“Worth the money... and then some”

AGAINST Head­phone out­put could be bet­ter FOR A co­he­sive and pow­er­ful per­for­mance; ex­cel­lent build

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Temptations -

Con­ven­tional wis­dom within hi-fi cir­cles says there is an in­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween the amount of fea­tures and the qual­ity of the per­for­mance. It’s a point of view that came into promi­nence back in the 1970s and, in our ex­pe­ri­ence, still rings true to­day. But for ev­ery rule there’s usu­ally an ex­cep­tion, and in this case it’s the Lux­man LŽ509X.

This is a fully loaded ana­logue am­pli­fier. How­ever, any­one who thinks such a unit – par­tic­u­larly one cost­ing the best part of £9k – should also in­clude dig­i­tal in­puts must be aware that such mod­ules are rarely great, even when fit­ted to high-end prod­ucts. In fact, they are usu­ally out­per­formed by out­board dig­i­tal-to-ana­logue con­vert­ers, such as Chord’s sub-£400 Mojo.

At this price, such a level of per­for­mance is just not good enough. The in­clu­sion of dig­i­tal mod­ules also tends to make the ana­logue side of things sound worse, which in our view makes it a com­pro­mise too far.

De­cid­edly retro

The LŽ509X packs a mov­ing-mag­net/ mov­ing-coil phono stage, head­phone out­put, tone con­trols and switch­able speaker out­puts – all things that were in de­mand back when its de­cid­edly retro ap­pear­ance was the lat­est fash­ion.

There’s no short­age of con­nec­tiv­ity. Along­side the phono stage, this Lux­man also has four sin­gle-ended RCA line-level ins and two bal­anced XLR op­tions. We can’t think of a typ­i­cal stereo set-up where this in­te­grated amp will get caught short.

The com­pany has kept this am­pli­fier as flex­i­ble as pos­si­ble, so al­though it’s an in­te­grated amp, it’s pos­si­ble to split the pre and power sec­tions (at the press of a but­ton) and use them sep­a­rately. You can also con­nect two sets of speak­ers and ei­ther switch be­tween them, or use them to­gether.

No skimp­ing

Take a look in­side and it’s hard not to be im­pressed by the stan­dard of con­struc­tion. Ev­ery­thing looks neat and care­fully planned. We’re pleased with the qual­ity of the com­po­nents used, right down to the ma­te­rial from which the cir­cuit board is made. It’s clear that Lux­man hasn’t skimped here.

The in­ter­nal view is dom­i­nated by the power sup­ply ar­range­ment. There’s a chunky mains trans­former (600VA) and ded­i­cated banks of smooth­ing ca­pac­i­tors (40,000 mi­cro Farads) for each power amp chan­nel. The power amp cir­cuitry is a Class A/B de­sign ca­pa­ble of 120W per chan­nel and, even more im­pres­sively, able to dou­ble that out­put as im­ped­ance halves.

On pa­per at least, this is an am­pli­fier that will have no trou­ble driv­ing dif­fi­cult speak­ers to high vol­ume lev­els.

”Take a look in­side and it’s hard not to be im­pressed by the stan­dard of con­struc­tion. It’s clear that Lux­man hasn’t skimped here”

”The L-509X has an un­der­stated pre­sen­ta­tion that takes a while to ap­pre­ci­ate. This am­pli­fier cer­tainly doesn’t spice things up for en­ter­tain­ment’s sake”

The preamp side of things hasn’t been ig­nored ei­ther, with Lux­man de­vel­op­ing its own 88-step vol­ume con­trol sys­tem, and us­ing the ba­sic cir­cuit from its top-end preamp. The mes­sage is clear: this may be an in­te­grated am­pli­fier, but it re­ally is more like a sep­a­rate pre and power am­pli­fier in a sin­gle box, rather than a com­pro­mised elec­tri­cal de­sign.

Gen­eral build qual­ity is ex­cel­lent. The LŽ509X feels im­mensely solid and weighs in at al­most 30kg. The fit and fin­ish is ter­rific, and good enough for it to feel as if the am­pli­fier could cost con­sid­er­ably more. We love the feel of the con­trols; they’re nicely damped and pleas­ingly pre­cise in use.

The re­mote hand­set is nice to hold and use, even if its but­ton lay­out is a lit­tle strange. Hand­sets tend to be a blind spot for most high-end man­u­fac­tur­ers, but over­all, there is much to like about this one. This Lux­man may be an ex­pen­sive am­pli­fier but we feel, phys­i­cally at least, it’s well worth the money and then some.

Sonic fire­works

That view doesn’t change once we start lis­ten­ing. The LŽ509X is an am­pli­fier that creeps up on, rather than wows, the listener when the mu­sic starts. It has an un­der­stated pre­sen­ta­tion that takes a while to ap­pre­ci­ate. Those look­ing for sonic fire­works will find them here only if they’re in the record­ing. This am­pli­fier cer­tainly doesn’t spice things up just for en­ter­tain­ment’s sake.

Ton­ally, the Lux­man is as neu­tral and bal­anced as they come – pro­vided you leave the tone con­trols alone. It sounds a touch cleaner and crisper with the Line Straight but­ton pressed – do­ing so by­passes the tone and bal­ance con­trols, and gives a gen­er­ally purer sig­nal path.

We also switch off the back­light­ing on the power meters. We do this not just to avoid dis­trac­tion, but for the slight in­crease in trans­parency it of­fers. These might be only tiny gains in the over­all scheme of things, but in the con­text of an am­pli­fier with such tal­ent we think they’re jus­ti­fied.

Equally, such an am­pli­fier de­serves a top-class source and speak­ers. We use our usual Naim NDS/555PS streamer for the line-level in­puts to­gether with Clea­r­au­dio’s In­no­va­tion Wood record player (in­clud­ing the Stradi­vari V2 mov­ing-coil car­tridge) to test the phono

”Feed the Lux­man a hard-charg­ing track with a com­plex rhythm beat and it ren­ders the mu­sic with all the en­ergy and rhyth­mic or­gan­i­sa­tion in­tact”

stage. As for speak­ers, our ref­er­ence ATC SCM 50s are pressed into ser­vice, along with KEF’S Ref­er­ence 1 stand­moun­ters.

Sub­tle hints

We throw the LŽ509X into the deep end with Orff’s Carmina Bu­rana and it floats with con­fi­dence. This is an im­pres­sively de­tailed and in­sight­ful per­former that’s ca­pa­ble of class-lead­ing clar­ity. It re­cov­ers sub­tleties, even in a pro­duc­tion as dense as this, and keeps them au­di­ble as the piece be­comes de­mand­ing.

We’re talk­ing about things like the way the low-level re­verb de­fines the acous­tic space the con­cert was recorded in, and spa­tial clues that help iden­tify the ex­act po­si­tions of the or­ches­tra and choir within the sound stage.

The mu­sic’s wild dy­namic swings are de­liv­ered with en­thu­si­asm, as the am­pli­fier’s gen­er­ous power out­put is ob­vi­ous in the punch and so­lid­ity of the pre­sen­ta­tion. There’s no short­age of drama in the sound, yet we be­come aware of the LŽ509X’S im­pres­sive com­po­sure, and the sense of con­trol it im­parts. There’s an ease of de­liv­ery here that be­lies high vol­ume lev­els and the read­ings on the power meters.

Hands-on ap­proach

We be­come a lit­tle wor­ried all that con­trol and com­po­sure might take the edge off more up­beat mu­sic, so we play a num­ber of tunes from the likes of alt-j, Mack­le­more & Lewis, Bruce Spring­steen and Chic. We’re pleased to re­port that’s not the case. Feed the Lux­man a hard-charg­ing track with a com­plex rhythm beat and the LŽ509X ren­ders the mu­sic with a hands-on ap­proach that keeps all the en­ergy and or­gan­i­sa­tion in­tact. We’re par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the way this am­pli­fier de­liv­ers deep bass with such tex­ture, agility and power.

The story re­mains pos­i­tive when we try the phono stage. The am­pli­fier loses none of its even-handed na­ture with this in­put, de­liv­er­ing a good dose of in­sight and en­ter­tain­ment. There’s just a mild drop in trans­parency com­pared to the line stages and a slight loss of the low-level fi­nesse. Still, the phono mod­ule has more than enough gain to work with most car­tridges, and stays com­mend­ably quiet when it comes to back­ground hiss and hum.

We’re less taken with the head­phone out­put though. The tonal char­ac­ter of this out­put is con­sis­tent with that we hear through the speak­ers, but even though we use a range of head­phones, in­clud­ing Grado’s RSŽ1S and Ps500es, as well as the Bey­er­dy­namic T1s, we feel the sound is less lively and ex­pres­sive than we’d like.

If you’re an oc­ca­sional head­phone user, the cir­cuit in the Lux­man is fine. How­ever, if you’ve got high-end head­phones and want to hear them at their very best, a good ded­i­cated out­board amp will do the job bet­ter.

More than a throw­back

Over­all, though, we’re deeply im­pressed with the LŽ509X. On the sur­face it might ap­pear like an ex­pen­sive retro throw­back, but it’s so much more than that. It has a blend of build, fea­tures and per­for­mance that’s hard to bet­ter at any­where near this price.

If you’re lucky enough to have this kind of bud­get to spend on an ana­logue am­pli­fier, and you are look­ing for a neat pack­age with­out sac­ri­fic­ing per­for­mance, this Lux­man is a great place to start.

The L-509X has a de­cid­edly retro ap­pear­ance

1 2

1 The con­trols are nicely damped and pleas­ingly pre­cise. 2 We switch off the power meter back­light for a slight gain in trans­parency. 3 Con­nec­tions in­clude RCA line-level ins and bal­anced XLR op­tions. 3

There is much to like about the Lux­man’s re­mote

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