Audio file player
LUMÏN - THE AUDIOPHILE NETWORK MUSIC PLAYER
Manufacturer: Pixel Magic Systems Ltd.
he Audiophile Network Music Player – every 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 that – sooner or later – this 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.
A short history of…
Wojciech Pacuła: Who designed the Lumïn player – I mean, who are the engineers responsible for it.
Li On: Let me put it this way: the Lumïn was designed by the entire Lumïn 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 PHOTO. I’m on the left; my boss, Nelson Choi, is in the centre; the journalist who prepared the review is on the right.
When did you start?
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 Lumïn 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 player – everything 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 Lumïn 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 Lumïn is still the only available network music player with DSD playback support.
What are your plans for the future?
The Lumïn 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 Lumïn’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 Lumïn 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, too – we’re constantly perfecting the Lumïn’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 Lumïn’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 slightly – although not entirely – different 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 – 384 kHz, 16-32 bit (stereo) and 2.8 MHz DSD (stereo). The only thing missing is the double DSD (5.6 MHz). 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 interview – one look at the Lumïn 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).
Setting up the Lumïn 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.
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.
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.
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/352 kHz-capable DAC. Is there a real market for such a hacker's hobby?
The whole review is available HEREText: Srajan Ebaen
You can also read about DSD recordings HERE
Albums auditioned during this review
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.
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 Lumïn 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 Lumïn = vinyl.
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 midrange – although it slightly does – but 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 Lumïn. 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.
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 Lumïn 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 Lumïn 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.
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.
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 Lumïn, 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.
Lumïn 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 media – tape, vinyl, or CD – it 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).
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 Lumïn 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 perfect – see 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. As outstanding as the Lumïn itself
The product receives the RED FINGERPRINT award.
If you have ever seen a stunning body of the Klimax DS player from Linn, Lumïn’s appearance and mechanical design solutions will seem quite familiar. With one exception – here, 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, or – after installing Kinsky application – on 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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