The Lumin brand was launched in 2012 by Hong Kong-based Pixel Magic Systems Ltd., a manufacturer of commercial grade receivers and set top box systems for broadcasters. Prior to receiving the Lumin X1 for review, I had heard a couple of other Lumin network players at various regional audio shows and requested a review sample of one of their players. What I received for evaluation was not just any model, though, but rather the company’s latest flagship: the Lumin X1 ($13,990). Lumin says they looked at the merits of their S1 and U1 players and then attempted to improve on every aspect of those designs.
By coincidence, the office of Lumin’s United States Distributor, Mark Gurvey, happens to be located just a few miles from my home, so I made plans to meet him there to pick up the X1 player rather than having it shipped. While speaking with Mark, I learned that the Lumin X1 was purpose-built to serve as a standalone network player, unlike some of the other models in Lumin’s lineup of network players. While the Lumin X1 certainly can be added to an existing system, all that is really needed is to add an amplifier (and speakers, of course). To that end, Mark shared that the company had also just introduced the Lumin Amp (also $13,990), and asked if I would also take the Lumin Amp to partner with the Lumin X1 and let him know what I thought of the combination. I agreed and made my way home with both. Not wanting to introduce more than one piece of new kit at a time, I left the Lumin Amp in the box until the last two weeks of the review period. By then I had become very familiar with the sound of the Lumin X1 connected to my reference system.
Just looking at the specifications of the Lumin X1, you quickly get the idea that this network streamer is making a case to not only compete with (and maybe beat?) the most elite streamers available today, but also those likely to come over the next several years. First, Lumin keeps power outside the streamer’s chassis with a dual toroidal external AC-to-DC power supply. The external power supply is also available as an upgrade for Lumin S1, A1, U1, and T1 owners with its connection cable included.
Inside the X1 streamer’s chassis, there’s a dual-core processor that delivers native DSD512 and PCM768 playback at 32-bit resolution. Such capability should set up the device to be relevant for many years to come. The X1 also features dual ES9038Pro Sabre DACs with 140 dB dynamic range and a dual mono Lundahl transformer output stage. In addition, the X1 features dual-mono operation throughout and 32-bit precision volume control, PCM and DSD upsampling from the app, a FEMTO clock system with FPGA (field-programmable gate array) chipset distribution, and dual network capability. Networking options include built-in optical network support in addition to traditional hardwired Ethernet network connectivity. For PCM files, the X1 can play back FLAC, Apple Lossless (ALAC), WAV, AIFF, MQA, MP3, and AAC formats. There are no user-selectable digital filters available.
The X1 is intentionally a streamer/renderer/DAC, plain and simple, meaning there is no built-in music storage or CD ripping capability. This design decision by Lumin is to prevent the additional RF noise and vibration that is generated by these devices. The centrally located LCD display shows basic information, such as track name and length, artist name, file format, sample rate, and bit depth. The custom-designed Lumin app used to control the X1 includes features such as volume control, high resolution album artwork, album track lists, artwork caching, multiple tag handling, saving and restoring playlists, and automatic internet links to artists/album/songs. The visually rich app is compatible with iPad and iPhone (Generation 2 or above recommended), and Android tablets (4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and up). Support for Android phones is in development.
Unboxing the Lumin X1 player, I took a moment to admire its beautiful design. The Lumin X1 isn’t your typical rectangular box, instead sporting a curved front face with recessed LCD display. The X1 measures 13.8 inches wide by 13.6 inches deep by 2.4 inches high and weighs 17.6 pounds. Also included in the box is the accompanying external dual toroidal power supply (4.2 inches wide by 13.2 inches deep by 2.4 inches high and weighing 8.8 pounds), a proprietary 8-pin DC umbilical cable to connect the power supply to the X1, a 110-120 volt power cable to connect the power supply to the wall outlet, and a generic RJ45 ethernet cable. Both the network player and matching external power supply casework is CNC machined from solid billets of aluminum, providing a seamless, high-end look.
The X1 is available in either a black anodized brushed aluminum or a raw brushed aluminum. The review sample I received was the raw brushed aluminum option. It is truly a gorgeous piece of kit. The finish catches available room lighting, causing the front faceplate and top to gleam, creating a truly opulent look.
Because the X1 was new in the box, Lumin recommended that I break the unit in for 400 hours. Lumin’s opinion is that the unit performs at about 40 percent of its full potential straight out of the box. I know there are differing opinions on the topic of burn-in, but as a reviewer I bow to the manufacturer’s recommendation on the subject (if they have one) to remove any questions of missed performance potential.
One design aspect of the streamer I should mention is that the back panel is recessed a couple of inches into the casework to hide the connection end of all cables. This design makes cable connections difficult, though, due to the lack of visibility. To work through that issue, I placed the X1 on its front edge on top of a piece of foam to provide greater visibility to the rear panel connectors. Following Lumin’s advice, I flipped the power switch on the back of the power supply and left the X1 powered up for about 22 hours a day for the next three weeks.
With burn-in complete, it was time to connect everything up. As mentioned above, the Lumin X1 offers two wired options for network connectivity: a regular Gigabit RJ45 LAN port and a special optical network port. Each can be pre-wired independently but not used simultaneously. If the user elects to use the optical network connection, with its industry standard SFP Gigabit port, this provides complete isolation from network digital noise. However, it does require some additional accessories, such as an optical switch, that weren’t provided.
One of Lumin’s primary design goals with the X1 was to prevent or at least minimize the introduction of network digital noise wherever possible. This approach means there is no wireless connection option included. (You can still use your WiFi-connected mobile device as a remote, of course, but those commands are sent to the X1 via its wired network connections). Lumin opted to forego convenience in order to achieve the best possible playback sound quality. So, I opted to connect the Lumin to my network from the RJ45 LAN port to my router using an Audioquest Vodka Ethernet cable. I have a Synology NAS with my music library hard-wired to the router that served as another source. I also connected a 128 GB flash drive loaded with high-resolution music files as an additional source. Alternatively, a USB hard drive could be connected to the USB input.
Using WireWorld Silver Eclipse balanced interconnects, I then connected the X1 to my reference Classé Delta series amplifier. The Lumin X1 also provides RCA (unbalanced) output connecters. And if you prefer to use an external DAC, there is an available BNC Digital output on the back panel, but not an AES/EBU Digital output option. But given the terrific results obtained using the DACs built into this streamer, I really doubt very many people would opt for an external DAC in the first place.
After downloading the custom Lumin app to my iPad Pro, I set up the Lumin X1 to connect to my LAN as well as my subscriptions to Tidal and Qobuz. The X1 is also Roon Ready, so I accessed my Roon core from the app to browse my digital music library for playback. The Lumin X1 also supports Spotify Connect and the free TuneIn Internet Radio app. TuneIn offers over 100,000 radio stations and four million podcasts from around the world. You simply save stations to your Tune-In library and they appear in the Lumin app.
In addition, the Lumin X1 can automatically perform both Core Decoding and Hardware Rendering of MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) encoded music files (up to 384 kHz/24-bit). I found the Lumin app user interface to be well laid out and intuitive for basic operations, a bit reminiscent of the Roon interface. However, there is a lot of capability included, so to get new users up to speed more quickly with its numerous features and layered menus, Lumin also provides an online user guide for their app.
I’ve probably spent more time listening to music via the Lumin X1 than with any other gear I’ve reviewed in the past few years. Music ranging from TuneIn’s MP3 quality to high-resolution digital files, across numerous different genres. This was due in part to the fact that I had rotator cuff surgery in the middle of the review period and was stuck at home for the next two weeks recuperating. But much more of a factor was the sublime quality of music reproduction I experienced through the X1. This was certainly the best kind of drug for healing. I repeatedly heard details in recordings that I hadn’t previously noticed.
For example, listening to the cover of “A Case of You” (Qobuz, 44.1/16) by Diana Krall, from her album Live in Paris (Verve)
, the piano introduction was breathtaking in its realism. High notes (0:29) were sharp as they should be, while reverberation and decay of piano notes were more lifelike than I’d ever heard before, providing an accurate mental image of the large acoustic space. The piano is one of the most difficult instruments to reproduce with realism, but the Lumin X1 outperformed every other DAC I’ve heard in my system in that respect. Vocal textures were simply amazing, too. The subtlest details also came through with startling clarity. Just one example: at the 0:41 mark, I could hear an audience member cough way off in the distance, a detail of this live recording that I had not noticed before the Lumin X1.
Moving on to some guitar rock, I cued up “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (Qobuz, 96/24) by Led Zeppelin from the band’s eponymous first album (Atlantic Records). Jimmy Page’s guitar opening for the track made me sit up a little straighter, immediately grabbing my attention. It sounded like it was being played live right in front of me.
This iconic Zeppelin track has a lot of layered textures, moving from almost folky verses to pounding choruses. A DAC not up to the challenge can have difficulty making all of those layers sound coherent, making the details sound like a jumbled mess. But the Lumin X1 delivered all of the alternating dynamics and tempos with aplomb, creating a three-dimensional soundstage with all of the emotion, energy, and textures of the track in a cohesive way. I found myself replaying the track over and over at higher and higher volumes. I seemed to discover something new each time I listened. Not bad for a track I’ve heard countless times before.
The clarity and detail revealed through the Lumin X1 was such that I wanted to do some comparisons between CD-quality releases and high-resolutions versions of the same recording. Would there actually be a discernable difference? To find out, I compared two versions of “Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major Kv 218 – Allegro” (Tidal, 44.1/16 and MQA 352.8/24) performed by the Trondheim Soloists from the album 2L The Nordic Sound (2L Audiophile Reference Recordings). The quiet passages were inky black with both. The soundstage was very open and airy, extending from wall to wall with the MQA recording and just a little less wide with the CD quality digital file. There was also a little more depth to the high-resolution version. There was a beautifully realistic tone to the strings and wind instruments alike. In my notes, I wrote that the sound was analogue in nature but with all of the unrestricted dynamics of a first-class modern-day digital recording. There was no harshness, yet there were plenty of micro details of individual instruments easily detected. The recording didn’t sound analytical--just very, very musical. While the CD-quality version was very good, the MQA version took the performance to an even higher level.
I spent the last two weeks of my time with the Lumin X1 with the Lumin Amp taking the place of my Classé amplifier. The Amp is a true dual-mono design with a custom power supply delivering 160 watts per channel into 8 ohms (320 watts into 4 ohms, 640 watts into 8 ohms bridged mode) of Class AB power. While measuring 13.8 inches wide by 14.7 inches deep by 4.1 inches high, the Lumin Amp feels solidly built at just under 42 pounds. It offers both XLR (balanced) and RCA (unbalanced) inputs, as well as three operating modes: stereo, dual mono, and bridged, with each selectable from the back panel. There is also a power on/off switch located just below the mode selector switch on the back panel. There is no need for a preamplifier when pairing the X1 with the Lumin Amp, because the Amp features high input impedance and sensitivity for direct DAC drive capability.
With the Lumin Amp now added to the mix, I re-listened to a lot of the music I used to review the Lumin X1on its own. As good as my reference Classé amp is, the addition of the Lumin Amp improved the sound by a bit more for each of the traits mentioned. It was clearly designed with the X1 in mind. Music just sounded a better overall. Every genre just sounded more organic, more musical.
There’s not a headphone jack on the Lumin X1, so those who may occasionally want to keep their music to themselves will need to look for another solution. Being tethered to a DAC preamp works for some audiophiles and not for others, so make what you want of that.
Also, the recessed back panel on the X1 makes cable connections a bit more challenging, especially when trying to do so in a rack. However, for most people, this will typically be done only once during initial setup, so it’s a minor inconvenience.
The lack of a wireless option for network connections may be a drawback for some, but Lumin chose to forego convenience in favor of achieving the best possible sound quality.
Comparison & Competition
As listening sources increasingly migrate from physical media to streaming, there are more and more network players hitting the market all the time. Obviously, the field narrows a bit when you’re talking about the upper echelon of players like the Lumin X1. The Lumin X1 competes with products such as the Aqua Formula xHD Optologic DAC from Italian manufacturer AQ Technologies ($14,700), the d1-seven DAC/streamer from French manufacturer Totaldac (€17,450 without VAT), and even the British born dCS Rossini DAC ($23,999).
The Aqua Formula xHD Optologic DAC can natively decode 768kHz PCM and DSD512 files like the Lumin. There are intentionally no digital filters as a design preference by the company. Aqua Technologies also employs a proprietary DAC system rather than an off-the-shelf solution. For control, there are nine buttons on the front panel, as well as an IR remote rather than an app.
The Totaldac has a separate power supply like the Lumin, but sports what reminds me of a rather basic television remote control to control volume, activate or deactivate the optional digital filter, or change inputs. The Totaldac employs a resister ladder DAC and has both balanced and unbalanced outputs. The Totaldac d1-seven can decode PCM files up to 192kHz/24-bit and DSD (DoP standard) support is provided as an option.
The dCS Rossini DAC utilizes the company’s patented Ring DAC, a discrete and balanced design, and is controlled by the Rossini app for iOS devices. It features a 384kHz/24-bit PCM and DSD128 capable DAC with a volume control on the streamer itself. All incoming signals are oversampled and digitally filtered (six PCM filters and four DSD filters are selectable from the app) by its FPGA processor that is configured by software written by dCS. As an upgrade, it can also be partnered with the dCS Rossini Master Clock ($7,499).
While there are similarities, each of these network players employs different design strategies. However, the Lumin X1 is the only player that I know of that provides the option to connect to two networks simultaneously with the inclusion of its optical network in addition to its more traditional ethernet network. This may be an important advantage for potential buyers depending on their setup.
The Lumin X1 has the ability to reveal details that remain hidden with lesser DACs while still sounding warm, balanced, and inviting. Individual instruments and voices were better defined within the soundstage, creating a sense of greater space between sound sources. Terrific bass dynamics and energy were evident without ever sounding overpowering or artificial in any way.
With the Lumin X1 added to my system, sound was improved to the point that my speakers reached a noticeably higher level of performance than I had experienced with any other DAC. With the Lumin X1, it was as though I had upgraded my speakers to the next model up in the lineup. Given the price of the Lumin X1 compared to its top tier competition and the improvements realized, in my opinion, the Lumin X1 is not only terrific sounding but a terrific value too. Purist audiophiles looking for a true flagship streamer/renderer/DAC and with the wherewithal to spend $14K on such a product should make sure to include an audition of the Lumin X1 in their search before purchasing anything else. It’s that good.