• The Computer Audiophile
    The Computer Audiophile

    Lumin Network Music Player Review

    thumb.jpgPixel Magic's Lumin network music player is really something special. The Lumin simply works great, sounds great, and looks great. Every audio component should at least fall into the "it works" category. Unfortunately when network audio is involved most players have issues. Some network players can't handle gapless playback, others can't handle DSD playback, yet others can't handle files with larger than average embedded album art. The list of issues or deficiencies of network audio players could literally go on for several pages. A search of the Computer Audiophile forum, Linn forum, PS Audio forum, or even Google should give readers an idea of the headaches many users go through with network based audio solutions. Contrary to popular belief the network and player setup part is relatively easy. The hard part is running into issues such as lack of gapless playback and being powerless to fix the issue. Sometimes it's a hardware issue that no amount of firmware updating can fix. Other times firmware can resolve the issue but may cause an unforeseen issue with another aspect of playback. Network audio users know exactly what I'm writing about, whether they want to admit it is another story altogether. The Lumin suffers from none of the common network audio player ills. I streamed high res, low res, medium res, sky-high res, you-name-it res to the Lumin over my network and it simply worked. Gapless DSD? Check. Gapless 24 bit / 192 kHz? Check. No hiccups? Check. Lumin is without a doubt the most polished DLNA network player I've used to date.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

     

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    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.

     

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    The Velvia of Digital Audio

     

     

    LUMIN-gallery-12.jpgListening 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

     

     

    app-icon-3.pngA 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 ex.png). 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.

     

    [ATTACH=CONFIG]7271[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7270[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7269[/ATTACH]

     

     

    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.

     

     

    Conclusion

     

     

    cash-logo-black-thumb.jpgThe 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 ex.png.

     

     

     

     

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    Lumin Image Gallery

     

    [ATTACH=CONFIG]7281[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7280[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7277[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7278[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7275[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7286[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7283[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7290[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7287[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7284[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7291[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7272[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7288[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7285[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7282[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7279[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7276[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7273[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7274[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]7289[/ATTACH]

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Product Information:

     

     

    • Product - Lumin network player
    • Price - $7,200
    • Product Page - Link
    • Where To Buy USA - Link ex.png (CA Sponsor)

     

     

     

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    Associated Music:

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    I think to be fair you also need to look at this in a system context. The Lumin is DLNA renderer, so will work fine with minimserver running on a NAS anywhere on your network. You therefore don't need to spend hundreds or even thousands of $ on a C.A.P.S type music server, (at least from the point of view of sound quality), so you can make serious savings on that side of your system.

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    mbain, I understand $7200 sounds a lot for a network player. But if you don't have other digital sources, the Lumin can replace your Bryston BDP-1 and ARC DAC 8 which I suspect were similarly priced. So while Lumin is also not a product for me, I can see how someone who is just looking to upgrade their CD player and want to get into computer audio might get the Lumin. I also think as douglas046 pointed out, dealer setup is an important part of the pricing. One of my local dealers really wanted to get into selling more computer audio products. He finds that if he doesn't set it up for his clients, the product return rates are high. But the prices of most lower end products are so low, the profit margin simply does not justify his time to setup the product. Also, most clients do not value the dealer setup because they think they use computers at work so they know how to set up a computer audio system at home. So he ends up primarily selling USB DACs and letting the clients set things up themselves.

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    ^well said :)

     

    ^ well said +3

     

    ridiculous as it sounds, manufacturers will build it and someone will buy it

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    Waiting on Chris to one day review one of these

     

    PIONEER ELITE N-30 NETWORKED AUDIO PLAYER $500.00 with Ethernet

    Marantz NA-7004 $800.00

    Yamaha NP-S2000: $900.00

    NAD Masters Series M50: $2,500

    Marantz Reference Series NA-11s1 (includes DAC) ; $3,500

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    Fortunately there are cheaper options in this wonderful hobby. I wouldn't look at a Lamborghini and say the auto hobby is nuts and I'm going to start biking :~)

     

    By biking do you mean bicycling or motorbiking? If its the quiet, self-propelled biking I suggest a recumbent. You may well find yourself spending more time getting healthy exercise because of the increased comfort and reduction of back, neck strain. Of course there's plenty of bicycle/recumbent geeks with their Garmin's, digital cameras, etc., but every hobby has those merging tech with simple pleasures.

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    By biking do you mean bicycling or motorbiking? If its the quiet, self-propelled biking I suggest a recumbent. You may well find yourself spending more time getting healthy exercise because of the increased comfort and reduction of back, neck strain. Of course there's plenty of bicycle/recumbent geeks with their Garmin's, digital cameras, etc., but every hobby has those merging tech with simple pleasures.

     

    Shame they didnt call it Linn and give Linn the royalties they deserve

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    There is nobody stopping someone paying 7K for a network player (The Linn included) that simply uses an open platform like UPnP.. that is the customers problem..

     

    I think Chris makes a very important point in his review. All this UPnP stuff should "just work". Gapless. Right out of the box. Is this worth 7K? Well someone (like me) who doesn't mind tinkering with a 1K Oppo and the like, well no. But to others?.. that is their decision. So long as the product does "just work" of course. So many claim they do.....then don't when the customer get's them home..

    Edited by wappinghigh
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    mbain, I understand $7200 sounds a lot for a network player. But if you don't have other digital sources, the Lumin can replace your Bryston BDP-1 and ARC DAC 8 which I suspect were similarly priced. So while Lumin is also not a product for me, I can see how someone who is just looking to upgrade their CD player and want to get into computer audio might get the Lumin. I also think as douglas046 pointed out, dealer setup is an important part of the pricing. One of my local dealers really wanted to get into selling more computer audio products. He finds that if he doesn't set it up for his clients, the product return rates are high. But the prices of most lower end products are so low, the profit margin simply does not justify his time to setup the product. Also, most clients do not value the dealer setup because they think they use computers at work so they know how to set up a computer audio system at home. So he ends up primarily selling USB DACs and letting the clients set things up themselves.

     

    The points you raise are well taken. Particularly the the notion of being able to replace the Bryston and DAC 8. However I think the main thrust of my post is being overlooked, most likely my fault. To clarify, let me site and example. Back in the day, my very first stereo consisted of AR4x speakers, a Scott receiver and a Dual turntable. Some time later this system was replaced by Quad ESL speakers and associated Quad electronics. The improvement in sound quality was several quantum leaps and was so easy to appreciate even a caveman could hear it. Since that time I have gone through several iterations of components, never again to notice a quantum leap in sound quality. The successor systems sounded different, yet not necessarily better to the extent of the AR/Quad leap. I suspect that the addition of the Lumin to my present system would result in a sound difference, yet I doubt I would experience a quantum leap improvement in sound quality. In my opinion, a $7200 investment should do just that.

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    ^ Agreed. Future improvements in the whole listening experience are indeed coming via a "streaming" format. But I believe this is *not* primarily (as often claimed) because of some magic in engineering. It is coming from an improvement in playback, library storage, software, versatility and the like. The "convenience factors" as I call them.. The factors that pull playback off a disc ..even an LP, and allow you to play the files around the house how and when you want using the convenience of something like an iphone.. The issue as you point out is, are these worth 7K in one particular player?..

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    Surely a great machine, no doubt. Too bad the apple only official app, one of the reasons a Linn was the streamer I got.

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    I do wonder if any one has tested Lumin vs the Meridian 818 V5, which is pretty good. Yes more expensive and one needs media core also....

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    The points you raise are well taken. Particularly the the notion of being able to replace the Bryston and DAC 8. However I think the main thrust of my post is being overlooked, most likely my fault. To clarify, let me site and example. Back in the day, my very first stereo consisted of AR4x speakers, a Scott receiver and a Dual turntable. Some time later this system was replaced by Quad ESL speakers and associated Quad electronics. The improvement in sound quality was several quantum leaps and was so easy to appreciate even a caveman could hear it. Since that time I have gone through several iterations of components, never again to notice a quantum leap in sound quality. The successor systems sounded different, yet not necessarily better to the extent of the AR/Quad leap. I suspect that the addition of the Lumin to my present system would result in a sound difference, yet I doubt I would experience a quantum leap improvement in sound quality. In my opinion, a $7200 investment should do just that.

     

    Well, yes b/c there is a very steep diminishing returns curve with audio. Once you have an "audiophile" level system (even an entry level audiophile system, let's say something that costs $1000-$2000) you generally have to spend an additional thousand or even thousands per component to significantly improve the sound. And those improvements are never going to be as big as going from a consumer or prosumer system to an audiophile one. One of the reasons hi-end equipment is so expensive and one of the reasons for "audiophillia nervosa" is that chase after the last 10%, the last 5%, and the last 1% of the never attained "perfect" sound.

     

    If you have a good $1K to $4K system, you may need to spend $5-$10K to feel you've made the next leap. If you have a very good pair of speakers and amp that costs that $10k, you may have to buy a replacement setup for $25-$40K to really feel like you've made a "quantum leap" again. So most of us mortals never make that leap, b/c we can't afford it. Just spending a "little" more doesn't get you there, even if it does get you a little closer.

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    Well, yes b/c there is a very steep diminishing returns curve with audio. Once you have an "audiophile" level system (even an entry level audiophile system, let's say something that costs $1000-$2000) you generally have to spend an additional thousand or even thousands per component to significantly improve the sound. And those improvements are never going to be as big as going from a consumer or prosumer system to an audiophile one. One of the reasons hi-end equipment is so expensive and one of the reasons for "audiophillia nervosa" is that chase after the last 10%, the last 5%, and the last 1% of the never attained "perfect" sound.

     

    If you have a good $1K to $4K system, you may need to spend $5-$10K to feel you've made the next leap. If you have a very good pair of speakers and amp that costs that $10k, you may have to buy a replacement setup for $25-$40K to really feel like you've made a "quantum leap" again. So most of us mortals never make that leap, b/c we can't afford it. Just spending a "little" more doesn't get you there, even if it does get you a little closer.

     

    Understood and that is precisely the problem with "high end" today...in my opinion.

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    Understood and that is precisely the problem with "high end" today...in my opinion.

     

    While I agree with you about the price (yet I understand the arguments that call it a value for the ease of use, built in DAC, linear power, etc), I think the inverse of you comment is wonderful news:

     

    The state of "high end" is that it takes a LOT of money to best very affordable and outstanding sounding systems. This is the wonderful part of your comment....music for the masses that is of tremendous quality.

     

    Best,

    John

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    Great review of the problems of network streaming players.

     

    As a reformed Linn DS user, you speak the truth. When things work, it is a great system. Things can get pretty frustrating, however.I remember why I keep a turntable around. It always works.

     

    Jeez, I must be in a real minority since I've never had any problems with network streaming players...I've been using Sonos since 2006 or so and it has worked fine for years, the PS Audio PWD worked with no hiccups (didn't do gapless, but that is a design flaw which PSA should have been upfront about, not a network issue), and I have never had one problem with either of my two Linn DS players - ADS/0 which I sold and now my KDS/1.

     

    Sure, there are folks on the Linn forums that can't figure out their network for some reason, but don't blame it on the DS -- if it gets the bits, it plays the hits!

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    ^ So Linn has patent's on UPnP??? What royalties?.. I thought UPnP/DLNA was an open platform..

     

    I think he is referring to how this is a Klimax DS clone in a lot of ways...doesn't sound as good, but it don't cost as much either!

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    I think he is referring to how this is a Klimax DS clone in a lot of ways...doesn't sound as good, but it don't cost as much either!
    .....just my 2-cents on the subject player...i have had mine for about 4-5 months. it replaced a PS Audio PWD MKII. to my ears..it is everything and more that is detailed in the review. it couldn't be more user friendly. i use 'MinimServer' through my imac and use 'Kinsky' as my ipad app to controll it. i have had no gliches with it and sonically it is superb.the '$7200' is a relative price. i was fortunate to buy it at a price less than the $7200 currently being quoted but given its

    superb design and workmanship and its great sound and the fact that it does 'DSD' makes it a no brainer even at its current price.Thanks for the great review of a truly great product..

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    From more research I have recently learned that the Lumin, even at its current factory MSRP or retail price definitively outperforms the Chord, the Weiss, dCS and even Esoteric. 6moons mentioned hands down that it blows away the famous $12K-$13K Esoteric K-03. That means the Lumin is a good value and an outstanding engineering achievement even at $7K.

     

    I follow the rule "if you don't listen you don't have an opinion"...

    Your "research" means nothing...imho.

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    ^ So Linn has patent's on UPnP??? What royalties?.. I thought UPnP/DLNA was an open platform..

     

    Linn developed "AV extensions" on top of the UPnP / DLNA, to deal with gapless...

    Not sure if this are protected by any copyright...

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    if it gets the bits, it plays the hits!

    The network configuration is an upfront "cost", but once done right it plays well forever.

    very happy user of a linn ds here.

     

    Linn is frequently listening for it's users and actively upgrading firmware frequently...and very easily done.

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    Chris, I especially enjoyed the the introduction of your review, talking about how things don't always work in network audio. The gotchas that exist in products from reputable companies are discouraging (I own one such product). Audiophiles are paying thousands of dollars for gear that, though it sounds great under many circumstances, has serious bugs -- and the manufacturers are dragging their feet about fixing them. So in my mind, this issue can't be emphasized too strongly.

     

    That's not to say your impressions of the Lumin's sound weren't also quite informative. If I were looking for a DAC and network player, I'd put it on top of my list.

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