Luxman DA-06 DAC Review
Sooner or later audiophiles come to the realizations that every component flavors the sound and that there isn't a single best flavor. Accepting these two facts eases us into the world of endless enjoyment provided by this wonderful hobby. Researching, selecting, and auditioning new components can be pleasurable when our sonic tastebuds are the only things that matter. When visiting a chocolatier we may ask for recommendations or for the most exotic or popular truffles. Tasting each type of truffle is a blissful experience that frequently leads us to prefer a specific flavor. Regardless of each ingredient's purity, source, or popularity the final decision is based on taste. Selecting audio components is no different from selecting fine chocolates. The colorful sights and sounds of my McIntosh MC275 may be equally as enjoyable as my impeccably engineered Spectral DMA-260 solid state amplifier. When I'm listening to music rather than equipment my audio system is comprised of components that best bring out an emotional response to my favorite albums. Over the last few weeks nothing in my listening room has been as essential to my musical enjoyment as the Luxman DA-06 digital to analog converter. The Luxman DA-06 DAC is as rich and smooth as a Diane Krön truffle yet as pure as water from France's Auvergne region. Like a good book the DA-06 had me hooked on its lush qualities from track one.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
Luxman DA-06 Digital To Analog Converter
The Luxman DA-06 has a very special quality that I haven't heard in my listening room to date. It has a silky smooth bloom to its sound but at the same time is transparent enough to enable the listener to hear into the music like many top tier DACs. This quality is so seductive that the DA-06 hasn't been out of my system since the day it arrived. Usually I connect new components and play a little something through them to make sure the FedEx guy didn't fumble the box causing internal damage. Following these typical tests I move on to other components that have been in line for review for several weeks or even months, eventually getting back to the just-tested component. Not so with the Luxman DA-06. I listened to one track, then another, then an entire album without drifting off into email or the CA forums. This DAC had me hooked. Within a few days I moved it to the front of the review queue.
Over the years I've listened to many needle drops (vinyl albums converted to digital files). Until now none of them have really impressed me enough to listen twice or encouraged me enough to do my own analog to digital conversions. Along with the DA-06 Philp O'Hanlon of On A Higher Note, the Luxman U.S. Distributor, included a USB stick with several needle drops. Listening to these files through the DA-06 was an entirely new experience. I've never heard A to D vinyl transfers sound this good in any system. There's no better example than listening to Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side 12" converted to DSD at 1 bit / 5.6 MHz and played through the Luxman. From the opening base notes to the backing vocalists to Lou's unremarkable voice this was an immersive experience. The DA-06 produced mid range to high frequencies with an elegant smoothness that transported me out of every day life and into a musical illusion. Equally as impressive was the tight control of the lower frequencies especially the unmistakable baseline. Two other needle drops that that I played over and over through the Luxman DA-06 were Shelby Lynne's Just A Little Lovin' title track and Mumford & Sons' Sign No More title track. As The Computer Audiophile I'm used to hearing these tracks at 16 bit / 44.1 kHz ripped straight from silver CDs. These files were transferred from vinyl to 24 bit / 192 kHz. The analog qualities that emanate from these A to D transfers through the DA-06 at high resolution are lush and lure one into listen for hours on end. The surface noise of the albums was audible but but it gave me a smooth musical connection to each track.
After listening to needle drops for several days through the Luxman DA-06 ($6,000) I played many of the same tracks through my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2 ($5,000) / Alpha USB ($1,900) combination. These two DACs are very different sonically as both put a totally different flavor on the music. The Alpha DAC and USB put much less of a flavor on music than most DACs I've heard. Listening to the needle drops through the Alpha combo was a completely different experience that didn't reproduce analog immersive qualities that the DA-06 reproduced. Bass through the Alpha combo was more delineated as separate notes. In addition the surface noise of the vinyl transfers was more apparent through the Alpha DAC / USB combo. Both the Luxman and Berkeley Audio Design components are great performers with different and differing levels of flavor imparted on the music. The Alpha is neither silky smooth nor forgiving whereas the Luxman is capable of easing the listener into an illusory experience with almost any music.
The sound of native DSD tracks played through the Luxman DA-06 is truly magical. Much of my time spent listening to DSD was also spent wondering if this DAC was created specifically for DSD playback. Nat King Cole's The Very Thought Of You at 1 bit / 2.8224 MHz (DSD64) had a full and rich sound. Nat's voice was so alluring through this DAC, in native DSD using an ASIO driver, that I dare anyone to listen and deny the merits of DSD. Also in native DSD64 was Bob Dylan's Girl From The North Country. I'm not a big Bob Dylan fan but this track sounded so good I wanted to seek out Dylan's entire catalog in DSD to find more gems of the same ilk. The DA-06 tamed this sometimes harsh track with its silky smooth character yet still allowed the organic plucks of the strings to shine through as if Dylan was recording the track in the next room. This special quality of smooth and immersive yet bare and untouched when it counts is something I haven't heard to this extent from anything other than the Luxman DA-06. A final example of the terrific DSD capabilities of this DAC can be heard playing Hugh Masekela's Stimela (Coal Train) track. I'd long heard of this track but for some reason ignored as another audiophile recording with great sound but terrible music. Fortunately I was wrong about the music. I listened to Stimela at 1 bit / 5.6448 MHz (DSD128) and figuratively fell into Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley club in which the track was recorded. The sense of air surrounding every note on this track is something to behold. Listening to the coal train story as it's told throughout the song with a plethora of instruments and sounds in the background is a wonderful experience through the DA-06. I don't have the PCM version of this track for comparison but I can't imagine it's better than this DSD128 version.
The vast majority of computer audiophiles' music collections are PCM, as opposed to DSD, and CD quality at 16 bit / 44.1 kHz. Thus, the Luxman DA-06 must perform equally as well with standard resolution as it does with high resolution or else it's niche DAC in a niche market catering to a small niche within a niche. Fortunately the DA-06 retains its great sonic qualities reproducing 44.1 kHz content. I even sent some low resolution lossy MP3 tracks through the DA-06 and I enjoyed the music as much as I ever have. Eddie Vedder's track All The Way (Live) about the Chicago Cubs and faithful Cubs fans was never released in a format other than MP3. Eddie singing, "Someday we'll go all the way" gave me chills even after listening to the track several times. The DA-06 couldn't rescue this track from its sonic ills but I can't complain about hearing this track as well as I've ever heard it and feeling a rush of emotion as a lifelong Cubs fan. The new Iron & Wine album Ghost On Ghost contains my favorite track I&W has ever released. Track 4 Low Light Buddy Of Mine has a very authentic and organic sound prominently featuring bass guitar and drums from the outset. Through the Luxman DA-06 the track sounds great and very personal compared to other DACs that leave the listener completely out of the music as a long lost spectator in the upper most deck of a giant stadium. The Luxman character has a way of pulling one into the presentation rather than pushing the sound forward into the listener's face. Comparing Nat King Cole's The Very Thought Of You at 16/44.1 to the DSD version through the same DAC was an interesting exercise but my conclusion may be a red herring capable of misleading readers about PCM versus DSD rather than the system as a whole, my opinion of what I heard, and the flavor of sound I prefer. That said I much prefer the DSD version of this track through this DAC and the rest of my system. Two PCM 44.1 tracks that were seemingly made for this DAC or vice versa are Randi Tytingvaag's Red Or Dead, and Norah Jones' & Tim Ries' version of Wild Horses. The DA-06's silky smoothness and nearly tube-like bloom are a perfect match for Randi's sometimes piercing voice. The vocals on Red Or Dead are crystal clear through the DA-06, as they should be, but there's a nice amount of Luxman magic that transports this track to a very enjoyable realm. A match made in heaven is one way to describe Norah Jones' voice and the Luxman DA-06. I can almost guarantee readers that this combination will be heard at all the upcoming audio shows. The DA-06 in general enables a listener to enjoy music for hours on end without fatigue, but the combination of Norah Jones and the DA-06 could enable listening for days without feeling overindulged.
The perfect component will remain elusive to those seeking perfection where it can't be found. Every component regardless of price or prowess of the designer has a sonic signature. The Luxman DA-06 DAC reproduces music with a rich tonal balance and silky smooth midrange, yet a satiating amount of transparency. The DA-06 is unique among DACs I've heard in recent memory because of those qualities. This is a DAC for listening to and being enveloped by one's favorite music. This favorite music has staying power whereas audio formats come and go with consumer demand. PCM and DSD remain viable for one reason, there's music people want to hear in both formats. Worrying about a "winning" format or "best" format is unnecessary with the Luxman DA-06. This DAC reproduces both PCM and DSD with its lush signature Luxman sound. The DA-06 enables the listener to get lost in the music rather than the format. The Luxman DA-06 DAC has seductive sonic qualities as addictive as a good book or a fine chocolate. At $6,000 it's a bit more expensive than most books but the DA-06 can bring endless enjoyment long after the last page is turned. Unequivocally recommended and CASH Listed.
The Luxman DA-06 DAC features an asynchronous USB input capable of accepting PCM and DSD audio. PCM audio through 32 bit / 384 kHz and DSD audio from 1 bit / 2.8224 MHz through 1 bit / 5.6448 MHz (DSD128) are all supported natively. The DA-06 upsamples all 44.1 based PCM audio to 352.8 kHz and all 48 based PCM audio to 384 kHz through its 32 bit digital filter. Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC chips are used in the DA-06. The front panel display is dimmable in four steps and enables selection of PCM (Digital) or DSD (Analog) filters. During PCM playback I preferred the second filter P-2 (low latency IIR filter) and for DSD playback I preferred the second filter d-2 (high attenuation analog FIR filter). The USB input requires installation of the supplied device driver for use with a Windows PC. This ASIO driver enables playback of DSD content natively without using the DoP DSD over PCM standard. It's also possible to use JRiver Media Center's WASAPI output mode with DoP rather than the ASIO driver. The DA-06 is a fixed output DAC without volume control. The output levels of Single ended RCA and Balanced XLR outputs are 2.5 Vrms at 300Ω and 600Ω respectively.
- Product - Luxman DA-06 Digital to Analog Converter
- Price - $6,000
- Product Page - Link
- Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
- Shelby Lynne - Just A Little Lovin'
- Nat King Cole - The Very Thought Of You
- Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
- Hugh Masekela - Hope (Live)
- Iron & Wine - Ghost On Ghost
- Randi Tytingvaag - Red
- Tim Ries - Rolling Stones Project (Wild Horses With Norah Jones)
- Source: 15" MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display, C.A.P.S. v3 Carbon Server
- DAC: EMM Labs DAC2X, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2
- Digital to Digital Converter: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Preamp: Spectral Audio DMC-30SS Series 2
- Amplifier: Spectral Audio DMA-260
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: JRemote
- Remote Control Hardware: iPhone 5, iPad (3rd Generation)
- Playback Software Windows 8: J River Media Center 18
- Playback Software Mac OS X 10.8.3 : Audirvana Plus
- Cables: MIT Matrix HD 60 Bi-Wire Loudspeaker Cable, MIT Oracle Matrix 50 Analog Interconnects (RCA), ALO Audio AC6 Power Cables, Wire World Silver Starlight USB Cable, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable
- Network: Cisco SG200-26 Switch, Baaske MI-1005 Ethernet Isolator, Micro Connectors Augmented Cat6A Ethernet Cable, Apple AirPort Extreme, PFSense Router / Firewall, Cisco DPC3000 Docsis 3.0 cable modem, Comcast Extreme 105 Mbps Internet Service
- Product - Luxman DA-06 Digital to Analog Converter