Mini-reviews: Luxman P-1u and P-200
Jul 12, 2010 at 1:57 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 8


Headphoneus Supremus
Apr 12, 2004
Mini-Review: Luxman P-1u


First, thanks to Todd @ TTVJ for allowing me (and the other people in this loaner program) to audition the Luxman P-1u at home for serious evaluative listening. I wanted to participate in this loaner program because I've had a long-running interest in desktop solid-state amps for a few years now, and I also have previous experience with both the Luxman P-1 (at a Head-Fi meet) and P-200 (which I also had in my home for a few days of critical listening last year).

A disclaimer I want to add is that I consider this to be more of a mini-review, given the limited time that this loaner program allowed me to keep the amp for (approximately 2 weeks). Reviews I've written on Head-Fi in the past were done with listening periods over a few weeks, or in some cases, even months. My review methodology has always been to listen and re-listen daily (or as often as possible) so I can re-check my ongoing impressions of a piece of equipment (and usually with just 1 headphone per week). A time period of ~2 weeks did not allow for too much re-listening so this mini-review lacks the thoroughness of previous reviews that I've written.

Reviewer Biases

My view of a headphone system is "source first" followed by headphones and then amp. In other words, a source of highest quality possible (assuming recordings of high quality also) should be paired with the most preferential-sounding headphone(s), to be driven by the most technically-optimal amp. In my view, the most technically-optimal amp is the one that provides sufficient power for all headphones being used without inflecting its own sonic signature, or minimally at least.

All previously owned (or heard, in some cases) equipment is listed in my profile for reference.

Equipment Setup

- Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (power cord: Signal Cable Silver Resolution Reference - directly into wall)
- BPT IC-SL RCA & Analysis Plus Silver Oval RCA/XLR interconnects
- AKG K701 (re-cabled with SAA Equinox), Audio-Technica AD2000 (re-cabled with APS V3), Beyerdynamic T1 (stock cable), Grado HP1000/HP2 (re-cabled with APS V3), Sennheiser HD800 (stock cable), & Sony Qualia 010 (re-cabled with Moon Audio Black Dragon)
- comparison headphone amp: SPL Auditor

Functionality & Operation

The P-1u has a form factor that allows for easy rackmounting, which I personally liked, even though I don't currently own a rack - I like it because this kind of form factor usually allows components to be stacked, which I took advantage of. The amp has quite a few features - dual single-ended headphone jacks, balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA inputs, balanced XLR phase inversion, and loop output (which I neglected to test, but I assume it's loop output).

Operationally there's nothing unusual about the amp - everything on it works as expected. There was only one thing I noticed, and it was that the amp didn't activate immediately upon power-on, similar to the P-200. The LED next to the power button lights up faintly first, and then after a few seconds, the amp fully powers up, which is noted by an audible internal click (presumably from relays) and then the LED becomes brighter at that point.

with: AKG K701

Music used for this headphone:
-* Alison Krauss & Union Station - New Favorite - "Let Me Touch You For Awhile"
-* Andrea Parker - Kiss My Arp - "Melodious Thunk", "Elements of Style"
-* Orbital - The Middle of Nowhere - "Way Out", "Know Where to Run"
- Priscilla Ahn - A Good Day - "Dream"
- Robert Planet & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand - "Trampled Rose"
-* The Crystal Method - Community Service - "Breakin On The Streets (False Prophet Remix)", "Dude In The Moon (Luna Mix)"

As the K701 is a difficult load in general for headphone amps, I used it primarily to determine the P-1u's driving ability, using the music marked with asterisks above, and the P-1u easily passed what I tested for - namely, audible distortion in any part of the frequency spectrum at very high volume. I cranked up the volume to the 2 o'clock position (way past ear-safe level) and checked for audible distortion in either the bass or treble, and there was none, and it still sounded like the P-1u had power to spare too. I could not say the same for the P-200 back when I tested it for this last year.

So the P-1u could drive the K701 well enough, and how did it sound? Not bad, though since my opinion of the K701 has since degraded over the years that I've had it (I got in April 2006), it means that sonically there was nothing I could fault the K701 for. Most parts of its innate sound were intact as far as I could tell. The P-1u seemed to reduce the K701's soundstage a bit (which is a good thing in my book) and drew out longer mid-range tones too and imbued female vocals with even more presence, compared to the SPL Auditor.

with: Audio-Technica AD2000

Music used for this headphone:
- Massive Attack - Heligoland - "Pray for Rain"
- Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction [MFSL] - "Sweating Bullets"
- Neotropic - Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock - "Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock"
- Orbital - Snivilisation - "I Wish I Had Duck Feet", "Are We Here?"
- The Crystal Method - Tweekend - "Murder", "Ten Miles Back"
- The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land - "Smack My B***h Up", "Fuel My Fire"

The AD2000 is the primary headphone I use to listen to electronica and metal, because it does 3 things really well that work for this kind of music: it's really dang fast (as in impulse response), it has excellent bass extension (and the bass quantity & balance is perfect for my tastes), and it's actually relatively flat in the treble. The music I used for this headphone is all music that can be seen as stressing any kind of headphone, but what makes the AD2K stand out is that it easily plays all of that music without breaking a sweat.

With that said, it's because of the AD2K's strengths that it actually takes a bad amp (or at least, a less than stellar one) to sonically subtract from this headphone, and unfortunately I found a couple aspects in which the Luxman P-1u was "less than stellar" compared to the SPL Auditor ("Luxman" and "SPL" from here on out). Probably the one quality I noticed the most was that the Luxman outright slowed down the AD2K's impulse response while the SPL did not. The Luxman reduced the AD2K's speed enough that percussive pops didn't "pop", spring-coil vibrations didn't "vibrate", brush stroke-like impacts weren't completely rendered, fast-note separations weren't completely separated, and there was even a kind of "blur" on fast multi-note passages. The Luxman also inflected a different tonal balance compared to the SPL that negatively affected the AD2K's bass response, in that it didn't provide as much bass weight and depth (in the 50-80Hz area).

Despite these flaws I found with the AD2K, the Luxman was still able to provide a satisfactory sound that provided a higher level of enjoyment, at least in terms of a "fun" sound. It did have excellent bass extension (and even seemed to drive slightly more power into ultra-low bass rumbles) but what made the bass in general stand out was a thick, meaty presence that was also very visceral and vicious, that made The Prodigy's "Fuel My Fire" a blast to listen to. And even if the Luxman wasn't all that fast, it still sounded as if it were enthusiastic because more often than not percussive hits sounded really "hard" - they just weren't "hard & fast" as they should have been.

with: Beyerdynamic T1

Music used for this headphone:
- Beyond Twilight - Section X - "The Path of Darkness"
- Dissection - Storm of the Light's Bane - "Unhallowed", "Thorns of Crimson Death"
- In Flames - The Jester Race - "Moonshield", "Artifacts of the Black Rain"
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - "Concerto for two violins in D minor: Allegro (3rd movement)"
- Katie Melua - Piece by Piece - "Shy Boy", "On The Road Again"
- Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction [MFSL] - "Sweating Bullets"
- Symphony X - Paradise Lost - "Domination", "The Walls of Babylon"

It was with this headphone that I really was able to notice a general difference in frequency balance between the Luxman and SPL - the Luxman seemed to be more mid-range focused, while the SPL seemed to be more treble-focused. There was also a difference in soundstage and presentation that was noticed: the Luxman had a smaller soundstage and a more-forward presentation while the SPL had a bigger soundstage in comparison (more virtual air and space) and also sounded more laid-back. The SPL also had a very "separated" sound (musical elements distinctly placed in the soundstage out and away from each other on clear x-, y-, and z-axes) while the Luxman had less of this diffusion and more of a cohesive, less-separated sound.

I wouldn't say that metal music is necessarily ideal for this headphone, but I used some of it anyway just because I felt like it. :wink: And for metal music, the SPL certainly had a strength - it was clear-sounding, fast, & precise, with a very good forward-moving insistence too. Metal sounded more engaging on the Luxman though, because that amp's more-forward presentation sounded more assaulting and it had the fuller, thicker mid-range. The "diffusion" of the SPL also did not seem to work very well for metal either, at least on the T1 (it didn't matter much on the AT AD2K).

On the one Baroque-classical track, I thought it played more to the SPL's strengths than the Luxman's, as the SPL had the clearer sound, with wider, deeper imaging. It was also more "expressive" on the violins with greater dynamics and more apparent detail on bowing movements (like the speed of a bow stroke, or reversal of direction, for example).

It's possible that the SPL may be better-suited for driving the T1 than the Luxman but I wasn't able to look into this fully. I would've liked to have ABX'd the two amps against each other with the T1 more but ran out of time.

with: Grado HP1000/HP2

Music used for this headphone:
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - "Concerto for two violins in D minor: Largo ma non tanto (2nd movement)"
- Dave Brubeck - Time Out [Legacy Edition] - "Take Five"
- Renee Fleming - Thais - "Meditation"
- Steve Kuhn - Mostly Coltrane - "Song of Praise"

Now that the sound of the Luxman and SPL amps was starting to emerge to my ears, I ran through only a short selection of music to play to the HP1000's strengths - classical-type music and jazz. Both amps did well with the HP2, but I'd give the edge to the Luxman. While instrumental tones sounded more trebly "brilliant" on the SPL (highlighting violins, for example), they were deeper on the Luxman, affording a higher sense of body, fullness, texture, and overall physicality. This worked well for the jazz selections in particular and made them sound more alive and engaging. The tenor sax on Steve Kuhn's "Song of Praise" for example sounded more connected with the musical group on the Luxman than on the SPL and even a bit more "soulful".

I haven't heard too many other amps with the HP2 and can't speak directly to previous amp experiences, and the Luxman sounded fine with it, but I felt that there are probably better amps to seek out for the HP1000 - even in my own experience earlier this year I felt the Woo Audio WA22 might be better-suited as it did not have the Luxman's reduction in the soundstage.

with: Sennheiser HD800

Music used for this headphone:
- Dave Brubeck - Time Out [Legacy Edition] - "Take Five"
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - "Concerto for two violins in D minor: Allegro (3rd movement)"
- Porcupine Tree - In Absentia - "Blackest Eyes"
- Trifonic - Emergence - "Emergence", "Transgenic"
- miscellaneous metal

There was really no contest with this headphone - the Luxman was clearly the better amp for the HD800 than the SPL. IMO one of the HD800's worst qualities is its overly large soundstage that does not adapt to the size on the recording and the Luxman's forced reduction was actually a good thing in this case, because for me the expanded soundstage with the SPL downright detracted from the listening experience. The soundstage with the Luxman was a step in the right drection for a better sense of realism - but it wasn't completely realistic, it just got closer.

The HD800's overall treble-tilted frequency response benefitted a lot from the Luxman, as the musical selections sounded wispy and wimpy on the SPL, as if lacking gut and flesh (forget about body). While the SPL did help out in the aspect of treble articulation (another of the HD800's flaws IMO), it did very few favors for the HD800 - take a treble-tilted headphone and pair it with a treble-tilted amp, and you get a lot of treble. Now I personally like treble (a LOT in fact), but this particular combo did not appeal to my ears and made the treble sound bad.

The Luxman/HD800 combo, on the other hand, was a great example of synergy. Soundstage was actually precise, as it was easier to locate sounds and discern definite points in the virtual space. There was a good illusion of a center point too. The SPL, in contrast, made it feel like instruments were everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The Luxman also brought out the mid-range and mid-bass for a balance that sounded good on the HD800 - still not enough that I thought it was the perfect balance necessarily, but good enough to fix the HD800's main weak spots. It made the HD800 actually sound physical and tactile, and drums were even nicely impactful and powerful (specifically the ones on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five"). There was also a good full-range thrash and meaty sound to the overdriven guitars on Porcupine Tree's "Blackest Eyes." Even for the random metal tracks that I spun, the Luxman made the HD800 sound pretty good with the added mid-range/mid-bass and smaller soundstage - but this didn't really make the HD800 ideal for metal, as I think that metal is one genre that the HD800 almost completely fails in, and the Luxman didn't rectify any of its issues for that kind of music for me.

with: Sony Qualia 010

Music used for this headphone:
- Alison Krauss - Forget About It - "Ghost In This House", "It Don't Matter Now"
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways - "Unionhouse Branch", "Doesn't Have To Be This Way"
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - New Favorite - "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn"
- Global Communication - 76:14 - "4:02", "9:39"
- Laika - Sounds of the Satellites - "Almost Sleeping"

There wasn't much left to evaluate the Luxman for by this point, but I continued anyway for the final speed and treble tests. And in the aspect of treble, it was expected that the SPL would beat the Luxman, and it did. It had more quantity and was substantially cleaner and clearer, properly rendering fast plucks, creaks, vibrations, etc. In some instances, the Luxman even felt hazy. But to its credit, the Luxman balanced against the SPL's shortcomings in texture and mid-bass weight, and its soundstage reduction worked well on the Qualia too. The Qualia did reveal one thing none of the other headphones really caught though, and that was a sense of "silence" to the background on the Luxman. The sonic background of the SPL never really felt "dead" or "black," while it did on the Luxman - and it definitely seemed like the Luxman was the "quieter" amp too. As in, it had a better ability to convey quiet-volume passages in music, while the SPL seemed to struggle with this and sounded louder and didn't contrast soft versus louder very well.


There were a few non-music tests that I was compelled to do to wrap up my auditioning of the Luxman, and these included checking it for any noise whatsoever (no music playing & no input), checking the fine-tuning ability of the fixed gain, and comparing the balanced XLR to the unbalanced RCA input.

Noise: I used my always dependable highly-sensitive Audio-Technica AD2000 for this test and cranked up the volume to max with no music playing and nothing on the input. The amp was completely silent at minimum volume and as I turned up the knob, but at maximum there was an extremely slight high-frequency feedback of some type. It was very minimal though, I had to strain to hear it - but it was definitely there as I repeated this test several times and heard it every time. I also checked the SPL and it did not have the silence of the Luxman - it had what sounded like power transformer feedback, very slight, but was audible at any volume level (even zero).

Gain: For this test I spun some music and used again the AD2000, slowly turning up the volume knob from zero and listening to the adjustment of volume. Both amps had a nice low gain that allowed for proper fine-tuning on the AD2000 to achieve just about any desired volume with proper channel balance too at lower volumes. The SPL allowed for slightly more precision though in comparison.

XLR vs RCA input: For this test I used both of my pairs of Analysis Plus Silver Oval RCA and XLR interconnects along with the HD800, which I know improves in balanced mode (not that the Luxman has balanced output, but if I was going to hear a difference, the HD800 would reveal it). The only difference I could hear (after properly calibrating the volume between XLR and RCA of course) was a more dimensional soundstage on the XLR input that provided more air and space between instruments, and made them sound farther away. The Plinius CD-101 does not have true dual-differential output on its XLRs though, so I suspect there would probably be more sonic difference with true-balanced sources.


Throughout my listening of the Luxman P-1u, it proved to be a capable-enough amp for my headphones but it was far from ideal for a few of them, and given its price of $3K, I don't think I would buy one either. It wasn't really what I was expecting coming after the Luxman P-200 last year and if I had to pick one of them, it'd probably be the P-200.

I know that there will be people looking for a recommendation for or against this amp but I can't give one. Perception of sound is too subjective for that kind of thing and this was only my experience. Others will probably have different experiences. It's overall a fine amp, it just didn't particularly work for me sonically.

P.S. I will answer any questions about these reviews or the amps posted in this thread for the next 14 days only. Please do not bother sending me PMs - I will not respond and will delete any PMs on sight.
Jul 12, 2010 at 1:57 AM Post #2 of 8
*** Note: this mini-review was originally posted at another forum on 2009-08-02. Cross-posting it here to join it with my mini-review of the P-1u. Everything below this point is the unaltered original text of the mini-review as it was posted.
Please also note that I never wrote a review of the FET-A and cannot write anything about it now as I no longer have it and all impressions were forgotten.
Mini-Review: Luxman P-200

The following is sort of my "mini-review" of the P200 to share my impressions. Disclaimer: these impressions are based on 6 days of listening, far from ideal. Normally I would've liked to spend at least a week per headphone which is what I've done in the past, so even I might disagree with my own impressions later. My opinions varied a few times during listening in fact and without enough time to confirm what I heard via repeated listening, take these impressions with an extremely small grain of salt.

Equipment used:
- Source: Plinius CD-101
- RCA interconnects: BPT IC-SL
- Headphones: AKG K701, Alessandro MS2i, Audio-Technica AD2000, Grado HF2 and HP1000, Sony SA5000 and Qualia 010

Music used:
- Alison Krauss & Robert Plant - Raising Sand
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - New Favorite, Lonely Runs Both Ways
- Jane Monheit - Surrender
- Massive Attack - Mezzanine
- Orbital - The Middle of Nowhere
- Priscilla Ahn - A Good Day
- Shelby Lynne - Just A Little Lovin'
- The Crystal Method - Community Service

To get right to the point, I thought both the P200 and FET-A are good amps, at least for the price. The P200 crushed the FET-A, enough that I thought it was the sonically superior amp. And at $650, the FET-A isn't a bad amp at all, but I did find some detractions that would make me hesitant to recommend it for everyone in every situation. I'll write more about the FET-A later in a different thread since I want to keep the subject here to the Luxman.

The P200's gain could probably be a little lower but I actually found it not that bad with the low-impedance headphones I used, as I got enough control to achieve just about any volume I wanted. Also it's worth noting the amp doesn't turn on immediately - it takes about 10 seconds to actually fully power up after the power button is pressed (the LED blips for a while as it turns on).

As far as sound quality, the Luxman was right up my alley. It was very fast and kept up with everything I threw at it. Strong, clear, & clean treble, in fact quite a noticeable contrast against the FET-A which didn't have as pronounced treble. The FET-A smeared over fast notes in comparison and failed to deliver some key details in the AKUS CDs, like vibrating strings and high-speed twangs.

The Luxman also separated & splitted musical elements from each other more distinctly than the FET-A, enough that each could be clearly discerned and located by ear (the FET-A had more of an "integrated" image). I felt the Luxman also had more of a "sharp focus" type of sonic image whereas the FET-A was a bit blurry - very good "crystal clear" sound on the Luxman, but some loss of distinction between musical elements on the FET-A. It also had more controlled and defined bass (the FET-A was a bit flabby and generic-sounding). Good strong, deep bass, though not too much mid-bass quantity (the FET-A was more of a mid-bass pounder).

I'd guess the Luxman might sound somewhat similar to a discrete HeadAmp amp but without a Gilmore Lite or GS-1 on hand, I can't say for certain. It had a similar type of sound compared to my AE-2 but I didn't directly compare the two, only going off of memory (the AE-2 has been my primary amp for the past several months). The Luxman did sound "flat/linear" compared to the FET-A which seemed to have a few colorations.

I listened for soundstage on every appropriate CD track but my impressions kept varying so I'll say nothing on the subject, other than that the Luxman seemed to do a proper job as far as width and size. For CDs that were recorded with studio acoustics, it did really feel like I was in the studio.

I also compared my Plinius CD-101 to my Arcam FMJ CD36 with the Luxman (using the Qualia 010) to check how well it could scale. Oh and it scaled all right, I could hear the clear sonic advantages of the Plinius over the Arcam. The soundstage was smaller on the Arcam and instruments were placed much closer too. Musical elements weren't as properly delineated on the Arcam and multiple concurrent voices/instruments weren't properly separated either. The Plinius also came across as edgier and quicker, and had clearer bass too (somewhat generic-sounding bass on the Arcam). Both CDPs are good though, and both conveyed the kinetic energy of AKUS properly, it's just that the Plinius sounded more detailed due to its faster speed and more separation. (Technical addendum: both the Plinius and Arcam output 2V, so I did not need to adjust the volume for compensation between the two. I also found that the two CDPs have the same remote control codes! I was able to use the Arcam remote on the Plinius and the Plinius remote on the Arcam!)

Overall I was impressed by the Luxman. For $1500 it's a very good amp that can scale with high-end sources and it didn't really have any major disadvantages that I could tell, other than perhaps a lack of authoritative low-bass power. It was actually a really good match for my low-impedance headphones from Audio-Technica, Alessandro, Grado, and Sony, and I would recommend it for those brands too.

The amp had a hard time driving the K701 though which leads me to not recommend it for use with high-impedance AKGs, Beyers, or Senns. The K701 lacked oomph with this amp, and when I turned up the volume to a very high level (past ear-safe volume), the bass started distorting and the frequency balance went wonky.
Jul 12, 2010 at 3:30 AM Post #3 of 8
your SPL Auditor experience mirrors mine.  One thing I have to add is that I find SPL Auditor lacks PRaT, and mid-range purity and transparency and is ultimately uninvolving.
I generally use "pinch the singer's ass" test, which isn't met with SPL.
I haven't heard the Luxman's headamps but I have heard their class A single-ended integrated and thoroughly enjoyed that experience (590A + the middle of road Tannoy, either sterling or turnberry, I don't remember). If P1-U is a carbon copy, albeit smaller and for headphone only, of their larger integrated, it's probably my kind of amp.
A corollary point, I feel Asgard is the poor-man's Luxman.  It reminds me of my time with their integrated. I know, apples and oranges. 
oh and thanks for a review - one of the few useful ones.
Jul 15, 2010 at 3:15 AM Post #4 of 8
Interesting what you have to say about the P-1u. Luxman does tend to go slightly for the sweet side of neutral, slightly at the expense of detail I've found. Considering I've seen them go second-hand here for half the price they are new in the USA, over here they can be considerably good value.
What I'm interested in is knowing more about your choice of amps and what particularly about them appeals to you.  The Auditor is an unusual choice, as is the AE-2, which is almost unknown, at least in the time I've been a member.  Does it have to do with your desire for excellent treble or is it more than that? Is there a reason you don't have something along the lines of a Beta 22 or similar as your main headphone amp?
Jul 16, 2010 at 6:32 PM Post #5 of 8
What I'm interested in is knowing more about your choice of amps and what particularly about them appeals to you.  The Auditor is an unusual choice, as is the AE-2, which is almost unknown, at least in the time I've been a member.  Does it have to do with your desire for excellent treble or is it more than that? Is there a reason you don't have something along the lines of a Beta 22 or similar as your main headphone amp?

I have a strong bias towards solid-state amps in general and have had this bias for several years now. It's for the operational convenience more than anything, though there's also been a curiosity to investigate the so-called "solid-state amp sound" and find out if it really exists. The HeadAmp AE-2s that I owned (I've had 3 of them over the years) were acquired for their functional versatility as both portable and home amps. Small but I liked how it sounded and the RCA input & loop output was always handy.
I also don't always buy amps to keep them. Sometimes that was my intent but there have also been amps I got that I planned merely to hear and sell later on. Most of the time (especially recently) my interest has been in amps that seem to be well-made, well-designed, and relatively cost-effective for what's inside them. I used to not care about this aspect back when I was first starting out but now I pay much more attention to it.
I did own a B22 before and sold it because ultimately it didn't work in my listening environment physically due to its size. Now if I'd had something more like the awesome-looking and more diminutive group-built B22 that was made for krmathis.....

Jul 16, 2010 at 11:16 PM Post #7 of 8

I have a strong bias towards solid-state amps in general and have had this bias for several years now. It's for the operational convenience more than anything, though there's also been a curiosity to investigate the so-called "solid-state amp sound" and find out if it really exists.

I recall a manufacturer, when asked why they didn't make tube amps, stating that they could alter a solid state circuit to sound "tube-like" if so desired, by re-arranging the transistors, so there was no point.  FET amps are probably a case in point of this to a degree.
Jul 17, 2010 at 3:01 AM Post #8 of 8
I still remember, yeah, the speed of SPL Phonitor, which I had on loan from my friend Henk, used with W5000 and like you pointed the speed is great. Took my long member of the metal club Metallica "Master of Puppets" and the synergy for that kind music was excellent, never thought W5k could rock that good. And one more time, the speed, cos Yammy sounded like a slow train compared to it. I also detect some kind of distortion/hum, what ever you call it through SPL, but thats one of the things where W5k are knowing very well for, their sensitivity.
Anyway, great write up.

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