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Positive Feedback ISSUE 70
LUMĪN - The Audiophile Network Music Player
Photos: Lumīn | Wojciech Pacuła, Translation: Andrzej Dziadowiec
The Audiophile Network Music Playerevery other manufacturer of audio file players uses this proud description for their products nowadays. All that changes is only the name of the actual component and its classification. Sometimes it is a "Network Player", other times it is a "Streaming Player"; and sometimes it is just a "Digital Player". And still, nobody knows how to classify devices of this type. However, I believe thatsooner or laterthis will be clarified and products used for playing back audio (and/or video) files will be easy enough to classify, and there won't be any issues with naming them.
The Lumīn player from Lumīn is this kind of device. I actually don't know what this thing is called, because it's always hiding under its manufacturer's name, but finelet's call it the Lumīn. Its designers and creators are the engineers from Pixel Magic Systems Ltd., a company specializing in the playback and manipulation of HD video files. It so happens that the gap between video file players and audio file players is narrow and many companies use this, carrying their experience in one of the fields onto another. But not all succeed. A large part of so-called "audiophile", or highly-specialized manufacturers, only pretend that they know what all of this is about. Lumīn does it in a way that makes it seem like it was born with this ability.
A short history of
LUMĪN according to Li On
Wojciech Pacuła: Who designed the Lumīn playerI mean, who are the engineers responsible for it.
Li On: Let me put it this way: the Lumīn was
designed by the entire Lumīn team! We don't really have an iconic, central
person. If you'd like to get some idea of who the people engaged with the
project are, take a look at the review in AVBuzz.com
HERE, particularly this
I'm on the left; my boss, Nelson Choi, is in the centre; the journalist who
prepared the review is on the right.
The idea was born sometime in 2010, when it was first possible to hack the PS3. I knew that SACD ripping would sooner or later become reality!
Where did the idea behind the Lumīn come from?
In the summer of 2010 an app used for ripping SACDs on the PS3 was released. I had several hundred discs of this kind on my shelves at home. Using Sony's console I was able to copy all of them in their original DSD form. We're audiophiles, so we needed an audiophile network music player which would support both PSM and DSD files. We looked for one on the market, but we couldn't find anything! We were left with one option: to design our own, audiophile device.
The very best devices available on the market became our models: the Linn Klimax DS, the dCS Scarlatti, the Antelope Eclipse + Atomic Clock, the EMM Labs SACD/DAC playereverything our friends were using. Then we designed our own system, did some comparison auditions, made improvements, and then repeated this process several times. As a result of these processes my friends who previously used the expensive devices I mentioned earlier sold them, saved a lot of dollars, and now have the Lumīn in their systems!
What's the difference between your player and all the award-winning competing devices?
One basic trait: we started working on it in the autumn of 2010, and finished in December 2012. It's the second half of 2013 and the Lumīn is still the only available network music player with DSD playback support.
What are your plans for the future?
The Lumīn is our first product directed to audiophiles. Because we ourselves use it in our home systems, the goal is simple: the best sound you can get without worrying about the costs! The player we have is the best thing we were able to come up with. The problem is that even though the Lumīn's functionality and ease-of-use appeals to many people, they can't afford such a purchase. Spending yet another $10,000 isn't a problem for my well-off friends. But I can understand that many people can't afford anything more expensive than, say, $3,000. Thus our next move will be scaling the Lumīn down and preparing a more wallet-friendly version of it. We hope we'll be able to present its smaller version in a year's time.
But we do other things, toowe're constantly perfecting the Lumīn's firmware, adding more and more capabilities. For example, in the last few months we added DSD signal upsampling and DSD transfer using the DoP standard. Direct access to files via USB is another new function. You can now plug in a USB flash or hard drive and have access to music files on it as if they were on a network drive.
As you can see, the main and primary goal that the people from wanted to achieve was DSD files playback, not attainable with any other player. 6moons.com published a Lumīn's review by Joël Chevassus in which he outlined the topic we're talking about and expressed his opinion on DSD files availability and "importance" (see below). I have a slightlyalthough not entirelydifferent opinion because I believe that modern devices of this kind should support the best currently available file format, and DSD is at the moment the "hot" topic in the biggest audio magazines worldwide. So I'm assuming that it's also important for music lovers and audiophiles.
The presence of a DSD decoder "on board" is only one of the many capabilities offered by this player. You can use it to play PCM files (FLAC, Apple Lossless [ALAC], WAV and AIFF) 44.1 384kHz, 16-32-bit (stereo) and 2.8MHz DSD (stereo). The only thing missing is the double DSD (5.6MHz). Gapless playback is supported and the digital signal can also be sent out through either a BNC or HDMI outputs. You can also output digital DSD signal. The player has a balanced topology, but it uses Lundahl transformers at the output for galvanic isolation from the receiver. Power is provided by an outboard power supply with two toroidal transformers.
You don't need to read the interviewone look at the Lumīn is enough to remind you of the Klimax, manufactured by the Scottish company Linn (read HERE). It was a role model for the engineers from Hong Kong, whose weaker sides they tried to eliminate. Hence, we see here a rigid enclosure machined of solid aluminum block that houses the player, except for power transformers that are mounted in their own, neat box. The player has no manipulators because all the control is done remotely with a dedicated iPad app (2nd generation onwards). The blue display screen only shows track and album title, playback time, volume (the player has volume control, although it's best leaving this job to an external preamplifier), the type of codec used and signal parameters. It's pretty rare and let us know not only its sample rate but also bit depth (aka word length).
Another similarity with the Linn is the way the signal is fed. Initially it was only via Ethernet cable. Therefore, the player had to be connected to a home networka router and network attached storage (NAS). The research conducted by Linn engineers proved that it's the best connection. USB ports and flash drives offer much worse parameters. I can confirm thisevery time, with nearly every file player I've had at home, the signal from a NAS was significantly better.
Setting up the Lumīn is ridiculously simple. You unpack it, connect it with Ethernet cable to your home network, and to an UPnP network server. You connect a power cord, interconnects, and then download the free app to your iPad. After pressing the appropriate button, the device searches the NAS and catalogues all your music, complete with album artwork. The app supports playlist creation and volume control. You can even upsample PCM signal to DSD.
All of this is seriously easy. As long as everything's "okay" with the system. For a few years now, I have been using a DS410j Synology DiskStation with four 2TB HDDs, configured to work as an UPnP drive. It worked perfectly with all other devices I'd had. This time was different. After loading up the LUMIN App on the iPad and starting the disk search, the app would freeze and exit each time after the 139th track. I exchanged a few emails with Li On and it turned out that my NAS was never tested for compatibility with the app because it's a couple of years old. Problems of this kindmine was most likely a non-standard file name or some other equally trivial mattercan be solved by installing MinimServer software on the NAS. And that's where the trouble startedI wasn't the one who had set up my server and I didn't want to change anything. I told that to Mr. Li On and he suggested that I try a different app for operating the LumīnKinsky, an app from Linn Because I had reviewed a few Linn components, I already had the app installed. I just needed to update to its newest version and everything went like clockwork. Well, almostI still didn't get my album art, and I was unable to play 32-bit DSD and PCM files. In the end I had to install MinimServer and only then could I start my auditions. Conclusion? When everything is set up properly, operating the player from Hong Kong is child's playperhaps even easier than using a CD player! I think it's the first time this has happened in my life. But you'll have to get somebody to set it all up for you, as if you were installing a new computer. The dealer's support seems essentialmuch like a turntable dealer's help.
DSD - WTF?
I have more than once discussed DSD files, which can now be played on computers and sent via USB and S/PDIF to external DACs, and reviewed audio file players with DSD support. To let in some fresh air, I will make use of a mutual syndication arrangement between "High Fidelity" and "6moons.com" and present a fragment of Joël Chevassus's review in which he raises the subject. [WP]
Today high-resolution file playback is one of the most interesting ways to achieve first-class sonic performances at home. Enabling it are downloads from a few websites as 24-bit FLAC or AIFF files at 96kHz or 192kHz sampling rates. Fast broadband access and the direct connection of the recording industry with the Internet has introduced a second stage using native 1-bit DSD (Direct Stream Digital) files. This requires some specific upgrades within our conventional playback equipment and the number of D/A converters able to decode DSD is still limited but rapidly increasing. Does this mean one can exceed the best of legacy SACD spinners with DSD streamers directly decoding native master recordings or high-quality remasters? That would be some technical achievement and eliminate another barrier between the recording studio and our listening rooms.
Even though DSD should be no perfect stranger to most audiophiles, it's still useful to issue a reminder of what it is precisely. DSDDirect Stream Digitalis a generic pulse-density modulation data format which uses one bit at a very high sample rate. The standard rate is 64 x 44.1kHz, i.e. 2.8224MHz. When this standard DSD rate was still argued to be insufficient for professional use, a doubled rate of 5.6448MHz was added for the most advanced monitoring recorders such as Korg units.
The Super Audio CD (SACD) uses this data format for high-resolution stereo and (if provided) multi-channel tracks whilst often also including standard Redbook stereo audio on a separate physical disc layer (the so-called hybrid disc which accounts for most commercial releases). Copyright-protection data is embedded as a physical modulation of the width of the data stream 'pits' and only licensed SACD production plants have the necessary technology to encode this data. Due to a very conservative commercial policy from Sony, SACD production has remained an esoteric niche market and a disc without that physical copyright-protection data is not playable on current standard SACD players.
Processing native DSD still isn't easy today despite the recent fashion renewal for audiophile DSD streamers. The extent of installed recording equipment able to process DSD data directly is rather limited due to Sony's policies. Hence most of it is by now out of production. Next most systems that claim DSD compatibility actually transcode DSD to high-resolution PCM (24/96 or 24/192), perform all signal processing at that resolution, then convert the result back to DSD. This represents a very practical way to maintain a work flow within the processing facilities most record companies are used to. Thus the only thing you know for sure about most SACDs is that they are distributed in the DSD format. Just don't insinuate the same about their actual production process. There is no proof that the producer used a bona fide DSD recorder.
DSD files may be burnt to DVD media as standard UDF (universal disk format) files and Sony released a specification to support this. However, since the physical copyright protection data of a standard SACD cannot be imposed to a conventional computer DVD drive, such burnt discs won't play back on standard SACD players. However early Sony PS3 machines do recognize this format and will play it back as will all Sony Vaio computers and any standard PC with Windows Media Player 10/11 upgraded to the DSD plug-in.
It thus comes as no surprise that for the time being, DSD streaming remains more theoretical promise than widespread use. Ripping SACD really isn't an open process and DSD downloads in the West remain quite rare still. For instance this site currently offers about 40 DSD titles whilst Channel Classics has about 140 downloads. They claim to have been processing recordings in pure DSD since 2001. For two years now the Dutch have been using an 8-channel Grimm converter they consider one of the very best available.
DSD downloads remain limited and whoever invests now in DSD-capable hardware and software obviously bets on the future of DSD downloads. The existing catalog of DSD recordings is certainly rich as the technology has been used in sound processing for quite a long time. It presently only lacks an entrenched distribution model to jump-start the next 'revolution' in audiophile-quality recordings.
Another possibility for geeks and computer-savvy audiophiles is Sony's first-generation Playstation 3 where a particular software modification (hack) of this BluRay player and gaming console enables ripping of SACD in DSD format by anyone with a sufficient background in audio computing. As the first machine designed by Sony (i.e. the Playstation One) became an unexpected audiophile toy, the Playstation 3 keeps haunting audiophiles as the only possible option to rip SACD! Many novelists could not have imagined a more salacious hifi story.
The SACD ripping process via hacked PS3 has been become widely detailed on the net and works with a reverse-engineered PS3 application. SACD includes various copy protection measures of which the most prominent is pit signal processing. The ISO image of an SACD is ripped to individual stereo or multichannel DFF or DSF files for later conversion and playback. Foobar can also convert these DFF files to PCM on the fly whilst specific tools like Saracon can generate high-resolution PCM equivalents like 24/352.8 DXD files which require a compatible DAC for playback. But this remains a barely legal game of very restricted access considering the sum of prerequisites: use of an early still operational PS3 (only the first two generations of Sony's Playstation 3 game console are capable of reading SACD ScarletBook and bypass the copy protection if their firmware doesn't exceed 3.55!); ownership of a DSD player; and a DSD or 24bit/352kHz-capable DAC. Is there a real market for such a hacker's hobby?
Returning to formal DSD downloads, many may consider it strange to be asked to pay more for current DSD file downloads than they ever did for the physical SACD disc containing the same files when manufacturing a SACD, printing its liner notes and marketing it through conventional retail channels had to be costlier than now putting DSD files up for download. According to record companies however these DSD containers are the master tapes or more exactly mother files as a kind of family jewel not really comparable with any tangible physical disc.
The whole review is available HERE
You can also read about DSD recordings HERE
Albums auditioned during this review
I could, of course, present a list of recordings and albums that I used. After the audition, I checked the playlist that I kept to find out that it included 289 tracks and 48 albums. Selecting anything of them seemed impossible. Let me just say that more than half of it were CD rips, the rest being audio files 24/44.1, 24/88.2, 24/96all the way up to 192 kHz. I also had a few dozen 2.8MHz DSD files.
Listening on a daily basis to inexpensive devices, reading about more expensive audio components and hearing from time to time about high-end gear it is not difficult to come up with the following hierarchy. At the very bottom are basic audio products that are simply supposed to play anything at all. Above them are products from specialized manufacturers or big companies with dedicated audio departments, which can be expected to offer a decent sound with such characteristics that we like best. This is the group of audio products where our choices are crucial, as for that kind of money there is no way to design a component that would just pretend to be neutral. On the one hand, there are manufacturers' efforts to work out necessary compromises and reach an intended and generally acceptable sound, on the other, there is music lovers' quest to find that sound. Everything that is above that level is understood in terms of improving the basic audio capabilities that results in an increasingly more accurate playback, in the sense of being neutral or natural (depending on the adopted strategy). It would include clearing out the sound of designers' influences and their views on music, and the pursuit of a reference, a kind of "absolute sound". High-end would be close to it, with top high-end nearest to the reference. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Firing up the Lumin I'd already read all the available reviews and literature about it, and was after a conversation with Mr. Li On. That's my method of work. I roughly knew manufacturer's ambitions and reviewers' comments on their implementation and their evaluation of it. Chris Connaker, the chief editor of Computer Audiophile, said something that particularly intrigued me. According to him, Lumīn's sound is fantastically analog, as if we were listening to vinyl (see HERE). I was intrigued by his juxtaposition of the terms 'analog' and 'vinyl'. Even though these are two different things, they are commonly referred to as synonymous. The comment would therefore not be a reference to reality but rather to the stereotype of the "analog" sound. The vast majority of music lovers and audiophiles identifies "analog" sound with the sound of "vinyl". Nothing could be further from the truth.
After hundreds of tracks, dozens of albums, and comparisons between 16/44.1 and 24/192 versions as well as DSD files, I think I understand where the equating of the two stem from. The Lumīn does sound like a high-quality, top high-end turntable. Not entirely, but such was the first impression that set the tone of my audition and was confirmed by every next album. Of course, then came the time for a deeper analysis that always needs a longer perspective, and results from my reflections and lasting impressions. That was when I realized how the player from Hong Kong differs from vinyl, where it gets the upper hand (yes!), and where it is inferior (well, no surprise here ). However, even after such an extended cognitive process, when I was packing up the player to send it back to the distributor my first impression was still stuck in my mind: the Lumīn = vinyl.
The term "a turntable-like sound" has specific connotations, both in language and in specialist audio literature. Interestingly, musicians, but also pro audio people who due to their age didn't get to work with analog path in a recording studio, let alone turntable, often choose only a limited number of shades of meaning. It is nice to hear on the radio how vinyl is praised for its "softness" and "friendliness". Every time I hear it, however, I feel that something slips by and that we "kill the goose that lays the golden egg", so to say. It is true that good vinyl has a soft sound attack, reminiscent of what we know from reality, and that listening to a properly set up turntable is extremely pleasant, even in the long run. Yet that is only a side effect of what the black disc really is about.
The Lumīn, although having little in common with analog, except for its power supply and output section, and being closest to a computer in its design (a microprocessor with specialized software + sound card), still allows for such deliberations. Do you catch my drift? It's possible to analyze turntable sound listening to an audio file player!
The reason is that the player under review sounds, for one thing, exceptionally resolving and for another incredibly soft. Resolution is usually associated with detailedness, and maybe even sharpness. That is a mistake as these are the signs of exaggerated selectivity; there can never be enough resolution, though. Our unit with its glistening aluminum body seems to offer a very successful, fantastically executed and very, very natural approach to musical material. We get a very deep and saturated sound, regardless of music genre or recording resolution and quality. It is a real, not imitated depth that results not from emphasizing the lower midrangealthough it slightly doesbut from the ability to dig deeply into the recording and extract information on its tonality, spatial relations and textures, and to put it all together in a beautifully functioning whole. Actually, there is almost no escaping the word 'beautiful' while listening to the Lumīn. It may somewhat limit our perception, but we think of it as something good that makes us rid our consciousness of what is uncomfortable and what has not yet been achieved in the field of music reproduction.
What definitely helps in that is its shaped tonality. As I said, it is a common mistake to understand the high-end as the sphere of audio which is more neutral than that of less expensive components and where designer's personality is eliminated. Even though it may not seem that way looking from the bottom-up perspective, the reality is that every audio product, regardless of its price tag and quality, is the result of trade-offs and design choices. The only difference between budget and high-end is the amount of the former. Flagship components, and the Lumīn certainly belongs to the top of tops, do not need to overcome many limitations, but still need to be "shaped". The manufacturers that believe that the reduction of distortion, coloration, etc. will give the desired effect, i.e. a neutral-sounding product, usually end up with aggressive-sounding, bland, or even lifeless components, speakers and headphones. That, for me, is an example of how the audio should NOT look like. Audio is an art; based on science yet in the end depending almost entirely on designer's sensitivity. Those who have created the Lumīn demonstrated their outstanding sensitivity and ear for music. And made their choices.
By calling the sound 'analog' we usually mean what I wrote about the sound of turntable and the player under review. In reality, 'analog' is also the sound of an analog master tape played on a reel-to-reel player, and even of a compact cassette recorded from an analog source. Each of these analog sources sounds different. The biggest difference is between reel-to-reel and vinyl. This has a direct relationship with the Lumīn and other top audio file players I know. If I were to somehow order them and assign them a particular character, the Naim NDS with the best external power supply would be sonically similar to a reel-to-reel player. Extremely dynamic, surprisingly resolving and selective, with tangible phantom images, but also rather average soundstage and somewhat lacking in distinct textures. A phenomenon that I do not yet fully understand is that the same tape transcoded to hi-res digital audio file or used as a master for vinyl pressing sounds different. Soundstage imaging, instruments' tangibility (so-called presence) and textures are better from vinyl than from the master tape. There has to be some grounds for that although I cannot say anything for sure at this point; I only have some suspicions. The Naim auditioned in the same system as the Lumīn and with the same recordings reminded me both of my time spent in the recording studio, as well as one meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society (see HERE). What then came out as a surprise was a completely different hierarchy of sound elements than the one to which we were accustomed.
High-resolution digital audio files sound different, even if they are played directly in a studio and from the disk on which they were recorded (in other words, without any additional processing and transmission via the Internet). The closest to such method of their presentation was the Linn Klimax DS player that I once reviewed (see HERE). This fantastic unit, now available with an analog preamplifier and upgraded firmware, made a huge impression on me. In retrospect, however, I see what it was missing and why the Lumīn seems so amazing. Linnlet's not forget that!has been the pioneer and the most important participant in the high-end digital revolution, owning a record label and an online digital audio store. It knows what it's doing. However, it has chosen its own path to "absolute sound". Its players often seem to sound detached and lack some of the "gut punch", so to speak; they are more neutral than natural. Under appropriate conditions, such approach yields stunning results that are worthy of the highest admiration. That is, however, only one (even if historically the first) of the paths we can take. We are talking about the top high-end, which should be free of such large differences. And yet these are enormous, looking from the high-end rather than the budget point of view. So much so that they decide about a product's "to be or not to be". It's just thatWATCH OUTnot from the market's perspective, because they are all brilliantly fantastic players, but from that of a specific music lover. If I were to choose, the Lumīn would be my first choice, the Naim the second and the Linn the third, although in all fairness it needs to be added that it's been a long time since I heard the Linn in my system. My point is not that one is better or worse than the other, but rather that the vision of music represented by designers from Hong Kong is nearest to my vision of sound and music. You can have a completely different opinion and yet we will be no different. Those audio paradoxes are wonderful!
But I am getting ahead of myself and into the design section of this review, which is equally interesting as the sound section. I must backtrack a little and say something about the sonic characteristics that I usually analyze. However, with all I have written so far they will be easier to interpret.
Lumīn's sound is soft and listener's attention is focused on the midrange. Until an instrument with deep bass comes in, that is. Then the sound simply explodes. The design goal was evidently the coolest possible bottom end presentation, usually treated like a fifth wheel. In absolute terms, bass seems emphasized, butas with my Harbeth M40.1 speakersI am all in for that. I just like it. Double bass, as long as it is well recorded, piano, or bass drumall that makes a great impression. Bass consistency is fantastic, as is its tonality. Focusing is not perfect, and the Linn and the Naim are better in this department, but the best turntables sound just like that. The top end is slightly withdrawn and warmed up but at the same time extremely resolving. Cymbals have varied timbre, weight and dynamics. We do not immediately "see" their contours, because they are not emphasized. An instrument does not exist for its own sake but emerges from a bigger whole that combines all the sounds. The master tape as well as top digital sources have a better defined treble. Yet they usually lack the depth offered by vinyl and also by the player under review. The soundstage is not particularly extensive. This is where the Lumīn differs from top turntables that seem to beef it up and show the space larger than it actually is. Here, everything is more balanced but not as spectacular. Soundstage depth will, however, come as a surprise to anyone who thinks that digital audio is not capable of that. I usually let any such skeptics listen to something on my CD player, the Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition powered via the Acrolink 7N-PC9500 power cord (replacing the 7N-PC9300), which is second only to the top Lektor Grand SE. Still, my unit puts almost all other digital players to shame in this respect. The Lumīn shows absolutely stunning soundstage depth and instrument bodiesyou will be delighted! Where my Lektor or analog master tape are a bit better is the clarity of presentation. The player under review is incredibly resolving, which allows for effortless differentiation of musical materialmore about which down belowbut it also has a tendency to soften everything and show it in a pleasant, non-invasive way.
On the subject of differentiation of musical material, this is probably the second or maybe third time when finally and beyond any doubt it is perfectly obvious what's going on with high-resolution PCM as well as DSD files. High sampling rate gives the kind of breath and freedom that is not available anywhere else, except maybe on the best turntables. It is similar with the dynamics. And now DSD files. Well, I am not a special fan of SACDs but in favorable conditions, such as with the Mark Levinson No. 512, the effect can be wonderful. The sound is as smooth and fluid as from the best turntable. Having reviewed for Audio magazine the Marantz NE-11S1 audio player that offered DSD decoding via USB and now listening to the same recordings on the Lumīn, I can say that DSD file can be even better than the same recording on the SACD. Only if we take the latter seriously, i.e. get a single-layer (not hybrid) disc, preferably pressed in Japan, with material taken from analog tape or native DSD master-file, will we achieve something similar: breath, depth, calm and purity. The reviewed player goes further with this type of files than with PCM 24/192. Retaining the latter's advantages, it smoothes everything out even more but also adds dynamics and depth.
Lumīn vs. Lektor AIR V-edition
The player from Hong Kong is phenomenal. I have no doubts about that. However, my Lektor AIR V-edition CD player from Ancient Audio is equally phenomenal. Ii is against it that I compare all the sources I have been reviewing for a long time, and each such comparison only confirms my certainty that Compact Disc may be the top high-end source, and that it has not yet showed even a fraction of what can be extracted from it. At the same time, it turns out that even very well-known CD players that are regarded as the world's best are in many aspects no match for Jarek Waszczyszyn's design. I am not saying that mine is the best CD player in the world, because the Lektor Grand SE is better, and other players are even better in some aspects. What I am saying is that it's the player that suits me most. And it has never let me down in any way. If we add to this my huge attachment to physical mediatape, vinyl, or CDit may be interesting to see a direct comparison between the CD player and audio files and how I interpret the results (especially interesting for me, but I hope the readers will also find it useful).
In general terms, the two are very similar schools of sound. Not too many details in themselves, but outstanding resolution instead. Details are important only as a part of something bigger, building large structures and small "events", such as textures and recordings' "taste". Excellent extension up and down, although the Lumīn seems to offer a smoother treble while the Lektor a better mid-bass control, without its hardening (or contouring). Soundstage width is better on the CD player, but not necessarily its depth, at least compared to high-resolution recordings on the audio file player. With CD-quality audio files the comparison tips in Lektor's favor.
Most important, however, was the long term overall impression that both players left me with. Moving over to I did not feel the need to return to the Lektor. Coming back to the latter I did not see the reason to swap it for the audio player. For the second or perhaps third time in my life the digital source I reviewed was just as rewarding as the Ancient Audio unit. Their sound is not identical and they differ from each other in some aspects, yet their vision of music is very similar. The Lumīn attracted me with its extremely easy access to music, which I have plenty on hard disks (about 5000 albums). Not for a moment did I feel it to be "digital". I liked Lektor's slightly better audio clarity and even deeper soundstage. I also like to pick and choose CDs and put them on the player. Would I trade my Lektor AIR for the Lumīn? A difficult question. I don't think I would, in the end. But I would very gladly see them sitting side by side.
There is no such thing as a perfect playback device. Nor will there ever be. Any kind of music reproduction, as the name suggests, is only an attempt to reach the truth locked in a segment of time and in a particular place. It doesn't matter if we understand it as a live music event or the information recorded on the media (the two are two different things). It will always be a choice, both on designers' and listeners' side. However, it is possible to define the boundaries in which we can operate as well as to evaluate different sonic aspects. For me, the Lumīn player is a perfect example of how we can respectfully differ at the same time being aware that we are talking about a top product. The player that arrives to us from Hong Kong is clearly and without a doubt meant to offer turntable-like sound. And it does it perfectly. It is not all perfectsee above. Its emphasized lower midrange makes phantom images slightly larger than in reality, and brings about certain specific effects with a certain type of audio distortion. What I mean is compression. Very clearly audible e.g. on Suzanne Vega's Close Up album series but also on all recordings with a singer close-up to the microphone, it makes the sound lose its vividness and collapse in on itself. It is a bit traumatic and listening to something like that in comparison with good audio productions, not even hi-res, it hurts. Yet even then the velvety softness, depth and lightness of music presentation will be outstanding.
The product receives the RED FINGERPRINT award.
If you have ever seen a stunning body of the Klimax DS player from Linn, Lumīn's appearance and mechanical design solutions will seem quite familiar. With one exceptionhere, power transformers have been mounted in a separate outboard enclosure, thus making the player a two-piece design. The main unit enclosure is milled out of a solid aluminum billet, covered with a thick panel of the same material. The fascia is slightly tilted and features only a blue display screen with basic information. Music library and all other details can be found on our iPad screen, orafter installing Kinsky applicationon a PC screen. There is currently no Android application available. All rear panel connectors are hidden under the top and side panels extending far back (part of Linn inheritance). We have here balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analog output connectors from WBT, digital BNC and HDMI outputs as well as Ethernet and two Type A USB ports (rectangular). The latter could only be used for software upgrades, but after the most recent upgrade we can use them to connect a flash or hard drive.
On the side there is a multi-pin socket to connect a not very long umbilical cord that plugs into a small but nice aluminum box housing two toroidal transformers. Its front panel sports a mechanical power on/off switch. To enter the standby mode we use iPad.
The electronic circuits are mounted on two PCBs. The one houses a microcomputer running on Linux and digital inputs and outputs. Both feature impedance matching transformers. Under a heatsink we find MIPS core CPU, equipped with 4GB of Single Level Cell (SLC) flash memory and 2GB of RAM. The fast FPGA processor is programmed in-house. According to Chris Connaker it may be the main reason for the player's excellent performance. There was no single crash during the review, no signal dropout and no perceptible transition between different sampling rates. On top of the plate shows voltage stabilization systems. Next to the LAN port there is a Realtek RTL8201CP chip, IEEE 802.3 compatible, and a H1102NL Pulse Electronics LAN Discrete Transformer Module, isolating the player from the Internet.
The decoded digital signal is transmitted to the other side of a thick screen (part of enclosure), to the DAC board. At the input there are two Wolfson Microelectronics WM8741 D/A converters, one per channel. This is a very good chip, offering high dynamics and accepting PCM and DSD signal. The analog path seems to be surprisingly short, as if the I/V conversion stage was passive (as in Ancient Audio players). Each channel sports L49860 audio op-amps, one per branch (it is a balanced circuit topology). This is one of the most interesting operational amplifiers used in audio, characterized by ultra-low distortion, high slew rate and dynamic range. The output features Lundahl LL7401 isolation transformers. The whole assembly is surface mount but the components are of high quality, including through-hole Wima capacitors. The unit is made in China (or actually in Hong Kong; while it says "Assembled in China", it is actually the former British colony, not mainland China).
Price (in Europe): 5980 EUR [incl. VAT]
Pixel Magic Systems Ltd. | Unit 603-605