Hi-Fi Review: Luxman 590 AXII Integrated Amplifier Review.
By Steve Huff
Welcome to another HiFi review. You can see my audio reviews HERE.
I will be honest. Luxman is a brand I have always admired from afar in HiFi. They have been making HiFi gear for over 50 years and over the last few years they have been making some of the most beautiful looking and sounding integrated amplifiers in the world (if we are to believe the rave reviews they get).
I have always admired their class A line of integrated amps, the 590 series to be specific. Luxman has the 550 series and the 590 series in their line of Class A Integrated Amplifiers with the 550 series coming in at around $5k and the 590 series around $9k. Both are beasts and beautiful ones at that but the 590 has always had my interest. Now in its latest and greatest version, the 590 AXII, this could be one of those “end game” pieces in HiFi. It has it all..looks, build, sound and longevity. If you are reading this then I will assume you already know what this piece is about, and that you are really into 2 Channel Audio and Music. I have had a “system” for well over 20 years and it’s one of those things that I love, as for me, I listen to music every single day. I have a room dedicated to it where I can sit, dim the lights and zen out to my favorite artists and tunes with that ever so lovely “sweet spot” where the music just sounds like magic, and very “in the room”.
But getting back to this integrated amp, high end two channel analog audio and this integrated amp does NOT come cheap. Much like a fine camera system, HiFi can be a wallet buster.
I just could never afford or justify a Luxman purchase, nor did I ever have a local dealer to audition them. If I did have the cash, there were no dealers near me. Well, until recently.
I’ve always had a thing for big glowing meters in amps, especially when they glow with a soft yellow light in a dark room ; )
The no dealer thing? I always saw that as a good thing. Why you ask? Well, if I had a local Luxman dealer that means I would actually get to see one in the flesh, maybe even audition it in my home. That usually spells trouble for me and my wallet and over these last 20+ years in HiFi (which has been lifelong for me in reality) I have bought pieces that wowed me initially only to make me regret them later after extended listening. I have vowed that if I ever upgrade or change out from my long running fave, the Line Magnetic 219ia, which has been my tube integrated reference for years now…that it would have to be for something very special.
Being so Happy with that Line Magnetic 219ia I stayed out of the local HiFi shop for a while, which for me is Arizona Hi-Fi. One of the coolest HIFi shops ever to exist in this state, well actually, it is and always has been the coolest in my opinion. We have a handful of HiFi shops in Phoenix and the surrounding areas but for me and my tastes in HiFi shops, none are as laid back, enjoyable and fun as AZ HiFi.
The shop is small, but loaded with some of the nicest/coolest HiFi and tube audio you can find. Shindo, Line Magnetic, Leben and others line the shelves of this virtual CandyLand for us HiFi guys (and gals, the few that there are who enjoy this crazy hobby). I even meet and shoot local music with one of the employees of Az HiFi as he is an avid live music photographer, and shoots ALL OVER the city. Mr Bill Goodman.
I had a long break from buying HiFi…well, sort of…
After a long break from visiting the shop (I always spend too much money when I visit) I went in one day to pick up cables (or something). I do not remember exactly what it was but as I looked around I noticed they had a shiny new Luxman 590 AXII sitting on the shelf. Turns out they picked up the brand a while ago, shortly after my last visit. This 590AXII is an integrated amp I have had interest in for years, in its prior version, but this was the latest and greatest 590 AXII model. Now this is not something I would or could ever just order blind as this is a $8900 integrated Amplifier, or $900 more than a Leica M10-P Camera! Just as with the camera world, HiFi is expensive and when you start to crawl around the high end areas you can go crazy, and yes, much higher than even this for just one piece of your system. (Think $20K pre amps, $30k amps, and yes, even $40k in cables can be found if you know where to look).
But seeing it in the flesh, right in front of me, I could not stop eyeballing this gorgeous Luxman. Years and years of curiosity about the very amp my eyeballs were glued to were tempting me to want to take it home and give it a listen, and I knew if I did it could potentially spell trouble for my bank account. Even so, how could I not give it a listen? Besides, I told myself “highly unlikely I will like it better than my 219”.
I have owned some high-end amps in my time, but this Luxman for me was always the holy grail in looks, build and from what the reviews always said, sound. All CLASS A, 30 WPC into 8 Ohms, and 60 into 4 ohms with reserves on top of that when the going gets tough (up to 90 WPC class A/B (from what someone measured) into 8 ohms, even more in to 4 ohms, like 120-140 WPC). Power has never been a concern for these Class A Luxman Integrated amps. There is something about Class A and even a low sounding 30-60 WPC class A has oomph but with a much sweeter sound than class A/B or D. Class A is the way to go for these ears, and my current amp, the Line Magnetic 219ia is also Class A, but 24 WPC and tubed. Yes I am a fan of Class A and when going solid state, for me, that is the way to go to avoid any solid state “hardness”. Yes, I ALWAYS hear that in some way with most solid state amps that are not class A. Especially after having owned class A amps.
After staring at this beast for 10 minutes my curiosity about this integrated got the best of me and I asked for an in home try out. The owner said “Take it home” and he loaded it in my car for me. Woohoo! Truth be told I was excited to hear it but also was hoping it would fall flat (as I am not a fan of spending large chunks of money). I knew my Line Magnetic 219 was my fave tube integrated amp of all time and wondered how this Luxman could ever beat it. The dealer knew that if I took it home, then I would probably want it. He knows me well now, lol. So away I went with the 590 AXII in the car to pit it against my beloved 219.
The First Listen
Arrived home, lugged in the 65LB amp, made the connections and let it warm up for 20 minutes. As I sat down to listen I was immediately noticing a difference in sound. It was undeniable. Was it better? I wasn’t really sure yet. I do know what I heard and how it was different from the 219ia, so I will describe those differences below:
- It has MUCH more bass impact. It was like the lower bass was activated several notches up, In a good way. Yes indeed, the 219ia is much lighter in the lower bass impact dept than this all Class A Luxman 590AXII.
- More detail, and better layering. I was hearing little details I did not hear with the 219ia and a special kind of layering was going on where layers of the music were presenting themselves in an organic, delicate and natural way.
- A slightly more forward midrange, as in voices came out into the room dead center a tad more than the 219ia. As for midrange, the 219ia is magic here but the Luxman is no slouch, in fact some may say the Luxman is better as it still has that throaty full mid but it is a tad cleaner and clearer than the 219ia with no veil over the sound, at all. It does not have the big tube mids but they are still quite nice.
- It gave my speakers what seemed to be a shot of adrenaline and drove them with a tad more authority. It even is now driving inefficient Sonus Faber Guarneri Traditions BEAUTIFULLY.
- It was more delicate and did very well at low volumes, just as the 219 did (though it does sound a little thinner at low volumes over the 219ia which was pretty fat sounding even when using 1/4 of a watt) but remember, I am using highly sensitive speakers here. Even so, low volume listening is fantastic. No complaints. At all.
Now, keep in mind these were my very 1st impressions, and they changed after a few days. But compared to the 219ia, it was a very different beast. Did it sound like Solid State vs tubes? Sort of, but this Luxman does not sound like most Solid State integrated amps.
It’s richer, yet delicate. It’s juicier, yet never bloated. It’s very transparent but never harsh or analytical. It is a slow burner meaning the more you listen the more you realize how special this piece is. I will talk more below about my thoughts after a full month with this amp.
I once owned the McIntosh MA7000 and was not a huge fan of it… and then the MA8000 (I know I know..WHY?). The MA8000 was a $10,000 integrated but hey, it had it all, even a DAC built in. I will tell you now that this Luxman surpasses the big McIntosh for me and my tastes. In sound, in design, in build and well, in everything. That McIntosh had something like 300 WPC. So here I am comparing the sound of a Class A 30WPC to a Class A/B 300 WPC amp that costs more money. FACT: The Big McIntosh had cheap feeling plastic dials as well which really surprised me. I remember thinking “how that could be”? at the price it was being sold for. In comparison the Luxman dials feel like $10k where the McIntosh felt like $500. But that’s part of the build, what about the sound?
Large-capacity power supply circuit helps make this amp sing..
In comparison to the Big Mac, The Luxman has more detail, a much wider soundstage, is more delicate to those details and has incredible imaging. It also sounds just as powerful, which confuses me. It’s not, not even close by the numbers, but in the real world, these 30 watts from the Luxman seem to be pretty powerful watts (with plenty reserve), that are magically pumping out more power than they should be. The McIntosh in comparison gave a more direct, flatter fuller sound but some may prefer that type of big bad ass American muscle. What I mean is there is no deep audiophile magic with the McIntosh, or not much of it, especially the MA7000. The MA8000 did have something special about it but this Luxman is better in all areas, and for $1100 less cash outlay. The McIntosh also has a built-in DAC which is good but not anything special (will compete with $350 dacs). The McIntosh phono stage is decent but the one in the Luxman had me trade back my $2500 dedicated phono preamp as it was just that good. When I look at these two side by side, the value goes to the Luxman due to the sound, and overall quality of the piece as well as that Phono stage inside the Luxman. It has wonderful value if you are to keep it for many many years.
The Phono Stage
The phone pre in the Luxman 590 AXII offers a setting for MM or MC. No, you can’t do any special loading or change gain settings but running my Clearaudio Performance DC Wood with Tracer Arm and a Hanna HO MC this Luxman makes it all SING so nicely. I was running a class A Sugden Masterclass Phono Stage that set me back $2500. After plugging into the Luxman I noticed maybe a 5% decrease in bass but at the same time, I liked it more as it was a little more spacious and ethereal. Less fat but flowed nicely. Wow, I was shocked at the grace and beauty of this sound which matched the amp when playing my digital source as well.
This is when I really understood how special this piece was, and this has only happened once before to me, and that was with the Line Magnetic 219ia that I was now considering trading in towards this Luxman. But I had more listening to do as I knew if I traded in my 219 I may regret it. I had to dig in….
Class A Heat?
Yes indeed, The Luxman starts to heat up after 15 minutes and starts to sweat out some of that magic that us Audio nerds love. Even so it is putting out way less heat than I thought it would, which is awesome. I live in Phoenix AZ and my 219 would heat up my room after two hours to where I could no longer listen. This Luxman? No problem.
I’ve spoken of it before but there is just something about Class A amps. Pass Labs, Sugden, Luxman…Yes, they are inefficient and run hot but this 590 AXII puts out about 1/4 the heat of the 219ia. Yes, 1/4. It’s not that hot really.
I have tried many integrated amps as I am one who enjoys them for their simplicity and all in one design. None have been able to unseat the 219ia for a few reasons. The 219ia for me, was and is a very beautiful piece of audio equipment. Nothing quite like it in the world, and the price is amazing for what you get. My review of that piece is HERE if you missed it.
The sound leans warm, very rich and it has a very powerful 24 class A watts that has powered any speaker I tried with it in my small room. I love that sound, and the glow of tubes. But it does have drawbacks.
That all tube 219ia, well, it gets crazy hot. As in, hotter than any amp I have ever witnessed in life. It raises my music room temp by several degrees and after 2 hours I have to turn it off due to the heat. It’s also heavy and near impossible to move by myself (100lbs). It also has very expensive tubes and when one blows, it will cost you dearly.
With all that said, it is still my all time fave integrated tube amp. I sort of love that amp, and have a bond with it. Even so, this Luxman was offering a different flavor. The Luxman was more transparent, offered a wider soundstage with my Cornwall III (see my review of these HERE) and Guarneri Tradition and had more depth to the sound. It was not as “fat” or warm but was never clinical or cold either. It had more grunt and drive and well, has the build quality and beauty second to none. This Luxman is a true Heirloom piece that could last me the rest of my life if I let it ; )
At $8900 it is insanely expensive for an integrated 2 channel amp without any DAC, or bells and whistles. But that is part of why it is so good. It’s pure, it’s analog and those class A watts are sublime. Much like a Leica camera. Less is MORE, even in HiFi. I prefer it without a bunch of stuff crammed inside, which will lower the quality of the sound.
Before you even think about it, no, nothing you can find from Best Buy will ever even get to even 20% of this beast in build, sound or quality. For me it has beaten $10k McIntosh integrated amps and other tube amps from Cary, Ayon and others. If I can be 100% honest, it is a better amp than that magical 219ia I love so much. It’s more practical as well. It offers a more balanced sound without ever being harsh or flat or sterile. In fact it leans to the richer side of the audio spectrum with amazing layering, imaging and soundstage. A very sweet sound but never bloated or veiled.
It’s full yet detailed and offers a delicate sound where the instruments are voices hang and float in space, even with these speakers that many say do not image. They do, and do it well with the Luxman. With the Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition, even better. Magic is in the air with this combo.
In my 20+ years of HiFi, one of the most fun speakers (and least expensive) I have ever owned though not for HiFi snobs…see my review HERE.
SO I DID IT!
So yes, I ended up trading in my beloved 219ia AND the Sugden phono stage towards the Luxman 590AXII after a 2 week home demo. Now with over a month of use I have NO REGRETS. Phew!
The 590 AXII from Day one to Day 30
The first 30 days with a fresh out of box 590AXII does bring changes to the sound. I will try my best to describe what those were. Burn in IS REAL when you have a revealing system with higher end cables, etc. Easy to hear differences at this level…so here we go….
Week One: Out of the box the sound is fantastic if not a tad warm and full. I love the way it sounded out of the box though it was a little full. After a few days it leaned out and sounded thin to me. I was starting to worry about it as THIN is not a sound I like. But I let it run as Luxman recommends 450 hours to fully get this amp to open up.
Week Two: Weird things were happening. One day it would sound amazing and the next it would be thin and lacking in bass. I thought I was going insane but knowing how these things go, I was patient. This was a strange week with the amp but I played it daily for 8-10 hours. Even if I was not in the room, I let it run.
Week Three: Noticing a lack of bass more than ever, has me worried! Even with my big Cornwall III speakers! Soundstage shrunk and I found myself needing to engage the loudness feature to get a fuller sound. This was NOT GOOD as I never use loudness, but only “direct” mode for the most pure signal! Eek! I forge ahead and hope week four brings some changes. If not, I will be very sad that I made this mistake.
Week Four: Hmmm. Changes are happening here. It’s crazy but week four had the amp opening up dramatically. Bass came back and I remember sitting and listening one night using Roon and Tidal Streaming. I said “This is as good as it can get with these speakers” and it was magical. A rich full sound, perfect bass which was tight and present, a mid bass that was fleshed out yet never even close to boomy and a sweet high end that was in no way flat or hard. It was like day one but much better with more transparency. With only 200-220 hours on the amp, it still may have some improvements in it but week four stopped my worry as at this point it was exceeding my 219ia with a different but more enjoyable listen.
After a long run, I say goodbye to the 219ia …
So here I am, listening right now to Pink Martini and I am happy as I could be. I no longer miss my 219ia as I do not miss the heat it put out nor the worry of tubes blowing or needing replacement (845’s are expensive, for the good ones). While I get a different sound and presentation from the Luxman, I actually enjoy it a little more. I will say right now that technically, this is indeed the nicest Integrated amp I have ever had in this room. Others were wonderful (Yamaha S3000, Raven Tube, McIntosh MA8000, Line Magnetic 219ia, AR 75vsi) but none hit every chord with me like this Luxman 590 AXII has. Some came very close but none just had it all – The Beauty, The Build, The Sweetness, The Convenience of Solid State with a more Tube like Sound and even the ability to drive almost any speaker in my room with only 30/60 watts per channel.
With my Cornwall III speakers this amp is heavenly but I also brought in other speakers to test it out. If it could not drive lower sensitivity speakers then it would not have been for me.
Falcon Acoustic LS3/5A, Dynaudio Special 40’s, KEF LS50’s and some B&W’s stand mounted speakers that cost around $2500. This amp powered them all with authority and ease, and these speakers I just listed (Dynaudio, Falcon, KEF and B&W) are 85-87 DB efficient! The Luxman did not even break a sweat powering any of them. Of those three bookshelf speakers the Dynaudio Special 40’s were indeed the most special. They had gorgeous mids and a wider soundstage and are a bargain at their asking price.
This amp also droves my new Sonus Faber Guarneri Traditions in a beautiful, sweet, organic yet powerful way. I thought I needed more power at first but nope, this amp gets it done but remember my room is 12X13 so it’s small. Not a lot of power needed even for speakers that are a harder drive.
The Build of this amp is as good as it gets. Made in Japan (this is a good thing) with bulletproof build.
THE FINAL WORD
This Luxman 590 AXII is without question, as a whole, the finest integrated amp I have ever reviewed, and I have reviewed some amazing amps (I only review products I LOVE. If I d not like them, I do not review them). Yes, as of 2019 this one takes the prize as it the most well balanced of them all, most beautiful of them all, and built better than all of the rest as I know this will last me the rest of my life, if I let it. Easier said than done for an audiophile.
As for sound, it’s delicate yet powerful, rich, big, and sweet yet detailed. Never really heard anything quite like it. It took a few weeks to burn in but now it is as open as the sky above.
It’s so good I even upgraded my DAC from my PS Audio DirectStream JR to the full blown DirectStream (Senior) and that added even more to the what I was experiencing here with this amp. (The DirectStream DAC IS INDEED a pretty steep upgrade over the Junior).
This leads me to say this. If you buy this amp, make sure your speaker cables and source are up to what this amp is capable of. I often see some buy big expensive amps only to skimp on cables, source, etc. This amp deserves the best you can give it. My system is now comprised of:
PS Audio DirectStream DAC (Snowmass)
Luxman 590 AXII Integrated Class A Amp
Valhalla Speaker Cables
Audioquest Thunder and Hurricane Power Cables
I stream using ROON and Spotify Connect through my DirectStream DAC Bridge and use the internal phono stage of the Luxman for my turntable which is the best internal phono stage I have come across in an integrated (though of course a $5k external will beat it).
The PS Audio Directstream Junior DAC. A nice dac – The DirectStream SENIOR is what I now own and it competes IMO with DAC’s over $10k.
Back to the Luxman
If you are looking for an integrated amp, and have a healthy budget (I managed it with trade ins) then I can state without hesitation that this Luxman 590 AXII is a winner. It unseated my long time favorite tube piece, the 219ia and that was no easy task.
I bought mine from Arizona HiFi, my fave local shop. If you are looking for anything HiFi, you can see their contact and location info HERE.
Some will ask me why I did not go for the newer Luxman 509x which is class A/B and puts out more wattage. Well, if you read this review then you would know why. I’m a class A guy as I like the sound of class A designs more than class A/B or D. It has a magic, a special ambiance and sound that speaks to my heart. It’s a close to tubes as you can get with solid state. ; )
The 509x is also getting raves so if you have a large space, and hard to drive speakers that would be the one to go with in the Luxman line. Either way it will have the same build, looks, and vibe of the 590 AXII (with a much cooler looking top plate). Huge glowing meters, solid dials that just scream quality and build and sound to match its price point. This is a piece that will last forever and sometime in the year 2045 many will be looking out for one as a vintage piece from 2018, just as we do today for classic designs of the 1970’s.
Yes, the 590 AXII is that good.
Is this the best integrated amp of all time? Probably not as this kind of thing is a personal choice. What I like you may not, and vice versa. Some say the ultimate integrated is the Pass Labs INT-250 or the Gryphon Diablo 300, both more expensive and even heavier and larger (though I would love to test them). With HiFi, the more we pay the more we get but sometimes those improvements are very small for a lot more cash. I am happy right here and again, if I let it, this amp could be my last integrated amp ever. ; )
UPDATE JAN 11th 2019: So this amp has been running in my system, being used daily ever since it arrived. I just wanted to say again what I have said above, that this is an amazing piece. In fact, I love it more today than when I wrote this review. The life it breathes into the music is seductive and beautiful as it somehow can combine ethereal with detail, and is never ever harsh nor ever dull. I’ve not had a better integrated amp in my system, well, ever. The Luxman 590 AXII may one day have a new model to succeed it but doesn’t mean it will be better, just different.
To improve on this would mean spending much much more, and losing the physical beauty of this amp which gives us a slight retro vibe but with some of the best build I have seen in an integrated (beats the McIntosh MA8000 I used to own in this regard easily).
In any case, this amp now powers Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition speakers quite nicely in my room. It’s like magic every time I turn it on but the heart of this system is not the speakers but rather the Luxman. I’m listening to more music than ever now, and I attribute this to how musical my system is. THIS is due to the Luxman, then the DAC, then the Speakers, then the Cables.
I had a few over listening to this system in December and even this month, January 2019. They were amazed at the black backgrounds, the smoothness and vocal performance, the soundstage depth and width and imaging as well as how it can suck you into the music with emotion. One person compared the sound from my Directstream DAC as being “reel to reel” tape like in its silence. Music floats in my room, rather than sounding like it is projected from speakers and it leans to the richer side of the spectrum but it is not really warm, not at all. More ethereal than analytical. More human than strident. More tangible than distant. More warm than bright but more neutral than not.
I’ll say it here, I would only sell this amp in an emergency situation. If I was going bankrupt or needed funds for a life emergency. It’s a keeper and one that would lead to regret if ever sold.