Luxman's Sonorous Sounding LMC-5 MC Cartridge
sweet sounding MC
Luxman’s LMC-5 MC phono cartridge got “caught” in the move from my previous endeavor to TrackingAngle.com, so this review has been delayed for many months, but what’s the rush when there’s a forty year gap between this cartridge’s introduction last March and the LMC-2’s debut back in 1982?
Not sure what took them so long, or what happened to LMC-3 (four is an unlucky number in Japan, which is why when you play golf there you yell “three!” or “five!”), but welcome back! Two years of R&D went into the LMC-5’s development according to Luxman America president Jeff Sigmund. The LMC-5 costs $2695.
To develop this new cartridge Luxman’s Japan-based development team partnered with an unnamed “long established” cartridge manufacturer, whose identity I think I know but it really doesn’t matter and I’m not going to speculate in print. Working together, the company produced this fascinating cartridge.
Designing a cartridge is in some ways similar to designing the transducer at the other end of the chain: the loudspeaker. As with loudspeakers, some cartridge designers choose a “tuned” enclosure of some wood variety, while others attempt to eliminate resonances altogether using exotic body materials like titanium, and/or construction techniques like selective laser melting to produce impossible to machine shapes. Others eschew bodies altogether, which is one way to eliminate resonances (putting a cartridge motor in a box, Luxman avers is like “putting a microphone in a tunnel”), but it’s also a prescription for broken cantilevers.
Luxman chose to develop the cartridge motor in a bodyless carrier to avoid colorations and once it was set, the designers moved on to designing the body, in the end opting for a semi-open, inverted egg-shaped carrier machined from “corporate red” aluminum A6063 that provides a protective wall on either side of the cantilever, but the company claims, does not affect sound quality.
In the “Background and Details” prep sheet, prepared by Luxman’s John Pravel he writes the obvious from what’s visible: “The LMC-5 combines a conventional type MC engine with a unique body shape”. You can see a familiar-looking magnet structure but not the equally familiar single point piano wire rear termination point.
The LMC-5 combines relatively low internal impedance (4.7ohms) and relatively high output (0.4mV@1kHz, 3.54com/sec). The low internal impedance means fewer coil turns, which means lower mass and therefore ‘faster’ response time, which produces greater detail and cleaner transient response. The .4mV output means a strong, efficient magnet system and/or an iron core around which the coils are wound, which is somewhat less desirable than one that’s iron-free.
To get the desired generous output, which will be more desirable for most end users, Luxman chose a cross mounted iron core with symmetrically mounted L/R coils of Urethane Enameled 30 micrometer diameter “4 Nines” purity copper wire in what it claims is an “uncommonly compact” noise resistant coil/magnetic field configuration.
For the stylus/cantilever assembly Luxman engineers went for a low mass, 0.5mm aluminum pipe cantilever to which is fixed a solid nude, square shank Shibata (7x40 micron radius and 46.7 square micron contact area diamond stylus. Why aluminum and not a more exotic material like boron, sapphire, beryllium or diamond? Luxman says those contributed to an “accentuated hi-fi sound” quality, rather than the more neutral sound quality produced by aluminum. The stylus’s square shank is first press-fit into the cantilever and then a very small amount of epoxy resin is applied to produce a secure, tight fit.
Luxman specifies a typical 25 degree VTA but an unusual 90 degree SRA. Conventional wisdom holds cutting SRA must be greater than 90 degrees in order to vacuum evacuate the cut lacquer thread. On the other hand, setting Shibata SRA even with a microscope is extremely difficult because of the unusually tall, thin vertical contact area.
In the end, a cartridge, like a loudspeaker is a “tuned system” more dependent upon the combination of variables than on any one component, whether body material or type, cantilever or coil material, etc. In this case, the design team led by a Mr. Nagatsuma clearly did the experiments and got the desired sound and electrical characteristics and wrapped it around an attractive $2695 price point for a well-manufactured, high performance low output moving coil cartridge.
Set up And Sound
The LMC-5 weighs 8.5 grams and is designed to track at between 2.1 and 2.3 grams, with 2.2 being the “standard”. Claimed channel separation is 28dB with channel balance 0.5dB. Compliance is typically low—8x10-6 cm/dyne (100Hz). Recommended load impedance is 40 ohms or more (10X the internal impedance is the norm), with 2.5-10 ohms recommended when using a step up transformer.
I ran the LMC-5 in two rigs: the J. Sikora Reference turntable ($47,000 w/o arm)/ SAT CF1-09 arm ($55,000) and the Acoustic Signature Montana NEO ($33,995)/Kuzma Safir arm ($22,000 and currently under review). In other words, this cartridge got the ride of its life! And yes, both of these rigs are probably higher in performance than in what the LMC-5 will ever reside, but both let me know how well the cartridge performs.
The supplied frequency response curve showed essentially flat response from 20Hz-10kHz with a typical but modest and gradual rise from 10kHz-20kHz. The LMC-5 tracked without distortion the 70µm lateral peak track on the Ortofon “Accuracy in Sound” test record and it produced only the slightest “buzz” at 80µm, which makes the cartridge an excellent MC cartridge tracker. Many other MCs break up on that test track.
Because Shibata styli contact areas are difficult to see I set up both arms parallel to the record surface, which appeared to satisfy the 90 degree SRA spec. Using a digital oscilloscope I measures channel separation and got 27dB and 27.5dB with the headshell parallel to the record. In other words the LMC-5 met spec and the test sample was very well constructed.
I ran the LMC-5 into a current amplification input of the CH Precisio P1, which means loading isn’t a factor and then into a VTL 6.5 MkII phono preamp under review for The Absolute Sound. I loaded the non-transformer input at 100 ohms.
Among the first records played was the Bernie Grundman cut reissue of John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (Atlantic SD-1361). The original pressing was the first jazz record I ever bought back in 1961. I know it well. The “stereo” is of course ridiculous. Tyner and Jones share the left channel, Coltrane and bassist Steve Davis share the right. Hearing different “stuff” from different speakers was novel back then but now it’s a distraction. The mono original is much more pleasurable and now that the lost tape has been found, get it! The Electric Recording Company mono edition, of course immediately sold out. Don’t let anyone tell you these ERCs are not great.
The BG stereo edition demonstrated the LMC-5’s overall smooth yet reasonably well-detailed sonic demeanor. On the title tune Coltrane’s soprano sax had textural suppleness and all of the timbral richness you could want or get from this record. The attack on Davis’s bold bass lines on Cole Porter’s “Everytime We Say Goodbye” was well-delineated though a bit richer and thicker than expected. Jones’s cymbals were slighty recessed and less “sizzly” than usual but overall, the timbral and textural picture presented by the cartridge of this very familiar record was extremely attractive—inviting and enveloping.
How about Buck Owens and His Buckaroos singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water”? It’s on a recent 50th anniversary all-analog reissue of the album of the same name (LP 5598) recently issued by Sundazed, cut by Kevin Gray from the original master tapes. Originally issued on Capitol (ST 685) in 1971 when the Boomer gen’s cultural pressure was strong, Owens produces powerful, full throated, reverb drenched covers of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind”, Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero” and two more Simon tunes, “I Am a Rock” and “Homeward Bound”. In the annotation Owens writes “…they’re all really Country songs in disguise!” Owens makes the case on this enjoyable set.
The LMC-5 produced strong full, bass lines with generous sustain that had the notes lingering pleasingly in space, and an attractive round fullness to Owens’ center stage voice, which though rich and full never got caught in mid-bass cloudiness. On “Catch the Wind” the cartridge delivered a wide, deep soundstage with the harmonies well placed across it. A few very deep bass lines were delivered powerfully and without “hangover”. Overall a very pleasing, full-bodied presentation.
Slightly raising the back of the Kuzma Safir arm produced a meaningful sonic shift, not unexpected given the Shibata’s extreme profile. It added some added top, opened the mids slightly and left the luscious, rich bottom right where it was.
However, if you like sizzle with your steak, the LMC-5’s somewhat polite top end might not be for you, but that also depends on where your system is now and where you wish to take it.
The LMC-5’s sonorous midrange makes strings sing. I received, unsolicited, Hope a beautifully recorded album of solo viola performances by Brett Deubner titled “Hope” (BIRS 2081). The pieces he performs are recent compositions by Judith Markovich, Polina Nazaykinskaya, Andrew List and Maurizio Bignone. Mr. Deubner’s credentials speak for themselves. Look them up.
The recording produced at 360 Sound in Orange NJ is wonderfully natural, though the added slight reverb is probably not the room. No matter, it’s a sweet, solid recording that’s directly in the LMC-5’s sonic wheelhouse and showcases the qualities the designers intended for the cartridge.
I found this record online at of all places Rough Trade. You might enjoy it regardless of your musical predilections. We could all use a little hope right now and it’s in the grooves of this beautiful record mastered by Scott Hull and nicely pressed on 180g vinyl at Citizen Vinyl in Ashville North Carolina.
The designers of this cartridge fulfilled their sonic vision, going for “musicality” “over hi-fi-ness”. The sound it produces is on the rich, sonorous side, particularly in the midrange, but not to where boredom sets in. Its Shibata stylus well-resolves detail, the bottom end is well controlled, extended and articulate and especially generous. The top end is sweet but not muted and both micro and macro dynamics are well presented.
While the LMC-5 can handle all musical genres, I’d recommend it for classical and jazz lovers more than for rock and pop fans who might want more sizzle and snap. The string tone delivered by the LMC-5 is truly special as was its presentation of reeds, woodwinds and most acoustic instruments. Proper VTA/SRA is critical to getting the ideal balance so if your arm isn’t adjustable the LMC-5 might not be for you.
Luxman has waited a long time to introduce a new cartridge. It was worth the wait. The the LMC-5 is well-conceived and constructed and based upon the stated design goals of the team that produced it, they achieved it and then some. If your listening is mostly to classical and jazz, the LMC-5 would be a good choice and in today’s costly cartridge market, the price seems more than reasonable given the sonic performance and excellent build quality.
MC (MOVING COIL)
2.1 to 2.3g (2.2g as standard)
0.4mV (1kHz, 3.54cm / sec.)
10Hz to 35kHz
Channel separation / balance
28dB (1kHz) / 0.5dB (1kHz)
Recommended load impedance
40Ω or more
Recommended load impedance
2.5 to 10Ω
8 x 10-6cm / dyne (100Hz)
Solid diamond / SHIBATA stylus
Vertical tracking angle
Samarium-cobalt magnet BH20
Material of magnetic circuit
Φ1.2mm, White (L+) , Blue (L−) , Red (R+) , Green (R-)
Dimensions, Threaded holes
17.0 (W) x 18.3 (H) x 21.3 (D)mm (excluding terminals),