Founded in 1925, Luxman is one of the most respected of all Japanese audio manufacturers and was a name to be reckoned with in the seventies and eighties owing to a series of very highly regarded tube amplifiers, still much in demand on the used market. In 1984 the company was acquired by Alps, which tried to market Luxman products with those of Alpine, a strategy that failed dismally, resulting in the loss of distribution in America and Europe. Luxman, nevertheless, continued to develop innovative electronics for the Japanese market, and in 2007 acquired American representation once again, now through On a Higher Note (the original importer of Halcro).
Despite respective $4500 and $4000 retail prices, the integrated amplifier and universal-disc player considered here are entry‑level models. By way of anticipating my conclusion, if performance this high represents the “bottom” of Luxman’s line, I can scarcely conceive the stratospheres the upper models must occupy.
L‑550A II Integrated Amplifier
I was favorably disposed toward this integrated amplifier from the moment I laid eyes on it. The traditional styling and ergonomics hark back to the classic designs of the sixties: Large source and selector knobs, the ones most used, flank a pair of meters; less-used controls handling a number of equally traditional functions, such as balance, tone controls, loudness compensation, and mode switching (i.e., stereo, mono, left, right), are arrayed in a neat row across the bottom, with push-buttons on either side. The only visual clues of contemporary provenance on the handsome, substantial chassis are the remote handset, a pair of balanced inputs, and heavy-duty binding posts. Attention to fit, finish, and detail, obvious even before fire-up, places the L-550A right up there in McIntosh league. And though the large frontpanel meters are yellow rather than blue, the homage to that great American giant is clear.
Once you do fire it up—breakin a mere day’s worth—you feel an immediate confidence in the silken rotation of that volume pot, the light but firm push-buttons that engage and disengage a satisfyingly quiet “click”—again, shades of McIntosh— to let you know a command has been completed. But make no mistake: If the look is retro, the performance is as up-to-date as the current state of the art allows. Its 20Wpc into 8‑ohm, 40Wpc into 4‑ohm rating may seem light beside many of today’s brutes; but this is pure Class A solid-state, so it plays louder than the numbers suggest. And Luxman’s are very conservatively rated watts that one lab measured at nearly four times the nominal specification before clipping. Driving Wilson Duette loudspeakers revealed no problems with levels as loud as I typically employ. Indeed, the amp didn’t falter until the volume drove me out of the room. And I mean “falter,” not “fail.” Certain instruments, e.g., bass drums or pianos in their lowest register, were merely robbed of some impact in a presentation otherwise clean, controlled, and unruffled.
I couldn’t wait to try the L‑550A on my Quad ESLs. Ruthlessly revealing, inefficient yet with limited power handling, they should prove an ideal match for a modestly powered, immodestly performing Class A amp. Nor was I disappointed: highs smooth yet crystalline in their clarity and airiness, midrange natural and neutral, bass of satisfying warmth, definition, even power. And, of course, transparency galore. Hardly unexpected. As I’ve observed in other reviews, contemporary solid‑state electronics of competent or better engineering rarely display any tonal signature unless it’s been designed in (Bob Carver’s Sunfires with their presence dip or any number of moderately‑powered British amps that aim specifically for a “punchy,” “tuneful” mid‑to‑upper bass).
No, the special virtues of the Luxman lie elsewhere, beginning with a really lovely purity that holds up and down the scale from the quietest of settings to the loudest, provided you don’t get stupid about loud levels. Perhaps because my reference speakers have been Quad ESLs of all vintages these many years, I may appreciate the virtues of moderate levels more than the typical audiophile. In my medium‑large room (over 2600 cubic feet), a moderate level—by which I mean conversation possible but not easy during loud passages—from the combination of the L‑550A and any of my Quads yields the ideal “window onto the concert hall.” Find the right volume—Peter Walker argued that there is only a small range of “right” playback level for a given recording— and everything locks into place within a soundfield that is solid in the root meaning of the word stereo. (As I did most of my listening on Quads, I’ve asked my colleague Robert E. Greene to comment on the L‑550A driving several, very different dynamic speakers he has on hand.) Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall demonstrates this as well as anything, and something more besides. Belafonte’s voice has real body in addition to presence, warmth, and naturalness. I know there are audio critics who insist that solid-state cannot do “body” in the way that tubes can, but every time I listen to my reference McIntosh C46/MC402, they fling that prejudice down upon the floor and dance on it. Likewise this Luxman.