"Luxman. Since 1925", the company logo quietly announces. And it's true, the venerable Japanese company has been around for many decades and is still one of the largest selling and most respected companies in Japan where a very wide product portfolio, including tube amps and digital players, are produced. This is the second Luxman integrated amp we've reviewed, the first being the entry level L505u our publisher reviewed a couple of years ago. It went on to be one of our Products of the Year.
A Time Machine was sitting on my front porch this afternoon when I got home. If you have ever thought about having access to a Time Machine you probably had the same set of reactions that I did today. First came excitement, and then as I considered the potential impact such a thing would have on my comfortable existence, some serious trepidation. My Time Machine was in the form a Luxman L-507u Integrated Amplifier and as a proper sci-fi gadget should be; it was an elegant piece of engineering replete with knobs, switches and two great big analog meters. You may be thinking that I am confused, that this is just piece of audio gear, not a device for shifting temporal locus, but you would be wrong because the Luxman took me right back to the Seventies.
We live in a time when tone controls are rarely seen on “serious” equipment, a time when not only are pre-amplifiers and amplifiers in separate boxes, but also phono pre-amps and headphone amps. The Luxman took me back to a time when the full featured Integrated was the standard. Travelling in time can be dangerous and I risked my status quo by connecting the Luxman Time Machine, I mean L-507u into my system.
The Luxman came to me from the Distributor, On a Higher Note, from its point of origin in Japan. The box contained the amp, remote control and instructions which were in Japanese, I think. In any case I couldn’t read them. This is surely one of those “review sample” issues and I will presume that language correct manuals will be included with units offered to consumers. The Luxman was to replace several boxes in my current set up. Physically it would take the place in my rack of the Parasound JC-2 pre-amp and functionally also the two JC-1 power amps and a Promethius phono pre-amp. The Parasound combination currently sells for $10,000 ($4,000 for the JC-2 and $6,000 for the JC-1s). As the Promethius is a two box affair the multitasking Luxman replaced five boxes with one, and obviated two pairs of interconnects. Travelling in time, I noted how much simpler everything used to be.
The L-507u is beautifully geeky. The big blue decibel meters seductively twitch while surrounded by a pair of huge, round controls for volume and source. Below the ALPS motor controlled volume pot are three push buttons marked Line Straight, Subsonic and Separate. Lacking information in English I translated these to be Tone Control Defeat, Rumble Filter and Push This to Use the Pre Out / Main In Connections. To the left of the meters and right of the source selector are two buttons arranged vertically marked Bal Line -1 and Phono MC. I am assuming the top button reduced the output by 1 db to compensate for the additional gain through balance connections. I know the lower button switched between gain stages for the phono section. My van Den Hul Frog H.O. was appropriately driven by the moving magnet gain setting. Below that selector, next to the Stand by / On switch was e headphone jack! You heard right, this baby has a phono section for MM and MC cartridges and a built in headphone amp.
But wait, there’s more! Just to the right of the headphone jack is a knob for selecting record modes which is complemented by two “Tape Loops” on the back panel. I had to look in the mirror to see if I might find myself in bell bottoms and platform shoes. Moving further to the right on the lower front panel is a Speaker selector offering choices for Off, A, B and A+B. It is fortunate for me that the Luxman is designed with bi-wiring in mind. The speaker terminals look like the type you unscrew, slide your spade(s) into and re-tighten, but these only have an opening in one side and it is not a large opening. The spades on my Audience AU 24e cables just fit, but left me wishing I could get them in a little farther, though everything worked properly. If it had not been for Luxman fitting two sets of speaker connections I would not have been able to bi-wire the connection to my Von Schweikert VR-6s.
The L-507u page on the On a Higher Note website states “Takasina capacitors are used to parallel the output which permits bi-wiring a single pair of speakers.” So I connected one pair of cables from each speaker to Speaker A and one to Speaker B and set the selector to A+B. Regarding speaker cables, I just said “my Audience AU 24e cables” but that is not really accurate. Because I have been using mono blocks my speaker cables were accordingly short at 1 meter. As soon as it was confirmed I would be reviewing an Integrated Amp I knew I had a problem. I contacted the really nice people at Audience and explained my dilemma and begged for the loan of two pairs of 2.5 meter cables. Fortunately they were willing to help me out by building these up for me and shipping them to me quickly so I could get them in my system and start breaking them in. I also wanted them in my system as quickly as possible because these cables would be the improved “e” version and mine lacked “e”. I am very appreciative of Dan Rosca and everyone at Audience for their assistance. While I had their loaners in my system I sent mine off to have an “e” added to them. After spending time with the loaners I was glad I did, as there is definitely something to that “e”.
Back to the Future, or Past or the front panel anyway, we come to the Mode Selector. There are choices for Left, Right, Stereo and Mono. I recently came into possession of some old Beatles monos and will put this functionality to work. I have not had a tone control in my system for over 25 years, but here they are, Bass and Treble. I tell myself that I can just take the straight line to Line Straight and just not touch them, but I know I will do some fiddling. I’m just happy you can’t control them with the remote. Last in the line, just under the edge of the right meter is a Balance control. The remote is substantial and contains small square buttons for all selections. Top left is an on/off for the display and while I love the meters I wish all components had a “dark mode”. My set up has the equipment set between and behind the speakers and all the LEDs are distracting when listening at night with the lights low, or even off. I would even like to be able to turn off the low level LEDs that are on even when the equipment is “off”. I should note that the Display on/off selector on the remote leaves the LED marked Operation above the power switch on.
The rear panel, along with the afore mentioned tape loops and speaker connections has two balanced inputs, one phono input, four line level inputs, the pre-amp in / main out connections and a phono ground. My unit did not come with a power cord so I used an Audience PowerChord. The unbalanced inputs for Line 1 seem to have gotten some special attention as they are mounted on larger stand offs or washers and protrude a bit farther from the panel than the others.
The large majority of my listening time is devoted to vinyl, and all my “serious” listening is to records, so this review will be primarily concerned with music played through the Luxman’s phono section, though I will at some point insert the Promethius in comparison. The specified 200 wpc into 4 ohms is plenty of juice for the VR-6s so we should be ready to give this thing a listen in the present.
The first few selections after a period of break in using the RWA modded Olive Music Server were of no special merit, just some tunes to get settled in with. I was liking what I was hearing but definitely listening casually. This was the case until I dropped Art Farmer on the Goldmund. The record is from 1962, Another Git Together on Mercury (EXPR-1002). The music had an aliveness that required my attention, the brass exhibiting that “you are there” texture while the stand up bass had the tone and body of the real thing. Not that I doubted it, but the Luxman had just confirmed its status as a serious reproducer of music, or maybe it just found the vintage of the recording to its liking.
At this point I pulled out a few of my “standard repertoire” discs to get an idea of how the Luxman compared to my regular set up. Three or four records into it, I was really enjoying the performance of the Lux and was thinking about how well it stacked up against my Parasound separates. Then it occurred to me that I was also comparing the internal phono section to my Promethius. As far as I know this Promethius is a “one off” and thus doesn’t provide a common basis of comparison, but it is a very good sounding unit which I would expect to outperform a “built-in” pre-pre-amp. Maybe it does, maybe not, but the phono section of the L-509u certainly wasn’t in any way disappointing. It may lack the adjustability of my unit and many others, but it got along wonderfully with my little green Frog.
Everything I listened to during the first few day of “serious” listening portrayed a musical image of at least the proportions of the Parasounds. Recorded ambience was present and gave a real sense of the recording venue when it was available on the recording. Sounds and instruments were outside the boundaries of the speakers and depth was as good as I can remember hearing in my room. It is possible that image height is a little better in terms of a sense of space above the instrument, whether a vocalist or a trumpet. I have big amps and big speakers because I like big sound, big loud sound when the recording warrants it and I was prepared to give up something in this realm due to the obvious difference in power of (200 wpc vs. 800 wpc) and weight of 3:1 (50 lbs vs. 152 lbs. not included the phono pre). I know that neither is an absolute indicator of anything but I was obviously putting a Middleweight in the ring with a Heavyweight. I did find where all that weight and power made a significant difference, but not until I got to Rage Against the Machine. At the limits the Heavyweights deliver more dynamic slam and pure volume, but not until levels reached the point where my wife was yelling and running out of the house. Extended listening to the Luxman left me impressed with how uncluttered the presentation was regardless of whether I was listening at low levels, or near the limits and whether it was stripped down rock like the Del Fuegos or Rachmaninoff from the LSO. The amp had the composure to keep all the instruments where they belonged while always maintaining their tonal and textural character.
The Distributors website, www.OnaHigherNote.com does not include a measurement for slew rate among the other specifications listed , but my sense is that the JC-1s are a little quicker to react, creating transients that sounded just a bit tighter and creating a greater sense of overall speed. Luxman incorporates a circuit called Only Distortion Negative Feedback (ODNF). The claim is that it is a feedback system that only removes elements of noise and distortion while not affecting the music. I don’t know about that, but it is a high quality amplifier built to very high standards, utilizing Class A/B circuit design, pure OFC copper wiring and the same Input Selector from their $30,000 C-1000f pre-amp. Whatever the method, the result is impressive. One of my highly technical, analytical and empirical measures of equipment quality is how much of my day is spent wishing I were listening to music. The Luxman ranks very high in this regard. Another telling measurement is the variety of music that makes its way to the turntable. I can always tell when my system has gone off in some significant way by my tendency to reach for the more sonically spectacular selections from my shelves. When all elements of the system are “in tune” and singing, every record in my collection is a likely candidate for play and enjoyment. The Luxman had me digging deep and listening to records which may have been passed over in less harmonious set ups.
No matter how dense the program material the Luxman never lost its composure. Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson has one of my all time favorite cuts on it, Jump into the Fire. Unfortunately it is an RCA Dynaflex pressing and is of the general quality typical of rock records produced at the time. There is longish drum break where the bass comes in very guttural and at some of its lowest possible frequencies. This can sound just horrible if the playback system can’t cope with the intensity and energy involved. The Luxman phono section, pre-amp and amplifier combination sorted through the congestion in these grooves and everything else I threw at it, to reveal the performers, their instruments and the performance.
Inserting my Promitheus phono pre-amp into the chain, plugged into Line 1 did not produce a drastic change in the sound. Things slid back just a bit with the internal pre-pre placing the bell of Art Farmers trumpet just slightly in front the plane of the speakers and the Promethius just behind. The bass line was a little more prominent though the Luxman, but was defined and realistic though both. If I had to define an overall difference in character it would have to be that that Promethius felt a little more laid back.
King Crimson’s Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 1, from the Larks Tongues in Aspic album is a very demanding cut with percussion elements spanning from kick drums to tiny chiming cymbals, along with bowed strings and electric guitars and bass. It also has a couple of big dynamic swings that seem to have all these elements piling on at once. I have to admit that this was where I thought the Luxman’s pre-pre would come up short in comparison considering that the Promethius is a two box design with a healthy dedicated power supply, but in fact the differences were too minor to be worth noting. After writing this I felt I may have been a little lazy, so I went back and did more listening. If we were comparing phono pre-amps head to head with the goal of helping potential consumers choose between the two more detail would be warranted, but as we are comparing an internal phono pre-amp to a one-off stand alone, more in depth descriptions of minor characteristics are pointless. The quality of the phono section in the Luxman is certainly on pace with the overall unit, and should easily satisfy most potential purchasers.
The only issue I had with the unit was a scraping feel evident in a part of the rotation of the volume control. As I used the remote 90% of the time it wasn’t a big issue, but it was not the smooth operation I would expect. Otherwise it was a real pleasure having the Luxman L507u in my system and I was really curious to hear my standard set up again after a long stretch of living in the past. So I set about removing the Time Machine and coming back to the present. Audience had returned my speaker cables updated to “e” status, so I got those hooked up to the Von Schweikerts and disconnected the Luxman. I had gotten used to having the elegant Luxman faceplate with all its knobs and switches and its mesmerizing meters looking back at me from the rack and it took some getting used to the clean, simple face of the Parasound JC-2.
The time machine has been removed and I am back to the world of many boxes and few controls. The first thing I thought when I got things back to my standard set up was that I wouldn’t trade it for the Luxman. I do like it better, because it sounds enough better that I can clearly hear the differences, but only in direct comparison. If I were building a system, especially if I were building a less complex system, the Luxman would easily satisfy all but my most raucous listening desires. It is nice to be back, but I really enjoyed the trip.
The Luxman L 507u offers the simplicity of a single box solution while offering features like Tone Controls, an outstanding MM and MC Phono Section, Headphone Amp and those super cool Meters. This will be an excellent choice for someone wanting to reduce the complexity of their system while not compromising sound quality. It is also an excellent choice when building a new system, offering enough flexibility and power to anchor any level and assortment of surrounding components. A couple of points James made in his review apply here as well. He mentioned how much his wife lvoed the fact that she could operate the whole system with just one remote, as well as the fact that there was a much cleaner overall look and a lot less wires showing. Of course, less cables also means less money spent on them, also reducing the chances that some cable is going to mess up the sound. You don't have to worry about impeddance matching between several different components, either. There are probably better choices, albiet for more cash, for playing rock at “live-ish” levels, but it will hold its own at anything less than levels that make your eyeballs bleed. If the simplify trend is one in which you find yourself, you should really try to give this beauty a listen. It seems like the Luxman 507u is headed for another strong showing in our Product of the Year awards.
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