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    The Computer Audiophile

    Lumin X1 Review

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    I haven't written about a Lumin streamer since August 2013 when I reviewed the Network Player. Network Player seems like a rather generic name now, but back then it was very appropriate and specific. There wasn't an endless array of options to accept Ethernet audio and turn it into magical music at that time. In the last six years Lumin has turned into a powerhouse delivering streamers at all price points, a new amplifier named AMP, and continuing the in-house development of its Lumin app for iOS and Android devices.

     

    Over the last several weeks I've had the Lumin X1 flagship streamer in my reference system and I'm left wondering why I waited so many years to bring a Lumin streamer back into my listening room. The Lumin X1 is by far the best Lumin product ever developed and competes with the best full-featured streaming DACs anywhere near its price. The Lumin team has taken the best of its previous products and improved upon these aspects to deliver a sound rooted in analog playback but with all the incredible detail of digital. 

     

    Previous Lumin components, including the Network Player I reviewed years ago, sounded as analog as any digital product I've heard over the years. In my view this isn't a sign of perfect reproduction rather it's a sonic signature that many audiophiles have grown to love over many decades of spinning vinyl. The Lumin X1 is a totally different animal in that it retains the best of the old analog sonic signature, but brings its overall sound quality to another level completely. If I had to place a percentage on this description to help readers understand that about which I'm writing, I'd say the X1 retains the top 5% of the Lumin analog lushness and outstrips everything Lumin has done previously with its 95% digital reference reproduction. In other words, the X1 brings along a small part of the sound Lumin users have come to love, but rockets the remaining sound quality to a level they haven't heard from a Lumin product. 

     

     

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    Loving Lumin

     

    I can tell when I really love a product, I want to write about its sound quality as soon as possible in the review. This doesn't always work because at times I can't get the paragraphs to flow how I want, but readers should know I'm digging right into the Lumin X1's sound quality for good reason. This is a fabulous streaming DAC. (Officially Lumin calls it a streamer/renderer/DAC with S/PDIF bypass, but that doesn't make for nice flowing prose.)

     

    I've listened to everything through the Lumin X1. Yesterday I started with Christina Aguilera's Stripped album and ended with Billie Holiday's Songs for Distingue Lovers. Today has been all about Sarah Vaughan. Listening to Vaughan's vocals through the Lumin X1 has been nothing short of magical. 

     

    On the album Sarah +2 from 1962 on the Roulette label, Vaughan's voice is lush, raw, and full of emotion. She manages to suck me in as a listener even though she's singing jazz standards that I've heard hundreds of times. Vaughan sings All or Nothing at All and The Very Thought of You to close out the album. She makes the Diana Krall versions sound closer to Muzak than an emotional performance of a great song.

     

    Listening to track three, All I Do Is Dream of You, through the Lumin X1, shows off Vaughans voice in all its glory. As she hangs on to notes at the end of each verse, the Lumin X1 reproduces every ounce of delicacy and beautiful tone gloriously. The smoothness and control of her voice shines through without a hint of veil or something between the performer and listener. OK, perhaps one can envision smoke from a jazz club between the speakers but her perfectly centered vocal seems to just hang there in thin air. 

     

    Moving forward to track four, I Understand, one can hear another terrific demonstration of "how it's done." Sarah Vaughan pulls the listener in with her dramatic vocal range and story telling, all magically reproduced through the Lumin X1. Through lesser streamers and DACs this magic would be completely gone. The X1 enables the listener to hear everything from Vaughan's lowest to highest registers and all the tiny imperfections throughout. I say tiny because Sarah Vaughan's voice is perfect to me. I have no other way to describe the authentic, real, pre-protools, pre-cut & paste recording method that exposes the true human being behind the microphone. 


    I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called The Fear of 13. The subject of the documentary talked about Patty Griffin's song Let Him Fly and how it helped him while he was sitting in prison for 20 years until his wrongful conviction was overturned. I had no idea this was a Patty Griffin song because I've only known it as a Dixie Chicks song from the 1999 album named Fly

     

    After watching the film, I headed up to my listening room to play both versions of the song through the Lumin X1. Thanks to Qobuz I had access to the Patty Griffin version, the 24/96 Dixie Chicks version, in addition to my CD rip of the same. I listened to the Patty Griffin version a couple times and it just didn't move me. I switched to the Dixie Chicks high resolution version and all was right in the world. 

     

    Natalie Maines' powerful voice paired with Emily Robison's dobro sounded fantastic through the Lumin X1. Every finger slide from Robison and breath from Maines was hanging right between my speakers as was the rest fo the music. Toward the middle of the song all three Dixie Chicks harmonize so beautifully before Maines takes the reins back to belt out another verse. The dynamic range that can be heard in this song through the Lumin X1 is absolutely wonderful (DR R128 score of 19). Maines' voice goes from soft and delicate to powerful and projecting, all the while being reproduced without any hint of haze or emotion-killing noise. 

     

    Let Him Fly is my favorite Dixie Chicks song by a long shot and I've heard it on many systems. Listening to it through the Lumin X1 was among the best I've heard and unequivocally the best I've heard through a Lumin component. The X1 is the best product Lumin has created to date.

     

    Moving from an emotive song like Let Him Fly to The Hell Hounds of Krim off King Crimson's Live in Vienna (December 2016), didn't give me the same  chills, but proved a very fun and enlightening listening experience nonetheless. The Hell Hounds of Krim is all about percussion, both large and small. With the Lumin X1 driving my Constellation Audio monoblocks' XLR input directly, it had plenty of headroom to pound this track into the neighbor's living room and beyond. While this track is certainly reproduced very well through the X1, it reminded me of something from the Blue Man Group. An emotionless exercise in musicianship that sounds very good as a HiFi demonstration. 

     

    I'm sure King Crimson fans will excoriate me for my lack of enthusiasm, but I'm willing to bet they aren't the biggest Dixie Chicks fans either. The Lumin X1 did a terrific job of reproducing this HiFi demo track type of material. The immediate starts and stops, pounding of drums, and the delicacy of tiny bells and cymbals all sounded pure and unadulterated. If anything, the X1 lost a touch of its analog-like sound on this track. I'm not willing to say this had nothing to do with my lack of interest in the track as a whole however.  

     

    Closing out my listening session with a track containing beautiful percussion, guitar, bass, vocals, and a plethora of emotion, I played Tracy Chapman's She's Got Her Ticket from Chapman's eponymous debut album. Within the first 30 seconds of this track, one can already tell it hits all the right buttons. A beautiful sounding quick drum into with oodles air around the drum head, followed by an equally impressive kick drum. Chapman's vocal and ensuing guitar are reproduced gloriously through the Lumin X1. The slightest touch of analog is present and makes the guitar sound appropriately lush and the vocal sound very organic. 

     

    Starting at about 30 seconds into the track, the X1 cleanly shows off this track's great foundational bass line. This bass is terrifically reproduced in that there are clear distinctive notes being played underneath all the other instruments. The bass isn't lost in a mess of sound and in no way sounds like a one-note blob. The Lumin X1 handles this track, and the rest of the album, in stellar fashion. With nuance, detail, slam, and air, the Lumin X1 enables the emotion captured in 1988 at Powertrax studio in Hollywood, California to come out in abundance.

     

     

    How Does Lumin Do It?

     

    LUMIN_X1_Interior.jpgHow does the Lumin X1 enable such great reproduction? Through a combination of components selection and implementation. As many have seen over the years, the best internal components in the world are meaningless without stellar implementation.  The Lumin team implemented a dual mono design using ES9038Pro SABRE DAC chips with a claimed 140 dB dynamic range. Dual mono linear regulators, a femto clock system distributed by an FPGA, and an entirely new power supply are also contained within the X1. This new power supply is a dual mono linear design specifically for the X1, that converts AC to the quieter DC and then sends DC through the external umbilical cord back to the X1. Fortunately for Lumin fans, it can also be used as an upgrade for the T1, A1, U1, and S1 products. 

     

     

    All of those items are great and should be somewhat familiar to many audiophiles. One feature that X1 offers that's unavailable in most HiFi products is an SFP slot for directly connecting the X1 to a fiber optic Ethernet network. In my review of the Sonore Signature Rendu SE Optical in June 2019, I achieved better sound from my existing USB DACs by using tis Sonore optical to USB converter. I had high hopes for the X1 partly because of its built-in optical capability. 

     

    LUMIN_X1_Lundahl.jpgGetting a fiber optic connection to the Lumin X1 in my system was done using Ubiquiti UniFi network components. On the other side of my listening room wall I have a UniFi Switch 8 (US-8-150W) with dual SFP slots. I put one Ubiquiti UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Module in the Lumin X1 and another in my UniFi switch. I connected the two with a 10 meter single mode fiber optic patch cable (OS1-9/125um). This is all that's required to get the X1 on one's network via fiber optic Ethernet. Of course I take it further and run a 300 meter Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable from my Switch 8 to my basement UniFi Switch 24 (US-24). This does nothing for sound quality, but ensures none of the issues, such as high attenuation, one can experience with a lengthy copper Ethernet cable. 

     

    Using a fiber optic cable breaks all electrical connections between network components upstream of the Lumin X1 DAC. The data is still Ethernet and has nothing to do with Toslink optical audio transmission or the previously used optical connections by manufacturers such as Wadia and EMM Labs (with ST terminations). 

     

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    The Lumin X1 can take advantage of Lumin's own iOS control app that requires a UPnP server or the X1 can be a Roon Ready endpoint. I used the Lumin app for basic testing and to ensure it was still as good as I thought is was back in 2013. I still like the Lumin app and can vouch for the Lumin team's extremely fast support to correct an issue displaying track titles from Qobuz. However, I used Roon for most of my listening through the X1. I like Roon better than the Lumin app, but it's great to know that people have a more than viable option, in the free Lumin app, that doesn't require a yearly subscription. 

     

    I should also note that the Lumin app is used to update the X1's firmware and software over the internet. The Lumin team is also much more nimble than the Roon team in terms of adding support for new streaming services and features as they evolve. This is due to the architecture of the Lumin app in that it doesn't require an extensive database integration with new services, like Roon requires.

     

    In terms of fit and finish, the Lumin X1 is exquisite. The aluminum chassis is simultaneously understated and a focal point. It's display at first underwhelmed me, but I came to really like its lack of busyness. I also like the Lumin logo on the front of the chassis because its the same silver color as the rest of the unit. What makes the X1 a focal point is the beautiful finish of the silver. It's smooth with nice grain to it and elegant angles. All the cable connections in the rear are covered by the solid aluminum chassis' overhang. This makes it hard to connect and disconnect components, but unless one is a writer or audio dealer, I don't see this as an issue. Once the X1 is setup, it's setup for a long time. 

     

     

    LUMIN-Amp-stacked-with-s1g.jpgOne note about the new Lumin AMP. The AMP was shipped to me with the X1. These two products were designed in tandem to the highest technical standards. It's also no coincidence they both look wonderful in the same rack. The fit and finish of the AMP is identical to the X1, but it weighs significantly more due to its huge power supply. I wasn't able to spend as much time as I'd have liked with the AMP, but I will say it's performance is on par with the X1. I've listened through the AMP in both stereo mode and two of them configured as a pair of monoblocks. When combined with the X1 there is nothing holding back a very high level of audio reproduction. It's fair to say Lumin as a company is now at another level with its flagship X1 and AMP. 

     

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    Wrap Up

     

    cash@2x.pngThe Lumin X1 streaming DAC sits all by itself among the other Lumin products. It's clearly the best product Lumin has made to date, by a wide margin. The differences between the X1 and the original Network Player I reviewed back in 2013 are too great to cover in detail. The Lumin team managed to keep the best parts of the Network Player's analog signature, but made the X1 more transparent. If anything, that's the main takeaway from my time with the Lumin X1. This streaming DAC has an analog quality to it that isn't like other components both from Lumin and other manufacturers. The X1 doesn't suffer form the ills of analog like so many components that are given a sonic signature similar to a VST plugin. It has air, detail, liquidity, slam, and the appropriate amount of analog vibe that makes the Lumin X1 something to behold. The X1 is a true accomplishment for the Lumin team and a must-hear for eager audiophiles worldwide. 

     

     


     

     

     

    Product Information:

     

     

     

    Associated Music:

     

     

     

    Listening Room:

     

    This graph shows the frequency response of my room after tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream. 

     

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    Associated Equipment:

     

     


    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments



    Thanks for the detailed answer!
     

    Seems we are in the same park, I too enjoy the analog setup more than digital. ;)

     

    Don’t go the MSB route, their DAC’s sound mighty fine but not analog and you’ll be disapointed again.

     

    I would suggest you keep your actual setup since it’s excellent and just enjoy the music!
     

    In fact, you helped me a lot! I won’t look to upgrade to X1 from my Linn Selekt DSM, I’ll try to improve my analog setup instead! :)

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    I just purchased an X1 and have a Lampi Big 7. I keep on comparing each DAC and I have to say that I am enjoying the X1 immensely as both a DAC and streamer. I didn’t imagine it would be as weighty or as musical as the Lampi but I’m happily surprised it is. Very impressive DAC besides being an excellent streamer. And the optical set up is noticeably more quiet than straight Ethernet cable into the DAC. 

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