LUMIN D3 Networked Streamer Review
Michael Evans is beguiled by this svelte-looking, affordable network music player…
D3 Networked Audio Player
Hong Kong-based LUMIN Music has made an impressive name for itself over the past few years, with a formidable range of streamers that cover the high-end and middle sectors of the market. It's only eight or so years ago that Pixel Magic Systems – a company that specialises in the playback of UHD video files – decided to design its own specialist, DSD-capable audiophile product, and thus the company was born.
Warp back to the present, and LUMIN offers a welter of products, with range refreshes taking place regularly. The D3 is the latest addition to the network streamer range, replacing the highly regarded D2; it's the entry-level model in the company's main streaming line-up, said to bring audiophile streaming “within everyone's reach”. The D3 is more than just a quick makeover, though, as significant hardware improvements have been implemented, with upgrades to the main processor, DAC, analogue output stage, software and finish.
The headline news is LUMIN's latest central processor. This has not been carried over from its D2 predecessor but, instead, is entirely new – with the software it runs also being bespoke for this application. The processor boasts increased processing power and storage capacity, meaning that there is greater flexibility for resampling and future-proofing, the company says. The D3 provides upsampling and downsampling to every supported format up to 384kHz PCM and DSD256. As you would expect, it's TIDAL Connect and Airplay 2 compatible, as well as being Roon Ready; Spotify Connect, MQA, TIDAL, Qobuz, Plex and TuneIn functionality are offered.
The company is obviously a fan of ESS silicon, so this new model receives the ES 9028 Pro chipset, a DAC with a reputation for smooth but crisp sound. It drives a fully balanced analogue output stage with LUMIN's analogue buffer, including the company's X1 technology. This is said to be ultra-low noise and claimed to offer a wide dynamic range.
The new surface finish – taken from the company's high-end P1 network player – is exquisite. This, together with the thick CNC-machined aluminium front panel and enclosure, gives the unit the aura of a really expensive product; it's a world away from the usual brushed aluminium fascia fronting a pressed-steel chassis. This isn't just all show and no go, though, as it's less resonant than conventional hi-fi case designs, which, in turn, should reduce sound-degrading microphony.
Around the back of the handsome case is a cleanly laid-out rear panel – sporting the obligatory balanced XLR analogue outputs next to unbalanced RCA phono sockets. There's an earthed 75-ohm coaxial digital output, should you wish to use the D3 solely as a digital transport in conjunction with your own (presumably) high-end DAC. As per most high-end streamers, there is no Wi-Fi connectivity, with LUMIN's engineers concerned that this might compromise sound quality; this means the only network connectivity comes via an Ethernet socket. Finally, there is a USB port to connect a hard drive with external music and a standard IEC mains input with a master power switch.
The D3 is surely one of the most versatile streamers available. As previously mentioned, it supports practically every streaming format available and has an ace up its sleeve with the inclusion of Plex compatibility. For me personally, this is a deal maker as I love its functionality; I have all of my offline music stored on a Plex server, and such seamless integration is an absolute treat. Together with the hardware, the LUMIN app provides a welter of options that are continuously evolving. For example, the company says that in the past year, it has added Free Flac Lossless Radio Stations, Leedh Processing Balance Control (for ESS DAC models), improved Spotify Connect sound, an experimental 'Roon Only' mode, plus JPlay iOS app support and more.
The new D3 is a most impressive performer – especially considering its selling price - while boasting beautiful build quality and operational panache. Just as it doesn't look like an average streamer, it doesn't sound like one. It has an easy, smooth and open character, yet is a dynamic and grippy device too. There is none of the brightness or even harshness associated with some less expensive streamer designs, and nor does it sound bland, boring or opaque. The result is a product that doesn't draw attention to itself; the listener can just sit down and get into the music.
The key to its character is its tonal smoothness, allied to high levels of detail retrieval. Take the superbly recorded and produced Poison Arrow by ABC, for example, a great early nineteen eighties Trevor Horn production. This can sound thin on average streamers and lack the vibrancy that's so obvious on the original vinyl LP. Yet the LUMIN happily showcased the excellent recording quality and made the music come alive. I've heard this track sound decidedly below par if the source component is lacking, but not in this case. Likewise, the single that Horn made after the ABC album, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes, really stood out for its impressive dynamics.
Staying with well-recorded eighties tracks and Grace Jones's masterly cover of Chrissie Hynde's Private Life proved a great litmus test for the D3. It's a beautiful slice of light reggae with gorgeous rhythmic backing supplied by Sly and Robbie, and if a streamer fails to engage the listener here then it is game over! The D3 didn't have this problem, however, and instead conveyed the track's sinewy bass line brilliantly. At the same time, the percussion and rhythm guitar work came across as being perfectly syncopated. The dynamic speed and presentation of the weight that the kettle drum was being struck showed how faithful this streamer was to the original recording.
The modern pop of The Last Dinner Party's Nothing Matters was also impressively carried. This is a denser, more compressed mix than the aforementioned eighties classics and sounds a bit more claustrophobic due to more processing. All the same, the LUMIN was able to set up a spacious recorded acoustic that placed the various elements of the mix very accurately. Soundstaging was impressively wide and vocals sat rock-solid in the mix, sounding vibrant and strong. With the D3 being so neutral, relatively speaking, there is no sense of harshness, but nor is bass particularly strong sounding. This means that the unit will work across a wide range of music types, showing no fear or favour. I enjoyed everything from the sumptuous early seventies jazz funk of Donald Byrd's Streetlady to the dreamy late nineties indie rock of Mercury Rev's Holes.
Don't be fooled by the LUMIN's minimalist exterior – its appearance is completely at odds with its great depth of functionality. Sonically, the new D3 is a winner, too – with a crisp, smooth and open sound that doesn't privilege one type of music over another. It's not perfect, of course, and the company's more expensive products better it in terms of outright sound quality, but it is still extremely competitive in its class. Better still, should you so wish, you can feed its digital output to a high-end DAC and further improve the sound.
All the same, the LUMIN faces stiff competition from the likes of Auralic's classy G1.1 and Naim Audio's Unity Atom Headphone Edition, for example. There's also the Melco option, should you already have a capable digital-to-analogue converter. Then, last but not least, there are more budget designs such as the excellent Cambridge Audio CXN v2 which aren't close in terms of build quality but still perform surprisingly well. Yet despite all the above, the new D3 remains a highly desirable thing – it feels like an authentic slice of affordable esoterica rather than a tarted-up cheaper design. As such, it comes highly recommended.
A music junkie who served his apprenticeship in UK hi-fi retail in the 1990s, Mike loves the simplicity of analogue and the complexity of digital. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject, he’s been on a life-long quest for great sound at a sensible price – and is still loving the journey…
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