In times of total integration and aspiration to have the most versatility of used solutions, which are triumphant in the budget, as well as even in segments aspiring to be serious Hi-Fi, the High End has its own rules. Instead of offering and overwhelming array of functions, where we will use only one or two, or maybe three, manufacturers tend to specialize. Here is no place for compromise, or doubling of individual steps of signal processing, as this means losing money. Because when we have already a good DAC, or at least one that satisfies us at the moment, buying another piece of equipment with a DAC inside seems not to be a good idea. This is also true for the rest of the gear, as nobody sane will be searching for an integrated amp, while possessing appropriate power amplifiers; such person will be looking for a line preamplifier or a source with regulated output. Having such dogmas in mind, Lumin, after a series of streamers equipped with analog outputs and dedicated to people looking for an all-in-one file solution, like the M1, decided to raise the bar and open for the most demanding audiophile population introducing the U1, a file transport, dedicated to the audiophile minority.
There is nothing to hide, and we do not need to add any ideology or mystic, as the U1 is nothing else than the flagship S1 minus a DAC and the analog output stage. Well, maybe I exaggerated a bit regarding the DAC, as the U1 can up- and down-sample the signals from/to DSD 128 and PCM 384 to another format at will, and send out the manipulated signal to the external DAC. Of course you can just switch this off and transfer the signal out of the Lumin in native format. But before we do that, it is worth to stop for a moment and look at the cabinet of the device, which is exactly the same as in the twin A1 and S1, who provided some of the innards. Also the external power supply is a must at this price level, although after the extraction of some of the circuitry there would be enough space inside for it.
I will not spend too much time to describe the aluminum chassis, as I did that in … 2013 (how time flies…) while reviewing the first Lumin, but I will still allow me to say a few good words about it, as this time the Polish distributor of the brand, the Wrocław based Moje Audio, provided a black anodized version, which looks so much better than the standard silver one. In this “evening dress” it is not as rough and aseptic, it catches the eye with its elegance, what is emphasized with the delicate rounding off of the fascia, with the blue display hidden in its middle. The back panel, as usual for the Lumin, is pushed back a few centimeters compared to the top cover, and although it makes connecting cables a little more troublesome, it helps visuals by covering the cable salad from top. I must mention here, that this hood does not complicate the connection of a nice power cord, as it does in Linn players, because we connect the cable to the external PSU, which does not have any obstructions on the back. So it can be done, you just need to think a little. Clearly in Asia this process is working better than in R&D laboratories in Glasgow. But let us put nastiness aside. Equipped in two small toroidal transformers and a battery of capacitors, the power supply has a nice round button with a blue halo on the front, and an IEC socket integrated with a fuse on the back, as well as a multi-pin socket for the cable connecting to the main unit.
The central unit is another story. We deal with a digital only transport here, so there is no trace of an analog output to find. So looking from behind we have an Ethernet socket with a grounding terminal next to it, two USB ports, an optical output, coaxial, BNC and AES/EBU. There is also the multi-pin socket for the power, but that was obvious.
Talking about handling, there is no change here – the company developed apps for iOS and Android are there, the work as they should, and the only thing, that always surprises me, is the evident mental resistance of the Pixel Magic Systems Ltd. Engineers to implement Tidal handling in the Android app. Dear God, how long do we need to wait to get this functionality? How long will someone “up there” treat about 65% (if not more) of smartphone and tablet users as second grade clients? I will leave this question open, and to dry our tears I will just tell, that the Lumin app works flawlessly also with museum pieces like the first generation iPad with iOS 5.1.1. I did not make print screens out of it this time, as it did not change from the last Lumin review we did, and the only thing worth noticing, is that we can disable the unused digital outputs on the device using this app. Well, during the tests this file player cooperated in my system with CD/SACD players with digital inputs from the same price level, as well as an inexpensive, but very refined, sound wise, DAC Cayin iDAC-6 (test coming soon), while the transmission path was almost random, as through coaxial and USB had almost the same sound quality … with one exception. I preferred to do the upsampling to DSD on my Ayon CD-35, as for me it resulted in a better saturation and dynamics, than when done at the transport.
Going over to the part devoted to the sound of the tested transport, then in general we can tell, that it represents a school of sound more to the dark side of the force. The gravity point is somewhat shifted down, and all gets appropriate nobleness and gravity, and the slightly pushed out midrange enchants with truly analog grace. Using some casual descriptions we can operate with words like musicality, smoothness and similar, but those would only be the top of the iceberg, of that what the U1 can offer. I am mentioning that, as in most cases, when we hear, that a given device is musical, then subconsciously we tune for issues with resolution or creation of space, and here are no such anomalies. Because through the years Lumin was able to perfect the combination of above average musicality with also above average resolution, and at the same time put them in their own, dark aesthetics. An omnipresent calmness appears, and organic homogeneity, but without mudding or losing any of the so beloved audiophile plankton. We only lose nervousness, some subcutaneous thrilling, that makes longer listening tiring and boring. With Lumin in the sound path it is hard to imagine a situation, where one of the at least properly, or even only well enough mastered recordings would irritate us so much, that we would need to change the playlist. Let me use the brilliant, musical wise, “Achtung Baby (Deluxe Edition)” U2 as an example. It is recorded in such a way, that listening to it as a whole becomes a challenge in most cases. It is just extremely clamorous and terrifyingly two-dimensional. Yet when played through the U1 it gained on fleshiness, saturation and stopped clicking. Did the band buy some nice cymbals for Larry? Everything points to that. I will leave aside the fact, that you cannot expect miracles, and from a flat scene, like an anorectic model, nothing – even the Lumin – will not create a three-dimensional, deep space, but it will still be better. This effect you can directly compare to that, what the manufacturers of tube buffers wanted to achieve, by civilizing the edgy and soulless digit.
Fortunately the mentioned cosmetic served by the Asian transport do not mean any losing of nuances in the treble or far planes, when listening to well, or reference recorded material. To confirm this thesis I recommend you listen to a disc recorded in a church “In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral” Branford Marsalis, where without reproducing the cathedral reverberation properly, the whole sounds like played on a Casio synthesizer. I do not need to tell you, that everything was as it should. The space around the sax player was dreamlike, the caramel sounds flew up high, and the positioning of the musician was perfect. All the scene movement could be heard/seen without any trouble, some slight movement “off axis” or playing more to the back of the nave than to the front. There were also some audiophile tastes, like the sound of the saxophone keys, but those were exactly the “tastes” and not scenic events that would draw too much attention.
I left something stronger for desert, because I am perfectly aware, that lovers of some hard treatment, when they hear, the U1 somewhat tones the reproduced sound, they get an allergy or feel in their bones, that this manner may water down their so beloved aggressiveness and ruthless metal growling. But in this case such fears are unsubstantiated and ungrounded. Proof? Here it is – it is called “Brotherhood of the Snake” and is signed by Testament himself. I will just warn you, that this is not a pseudo-metal pulp, which is enjoyed by some rebellious emo-teenagers, but playing in the good old style. It is incredibly heavy, brutal and hellishly dark and with all of that, very dense. Without appropriate separation the whole turns out imposing but too lifeless – like a wrecking ball. There is mass, but it is inert and uncontrolled. The Lumin does not allow for that. It keeps the whole at short leash, and positions the musicians on the stage precisely. Nothing is flowing together, nothing rumbles and each of the sound composing this mad cacophony has its defined beginning and ending. Additionally those sounds are not dancing alone, but are skillfully woven together with other phrases creating a Sulphur exhaling river of lava flowing along. You cannot go around not appreciating the virtuoso playing the five string bass Steve DiGiorgio, Gene Hoglan pushing you deeper in your seat with drum blasts and fiercely attacked percussion, phrases uttered with phenomenal feeling by the vocalist Chuck Billy or the incredible riffs and solos from Alex Skolnick himself. I will not hide, that such an apocalyptical beating is a course for genre lovers, but with such extremes you can admire the class of the Lumin. Here is no place to care for each and every sound, and if something is not played back, is lost, then there is no time to go back and repeat, and although one such shortcoming may go unnoticed, any subsequent ones will turn this puzzle into dust, everything will fall apart like a house of cards. But with the Lumin in our sound path, we will have a construct as solid as an exoskeleton, on which the killing tissue of power, precision and musicality is built.
The Lumin U1 has a very clearly defined goal, as well as a precisely selected target group. It is like a specialist tool dedicated to certain users having precisely defined expectations. It does not do everything, because it does not have to. But that what it does, is done in a special and perfect way. Because I cannot describe the combination of timbre, saturation, musicality and resolution in another way. Does this summary remind you of something? Well, it does remind me of something. The U1 is a file playing equivalent to the headphones Audeze LCD-4 we reviewed, and at least for me, this means a clear, and obvious recommendation.
Distributor: Moje Audio
Price: 29 990 PLN
Streaming Protocol: UPnP AV protocol with audio streaming extension; Gapless Playback; On-Device Playlist
Supported Audio File Formats:
– DSD Lossless:DSF (DSD), DIFF (DSD), DoP (DSD)
– PCM Lossless:FLAC, Apple Lossless (ALAC), WAV, AIFF
– Compressed (lossy) Audio: MP3, AAC (in M4A container)
Upsampling and downsampling rates & bit depths: any supported rate including DSD128 and 384kHz PCM
Input: Gigabit Ethernet Network (1000BASE-T); 2x USB storage, flash drive, USB hard disk (Single-partition FAT32, NTFS and EXT2/3 only)
– 2x USB: DSD128, 5.6MHz, 1bit, Stereo; PCM 44.1khz–384kHz, 16–32bit
– Optical, Coaxial RCA, Coaxial BNC & AES/EBU: DSD (DoP, DSD over PCM) 2.8MHz, 1bit; PCM 44.1kHz–192kHz, 16–24bit
– Lumin (solid aluminium chassis): 350 x 345 x 60 mm
– Dual-toroidal PSU: 100 x 315 x 55 mm
– Lumin: 8 kg
– PSU: 2 kg
The system used during the test:
– CD / DAC: Accuphase DP-410; Ayon CD-35
– File players: laptop Lenovo Z70-80 i7 / 16GB RAM / 240GB SSD + JRiver Media Center 22 + TIDAL HiFi + JPLAY; Yamaha WXC-50
– Digital sources selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Shelter 201
– Phonostage: Abyssound ASV-1000; Tellurium Q Iridium MM / MC Phono Pre Amp
– Integrated Amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI5; Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary
– Loudspeakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio; Amare Musica
– IC Digital: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker cables: Organic Audio; Signal Projects Hydra
– Power cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II; Acoustic Zen Twister
– Power distribution board:: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi NCF-50 (R) / FI-50M NCF (R)
– Wall power socket: Furutech FT-SWS (R)
– Anti-vibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform; Thixar Silence Plus
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips