Network error. It's what your display will say once its confident turquoise 'Lumin' extinguishes. That's because just powering up the X1 is insufficient. As a network DAC, it needs network access. You still need to connect a CAT5 or optical fibre cable. Unlike our Soundaware D300REF which will stream SD/USB media all day long without, the X1 needs its tablet controller – in this case, Li On's hardwired iPad. Swapping an SD card from D300REF to X1 via USB/SD adapter, then launching Lumin's app and opening its USB Server, I enjoyed instant access to the card's contents with full cover art. I could create playlists, turn off the X1's display (there are off, dim, normal and bright modes), set custom up/resampling modes for each sample rate including PCM–>DSD conversion and much more.
In this iPad screen overlay, we see both cover art of the playing album and behind it, the Lumin app's custom sampling options. The small chassis display was set to bright.
To stream our iTunes library on the iMac's 3TB FusionDrive to the Lumin, I went to UPnP in Audirvana 3.0.8's Audio System window and selected the X1 just as I would a standard USB DAC in its particular window. Nothing else was required. MinimServer remained undownloaded stranger. Roon stayed elsewhere. Endless file scanning was MIA. Audirvana's 'extreme' optimizations and sample options were in usual effect. In the below example, this shows a standard 16/44.1 file arrive as already 24-bit/352.8kHz at the Lumin whose display also showed proper associated meta data. In short, I could use the iMac's enormous Retina screen as I always do with our USB DACs. I could navigate our library or stream Tidal or Qobuz (which of course are embedded in Lumin's app, too). Now the iPad could retire unless I wanted to change certain Lumin settings; or just set it to display big cover art. The 'steering' of what tunes to play when happened inside iTunes as overridden by Audirvana. Yet the X1's display responded immediately to the meta data of any new track.
My first iTunes hookup used the new-for-this-review 1-in/4-out tp-link network switch aka RJ45 outlet multiplier like a star ground. In went the 30-metre CAT5 stretch from our tp-link router in the utility closet. Out went three short spurs to the iMac, X1 and iPad respectively. Presto, everything was on the same network. This worked without hiccups. But it clearly didn't sound as good yet as having the X1 stream straight off SD card (my stand-in for NAS media). That's likely because not just player commands but actual audio traveled through our generic €25 network switch. Audiophiles demonize computers as not being made for audio. Shouldn't they voice equal horrors over consumer-grade routers and network switches with their noisy wall warts? Time for a rewire. Enter the X1's special network input. Now our best CAT7 link with Telegärtner plugs connected iMac to the X1's RJ45 port direct. The X1 met the switch via Li On's extra tp-link Ethernet media converter through its optical port. The iPad's CAT5 connection to our network switch remained untouched. The result of this rewire? Audio data now traveled straight down the CAT7 pipe to bypass our cheap switch altogether. Only player control instructions went through it. Meanwhile the switch's wide-open back door to the Wicked Wild West of the global Internet ran into effective optical isolation at the Media Converter's fibre output. Electrical grunge from cheap network appliances never mixed with any precious audio data. And that really did sound better!
Not part of the stock Lumin X1 package.
Having ascertained that everything worked flawlessly; that Lumin's app was as intuitive, sorted and comprehensive as its reputation… I had to create appropriate comparative context. For that I wanted to eliminate the iMac from the equation. After all, the vast majority of prospective X1 owners will use network-attached storage by way of external HDD/SSD. Because we don't usually network music, that had to mean pure SD card mode. Assembling in the corner opposite the X1 would thus be our Soundaware D300REF leashed AES/EBU to Kinki Studio's Vision DAC-1. It and X1 would alternate XLR interconnects on Nagra's Classic Preamp. That fed FirstWatt SIT-1 monos and Zu's Submission sub. Loudspeaking referees were Cube Audio's astonishing point-source Nenuphar. We'd listen to them ever since their review. Our household had grown very familiar and fond. Their extended loan meant that we'd become inseparable. On raw resolution, presence, speed and immediacy, they're the next step up from our Audio Physic Codex. On bandwidth, they're very close. Hence they aren't just pleasure machines or representatives of an extremely niche genre. They're eagle-eyed sonic inspectors. Their magnification powers enlarge small differences. With modern digital, small tends to be the order of the day. Sharper glasses win.
On the X1, I had already explored DSD resampling both via speakers and HifiMan HE-1000 headphones. As it had earlier with different gear, DSD again presented as sweeter, slower, softer, less open in the treble and spatially enhanced if minorly fuzzy. My default allegiance remained with PCM. Just so, 'hot' recordings were nicely tamed by resampling. For the review's A/B chapter, I would simply set Lumin's custom sampler to 'off' and run all files natively. Exploring flavourings with digital filters and declaring favourites is for actual owners. "The X1 plays up to 32-bit 768kHz PCM and DSD512 at 22.5MHz. For now there is almost no real content at such high sample rates so the feature is still mostly a paper spec. However, some like to upsample in player software like Audirvana or Roon. After searching the Internet, I found at least one music file for each of those high sample rates. These two highest-rate files should play fine via an external server like Audirvana or MinimServer. With directly attached USB storage, there could be some stutter. We just released an X1 firmware update. The Lumin app will automatically prompt the update. This has some minor bug fixes and system optimization. After the update, you might try 768kHz and DSD512 playback." I didn't. I think that the pursuit of such high sample rates, their concomitant file sizes and download speeds, sends entirely the wrong message. And what's reasonable about so-so music at ultra-high resolution? Can one polish a turd? But those who view recordings above 24/96 as relevant now know that the X1 anticipates their ultra-rate future and is ready for it; today.
Incidentally, I feel the same about MQA. Until mastering studios give up on dynamic compression and stop overproducing, optional post treatments on the consumer or mastering end matter little. Try Tony Minassian's Drums & Bell. With 50dB of recorded dynamic range, this CD is proof positive that standard 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution can be vastly superior to so-called hi-rez files. It's perfectly sufficient. It just needs to be exploited properly before the industry at large calls out for a replacement. If one hasn't mastered the basic tools, what good are more advanced ones? It's not the superior camera that takes the better pictures. It's the creativity and imaginative vision of the photographer which captures the superior shots even on an iPhone. But here too the X1 plays it pragmatic. Whether MQA remains a fashion fad or enjoys mass adoption, this deck already has it.
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