Audiophile network music player
Manufacturer: Pixel Magic Systems Ltd.
he world today relies on charts and measurements and results. And while audiophilia tries hard not to follow the mainstream, pointing out its weaknesses and failures, we should still use this popular “method” of evaluating things, simply because in this particular case it will allow us to save some time.
S1 is the latest product of Hong Kong's company Lumïn. The company was founded just four years ago when its founders found out that Sony's PS3 was hacked which allowed ripping SACDs into DSD files. The idea was: to create a device that would play such files. It took engineers from Pixel Magic Systems Ltd. (company dealing until that point with transmission of HD vision signals) two years to design, finalize and release (in 2012) the first product called „LUMÏN - THE AUDIOPHILE NETWORK MUSIC PLAYER”. „THE” in the name of this player was used on purpose because, as Mr Li On from Lumïn, told us during interview, at the moment and for some time later it was the only network music player capable of playing DSD files. Plus, according to its creators, it was simply the best one.
Before designing this player its designers studied products of digital audio market leaders like dCS and Linn. One can easily spot an influence of the latter just by looking at the design of Lumïn – how it looks, how its casing is made (precision-machined from an aluminum block), also the solution for output seems similar with usage of Lundahl transformers. Software for this product though, was done from a scratch by Pixel Magic Systems' engineers. It is software that makes a real difference in a digital world.
In October last year I reviewed the first Lumïn's player and I concluded that it was the best files player I heard up to this point. It's amazingly rich, deep sound brought to mind some high-end turntables, and some features of that sound reminded me even of mother reel-to-reel tapes.
S1 on the other hand, is a step forward, a further development of the original concept. The earlier models already played all PCM 16-32 bit, up to 384 kHz files, and DSD64, the S1 is capable of playing also DSD128 (sampling frequency of 5,6 MHz).
The device is controlled by a special app designed for iOS. It is possible to use also a Linn's Android app, called Kinsky. That will not give you an access to Lumin's settings though, it will only allow you to play music. So in fact if you want to use Lumïn you have to get Apple's tablet too. For this test I used two music storages: Synology DiskStation DS410j NAS (UPnP), with four 2TB HDDs, and Lumin's own 2TB L1.
Server and player were connected with Linksys WAG320N router with Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA cables with RLI-1 filters (see HERE). Signal was than sent to preamplifier with unbalanced Siltech Royal Signature Series Double Crown Empress cable. Lumïn was placed on a set of Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Discs.
Lumïn S1 was directly compared with Auralic's system - Aries and Vega, Compact Disc Player Ancient Audio Lektor AIR V-edition and Accuphase DP-900/DC-901 SACD system. A separate comparison was made using Mytek Manhattan DAC with signal delivered from a computer.
Recordings used for this test (a selection)
Have you ever thought about how easily audiophiles tend to label sound depending on the form of signal? Most associates everything that is “analogue” positively. „Analogue” usually means: sounding like a vinyl record, as only very few of us had a chance to listen to reel-to-reel master tapes, or to record music on them. As you surely realize “analogue” seem to contradict “digital”, right?
The former is usually described using such words as: „smooth”, „relaxed”, „warm”, „rich”, „liquid”, „natural” as opposed to “digital” that is supposed to be: „bright”, „dry”, „harsh”, „lean”, „unnatural”, and sometimes even „irritating”. These are obviously stereotypes, but, at least that's what I think, they are still quite popular even though digital audio has been with us for more then 30 years now.
I think that if someone had listened to Lumïn S1 early in the 80ties without seeing it, he would have thought that he'd listened to a very well sounding turntable. Although it is possible that lack of cracks and pups would have made him wonder if that really could have been a turntable playing. Why? Because many aspects of sound of the player under review are usually attributed to the sound of an analogue record. That also means it shares some weaknesses of vinyl but it comes with the job – there are no perfect devices in audio business and I'm sure we all got used to it already. Altogether Lumïn delivers a certain type of performance that one might like or not, but that is amazingly involving and that can be described only as: beautiful.
All recordings sound better or nicer when played by S1. One simply can't stay numb, uninvolved even if the system plays some music that used to give one a headache because of its poor quality.
Sound seems dense with the accent shifted towards lower regions. I haven't found a single recording that would sound “lean” or “thin” on S1. Surely when some crappy recording is played there will be indications of its poor quality. But it will rather be just a hint and not a clear statement of how poor the recording is.
That's probably why I decided that dividing the description between particular recordings, formats and so on, would be rather useless in this particular case. It could be done but it would mean just repeating same descriptions, adjectives on and on. So I'd rather offer you a synthetic description that should be more useful and providing more accurate information about S1 as a complete solution for playing music from files. I will use some titles, names of formats as it will be necessary, but they will only serve their purpose.
No matter what format, bit depth, or sampling frequency, Lumïn offers a complete musical picture. Picture isn't always the same as with Red Book files (16/44) it isn't as sharp, as clear as with hi-res files, and DSD files offer even better quality. These differences are quite significant but not at first, one has to go deeper into recording which usually takes time as at the beginning one is simply inclined to enjoy what one hears. S1 never ever PROVOKES one to study the sound, it makes it POSSIBLE. It doesn't take any particular effort to study the sound, the recording and so on, but it is the listener who decides whether he wants to go there or just simply enjoy the music.
These differences I've mentioned are revolving mostly around the DSD files being more resolving and offering more depth, and they become more obvious, or easier to notice when one directly compares same recording in different resolutions. Better focus, and better inner-coherence of DSD files – that's the conclusion of a head-to-head comparison. But to learn that, one has to compare hi-res PCM with DSD directly using same musical material in two formats. Otherwise probably one wouldn't even catch this difference. But even CD rips, or simply 16/44 files sound really well when played by S1. Often such files sound much worse than any hi res or DSD material, but in this case listening to them is also truly enjoyable.
Placing an accent on lower mids and bass allows Lumïn to “polish” any recording. Interestingly enough this “modification” is even easier to catch with hi res files than with 16/44, and it is even more difficult with DSD. The latter seem smoother and “softer” by the nature so maybe they just don't need this “polishing” as the PCM signal does. Treble is slightly “overshadowed” by midrange. Although the most powerful part of the range is bass that goes deep and is very smooth and liquid, it is the vocals that seem the most important element of almost any recording. But only due to large scale of the presentation, and because of how well is the acoustics of each recording conveyed. Vocals are not the key element of the presentation because they are pushed forward, towards listener with some emphasis on midrange nor through treble roll-off (which is the same thing actually).
An element that helps to achieve that is something usually not associated with audio files players – an amazingly dense tone. Let me get back for a moment to this comparison to a turntable – such a dense tone is something that most vinyl fans seek. That is why I wasn't surprised when my friend from Japan told me that in his country most people who buy Lumïn players were not the ones who wanted to move from using Compact Discs to Hi-Res audio files, but rather those who already had high quality vinyl setups and wanted to enlarge their music library but still to enjoy the same type of “right” sound, a sound that vinyl provided. That is what S1 has to offer – an unusual, wonderful approximation between the world of analogue and digital sound.
But it comes with a cost. I am not absolutely convinced that a vinyl is the only true high-end music medium. A CD, so disregarded by many, is able, in certain, high quality systems, to deliver performance beyond expectation. Sure, it still has its own inherent flaws, but on the other hand it offers some features of the sound that remind me not of vinyl but rather an analogue mother tape, like a fantastic combination of separation with richness of the sound, like ability to convey at the same time a black background and a very distinct image. It doesn't also suffer from different types of distortions which are a part of vinyl playback. Yes, for home audio vinyl is the number one music medium, but CD, as I know it, is almost as good one.
Lumïn S1, in this context, seems to be an alien from another planet. When one starts to listen to it one forgets about any analyzes like the one above. One just plays the music and flows with it or immerses in it. One realizes that this sound was “made”, or “formed” (like it is for Audeze cans too) in such a way that one has to like it, but one simply doesn't care and enjoys it as much as possible because it might take a while before one encounters another such a wonderfully sounding device.
An availability of DSD files, apart from those written on SACDs, was sort of Big Bang for people behind Lumïn. It was a ZERO point that offered a new beginning, like in the theory of cycling nature of the universe. With one difference being learning from previous mistakes, remembering them. It is quite obvious that DSD files were and still are what drives Lumïn guys. They did a great job and as a result any files sounds equally well so one can simply enjoy the music without paying attention to the specification of particular file.
S1 sounds in a specific way. It is hard to call its performance a „high fidelity” one, despite the fact that IT IS for sure a top “high end” one. „High fidelity” would make sense if the device was true not to the recording itself but to its musical message. What Lumïn delivers in full scale is something that audiophiles rarely even get a glimpse of – the cardinal value of music – emotions it provides listeners with. Everything that gets in the way of it is redundant. That's the ultimate level of performance – to offer something that is clearly not very “audiophile” as it doesn't event try to convey every little squeak made during recording but rather shows clearly WHY something squeaked, offers a bigger picture. There is no greater “fidelity” than “fidelity” to the MUSIC.
Lumïn S1 is awarded with RED FINGERPRINT.
The form, shape of Lumïn's body even today, two years after its first appearance on the market, seems to look really well. When it comes to its looks and mechanical design it is surely based to some point on Linn's Klimax DS player (see HERE), but I perceive is rather as a form of tribute paid to Linn rather than just a simple imitation.
A body of Lumïn consists of two main elements: a main shell made of aluminum block and a cover that is screwed on its bottom. On the tilted front side manufactured cut out a small “window” for a blue, alphanumeric display. Despite its small size it displays a lot of information while being easy to read. One can find there data concerning file that is currently played (format, sampling frequency, bit depth). The display might not be as nice as the OLED ones used by Auralic or Polish Amare Audio Diamond server but it didn't bother me at all. Since S1 looks exactly the same as the first Lumïn ever (now called A1) manufacturer put a golden plaque with logo on the front of the device.
The back panel includes analogue outputs, both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA, and digital inputs: Ethernet and 2 x USB. There are also digital output there: BNC (S/PDIF) and HDMI – the latter should be perfect to connect S1 to Devialet. I don't really think that in any other case sending a digital signal out makes any sense – the D/A converter in S1 is simply that good! All sockets are “hidden” under a top panel that protrudes beyond the back edge of the casing including a power inlet.
S1 sports a separate power supply. Its aluminum casing is not as nice and solid as the casing of the player. Its front panel sports only a single on/off button with a blue backlit LED circle around it. Inside there are two toroidal transformers, one for D/A section and the other for the rest of the players circuit. They are accompanied by high quality Elna smoothing capacitors (made for Pioneer). A special, short cable connects PSU with the device.
Separating PSU into two parts makes sense since S1 sports two devices inside – a file player and D/A converter that are separated with a thick aluminum panel that is a part of the casing, and these two circuits have separate power supplies. Under a radiator there is a microprocessor „MIPS core CPU”. Next to it there are 4 GB of FLASH Single Level Cell (SLC) and 2 GB of RAM. Another element of the circuit is a fast FPGA which might be responsible for a very smooth switching from one sampling frequency to another. Next to LAN socket there is a Realtek RTL8201CP chip IEEE 802.3 compliant.
Both digital inputs and outputs sport matching impedance transformers.
A I/V conversion and filtration is based on National Semiconductors LME49860 chips. These are ultra-low distortion, low noise, high slew rate operational amplifiers. Output sports separating transformers accompanied by Wima capacitors. Mostly surface mount technology was used on multilayer PCB with gold-plated tracks with exception of above mentioned capacitors and large Swedish Lundahl LL7401 transformers. The solution with output transformers has not been very popular (but used for example by Linn and Jeff Rowland) in the recent years. But lately manufacturers approach seems to have been changing as more and more of them started to use it.
Specifications (according to manufacturer):
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One