I was talking to a friend on the phone recently about his HiFi system. He said to me, "Sometimes you need to spend a lot of money, to find out you didn't need to spend a lot of money." That really made an impression on me and it's something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. I certainly don't want to stop people from spending money, but it may be nice to provide enough information to enable people to make purchases that match their real needs, more than their assumed needs.
Some people are like Oscar Wilde and have simple taste in that they only like the best. That's certainly understandable, given the 12 channel, all Wilson Audio, Atmos music system I recently installed. There are people on the other end of the spectrum who want to spend as little money as possible, as long as the product is good enough. Again, very understandable. Many of my friends fall into this category.
The largest category of listeners, among readers of this website, includes those who want want to find the sweet spot of great performance at a reasonable price. Of course what's reasonable, varies widely among us, but I like to think of it as reasonable within a range of products. The product with 90% of the performance, but without the skyrocketing price necessary to obtain a few more percentage points of performance gains.
A recent trip to the store provided me with a good example. It's reasonable to pay $7.00 for a 12 pack of Coca-Cola, but it isn't reasonable to spend $26 on a limited edition 12 pack of Coke, with cans designed by the artist Marshmello. People who just have to have the limited edition are free to spend the money and enjoy the products, but they may find out they didn't need to spend nearly 4x the cost, once the cans are empty. While there may be a generic Cola for $5, the sweet spot is probably the regular $7 Coke. Whether it's $5, $7, or $26, the price isn't cost prohibitive, in and of itself, for most people, but we'd rather spend money on products that make sense and are reasonable.
This is where the Lumin T3 realy shines. The T3 is the sweet spot in the Lumin lineup for those seeking a network player with built-in DAC, among many other features, and very high sound quality. Its $4,990 price tag is far from the flagship Lumin X1 at $13,990, and the T3 performs extremely well against the X1, based on my memory. I'd absolutely select the X1 if the products grew on trees and I couldn't settle for anything accept the best, but in the real world, the T3 is where it's at.
There are many features of the T3 that I love but the three that I depended on most during my review are LEEDH processing digital volume control, built-in upsampling, and adjustable analog output power.
I'm certainly no expert in digital volume control or digital signal processing, but I have no problems evaluating the end product that is sound quality. There are many ways to attenuate an audio signal in the analog and digital domains, with very few claiming to be lossless. Some incredibly advanced implementations, such as that in HQPlayer, require a separate computer and a different skillset or interest in how one enjoys music and software. LEEDH processing claims also offer lossless digital volume control, but implemented inside products such as those from Lumin and Soulution. The best part about LEEDH is that the listener needn't know anything other than how to turn the volume up or down.
Based on my own experimentation with LEEDH and the ESS DAC chip's volume control built into the T3, I can unequivocally say I like the LEEDH processing much better and think it's a game changer for products like those from Lumin. Readers interested in the technical details of LEEDH processing can find more in this presentation from AES 2020 in Vienna by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (link).
Note: Lumin offers a physical remote control to supplement the volume control in its iOS and Android applications. I highly recommend this for was of use and speed to getting to the volume quickly.
In addition to digital volume control DSP, I used the built-in upsampling DSP in the Lumin T3. The Lumin app enables listeners to get very granular with respect to sample rate selection . This is really nice, and also really easy to configure with the tap of a finger. I settled on a configuration that upsampled all PCM audio to 8fs (352.8 or 384 kHz) and all DSD audio to DSD256. When it comes to upsampling, whether it's done on the DAC chip without user selectable options or it's done externally with innumerable options, there is no right or wrong. It's all about preference, and this preference can be different for different types of music. Easy configurability in the Lumin app is key.
The last feature I think is critical the user selectable analog output power. By default the Lumin T3 outputs 6Vrms. This was too much for my taste and my system. In this configuration I had the volume set around 10 out of 100 much of the time. I used the Lumin app to set the output to low, which lowers the voltage to 2Vrms and enabled me to use more of the volume control flexibility. If I'd only had 6Vrms output, in combination with the Lumin AMP and my Wilson Audio Alexia V speakers, I would've grown frustrated because it was just too "hot" for me. Everyone and every system is different. Options are good. Easily adjustable options are even better.
The Lumin AMP was a nice addition to my system for this review. It has similar styling to the T3, and its built quality leaves little to be desired. It's commonly thought that companies who start life building one type of product (digital, analog, speakers, etc...) aren't capable of building another type of product. I find little, more laughable than that line of thinking. We are talking about engineering, skills, creativity, and passion for audio reproduction. The Lumin team is chock full of all of those requirements, and has shown it by creating the stellar AMP.
The AMP features a true dual mono design, where the channels are mirror images of each other. The Class AB design, with 600VA custom toroidal transformer weighs a nice 41 pounds. I use the word "nice" because it's light enough for me to move around and carry up the stairs, but meaty enough for me to have plenty of confidence in its design (right or wrong).
I hate to quote output power specifications such as watts per channel because they can be incredibly misleading. Our wonderful HiFi hobby has amps with 1 watt and amps with thousands of watts per channel. The bottom line always comes down to design and implementation, in combination with the other hardware used with the amplifier.
One item of note is the switch on the rear of the AMP to change from stereo to bridged. This enables listeners to turn the amp into a monoblock that will work in conjunction with a second AMP. If one is good, two is better. Or so the traditional audiophile thought process goes.
During this review process, I used the Lumin T3 on its own, with the rest of my reference system, and also with the Lumin AMP. The T3's performance was equal on both systems. All of the following sonic impressions were made using the T3 and AMP together.
My Subjective Take, In Three Songs
Beautiful, absolutely beautiful, is the best way to describe the track Don't Take your Love From Me, from Ike Quebec's masterpiece Blue & Sentimental. Through the Lumin T3 and AMP combination, this track commanded my attention and simultaneously put me at ease. I'm usually a sucker for a good horn, but in this case Grant Green's guitar in the right channel was so realistic, at the opening on the track and his solo midway through, that it sounded like he had plugged directly into the Lumin AMP. Typically I'm underwhelmed by jazz guitarists, other than Joe Pass, but for some reason I couldn't get enough Grant Green. Perhaps that reason was the Lumin DAC / AMP combination, reproducing this quartet as if I was a fly on the wall at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ in December of 1961. Green's tempered but masterful solo, one I've listened to probably fifty times, sounded fresh, with each string on the guitar sitting its own sonic space. I couldn't help but listen to him play throughout the track as well, even while Quebec should've commanded my sole focus with his musical mastery.
Speaking of Quebec, I'd be remiss if I didn't describe the lush sound of his tenor sax, through the T3 and AMP. Quebec alternates between power and finesse on this track, and the Lumin combo follows along in tight synchrony. Whether Quebec was belting it out or barely audible over the sound of air flowing through the mouthpiece, the sound was superb, seductive, and satiating. I must have listened to this entire album three or four times, start to finish, after I put the Lumin components into my system. When great music sounds this wonderful, it's addicting.
Discovering Buena Vista Social Club in 1997 has lead me to other fantastic music by many of the groups members. Solo albums by Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portundo, and Manuel Galban have all been delightful. Manuel Galban's Mambo Sinuendo is always stored offline in the Qobuz app on my iPhone, as I never what to be without it. His album Blue Cha Cha Cha has a different vibe, but is also worthy of my "must have" offline list.
The track Duele, featuring Omara Portundo on vocals and Galban's daughter Magda on piano, among other great musicians, is the pinnacle of this album in my opinion. Portundo's voice sounds magnificent through the Lumin T3 and AMP. This is one of those tracks where, on a good system, the emotion comes through in spades, even though I have no clue what Portundo is saying in her native Spanish language. At "only" 16/44.1 CD quality, most listeners would likely swear this is high resolution PCM or DSD. The Lumin combo reproduces the texture, power and delicacy of Portundo's voice with mastery.
Throughout the track, but especially when Alejandro Tirado's cello is front and center, it's as if Portundo passes an emotional baton to him and he runs with it. There is a smoothness to his playing that doesn't steal the show from Portundo, but adds significance and weight to the story she is telling. The richness of Tirado's tone, through the Lumin T3 and AMP, is irresistible, and reproduces only the color of the instrument rather than editorializing with something "extra." This is just a beautiful track, reproduced beautifully.
In addition to reproducing beautiful voices and and solo instruments, the Lumin T3 and AMP really shined on one of my favorite pieces of music with quite a bit going on, to say the least. Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain, from Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Le Sacre du Printemps, has been a go-to track for me recently. I love the music and I love when stellar audio components reproduce it wonderfully. The Lumin components handled this track effortlessly, while putting its brilliance on full display.
One area that absolutely must be reproduced correctly, or I'll lose all interest, is the rumbling percussion. The Lumin combo appropriately reproduces all the mallet strikes individually, with delineation and air, versus lesser components turning this series of sounds into a jumbled mess. I listen to this track at low volumes and at times very loudly. Either way, the Lumin combo showed delicacy and a ton of power from a fairly compact package. I have no doubt that flipping the switch on the AMP and putting it into mono mode, in combination with a second AMP, would up the sonic game even more, but it isn't a requirement for stellar sound. This is one of those situations where listeners could start with a single AMP, and upgrade to mono configuration at a later date if new speakers placed more demands on the amplifier. I'm willing to bet a second amp would only be needed in a small number of cases, or for those who must have the best from day one.
The Lumin T3 DAC / streamer and Lumin AMP are both great individually and in combination with each other. While the amplifier may be considered a Lumin reference design, the T3 rests in that sweet spot where the lessons learned from reference designs are implemented for a much more reasonable price. The fully balanced dual mono design, from front to back in both T3 and AMP, really makes a sonic difference that can be enjoyed thoroughly. The majority of people can take my word for it that they don't need to spend a lot of money, to find out they didn't need to spend a lot of money. The T3 is one of those products that will perform close to the highest levels, but without the significant cost.
The T3 also enables listeners to bypass an analog preamp and connect straight to an amplifier (or two). Not all DACs are capable of this, no matter what manufacturers say. The T3 excels handsomely when connected directly to an amp, and I have no issues suggesting most users bypass a preamp if possible, when using the T3. Lumin's decision to feature LEEDH volume control and still provide the option to use traditional volume control on the DAC chip (or no volume control at all) is much appreciated. Listeners can decide for themselves if LEEDH is for them. While nothing is for everyone, I'm willing to bet 99% of listeners will be as pleased with LEEDH volume control as I was. It's a great feature and I'm happy Lumin is leading the way by implementing it on many of its products, via software update.
The Lumin AMP really surprised me. I'd heard it before and was pleased with its performance. But, this time I spent many hours pushing it, to see if I could find a weakness. To my satisfaction, I couldn't find a reason to dissuade anyone from trying it in their own system. What I heard was all great. Great music and great sound quality, from a fairly compact component. The AMP is built very well and looks like one of those products that could be sent around the globe to audio shows, and be no worse for the wear. In less formal settings, people may say it's built like a brick "outhouse," if you know what I mean. Lumin's commercial broadcast heritage, evolving from Pixel Magic Systems Ltd, is no doubt one reason for the bulletproof build quality.
Lumin is a solid company that builds solid products, with a track record of frequent improvements, delivered to listeners free of charge. The sound quality I heard through the Lumin T3 and Lumin AMP, in addition to the great product support and knowhow of the Lumin team, made for a terrific experience all around. The Lumin T3 and Lumin AMP are both CASH Listed, without hesitation.
- Lumin T3 Network Player $4,990
- Lumin AMP $11,990
- T3 Brochure (PDF)
- AMP Brochure (PDF)
- AMP Detail (PDF)
Complete Audio System Details with Measurements - https://audiophile.style/system