Lumin X1: Enabling an Even Simpler Yet Better Sounding System

tmallin

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Yes, the Lumin App provides a 1 to 100 range. At 5 it is whisper quiet, audible basically only in the room or just outside it with the door open. With extremely uncompressed quiet signals, I've occasionally needed 100 to get it really loud. On most material, about 64 will give me 83 - 85 dB at the listening seat, C-weighted slow on the Audio Tools app on my iPhone. On most material, somewhere between 72 and 82 is as loud as I'd ever want to listen. So, yes, there is a lot of granularity to the volume control and with the new Leedh DSP this is the cat's meow in terms of not losing any detail at lower volume settings and in all other ways of judging the sonic quality of a volume control. The Lumin control was already better sounding than the Benchmark HPA/LA4 (the prior champion in my experience) before Leedh and now it's even better.
 

tmallin

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I recently discovered how to properly set the MQA settings for my system when using Roon with the Lumin X1. Perhaps this is well known to others, but it seemed "hidden" to me. This configuration applies when the Lumin is outputting a digital signal to an external DAC, as is the case with my current system configuration where my Dutch & Dutch 8c speakers contain the DACs and those DACs do not have MQA capabilities of their own. This means that only the MQA Core Decoder will be active and only the first unfolding is done. However, many commentators suggest that this first unfolding yields 90% of all the benefit of MQA.

Thus, what I've found out is that Room MQA Core decoding should be turned on, the Lumin MQA setting should be Digital Out, and Roon's Device Set Up for the Lumin should be set to Renderer Only. These are not the default settings, by the way. These settings are stated to be correct by Peter Lie, Firmware Lead of Lumin Network Music players in this thread.

I have found that setting things this way does in fact make MQA recordings sound better yet. I now understand more than every why some folks prefer Tidal's MQA versions to the Hi-Res PCM versions on Qobuz. There is a natural ease and clarity to the MQA that is hard to argue with.

Now, I could do full MQA decoding and unfolding by taking the analog signal out of the Lumin X1's balanced analog outputs and feeding the D&D speakers balanced analog audio. To do so, however, would interject a non-MQA A/D and D/A conversion into the signal path. As I understand MQA protocols, the result would no longer meet MQA protocols since the D&D A/D and D/A processes are not MQA devices and the redundant A/D and D/A conversions render the prior MQA decoding somewhat contaminated or time smeared.
 

tmallin

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For classical music fans looking for the best sounding classical internet radio stations, the amount of compression the station applies is very important. Many times the amount of compression a given station is applying makes all the difference, far more difference than the actual bit rate of the stream. You can recognize the really "high fidelity" stations by how quiet they sound compared to most others. You want the least compression and therefore the "quietest" stations.

Most recordings, even classical music recordings, have considerable compression applied to the signal during the recording process. To hear the most lifelike sound, you certainly don't want the station applying a lot of additional compression. However, in my experience, one of the ways most internet radio stations, even those specializing in classical music, process their signal is to add extra compression. This is immediately obvious when comparing the sound of a particular recording playing on an internet radio station with the CD version of that program played from Qobuz or Tidal.

Here are a few classical stations I've found to have exceptional sound quality in terms of lack of compression. The sound quality of these stations is exceptional as internet radio stations go despite the fact that none of these send out a signal at a bit rate of more than 128 kbps:

1. New York's WQXR has a very nice-sounding signal, and plays a wide musical variety, not concentrating too much on classical "war horses." It is one of the very "quietest" signals out there in internet radio land. That means it is uncompressed. It would sound even better if they boosted the resolution up from MP-3 128 kbps.

2. The two Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) classical stations Classic and Classic 2. The ABC Jazz channel shares this low compression/quality sound characteristic. Unfortunately, the bitrate of all three is down around 64 kbps. They still sound quite nice, considering.

3. BBC Radio 3 (AirPlay from the BBC Sounds app is the best-sounding BBC Radio 3 stream available outside Britain)

4. WILL (an NPR station out of Champaign/Urbana Illinois, home of my undergrad Alma Mater, University of Illinois). When playing NPR material, it's frequently shocking how much quieter and better WILL sounds than the same program being simulcast on other NPR internet radio stations. The average SPL difference frequently exceeds 15 dB.
 

tmallin

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How does one find MQA recordings, assuming you like what you hear from them compared to Hi-Res versions on Qobuz? Currently, the only major source is the Tidal streaming service. The narrowest but easiest method is: in Tidal or Roon, click on the tab that says "Masters."

You will get many more results if, also, in Roon settings, General, Customize Album Display, you select all the badges you want, including MQA. The MQA badge looks like a waveform with a horizontal-ish line through it. That's a much more comprehensive MQA identification than Masters. This badge business is one of my exceptions to my general rule of turning off all the functions in Roon that you don't need. I need, or at least want, to see these badges.

Finally, in Roon, whenever you choose an album to listen to, click on the Versions tab (the other tabs are Tracks and Credits) check the Tidal versions for an MQA version. The bitrate varies widely and sometimes there are multiple MQA versions, just like in Qobuz there are multiple Hi-Res versions.
 
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chungjh

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When I use Lumin X1 to hear Diana Krall, I get a fair amount of sibilance. The same album on vinyl has much less. Peter at Lumin suggested that I use the Low Analog Output option. Tried it, but it only seems to have decreased the volume and resolution. Any suggestions?
 

tmallin

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It seems obvious to me that the frequency response of the vinyl will not be the same as any digital version. The response of the LP may have had equalization built in which is not present in the CD or other digital versions. No phono cartridge is anywhere near as flat in response as even the cheapest digital playback. This alone could well account for the differences you hear.

If you want to decrease the sibilance you hear via the Lumin X1, you could try some equalization of the program via Roon.
 

tmallin

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I would say that most internet radio stations played via Roon's Live Radio function sound a bit different from and a bit better than playing from the station's native stream. Roon automatically upsamples internet radio stations from the usual 16 bit stream to 24 bits. Roon used to also automatically change 44.1 kHz to 48 kHz, but the newest versions of hte program no longer do that. To my ears, the net change in sound, for low-bit-rate internet radio sources like these, is positive. The tonality is shifted just a bit to the brighter side (not so much as it was before when Roon was automatically changing all 44.1 radio streams to 48 kHz) and the space is considerably more open sounding.

To my ears, the increased openness trumps the slightly brightened tonality for low-bit-rate internet radio signals like these. You may disagree, but I think most people would hear the difference, at least on a decent audio system. On my system I have the ability to hear the native streams either through the Lumin app's radio function or via AirPlay from my iPad. Thus it's easy to switch back and forth and compare the sound of Roon's Live Radio version with the native version.

I say that I think the Roon version sounds better but that others may disagree. I was expressing a preference for the difference I hear, that's all, and clueing others in to the possibility that different streaming platforms may offer different "flavors" of the sound of low-bit-rate internet radio stations. Yes, I said I thought the Roon version sounded "better" to me, but I was not being doctrinaire about it, pointed out the pluses and minuses of the Roon version, and said others might disagree.

To the extent that you think the differences I claim to hear are not there, that's simple enough for anyone to test and I described how I test this.

When one compares the CD quality version of a program (from Tidal or Qobuz) with the internet radio version (again, this is often fairly easy to do quickly via Roon as I've described before on this forum) one of the usual differences one hears is that the CD version sounds more "open," as in more three dimensional and in a seemingly larger-in-all-dimensions space. My reasoning for calling the sound I hear "better" is that the Roon version moves the openness of what one hears from the internet radio version toward the same openness one hears from a CD quality version of the same program.

Most internet radio stations do not stream lossless CD quality sound. Only a few internet radio stations stream FLAC, which is a lossless codec. Most all internet radio stations stream lossy codecs such as AAC and MP3, with a bit rate maximum of about 320 kbps (which is also the bitrate of the high quality Spotify service).

Most internet radio station streams are more lossy than that. The ABC Australian streams mentioned above are AAC 64 kbps. They still sound very good, compared to most other streams of that bit rate.

Clearly, information is being lost/discarded in most internet radio streams so there is no reason to think that the internet radio stream will sound like a FLAC stream from Qobuz or Tidal (much less the MQA or Hi-Res program versions from those services). This is apart from any equalization or compression scheme the particular station may apply to its signal.
 

chungjh

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Oct 2, 2019
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Roon is an interesting idea. I prefer the Roon interface over Lumin. I guess it is time to consider purchasing a Nucleus.

Doesn't going through the equalization program decrease resolution?
 

tmallin

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Some people who are anti-equalization will say this sort of thing. Of course the sound will change and reducing the treble in some frequency band may well create the impression of decreasing resolution, but that resolution is being hyped by too much treble if you are hearing excess sibilance. The change in frequency response is what you hear most easily. Some people may object to losing "resolution," but if you object to too much sibilance, I suggest you try the EQ solution.
 

tmallin

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Those of you who already have Lumin players may already have discovered firmware update 14.0a. It is currently available for the higher-priced Lumin players like my X1 but will be rolled out to all the players soon.

I'm not so interested in the newly available Tidal Connect feature which this makes available. I use the Tidal app on my iPad and in Lumin. Most all who have tried Tidal Connect agree that the Tidal app sounds better.

What is interesting is that something about this firmware change seems to again improve the sound quality of everything one streams through the Lumin App, from your own local music file library, Tidal, Qobuz, and even (and maybe particularly) low-resolution internet radio stations. The sound is yet clearer and smoother in the highs, yet less "digital" sounding, more natural or analog sounding. It sounds like yet another layer of sonic crud has been scrubbed away. There is even less "fuzz" around notes and the sonic background is yet blacker.

The sonic differences between streaming via the Lumin App and via Roon are now more pronounced. Sure, Roon's vastly superior GUI is still a huge advantage, but the sonics are now yet more clearly in favor of the Lumin App.

There is a glitch in 14.0a which prevents playing some internet radio stations. I informed Lumin about this and hopefully a fix will be forthcoming soon. Lumin has always been extremely responsive to users' needs and input as to problems, both in terms of the speed and quality of the fixes the company implements.

Lumin user comments about the new 14.0a firmware can be found over on the AudioShark Lumin forum here: https://www.audioshark.org/lumin-169/lumin-firmware-14-a-20064.html
 

FDPDK

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May 15, 2021
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tmallin , i completely agree with you about the sound quality that has been improved after the new firmware update and it was not a small difference. So i can only say i enjoy my Lumin X1 even more. I really find Lumin to be a big advantage in how they work and listen to people and try to improve the players performance and usability .
 

AMR / iFi audio

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What is interesting is that something about this firmware change seems to again improve the sound quality of everything one streams through the Lumin App, from your own local music file library, Tidal, Qobuz
This, indeed, is a very good move. Streaming services are still on a rise and in order to gain some market share, audio manufacturers need to recognize and follow the trend as much as they can. In my opinion, more and more updates will have a similar nature to the one given here.
 

tmallin

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There are now quite a few CD-quality-or-better internet radio stations, a few specializing in classical music, a few in jazz, and the rest pop/rock/other. A pretty good list is at https://www.hiresaudio.online/cd-quality-internet-radio/

Lumin just released a beta version of its app which automatically adds 40+ such stations to your internet radio channels. See https://www.audioshark.org/lumin-169/radio-paradise-flac-streaming-18538-post-336070.html#post336070 I downloaded that to my Lumin X1 this morning and it works fine.

Most of the channels listed at the first link above can also be added manually one at a time to your list of My Live Radio channels in Roon. Just click on the station link in the left column of the station list. Then find the link to that station's FLAC stream, copy it, and then paste it into the station URL box for manually adding stations to My Live Radio channels in Roon. This works fine as well.

A few of these channels seem to be higher than CD quality, sometimes 48 kHz and a few are 96/24 signals.

All these stations can be accessed without subscribing to Tidal or Qobuz. They are just higher-resolution versions of internet radio streams that mostly also exist in lower-quality streaming versions.
 
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AMR / iFi audio

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tmallin

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A word of caution: Just because stations send out signals in CD or better quality does not mean that they will sound identical or even similar to the disc or music file from which the program is derived when the disc or file is played from a local source on your own system at home.

For whatever reason, most internet radio stations, even those of FLAC quality, insist on processing the signal of the disc in various ways, including, most noticeably, compression and equalization. Dynamic range compression is the easiest thing to notice. Why this is done when most of the program material on most CDs, especially of non-classical material, is already considerably compressed, is unclear. Maybe there is a "loudness war" going on in internet radio streaming as there long has been on FM broadcasting.

Among the 40+ stations in the list I linked to, you need only listen to random samplings to see how much the average overall level of the music varies with the station. Some are quite a bit louder on average than others. While this is not proof positive of added compression, it is suggestive of it.

Here is an example which can often be A/B tested, although it's not a comparison of CD-quality streams. Two Illinois public radio stations sometimes play the same music program during the day. At these times the program material seems time synchronized to within a second or so. Their bitstream rates are similar. The two stations/streams are 90.5 Classical WNIU and WILL 90.9 FM. (Sorry, but I can't figure out how to link directly to the relevant streams; just Google those identifications and you will get close.) Sometimes the sound is so dissimilar you have to compare carefully to recognize that, yes, that's the same music. I would estimate that WNIU is on average at least 15 dB louder than WILL when they are playing the same music. WILL to me sounds vastly better and is fairly acceptable in sound quality due to its lack of compression even though the bitrate is quite low. The more compressed nature of WNIU is also revealed in the spoken message about the support for the stream which you hear when you start streaming. The voice is rather obviously "punched up" and distorted compared to the similar announcement when you begin streaming WILL.
 

tmallin

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There's no accounting for taste.

Surely that's true in terms of musical preferences. It may be less true when it comes to sonic quality, but the divergence of opinion on this among even fairly well informed audiophiles suggests that this familiar saying should be given considerable weight even as to sonic merits.

With those caveats in mind, I will tell you that while I currently have some 135 radio stations labeled as favorites within the Lumin App and Roon, in terms of internet radio listening through my primary audio system, the two stations which get by far the lion's share of air time are KCSM (jazz from the San Francisco Bay area) and WFMT (classical from Chicago, my home area). Another favorite is SomaFM's Sonic Universe stream. I also enjoy the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) classical and jazz stations, as well as Canberra Australia's ArtSound FM 92.7. Others include WILL-FM, the FIP (France) streams, Jazz 88.5 from Minneapolis, the Radio Swiss Classic and Jazz streams, Canal Jazz and Sun Jazz from France, several Minnesota Public Radio streams, and other SomaFM streams. Heck, I listen to many of my 135 favorites more than occasionally.

You will note that none of the ones I mentioned are on the FLAC list. For internet radio streaming I generally listen primarily for musical content, not for sonic quality. When i go beyond my top two favorites, I often engage in channel surfing until I find something that is especially engaging musically and/or sonically and park there for a while.

Of the channels on the FLAC list, so far in my explorations, in terms of sonics I would rate the Czech D-dur classical and Czech Jazz, Mother Earth Radio, as well as the three Naim stations at the top of the heap. Much of the musical content of the 40+ stations on the FLAC list is not really my cup of tea, but the ones I mentioned are both musically interesting to me and sonically superior, primarily because they have less obvious signal compression or other processing.

Assuming you want to find new internet radio stations of interest to you, what's a good way to go about that? To get started, I suggest going to the vTuner Internet Radio station list page. Then pick a musical genre, such as Classical or Jazz. Within your chosen musical genre, choose to sort the stations either by Fastest Speed (giving sonics priority) or by Most Popular (giving musical content priority). If you regard yourself as a contrarian in terms of musical taste, you could always start at the bottom of the Most Popular list and work up. Take a listen by tapping the Play button beside any given channel. Once you find a station you'd like to make a favorite, you'll know what to do.
 
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Tontoverde

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I am a new owner of the Lumin X1. I have a question on power cords. I had my my best power cord, Kimber Kable Palladian, plugged into the PSU for the X1. In the past everything I read was that this was the most important power cable to upgrade was to your source. I upgraded the umbilical cord to the Audio Sensibility. I think I read somewhere that with the outboard PSU you don’t have to have a great power cord to get great results. I have a PK ascent 14 cord which is the next level down from their top of the line. Any comments or advice?
 

tmallin

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In recent years I have found myself gravitating toward cheap-ish but neutral (to me) sounding cables. For digital and analog connections I use either Benchmark or Blue Jeans cords. I find these as neutral sounding as anything I've tried, and I've tried a pretty extensive array of cabling over past decades. With my Dutch & Dutch 8c speakers, I don't need speaker cables so that solves that issue.

For AC connections I currently use very old unobtanium cords called The Absolute Power Cord MkII, a blue-jacketed 14-gauge Chinese cord with hospital grade connections at both ends once marketed in the USA through GTT Audio. Again, to me, these are as neutral sounding as anything and only cost about $50 to $100 for an eight-foot cord (ideal for my system, much better than six footers) when they were available. I use those for everything including the external power supply of the Lumin X1.

My most recent foray into more expensive power cords was the TWL brand. Yes, these sound sweeter (i.e., gently rolled off) at the top end than what I use now, but with the already sweet-sounding Lumin X1 and the D&D speakers, these are not an ideal match compared to the more neutral (there's that word again) The Absolute Power Cord MkII. Most expensive power cords are also very stiff which I find counterproductive in terms of mechanical isolation of electronics, not to mention wire routing in close quarters such as the way my system is set up and the expense of longer-than-six-foot lengths I need for my powered speakers.
 

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