The Luxury & Precision L3 is a digital audio player featuring a Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC capable of up to DSD256 and balanced output capability. It is priced at $399.
Disclaimer: The Luxury & Precision L3 was sent to us as a sample in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. We thank Luxury & Precision for this opportunity.
To learn more about Luxury & Precision reviews on Headfonics you can click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
Luxury and Precision flew onto the audio scene last year with their excellent sounding L5Pro portable player, but I have a lot of concern about their new budget L3 model…as well as their business outlook and how they’ve been handling firmware releases lately.
Can their new L3 measure up to the competition from iBasso and Fiio at the $400 and under price tier?
Carbon fiber is awesome, but why is it needed or even desired in a mid-tier portable. This is a material most consider a “luxury” option that has no real world practicality, it has nothing to do with sound quality.
I’d rather they just give me a normal metal backplate instead of one that has some of this carbon fiber…how am I supposed to appreciate it when it is never facing me and usually covered by the nifty case they’ve included for the unit?
What a shame. If you are going to use this type of material, I’d rather be able to see it at all times than not. For what it is, I suppose it is fine but I question how much cheaper the product would be without any of that carbon fiber included.
The design overall is a smaller reflection of the more expensive L5Pro model, but with a few minor tweaks and angular alterations. It still feels excellent in the hand and screams solid aluminum build from top to bottom.
The screen is still pretty good, but again nothing nearly as vibrant as the life-changing beauty found in the Calyx M’s OLED monitor. For $399 though, the L3’s large screen looks and feels well above average in quality.
However and despite it being a touch screen, it is firmware locked for touch swipe functionality at the moment. This is a common trend in this review, so forewarning: there will be a lot of banter around my anger towards them for locking core functions for no apparent reason.
You get one microSD card slot, a normal 3.5mm output as well as a balanced 2.5mm output. Balanced options at this price point seem awesome when you consider those possibilities, but know that this player shells out 2.4v into a 32ohm load.
What that means is that you’ll burn out the battery in a few hours using the balanced output with anything that isn’t designated a portable headphone.
Is Balanced Necessary?
Balanced output portable music players bother me, the battery technology right now is just not up to par with our needs when it comes to higher output driving power via a balanced output that is double the power of the standard 3.5mm right next to it.
It is a great feature for those with mid-tier headphones that were recabled with a 2.5mm Balanced connector, but is that really a common way to balance headphones these days? Just because Astell and Kern did it and designed it into their players does not mean anyone else should.
But, I digress. If you have a balanced 2.5mm cable, great! If not, you’ll shell out $150+ for a recable job, maybe more if you are into the custom cable thing. At that price, why bother to buy a mid-tier DAP that isn’t justified for usage with higher-end equipment in the first place?
Don’t expect all-day performance, but do expect maybe 4 hours of balanced output on an efficient headphone and more like 9 with the normal 3.5mm.
Look, I have an issue with companies who completely ignore their entire consumer base and it seems Luxury and Precision are now one of them. When they released their L5Pro last year, some features were locked and utterly neglected.
Riddle me this: why would iBasso and Fiio include incredible basic functions upon release, but Luxury and Precision refused to do the same? The designers in this company used to be part of the Colorfly team, so they have a lot of experience in the field of coding UI and designing wonderful sounding music players.
They certainly made a great-sounding DSD player in the L3, but I feel none of them actually use the Colorfly DAPs when they were part of that team a while back and also do not use Luxury and Precision DAP’s now.
Odds are great they are using iBasso, Fiio, or Astell and Kern DAPs. Actually, scratch that, I think they are still using CD players for their portable needs and think the rest of the world of audiophiles only wants to listen to one album at a time and not a mix of tracks from various artists.
I say that because out of all the DAPs they’ve made so far, they have completely ignored Playlist support despite everyone who buys their product begging for it upon the release. This is a common trait with Asian brand DAP’s and I just don’t understand why anyone stands for it.
Still, no M3u support yet my iBasso DX90 from a few years ago has no issue with this and also, of course, included Playlist support promptly. Luxury and Precision locked out the 24bit file playback when used as a DAC and is currently locked at 16bit.
Why? Dunno…but it upsets me that they want to rush the product out to consumers before actually completing it and making it great upon release.
ACC & Touch Swipe
They’ve told me the next firmware will only support AAC and touch swipe. The portable files that are 24bit off the micro SD card are functional and sound great, DSD sounds GREAT on this player, but they’ve locked the USB DAC’s 24bit functionality, Playlist support, and have opted for and…jeez…AAC/touch swipe for the first firmware update.
By the way, still no custom EQ option? The Sansa Clip from years ago that cost $35 had a custom EQ. My God. I’ve had just about enough of this. Oh also, album art doesn’t work unless it is embedded into the file itself, meaning if you drop an image into the album folder, it won’t register it as album art.
The simple fact that I might have to individually embed an image cover for every album I have…makes me want to jump headfirst out of a moving vehicle.
Credit where it is due: Yes, I hate the UI overall, but I must say that the L3 is the fastest DAP I’ve ever used when it comes to loading a 200GB micro sd card. It is leagues faster than the iBasso DX90 and only takes 45 seconds to perform a full media scan.
Still not as fast as the Rockbox custom OS I have on my DX90, but definitely faster than the stock Mango OS of the DX90 with regard to scanning speed. I am seriously impressed by it and it bests the CalyX M something fierce in the speed department.
However, this means little because Luxury and Precision put the Media Library Update button right on the damned front menu screen. I’ve accidentally pressed it so many damn times that I want to toss it out my window and discontinue using the product every time it happens.
“Oh, man! This DSD file sounds so great ahhhh dammit! I touched the Update button. Son of a…”
“Shoobie doo bopp bahhh, gosh this sounds so great, but since there is no Playlist support I’ll have to press the Back button and cycle to another specific track I want to hear on another album ahhhhh damnit! I did it again.”
Library Update Issue
Why the hell is this button front and center on the main menu!? This is supposed to be in Settings, away from the possibility of ever accidentally hitting it and stopping your music to perform an almost minute-long update.
If that isn’t enough, the numerical value of track listings is limited to 6000 files. I have more files than this on the SD card, my iBasso DX90 registers over 7500, but the L3 always says there are only 6000 available.
If that isn’t enough to boil your blood, know that you can’t cycle back to the previous track if you are using Shuffle mode. Skipping through some tracks and see something you want to listen to, but accidentally tapped once over what you should have? Too bad. The L3 shuffles back and forth.
This is one of the most annoying things in the entire L3 experience that I’ve come across. I have no problem in this area with my DX90, I can cycle back to the previous track while Shuffle is active because the iBasso coder is awesome at his job. But, I cannot do that on the L3…and this is something I’ve whined about as a problem inside the L5Pro for almost a full year!
The reason I am griping so much here is that all of these gripes were included in my L5 Pro review LAST YEAR. They didn’t listen to me, they didn’t listen to anyone else who bought it, and also found all of this annoying.
So, I am at a crossroads here. I have a great-sounding portable player that has some of the most annoying experiences I’ve ever come across in my long years as a reviewer. The L3 was rushed out before it was actually completed and the UI is suffering from it. What a tragedy.
Despite my unbridled rage over the nonsense UI functionality, this player sounds fantastic. It is the first under $500 DAP that I’ve used that compares to the iBasso DX90 using Rockbox…and Rockbox sounds better than the stock Mango, un-modded OS of the DX90, and in my opinion even the Fiio X5.
But, I’ve failed blind testing between them when comparisons were drawn between the Rockboxed DX90 and the L3. So, there is a hierarchy going on here and the L3 is undeniably my pick for the best overall clarity in a mid-fi DAP that isn’t modded.
Both players are near identical in setup and feel, overall texture, clarity, and dynamics across the board. It isn’t until I play DSD files that I know I am using the L3. With those higher res files, a noticeably higher purity level factor becomes evident and it bests the DX90 Rockbox modded sound by a step or two.
Not much, but enough to hear it and to be able to call it superior when A/Bing a DSD file with it’s Flac version.
I wasn’t the only one to fail blind testing, literally everyone else I let try it also failed. Is that a bad thing? No, not really. The Rockbox OS really pushes the limits of what the DX90 is capable of, which is already excellent quality.
So, I am not surprised at all that the L3 sounds the same in clarity across the board as the DX90 Rockbox. On dead flat EQ via the DX90 and the Normal EQ setting on the L3…I achieved a 100% failure rating to be able to tell which DAP I’d been using.
Peers at an audio meet helped me test it by plugging my K10 and R2Pro in and out of both models…we all failed to accurately list which DAP was being used at any given time. The L3 and the Rockboxed DX90 sound identical in quality and presentation, despite using completely different DAC’s inside.
Let’s be honest here, you are interested in this L3 mostly for its DSD capabilities, right? Well, it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. I purchased a few albums from Michael Jackson that have been remastered in DSD and let me tell you, swapping between the older Thriller Flac version and the DSD version really showcases the depth of field superiority in the DSD version.
To my ears, not much else changes, but I can’t shake the feeling that the Balanced output using a nice DSD file just sounds heftier even when I’d tried to negotiate the proper volume between both output types.
I’m not sure what that has to do with anything really, but each time I listen to a track via Balanced out with a DSD file and then the same file in Flac, I come away feeling like the Flac version is lacking something in density and physicality in the midrange and vocal experience.
No, this player is not mid-forward, nor is it recessed. It seems exactly the same as the DX90 in terms of placement of mids.
As for the Bass region, this DAP will never achieve anything special without a custom EQ option that actually works on a great Equalizing platform in the UI. Sadly, the L3 just won’t ever receive that, so if you are a bass head or own bassy headphones and want to retain excellent quantity, look elsewhere.
I’m not even going to begin to shed any light on just how insanely awesome the Rockbox operating system is on the DX90 but it obliterates all the FiiO’s, the CalyX, the iBasso stock OS’s, Android, every Apple product ever and is in my opinion only bested in capabilities by Foobar2000’s seemingly bottomless expanse of free plug-in’s. This L3 is barren and desolate by comparison, so let’s just leave it at that.
Just like the mid experience, the low-end clarity is excellent and very clean, but it really lacks the depth and oomph most of us bass enthusiasts would want. My K10 customs from Noble Audio and my Flare Audio R2A sound isolated and boring with the L3.
However, my Flare Audio R2Pro (something more natural and clinical than its little brother) sings exceptionally well with the L3 using the DSD tracks out there. True, you are not doing the R2Pro’s low-end justice with quantity, but you are doing it justice with clarity and purity.
As with most tonally clinical products in the audiophile world, Treble can become an issue. That raw, unyielding brightness and snap can get harsh at times and the L3 can really make or break the experience here due to its lack of a customize-friendly EQ system.
You are stuck with the presets and God’s honest…they are all garbage except the Jazz setting (subjective). If the track isn’t of good quality, you are going to hear it and then some.
However, again as with most clinical-toned setups, the upper end can become a real delight when the track has sufficient quality. Excellent recordings sound bloody brilliant and I am one of those who are sensitive to peaky upper ends, so know full well that the quality will show through, but depends fully on the track itself in some cases.
Sometimes, things are just too bright for me. In other situations, I feel like I need more treble. I’m always conflicted, again due to that lack of a customized EQ inside the L3. If it had one, I think it would be a much nicer experience most of the time for me, instead of being at either extreme end for the most part.
Those excellent DSD file albums from Tony and Lady Ga Ga sound lovely and sweet, so this player is capable of obtaining that sweetness and gentle bite up top to keep things sparkled, all without going overboard.
But, switching to something else can get too wince-worthy and annoying so fast, that I often put the L3 away and reach for my DX90 for anything non-DSD in the file type. That Rockbox OS offers too nice of a customized sound for me to want to use the L3…
This L3 sounds great, but it just isn’t ready for release. It won’t be ready for release even after the next two firmware updates. Luxury and Precision were not interested in offering a product that was matured enough on release day to justify itself and it seems so rushed and lacking at the moment, that I can’t recommend it to most consumers.
I’d only recommend this if you are cool with shelving it for a few months, maybe more, until they fix all the functionality issues. After that, it seems like it would be a great DAP with a higher score than what I am going to give it.
Side by side with the L5Pro, the L3 lacks density and heft and is much more prone to a hot treble experience depending on the track quality. That could actually be a wonderful thing for some buyers out there who want that transparency though.
This player sounds IDENTICAL to the DX90, which baffles me to no end and boggles my brain. The DX90 uses 9018K2M DAC’s, the L3 uses CS4398 DAC’s…yet they ended up sounding so alike, that I and a few other peers could not help but feign shock and awe that we’d all failed blind testing between them.
It wasn’t until we played DSD files that we could spot the clarity boost achieved with the better file quality in some DSD files.
So summed up, the L3 has the same quality as the now years old DX90 Rockbox modded version (which is free by the way, and easy to install) but also has vastly inferior UI and even locked features?
Luxury & Precision L3 Specifications
- 16 GB internal memory, micro SD up to 128 GB
- Digital to Analog Chip: Cirrus Logic CS4398
- OP Amp: Crown 18120 (x2)
- Headphone Amplifier Chip: Crown 1812A (x2)
- Coprocessor: 1812M
- Sampling rates up to 32 Bit/768 kHz, supports up to DSD256
- USB: Sampling rates up to 24 Bit/192kHz
- Power: 1.2V using 3.5mm output, 2.4V using 2.5mm output, @ 35 Ohm load.