LUMIN U2 Mini Music Streamer Review
You can have your cake and eat it too.
Shortly after I was born, my dad put together his dream audio system. It consisted of a Dynaco PAS preamp, an ST-70 amp, some DIY Jensen speakers, a Monarch automatic turntable, and a cartridge whose name has been lost with the passage of time. He set it up in the room next to mine and it resided there until my brother was born.
At that point, I moved into what had been the stereo room, and his system was banished to the basement. He built a nice cabinet for it and put the electronics and records in a room that could be locked, but I’m sure it wasn’t the same for him after that. At one point, he built some bookshelf speakers, placed them in the living room, and wired them to the system downstairs.
It was a real pain to go down to the basement to flip the record, so I don’t remember my dad using the setup often. Eventually, he bought a smaller system with a cassette player and used that in the family room. As a result, the system in the basement languished until I started using it as a teen, much later. The biggest tragedy of this change was, from then on, my dad bought all of his new music on cassette. All of those disintegrated after a few years. I’d rather not talk about it anymore.
Of course, my Dad was feeling the conflict between high-quality audio and convenience. For some people, it’s a no-brainer. Just give them a transistor radio / Walkman / iPod / smartphone and they are good to go, audio quality be damned. For those of us who are pickier, the decision gets tougher. Sure, the iPod was nifty, but the sound was yuck. On top of that, it made the mp3 the streaming standard. But with the event of streamable and downloadable hi-res audio files, we audiophiles have a fighting chance. Streaming is the new frontier for high-end audio. In many ways, it’s an exciting time.
The LUMIN U2 Mini Network Player In Detail
The LUMIN U2 Mini Network Player is Pixelmagic’s newest product and replaces their very popular U1 Mini. The U2 Mini can handle any digital file out there, from PCM 44.1 kHz to DSD512, MQA decoding included. It provides native support for TIDAL, Qobuz, Spotify, and AirPlay. Also, the U2 Mini, like all LUMIN streamers is a ROON endpoint so that your collection of tunes can stream flawlessly out of the LUMIN player. The U2 Mini networks use an Ethernet port and have a wide variety of digital outputs to meet any need.
It is the first LUMIN to feature their all-new processing system and has a quad-native-clock system for precision timing. Furthermore, The U2 Mini incorporates LEEDH digital signal processing. LEEDH is a lossless volume control that is unique in that it removes coloration typically caused by a pre-amp within your system. It has blue-green display that shows the track, artist, streaming format, and elapsed time. My review sample came in a black, anodized-aluminum finish, which was gorgeous.
An Interesting Situation
Sometimes, as a reviewer, I get into some interesting situations because I’m not paying attention when I make arrangements for a review sample. It usually has to do with the size or weight of the gear, which can sometimes be challenging to put on my equipment stand. This time, however, I realized that the U2 used only an Ethernet connection. LUMIN forgoes the internal Wi-Fi conversion to avoid any inference. For many people, this would not be a problem. In our house, the router is up in the master bedroom, while our living room is on the ground floor on the opposite side. So, after explaining to my wonderful wife that it would be “a temporary thing”, I purchased 120 feet Ethernet cable and strung it through a good portion of the house to make the connection.
Mark of Source Systems later explained to me that I could have avoided my exercise in “Mission: Impossible” by using either a Wi-Fi repeater from my router, or a small kit for Ethernet over my power line. He said both are good solutions with the repeater placing four or more Ethernet ports near the LUMIN and the power line kit maintaining a hardwired connection throughout the path. Since the U2 Mini does not have a DAC, I hooked it up to my iFi Audio micro iDSD, which is a DAC that punches well above its weight class. I then installed the LUMIN app on my phone and linked it to the U2 Mini.
This process took longer than I anticipated since I needed to turn the device and router on and off several times to get everything to talk to each other. Once I completed that process, the LUMIN app worked like a charm and I found it very easy to use. Not only does the app work with major streaming services and Roon, but it also allows you to play a wide variety of flac, lossless radio stations. Those are what I used to break in the U2 Mini.
True Lossless Hi-Resolution Music Via Qobuz
I haven’t been adventurous enough to place all of my music on a server yet, so all of my listening was done using Qobuz, my normal streaming service. I’ve had Qobuz for almost a year now and I’ve continued to be impressed with the wide variety of music available and the high quality of the streams. As I have previously reported, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring Qobuz on my laptop. This has led me down some interesting paths. This past spring I was exploring obscure modern piano concertos. I came across quite a few special pieces during my walkabout. One of the gems I discovered was the album simply titled Mexican Piano Concertos [TYXart TXA13024]. It contains concertos by Samuel Zyman and Jose Rolon. Both of these pieces can be quite acerbic in places, but never veer into cacophony.
One of my favorite moments on this album is the adagio Zyman’s work. This movement is filled with mystery and hearkens back to a different time in Mexico’s history. Claudia Corona’s piano playing is beautifully reproduced in this recording, and it is shown off during this movement. Listening to this piece through the U2 Mini, I felt the gravitas of her playing. In the next movement, the presto, Corona goes on several impressive runs that were reproduced with amazing clarity. At the beginning of the first movement of Rolon’s concerto, the horns carry the opening melody. Listening to this stream, the horns had a wonderful burnished tone that never came across as harsh or edgy. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album through the U2 Mini, and in the process, gained a greater understanding of the music.
In February 2020, I was shocked by the untimely passing of Lyle Mays. For over 20 years, he had been an integral part of the Pat Metheny Group, as well as having his solo career. Unbeknownst to me, the single “Eberhard” was released in August 2021. I didn’t find out about it until “Eberhard ” won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition in 2022. I located it on Qobuz and it has been a favorite since then. Mays was always good at transporting the listener into a different headspace, with his compositions. The thirteen-minute “Eberhard” starts with layered synths, xylophone, and piano to give an orchestral feel, before Jimmy Johnson’s fretless electric bass adds a free-flowing melody.
Through the U2 Mini, the sound of his bass was full, rich, and textured. The last note of his solo shook the halls of our living room. From that point on, many other artists are heard in the mix of this massive masterpiece. Mays ended up using 16 artists in all for his creation. Despite all that was going on in the piece, all of the instruments and vocals remained perfectly delineated. The emotional highlight of “Eberhard” is Bob Shepard’s free-wheeling saxophone solo. Shepard’s sax sound was warm and never bright, much like the real thing. The piece ends like it begins, with a melancholy pulsing keyboards and xylophone that slowly fade away. The entire effect was quite moving while listening to it through U2 Mini.
Time To Modernize, Welcome To 2022
In some ways, I’m still a Luddite and a product of my time because I still like to listen to the radio when I’m driving around town. I like the randomness of switching around until something strikes my mood. Sometimes it’s classical, other times it might be pop and rock. I also listen to quite a bit to our sports talk radio. A couple of months ago one of the hosts was raving about the concert he had attended the night before. The name of the band was “Heartless Bastards”. Intrigued, I made a mental note of it. Later on, I checked them out on Qobuz and listened to their latest album, A Beautiful Life. I’ve been a fan ever since and I was excited to hear how they sounded through the U2 Mini.
Erika Wennerstrom, their lead vocalist, has one of the unique voices in rock. The opening anthem, “Revolution”, starts with just her singing in her lower register and an acoustic guitar. Through the U2 Mini, Wennerstrom’s voice was strong and plaintive, evoking the bygone time of folk songs about the human condition. As the song continues to build, she goes to her upper register. With the band at full strength, she was able to cut through. On the next track, “How Low”, it has a 1970s-Marvin-Gaye feel to it. Here I heard a real-live band that knows how to groove. Will “A Beautiful Life” ever make it on some audiophile-recording list? No, but that’s not the point is it? Listening to this album with the U2 Mini, I was able to connect to a band where the artists were making musical choices towards a shared purpose and enjoyed the heck out of it.
Before I dig more into the sound, I wanted to mention the streaming radio stations that come with the U2 Mini. Not only did I use them to run in the network player, but several times I listened to them when I wanted something in the background and didn’t feel like making any active choices. I was very much impressed by the variety of music available and the excellent sound quality. One of those times I landed on a 1980s music station and caught “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake and, I have to say, I enjoyed it way more than I thought I should have.
To truly get a sense of the capabilities of the U2 Mini in my system, I pursued some of the Qobuz 192 kHz playlists. I listened to “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” by Charles Mingus and I was impressed with the spot-on tonality of the instruments and their location in the aural matrix. On Beatrice Rana’s recording of Ravel’s Miroirs, I enjoyed how well the U2 Mini brought out the lower-level details. Listening to the beginning of The Rolling Stones’, “She’s a Rainbow”, was a trippy experience with Mick singing in my left ear, the backing vocals, horns, and strings on the right, and the instruments in the band in the middle.
I always found many of the old Stones recordings pretty muddled, so I was impressed with the clarity I heard. Diana Krall’s voice in her rendition of “L-O-V-E” was front and center with smoky sultriness. In Pieter Wispelwey’s album Three Suites of Violincello Solo, his cello sounded surprisingly realistic in its scale and tone. Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” was a total tour-de-force, with its crystal-clear production and solid bass. No matter what I listened to, I found the U2 Mini faithful in presenting the music.
As I conclude, let me address one important topic, the DAC. Since the U2 Mini is a transport only, any observations I make about it are inextricably linked to the DAC to which it is connected. As I said, the iFi Audio iDSD Micro I used with it is a great DAC, but I wish I had the chance to listen to the U2 Mini with the previously reviewed Canor DAC 2.10. What I can say, the U2 Mini – iDSD Micro pairing sounded amazing on my system!
Every recording I listened to had its unique and distinctive flavor. Based on this, I think the LUMIN U2 Mini would be a great pairing with any DAC within the marketplace. It is that great sounding. I told my dad about the U2 Mini when I started listening to it and he was envious. With the LUMIN U2 Mini music streamer, you can have your cake and eat it too!
|Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)
|Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)
|Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)
|High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)
|Soundscape Width Front
|Soundscape Width Rear
|Soundscape Extension Into Room
|Fit And Finish
|Value For The Money
Check out Enjoy the Music!
Type: High-end luxury music streamer
Up to DSD512
Up to 768kHz, 16 to 32-bit, Stereo
DSD256 upsampling option for all files
PCM 384kHz upsampling option for all files
Native DSD512 support
PCM 44.1–768kHz, 16–32-bit, Stereo
TosLink optical, S/PDIF coax via RCA and BNC, AES/EBU via XLR
DSD64 (DoP64, DSD over PCM)
PCM 44.1kHz to 192kHz and from 16 to 24-bits
Dimensions: 300mm x 244mm x 60mm (WxDxH)
Pixel Magic Systems Ltd
Hong Kong Science Park
Shatin, New Territories