It’s one thing to find a great sounding stereo component but it’s another to build a complete system that makes the most if it.
In the first few months of this year we have brought you a wonderful range of new loudspeakers called Lumina from our favourite Italians – Sonus faber. And now you can also learn about a fantastic family of new network music players from Lumin, based in Hong Kong. Finally we can show you how to combine the two into a brilliant system.
First up, the new Sonus fabers. We’ve published two reviews – one of the smaller and remarkably affordable Lumina I’s which are a continuation of the classic Sonus faber ethos. Yet it’s the floor standing Lumina III which is the real surprise – these are quite unique in the Sonus faber range and break new ground in terms of the style of sound. I’ve found a lot to like with them both – there’s some fresh thinking from Sonus faber and the designs are both aesthetically and sonically appealing on many levels.
Lumin Network players
Lumin do for digital what Sonus faber do for speakers – design and build components that stand above both the mass and specialist audio markets. The reviews for all the Lumin products are stellar. But there’s a world of difference between reading about and actually listening to a new brand. What we have heard is utterly compelling.
It’s not often we’ve been this impressed with new components but Lumin really is next level and opens up a whole new set of possibilities for you.
The whole concept of streaming can take a little bit to get your head around and we’ve intentionally held off from many other components as we were unconvinced by the sound quality, the complication and compromise that we saw. Lumin solves all these issues.
The Lumins are best described as Network Players. That is they play either music you have stored or access music via streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz and Spotify (which will soon be offering a high resolution option). And AirPlay is in the game as well.
A hugely important part of the experience, the free Lumin App is their vision of how to make music browsing and playback intuitive, visual, and tactile. So there are no front panel controls on the Lumins and only a simple display.
What really counts is on the inside – and the sound that comes out. There is a huge amount going on with both the internal workings and the resulting sound and the Lumin site is as good as it gets when it comes to explaining this with comprehensive, easy to understand descriptions and more reviews than any brand I’ve seen – everyone just loves what they hear.
What I can tell you is that Lumin works beautifully with the systems we’re putting together. And is producing a level of sound quality that easily beats anything we’ve been able to do before.
There’s an obvious comparison with NuPrime. But they are quite distinct in what they do and, if anything, are complimentary.
For anyone with a NuPrime DAC, IDA-16 or IDA-8, (or other quality DAC) there’s a Lumin component that’s going to transform your listening experience – the U1 Mini Network Transport (NZ$4000). There’s no obsolescence – the U1 Mini brings you into the world of streaming and the Lumin sound will make your entire system light up.
This is very much the traditional way to build up a high performance system. One piece at a time, carefully chosen. And it often works. Adding the Lumin U1 Mini to your present DAC is a very safe way to get into high performance streaming. It will also take you places you may not have expected. The better the quality of your present DAC, the greater the improvement you’ll experience with the U1 Mini.
Our own experience with the U1 Mini has been revelatory. We’ve documented our findings with many other brands of components and cables over the years and while we often found worthwhile improvements in performance it’s seldom that they are of either the magnitude or consistency that the U1 Mini has delivered.
In simple terms it sounds much better and does so across every type of music we’ve listened to.
What are we actually listening to? As someone with a large existing music collection – vinyl, CD’s and downloads, I’ve often questioned the logic behind streaming services. Lumin has changed this for us.
Tidal and Qobuz solve the quality issue – both offer CD or better quality, and between the two – Tidal being US based, and Qobuz having a more European focus, there is no need to consider either digitising LPs or ripping CDs as almost all titles you could ever want to listen to will be there. Or soon will be.
Spotify have also announced they will soon upgrade the quality of their service. Being a long time Mac user, AirPlay was the first way we used the Lumin. The results from this were the best I’ve heard, but it’s also become obvious that there are some limitations – while it’s excellent to get you up and running and also as a fallback option if there are any network or access issues, the step up in quality with either Tidal or Qobuz is obvious.
Tune In provides the best quality internet radio you’ll ever hear and is part of the Lumin app. It’s free and covers both New Zealand and the world.
We have retained our Nativ Vita touchscreen server as I do have a library of niche and high resolution music on its internal SSD. The Lumin seamlessly accesses everything on it via our network and it’s immediately obvious that anything we play has a lot more going on than when we had the Vita connected directly to the DAC. You can just as easily connect a SSD via USB into the back of the U1 Mini or access anything on your computer via your home network.
Initially I thought the U1 Mini was just the same as the D2 but without an internal DAC section. Same box, similar connections, same price. A classic rookie mistake. The U1 Mini is essentially the best bits of the NZ$11,000 U1 Reference series transport with an internal power supply (the U1 is a two box unit with an external power supply). Which is in turn derived directly from the flagship model S1. Again, read the reviews – there’s a pedigree here that stands above anything else we’ve dealt with before.
So what’s the difference between a network transport like the U1 Mini and a network player – the D2, T2 or X1?. It’s simply all in the DAC – the transport doesn’t have one so has to go into a digital input (the U1 mini puts out USB, Optical Coax, BNC and AES-EBU) but the Network Players have a hierarchy of ever more sophisticated internal DACs, and have both analogue and digital outputs.
These three Lumin models that include formidable DAC sections also have a very high quality volume control system and both fully balanced and more conventional RCA outputs. These are the best options for new systems, especially if you keep things simple and connect directly to a power amplifier (or two).
The Lumin D2 (NZ$4000) does for digital what the Well Tempered Simplex 2 does for analogue – and then some. With the D2 you can build a stunningly simple and high performing system that gives you access to more music to enjoy than you could ever imagine.
The Lumin T2 at NZ$8,000 gives more than a taste of the X1’s performance and build quality. The T2 hits the sweet spot for many of you. Well above entry level and perfect for matching with better quality amplifiers and speakers.
All you need is the Lumin Network player, a power amplifier, a pair of speakers and the few cables to connect them.
Making the most of Lumin.
What better amplifier to make the most of any of the Lumin options than the NuPrime AMG STA?
We have already explored the new AMG models in depth and the feedback from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. Add to this the two reviews by Christiaan Punter at HFA and you have a compelling case for this new amplifier. Here’s his conclusion.
“The AMG-PRA + AMG-STA form a beautiful combo, not only visually, but also in terms of sonic synergy, the preamp’s robust and full sound perfectly complimenting the power amp’s slightly leaner balance. The combined result is a musically always engaging sound that is solid and full-bodied, smooth and refined yet highly detailed and transparent, with perfect pacing, and great dynamics. Honestly, at 3200 euro, I haven’t heard a better amplifier, either integrated or separates.
As great as the combo is, the AMG-STA power amplifier really is the star of the show. On its own, it is capable of performing on a level that is well and truly beyond what might be expected from an amplifier at its price point. To be more precise: if the preamp already performs at a level that belies its price sticker, the power amp steals the show as it has the ability to perform on the level of amplifiers that typically cost multiples of its modest 1.595-Euro price. I am not kidding!
Combine the AMG-STA with a great volume-controlled DAC and you’ll have a nearly unbeatable system. Between single and dual amps, if ever there was a no-brainer decision, this is it. The pair simply raises the performance in each and every audiophile parameter, without harming the emotional involvement.“
I’ve highlighted the key sentence for you. The Lumin’s are great volume controlled DACs but there are even more reasons to select the AMG STA.
The Lumin network players are all full balanced designs and it’s strongly recommended you use this connection with them. The STA has it.
The AMG STA also has a far higher input impedance that almost all other power amplifiers – 1M(illion) Ohms, matched only by their flagship Evolution One Mono power amps – this is optimal for the Lumins.
The sound of bridged mono AMG STAs is better in every way than a single unit. As a combination with any to the Lumin models you’ll gain performance that’s directly comparable to insanely expensive systems.
The expressive nature of the Sonus faber speakers allow the Lumin/NuPrime combination to really shine. From the new Lumina I bookshelf and III floor standing speakers, through the Sonetto, Olympica Nova and Heritage ranges we’ve put together some magnificent systems that reflect the tastes and individuality of their owners.
The final link in this story are the KLEI cables. As a client recently wrote to us “Thanks again for sending up the KLEI cable. I tried my best to convince myself it was no better than my existing Wireworld Eclipse RCA cable but failed miserably. This KLEI is incredible. Seems to have all the space, depth and soundstage of a good Nordost cable while keeping the rich, musical tone and flow of Wireworld. They are genuinely astonishing. I think if more people knew about KLEI products and how they sound, they’d be banging down your door. I’d never heard of KLEI until I came across your website but they beat every other cable I’ve heard, at home or in shops, in my mere mortal price range at least.” Karel.
In the system options that we have outlined to you, there are 3 connections that will take the performance to the next level – the interconnect between the Lumin and NuPrime, speaker cables to your speakers and last but definitely not least, the mains cables.
That said, because all the actual components involved have significant warm up periods – a good 300 hours at least you may wish to start with entry level cables. It also takes a while to adjust to a new level of sound quality, deal with the operational learning curve of the Lumin App and get speaker positioning right. Over this time, the standard power cables provided with the Lumin and NuPrime will be fine. And our entry level Kimber cables rank highly in anyone’s estimation.
But when you are ready, the KLEI options will have the same transformative effect of any of the component choices. The AC mains cables are where you’d get the most immediate and cost effective performance gains and you have four choices from around $600. We’re more than happy for you to try any of these out for your self before making a commitment.
The KLEI interconnects – both analogue for the network players and digital for the U1 Mini are the next port of call. The KLEI QFlow7 balanced analogue interconnect is about as good as it gets in this setting. Then consider the speaker cables.
Hearing for yourself.
We presently have two full Lumin based systems here are ready for you to listen to. If you are one of our out of town clients we’re happy to organise a home trial – this effectively how we came to really appreciate Lumin, the NuPrime AMGs and KLEI cables ourselves. Now we can share the experience with you.