Luxman DA-06 USB D/A Converter
Input: USB (Audio Class 2.0), 2x Coax S/PDIF, 2x Toslink, AES/EBU
Output: Coax S/PDIF, Toslink, 1 pair RCA, 1 pair XLR
Weight: 24 lb. (11 kg)
Dimensions : 17.3" (440) W x 3.6" (92) H x 15.75" (400) D
Availability: online and through Authorized Dealers
US Distributor's Website: www.onahighernote.com
Luxman is an old and storied Japanese hi-fi brand having been founded in 1925. I'll admit to lusting after a number of Luxman products over the years, mainly their tube-based amplifiers, but regardless of the component, Luxman knows how to impart beautiful build quality. There's obvious and tactilely apparent care taken with each objects industrial design. And while I appreciate that aspect of the Luxman line, without matching sonic performance you may as well buy a music box. Luckily for us, the DA-06 delivers on all counts.
Luxman built their first DAC, the DA-07, back in 1987 and the DA-06 is their current top-of-line converter. Featuring Burr-Brown's PCM1792A DAC, the DA-06 can handle up to 32/384 DXD as well as 64x and 128x DSD via USB. For the Mac platform, DoP delivers DSD and for Windows a Luxman-provided ASIO driver provides direct DSD playback support. The other digital inputs max out at 24/192. Since the DA-06 is just a DAC, there's not a heck of lot to talk about in terms of features. There are three user-selectable filters for PCM playback (Normal, Low Latency, and High Frequency Attenuation) and two more for DSD (Normal and High Frequency Attenuation). The front panel hosts controls for selecting these filters, a red LED display that shows the incoming sample rate/quantization (it lights up DSD when playing back DSD files), and a control knob for input selection. Around back are all of the inputs and outputs and IEC inlet for the included power cord.
There's also a Phase selector button as well as a selector for "Digital Out" that offers two choices—Off and Through. "Through" allows you to use the DA-06 as a USB to S/PDIF converter for all data up 24/192kHz. For the duration of this review, I used the DA-06's USB input fed from my MacBook Pro with an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable and a pair of Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced ICs led to my Pass INT-30A integrated amp which drove my DeVore Fidelity The Nines.
The Sound of Smooth
If you read any review of the Luxman DA-06 and the reviewer doesn't use the words liquid or smooth (or some other variant), you'll know something is wrong. The DA-06 is one smooth sounding customer. The sound field presented feels deep, wide, and nearly wet its so wonderfully present. Sound images are solid, bass is as big as life yet completely controlled and tuneful, and no matter how complex things get, the DA-06 sorts everything out without breaking even a hint of a sweat. There's never a sense of anything being overly etched or overly detailed, just pure smooth music. And when your gear is relaxed, your music is relaxed, and so are you. Which is the way it should be in this listening to music on a hi-fi business.
DSD recordings like Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D Major from Channel Classics was deeply moving through the DA-06. The presentation was spatially vast, with distinct instrumental voices laid out in all of their individual glory leaving the rest up to our imagination. I was literally transported, moved, and awed by the performance, leaving all thoughts of hi-fi behind. There's an uncanny naturalness to the DA-06's way with space as if you can get up and walk around in Mahler's sound world for those fleeting moments of music-time. Lovely.
If you've ever had the pleasure of sitting in on one of Philip O'Hanlon's rooms at a hi-fi show, Philip is On A Higher Note the Luxman US distributor among other brands and my contact for this review, you'll have noticed he consistently gets great sound. You also may have noticed that his music selections are always well considered, wonderful sounding, and not your typical audiophile fare. The experience of listening, more so the enjoyment and sheer pleasure of the listening experience, appears to rank among Philip's highest priorities. With that in mind, Philip also sent along a USB flash drive with some music, mainly in DSD format. A needle drop in double rate DSD of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" from a 12" 45rpm pressing, Jimi Hendrix's "Born Under a Bad Sign" from the posthumously released Blues LP, and Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country", and more all sounded simply spectacular through the Luxman DAC. Everything, instruments, voices, and the way they exist in space, sound just right making it very easy to forget about reproduction moving you right into the production.
I went through all kinds of music from regular old CD-quality up to DXD, and single and double rate DSD and I could easily live with it all. I also threw every instrument in my sonic arsenal at the DA-06 and it took them all in and gave back what sounds to me like natural voices. Solo piano was forceful yet sweet, electronica boomed, busted, and blipped with exacting precision, voices were wonderfully present in full body as opposed to some presentations that tilt things toward the throat or chest, horns sounded like horns and within that particular family you could easily discern the sonic differences between alto sax, trumpet, and pocket trumpet. Even the potentially clamorous harpsichord was given full voice while harmonica, a potentially disastrous instrument in digital reproduction, sounded nice and wet and woody.
The artist Henri Matisee once said, "In my paintings, I wish to create a spiritual remedy, similar to a comfortable armchair which provides rest from physical expectation for the spiritually working." And I would say you can think of the Luxman DA-06 along similarly comforting lines.
I also have the MSB Analog DAC (starts at $6,995) here for a follow-up to Steve Plaskin's excellent and thorough review and this made for an interesting comparison as they sound very similar. Only after careful extended listening was I able to pick out some sonic anomalies between them which consisted mainly of the Analog DAC being ever so slightly more lit up in a good way coupled with an even larger physical presentation. The sound picture painted by the Analog DAC was ever so slightly bigger in every dimension and there was also a sense of hearing into the recording, of even greater resolution. The Luxman traded off these traits for a very sensuous sound, a warm, enveloping, and soft presentation that was just pure pleasure. If you were to ask me which to get, I'd say the one you prefer.
I also took the Auralic Vega ($3,500 see review) for a comparative spin and here we have a very different presentation. The Vega is more involved in transient information, low level micro-detail, which gives the overall presentation a more detailed quality. In comparison, the DA-06 sounds laid back allowing some physical separation between the presentation and you whereas the Vega seems to reach out and touch you. I can see how some listeners may find the Vega's overall sound to be nearly too detailed and for those looking for an analog-like ease, the Luxman DA-06 delivers in spades.
The music made by the Luxman DA-06 is rich, resolute, refined, and oh so smooth. Regardless of my music's pedigree, I found myself enjoying entire album's worth upon album's worth, getting sucked into their sounds and moods to the point of being completely lost in tunes. I cannot think of a higher compliment to pay a piece of hi-fi gear. Capable of handling up to 32/384kHz PCM and double rate DSD, the Luxman DA-06 is one luxury that pays off in musical enjoyment as rich as the contents of your music collection.
Also on hand and in use during the Luxman DA-06 review: MSB Technology The Analog DAC, Auralic Vega