But step away from the comparison and focus on the X1 instead. It has a sense of absolute confidence in its own performance that is typically the domain of the best in analogue. There’s a sense of order to the sound; it toes the right balance between expressive and exuberant, and authoritative and dour. It’s not mercilessly honest and doesn’t leave less than ideal recordings brutally exposed, but it is precise and detailed enough to highlight their iniquities. The control of the sound isn’t so overpowering as to make the X1 seem oppressive, and yet isn’t so loose or ill-timed as to make it wayward. It just portrays the music more honestly than most.
This is best expressed in its handling of dynamic range, which is little short of superb. Not only in the big expressive swings of a Mahler symphony but in those quiet microdynamic interplays between musicians and the band that audiophiles love so much. It’s perhaps why so much jazz is played in audio shows, but that sound of a group playing in total harmony with one another and perfect lock-step is what the Lumin X1 does best to resolve. Once again, that’s more of a function of good analogue than digital audio and the X1 is getting so much right here it’s hard to focus on writing a review. I just want to run back and play one more track.
There’s a sense of true dimensionality to the soundstage, a more dynamic presentation than is usually associated with streaming, and couple that with lots of mid-band detail, which nonetheless retains a sense of natural refinement and ease over the long-term. The excellent midrange clarity and detail quickly register as significant aspects in the performance of the X1 too. It sort of does everything right here, with few, if any, sonic downsides.
I’ve often noticed in myself that the very best products often get little in the way of musical highlights. I don’t tend to discuss the recording or the artiste too much. In part because in the rare best of them, discussing such a thing almost places limits on the product. Such is the case here.
Perhaps the best description of what the X1 does so well is a non-verbal one. A member of the audio world (who would wish to remain nameless) came round to my place to talk about reviews. He expressed an interest in and then heard the X1. We played ‘The New Cobweb Summer’ from Lambchop’s Is A Woman album [Merge]. There was a brief silence after the track finished, followed by a sharp intake of breath, a shake of the head, and an expression of concern for people he knows who sell one of those well-known rivals. Another track was played – something from Radiohead’s In Rainbows[XL] if memory serves, followed by yet more silence, then the sound of some air being sucked over teeth, and finally, “That is the best I have ever heard that sound on anything!” Followed by the inevitable stream of swearing as it dawned on him just how much he’s going to have to spend on a streamer soon.
Here’s the thing. When a reviewer gets a product for review, we’re often on our own on this. We need to delve into its network secrets and installation tips, which in the most extreme cases ends with the reviewer being a beta tester. The really good streamers take a step above this, but it’s still the person who hands the whole installation over to a third party who gets the best from a product like the X1. Not someone who has to detox his iPad to get all the control point apps out of its system, someone for whom this is their music system, pre-installed almost to a turn-key level, by an expert installer. They just listen to music. And it’s those people who get the absolute best from the Lumin X1. When perfectly installed with all the right ducks in a row, it’s completely fantastic. A reviewer will often get to completely fantastic through the medium of several days of ripping apart a network to build a network, and that can make us jaded. But if after that process, you are met with the kind of operation and sound the X1 can deliver, you know you are onto something good.
The X1 nailed every aspect of musical performance I look for in a recording; soundstaging, musical coherence, dynamic range, detail, vocal articulation, the solidity of the image... you name it, the Lumin did it and did it well. I could swap from light breathy songstress to heavy opera and nothing whatsoever phased it, when suitably set up.