I’m an old-school kind of guy when it comes to audio. I like the physical medium, be it analog or digital. I want to see and handle the disc, read the liner notes, and appreciate the artwork or pictures that come with a recording. Luxman is old school, too—literally. Founded in 1925, this Japanese company has been making high-quality audio products ever since.
Luxman’s newest CD players
The D-03X ($3595, all prices USD) is the baby brother to the new X-series flagship player, the D-10X ($16,495). The D-03X is a big, weighty, substantial, almost retro-looking affair. The D-03X’s electronics are housed in a simple yet elegant chassis with a total of nine buttons on the front panel, laid out in a clean, efficient manner, with no complication or fuss. The D-03X is a traditional Red Book CD player, based on dual Texas Instruments 32-bit PCM1795 DACs. The D-03X has three digital inputs: one USB, one coaxial (RCA), and one optical (TosLink). The USB input is capable of accepting resolutions of up to 11.2MHz DSD and 32-bit/384kHz PCM, while the optical and coaxial inputs accept PCM signals of up to 24-bit/192kHz (no DSD). However, the D-03X does not play SACDs. For computer playback, Luxman recommends their own Luxman Audio Player application, available for Windows and macOS.
The machine is also MQA compatible, allowing the user to play MQA-encoded material via USB or MQA-CD with full MQA decoding. The D-03X is equipped with many technical features to aid superior playback, including four modes of Bulk Pet file transfer, a process which, according to Luxman, “optimizes 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.” In addition, the D-03X has a high-precision, low-jitter, low-phase-noise master clock, said to be effective at minimizing noise “near the oscillation frequency and optimizing transmission accuracy.”
The CD drive in this nearly 30-pound component (17.3″W x 5.25″H x 16.15″D) is placed at the left of the chassis, a location that’s “ideal for signal flow, resonance control, and weight balance,” according to Luxman. To minimize external vibrations and noise, the chassis is heavily shielded. A massive power transformer is included, with independent regulators for each circuit to maintain highly accurate voltage stability. The massive transport is made with a steel top plate and an 8mm-thick solid aluminum base.
Another thoughtful feature of the D-03X is a display with zoom mode, allowing you to improve the legibility of the fluorescent text display from the listening position. There are buttons that allow the user to dim the display or invert the phase. This is particularly useful when you need to adjust for particular recordings, as maddening as that can be. Around back, this player has both gold-plated analog RCA outputs and high-quality Neutrik balanced XLR outputs; I used the latter during this review. If you wish to use the D-03X as a transport only, there are two digital outputs: coax (RCA) and optical (TosLink). The aluminum remote control is nicely laid out and matches the finish of the front panel.
I installed the D-03X in my reference system—consisting of McIntosh Laboratory MC2301 monoblock amplifiers and a C1100 preamplifier, Tannoy Westminster Royal GR loudspeakers, and cables by Purist Audio Design, Wireworld, and Electraglide—and then started listening.
My initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Frankly, digital playback has evolved to the point where even budget-priced players can offer more than a modicum of the high-end experience. For most people, three-and-a-half large is hardly budget-priced, but compared to some of the components regularly reviewed in this publication, it’s on the lower end of the price continuum. That said, I didn’t expect such refinement from a player at this price point. This is especially true with regard to imaging and the recreation of atmosphere. I’ve heard many digital rigs that can throw a three-dimensional soundstage—that is, individual instruments distinctly placed from front to back and left to right. In a good set-up in a well-tuned room, this effect can at times be stunning.
The Luxman D-03X CD player sounded spacious in the best sense of the term. Instruments were placed in a three-dimensional array, and the atmosphere of the event was also conveyed quite convincingly. The acoustic cues that our brains receive and interpret as holography were well preserved by this player. The nuances that suggest to our ear-brain connection that we’re experiencing a live event, even though our eyes cannot contribute to that perception, were nicely captured by the Luxman player. A great example of this was found on the fantastic Harry Belafonte album Live in Concert at The Carnegie Hall (CD, RCA 74321 15713 2). This iconic recording is a good test of a system’s ability to recreate a natural acoustic environment. Belafonte’s inimitable vocal shadings, the Calypso instruments accompanying him, and his interplay with the audience came through beautifully over this player. I really got a feel for the venue itself, which does not always happen. The intimacy of his performance in such a large venue is beguiling and can easily be lost if the playback chain isn’t top notch. The Luxman excelled at preserving the subtle decay of notes, Belafonte’s rich shadings, and the overall energy of this legendary performance.
The Luxman was both musical and analytical. These characteristics are not mutually exclusive, and players with really good digital playback are able to achieve results that are both pleasant and musical—although sometimes at the expense of detail, particularly microdynamics. Other players wring out every last detail from a disc, but you may find that long listening sessions become fatiguing. It’s a precarious balancing act. The Luxman D-03X was appropriately detailed without sounding too incisive or forced. This is the zone in which great analog usually excels because of the generally pleasant harmonics. Digital has really gained in musicality over the years, and listening to the Luxman D-03X made me question my steadfast loyalty to all things vinyl.
The Luxman D-03X gave me a nice breath of the rarefied air that is great digital sound. For example, in the critical midrange, where music is made, the Luxman was just gorgeous! Listening to “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” from the Round Midnight soundtrack (CD, Columbia 40464), I was convincingly transported to an intimate jazz club with Herbie Hancock and Dexter Gordon backing up Lonette McKee.The interplay between these incredible musicians was a tapestry of tones and textures woven so very delicately and smoothly by the Luxman. Less capable digital gear may get the notes right, with the song lasting exactly the same length of time, but through the D-03X, the emotion of the performance came through far more palpably than I’ve heard it through less refined CD players. With the Luxman in the chain, my listening notes were replete with remarks like “organic” and “natural.” There was a quality to the sound with the Luxman that is usually the domain of more expensive players or even separates.
I am a bass fanatic. If a component fails my bass tests, it’s beyond redemption. I want to hear a distinct, meaty and resonant bass line, assuming the recording is a cooperative partner. The D-03X laid down a solid foundation, with nice low-frequency texture and resonance. Jackie McLean’s Swing, Swang, Swingin’ (CD, Blue Note 84024), particularly the bass solo on “I Love You,” was marvellous. Jimmy Garrison’s plucking was round, perhaps a bit plumper than the best examples I have heard of it, but any real criticism with respect to the nether regions is generally only warranted in comparison to considerably more expensive gear. There was plenty of energy through the midbass, and the Luxman provided almost all of the extension, resonance, and solidity I could ever need.
At the other end of the spectrum, the treble performance of the D-03X was also exemplary. On the Round Midnight soundtrack CD, Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes shimmered and floated through the air with impressive sparkle. Billy Higgins’s cymbals were similarly imbued with a believable sheen and decay. Although the best players I’ve heard do provide a bit more resolution in the extreme high treble—as I imagine Luxman’s own D-10X would at $16,495—they’ll cost you much more. The D-03X got pretty much everything right in the highs and—coupled with the outstanding midrange presence and imaging—was very satisfying to listen to.
The D-03X functions not only as a disc player, but also as a DAC. To test this functionality, I connected the D-03X via an XLR digital cable to my McIntosh MCT450 CD transport ($4000). The qualities I found so appealing when playing back CDs from the D-03X were still there, with just one notable exception: The profound sense of spaciousness that defined my experience using the D-03X as an integrated player was slightly less pronounced when I used my transport. The soundstaging was still wide—and deep—but the images sounded a little less ethereal. For example, Belafonte’s captivating performance at Carnegie Hall was still magical, but my sense of a live acoustic space was not quite as palpable. Images were still distinct, but slightly less holographic. Whatever advantages I hoped to gain by separating the digital-to-analog converter from the transport were not fully realized in this experiment, which shows me that the engineers at Luxman have built an outstanding integrated player that also includes a very solid DAC. The D-03X would make the perfect player for listeners who prioritize their CD collections but also need a DAC for occasional streaming or downloads.
If you’ve made it this far, you have likely noticed that I haven’t voiced any real complaints. Does that make the Luxman perfect? If such a thing were possible, this publication would probably not exist, and the maddening pursuit of higher fidelity would seem pointless, right? The Luxman does everything very well. There is not a single thing about its presentation which bothered me; in fact, for the money, I’m still stunned by how well this player throws a soundstage. My experience with the absolute ne plus ultra in digital playback is not as vast as that of some of my colleagues, but I have heard some of the top current reference gear.
My current reference is the McIntosh D1000 digital-to-analog converter ($8000) and MCT450 transport ($4000) connected via a proprietary McIntosh MCT cable. In comparison to the Luxman D-03X, I found that both were similarly voiced, leaning more toward the musical than the analytical side of the scale. The McIntosh combo also sounded quite spacious, and the midrange was similarly rich and fleshy. Where the McIntosh combo excelled was in bottom-end extension and definition. Again, the Luxman was hardly deficient in this area, but the McIntosh combination portrayed certain familiar bass notes and organ passages with slightly more growl. This was something I felt more than heard. There were times when I listened to a certain passage and the sofa cushions were compressing, and I felt as if my repaired hernias might rupture! This was not a function of volume—I matched playback levels to avoid that. The McIntosh separates had low-end dynamics that could emerge from a whisper and rattle my guts! On the other hand, the Luxman actually sounded more spacious than the McIntosh combo. I had a better sense of the boundaries of the stage, particularly laterally.
I also own an older Audio Research CD7 ($8995, when new), which I employ in my mountain vacation home. It has been a faithful companion for several years and is among the most musical digital products I have used. As liquid as the ARC’s midrange was, the Luxman still sounded better in this regard. The Luxman soundstaged better and was more detailed and more nuanced at the frequency extremes—a remarkable achievement for a CD player at its price point.
The Luxman D-03X is a superbly engineered product from a legendary company with a nearly 100-year history. It is solidly built and ergonomically efficient, but most of all, it exudes quality in terms of sound. For the coin, I consider it a screaming bargain. Silly really! The fact that this degree of digital realism can be had at this price is highly encouraging. I can only imagine what Luxman’s pricier digital players must sound like. But for most people, I think the D-03X offers enough sound quality to be the perfect companion to a large CD collection.
. . . Jeff Sirody
- Speakers: Tannoy Westminster Royal GR.
- Amplifiers: McIntosh Laboratory MC2301 (monoblocks).
- Preamplifier: McIntosh Laboratory C1100.
- Analog source: Clearaudio: Innovation Wood turntable, Universal tonearm, Stradivari V2 cartridge.
- Speaker cables: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 6.
- Interconnects: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 6 and 7.
- Power cords: Electraglide Ultra Khan, Purist Audio Design Dominus and Aqueous Aureus.
Luxman D-03X CD Player
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.
North American distributor:
Luxman America Inc.
27 Kent Street, Suite 122
Ballston Spa, NY 12020
Phone: (518) 261-6464