New CD players are few and far between but there remains a steady trickle, Paul Rigby reviews this solid offering from the Japanese outfit
While CD players might be a relative rarity these days, even compared to new turntables, there remains a demand because there is so much software out there and I for one don’t think the format has reached its sonic zenith as yet. I reckon there’s plenty of scope for improvement, within playback terms, in mastering (we’ve seen vast improvements in that area over the past 10 years) but also production.
Production is an area that is long neglected because CD has always been seen as a conveyor-lead, stamp ‘em, box ‘em, sell ‘em type of physical offering. CD was always seen as a mass consumption media. Something that took seconds to create and, in its heyday, seconds to sell. So there was little consideration given how these things were actually made. I’m talking specifically about the reduction of jitter at the pressing stage, for example alongside the implementation of further improved ADCs at the mastering stage plus improved CD players of course.
Which is why it’s important that new CD players keep coming and that the hi-fi industry doesn’t turn its back on the format. It didn’t do that to vinyl and look at the superb turntables appearing on the market of late. I hope CD also receives a renaissance.
So then, hurrah for Luxman for keeping the flag flying. And what has the company offered us here?
A big, solid, heavy, well made CD player, that’s what. Weighing in at 13.2kg and spanning 440 x 133 x 410mm, this is a CD player that has presence. It also offers a slide-out disc tray and a series of round buttons including the standard CD play buttons plus eject.
The remote has an eject button but, depending on circumstances, it’s not always to hand when you need it. That’s why I must say how happy I am to see the D-03X’s CD eject button isolated and placed higher up the front fascia.
A simple yet often frustrating design flaw of many other CD players, I don’t know how many times I’ve had to install my reference CD players on a low shelf so that I’m bending in the listening room gloom, hunting for the eject button which sits among a row of other identical buttons. So I end up pressing the play button again which means I have to find the stop button and then find the eject button again and…well, you get the idea. The isolated eject button is both sensible and logical.
I like to see an obvious power button too, presented here as the dramatically labelled ‘Operation’ on the Luxman’s left, front fascia and not hidden around the back as a rocker switch as many other designs have it.
You will find the lesser-spotted phase invertor switch on the front alongside a digital source selector for the included DAC: coax, optical and USB.
You will find all of those inputs around the back, sitting next to coax and optical outputs. There’s an IEC power socket there too plus single-ended and balanced outs. The DAC, occupied by twin Texas Instruments PCM1975 chips, can handle PCM but also both DSD and MQA. The USB can push to 32bit/384kHz, the optical and coax to 24bit/192kHz with DSD data up to 11.2 MHz. For MQA, a multi-coloured LED indicates MQA decode status (i.e. blue for Studio, green for Authentic, and purple/red for Renderer).
In addition, the USB input supports four modes of ‘Bulk Pet’ high-resolution audio file transfer. Bulk Pet, “…optimises data packaging and delivery to the DAC easing the processing load for both the host CPU and the device CPU enhancing playback stability and ultimately yielding improved sound quality,” said the company. I must admit that this USB mode is new to me but if you’d like to know more, check out this English-language link: www.itf.co.jp
One aspect of the interface that I just love was the Zoom function. This is an ideal option for the visually impaired. I wear glasses and, after a few feet without them, the standard output window text blurs into mush.Pressing the Zoom button increased the size of the text/numerals displayed via the DAC. I could read this large figure easily, even without my glasses. A novel feature and the type of accessibility option that should be all over hi-fi and just isn’t. My simple ‘no-glasses’ test was to prove a point to me and I have the luxury of correcting my sight by putting my specs back on again but not everyone has that ability. Some hi-fi users suffer with low quality eyesight even with glasses. So, every aid helps. Now, you might say that some output windows on certain products already offer large text and number output anyway as a default (although I’d counter that by adding that this so-called help is more of an accident than a proactive accessibility feature) but other output windows do not or the legibility is not the best.
If mobile phones and computers can add purpose-installed accessibility interface options then why can’t hifi manufacturers? Well done Luxman!
The RD-28 remote control, run on two AAA batteries behind a rear-mounted slide-out cover, is a Curate’s Egg in that I like the broad aspect of the form. It’s a meaty affair that feels solid in the hand. I’m not a fan of the tiny buttons but then Luxman is squeezing a lot of facilities onto this thing. That includes a Dimmer button (with four levels of light including a Light Off option) for the output window, that Zoom button, track Program facilities and play/source options.
So how does the D-03X sound?
I began with the indie band, The Sundays and their 1990 album, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (Rough Trade) a band with a female lead vocal, guitars bass and drums. Relatively high energy in presentation, there’s enough space within their arrangements for plenty of space to reveal delicate details. I began with the track, Skin & Bones. One of the reasons for the selection of this disc was its early generational neutrality. I also played the Genesis album Abacab, (Charisma) as a contrast and riffled though the big and bold tracks tracks on offer.
What does a CD player in this price point actually give you? The price is an odd one for a CD player, in this day and age. You’re not looking at a value for money product of the £500-£1,000 stripe that majors on doing a great job for a low cost. And there’s a fair few of those models currently for sale. The Luxman also doesn’t go all out at £6,000+ to provide bells and whistles and a high-end performance promise. There’s a few of those on offer too. For some budget users, the Luxman may be expensive but certainly attractive as a possible upgrade while some high-end users may wonder if the Luxman goes far enough.
So, you might not think it when you open the D-03X box but this CD player has a very difficult job indeed. It has to wow two audiences, tempting the budget user to spend more despite the relatively high price and convince the high-end user that it offers a good enough performance despite the relatively low price. You might say that the Luxman is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I began in single-ended mode and compared it to my Leema Elements player.
On this Sundays track, you could certainly hear what you were paying for, no problem. There was a lot more transparency over the entire soundstage here. The lead vocal was trimmer, slimmer with a slightly detached aspect which created an element of distance between her and the band. This allowed the emotion from her voice to be better translated.
There was a slightly solid state aspect to the upper mids from the D-03X. A coolness and a sparse element that did help to push detail to the ear. That is, there was an extra twist of focus here which meant the female vocal offered a more exacting lyrical delivery.
From Genesis, the lead guitar was precise in its presentation as was the treble. Cymbal hits were sharp and lean with a notable transient performance. Cymbals started and stopped with admirable precision. There was no smearing of the mids here, no midrange skidding or bass flab. The Luxman’s solid state air gave the music a strict frequency discipline that kept each instrument in order and behaving properly.
I wondered if a balanced connection might change the nature of the sonic presentation so headed for my reference cables.
Playing The Sundays via balanced connections, I was suddenly glad I’d bought a ticket to this particular performance because the presentation was richer, more complex and deeper in terms of the soundstage image.
To give you an example, in the chorus of this track there is an odd thing, around five seconds of vocal double tracking. Just the five. It never happens again elsewhere on the track, just within five seconds of the chorus. On the single-ended mode, this effect can be heard – a good thing – but the effect is flat and, in relative terms at least, lacking in emotion. In balanced mode the double tracking flies off the rear of the vocal and moves back into the soundstage while adding delicate reverb.
And that’s the thing with the D-03X in balanced mode, the soundstage is enlarged. There’s more space for reverb to move around, more space for air to drift in between instruments allowing the ear to pick up detail on the edges, as it where. That is, there’s a greater definition from the beginning and the ending of notes.
In short, despite the performance highlights from single-ended mode on the D-03X, when compared to balanced play, it resembled a 2D pencil sketch. The balanced mode could be compared to a complex piece of 3D CGI.
Comparing the Luxman to a high-end McIntosh CD player priced around £8k, the latter had a more cultured and finessed midrange with a superior bass character from the Genesis album although, even here, there was a slight light shining on the upper mid and treble area in single-ended mode while, in balanced mode? Well, if anything, I preferred the tonal balance from the Luxman while the 3D effect around the stereo image was a mite superior, I reckon.
So yes, there are definitely sonic elements produced by the Luxman D-03X that should attract users of differing sound preferences and those that gravitate to different price points.
Importantly though, I wanted to throw some jazz at the D-03X. Chaotic rock is all very well but I wanted to see if it also produced the required accuracy demanded of Stompin’ at the Savoy from Turn up the Quiet, Geoff Keezer’s Columbia release from 1997.
I was happy with this performance. Yes, there may not have been quite the low noise and precision that a truly high-end CD player might give you but I’m being picky now. There was more than enough information on offer here with a resonance and reverberating upright bass providing a firm foundation while the sax, emanating from the right channel, was suitably reedy and organic in nature. Meanwhile, Keezer’s own piano provided a playful and focused rhythmic support.
Now I wouldn’t buy a Luxman CD player for the DAC. It wouldn’t be…seemly, somehow but hey, it’s there and there to be used so I wondered if the DAC might be a useful added tool, when required so plugged in my laptop and pushed through a Sonny Rollins 24bit/96kHz jazz piece, St Thomas.
I was pleasantly surprised with the output on this one. Relatively low noise, clarity was surprisingly good, instrumental separation allowed lots of detail to spring forth while bass, even here, was firm and sprightly. I would have no issues at all using the Luxman’s DAC for occasional digital use. The airy mids provided impressive insight.
What the Luxman D-03X does well, when compared to even high-end models like my McIntosh, is to provide a firm user choice.
If you want a more solid state presentation with definite, accurate, exacting detail and a disciplined soundstage then single-ended mode is your thing.
If you want a more organic, richer, complex presentation with delicacy and elegance around the upper frequencies then buy the D-03X alongside a pair of balanced cables.
In that respect, you’re given two CD players in one and it’s great to have such firm characters available. There’s nothin wishy washy, Luxman provide you with definite sound attributes for both outputs. This is a good looking, feature-packed, well designed and great sounding CD player. If you have three and a half big ones looking to go digital, give the Luxman D-03X a close look.
LUXMAN D-03X CD player
GOOD: balanced output, sonic character choice, build, interface deign, DAC performance
BAD: nothing of note
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