Luxman Returns to US Market after 25 Years

Tubed power amplifiers
Luxman SQ-N100
Luxman Returns to US Market after 25 Years

September 20 - The venerable Japanese high-end audio manufacturer Luxman is re-launching the brand in the U.S. Although Luxman components have been in continuous production since the company's founding in 1925, the brand has been absent from the U.S. market for the past 20 years.

High-end distributor On a Higher Note, founded by Philip O'Hanlon, is handling the re-launch, and will represent the brand in the U.S. Luxman has changed owners a number of times since 1984, when it was bought by Alps, who re-badged Alpine products with the Luxman name and sold the same products through two different distribution channels.

Luxman was acquired by Samsung in 1995, but had limited success with the brand outside the Far East. In 2000, the son-in-law of the Pioneer Electronics heiress decided to restore Luxman to its former glory and bring to market some of the high-end designs that had been in development but never released.

Significantly, Luxman was the only major Japanese manufacturer producing tubed amplifiers through the 1970s and 1980s. The U.S. market will see the full spectrum of Luxman's latest products, ranging from a $3000 tubed integrated amplifier to the $48,000 80Th Anniversary Commemoration Model monoblocks, which were in development for more than 13 years.

The line begins with the SQ-N100, an EL84-based integrated amplifier that outputs 12Wpc. The unit is designed for small spaces, as suggested by its modest output power and small form factor (the unit is just 12" wide and 8.5" deep).

The SQ-N100 features tone controls, a line-straight switch, and a phonostage. A matching solid-state, upsampling CD player (D-N100) sells for $2000. The entry-level solid-state integrated is the L-505U ($3500, see photo, top left) with 100Wpc of output power, mm and mc phonostage, one balanced input, and a remote control.

The frontpanel output-level meters are backlit in blue. Other features include tone controls, a line-straight switch, a loudness-compensation switch, and a subsonic filter. Rear-panel jacks, connected by short RCA jumpers, separate the L-505U's preamp and power amp sections for upgrading, or for inserting a signal-processing device.

The next step up is the L-550A Mk.II ($4500) with pure Class A operation. The L-550A outputs 20Wpc into 8 ohms and 40Wpc into 4 ohms. The front-panel output-level meters are backlit in yellow. The unit is also supplied with an aluminum remote control and offers two balanced inputs, each with its own phaseinvert switch.

The penultimate integrated amplifier is the L-590A Mk.II, which features all of Luxman's reference-grade circuits and build techniques. The $9000 unit outputs 30Wpc of Class A power into 8 ohms (60Wpc into 4).

Although the L-590A Mk.II seems to offer only amodest increase inoutput power compared with the L-550 for twice the price, the L-590A Mk.II has a much larger power supply along with gold-plated circuitboard traces that are made with a Luxman-developed technique in which the traces are printed indirectly to avoid the green dye typically used in circuit-board manufacturing. Luxman believes that the green dye degrades sound quality.

The flagship integrated amplifier is the L-509U (U for "ultimate"), with 120Wpc into 8 ohms, and the ability to double that power output into 4 ohms. The L-509U is a departure from the L-590A in that its output stage operates in Class AB. This is a no-compromise design and is the only integrated amplifier that does not come with a remote control, as it uses the volume control from the CL-88 linestage.

Moving to the separates, the CL-88 is a tubed linestage ($5500, see photo, bottom right) featuring a 5/8"-thick top panel from which all the circuits are hung. Luxman believes this mechanical grounding technique better isolates the audio circuitry. The unit has a DC power outlet that can power the EQ-88, an outboard mm phonostage ($1000).

For the phonostage to work with a mc cartridge, you'll need the MP-88 step-up transformer ($1500). The matching amplifier is the MQ-88 ($7000), whose dual KT-88 output tubes deliver 50Wpc into 6 ohms. Modern ideas such as mechanical grounding have been applied to traditional circuit topologies and realized with high-grade parts.

The output transformers are made to Luxman's specification (Luxman has been designing transformers since 1925). The M-800A power amplifier ($16,000) is rated at 60Wpc of pure Class A, and can double its power output as impedance is halved, all the way to 1 ohm.

The amplifier is claimed to be stable into a 1-ohm load, into which it can deliver a continuous 480Wpc. The M-800A can be used as a monoblock, or even as a pair of bridged monoblocks for 240Wpc into 8 ohms. The matching preamplifier is the C-800S, priced at $16,000.

Both units derive their circuit topologies and build techniques from the flagship preamp and amp. The flagship of the Luxman line is the 80th Anniversary B-1000F (see photo, top right), a 250W monoblock that can also double its output power as the impedance is halved (2000W continuous into 1 ohm). The first 30W of the B-1000F's output power is Class A.

The $48,000-per-pair units can be bridged for quadruple the output power. The companion preamp is the C-1000F, priced at $30,000.

Note that these model numbers have been used before to signify Luxman's reference products; the letter after the model number designates the version.

Three universal disc players round out the line. The DU-50 is priced at $4000; the DU-70 is $6600; and the DU-80 is priced at $9400. All feature two separate digital-to-analog conversion stages that can be selected by a front-panel switch.

One of these DACs is the "Fluency" DAC that uses DSP to deliver bandwidth beyond 20kHz, along with improved timing accuracy (lower jitter). Finally, Luxman also makes the E1 solid-state phonostage ($3000). In production since 2001, the E1 handles mm or mc cartridges, and is available in gold or silver. Paul Seydor is working on a review of the $4500 L-550A Mk.II along with the DU-50 universal player.