Ethernet Data In - Analog Audio Out
The Lumin network player is built like a tank. The player begins life as a solid block of aluminum. A CNC machine carves out only what is necessary to fit Lumin's internal components and shape the external aesthetic. The finished product is smaller than photos lead one to believe, but the weight of the Lumin is substantial at nearly eighteen pounds. The external finish is smooth to the touch and without unsightly screws or obvious points of entry into the chassis. It's build quality is what one would expect from a $7,200 high end audio component.
Inside this aluminum fortress the digital and analog circuitry is kept separate by individual compartments. The digital input side of the chassis is literally a computer running a specially tailored embedded Linux operating system. Under a finned aluminum heat sink sits the MIPS core CPU, surrounded by four gigabytes of Single Level Cell (SLC) flash storage and two gigabytes of RAM (based on chip numbers). The system also has a custom high speed FPGA processor. I have a strong suspicion this architecture is why the Lumin works so well. Fast flash storage and enough memory to locally cache large playlists places this unit head and shoulders above many network players. Gapless audio isn't a problem when all the files for the next several tracks are sitting in memory rather than streaming over the network just in time for playback. When operating all processes are stores in RAM as well. On the digital circuit board between the RJ45 Ethernet jack and the Realtek RTL8201CP Ethernet chip is an IEEE 802.3 compliant H1102NL Pulse Electronics LAN Discrete Transformer Module. This module provides electrical isolation for sensitive applications such as a high end audio component. The analog side of the Lumin chassis is where the dual Wolfson WM8741 DAC chips and Swedish made Lundahl LL7401 output transformers reside. The Lumin features both 2 Volt single ended RCA and 4 Volt balanced XLR analog outputs. I used the RCA outputs exclusively during this review.
The Lumin player has a single Ethernet port for audio input. The two rear USB ports are currently reserved for maintenance type operations like manual firmware updates. Even so these USB ports are host type A ports, not type B usually found on USB DACs. In the not to distant future these USB ports will be usable for direct attached USB drive playback (USB flash drive, SSD, HDD). The Lumin offers both HDMI and S/PDIF (BNC) digital outputs. I didn't use the digital outputs because I don't have a use for them. The internal Lumin DAC is great and it supports all formats and sample rates I need. Plus, the S/PDIF output now supports PCM and DSD audio, but very few DACs can accept DSD over S/PDIF even if it's DoP compliant. Thus, I considered the digital outputs a step backward. I can see validity in using the HDMI output to send audio into a different processor, but the supported audio is only two channel so I recommend using the internal Lumin DAC.
The Velvia of Digital Audio
Listening to the Lumin network player is really a pleasure. This player sounds as close to vinyl playback as I've heard from a digital component. Nat King Cole's The Very Thought of You on both 16/44.1 PCM and 1/2.8224 DSD sounded vivid and rich, very analog. The sound was less neutral than playback through the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2, but it was very analog-esque. Nat's voice floated in mid air out in front of the speakers in an almost touchable illusion.
Switching to Natalie Merchant I again was pleased by the richness of her reproduced vocals. The Lumin put a bit of body or weight to her vocals that other DACs haven't done in my system. Natalie's voice and the acoustic guitar on the title track to Motherland were to ears what Fuji Velvia 50 slide film is to the eyes. Neither is the final word in accuracy but the lush, vivid, rich tones are undeniable. Today many photography applications have what's called a Velvia filter to impart the wonderful look of Fiji Film Velvia on digital photos. In a similar fashion many audiophiles are seeking a way to reproduce the sound of their vinyl rigs with a convenient digital based system. Based on my experience the Lumin player does as good of job as anything I've heard at doing just that, turning digital into vinyl.
The Lumin player handled both native PCM and native DSD playback with ease. Both formats sounded great and were reproduced without a hiccup. Early adopters of DSD playback know very well that switching from PCM to DSD on the fly is a tough transition for many DACs. Often times loud bursts or pops can be heard. Through the Lumin these transitions were silky smooth. I heard a very faint pop sound one time, but I was really trying to hear this or other sounds. Testing network players I always go right for the jugular. I figure why screw around with the simple stuff that any player worth its salt can handle? I created a playlist on the Lumin with gapless 24/192, gapless 24/96 with huge album art, and gapless DSD material. To my honest surprise, not "reviewer surprise", the Lumin didn't skip a byte, bit, or beat. I've neither seen nor used another network player that handled such a playlist without issue. The Pixel Magic team did its homework and implemented a stellar design that works near perfectly and sounds great.
Fast, Polished, and Stable
A great DAC with great sound is one part of the Lumin equation. The other part is interfacing with one's music through the Lumin iPad application and streaming this music from a DLNA server to the player. In the DLNA / UPnP ecosystem the Lumin is a Renderer that requires both a Server and a Control Point to function. (See the Complete Guide To HiFi UPnP / DLNA Network Audio for more information - Link ). Pixel Magic has both the Lumin player and the Lumin control point iPad application under control. The company highly recommends use of the MinimServer application as the DLNA server. MinimServer runs on nearly any platform from Mac and PC to Synology and Netgear NAS drives. Installation on a desktop computer is fairly simple. Installation on a NAS drive is a bit less than simple. The MinimServer website offers pretty good instructions to the several step installation, but it's still a geek fest. It's hard to complain when the price of MinimServer is $0.00. Maybe Pixel Magic will license an OEM version of MinimServer that comes complete with a next-next-finish easy NAS installation (hint, hint Pixel Magic). Once installed the MinimServer / Lumin iPad app / Lumin player combination is terrific.
During the review I used a few different apps and DLNA servers. The Lumin app with MinimServer was a very tough combination to beat. Readers used to JRiver Media Center and JRemote on the iPad can also use this JR/JR combination to serve and control the audio streaming to the Lumin player. The benefit of using the JRiver / JRemote combo is it offers a great way to manage one's music collection through the Mac, PC, or iPad interfaces and customize views seen through the JRemote application. Within the JRemote interface the user simply selects the Lumin player as the playback zone and "configuration" is complete. I used the Lumin / MinimServer combo for 90% of the review as I wanted to follow the manufacture's recommendation to have the best experience with app and player.
The Lumin iPad application is very polished. I needed no instructions to get up and running and to understand 99% of the options. Pixel Magic wisely used somewhat universal symbols for adding music to playlists rather than words that require translation into many different languages. The application consumed about 1 GB of space on my third generation iPad because it caches the entire library of album art locally. This cache of artwork enables smooth scrolling through thousands of albums without waiting for artwork to load. Once an album or track is located and selected by the user, playback commences immediately. The Lumin player is lightening quick at starting playback, switching tracks, and even switching from PCM to DSD.
One feature that I haven't seen on any other iPad application for audio control is pinch to zoom. This has been around for years in other apps, but possibly overlooked or discarded by most manufacturers in this area. I love this feature because it enables the user to view as few as one album's cover art per page as the user scrolls or as many as forty album covers at one time.
As good as this Lumin system is, I found a few items that could use improvement. The first item is a bug that has since been acknowledged by the Lumin team and will be fixed in the next software update (already submitted to the App Store). The problem arises when adding an album to the playlist as the Next To Play. The iPad app places the album directly below the currently playing track, but the album tracks are in reverse order. This bug is reproducible every time and not present when using any other playlist features.
The second items that I found a bit frustrating, and stopped using because of this frustration, is the Find / Search feature. This feature is very fast but displays results in an awkward fashion. When searching for the artist Pearl Jam the search feature doesn't pair down the results as one types or pre-populate the search box with possible search terms. Rather the app requires the full search term to be typed in and the Search button on the keyboard to be tapped. Not the end of the world. The real annoyance is the search results are actually not search results. Perhaps this is why Pixel Magic named this feature Find rather than search. After typing in Pearl Jam and tapping search the app moves to the first album with Pearl Jam in the title or moves to the first album by Album Artist Pearl Jam depending on the view in use. The results still contain all other albums, it's just the focus of the app is put on the first item matching the search terms. Finding the other items that match the terms requires tapping a tiny left or right arrow next to the Find / Search box. Searching the Composer view for Pearl Jam's singer and main song writer Eddie Vedder moves the focus to the first album in which he has a composer credit in the metadata tags. Where this is even a larger issue is searching for an album that contains a popular word in the title. For example, I was looking for an album and the only thing I knew was the word Solo was in the title and the album cover was blue. I couldn't remember the artist. Searching for Solo the app focussed on the first album with the word Solo in the title. I had to click the right arrow to find the next album with Solo in the title. Tapping this arrow and virtually visiting every album with a similar title is a bit odd rather than viewing search results of only albums containing the word Solo. I give credit to the Pixel Magic team for one nice feature of the Find function. When typing a search term the letter turn the color red if the library contains no material matching the search term. For example typing Pearl Jan rather than Pearl Jam the letters turn red indicating I misspelled the word or I just don't have any albums from Pearl Jan.
The final item I have an issue with is more about MinimServer than the Lumin app, but because of the strong recommendation to use MinimServer I think it's valid to discuss it in this review. When adding new music to one's library MinimServer, and thus the Lumin iPad app, don't automatically update the library with this new music. I added a new album and tried the Reload and Update features within the Lumin app to see if the album would appear. No luck. I found out there are a few ways to force MinimServer to add new music which in turn appears in the Lumin iPad app. The shotgun approach can be used. This requires restarting the NAS. Another method is to restart MinimServer either on the NAS or through the MinimWatch app. The last way to update the library is to install another NAS package (for Synology only) names MinimServer Auto Restart that watches for changes and restarts the MinimServer app automatically. My library contains about 4500 albums. MinimServer must scan each album upon restart. This can take maybe fifteen minutes on my Synology DS1812+ NAS. Fortunately the Lumin app can still play music while MinimServer is restarting, but the new music won't be available until MinimServer has finished scanning and completed startup.
None of these issues are showstoppers for me. All three can be fixed or changed with software updates if Pixel Magic or Simon from MinimServer deem necessary.
The Pixel Magic Lumin network player is the most polished network player I've ever used. The sound quality is exquisitely analog much like spinning a vinyl album. Lush and vivid are terms that describe the sound of music streamed through the Lumin player. What makes this player so polished is the terrific design and implementation of its software. This is a DLNA renderer / DAC and that's all the device is designed to accomplish with its embedded Linux operating system. Playback of high resolution PCM and DSD files is a breeze. Gapless playback that eludes so many players in this category works flawlessly with the Lumin. The iPad control point application is intuitive and simply works every time. Lumin is the network player by which all others should be judged. A definite leader on the Computer Audiophile Suggested Hardware List .
- Source: 15" MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display, Aurender W20 Music Server, C.A.P.S. v3 Carbon Server with Red Wine Audio Black Lightening Battery Power Supply
- DAC: Auralic Vega, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2
- Preamp: Spectral Audio DMC-30SS Series 2
- Amplifier: Spectral Audio DMA-260
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: JRemote, Aurender App
- Remote Control Hardware: iPhone 5, iPad (3rd Generation)
- Playback Software Windows 8: J River Media Center 19
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): Synology DS1812+
- UPnP / DLNA Server Software: MinimServer
- Cables: MIT Matrix HD 60 Bi-Wire Loudspeaker Cable, MIT Oracle Matrix 50 Analog Interconnects (RCA), ALO Audio AC6 Power Cables, Wire World Silver Starlight USB Cable, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable
- Network: Cisco SG200-26 Switch, Baaske MI-1005 Ethernet Isolator, AudioQuest Diamond, Vodka, Cinnamon Ethernet Cables, Apple AirPort Extreme, PFSense Router / Firewall, Cisco DPC3000 Docsis 3.0 cable modem, Comcast Extreme 105 Mbps Internet Service