Lumin D1 Network Player Review & Test
If ever a company could be said to have truly ‘burst’ onto the audio scene, that company would be Lumin. The first Lumin product was released only six years ago and in the intervening years no fewer than six more products have followed hot on the heels of each other, meaning that Lumin has released more than one new product every year.
This speed of development might have had me shaking my head and thinking three digit acronyms (umm, OEM) except that the company behind Lumin is none other than Pixel Magic, a high-tech Hong Kong-based electronics manufacturer that was established in 2003 and famously developed the world’s first Linux-based video processor. (You’ve probably already heard of its HDTV receiver range of products, which it sells
under the ‘MagicTV’ brand.) So Lumin not only has a large team of highly experienced digital engineers in its employ, it also has unfettered access to a factory that’s been
producing high-tech digital equipment for more than a decade.
It’s a matter of record that Lumin’s first product (the A1 Network Music Player) looked a whole lot like the network music players manufactured in Scotland by Linn, but that obviously didn’t bother either Lumin or Linn, because all the network music players in Lumin’s line look so similar to the A1 that apart from this D1, and the M1 system, (which has front panel controls) it would be difficult to tell them apart. The D1 doesn’t have any front panel controls, but it’s so much ‘narrower’ than all Lumin’s other components that it’s not hard to pick out in a crowd, despite the visual similarities.
The similarities are not only visual. Like the top-line model, the D1 supports DSD Lossless (DSF/DSD, DIFF/DSD, DoP/DSD), PCM Lossless: (FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF) as well as MP3 and AAC. So far as DSD is concerned it supports DSD up to 2.8MHz and PCM from 44.1kHz up to 384kHz in anything from 16-bit to 32-bit words. And so far as streaming is concerned the D1 supports the UPnP AV protocol with audio streaming extension and offers gapless playback plus the convenience and speed of an on-device playlist.
However, differences also abound. For example, whereas Lumin’s higher-priced streamers have chassis that are formed from solid aluminium, the D1’s chassis is more conventionally put together, with sheet aluminium that’s been bent into shape (the front panel being an exception). And, whereas those aforementioned products have high-tech external power supplies, the D1 uses a low-cost plug-pack. Then there’s the further economy of not using Swedish-made Lundhal output transformers to feed the analogue outputs.
Taking a look at the back panel might take some older buyers by surprise, because the D1 not only doesn’t have any ‘legacy’ analogue inputs, it also doesn’t have SPDIF or Toslink digital inputs. There are only two USB inputs, plus a network connection. But the lack of analogue or digital inputs certainly won’t take any younger buyers by surprise, as in the oft-heard expression: ‘What, who doesn’t store all their music and movies on their computer these days?’
On the plus side, you do get a BNC digital output (PCM 44.1kHz–192kHz, 16–24bit/DSD (DoP, DSD over PCM) 2.8MHz.
With no front panel controls and no remote control, the Lumin D1 has to be controlled via an App, and—at least for the present—Lumin is only providing an App for Apple devices. Apparently it is possible to get some functionality via PC or Android by using third-party software (Linn’s Kinsky seems to be a popular choice for those who refuse to use Apple products), but my advice would be to bite the bullet and shell out the extra dough for an iPad (v2 or later and iOS 5.0 or later) if you actually want to enjoy Lumin’s user interface to the fullest. Lumin is certainly not providing any support for anything other than its own App.
In addition to springing the extra dough for an iPad, I would also recommend (unless you’re a whizz at configuring computer networks) that you also buy Lumin’s L1 Music Server, which is essentially a 2TB NAS designed specifically for use with Lumin network music players. You’re going to have to buy some storage anyway (Lumin recommends you buy network attached storage from either QNAP or Synology) and even a basic QNAP TS-231+ with a couple of 2TB drives is going to cost you $700… and then you’re still going to have to configure it. The L1 Music Server, on the other hand, is basically ‘plug n’ play: just drag your music files to the L1 and you’re ready to go… at least that’s what Audio Magic told us: they weren’t able to supply one for this review, and the kicker is that L1 also looks a whole lot more attractive than a TS-231+! I should mention that for a really simple system you don’t have to buy a NAS drive. The cheap storage option is to connect an ordinary, low-cost, external hard drive directly to the D1’s USB input.
In Use and Performance
Having previously reviewed a Lumin A1 (which involved me buying a QNAP TS-251+ plus two WD30EFRX drives) setting-up the D1 wasn’t an issue, as I already had all the hardware and software to hand and had sorted the many install issues that arose at that time. (So when I recommend you buy an L1, I know what I’m talking about. If you do decide to use a QNAP or Synology NAS, make sure your dealer agrees to get the system up and running for you as part of the deal.) Even so, the D1 did not ‘automatically’ find my NAS and library as shown in Lumin’s pictorial instruction manual. I instead had to go into system settings and do both manually… only a few seconds’ work required, to be sure, but definitely not ‘automatic’, and you still have to know what you’re doing.
I was also familiar with Lumin’s interface, which is exceptionally good, about which more in a moment, but given the current craze for Roon (a very sophisticated music database) you may be interested to learn that according to local distributor Audio Magic, Lumin will be adding Roon compatibility later this year… maybe even by the time you read this. But when you find out you’re going to have to pay an ongoing annual subscription for Roon (around A$170), or spring for the ‘lifetime’ version (around A$700) just to have a bit of software organise your music library for you, maybe you won’t be so interested.
It may take a little while for the Lumin to load your music library, depending on how large it is, but this is just a one-off operation, so it’s not really an issue. Lumin says it will do 250 albums per minute but my 487 disc test library loaded in just under 30 seconds, much faster than Lumin claimed. Something that also should not be an issue—but might become one depending on the size of your music library—is that in order to enable smooth scrolling, the Lumin App caches all your album art on your iPad. So the larger your music library, the more memory you’ll need on your iPad… and even then you’ll need to watch the size of your images. That said, the upside of having album art instantly available more than compensates for the requirement for space.
You can display as up to forty album covers on your iPad and vary the number displayed (via the ‘pinch screen’ technique) all the way down to a single album. (At least it’s 40 covers if you have your iPad oriented horizontally. If you orient it vertically, a maximum of 35 covers can be displayed… with the minimum still being one.) One of the first things I checked was Lumin’s ‘Search’ function, because previously it didn’t work at all well. I was pleased to discover that Lumin now offers two different types of search, which must be preselected in the system settings. One is called ‘Find’ and it works pretty much the same way I remember the old one working, which I didn’t much like. The other is called ‘Filter’ and it works much better… indeed almost exactly like a Search should, so well done Lumin for the improvement.
Although Lumin’s software App is generally easy to use, it’s still a long way from being intuitive, so you might want to read the fuller (but far from complete) exposition here: www.luminmusic.com/lumin-app.html That said, finding and playing tracks and albums is straight-forward, queuing same to create playlists is equally so, and it’s easy to modify, store and recall playlists, so most of the things you will most often want to do are scoped. I really appreciated that, when a song is playing, if you tap the album art (displayed top left of screen) that art goes almost full screen, but with artist/track/coding/bit-rate information underneath, then after six seconds, the cover art goes full-screen without the additional data, so if you prop your iPad up where it’s visible, it’s almost like having a real LP cover on display while you’re listening.
Once I had found what I wanted and started playing it (either solo, or as part of a playlist… any number of which can also be stored as ‘favourites’), the Lumin D1 played back my music seamlessly and gaplessly. Bass performance was a highlight of the D1’s reproduction, always diving as deep as required, and as instantly as required, and always with a beautiful tonal accuracy, no matter whether I was listening to electric bass, bowed double bass, a kick drum or tympani.
My comments on sound quality notwithstanding, the sound quality you hear will always be totally dependent on what settings of the App you use to decode your stored files. Lumin’s App allows you to play back the ‘native’ coding and this is the setting I preferred, irrespective of the music I played. However, you can also choose to upsample, downsample, invert phase, add de-emphasis, or change bit-depth (options for ‘native’, ‘16-bit’ and ‘24-bit’) as you desire. Played natively, I preferred high-res PCM over ordinary PCM, as well as over DSD, but these were only preferences, because I was more than happy with the way the D1 played ordinary CD-standard music files because it managed this with a level of fidelity that has escaped most of the CD (and SACD) players I have ever used.
When you’re working through the performance variables in the app, be warned that although the Lumin D1 provides switchable de-emphasis so that it can correct emphasised data streams, restoring the high frequencies to the correct level, it cannot automatically detect from the data stream whether it has been emphasised, so if you leave it ‘on’ all the time it will roll-off the high-frequency response of non-emphasised data, audibly reducing the level of treble. Basically, I’d recommend leaving the D1’s de-emphasis switched off (and if someone is demonstrating a D1 to you and it sounds a little ‘dull’, go into the settings menu to check the status of the de-emphasis circuitry).
If you don’t own an iPad, you’ll need one to use the Lumin D1, which means spending around $500–600 for a 32GB version if you have a small music library or around $700–800 for the 128GB version if you have a large music library. But if you’re happy to leap this minor hurdle, Lumin’s new D1 is one of the best-sounding, most full-featured and best-looking network streamers available.# Hugh Douglas
A full technical appraisal of the performance of the Lumin D1 Player with test results, graphs and an analysis of the technical performance is contained in the LABORATORY REPORT which is in the pdf version of this review. (Click the RED box above).