Lumin U1 Mini Review: This small box can do a lot

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Lumin (a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Pixel Magic Systems Ltd) specializes in digital. The exception is a very class AB analog power amplifier with one input, designed to work in tandem with one of our own digital players. Even the volume control, except from the application on the tablet, is not in it.

This is digital purism. In addition to it, the line includes another device in the D-class – an all-in-one combine, but this is also an exception. So Lumin is, first of all, network players and transports, as well as, of course, software for them.

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Lumin U1 Mini

Here it will not be superfluous to analyze a little the architecture of such devices. Transport receives, processes and sends a digital signal. The player, as interpreted by Lumin, does everything the same, but gives an analog signal. Plus, all this requires some kind of storage when it comes to playing files.

Because Lumin, unlike some other manufacturers, does not have built-in storage disks, nor a tray where you can put a CD and copy or just play it. Based on this architecture, the material should be stored either in a local network on a NAS, or on some kind of hard disk, or even on a computer. The function of copying, converting and organizing the music library is also assigned to the PC.

But besides physical disks and files, there are also streaming services, and it’s on them that the manufacturer has made a significant emphasis. If everything is clear with local music libraries (for all the mass of controversial and not “standardized” questions), then with streams, confusion and confusion begins.

This segment is very young, has not yet settled down in many respects, although it is developing very dynamically. Even just putting everything together on a computer into a single harmonious system does not work, especially if control from a tablet is considered an obligatory component. Because there is no universal software product.

Applications, standards, supported formats and bitrates, compatibility — all add up to too many possible combinations. And somewhere, something is not necessarily supported.

Quiet display box

This is, in general terms, the state of affairs in this developing segment. Let’s try to figure out how the new junior network transport Lumin U1 Mini copes with all the functions and tasks. This is the most affordable device in the manufacturer’s catalog, but if you take into account that it is a transport, not a player, then almost all of its “software” functionality is comparable to older devices. Is that the design is simpler – only digital outputs.

You need to understand that, in any case, this device is a highly specialized computer running on a specially prepared Linux assembly, physically supplemented with digital audio outputs of various formats and everything that is attached to these outputs – for example, a high-quality piece. But all the same, this device is much closer in architecture and principles of operation to a computer than to the usual audio signal converters, even D / D type converters.

First, about what’s inside. One small board with all I / O and tiny switching power supply. By the way, the pulse generator is surprisingly quiet, I tried to connect it “next to” analog devices – and nothing, no audible interference or interference. The “computer” itself is too far from the computer implementation of similar devices from other manufacturers.

It is not uncommon to find a moderately doped stock motherboard inside, or visible RAM, or an SSD drive for the system, or drives for storage. Here you can only understand that the processor is located under the radiator, and everything else is the microcircuits on the board, there is nothing removable or replaceable.

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Lumin U1 Mini vs. iPad mini

So, formally, it turns out that Lumin U1 Mini is a quiet box in every sense, practically not warming up, having no upgradable or replaceable components. The user only has access to settings from the tablet application and software updates.

Externally – a small black body, a small display. Considering that all control is only from the tablet – there are no buttons, no remote control. I don’t even understand why there is a display here – as if just for conservative reasons.

Based on the tasks, the box could be made even smaller and get by with just a couple of LEDs indicating the current state. Of course, the display shows what is being reproduced, but in fact, the standard LEDs near the network RJ45 connector are much more informative, showing both the device is turned on and its interaction with the network. You can guess, for example, the “Network error” status from them without a display.

And in order to understand what is playing at the moment, there is a tablet with a control application. Although someone will say that the display is still necessary. Well, it’s soft, discreet, adjustable – so let it be.

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The back panel of the Lumin U1 Mini. The commutation is very clear

The Lumin U1 Mini has only an RJ45 network connector as an input, there are no antennas or wireless connectivity. Networking is essential for the operation of the instrument. The only addition is that you can hang an external hard drive or a flash drive on the USB connector (FAT32, NTFS and EXT2 / 3 drives without partitioning are supported), but the main use case involves receiving over the network. Without a network, the device will not work and will not be controlled.

There is no WiFi connection either. And this is rather a plus – there is less interference, the device is simpler, and there is no need to worry about periodically changing and adding standards.

The fact that all Lumin does not have a storage inside is also a plus. Practice shows that the added value of internal storage is such that you can build a NAS instead. And internal storage usually does not provide RAID, which is highly desirable for data preservation. Therefore, in my opinion, it is better to separate entities and tasks.

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Lumin U1 Mini: bottom view

Signal speed and direction

Let’s figure out how things are with receiving data and interacting with the network. I must say right away that the device appreciates a good high-speed network. It’s based on UPnP, so at first glance there shouldn’t be any problems. The guides on how to run Lumin in conjunction with a NAS made by Synology or QNAP are simple and straightforward, as well as the general principle. But if you suddenly have not a NAS, but some kind of self-assembled server on conditionally self-assembled software, the options may be different.

For example, it took some time to connect Lumin to the server on OpenMediaVault, despite its seeming simplicity. In cases where the user has non-standard hardware and software, the Lumin developers suggest using MinimServer. In my opinion, this is a fairly simple software that is easy to understand and easy to configure. For example, using it, I easily opened access to the music library for the U1 Mini on a regular Apple computer. And there are many MinimServer assemblies for different platforms.

Of course, you can use your own “server” Lumin L1, with a capacity of 2 or 5 TB, but this is an expensive box, in essence representing something close to a network drive – without RAID, which in itself is less preferable than using a NAS for storing valuable data. Although if the music library is duplicated separately, then this option is also possible, as well as simply connecting a hard disk with data.

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What’s important is that Lumin can use several libraries located on different devices. It’s comfortable. The settings do not fly off when disconnected from the network, the device taken for a week for the test, when it returned to its original place, quickly recognized the old library and calmly continued to work with it. With large music libraries, U1 Mini does not freeze and does not slow down, after the first scan of the collection everything works quickly. Several thousand disks are not a problem at all.

By the way, I wonder where the device stores the database of the music library. Possibly on flash memory or in an app. Although then it should have noticeably “fat”, which is not observed. We were unable to find any traces on the server computer, and you won’t be able to “get” into the U1 Mini through the network – the system at this level is closed from the user, although, perhaps, you just need to ring the ports and find the one you need. However, working with a large database pleases everyone – both the speed of the interface’s reaction and how the images are loaded. The only thing that matters here is a good fast network.

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The interior of the Lumin U1 Mini. An additional screen has been removed from the switching power supply so that you can see the unit itself

You can configure what and how the digital outputs will be sent to the DAC or several DACs. The ability to use multiple outputs is a very good option. Many times I have already come across the fact that two DACs can easily work for people in systems.

For example, some modern device with DSD support and an old multibitnik that you like by the sound, and the owner has no desire to part with it. So redirecting different musical material to different DACs is a great opportunity. There is also enough commutation, all the required digital outputs are present.

In terms of formats, Lumin understands, if not everything you need, then a lot, including DSD 512 and MQA. Can deliver DSD natively or as a DoP. Works with PCM up to 384 kHz and 16-32 bit. It is more difficult to find a DAC that will have the same input capabilities. In a motley music library, the apparatus easily and quickly counted everything that was there. Although there were two points.

For some reason, the device did not understand literally a couple of albums in DSD, which outwardly did not differ from others. I did not understand, but I put it in the music library, only I could not reproduce it. The application does not keep an error log when indexing the music library. Or leads, but does not show the user.

What exactly was the difficulty, it was not possible to figure it out. The other software saw these two albums just like everyone else, and Lumin considered everything else, except for this pair, without any problems. The device still does not understand ISO images, but this is quite predictable.

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Power supply shield

The next important function after working with the file library is streaming support. As you can understand from the characteristics, of course, the main emphasis here is on Tidal, on the support of all its features and MQA. In addition, work with Qobuz and TuneIn Radio is provided. Working with Spotify lives separately from the app, with Spotify Connect.

Using Apple AirPlay, you can also use services that are not included in the standard Lumin application, although, of course, it would be more convenient to have Deezer inside, and even more so HighResAudio. However, I don’t know the applications where everything could be added. Moreover, there are a lot of streaming services, including little-known and specific ones. Although here we can assume that the Lumin software will also change – updates are released regularly.

Library interface and device

Now the app. The interface is quite user-friendly and intuitive. The information content is not bad – you can understand what is playing in what format. Navigation, especially the part that is implemented with icons, is convenient. This is much better than “buttons”, which have abbreviated names, because the labels do not fit.

A separate plus is that there is a classic navigation through the folders of the music library: it is sometimes very convenient, and you do not need to go to the computer. Music library sorting is no worse than others, but no better. On the one hand, all the options for possible sorting are already obvious, others cannot be thought of, and they are all present. On the other hand, editions on multiple discs and discs that are classified as Various Artists can be difficult as albums are scattered rather than built in order. But here the question is not for Lumin, but for how the tags are spelled out.

It has long been known that the owner of a large music library needs to keep track of it and need to have software for streaming work with tags. In other cases, no interface and software will help. But if the tags are all right, the navigation is convenient. I especially liked that you can get additional information about the artist from the application by switching to Allmusic.com and Last.fm. The sites contain a good addition to the information that streaming services provide, but the local music library does not have such data – this is where this function becomes relevant.

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When the Lumin application is launched, it is “analyzed”. Everything quickly, without significant delays
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Standard library overview. You can immediately see what is in it and how much
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Standard image for albums. There are some inaccuracies in the translation of the interface, but they are insignificant. The functionality is convenient. At first I didn’t like the background color of the interface, but now it has become familiar – a convenient color, unobtrusive
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The interface can be “simplified” with one move. I like it in this form more, especially if you work with a large music library.
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Working with streaming services is no different from working with a music library, and the search is implemented well. So the application mostly leaves positive emotions. The only thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t want to turn on the “dark” shell of the application, which definitely should be. And the color of the “light” shell would be something different, or several to choose from – it’s not difficult to do.

As relatively unusual, the tracks are added to the playlist. The algorithm for starting playback is a little bit unusual at once, and the playlist needs to be cleaned periodically. But this is just a matter of habit – I’m used to another application that I have been using for a long time. Many people, on the contrary, prefer to use playlists, and work with them here is organized quite conveniently.

Although the main thing is the speed of the interface, and the fact that you quickly get used to it intuitively. You can install the application on Apple devices from the AppStore, and on Android – either from the “native” store, or on your own, the distribution kit is available on the Lumin website.

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You can display the library in the form of tracks, if you suddenly need to. True, I can’t imagine why. Unless you need to look for a specific thing in a collection of several albums
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The fact that you can just move around the folder tree is very good. But the display of the content will depend on the content itself
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The basic settings are very simple and straightforward, everything is mastered here in five minutes. Transport settings have less settings, a digital player from older models – it is logical that there are more
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Almost everything is immediately clear, although Power makes you think. Little things like “Check for firmware updates” can be ignored. For perfectionists, I suggest immediately installing the application in English.

According to my observations, it is preferable to use the Lumin U1 Mini, connecting it to the DAC via USB. And use AES / EBU as a second alternative digital output if you need to connect the device to some kind of DAC without a USB input. And according to the supported USB options, it is preferable – the rest of the outputs are capable of outputting DSD64 in DoP and PCM mode up to 24 bit / 192 kHz. However, so far the overwhelming part of the musical material fits into this framework, and the DSD256 is still exotic.

If we compare the outputs on the same material, then there is still a difference in favor of USB. The output sound is a little more accurate, a little more transparent. This observation was confirmed on several DACs approximately equally, so it is logical to conclude that these are features of the U1 Mini itself, and not the case when the USB input of a particular DAC is weak.

As for the rest, there is nothing to complain about: as a transport, the device is quite efficient. It doesn’t cause a wow effect (but it doesn’t have to – it’s still transport). However, it cannot be said that the sound is inferior to other available digital sources. Everything is on the level, especially when transferring via USB.

However, no, not quite so. Against the background of serious and sophisticated digital sources, the device does not cause a wow effect (but it does not sit in a puddle either). But if you compare it with some basic Windows laptop with a basic assembly of a software player, the difference will be noticeable. Of course, it is possible to find a source better than the U1 Mini – otherwise, at least, the existence of the older models of the manufacturer would be in question.

And if the U1 Mini is puzzling, it is the list of features and options for their use. It is also good that this is transport – for those who need transport. For other cases, Lumin has older models – both transports and players equipped with an analog output.

Conclusion

In terms of the sum of its functions, this small box can do a lot. And it does it quite conveniently, quickly, without lags. A decent (better than average) tablet interface is also a significant plus.

The main question that arose in me in the process is why this box is needed, if there is a computer, and it can also do a lot. This is a logical question, and there can be several answers to it. There are people who are simply passionate about everything new, who love to try and experiment. If their budget allows them, they can even buy devices that seem crude and unfinished (remember what the first file players looked like, or how much the first digital cameras cost and what they could).

Lumin cannot be said to be unfinished. According to the possibilities of commutation – order, software is working. Well, except that it would not hurt to sew up a few more streaming services. So if you liked the ideology of Lumin, you can also consider the younger model. Maybe she will become a bridge to older models – it will depend on the passion, the level of the system and the budget.

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Lumin U1 Mini

Another option is that someone wants a ready-made system that will live on its own, without creating problems and hassle. The computer still needs to be assembled, configured, and software selected. Not everyone wants to mess around with finishing the basic Apple Mac Mini (I keep this option as a kind of minimum, a starting point).

Not everyone knows how to do this, and it is not so easy: to decide on the choice of the model version, configure it, understand the power supplies, software, output interfaces. In terms of money, by the way, it turns out comparable, if not more expensive. And here is a ready-made solution that starts up in 15 minutes without the help of any specialists.

The self-assembly option on Raspberry will be significantly cheaper, but it will not be possible to assemble such functionality. You can make your own Linux assembly, but it’s a matter of time, skill, and skill again. Not for everyone. And so, to fit everything from MQA to Roon is a problem at the level of the manufacturer, not the user.

And in the case when the system has an excellent DAC, but from the old (without USB-input and other things) – such a box may be useful. Progress is progress, but not all modern devices with the richest functionality will be able to outplay some old top-end dCS or Mark Levinson precisely on the DAC line. Even for resolution and DSD support, you shouldn’t be so chasing as just a high-quality DAC with good sound.

So, if you look at the Lumin U1 Mini from different positions, the device looks interesting in its own way. And it shows quite well how much new things can be used for modern audio sounding. And even if you do not plan to acquire a device of this type, it is very interesting and useful to get an idea of ​​what is happening in this segment in general, and how the functionality is developing.

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