and my first selection was The Alan Parsons Project album "Eye In The Sky" on DVD-A (Classic Records – HDAD 2011).
Even though this is digital format, it sounded warm and not clinical, which is often the case with optical media. The sound was revealing, with plenty of detail even at lower volume.
Next on the menu were a couple of old CD's by Jean-Michel Jarre, specifically "Zoolook" (Disques Dreyfus – 824 750-2) and "Chronologie" (Disques Dreyfus – FDM 36152-2).
And once again, it felt like I was hearing these albums for the first time, even though I am very familiar with them. All of a sudden I was hearing details and nuances I never knew were hidden in these CD's!
TIDAL streaming began with a recent discovery that I thoroughly enjoy. UK band with a silly name of GoGo Penguin and their latest album called "A Humdrum Star". If you are familiar with the Japanese band Mouse on Keys, this is similar type of contemporary jazz, although a lot more melodic as the emphasis here is on the keys and piano. A very well recorded album with plenty of dynamics and intriguing melodies. Naturally, the Luxman made it sound just right.
Next, I decided to give the Luxman the ultimate test. My friend Richard H. Mak always says that if you really want to stress your system and push it to its limits, you have to play some very serious and challenging musical numbers. Following his suggestions as well as suggestions of another fellow GTAA member, David Chan, I played the following selections from Dmitri Shostakovich symphonies:
Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad", Op. 60, first movement. Performed by the USSR State Symphony & Konstantin Ivanov
Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65, thirst movement. Performed by London Symphony Orchestra
Symphony No.10 in E Minor, "Under Stalin's Shadow", Op. 93, second movement. Performed by Andris Nelsons and Boston Symphony Orchestra
Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 "The Year 1905", second movement. Performed by London Symphony Orchestra
Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 113 "Babiy Yar", first movement. Performed by Eliahu Inbal and Wiener Symphoniker
All of these are very challenging pieces with simply unbelievable explosive dynamics. But my absolute favourite is Symphony No. 10 performed by Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons (Deutsche Grammophon – 479 5059).
While playing all these, I really cranked it up to push the system to the limits. And I must say it performed wonderfully. The sound was fast and very dynamic without a single negative issue. Previously, when I played Symphony No. 10 using my Marantz AVR and the same AudioSolutiions Figaro M, the sound was severely lacking, with lacklustre dynamics and the whole performance felt lifeless in the entire frequency range. But with the Luxman it truly came to life and just exploded in my living room. There was no distortion nor any kind of clipping even at very high volumes. It did sound like I had an entire orchestra right in front of me. Plenty of frequency extension on both ends of the spectrum, with excellent bass control. It did not sound boomy or loose, but instead it was tight and very well textured. All instruments were clearly defined within the sound stage, which was deep and wide and provided plenty of ambience of the Boston Symphony Hall, where this performance was recorded.
As I continued my listening tests over the next weeks, no matter what music I played, no matter the source, Luxman L-509X performed extremely well. Be it symphonic music, Italian opera, hard rock, progressive metal, jazz, acoustic guitar, everything was amazing.
Another feature I tested was separation. By turning on Separate switch on the front panel, the main amplifier and preamplifier sections become separate. This allows the L-509X to be used either as a power amplifier or preamplifier. I tested the former by connecting my Marantz AVR to the MAIN IN input on the back panel and watching TV programs from the cable box as well as streaming Netflix on my Roku box. Great results as expected.
Conclusion and final thoughts
Having Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier in my system has been an extremely enjoyable experience. It provided me with hours of aural pleasure with its clear, natural sound, its impressive performance and useful features. The sound is never too forward or tiring. It is just right. Personally, I have never experienced this quality of sound from an integrated amplifier, but only in systems with separate power amps and preamps. With the Luxman L-509X it's like having separate components, but in one box with the matching performance. At $9,500 USD it's not cheap, but it's well worth it,
I'd like to thank Audio by Mark Jones for providing me with the review unit. If you wish to audition the L-509X, please do not hesitate to contact Mark.
Marantz NR-1402 AVR
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable
Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
Gold Note PH-10 phono stage
Gold Note DS-1000 DAC and streamer
Denon DVD-3800 DVD player
Sony TC-WE635 double cassette deck
Bluesound Node 2 streamer
AudioSolutions Figaro M speakers
KirmussAudio speaker cables
Transparent and EnKlein interconnects
BIS Audio power cables and power bar/surge protector