Seven years for a “u” — not bad. Luxman’s D-05 CD/SACD player, launched in 2009, has been upgraded and is now called Luxman D-05u. But what’s evident is that much, much more than just a letter has been changed.
Sometimes when I indulge in a bit of whistle wetting in dives and taverns during an evening spent with other fine hacks from the fraternity, they enviously mutter something like this to me: “Turned your hobby into your job.” Or: “Must be great writing about hi-fi and earning money for doing it.” But all I can say is: What would happen if you sent a cocaine addict the best crystalline substance every six weeks and then requested the person to return the drug to the sender after testing it? Hi-fi journalism as a means of earning a living—raucous laughter all round! And your costs keep on spiraling because you keep on wanting more, more, more!
That applies, in particular, to the latest offering from Luxman: the D-05u—a CD player, SACD player and DAC all rolled into one. I only returned it reluctantly and grudgingly to the editorial team, not just because of its weight, but especially because of the great sound it produced.
It is the designated successor to the D-05, but this redesign includes various features that have been radically changed. The most important innovation involves the D/A converter. Instead of using the proven PCM1792A from Texas Instruments, the D-05u features the PCM1795 for the first time—in fact, in dual configuration. It’s not exactly a newcomer either, having been unveiled by Texas Instruments in 2009. Its analog section more or less corresponds to that of the 1792, yet its digital interpolation filter is 32-bit capable. So while the D-05 utilizes a 24-bit chip, the D-05u sports all of two 32-bit chips. Luxman’s engineers have calculated that this detail will not only optimize channel separation but also allow for internal oversampling up to 384 kHz. Incidentally, as far as reproduction is concerned, the willing listener has a choice between two PCM filters and two analog transversal filters for SACD and DSD modes. So many numbers, so many letters, isn’t that just awful? Let’s focus on more fundamental issues.
The wonderfully tidy front panel design! And the workmanship! The lucky owner only has to heave just a shade under 15 kilograms onto their rack. Haptic quality is nothing less than superb: Heavy and solid, a whopper — a humdinger — of a CD player. The disc tray extends almost silently; it seems so sturdy, you could presumably place a half-liter bottle of your favorite brew on it and it wouldn’t bend. It’s part of a playback mechanism developed by Luxman itself that goes by the unwieldy name of Luxman Original Disc Transportation Mechanism. The drive is located in a double enclosure, which is intended to dampen vibrations effectively—and the D-05u is indeed one of those players that operates almost silently. You can’t hear any chirping or any humming noise from your listening position.
By the way, what is also elegant is not only the quite visually appealing remote control with an all-metal housing that is a joy to hold, so is the monochrome dot-matrix display. It not only looks ageless, the display is also amazingly easy to read from a distance of several meters. What is not quite so elegant, one might quibble, is the absence of a headphone port. On the other hand: anybody who shops in this price category and regularly uses headphones presumably owns his or her own headphone amp in any case.
A quick glance at the rear panel: It is easy to connect with the D-05u. Besides one analog RCA and one XLR output terminal, the player features three digital input terminals (USB, optical audio, coaxial) and two digital output terminals (optical audio, coaxial). That is laudable and provides a certain level of investment security because it means the D-05u also functions as a DAC or pure CD drive as needed.
Now let’s get down to some listening. The reviewer browses the CD collection and briefly pauses at Radiohead’s Kid A album. Oh well, why not? Simply play the first few bars of the first track, “Everything in Its Right Place.” Jaw drops and stays there. Why? Well, now. Even if the editor is already provocatively brandishing his red pen for what I’m about to say, I’ll still say it anyway: The D-05u suddenly serves me this track’s soul, its essence, on a silver tray. Head on.
The less squeamish occasionally like to describe this track as a cacophony. An electronic bass drum, stubbornly pounding away, provides the rhythm. Muffled synthesizer chords from Jonny Greenwood’s storeroom of sounds are wafting about to the left, Thom Yorke is wailing away in the center, while on the right all this lamentation darts twofold, partially backward, partially forward, partially high-pitched about your ears. It’s as if somebody has stripped down an antique Echolette and reassembled it incorrectly. Right on the boundaries of the atonal, pure sound mush when you first listen to it. But: There is method to this madness. It follows a clear concept. The synthesizer’s analog filters continue to get turned up subtly, more and more treble continues to enter the sound pattern—and after a few minutes the track dissipates into a major chord of crystal clarity. A track that pushes and shoves its way forward.
And the D-05u is able to mirror this very same pushing and showing in the listener who seeks a cathartic place of refuge. Instead of sitting there helplessly surrendering to an ear bashing, you look forward, spellbound with excitement, to this deliverance with a D-05u in the room. The tax return that still needs to be completed, the dishwasher that needs to be emptied, the lasagna in the oven, the lady visitor who is going to ring the doorbell in 10 minutes—all forgotten, out of the picture, they just don’t matter. That is a really major achievement.
But how does the Luxman player do that? I believe it comes down to its clarity, honesty and no-compromise attitude in nearly all respects. In terms of tonality, it can draw on an embarrassment of riches. Basses are deep and powerful; they have clarity and structure. Midrange tones glisten in a full blaze of color and trebles are crisp, have perfect resolution and are “à point” like a good entrecôte — neither too bright nor too shadowy, just exactly as delivered by the recording. The same applies to dynamics. When the synthesizer steps up the volume and it’s pushing at the end of the track, the increasing compression is then passed on without any dynamic or temporal delay.
But the standout talent is its three-dimensionality. Seldom have I heard such an explicit and absolute separation of acoustic sources; and just as seldom do you listen to such substantial and realistic virtual midrange tones. Let’s not forget we’re talking Red Book standard in audio CD terms. One’s state of bliss increases when moving on to the next level—that is, listening to an SACD. During the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, the listener is able to approach a state of transcendence. The composer leaves the first 50 bars exclusively in the hands of the string section to let an utter sense of wellbeing wash over the listener—almost Anton Bruckner-style. That’s until the first piercing wind instruments enter the fray, beaming the first demons into a world in soft focus.The effect, the sense of inclusion, this player delivers is difficult to express in words, therefore let me put it another way. Actually, I just wanted to listen in for the first couple of minutes. But I ended up taking in the full 26-minute trounce—right up to the furious finale with its powerful major conclusion. That is serious listening pleasure.
One more thing deserves comment. The D-05u does not gloss over things. That’s because the SACD’s higher resolution, as we all know, not only captures more three-dimensionality, more play in the trebles, more fine detail, but also picks up interference like the mild rushing sound of the pre-amp when miking, the inevitable coughing in the audience or even occasionally a minor recording distortion if the kettle drums are banged too fiercely. The D-05u provides that, too. In for a penny, in for a pound — but that’s how it should be with equipment in this price category.
Anybody who activates the internal DAC from outside is also in for a very pleasant surprise. Alert readers may perhaps recall that I was recently very taken with the C.E.C. CD5, and that I purchased it after the test. This, too, features a superb D/A stage (with Sabre chip set), meaning I also use it now as a reference DAC. The Luxman D-05u, on the other hand, actually ups its game in terms of quality, first by achieving an even better spatial separation of acoustic sources and then with the bass. The latter really does seem to deepen substantially without coming across as exaggerated or overemphasized.
If you want to exploit the D-05u’s potential to its fullest, you should connect it to a computer over a USB port. What is provided in the way of three-dimensionality, magnitude and transparency when playing high-resolution material is absolutely one of a kind. Take, for example, the brand new remaster of John Coltrane’s Soultrane in 96kHz format from Highresaudio.com. A really good job was done here, because the recording was spatially awesome in and of itself, but suffered a little from hissing trebles and a dull bass in places. In this format, converted over the D-05u, it now sounds really clear in terms of tonality, and, above all, explosively dynamic—in a positive sense. This makes hard bop fun to listen to—a vitalizing blend of breakneck drum grooves, in-your-face saxophone and effervescent piano play.
What’s left after your listening session? Positive, straight-up exhaustion! The Luxman D-05u lets its owners share in the thrills, suffering and joys of audio indulgence—it plays incorruptibly but still delivers pure emotion. Omedetogozaimasu! (Congratulations!)
Input terminals: 2 x S/PDIF (coaxial, optical audio), 1 x USB (max. 32 bit/384 kHz and DSD 128/5.6) | Output terminals (analog): symmetrical (XLR), asymmetrical (RCA) | Output terminals (digital): coaxial, optical audio | Digital filters: 2 x PCM, 2 x DSD | Dimensions (W/H/D): 44/13.5/41 cm | Weight: 15 kg | Color: Silver | Warranty period: 2 years | Price: 4,990 €
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