Listening #209: Luxman CL-1000 preamplifier

It may come as no surprise that the two Recommended Components issues we publish every year, in April and October, are Stereophile's most popular. Both go hand-in-hand with increases in single-copy sales and subscription requests, and it's worth noting that equipment and record suppliers line up to get their ads into those issues.

I'm glad our Recommended Components issues make people happy, because they're a pig-faced, needle-toothed, Boschian hell of a miserable job to produce. As I write this, it's one day after the April 2020 Stereophile went to the printers, and I scarcely know my own name. Jim Austin and I work even longer hours than usual during January and July—the months when we're writing and editing product blurbs, tabulating ratings, chasing down updated information from manufacturers (footnote 1), putting all the categories and blurbs in order, and proofreading the whole damn thing—and when it's all done, I always look back with fondness on the summers I spent driving a dump truck and working as a busboy.

But the post-RC wrap party, which isn't a party at all but is actually eight hours of sleep followed by one day of summarily deleting all incoming emails and phone messages, is also a time for taking a second look at the reviews we've published over the past six months and looking for trends in our equipment coverage. And this time out, the first thing that jumped out at me was how very few preamplifiers we reviewed in the months since our last Recommended Components feature. In fact, there was precisely one: the Dan D'Agostino Momentum HD ($40,000). Heck, during the same period of time we reviewed more tonearms than that.

So I'm happy to start my next work cycle by reviewing not just a preamplifier but a preamplifier—a big, heavy, wood-wrapped, multifunction beast of a thing (footnote 2). The Luxman CL-1000 ($19,995) is that company's new flagship preamp, heir to the throne once occupied by the classic 1970s-era Luxman C-1000. The CL-1000 uses vacuum tubes for voltage gain, and its volume and source-selection knobs are supplemented with a brace of controls that include a balance knob, a mono switch, a phase-inversion switch, bass and treble controls, and a demagnetizer. A demagnetizer, for God's sake.

420listenlux.close

But let's back up to that volume knob, which itself deserves more than passing attention. For the CL-1000, the manufacturer has chosen what they refer to as a LECUTA: a Luxman Electronically Controlled Ultimate Transformer Attenuator. The 34-step rotary switch behind the CL-1000's volume knob selects from 34 relays, all outside of the signal path, which in turn select from 34 taps on matching left- and right-channel transformers, which have Hitachi FineMet cores, the nanocrystal structure of which is said to allow high saturation levels, high permeability, and low core loss.

420listenlux.ins2

Transformers are also key ingredients in the preamp's first line-level stage, which uses high-permeability Permalloy-core transformers for buffering and, I believe, some amount of voltage gain. Between those and the preamp's output transformers, which are used to lower the unit's output impedance—I think we've homed in on the reason for the CL-1000's 54lb weight—are a total of six E88CC dual-triode tubes from JJ Electronic. But the CL-1000 is not all-tube: The phono stage uses field-effect transistors and an op-amp, and all power-supply rectification and regulation is accomplished with solid-state devices.

The CL-1000 is the antithesis of a bare-bones, "purist" preamplifier. Not only are there Bass and Treble tone-control knobs, but each is governed by its own three-position rotary switch, to select the frequency ranges over which they function. There's a Low Cut switch (aka "rumble filter") that applies a 6dB/octave slope with a hinge at 30Hz. A rotary switch selects between Unbalanced and Balanced outputs, and separate toggles allow the user to invert signal polarity within those two settings. A Line Straight switch allows the audio purist to bypass altogether the tone-control stage—as well as the Balance knob—for the least (presumed) signal degradation.

420listenlux.bac

The fun continues around back, where the Luxman's single pair of phono inputs—curiously not labeled Phono but rather Ext In—is governed by two six-position rotary switches. The first of these offers three settings for moving-magnet cartridges and three for moving-coil types, providing different combinations of input impedance and gain, the latter with a range of 38 to 66dB. The second rotary switch, geared toward the MM enthusiast, allows the user to select between six different settings of phono-input capacitance. Also provided on the rear panel are four line-level inputs—three single-ended (RCA) and one balanced (XLR)—plus two single-ended (RCA) and two balanced (XLR) output jacks.

Among the Luxman CL-1000's other features is an "articulator" function. This is essentially an oscillator that demagnetizes the preamp's many transformers every time the unit is powered up—a luxury not unlike having a dog that walks itself at least once a day. There is also an Articulator switch for users who want to supplement that regimen with occasional manual demagnetization. Cast-iron isolation feet, a walnut "wrap" with a glossy red finish, and rubber circuit board dampers are also included.

One of the best things about the Luxman preamp is something it doesn't have: a remote handset. I detest those things. Every time a review sample arrives with a remote handset, I feel like going for a drive and throwing it out the window the way Americans used to do with their lunch bags and soda cups before the TV commercial with the crying Indian. Caveat venditor.

What really completes the picture for me is something that Luxman has been adding to their products for as long as I can remember: an owner's manual that 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. To that end, the CL-1000 manual, like every other Luxman manual I've ever seen, includes a block diagram: not a schematic that might show enough details to give away the store, so to speak, but a simplified if technically savvy diagram that outlines the designer's basic vision for the thing. Nice.

Getting started
After hoisting the CL-1000 atop my Box Furniture equipment rack—the preamp's 17.9" deep chassis, not including jacks, barely fit—I warmed it up by playing a few LPs and CDs. For the former I preceded the CL-1000 with my Hommage T2 step-up transformer, driving the Luxman's MM phono input set for 50k ohms/38dB and 100pF; for the latter I used my Hegel Mohican CD player into one of the Lux's line inputs.


Footnote 1: Thanks are due to Laura LoVecchio, who comes by every January and July to help us with this task.

Footnote 2: Luxman Corp., 1-3-1 Shinyokohama, Kouhoku-ku Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa 222-0033. Japan. Tel: (81) (0)45-470-6980 Web: luxman.co.jp. US distributor: Luxman America Inc. 27 Kent St., Unit 122, Ballston Spa, NY 12020 Tel: (518) 261-6464. Web: luxman-global.com.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
dc_bruce's picture

It is with not a little tinge of sadness that I read this, apparently final, column by Mr. Dudley. And some admiration, knowing that he likely was writing this and doing his other editorial duties while in the grips of cancer, which usually is not painless in its late stages.

God speed, Mr. Dudley! You will be missed.

John Atkinson's picture
dc_bruce wrote:
It is with not a little tinge of sadness that I read this, apparently final, column by Mr. Dudley.

Art's final column will appear in the June issue of Stereophile. As far as I am aware, both the May and June columns, as well as his "Revinylizations," were written before he discovered the metastatic cancer.

dc_bruce wrote:
God speed, Mr. Dudley! You will be missed.

Amen to that sentiment.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Jack L's picture

Hi

"The CL-1000 is the antithesis of a bare-bones, "purist" preamplifier"
quoted Art Dudley.

As a die-hard bare-bone "purist", I design/build phono-preamps & power amps to provide SHORTEST path for music signals to pass through since day one: Bare-bone topology.

Why? Music signals are comprised of complex harmonics of various orders DYNAMICALLY riding on each other. What is the problem of standard bench tests of amps? Pure sinewaves are generally used to test the amps. This is an easy yet unrealistic method of testing which does not reflect the realtime situation of the amp handling the ever-changing complex dynamic music signals.

Technically, it is testing with wrong signals. Commercially, IMO, the measurement data so obtained are a cover-up of what the amp under test could actually handle music signals. Such stationary bench test methodology just cannot tell how will the amp handle dynamic music signals. Apple to orange comparison.

So knowing the standard test methods are out to lunch, the signal path inside an audio component should be shortest possible for the dynamic music signals to minimize signal deformation, e.g. harmonic distortion, phase distortion, intermodulation distortion, noise contamination, etc etc.

Sad to see Luxman CL-1000 is designed unnecessarily complicated to justify its high selling price ($12,000) apparently: tone controls, line stage built with input & output transformers, & 6xE88CC twin-triodes.

First off, Why need input & output transformers for a linestage?? Lux wants to make it one & only signal-transformer loaded linestage in the audio marketplace today ????

Technically, transformer is a non-linear device in term of phase (timing), amplitude (signal level) & frequency response. It generates various phase distortion to the music signals depending their frequenceis. Signal transfer distortion due to the non-linearity of the transformer metal core hysteresis. When used in low level audio amplification e.g. phono & linestages, the magnetic retention noise inside the transformer cores must be removed, for which Lux has installed in CL-1000 demagnetizing circuits to do the job.

Besides non-linearity, other downsides are: very high cost for good quality audio transformers, space consuming due to proper location orientation to minimize flux interference etc.

To sum up, audio transformers provide a 'tedious' path for music signals. I never use such magnetic devices in my phono/linestage design.
Not music friendly at all.

6 twin triodes for such a linestage. Incredible !! Tone controls have been Luxman traditional design since day one & got to be there irrespective of cost & music fidility. Frankly, who needs tone controls nowadays?

FYI, the phono-linestage I design/built, & have used for many years now is a bare-bone simplicity - to provide the shortest path of music signals to go thru. Such bare bone topology works big time. My discerned ears can tell.

Only 2 twin triodes are used for both stereo channels, making it most probably the simplest & most compact phono-linsstage ever exist in this world. (per my signature logo). Yet this little David makes my critical ears happy since day one.

How? Only one single active stage with one PASSIVE RIAA equalization loop using one 50-year-old Telefunken ECC83 (sharing both channels). Followed by a single active linestage using one England made Millard ECC82 (again sharing both channels).

To make the linestage the shortest path for the music signals, I purposely provide it with a bypass switch to make the linestage 100% passive !!!!!!!!!

Technically, any CD/SACD player/DAC deliver up to 2Vrms output which can directly push any power amps to their rated output powers. So any active linestage with voltage gains is technically redundant. So playing my Blu-ray, DVD-audio & CD players, I always go with the bypass PASSIVE mode of my linestage. My ears love its PURE musicality.

Music loves going the shortest way. I love it considering I am an analogue music addict with 1,000+ vinyl collection. No sheer talks.

Listening music the shortest way is believing

Jack L
Canada

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jack, you could consider the Linear Tube Audio ZOTL (output transformer less) amps, pre-amps and integrated amps ...... See, HR's review of LTA, ZOTL integrated amp/headphone amp in Stereophile ...... Also, see LTA, ZOTL amp review in TAS :-) ........

Jack L's picture

Hi.

Yes, OTL topology gets rid of the output transformers, the music signal bottleneck.

"Conventional" OTL amps using quite a numbers of power triodes in parallel to reduce the amp output impedance low enough to match the loudspeakers.

The Linear Tube Audio ZOTL employs totally different patented topology: radio frequency modulation of the audio signals & then demodulation of the radio carrier to get back the original audio signal by filtering off the radio frequency carrier. The output impedance of the output stage is reduced to match the loudspeaker load via an air-core RF transformer.
Technically, there is still an impedance reduction transformer involved.

The difference is conventional non-OTL amps all use bulky audio frequency transformers with metal cores. Linear Audio uses small RF air-cored transformer to have the job done, smartly & very highly efficient consuming only half current to achieve the same power output vs the "conventional" OTL design. Therefore very cool running & light weight!!!

I am yet to audition a ZOTL amp though I have heard the very musical sound of Canadian made Tenor 75 75W OTL monoblocks which totally cost 4 times as much as the stereo ZOTL 40. Totally different leagues, pricewise.

I read the audition report of some audiophiles, comparing ZH270 (70Wx2) & Tenor 75 75 W monoblocks. One tricky thing about ZH amps is to get the right damping factor: low, normal & high (by adjusting the amount of loop negative feed back of the amp) to match the loudspeaker in order to get the best sound, particularly the bass.

The comment was the Tenor 75 OTL amps sounded better at the low bottom end than the ZH270 which cost much much less !!

I really like the overall sonic presentation of the Tenor 75.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jack, you could consider Atma-Sphere OTL amps :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Atma-Sphere Novacron OTL is comparable price as Tenor 75 OTL :-) ........

Jack L's picture

Hi

Good suggestion though I never had the chance to compare both amps side by side knowing both amps employed the famous Russian 6C33C-B twin power tubes.

Yet personally I am not impressed at all by the outlook presention of any Atma Sphere power amp models, too technically "ugly" vs to Tenor.

Working on similar Circlotron technology using same Russian power triodes for similar pricing, I would go for Tenor 75 for its handsome outlook alone.

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I agree ....... Tenor amps are much much more attractive looking ...... Atma-Sphere need to hire a designer, to design their amps :-) .......

Ortofan's picture

... an input level of about 3V in order to reach its rated output power.
https://kenrockwell.com/audio/mcintosh/mc240.htm#measurements

Jack L's picture

.....power" quoted Ortofan.

Nope, I just checked this power amp is rated 2Vrms for rated 40W power ouput (per kenrockwell.com).

BTW, I got 2 audiophile friends who both owed a couple of MC power amp pushing multi-cellular horn/12-15" box woofers. I don't like the sound at all.

One's meat can be another person's poison.

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... test data, which shows that the amp required an input level of 3.030 V to reach an output level of 40W.

Jack L's picture

Hi

It also stated for fixed stereo unbalanced input, 2V for rated 40W output.

For the sake of argument, who needs to crank up to the amp max. output
power anyway?

FYI, my home brew 5W+5W 2-stage all triode pure class A power amp driven direct by my Blu-Rau player via my design/built phono-linestage
(in passive mode) delivers ample power without turning up the passive linestage volume control level to half way (12:00 hrs).

if you care to check most most brandname power amps, their input sensivity for full rated power output is 2Vrms.

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... generate the peak sound level without having the amplifier clip, you must have very efficient speakers, only listen to program material with limited dynamic range and/or listen at a low average sound level.

Some time ago the designer of Harbeth speakers posted to his forum an example of a music passage with a peak-to-average dynamic range of about 22dB. Based on an average listening level using, for example, only 1W, it would still require about 150W to reproduce those 22dB peaks without clipping.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Please don't bank on whoever 'experts' telling you whatever. Just try it out yourself.

I did the same thing. But I play it SMARTLY.

Knowing the first watt is the best sounding watt, I deign/built a little David a few years back: a 2-stage 3-triode class A SET 5W+5W power amp to try it out.

My loudspeakers are the old KEF 2-way standspeakers, with a Mylar dome tweeter & a large woofer with a 11"x7.6" flat solid diaphragm, rated 15Wrms. I replaced the factory tweeter which rang like hell to my ears, with a Norwegian SEAS soft-fabric dome tweeter which sounds so much smoother. I also upgrade the crappie tiny x-over by replacing all the cheapie tiny electrlyic caps with over-rated polypropylene metal firm caps, & by converting it to OUTboard bi-wiring. Such upgrade improves the sound like nite & day.

To satisfy my quest for bringing back home closest to live classical
performances, I've save a big bundle by adding subwoofers to supplement my small power amp instead of spending big in acquiring a
a tube amp of much much larger power.

I started with one 100W subwoofer first 8 years back & the result was very promising! So later I added 2 more 100W active subs to work with my stereo rig: L, R, L+R channels, all hooked up to my design/built
phono-linestage. Such money saving smart setup works like a chime.

It rocks my 700 sq-ft basement audio den! No kidding.

What happened? It was a demo to my audio fans who simply could not believe a 5W+5W toy could do anything real. With the 3 active subs set half volume at 100Hz low-cut frequency & only half volume for my linestage (I set it PASSIVE bypass !!!), I played the Tchaikovsky fire cracker: 1812 Overture!

It rocked the place: with the battlefield roaring like thouder & the cannon balls virtually charging right over & well beyond our heads !
My fans all dropped their jaws big big time.

My wife came down to see what was going on, telling us the floor upstairs was shaking.

Well, listening is believing

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... attempted to verify that your 5W amp is never being driven into peak clipping?

Jack L's picture

Hi

By my ears, of course! What else can be more precise to detect the monentarily transient clipping of the actual musical signals of the performanace?

Please don't tell me you can detect it as precise & as fast by using measuring intrument which is designed for static sinewave test signls instead of realtime music signals. None yet be available to do the same job as good.

I already told you I demonstrated one of the most difficult music perforamnces to reproduce properly its dynamic transient without overloading the 5W amp into clipping: The Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture.

Very few audio stores would want to demon this piece of music recording - too difficult to play it right.

Only half volume setting to bring out the realistic performance no sweat!

It so easy to tell when clipping occurs: when the music momentariy sound suppressed, or even distorted - either or both the preamp and/or power amp got overloaded to clipping.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is common for CD, SACD, universal players and DACs to put out 2 Volts un-balanced and, 4 Volts balanced ....... See, Bryston BCD-3 measurements for example :-) .......

Jack L's picture

Hi

My question to the audio designers on "balance" topology:
Is it a must feature to include balanced input/output feature in the HOME audio components: CD/DAC, preamp, power amp etc.????

My answer is NO.

Historically, balanced audio signal transmission is a must for recording studios, outfield public address functions where miles & miles long audio signal cables are needed for equipment interconnection. Balance signal transmission is therefore a must to cancel out any outside noises interferring the audio signals.

But for audios at home, where the audio interconnect run is so short as compared to recording studios, balanced signal transmission is therefore technically REdundant !!

So why put such redundant feature there in home audio components?

More so called 'high-tech' features can upsell the product for higher price, making more money from we innocent consumers.

Let me tell you about my audio rig at home. It is currently hooked up with 7 pairs of audio interconnects (I design/built with 99.99% solid pure silver wires), ALL being UNbalanced & without any overall shielding (for best sound). 2 pairs hook up my 2 turntables, one movin g coil cartridge & one for moving magnet. With 3 subwoofers also hooked to my tube phono-linestage as well, NO hum or EMI/RFI noise at all at full blast !!!!!

So I can verify balanced signal features for home audio is redundant.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jack, you could go into your own audio manufacturing business ...... You could make amps, pre-amps and also cables ....... Who knows, you could make gazillion (Canadian) dollars :-) .......

Jack L's picture

Hi

Thanks, but no thanks for your very kind suggestion. Hands-on manufacturing is too much a hassle for me.

I am making much easier money in the money markets. So why I want to be bothered.

That said, with addictive love of classical music, plus my electrical/electronic engineering background, I think I don't mind working as a manufactures' consultant.

I am available for some good bucks.

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be this is the right time to invest in Gilead Sciences ...... Who knows, you could make gazillion dollars :-) ......

Jack L's picture

Hi

Gilead Sciences is still testing its Covid=19 drug, pending approval by FDA. I don't think I should rush to buy its Nasdaq stocks yet.

I don't mind call up my wealth manager for his view.

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Remdesivir' the broad spectrum anti-viral drug made by Gilead Sciences just got emergency approval by FDA :-) ........

Jack L's picture

Good news for Covid-19 patients !

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

To secure my return income, my gold rule is: buy only blue chips stocks with dividends only.

Like the stock markets dive like crazy currently, thanks to the pandemic, I still get back some money income pending to the markets going back up again.

Play save with our hard-earned money !!

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Come on Jack ..... A young guy like you can take some risk in investing ...... You never know what the future holds :-) .......

Jack L's picture

Hi Bogolu

I wish I were "a young guy" as you suggested.

When I told you I had been in the electrical engineering industries for over 20 years, specializing in Very High Voltage power transmission (400KV+) solutions, You should know I am not young young any more.

No, when the money markets are so volatile currently, investing in high risking money products for quick return is not a sound idea. My wealth manager tells me the same thing.

Thanks for yr concern, anyway.

Jack L

invaderzim's picture

It must be fun for those that design this level of product.

"God speed, Mr. Dudley! You will be missed."

I agree.
With writing, much like music and audio, I can't tell you why it is right when it is; I can merely identify that it is just right. Mr. Dudley was a very skilled writer.

AaronGarrett's picture

This got me to put on Skaggs and Rice for the first time in a few years, which sounded just as Art describes on my very different system. You should reprint his great piece on Tony Rice audiophile, from Listener!

Ortofan's picture

... to which you refer?

https://web.archive.org/web/20050306031436/http://www.wrightforyou.com/tonylistener.html

AaronGarrett's picture

But art directed. Thanks!

tonykaz's picture

Are these the nicest Photos in this Magazine's history?

Tony in Venice

johnnythunder's picture

Stunning and just lovely sounding equipment for pretty much the brands entire history (we can forget a good part of the 80s and 90s. I wish there was a dealer here in the Southeast so I can window shop and listen. And covet.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Glad you like Luxman sound though I never like it.

I have one old Luxman sold state integrated amplifier with the typical tone control & the like golden panel features. A back burner of mine standby for very random karaoke singing use.

Again, not my cup of tea soundwise !

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... elsewhere.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2475/2780/products/luxman-NEW_CL1000_image_P1-small_d740d5bd-9e17-4901-8040-9f6743c6f16d_2000x.jpg

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2475/2780/products/luxman-eng_CL1000_leg_12ac41d6-2602-4274-86c6-326caf9ee99c_2000x.jpg

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2475/2780/products/luxman-LECUTA_assembly_2000x.jpg

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2475/2780/products/luxman-CL1000_articulater_dcab0c3d-5d87-4bc2-bffb-6c869af70a95_2000x.jpg

https://q4n3x6h5.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/CL1000_flame-1024x768.jpg

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2475/2780/products/luxman-eng_CL1000_trans_4f72ba9a-f1aa-4ade-8b50-90dd87d3d8fb_2000x.jpg

Timbo in Oz's picture

I'm going to miss him, a lot. He liked stuff that let the playing through.

TB

adrianwu's picture

These Japanese products do remind one of the great American products of the 1960s. They are no doubt inspired by Marantz and Mackintosh. Luxman gives one the impression of a corporate bemonth, the exact opposite of the artisanal producers such as Shindo. But one must not forget that here was where Tim de Paravicini cut his teeth. In Japan, somehow large corporations can still allow niche products that pursue purist philosophy to exist and thrive. Tamura audio transformers is a good case in point. It is sad to see the likes of JBL losing their soul once taken over by large American corporations.
I look forward to Art's final two pieces with anticipation and great sadness. I have been reading his writing since the earliest Listener days. My deepest condolences to Janet and her family.

windansea's picture

if Stereophile could manage to secure the rights to Listener, I'd be interested in buying a complete set.

volvic's picture

I never read them let alone laid my eyes on them. I would love to read them. Still can't believe he's gone.

emir's picture

considering the stratospheric prices of new equipment nowadays i wonder how they can really be justified if you consider for example the complexity of a similar priced car for example,just put the most expensive item near your average car and notice the technology of the vehicle,the engine the body the weight the size and then look at your electronic with just a nice steel or aluminium box and some components even the most exotic and sophisticated circuit they look ridiculously under engineered by comparaison and still they manage to attract naive and ill informed buyers.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You can get a PS Audio pre-amp/DAC/headphone amp for $1,700 for example :-) .......

cgh's picture

Ave atque vale.

mmole's picture

"Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile."

Which the website "Phrase Finder" translates as "it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one's expertise... and one has but a short time in which to do it."

Rest in peace Art.

Matrim C's picture

As much as I love a no-frills signal path, I also love being able to tinker and tweak. This preamp is on my list of "maybe someday."

Paul S.'s picture

A belated answer to Art's query about solo guitar albums preceding Joe Pass' Virtuoso LP:

Johnny Smith's The Man with the Blue Guitar - Roost 2248 - got there about ten years before Joe Pass' record. There may be others before that, but that's at least one.

Paul S.'s picture

A belated answer to Art's query about solo guitar albums preceding Joe Pass' Virtuoso LP:

Johnny Smith's The Man with the Blue Guitar - Roost 2248 - got there about ten years before Joe Pass' record. There may be others before that, but that's at least one.

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