Where to insert tubes while running a Luxman SS integrated

I've recently upgraded my integrated amplifier from a Cambridge CXA81 to a Luxman l-507uxii.  The Cambridge is definitely not bad for its price, but the Luxman is a different animal and is making me want to upgrade everything else in my system.  Which brings me to my point of discussion: I'd like to insert tubes somewhere in my system to get some additional warmth and a more holographic soundstage.  Would adding a tube preamp and running the Luxman as only a power amp be best to do this, or would it be better to get a tube dac for my digital, and separately, a tube phono stage for my vinyl?


Hard to say without knowing the rest of your system. You may want to list your components in the Virtual Systems section of your profile or list it out on this thread. 

There are many better preamps than the preamp of your integrated, but the unit is no slouch. It uses Luxman’s famous LECUA 1000 volume control which is the same quality that was found in the better Luxman separates. Going with a new preamp means you’re giving up the other features of your amp, including the phono stage, but it also makes the sound more consistent between your vinyl and digital, if that is important to you. There’s no right or wrong way, but you’ll need to decide based on your priorities and tradeoffs you are most comfortable with. 

Thanks for your input. I’m currently running KEF R3s with a Pro-Ject X2 (Sumiko Moonstone cart) and a Bluesound Node 2i. However, I’d like to keep the Luxman and upgrade the speakers and sources. I’m thinking of moving over to the Tannoy legacy series, so any input based on that system would be appreciated. 

My journey only started a few years ago and have been gradually upgrading. The KEFs are nice compared to what I had before. Their imaging is probably my favorite aspect of them, but they can be harsh with poor recordings, which has become an annoyance. 

I would recommend you to get a DAC with tube output stage.

Either Lab12 DAC1 Reference or Aqua La Scala MKII. 

i understand the need now... luxman solid state into kef r3 will take no prisoners with poorly recorded music -- treble lives close to the bleeding edge

try to find one of these units on the used sites (the links are to already sold listings), they will preserve the musicality while dialing back the unwanted sizzle and bite

modwright modded cambridge cxn v2 tube output

mhdt tube buffered dac modded

any older model van alstine tubed dac on the used market (they are all excellent in performance and value)

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Thanks for your dac suggestions @jjss49. Yes, the Luxman R3 combo is very revealing, including of recordings with harsh treble. I was surprised that the highs are a bit smoother than with the previous amp (the CXA81), though. 

My L-505uxii with a Herron 360 pre was a surprisingly stark match.  A lot of the Luxman magic seems to be in the pre.  I suggest try before you buy.

@yogiboy 's comment is salient in that it raises the question of which source might be prioritized...

turntable and digital front ends... each leg can be injected with some tube goodness and magic... or it can be done at the linestage (the junction point)

problem with the latter is that the op has said he wants to use his luxman, which is an integrated amp...

@jjss49 I would probably prioritize digital at this stage as I think my vinyl rig sounds way better and less harsh in the treble than the node’s internal dac. @yogiboy budget for a tube phono would probably be around 2.5k new or used. Same budget for the dac. 

I guess it goes without saying that you cannot achieve the sound you want using the Luxman's excellent tone controls?

I agree, a great tube preamp is hard to beat.

remove volume, mute, balance are my desired features.

If desired unit is not remote,

add a Chase RLC-1 remote line controller.

No one can tell if it is in line or out here, so you get the features with no detriment

I would recommend you go to an audio store, even if travel is required and listen to an Audio Research I/50 or LS28/VSi 70. The contrast with your Luxman will be profound. It will also tell you something about what you should do. If you love the sound… then trade your integrated. If you want to move 10 - 20% towards the ACR sound add a warm tubed preamp, if you want to move another 10% add a tubed DAC. If a movement towards that sound of 35% or s isn’t enough, then swap integrateds.


I recently compared three integrated amps, Luxman, Pass, and Audio Research. The contrast was striking… and pretty stark. The Luxman was detailed and crisp but without musicality and warmth, the Pass was detailed with a much more natural  presentation and palpable rhythm and pace (think foot tapping musicality), and the Audio Research was warm and so emotionally engaging it took my breath away. Be aware… I really love ARC for their sound quality… so it is not surprising my reaction. Some might like the greater slam of the Pass (INT-60). The Luxman looked cool. 

I was helping a friend choose… a newbie. While he liked the ARC, I recommended the Pass as it was his first high end purchase… I thought he needed to go through the great slam stage that he could impress his friends with. But he actually thought about it for a couple weeks and bought the LS28 preamp and VSi70. I was shocked and know he will have these for a couple of decades.

Anyway, I think if you listen to what I would consider the possible end point… you could judge how big a move you want to make. 

 A lot of the Luxman magic seems to be in the pre.  I suggest try before you buy.

@wlutke  is absolutely correct, this has been my experience as well.  It's the preamp section that's so incredible in the integrateds. If anything, I'd get outboard amps and keep the pre! :D

If that's not satisfying you, you are going to end up replacing the entire integrated.

Thanks all for the insight.  Given that I’d like to run with the Luxman, get a somewhat warmer sound through new speakers (the Tannoy Legacy from what I can tell should be a bit warmer than the R3s while maintaining a lot of the imaging/soundstaging of the R3s), and that changing the pre might not be such a great idea, I think moving to tube dacs and phono preamps is my next step here.  The Lab12 Dac 1 Reference recommended by @auroravengeance seems compelling on the digital side.  Does anyone have thoughts on how such tube dacs compare to the popular R2R dacs from Denafrips and Gustard for instance? 

I don’t subscribe to the notion that you can sprinkle in some tube flavoring and get a substantial improvement in sound.  The fundamental electrical component that matters most, and will determine the basic kind of sound one will have is the power amplifier.  Given the wide difference in the sound of different tube amplifiers, and given that compatibility of tube amps with particular speakers is critical, it is imperative that someone investigating tube gear experience different amp/speaker combinations.  

OP, if you are poised to purchase Tannoy’s in near future, I would not spend a dime on any other component now. It’s important to get the synergy right between your Integrated and Speakers. Adding a DAC or phono is not going to mask the issues between Luxman and R3S. I have been down this road where I kept on upgrading upstream components instead of addressing the real problem. Having heard Luxman Integrated, I do not believe Luxman is a right match for your R3S or Tannoy’s. 

If you still feel the need to insert tubes the Luxman integrated is probably not the one for you. 

@lalitk sounds like words of wisdom.  Do you have any speaker recommendations in the 4-6k range to run with the Luxman?

@mapman perhaps not, but I’m very satisfied with the combo when I play my good vinyl pressings and even some well-recorded digital.  It’s really bad pressings and some digital that become too harsh (which the R3s do not mask at all—I had the same issue, perhaps slightly worse, when I was running them with the Cambridge). The dilemma is if those particular recordings/pressings can be masked/improved by adding something else to chain.  Or maybe I just need to move to warmer speakers. 

I run a Cambridge Evo 150 with KEF Ls 50 metas +sub and that is a very good combo.  I’ve heard R3s and would expect the same.  The Evo uses Hypex Class D amplification which is very highly regarded. The sound is incite fun and dynamic but never harsh even on recordings that can be on some high end gear.   The Evo does it all pretty much very well for about $3K.  Just add speakers and maybe phono source if needed. 

I bought my Evo from Crutchfield.  They have a good return policy so easy to try with little risk.   I returned the initial unit which had an issue with Bluetooth connections but they replaced it and it’s been golden since.  I always look forward to my next listening session which is always the acid test.  That was January 2022.  

i do agree that if the intent is change speakers from kef to tannoy then i would hold off on any upstream changes until the new speakers are in house, then evaluate all upstream gear to make the speakers work properly in the listening room

Thing is I would not describe KEF as warm. Tannoy tends to have that adjective used to describe the sound more.  If that’s what you want then good advice atty with the speakers and go from there. 

Thanks @mapman and @yogiboy . I’ll try to audition some Tannoys and Spendors (maybe somewhat of a challenge as I'm based in the US). I guess the question of whether to add tubes somewhere in the chain will follow after I acquire new speakers.

I might be able to help in this regard in that I have a luxman 550 ax2 and tannoy Legacy Arden speakers, I am also quite a way of how the Keff speakers sound having had a few pairs either side


What I would suggest however is that you change speakers first before you look at implementing a phono stage or preamp into your system as the speakers really are the end game in regards to how the overall sound will come across.

I myself have changed my dac and my phono stage to match what I wanted music to sound like even though the luxman itself has got a very good phone stage built in. I always think that speakers esp with such a jump in size and with amount of air moved is about 75% of the sound style. The tannoys will inject warmth into the situation and as for the poster that said luxman isn't good for tannoy well that isn't true... Both amp and speaker have stayed in my system longer than any other component 


One other thing... The tannoys do really benefit from being bi-wired

Thanks @richdirector ; very helpful.  I presume you find your Ardens warmer than any of the KEFs you’ve heard?

Yes except old kef 104ab... But compared to r series or ls x ls50 yes...

But tannoys are also incredibly detailed... I always do the analytical musical comparison. I find analytical speakers make you hear thingsand always impress in demos but musical speakers make time disappear...