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PZ's Luxman Tuner History
Luxman tuners are probably the most confusing among the major brand names. Some people recognize Luxman as an upscale brand name and will pay dearly for a used entry-level model; others have been able to snatch a top-line classic for a song. Probably the biggest reason for this is Luxman's mysterious numbering system, or the lack of it, for their products. There is no simple way for interested buyers to know what they are buying today. The seller's hype and a few pictures are often all they have to go on; few magazine reviews can be found, and Bluebook data are full of mistakes. It appears that Luxman introduced the same model in different markets with different names in different years. Luxman tested their products in Japan first. The better-received ones were offered to the distributors and left up to their choosing. A model rejected on its introduction was sometimes chosen later when Luxman lowered the price to clear their inventory. Minor cosmetic changes such as colors and wood cases were adjusted for the market and given different model numbers. The lack of a coherent global marketing strategy or a tight control of distributors probably contributed to the demise of the company despite the fine quality of their products. The flip side is that there are some great buying opportunities today.
To sort out what's what in the Luxman food chain, I put together a skeleton of the genealogy of Luxman tuners based on data from three key web sites:
· Luxman's own website lists the Japanese models.
· Audiogon lists the U.S. models. Their data appears to be based on the Orion Bluebook.
· AudioInvest lists the Scandanavian/European models. Their pre-1980 data were based on the Swedish HiFi Yearbook (Svenska HiFi Institutet) and the Danish HiFi Yearbook (Dansk HiFi Institut).
Pictures were collected from eBay listings and the Russian site Retroaudio. Some manuals were obtained from Sven Eiman in Sweden. AudioInvest provided additional information not listed on their website, and several other Japanese and European websites were used for cross-referencing. Hans Hilberink's Luxman website has copies of sales brochures of many popular components.
Following a long history in amplifier and other audio components, Luxman began its venture into tuners in 1971. Their own website shows two models in 1971: the W717, priced at 35,000 yen, and the WL500 (photo) at 69,500 yen. These were followed in 1972 by the WL700 (photo) at 44,100 yen and WL550 (photo) at 49,500 yen. None of these appear in the Audiogon/Orion database, but AudioInvest lists them as 1974-76 models. The WL500 and WL550 are cosmetically identical.
The switch from the W prefix to T occurred in 1973 with the T-550 (photo), priced at 54,500 yen (1.8 µV sensitivity, 0.3% distortion). A picture of the T-550 can be seen on the Retroaudio site and it appears to be the same as the WL-500/550. This model is not listed on other U.S. and European sites.
The 1974 T-300 (photo) was clearly the big brother of the T-550, with improved sensitivity (1.7 uµ) and distortion (0.2%) and a higher price (79,500 yen). AudioInvest shows it as a 1976-77 model along with the T-310 (photo). The difference between the T-300 and T-310 was the obsolete Dolby FM option. Interestingly, the T-310 is not listed on Luxman's own site; instead, there is a T-300V dated 1976 with identical specs as the T-300 and a slightly higher price (83,500 yen). Most likely the T-300V in Japan is the same as the T-310 in Europe. On Audiogon/Orion, only the T-310 is shown as a 1976 model at $595. The T-300 was definitely sold in the U.S., probably for over $500. There was a little brother to the twins: the 1975 T-33 (photo), with 2.0 µV sensitivity and 0.3% distortion, was priced at 39,500 yen with a single S-meter. It's listed on AudioInvest as a 1976-78 model. Two additional models in Japan appeared to fit in between: the T-660 (1974, 49,800 yen) and T-550V (57,500 yen). Neither appears to have been sold outside the home market. This entire family were AM/FM models.
The first FM-only tuner, the T-110 (photo), came in 1975 at 96,000 yen. Along with the C1000/M6000 amps, it's highlighted by Luxman as their flagship trio. The T-110's key specs (1.6 µV, 0.06%) put it a notch above the T-300/310 twins. In terms of styling, the T-110 broke the old radio mold of the T-300, stretched it wide to 19" and squashed the height from 6" to 4.5". A new fashion of low profile was clearly on Luxman's mind. The T-110 came with a set of high-heeled boots - take off the boots and its height goes down to 4-1/8"! Strangely, its U.S. price was only $525 in 1976, below that of the T-310. My theory is that the U.S. dealers fooled the buyers by renaming the T-300V to T-310 and pitched it as a better model than the T-110. The Dolby and the AM made that credible, if one didn't look at the specs and listen to the music. The T-110 was priced lower, apparently to compete with notable supertuners like the Kenwood 600T and Sansui TU-9900, both around $600.
The cross-breeding of the T-110 and the low-end T-33 resulted in the T-88V (1975, 54,500 yen, photo). It kept the boxy body of the T-33 and adopted the unique gray color dial face of the T-110, but without all the intricate designs. The T-88V's specs (2.0 µV and 0.3%) suggest that its performance was similar to the T-33, but its better look and extra meter might be the main reasons for the price difference. The same silver/gray/rosewood look proliferated to the popular R-1000 and R-3000 series of receivers. The Audiogon/Orion database has the T-88V as a 1976 model at $345. AudioInvest dates it 1977-78 in Europe. In the UK, it was priced at 116 pounds, compared to the T-33 at 110 pounds and the T-110 at 295 pounds. The Brits clearly loved the T-110.
High Fidelity's review of the T-110 was titled "A Tuner with a Mission." If that mission wasn't quite accomplished, the next two models in 1977 surely finished the job. The 5T50 FM-only tuner (photo1, photo2) was Luxman's first digital. The push-button presets and up/down frequency scanning in a low-profile chassis set the standard for all digital tuners to follow. Luxman's website shows that it was introduced in Japan in June 1977 with a whopping 220,000 yen price, second only to the 5M21 power amp's 240,000 yen in the prestigious Laboratory Reference Series (LRS) components. Strangely, Audiogon/Orion shows that the entire LRS appeared in the US in 1976, very unlikely. The 5T50 was priced above the 5M21 in the US: $1595 vs. $1295, although an old magazine ad shows the 5T50 priced at $1495. AudioInvest dates the 5T50 as a 1979-80 model, probably following a price reduction. Interestingly, Luxman's web site lists the model with a second date of January 1980. The distortion spec was mysteriously raised from 0.06% to 0.08%, while sensitivity remained unchanged at 1.7 µV. My guess is that the IF bandwidth was made narrower to improve selectivity on this one-bandwidth model, but it's only a guess. We need someone who knows Japanese to see if any explanation is given.
The second 1977 home run tuner was the analog T-12 (photo). Luxman designated the T-12 and its matching amps C-12/M-12 as the Laboratory Standard Series, a step below the LRS, but the performance of the T-12 actually surpassed the 5T50. It showed a complete rethinking of the analog tuner: the T-12 lowered the T-110's 4.5" height to 3.1", set a new low of the distortion spec at 0.05%, got rid of the center-tuning meter with its implementation of the closed-loop lock (CLL) circuit for the front end and the very slick Accutouch mechanical sensing of the tuning action, and adopted LEDs for the signal meter. It was also the first Luxman to offer a choice of wide/narrow IF bandwidth. Virtually every later Luxman analog was based on the T-12 concept, but none came close to its stunning look. It's not an overstatement to say that the T-12 was Luxman's crown jewel of analogs. It has the look of a fancy gold watch with a pearl-like textured dial face, which makes me wonder if they farmed out the design to Seiko. Its Japanese price of 96,000 yen equaled the T-110, but the U.S. price of $645 was higher, and justifiably so. Like the 5T50, Audiogon/Orion dates the T-12 as a 1976 model and AudioInvest lists it as a 1979-80 model. Luxman's website shows it with a second date of January 1980 but there is no change in specs.
A twin of the T-12 is the T-300X (December 1978, 98,000 yen, photo). Judging from the photo on Retroaudio, it is the T-12 in a rosewood case, which made it more conservative and bulky, and not as effective a presentation of a new concept. There is also a T-90 FM-only tuner on the Luxman web site (1977, 69,000 yen) that appeared in the same month as the T-12 (November 1977). It probably did not make it outside the home market.
The analog 5T10 (August 1978, 98,000 yen, photo) was a T-12 under the 5T50 skin. This late addition to the LRS was probably produced to meet the demand for a less costly tuner for LRS lovers. Though not as pretty as the T-12, the dial scale has an artistic touch that you would not expect from anything associated with a "laboratory." All its specs and features (with the exception of the hi-blend circuit with dual settings) are identical to those of the T-12. The 5T10 was priced just 2,000 yen higher than the T-12 in Japan. The much higher U.S. price ($795) was probably due to the rise of the yen against the US dollar and the premium of the established LRS image. Again, Audiogon/Orion lists the 5T10 as a 1976 model and AudioInvest has it as a 1979-80 model. It appears that when Orion didn't know when a Luxman tuner was made, they put down 1976. They have 8 totally different models listed for that year!
Things started to go downhill after the 5T10. October 1978 saw the introduction of the Studio Standard Series, a low-cost imitation of the LRS and LSS, achieved by simplifying the T-12 and repackaging it in a slim chassis with a silver finish. The big brother T-4 (58,000 yen, photo) has a 5-gang front end and all the operating features of the T-12, but the specs were weaker across the board (1.8 µV, 0.07%). It was the only one listed on Luxman's web site. AudioInvest shows the T-4 and T-2 (photo) as 1979-80 models. They both had the CLL/Accutouch tuning. A still lower model, the T-1 (photo), with 1.9 µV sensitivity and 0.15% distortion, was introduced in 1980 without the CLL/Accutouch. Orion's dates for the T-4 and T-2 (1980 and 1976) are probably wrong, but the prices ($495 and $375) seem about right. The T-1 is not listed, but was probably priced below $300. There is also a T-111 (not to be confused with the later black digital T-111) which looks identical to the T-1.
In parallel with the Studio Standard Series between 1979 and 1982 was a series of slim tuners in rosewood cases and entirely different names, just as the T-12 was put in a rosewood case and called the T-300X. The Luxman site shows three models, the T-50A (1979, 69,000 yen, photo), T-45A (1980, 39,800 yen), and T-400 (1982, 49,000 yen, photo). Among these the AudioInvest site lists only the T-50A, as a 1981-82 model, and the Orion has only the T-400 as a 1981 model ($300). The big brother T-50A has been spotted on eBay and so it was probably sold in the U.S. It has the same specs as the T-4 and most of the features of the T-12, including CLL/Accutouch tuning and wide/narrow IF bandwidths. They are likely to be similar or identical inside despite the different treatment of the front face. Both should be solid performers. The T-400 appears to be just the T-1 or T-111 in a rosewood case. Orion also shows a T-450 (1976 again? $400, photo) that often appears on eBay. It looks identical to the T-400 except for an extra button for variable muting threshold and the Acculock feature. The T-450 may be a variation of the T-2, by moving all the buttons from above the dial to below it. Sans the rosewood case, the T-450 was known as the T-112. Its specs (1.8 µV, 0.15%) were between the T-4/T-50A and T-1/T-400. AudioInvest lists the T-112 as a 1982-83 model. Two other tuners on the Luxman website with similar model numbers are the T-40A (1980, 49,800 yen) and T-40X (1981, 50,000 yen). The dimensions given show them to be about 5" high, atypical of Luxman in those years. They were probably not imported by overseas distributors. On the other hand, RetroAudio's website shows a picture of the T-40A and it's identical to the T-450, but this could be a mistake.
Luxman's first follow-ups to the digital 5T50 were the nearly identical-looking T-14 (photo) and T-115 (photo). The model numbers suggest that they were intended to be the digital updates of the analog T-12 and T-112 (a/k/a T-450). They have the basic layout of the 5T50 packaged in the slim rosewood case of the T-450. It is unclear why neither is listed on Luxman's website. Both were available outside the U.S. without the wood case, with a finish like the Studio Standard Series tuners. Despite the cosmetic similarity, there is a significant performance gap between the two. The spec sheets show that T-14's performance (1.8 µV, 0.08%) was below that of the T-12 but better than the T-4, and the T-115 (1.8 µV, 0.15%) was a bit better than the T-112. The T-14 has two IF bandwidths and the T-115 just one. AndioInvest lists them as 1982-83 models, while Audiogon/Orion has them as 1981 models priced at $800 and $500.
The real second-generation digital was the T-530 (1982, 79,800 yen, photo). It set a new low for the distortion spec (0.04%), introduced the computer-analyzed tuning (CAT) system that chose the optimal settings for RF attenuation, IF bandwidth, CS filter (anti-birdie), and hi-blend circuit. The look of the tuner appears to have borrowed a page from Accuphase, with two polished side strips in champagne gold. It came standard in a rosewood finish, clearly not the work of the designer of the T-12 and 5T10. The T-530Z skipped the wood finish, and that model later became known as the T-02 (photo). The T-530 was listed as a 1983-85 model on AudioInvest, but was not listed on Audiogon/Orion. The T-02 was also listed on AudioInvest as a 1983-85 model, a member of a trio that included the C-02/M-02 amps. Curiously, none of them show up on Luxman's own website. Audiogon/Orion shows the T-02 priced at $500 in 1986. The T-530 and T-02 were clearly worthy products. Stereophile gave the T-02 a Class B rating in 1986, calling it the best Luxman tuner since the 5T10 in 1978, but the T-02 was actually several years old at that time and tuner technology had advanced over those years. Had the T-02 been reviewed when it was first designed, it probably would've earned a higher mark. I think the performance of the T-02 is very close to the T-03, which was rated class A in 1987, and I'm not sure why the T-02 was rated one step lower.
A series of low-end models were concurrent with the T-530/T-02 between 1982 and 1985. These were named the Status/New Standard Series, and included as members the analog T-210 (photo), T-215 (photo), digital T-230 (photo) and T-240 (photo). None of them appear on Luxman's Japanese site. They were all housed in the same Accuphase-imitation T-02 chassis with the bright golden sides. Audiogon/Orion shows only the T-240 priced at $200 in 1984, perhaps a reduced clearance price due to Luxman's takeover by Alpine. RetroAudio's website shows a picture of the T-230 but refers to it as the T-400. This may be a mistake. There was also a short-lived Contemporary Series with just one model between 1983 and 1985: the TX-101 ($350, photo). Orion dates it 1982 and AudioInvest has 1984 as the year of introduction in Europe.
Luxman's Japanese site shows only two more tuners made after the Alpine take-over in 1984: the T-105 (1984, 44,800 yen) and the T-117 (1987, 59,800 yen, photo). They were priced at $420 and $600 in the U.S. The T-105 had an unusually mediocre distortion spec (0.15%) for a Luxman. It was clearly a commodity product made quickly to give the exotic LV-105 BRID amp a cosmetically matching black tuner. The 1987 T-117, however, was a serious comeback effort. It registered the best specs of all Luxmans (1.5 µV sensitivity, 0.04% distortion) and it was also the thinnest at 2.5". It earned a Class A rating from Stereophile. The return-to-glory gold version of the same tuner bears the T-03 name and was listed on AudioInvest as a 1986-87 model (photo).
The Dark Ages: The transition to black finish in 1984 was followed by a series of tuners that do not appear on Luxman's own website, which suggests that they may have more to do with Alpine than with Luxman. The ones listed by Audiogon/Orion include the T-407 (1985, $600), T-100 (1986, $250, photo), T-102 (1986, $330, photo), T-111 (1988, $300, photo), T-7 (1989, $400) and T-353 (1995, $450). AudioInvest shows the T-100 and T-102 as 1986-87 models, but has no listings for the T-407, T-7 or T-353. They also show a black digital Z-503 tuner (1980-81, photo) that was not mentioned on the other websites. They also have the T-111 in 1983 as an analog model, which may be an entirely different tuner from the one listed on Orion. Other unidentified models include Audiocircuit's listings of 71/5T and 71/7T in 1973, and the undated T-11 and T-92. They also list a T-01 in 1980-82 and T-04 in 1979-80, which are probably just the T-1 and T-4.
This little bit of history shows that Luxman's milestone tuners were the analog T-110, T-12 (a/k/a T-300X) and 5T10, and the digital 5T50, T-530 (a/k/a T-02) and T-117 (a/k/a T-03). The first four of the bunch all appeared in the three-year period 1975-78, which were undoubtedly Luxman's golden years for tuners. Their most notable offspring in the following three years included the analog T-4 and T-50A and the digital T-14. The only significant tuner prior to the T-110 was the 1974 T-300/310. Before 1980, the top models all had a price above the 90,000 yen mark. The later T-530 and T-117, which had lower prices in yen, represented brief comeback efforts when the company was in disarray. They were competitive with other top tuners on the market in the mid-eighties. A number of other later digital models may be interesting, but no information can be found.
All of the top Luxman tuners had 5-gang front ends and a straightforward linear phase IF stage - nothing fancy compared to the best Japanese tuners made after 1977, when Luxman was at their best. Within that design, test reports show that they were able to achieve high sensitivity, low distortion, wide separation and flat frequency response. The spec sheets of the top models routinely gave distortion figures below 0.1% at 6 or 10 kHz in stereo, channel separation of 50 dB or so, and frequency response flat up to 17 kHz within 0.5 dB. The focus on audio quality meant putting selectivity in the back seat. The T-110's owner's manual spent two full pages on antennas and cables. One gets the idea that Luxman was telling the owner to get a clean station by using a good directional outdoor antenna and not by trading off audio quality with narrow filters. That's probably why they were relatively late in offering wide/narrow IF filter options and never went beyond two settings.
Next to audio quality, Luxman was unabashed in designing for the look and feel. The T-110 was a kind of mission statement. With only two tiny buttons on the front besides the power switch and the tuning knob, it is like saying "keep your fingers to yourself, just listen and look." Indeed, its look aspired to be an antique musical instrument and not a modern electronic widget. This "less is more" style was the company's theme in the mid-'70s. They had fewer buttons and knobs but introduced quite a few genuinely useful features: the blinking dial marker in the T-110, Accutouch in the T-12, seek/scan tuning in the 5T50, CAT in the T-530, and audible multipath detection and variable muting in several models. Each of these was aimed at getting the best reception with the least fiddling. In contrast, most companies adopt the opposite philosophy to keep the user's finger busy. Putting more knobs and switches on the front panel suggested that they had more sophisticated stuff inside the box. Some of the later Luxmans unfortunately seem to have followed that style.