Lumin sprung out of nowhere a couple of years ago. The Hong Kong-based brand was initially dismissed by the audio industry’s xenophobes as some kind of a rip-off of a well-known popular streamer from the UK that also begins with ‘L’. Then people started to hear Lumin products, and the xenophobes skulked off. In fact, Lumin has been one of those brands that has rarely – if ever – put a foot wrong, and has made some excellent sounding digital audio products. But even by its own exalted and exacting standards, the X1 is a little bit special.
OK, this is Lumin’s flagship music streamer, so ‘a bit special’ is expected. But the depth of ‘special’ can still take you by surprise. In fact, the rationale behind the X1 isn’t just “let’s make a big one!” Instead, Lumin looked to its already extremely popular S1 and A1 streamers and tried to work out how to make a better one. In the process, they looked at many of the rivals and sought to better those in the process. So it’s a real flagship and one that’s built like a battleship. First, it’s a phenomenally well-made box, or rather boxes... the separate power supply is smaller but no less substantial. The specs alone don’t tell you just how solid and well-built this hewn-from-solid pair of chunky slabs of black or silver aluminium feel in the flesh. There’s some sense of immediate tactile understanding of just how well-built these products are – something you don’t normally get from streaming devices, save for that handful of truly top-end models.
The player is built around twin ES9038Pro SABRE DACs with a claimed 140dB dynamic range. These are fed by an on-board Femto Clock System on an FPGA chipset. This digital nexus delivers up to DSD512 native and PCM768 playback at 32-bit resolution. The configuration of the X1 is about as dual mono as it’s possible to get without separate chassis and power supplies. It’s also fully balanced throughout.
And it’s here at that ‘fully balanced’ point that things become really interesting. To many audio companies, ‘fully balanced’ is more to do with a balanced circuit ending in XLR connectors. This notionally gives zero noise across long cable runs, but the difference between ‘domestic’ balanced and ‘pro’ is the use of balancing transformers in the signal path. These effectively nail the no-noise connection, and if you peel apart any recording studio, broadcast studio, or professional transportable studio or TV ‘OB’ (outside broadcast) unit, you’ll find balancing transformers throughout. This is probably a bit ‘belt and braces’ for home audio (you are unlikely to have to run 100m of XLR cable through a noisy environment) but it guarantees the optimum operating conditions for balanced connections.
The specification sheet of any Lumin product reads a little like a Who’s Who of digital audio formats. In fact, it’s easier to cite the formats and standards the X1 doesn’t cover rather than the ones it does. OK, so there are probably some relatively obscure formats that don’t make the cut – I can’t find Monkey’s Audio on the list, for example, but on the other hand, if it’s offered in any streamer from the halfway decent on up, the Lumin will support it. It’s more likely that Lumin does support Monkey’s Audio and I just can’t find it on a huge laundry list of supported formats. This means that the alphabet soup of streaming services are all supported, right up to and including MQA.