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.