Thread: Lumin Review
December 22, 2013, 09:58 PM #1
Lumin – Audiophile Network Music Player Review – Less is more…
By Michael Bovaird
Digital sucks. There, I said it. To be honest, I really don’t want to dislike my digital because it is so convenient, but vinyl has always sounded better in my system. Those close to me know I have been on a DAC merry-go-round for several years now. I have cycled through so many DAC’s that I’ve lost count and too embarrassed to say, but it is somewhere around 20. In that time, I have had the pleasure of owning or trying some wonderful sounding DAC’s, but in the end, they always drove me back to vinyl as my preferred source.
To me, computer audio has always produced this “edge”, this hyper resolving presentation which often creates listener fatigue. Sonic characteristics which have always sent me running for my turntable.
In addition, with computer audio you have the added frustration and expense of dealing with a Windows PC or Mac. As someone who works on a computer all day, the last thing I want to be bothered with in my listening room is virus scans, fighting adware, phishing attacks or worrying about the latest software update or new version of the operating systems. I just want to listen.
I have never had a streamer in my system, but loved the idea of one box (or in the case of the Lumin – two) over a clunky and unattractive PC box, monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. But I persevered because here in America, “DAC’s and Mac’s” sound better than streamers…. or so we are told. In other parts of the world, they aren’t so sure. It is my opinion that most manufactures of audio products choose to manufacturer DAC’s, not because they sound better (but they will tell you they do sound better), but because it is much easier to build a DAC rather than a full-fledged streamer. With a DAC, all of the playback programming and processing resides with the PC or Mac. A DAC is still a DAC – fundamentally the same thing they were making years ago – but now with an added USB port. That being said, some of the streamers on the market are also half-baked with no gapless support, incompatibilities with some server/control points and a failure to play ALL file types. The Lumin handles all formats, supports gapless playback and is simply beautiful to look at, use and listen to.
It is believed that USB is a superior connection to Ethernet because it lets the clock in the DAC do the monitoring and essentially manage the audio stream from the PC or Mac. It is believed that this provides better error management which if not handled properly can degrade performance.
In my experience, this might be more theory than reality. I have not found any sonic degradation with the Linn or Lumin streamers or with my brief listening sessions with the Naim NDS/X and others. Quite the opposite in fact. In my personal experience and comparisons for this review, I found that there MIGHT be more of an effect on sound when your connection is: NAS→Ethernet→Computer→Software→USB→DAC rather than the simpler NAS→Ethernet→Streamer
… regardless of who is watching the clock!
The Lumin retails for $7200 USD (after an initial introductory price of $4000). Lumin explains that their introductory price was to generate interest and reward those early adopters. But this price point was not sustainable long term. After distributor and dealer margins and other associated costs (duty, shipping, etc.), you can see their point.
My Lumin arrived in less than 2 days from Hong Kong. Prior to its arrival, I found Lumin’s technical support to be exceptionally good and very timely. They answered all my questions in a friendly manner and that allowed me to lay the foundation for the streamer connecting to my NAS.
Earlier this year I reviewed the Marantz NA-11S1, a quasi-streamer/DAC. In my ongoing pursuit to banish the computer from my listening room, I had spent many days trying to stream DSD content via the Marantz’s Ethernet connection – only to come to the crushing conclusion that it could not be done. So, the computer stayed. I had become more intimate with my NAS than I had ever wanted to!
These challenges with the Marantz definitely made setting up the Lumin easier. That being said, for new users who are not overly technically savvy, I would set aside a good day. Lumin has created a quick start guide, but it would be nice if included at least a clue to what is required on either the Synology or QNAP NAS side of things (Synology and QNAP are the two brands of NAS that Lumin recommends).
Lumin The Company
The Lumin network player is a product of passion by a company called Pixel Magic Systems Ltd., located in Hong Kong. The audiophiles at Lumin wanted a one box network music player that would play all formats – especially DSD and realized there wasn’t one on the market – so they built their own.
Founded in 2003, Pixel Magic is a privately-held video technology equipment manufacturer for home theater and professional A/V markets. With offices in Hong Kong and San Jose, California, Pixel Magic has dealer/distributor networks for its own brand products in over 25 countries and ODM/OEM customers in Europe and USA.
Pixel’s first audiophile product is no half-baked attempt either. Milled from a single block of aluminum, the Lumin player is comprised of the main network player and a separate power supply. Under the hood, the Lumin runs Linux combined with flash storage and RAM. The Lumin is also built around a powerful Field-programmable gate array. The combination of the stable operating system (Linux), flash storage and memory means your Lumin should always work without a hiccup. Skipping between DSD, 24/192 PCM, redbook, didn’t fluster the Lumin one bit. The Lumin was fast and always up to the task. The biggest bottleneck in my system was my old, early generation iPad. A request for a new iPad has been sent to Santa.
The Lumin comes beautifully packaged and well protected for its long journey. Included is the stock power cord, umbilical cord for connecting the Lumin power supply to the network player and an Ethernet cable. For the better part of this review, I used all the included stock accessories. I later switched to the Shunyata Alpha Digital Power Cord and realized additional sonic benefits associated with that power cord which have been discussed on this forum in the past.
The Lumin has an Ethernet connection (main connection), two Type A USB inputs for USB flash drives or an external drive – if the whole NAS/Ethernet thing isn’t your cup of tea. The Lumin sports XLR and RCA analog outputs. An HDMI and BNC connection for digital out (I will be testing the BNC connection with the EAR DACute 4 in the coming weeks). What you cannot do with the Lumin is connect a PC to it (Type B USB). But there are hundreds of traditional DAC’s on the market for that. The Lumin is a Network Music Player.
I accessed my Synology 1812+ NAS via my Mac browser and installed Java and MiniMserver for Synology (both free apps). Using the Synology DSM (DiskStation Manager) I was able to successfully install both apps. Once running on the NAS, you will need to install the Lumin iPad app, select your NAS via the Lumin apps settings and you are good to go. If you add new music to your library, you will need to stop/start MiniMServer. As of a couple of days ago, this can now be done via the web interface after also installing MiniMStreamer. You then only need to go to http://192.168.x.x:9790 to restart MiniMServer. Where “x.x” is the location of your NAS on your network. You will need to take your time and read through the instructions on the MiniMServer website. Simon has created a wonderful piece of software.
The Lumin Sound
I began my listening with Keb Mo, Keb Mo on DSD. The first thing I noticed with the Lumin as compared to the MA-1 was a slight increase in original tape hiss at the beginning of “Am I Wrong”. Was the Lumin getting me closer to the original recording? On the Lumin, the track had an added weight and warmth to it that by comparison sounded slightly thin on the MA-1. I listened carefully to the Lumin for a lack of details and definition (since this is what the MA-1 is known for), but never found it. All the details were still there with Lumin, but with a lot less digital edge.
Next up was James Taylor Greatest Hits, 16/44.1 CD rip. Upscaling Carolina in My Mind to DSD produced a slightly more dimensional portrayal of the song than the similar 44.1 rendering. However, it also increased a noticeable “hiss” over the 44.1 version.
I moved on to Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon (remastered CD). Listening to The Circle Game upsampled from 44.1 to DSD was slightly more hazy sounding and slightly veiled. In this case, I preferred the regular redbook rip sans upscaling.
Up next was George Benson’s – Inspiration (A Tribute to Nat King Cole), 24/96 PCM, HDTracks. Listening to Just One of Those Things, the Lumin seemed to turn it up a notch. The sound became bigger, with an even greater sense of dynamics. Even though the Lumin is natively DSD compatible and sounds terrific with every format I threw at it, one of its greatest sonic strengths was high res PCM. Everything I fed it – 24/96 or 24/192 – sounded absolutely superb. This was truly its sweet spot. This is not to take anything away from its excellent ability to play DSD and redbook, but high res PCM just sounded exceptionally good. If you’re going to focus your energies on making one format sound absolutely the best, high res PCM is a good bet.
Listening to the Lumin over the past few days, it became clear to me that nothing sticks out. Its sound is smooth and liquid. Nothing is hyped up or over magnified. The sound is full bodied with a greater dimensionality than most of the DAC’s that had graced my system in the past. But its even handedness and smooth sonic character did not correlate to a loss in detail. All the detail is still there. The soft pluck on the guitar. The shimmer of the high hat. The airy vocals of Alison Krauss.
The Lumin just sounded more analog than any DAC I have owned. It achieves this by presenting the music as a whole rather than over amplified, hyper resolving and over highlighted individual parts. With some highly resolving digital DAC’s, they can almost have an effect like a trumpet player being too close to the microphone or the result we used to get in the past when someone cranked up the treble, a negative trait I have found with many DAC’s.
The MA-1 is a fantastic DAC and the consistent favorite of our many big DAC shootouts at the Suncoast Audiophile Society. But when comparing the Lumin to my Meitner MA-1/CAPS 3.0, overall, the Lumin offered a fuller, meatier, smoother sound with a greater rounding of those annoying digital edges. It might be my imagination, but the Lumin also sounded like it had better PRAT than the MA-1. One of the niggly complaints I’ve always had about the MA-1 and the DAC2X was the delay when switching between DSD to PCM or even high res PCM to redbook. Not so with the Lumin. Switching between file formats was fast and operated without a hitch.
Switching back and forth on the inputs of my preamp while the the MA-1 and Lumin played the same redbook, PCM and DSD files, I preferred the Lumin on every format I tested. Running a blind comparison for a friend of mine, he always selected the Lumin. One of the tracks he noticed quite a discrepancy was Andrea Bocelli’s Amapola from his Amore CD. On the MA-1, the opening vocals have a noticeable digital hash. On the Lumin, his voice during the opening is smooth and just floats in the air.
Overall, when comparing Redbook rips on the MA-1 to the Lumin, it was close, but the Lumin won out in the end and there was no doubt to its abilities on high res and DSD.
As mentioned earlier, on Redbook rips, the Lumin can upsample to DSD. On some tracks this added a much great weight and dimensionality to the recordings. It further softened some of the digital edge. You can switch back and forth on the fly for a real comparison. However, on other tracks, its affect wasn’t as beneficial and maybe even detrimental to the over sound quality.
The upscaling of formats to DSD is one feature of the Lumin that rarely gets mentioned, but I found it to be a fun feature to play with. As a side note, switching quickly between native 44.1 and upscaled to DSD on the Lumin ipad settings produced a brief second of a barely audible soft noise at the beginning of the track (like air puffing).
I was highly skeptical the upsampling would work or produce a very noticeable difference. But it did and it works. On most tracks I preferred the native 44.1. But on quite a few cd rips, upscaling produced a fuller bass and a warmer presentation and was my preferred default setting. My default was to leave things in their native setting.
The Lumin iPad App
One of the best features of the Lumin is the free iPad app which literally operates as your sole control point for the Lumin – including powering it on and off. The app allows the ability to scroll through tracks, artists, albums, genres and search. Creating and saving playlists is a snap. The app is very nice to use, intuitive and seems to be regularly upgraded by Pixel Magic where they are adding new features. As a side note, I have noticed on the Linn forum many of the Linn faithful using the Lumin app to control their Linn DS product and the good folks at Lumin are happy to support and answer questions about the Lumin app on the Linn forum.
Accessing the back panel of the Lumin can be a little tricky due to the rather large aluminum overhang.
I also wish NAS setup was a little easier – either through a graphical guide on the Lumin website or a setup file that you can download that automates the process (ok, I know, wishful thinking on this last part).
Lastly, aesthetically, it would be nice if the color of light illuminating (no pun intended) from the power supply was the same color as the light on the Lumin. I know, I know….I’m grasping at straws here.
At the end of the day, the Lumin is the world’s first truly universal audiophile network player. In my system, it never missed a beat. Overall, it sounded less digital and more analog than any other DAC or streamer I have heard.
Every streamer I have heard whether it be the Lumin, Linn, DCS, Bryston or Naim all sound more musical than DAC/PC equivalents. In my opinion, streamers do digital better. The Lumin and other streamers are also generally simpler to use, sustain and maintain than DAC/PC equivalent. What more could you want? If you want a different flavor, you can always add an external DAC and go digital out of the Lumin – but the DAC in the Lumin Network Player is exceptionally good.
As they say, the truth was in the pudding. Rather than jumping around from track to track, artist to artist like I tend to do with digital due to listener fatigue, I found myself listening to an entire album and overall, listening to digital for hours on end.
At $7200 MSRP, the Lumin has some stiff competition from the DAC & Mac crowd, but in my opinion it stands up to all comers. I spent many hours listening to the Lumin and every time found my toes tapping.
I’ve played the saxophone for over 30 years and at the end of my listening sessions, I found the Lumin sounded more like music and less like computer! I so enjoyed my time with the Lumin, that I bought the review sample.
My digital no longer sucks. The Lumin Network Audiophile Music Player is the best digital I’ve never heard. Highly recommended.My Systems: http://www.audioshark.org/showthread...481#post158481
"We can hear everything we measure, but we can't measure everything we hear. Let your ears be your guide."
Dealer for: Air Tight, Apertura Speakers, Aurender, AudioQuest Cables & Power Products, Avantgarde Acoustics, Berkeley Audio Design, Chord, Crystal Cable, Dali Loudspeakers, DEQX, Devialet, FirstWatt, Focal Loudspeakers, Focal Headphones, ISO Acoustics, Kimber Kable, KLAudio, KR Audio, Kronos, Lampizator, The Living Voice, Lumin, Magico Loudspeakers, Manley Labs, MicroMega, M2Tech, NAIM, Ortofon, Pass Labs, Philharmonia by Jean Nouvel, PlayBack Designs, Quadraspire, Rega Turntables, REL Acoustics, Siltech, Solid Tech Racks, SOtM, Soulution Audio, SRA, Straight Wire, Stillpoints, T+A Electronics, Tannoy Loudspeakers, Transfiguration Cartridges, Triode Corporation of Japan, Thorens, VAC, Vicoustics, Vitus Audio, Viva Audio, VPI Industries, Wilson Benesch, ZYX Cartridges.
December 22, 2013, 10:23 PM #2
Re: Lumin Review
Mike, what a great review!! So thorough, from setup to operations to SQ to comparisons. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this insightful review!
Speakers: Magico S5
Amp: CH Precision A1
Preamp: Trinity Preamp
Phono: Trinity Phono
TT: Kronos Sparta, Helena arm, Airtight PC-1
DAC: CH Precision C1 (FS)
Cables: Various, but mainly Unity Audio Design PCs, SCs
December 22, 2013, 10:47 PM #3
Re: Lumin Review
Thanks for taking the time to write it up.Jock
If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.
Main: Lumin S1, UHA-HQ tape, AMG V12/Lyra Etna, Ayre KXR20, D'Agostino M400, Raidho D5, Kimber/Shunyata IC/SC, Shunyata Tritan/Typhons/Sigma PCs.
Workshop: Lumin S1, Border Patrol, Volti Vittora w Volti subs, Triode Wire Labs IC/SC, Shunyata Triton/Typhon/DPC-6/Sigma PCs.
Apartment: Lumin U1, Ayre Codex, Hifiman HE-1000, Senheiser HD-800 (modified), Shunyata Triton 2/Sigma PCs.
December 22, 2013, 10:48 PM #4
Re: Lumin Review
Job well done Mike! Looks like a great unit.Joe
Triode Corporation TRX-M845 Monoblocks, Ayre VX-5 Twenty, Ayre MX-R Twenty monos, Pass Labs XA60.8 monos, Accuphase A-36, Jolida Fusion 3502, Cary 300B SE, JBL 4367, Sonus Faber Stradivari, Klipsch Palladium P17-b, Klipsch RP-160M, Klipsch RB-75, KEF LS50, Nord One UP NC500MB monos, Lumin S1, Carver VTA20S, Manley Steelhead, ModWright Ultimate Sony XA-5400ES, ASL Wave monos, Kimber RCA and XLR cable, VPI Classic 3, VPI SDS, Lyra Kleos, Burmester 948, Metric Halo LIO-8.
December 22, 2013, 11:03 PM #5
December 22, 2013, 11:04 PM #6
Re: Lumin Review
Printing it out now to savour...NORMAN
M-Mini/ Modded Denon CD transport>Lampi Big 7 Dac> Rowen Swiss Power NAD c375BEE /vintage McIntosh 2225/Lampi Silk power cond.+ Phase flipper> Energy 8" sub> Heil AMT Syrinx+Aulos in series-parallel hookup. Swiss cables (Reference line) for PC/interconnects and speaker cables. Goldmund Sweetcord PC. Uptone Regen. 2nd system:Onkyo SACD>Rational Audio -Aura D7a passive Pre OR Aum Acoustics Pre with Hynes SR3-12>Vintage LeakStereo 20>Linn Index standmounts. Vincent BiWire speaker cables.
December 23, 2013, 02:11 AM #7
Re: Lumin Review
Wonderful job Mike. At 7k a simple setup hopefully will b feasible in the not too distant future. Although somewhat similar to the three other reviews I've read, I most enjoyed the ma-1 comparison as I am very familiar with that dac. I also really like that all the music was recordings I also am very familiar with. Any explanation to the hiss issues u were detecting? We're they artifact or created by this lumin or how it processes or up samples
Main system :TAD CR1 speakers, Viola Labs Symphony amp,Pass XP-20 pre, Cambridge Azur 851 cd player, Ayre QB-9 with DSD with SR alpha digital cord, Sonicorbitor Roon Audiophile 6 TB network server-player, Microrendu with Ifi IPower supply , MG Audio Design Planus III jumpers & speaker cables, Zitron Cobra power cords, Shunyata Hydra AV, and acoustic zen absolute copper IC,. Room treatment ASC tower traps, Vicoustic absorber premium cinema wall and ceiling panels, and MSR acoustic trifusser side wall panel
December 23, 2013, 04:00 AM #8
Re: Lumin Review
Great review Mike! I am glad you found your way into digital Nirvana
Also good that you find like many others on this side of the pond that streaming from a NAS, even after some struggle with set-up, is comfortable as well as perfect for the sound. Now before you get used to it make sure that your network and digital collection has been set-up well and secure (back-up, UPS etcetera). If you like we could start another thread on that.
My big question to you: how do high-res and DSD compare? This is a topic that is heating the emotions on several streaming forums in the world and it would be good to have your experienced and unbiased input on this listening on the same player.
The review would be perfect if you compared to the Linn Akurate DS and Klimax DS of course....
The conclusion in the second post here might make you interesting:
Linn Klimax DS/1 vs Akurate DS/1 vs Majik DS vs Lumin - Side-by-Side Comparison
B&W 802 Diamond, Audionet AMP (2x), Audionet DNP, Linn Akurate DS/1, Pro-Ject RPM 9 with Speedbox S and Orthofon MC Vivo Blue, Focal CMS 50 (kitchen) and my latest incredible upgrade is the power from the switch box to the gear.
December 23, 2013, 06:42 AM #9
Re: Lumin Review
Great review. A pleasure to read.
One comment: there is no doubt in my mind that the Ethernet is a superior interface format. It is guaranteed to be bit perfect thanks to TCP/IP protocol and offers galvanic isolation, which prevents the computer grunge from entering the DAC/streamer.Adam
Speakers: Magico S5 mk II
Amp: MSB M202
Digital: Lampi Golden Gate + Lampi DSD Komputer
Cables: WEL Signature IC / Shunyata Anaconda Z-Tron SC
December 23, 2013, 08:30 AM #10
Re: Lumin Review
Excellent review Mike!_______________