In a time where a “smaller is better” mentality dominates much of tech, and to a growing degree audiophile, design, its refreshing to see a company take as much real estate as they need to get the job done right. Make no mistake; the Luxman P-700u Headphone Amplifier is sizable. The 17”x 15” footprint is one of the larger headphone amplifier sizes (along with Cavalli) and is pretty big for even a modern full size component. Luxman takes full advantage of this superfluous internal space, side-stepping the “less is more” mantra for a moment while they pile on a whole host of internal circuitry, even going so far as to double stack some of the boards inside the silver-finished enclosure. The 700u is not one of those components where a volume truss rod is all that can be found in the front half of the casing sans cover. The 28lb. spec weight of the unit clearly reflects this blatant disregard for simplicity. When I first received the unit in the mail, I thought for sure that I was being subject to a mix up with an integrated. The unexpected size of the unit is definitely more at home on a rack than a desktop. But with that additional girth comes all of the aesthetic and sonic goodness that you would expect from the top tier of audiophile gear. Every switch is solid, every click is unmistakable.
The Luxman P-700 allows for both SE and balanced headphone listening. While I prefer the simpler 4-pin single balanced connection, cable enthusiasts may rejoice with the two separate three-pin balanced connection that the P-700u offers as it provides option to separate the channels as far from each other as possible from headphone earcup to amp. Perhaps in a nod towards its intended use, the back allows for two balanced inputs and only one singled ended. The front allows for two SE headphones to be connected OR one balanced. An output mode button lets you select between the two connection types. The headphone amplifier is a class “A” and the unit casing is fairly efficient in dissipating heat, it gets slightly warm to the touch at its hottest. Amp output is 2W at 16Ω for SE, which is slightly less than Burson Conductor’s 4W. However, I had no issues whatsoever driving any of the headphones I had on hand. Volume levels from the balanced outputs were fairly even with single ended connections. If the given headphone allowed for a choice of gain, by preference was the middle setting for the three level sensitivity switch. I found the highest setting to be just a hair more edgy by comparison at the equivalent volume level.
Luxman paid special attention to the volume attenuator on the P-700u, even going so far as to give the component its own branded name. The LECUA 1000-WM (Luxman Electric Controlled Ultimate Attenuator with Weight Matrix Technology) is “configured to electrically block electromagnetic (EMI) and radio frequency (RFI) interferences” and contains “only a few resistors in the circuit per channel at any single volume setting” according to the website. I decided to test the limits of the LECUA against the extremely sensitive JH16 IEMs from Jerry Harvey Audio, even though I doubt the designers (and most likely purchasers) would rarely intend to use such a full-featured amplifier with In-Ear Monitors. The results were quite satisfying. While the LECUA didn’t provide the blackest background I’ve ever heard from an IEM, the attenuator was wildly successful in avoiding channel imbalance at any level (the accompanying balance knob made this extremely easy to verify). The low setting of the sensitivity switch was even able to provide a very nice, clean sweep for volume control with IEMs. Normal listening levels ending up around the 35% mark with the JH16s. While the volume knob on a component isn’t the sole reason anyone purchases audio equipment, the LECUA is a part of the overall build that holds up to the price point of this premium product. The build, resistance and feel are all first rate.
To get a firm grip on where the P-700u lands sonically I implemented a slightly bifurcated approach to answer two questions. First, what does a premium priced (headphone exclusive) amplifier add to personal audio listening, from a wide-angle perspective? Secondly, how does the Luxman differentiate itself from a formidable opponent? To answer these queries I enlisted the help of two sensible personal audio components from different price points, the CEntrance DACmini ($800) for the former and the new Benchmark DAC2 D ($1.8k) for the latter.
Even though you can easily purchase 3 to 4 DACminis for the price of the Luxman, it is no slouch when it comes to headphone listening. The single ended output is commensurate with expectations at this price, and its headphone output provides a clear picture through which to view a wide variety of headphone pairings. From this vantage point we can celebrate not only the returns, but (with so many stellar DAC/amp combinations on the market right now) also insights to answer “why amp separately?” in the first place. The first, and most immediate response from the Luxman was soundstage. Instrument separation coupled with a distinct sense of placement brings the music out of your head and places it in front and around you in a very pleasing presentation. The classic Death Cab for Cutie single Soul Meets Body features a fair allowance of simultaneous doubled vocal and guitar work that breaks apart beautifully as the song picks up. Through the P-700u this entire canvas feels far more “right here” and less “over there”. This leap between the DACmini and the Luxman was both easily identifiable and welcome via a pair of Audeze LCD-3 headphones with a SE connection. All frequencies ranges improved accordingly with expectations, especially the mids and highs. A natural, tight upper end followed by beautiful extension upward makes you feel the Luxman could thwart any digital crispy from a questionable source with a flick of its knob. It cannot (for the record), it is far too transparent to do so, but the treble remains an exceptional attribute to the unit. Listening to the Diana Krall track I Used To Love You But Its All Over Now the focus of the mix is emphasized squarely on her vocal tracks. The crystal clear words of the song felt slightly more grainy though the DACMini by comparison. Once again, smooth and natural characteristics resided over the mids produced by the Luxman. When the entire band bursts in after the chorus, occasionally some rigs will have a hard time deciphering the full scope of the scene with the odd drum that surreptitiously joins the party in the background. The P-700u had no qualms laying out the panorama clearly for all to see. Bass guitar and piano are projected with natural timbre throughout the song. The Sennheiser Momentum is an exceptional budget headphone that produces a surprisingly balanced tonal spectrum, especially for a closed-back headphone. However, the headphone’s low end can be a bit unruly at times. Bass playback through the P-700u was juicer and tighter than I had ever heard from the ‘phone, helping it capitalize on its truest potential (less mud and wool).
Moving further up the audio food chain, the Benchmark DAC2 D offers an outstanding “near 0Ω output resistance” headphone amplifier married to its updated 32-bit SABRE DAC. Balanced outputs accompany the higher cost and allow for full end-to-end experience, however a balanced source is not always necessary to hear the differences of a balanced connection from amp to headphone from my experience. At this level the improvements in soundstaging were slightly less apparent, but still applicable. The perceived detail reproduction was also surprisingly even, however the Luxman was able to define itself with organic, natural sound. Once again the P-700u impressed with its butter-smooth highs complemented by edge and grain-free mids. The Sad Café by JD Souther is a good example of a sleeper song that is produced extremely well. JD’s voice hangs perfectly between each instruments as they come and go in the mix. The Luxman was able to retain the focused tonal color of the piano, trumpet and vocals as they play out across the stage. With an appropriate DAC attached, even the subtle cues of the guitarist dropping his hands from the instrument were detectable at the end of the track.
No matter what headphone amp I threw at it, the Luxman stood its ground; cymbals were playful and clear without a hint of irritation and mid tones felt more like fluid chrome and less like raspy morning voice. Unfortunately like so many things in audio, a suitable pairing is required to bring out the true potential of the product. I found the DAC2 a very welcome complement to the experience. If your plans are set on an amplifier of this magnitude with intentions of connecting to anything less than a equally impressive source, I would suggest a quick reevaluation of your budget allotment. The good news is DAC technology is updating a much faster rate than headphone amplifier tech, so by that rationale the Luxman could be the last headphone amplifier you will ever need. My futurist crystal ball is far too cloudy to predict where digital audio will be 20 years from now.
There is an age-old wisdom that you should always spend the most money on your loudspeakers when considering a budget for home stereo rig. After all, they are the components most responsible for producing the actual sound waves you hear. Luxman suggests that the same rules may not apply for headphone audio. Stax and Abyss products aside, some of the best headphones this world has to offer still cost substantially less than the Luxman, yet it still manages to carve out a reserved space for itself in the chain of command. If you are looking for the best, the P-700u is something you should definitely audition. Paired lovingly with a premium headphone in balanced or unbalanced connections can offer a new perspective on your sonic landscape accented by its natural, pleasing high-end and smooth mid section. It can be a fairly difficult thing to pull together a reproduction that sounds not only organic, but also retains all of the information and detail of the original source, especially for digital. Attempts at extreme accuracy can sometimes lead to an over-analytical sound - this is not the case with the P-700u. Music flows and ebbs the way it should, like a colorful river of notes and sounds dancing for your amusement alone. The Luxman offers up the opportunity to make a great experience with your favorite headphone even better, if you have the funds (and space) to allocate. For those that can swallow a $6k price tag without getting an upset stomach, this may be the answer to your upgrade woes. The P-700u presents itself as a very well thought out piece, with plenty of power, poise and charm to spare.
Luxman P-700u Gallery
- Product - Luxman P-700u Headphone Amplifier
- Price - $6,000
- Product Page - Link
- Source: MacBook Air, Oppo BDP-105
- DAC: CEntrance DACmini CX, Benchmark DAC2 D
- Headphone Amplifier: Burson Audio Conductor
- Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, Sennheiser HD650, Sennheiser Momentum, JHAudio JH16, Grado SR80, Mr. Speakers “Mad Dog” Ver. 3.2 (newest revision)
- Playback Software: Audirvana Plus
- Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Custom JE Audio Design Cables
About The Author
I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.