Luxman D-06u SACD player Page 2

The Luxman D-06u was much faster at loading CDs and SACDs than is my Sony, which approaches that task with all the smartness of a New York State DMV clerk during a work stoppage. From placing a disc in the Luxman's motorized drawer—the smoothest and most solid such device of my experience—to hearing music never took more than 12 seconds.

Listening
Have I mentioned what a pleasure it is to be able to buy more than a relative handful of titles on SACD? During the format's first few years, the commercial SACD repertoire was limited mostly to labels owned by Sony Music, and most of the titles were warhorses that many, if not most, serious record-lovers already own on LP and/or CD. Hey, I like George Szell and Bruno Walter as much as the next guy, but after a few weeks with my first SACD player, I felt the way I did when I was a teenager with an 8-track tape player in his car who couldn't afford more than a few 8-track tapes to play in it. (After that dreary phase, it was years before I could look at, let alone listen to, the Kinks' Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround: Part One.)

In the format's early years, the software problem wasn't aided by the fact that all SACDs were SACDs only, and could not be enjoyed in "Red Book" CD players: the multilayer-disc atom had yet to be split. Today, some labels routinely issue excellent (non-audiophile, non-potboiler) music on hybrid SACD/CDs, few more enthusiastically than Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab—whose reissue of Gram Parsons's Grievous Angel (Reprise/Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2059) was the first album I tried when I settled in to do some serious listening with the Luxman D-06u. The Lux played the disc's SACD layer with exceptional openness, color, and—especially—convincing spatial presence: the pedal steel guitar that supplies the opening lick was right there, as were the sweet, limber voices of Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Those voices, in marked contrast to their instrumental surroundings, struck me as sounding more than a bit grainy—so I went back and listened to my copy of the original LP (Reprise MS 2171), and heard the same thing. If anything, the Luxman player—and/or, perhaps, MoFi's remastering—made the distinction more apparent, and led me to wonder if the singers and the band had been recorded in different studios, and/or perhaps on different decks.

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While that disc was in the D-06u's drawer, I decided to compare the Lux's SACD- and CD-layer performances—and in so doing heard distinctions both subtle and obvious. In the latter category was the SACD layer's notably superior clarity as compared to the CD layer: the Luxman unearthed from the SACD layer a wealth of musical and sonic details, and presented them with clear, "dark" space between the notes; by comparison, the CD layer sounded congested and unclear through the Lux. That said, although the Lux allowed bass player Emory Gordy's notes to realistically bloom and sound believably rich and colorful on the SACD layer, those same bass lines on the CD layer had slightly better, crisper timing. (For its part, the LP did both: timing and bloom.)

Also early in my listening came another disc that sounded fine through the Lux: the dual-layer SACD of Cannonball Adderley's Know What I Mean?, with Bill Evans (Riverside/Analogue Productions CAPJ 9433 SA). "Who Cares?" was so sonically and musically compelling through the D-06u that it rivaled my original mono LP. The believable texture and well-saturated timbral color of Adderley's alto sax left nothing to desire, and Percy Heath's double-bass lines had both timbral richness and superb momentum and snap. And regarding the latter, this was one instance where playing the CD layer through the Lux did not improve on the music's timing—although the CD layer presented a far more strident top end on the sax.

The next SACD on deck was David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra's 2006 recording of Mahler's Symphony 1 (RCA Red Seal 87156 2). Initially impressed with the recording—the sound of which is the sort that most modern audiophiles regard as good, with its wide frequency range, its generous sense of "air," and its lack of gross tonal colorations or other additive distortions—I listened for a few minutes before tiring of fooling myself: The performance was thoroughly uncommitted, and the airy, pallid sound wasn't what one really hears from a live orchestra—it's what audiophiles who've been weaned on High End–approved stereo recordings think they're supposed to hear from a live orchestra: all space and light-limned images. Disgusted with myself for all the self-delusion and wasted time spent listening to this recording, I (r)ejected the disc and replaced it with the best-recorded Mahler First I know, which is also the best-sounding 78rpm-to-CD transfer I know: the 1940 mono recording by Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (Sony Classical MHK 62342). After all that musical and sonic namby-pamby fluff, I was scrotally grabbed by the 44-year-old Mitropoulos's singularly intense vision of the young Mahler's own singular intensity, reproduced in sound that was, through the D-06u, up-front, tactile, corporeal, and altogether vivid. The plucked strings at 2:47 into the first movement all but knocked me out of my seat.

At this point I paused and played the same disc through my Sony SACD/CD player, whose output level seemed identical to the Luxman's. From the sound of the stacked A's that open the first movement, the comparatively veiled sound of the Sony, God bless its 17-year-old heart, was apparent. Throughout its time here, the sound of the Luxman was so much more immediate that further comparative comments seem unnecessary.

The Luxman's sheer vividness was no less evident in its performance as a USB DAC. I began with an informally made 16/44.1 recording, supplied by a bluegrass-loving friend, of a 2014 concert by a one-off band assembled around guitarist David Grier and singer and Dobro player Jimmy Stewart. The immediacy of the sound was remarkable, surpassing that of any other DAC through which I've played it. Stewart's voice, sportive and forthright in the manner of Jimmy Martin and Dan Tyminski, had realistic presence, and Grier's soloing—especially his 16-bar improvisation in Bill Monroe's "A Good Woman's Love"—was reproduced with suppleness, color, and a superb, analog-like level of musical momentum.

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The same superlatives could be applied to the Luxman's sound with music files of higher resolution. My DSD file of "Sabra Girl," from Nickel Creek's This Side (Sugar Hill)—correctly identified in the D-06u's display as 2.822MHz—sounded lovely, with good, rolling momentum in the picking of both mandolinist Chris Thile and guitarist Sean Watkins. Turning my attention to hi-rez PCM, "The Spider and the Fly," from the 2005 remastering of the Rolling Stones' Out of Our Heads (24/176.4 AIFF file, ABKCO), had the same well-carved presence, tinged with an upper-mid crunch that comes from the recording itself, and even more relentless momentum. Was Bill Wyman's electric-bass playing, brilliantly but subtly timed as usual, lent a little extra fullness by the Lux? It seemed that way, and I didn't mind it at all.

Yet most of the file-playing hours I logged on the Luxman were spent listening to CD rips—and here, too, the D-06u did not disappoint. In particular, I spent some time with an AIFF file from the 2007 reissue of Leonard Cohen's third album, Songs of Love and Hate (Columbia/Legacy 88697 04741 2). (That I did so on one of last summer's sunniest, most beautiful days added an enjoyably perverse backdrop to a dolorous collection that I've loved since its first LP release, in 1971.) Through the Lux, "Avalanche" had excellent spatial scale and timbral balance, the latter marred only by a touch of hardness in arranger Paul Buckmaster's ingenious, darkly effective strings (Ben E. King–style "sweetening" this is not). Cohen's voice had excellent physicality, as did his nylon-stringed guitar. The sound was all-around pleasant and involving.

A different juxtaposition, this one far less perverse, crossed my mind: Why not compare the LP (Columbia 30103)? I did, and was impressed by the vinyl's more powerful bass—a low D-flat that resolves to a C near the ends of some phrases in the string arrangement took on even more gravitas—and better timing, especially evident in the momentum of Cohen's fingerpicked guitar. And so, on the basis of my experience, there remain some musical hoops through which digital still can't leap.

Conclusions
The Luxman D-06u delivered, overall, the best sound and most reliably high level of involvement I've enjoyed in my home from SACDs. And if it wasn't the most accomplished player of my experience of "Red Book" CDs, it was surely in the top five. As I write this—after which I'll pack up the Luxman for its trip to John Atkinson's test bench—the vividness of that Mitropoulos Mahler First through the D-06u lingers in my memory, calling to mind no less than my beloved EMT OFD-series mono phono pickups.

And there it is: For less than the combined prices of a top-shelf cartridge and similarly capable turntable, tonearm, and phono preamplifier, the Luxman D-06u seems capable of transforming my secondary music collection (digital discs and files) into something far more deserving of comparison with my primary music collection (LPs and 78s). Given that, and the Luxman's apparently greater-than-average immunity to the obsolescence of its disc transport and data conversion, the D-06u impresses me as one of the most recommendable digital sources at its price.

COMPANY INFO
Luxman Corp.
US distributor: On a Higher Note LLC
PO Box 693
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693
(949) 488-3004
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
georgehifi's picture

Quote:By Art Dudley
"I decided to compare the Lux's SACD- and CD-layer performances—and in so doing heard distinctions both subtle and obvious. In the latter category was the SACD layer's notably superior clarity as compared to the CD layer: the Luxman unearthed from the SACD layer a wealth of musical and sonic details, and presented them with clear, "dark" space between the notes; by comparison, the CD layer sounded congested and unclear through the Lux.
The Luxman D-06u delivered, overall, the best sound and most reliably high level of involvement I've enjoyed in my home from SACDs. And if it wasn't the most accomplished player of my experience of "Red Book" CDs"

Quote: Mojo Music, and many more believe the same.
"When a PCM file is played on a DSD or Bit Stream converter, the DAC chip has to convert the PCM to DSD in real time. This is one of the major reasons people claim DSD sounds better than PCM, when in fact, it is just that the chip in most modern single-bit DACs do a poor job of decoding PCM."

Cheers George

Allen Fant's picture

Nice review! AD
does this mean the Luxman will replace your Sony ES spinner?

Art Dudley's picture
Thanks, Allen! I would love for the Lux to take up residence here, but these days I'm saving my pennies for other things.
John Atkinson's picture
Allen Fant wrote:
does this mean the Luxman will replace your Sony ES spinner?

The Luxman has long since been returned to the distributor, Allen.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mixpro's picture

I'd love to have someone weigh in on how this compares to the Oppo BDP-105, which has been doing these same jobs for several years. For about 1/8 the scratch, too.

FabVir's picture

It would be interesting to compare the Luxman with the Norma Revo DS-1, which in my experience is one of the most neutral, musical and detailed CD player I have heard, at any price, due not only to the digital section but also to an impressive analog section coming from the designers experience in amplifiers.
I think this player would rank very very high in your "best ever CD player" list.
Fabrizio Virtuani

Christopher Mankiewicz's picture

What has become increasingly apparent is that the obvious reticence of many of the audio reviewers who are loathe to admit the unquestionable sonic superiorities of multi-channel DSD/SACD disc players is their desire to have their computers be at the center of everything digital. As a result, they cannot abide "discs" rather than "files" being the source of home musical playback, "convenience" being more important than "quality", and their disregard of multi-channel sourced playback as well, since it would mean taking off the cans they are so accustomed to using in place of a probably 5.1 or better required speaker set-up. SAD.

trebor's picture

Is there a difference sound wise between the D-06u and the D-05u?

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