Our audio upgrade itch is a funny thing. One moment we’re happy with the music, and the next minute we are pursuing what we didn’t know was missing…. which is probably why some of you are reading this. In my case, it started with an innocent amplifier upgrade, which then quickly led to a new DAC, phono stage, then power condition and cables. When almost no audio stones were left unturned, I looked at the only remaining piece of my original system: the digital server. Ironic, since it is near the beginning of the music stream. Trash in, trash out, as they say.
This adventure took a turn while researching top-tier digital servers. My search immediately returned the strongly marketed products from brands such as Auralic, Aurender, Innuos, Lumin, Naim, etc., and also the esoterica like Taiko. One of the forums had a strong following of members switching from these brands to the Lucas Domanski Music Server (LDMS), describing superlative performance and better value. Intriguing!! As I dove further into this brand, the LDMS owners on online forums universally suggested, “You should email Lucas and ask him directly, he is very reachable.” And so I did — the initial outreach with Lucas quickly led to an almost 2-hour Whatsapp international call, followed by innumerable back-and-forth texts to hone in on the exact design of a customized music server. My requests were not only sonic, but also aesthetic and based on a specific size requirement, all of which Lucas addressed. And finally came the day, when the server is ready and shipped…. and thus, my Scarlett (yes that’s her name) was born.
Why LDMS? Who is Lucas Domansky?
Behind every LDMS is the man himself, Lucas Domansky, a passionate audiophile from Poland who has memories as a youth of innovating to further the quality of his music playback beyond what was readily available; at the age of 10 he was helping his father design and build their own custom speaker systems and hifi electronics. His curiosity also led to tinkering with the available hardware in the early days of home PCs and chasing numerous iterations of component and software modifications to improve the sound of digital playback. Fast forward two decades, as a natural segue Lucas worked in IT engineering where he optimized industrial server systems for companies in both the UK and Poland.
Lucas’ continued pursuit to create the finest solution for his own digital playback became more than just his personal hobby in 2015 when several seasoned audiophiles tried out his home-built music server and immediately asked to buy them. As word of his work spread, an early prototype of his music server was actually used by UK dealer G Point Audio at the 2017 North West Audio Show at Cranage Hall where the room won the Best Room award by HiFi Pig magazine. Lucas Audio Lab was started that year with the vision to turn his passion of creating the world’s best music servers into actual products.
Mr Domansky explained that he chose to work on digital music servers because of his in-depth experience in computer systems and optimization of hardware-software integration from an audiophile perspective: “There is so much more than just putting together a collection of high-spec parts that still might not work well together. I want music playback that sounds like real life, without any of the usual digital harshness, and achieve what some people call analog-sounding, and without any DSP. We can program and tune each server to maximize the sound based on the customer’s needs, whether it is only streaming, or with a focus on jazz or rock.” The Lucas Domansky Music Servers are Intel and Windows-based, but also has technologies reflecting a culmination of over 10 years of his tweaking every component to maximize music reproduction, including the use of RFI shielding and custom power supplies and output circuitry to address noise, as well as proprietary drivers and renderer software.
In 2020, Lucas left his full-time profession and now dedicates himself to Lucas Audio Lab. He is expanding his production area in Poland and has 3 full time employees. I asked him how he envisions the future of LDMS and what motivates him, to which he replied, “I love this want to disrupt the industry with my after sales care approach…. it bothers me when I buy a component and as soon as money is exchanged, you no longer get any support.” Throughout our conversations, I can say Lucas’ energy and passion clearly stands behind his response. You are not just buying a server, but instead, a membership into the LDMS family. He will continue to provide individualized attention and support, as well as continued software tune-ups to improve the sound. I spoke with others who vouch for his customer support and my post-purchase experience has lived up to this reputation. Oh, and did I mention he has a 7 year warranty?
What’s up, Scarlett?
The Lucas Domansky Music Servers (LDMS) are custom-built music streamers or servers based on individualized needs. In general, the LDMS units can be categorized in 2 large buckets based on chassis platform: the Mini and the Maximus. The former is 10.9-inch (276 mm) wide compared to the latter’s 16.9-inch (430 mm) width. The Maximus uses a larger processor and draws more power, and the larger chassis allows for internalization of the otherwise external power supply, the addition of a USB reclocker, as well as more SSD storage capacity and shielding/grounding. The Mini’s processor, however, is ample for most users, including operating as a combined Roon core and endpoint, with the larger processor only being significant in situations where higher-bitrate DSD real-time upsampling is needed. Just to be thorough, his website also lists a product called the Pico which is purely an end-point streamer, and can be used in conjunction with the Mini/Maximus servers.
The Mini by default has a small external power supply, but as of 2022 Lucas offers the option of a new upgraded hybrid power supply which has a dedicated power umbilical to either server, housed in a case that matches the appearance of the Mini. If used with the Mini, this is now a two-box system; the upgraded power supply can also be stuffed within the chassis of the Maximus if a 1-box solution is needed, but Lucas recommends physical separation of the power supply if possible. For further customization, the Mini can also be built with a Maximus chassis; there is also a “Minimax” option which has additional shielding/grounding and internal cabling upgrades within the Mini chassis.
The units have a standard USB output and LAN port, with an option to add one coaxial SPDIF output, and a “level 1” or “level 2” reclocker options for both USB and SPDIF. Currently no AES/EBU or optical output is available. Internal music storage options range from 1TB to 16TB. For those who want to go the extra mile, Lucas can also make a separate optimized NAS music storage with up to 60TB for maximal electrical isolation.
Both the current Mini and Maximus have a similar minimalist-appearance with a sculpted non-ferrous chassis allowing for customization of color (including LED color). Choices for the front face include different color aluminum plates, fabric/leather, as well as an endless possibilities of finished/stained woods including Zebrawood, Cocobolo or even African Ebony. I received a social media comment describing my ordering process as “complex.” A prospective buyer can certainly make it as straightforward and simple as they want (e.g. no options), or spend significant time customizing the order. This is much more akin to going to a design session for an individualized Porsche build rather than ordering a Tesla online. But for those seeking the ultimate product experience, I would say the journey is part of the fun! This is what he means by a “bespoke” approach — each server is designed for your specific needs. You are commissioning Lucas to make you a piece of art.
I first reached out to Lucas on March 10. My detail-oriented questions (and research process) to narrow down my perfect configuration spanned over a month of over a hundred Whatsapp text exchanges with him on a nearly daily basis (and with a 9 hour time difference). Thankfully the LDMS online customer base is very supportive and I’m thankful to those who provided their advice from all over the world (shoutout to Goran, Will, Greg, Usé, Adam). Consistently their advice could be summed up by: “Just trust Lucas’ ears and his advice, he is the wizard.” My aesthetic preference was also to have a very dark, almost near-black, wood face, and Lucas catered to my quest in finding examples of woods (“Merbau, Sepale or American Walnut?“) and stains from his UK and Polish carpenters until my look was achieved.
As with any small business, all communications are handled personally by Lucas himself. He is great with making sure your questions are answered, but he is also handling all of his other customers’ needs, as well as also having his own time to sleep, eat, etc. He is always working and frequently corresponds past his midnight. On a few occasions I did nudge him after a few days for an update, and he was always patient and kind. Point is, he is a busy artist, so understand that the journey is one that you have to work with his process to create your LDMS, but as my grandma taught: good things come to those who wait.
The final configuration I picked was based on 1. prioritization on maximizing sound quality, 2. a small server profile to fit the limited audio rack space, and 3. appearance. Lucas strongly encouraged the new hybrid PSU and the custom-build SPDIF output with 3 oven-controlled oscillators over the USB; other clients have indicated differing personal preferences for either USB vs SPDIF, probably in part dependent on the DAC. The final configuration consisted of:
- Minimax upgraded configuration with the burgundy-colored top, amber LED
- Level 2 OCXO-reclocked SPDIF output (can be either coaxial or BNC)
- New generation LPSU in matching appearance
- David Laboga 1m power umbilical w/ matching red color
- 4 TB internal storage running Roon and Squeezebox Lite
- Custom dark Wenge wood front fascia
- Custom Mini chassis with 3.46-inch (88 mm) height including damping feet (27 mm lower height than standard)
And thus Scarlett was born. Lucas also admitted he uses a Minimax in his personal rig as well. The custom Wenge wood face added approximately 2-3 weeks to the order. MSRP including shipping was approximately $13,000 USD at the time of this writing, but is based on conversion to GBP. Please refer to the Lucas Audio Lab website for exact pricing, terms and conditions, including his 30-day return policy.
The unit was shipped on May 5 from Poland and arrived at my Seattle front door on May 8; faster than even some Amazon Prime deliveries within the United States. First impressions are made when we receive a product, and I was impressed at the meticulous packing that sets a new standard for a manufacturer’s care and pride. Inside the shipping box was a rugged 22″ x 18″ “Pelican-style” waterproof container fitted with foam cutouts for both the server and power supply which were further neatly wrapped in bubble wrap. A signed certificate/letter accompanies the server verifying its authenticity.
I anticipated a visual treat with vacuum tubes or turntables, but did not know what to expect for a digital server/streamer. Scarlett unwrapped was beholding a real beauty — she is solid, no flex, and weighty. Zero give or rattle. The metal casing was nicely machined, with softened edges and a flawless finish, and a glowing Lucas Audio Lab logo on the top of both units. I was beyond pleased with the moderate-grained dark Wenge face, which added subtle warmth and complemented the red chassis. The front power indicator LED is surrounded by a laser engraved logo on both the server and power unit; both boxes are the same width and height (in my configuration) with virtually matching appearances when viewed from the front. The server is distinguished by being 4.0-inches longer than the PSU and an illuminated power button under its front face. The lit power LED is the only indication that the units are on since they are dead silent: no fan, no buzz or hum. And in case you’re wondering, the units are at room temperature without any heat despite this reviewer putting them on a shelf without much ventilation room. While appearance is very subjective, after spending time at a recent audio show with the Taiko Extreme, Pink Faun 2.16 Ultra, and the Innuos Statement, I much prefer and love that my LDMS looks more unique yet classy compared to the hard industrial styling of the other three.
Back panel I/O is self explanatory on both units. The PSU has a standard IEC inlet and master on/off switch. A 4-pin power receptacle is on both units for which the Laboga “DC Sparkly” directional umbilical connects the two units with threaded couplers. The LDMS has additional ports for ethernet, optional SPDIF output, USB output, and a USB port for additional music storage. Plug everything in, turn on the main power behind the PSU, and a few seconds later, it lights up. Press the server’s power button, and that’s it. Turning off the server requires a double press of the power button.
LDMS has a concierge setup process which directly speaks to its value proposition. Lucas tracked the shipment and knew it arrived before I did, and asked when I was available for the deployment session. We set up a 5 am call for the next morning, and using the Teamviewer remote access software on my home PC, he logged in and set up my server as a Roon core and endpoint on my network. I am Roon-uninitiated so Lucas took time to show me its user interface and features; he also wrote his own script to bypass the Roon USB output via Squeezebox streaming to maximize sound quality. If one chooses he can also set up the server for JRiver, Squeezebox or other software instead, but in the following months leading to this review, I purchased Roon as it was truly a great user experience for my LDMS. Lucas tweaked the server via remote access to upgrade the rendering software in the month after deployment; many other owners have attested to Lucas continually upgrading their units’ software to improve the sound quality throughout their ownership. This very personalized and attentive level of support stands out far above almost all other audio brands, period.
It is also important to clarify that setting up and using the LDMS is as user-friendly for the techophobic as any of the “big name” streamers, including those using a closed software ecosystem such as Aurender. You turn on the LDMS and forget about it; 100.0% of my operation is via Roon, and any software adjustments are done remotely by Lucas. As with the time before I purchased the server, Lucas was always reachable for questions, and continued to advise me on network switches, cables, and filters to further improve the sound; his availability and dedication to his customers cannot be overstated especially in a world where incredible service is a rarity.
So what did I do after getting the LDMS? Left for vacation. The system was set up with a burn-in of continuous music playing for over 400 hours before the serious listening for this review, although many of the sonic attributes were readily apparent early in the burn-in period.
The test system consists of a Lampizator Atlantic TRP 3 DAC driving an Ampsandsound Nautilus dual mono amplifier via Shunyata Anaconda-S XLR cables, with all of the listening via ZMF Verite open headphones. The LDMS was compared against an Aurender N100H (running Conductor v3.3.21), both with the same source 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192 or DSD64 files locally stored, using Shunyata Alpha, Sigma and Sablon EVO USB digital cables. USB vs SPDIF output from the LDMS was also evaluated with a Shunyata Sigma and a David Laboga COR-1240 SPDIF digital cable. NOS tube complement include Western Electric 422A, Mullard GZ34 metal base, and USAF 596 rectifiers, a Telefunken G-73R input tube, and Siemens F2a and RCA 6L6GC output tubes. AC was supplied through a Shunyata Denali 6000S/v2, with Sigma v2 XC, Alpha v2, Venom NR, and Sablon Prince cables. A Network Acoustics ENO filter was used for streaming purposes.
So how is she?
The lights are dimmed, and the mood is set….
You feel her red dress against your skin, as she shifts her weight and her arm presses against your shoulder…
… acutely aware of her intoxicating perfume, her breathing, her hair falling across your face…
Her softness is pressed against you, warm and gentle, and she knows your thoughts,
… you look at her full lips, and everything becomes perfection as you….
Listening to music through the LDMS is like having Scarlett (yes, that one) sitting on your lap. In comparison, music through the Aurender is like looking at a cold paper poster of her. Oh no, he didn’t! Oh yes I did…. those who prefer a more politically-correct analogy instead can compare a nice crafted whiskey with swirling flavors to a pre-mixed box cocktail.
The first words that come to mind in describing the LDMS Minimax’s sound are natural, immersive, and realistic. The soundstage has significantly increased in width and depth as well as spatial separation of each musician, and all with a greater amount of microdetails such that it feels like I am in the live venue. Pace and rhythm feels natural and effortless, and instrumental harmonics and vocal timbre also sound more real. The end results have me sitting in my listening seat with a big grin, rocking my head to the music, and occasionally laughing at the nuances by each singer that I have never previously appreciated. Game over to any subconscious doubt I had of this server, where I was secretly hoping bits-are-bits in digital audio and I could save money with the more affordable Aurender.
Norah Jones’ 24-bit version of “Lone Star” is a favorite, with her voice soaring amidst the band’s strumming. With the LDMS, her voice had noticeably more depth and air, as if it was slightly closer mic’d. The bass strums had a more weighty sound, allowing one to better envision the wood body. Vibrato, finger slides along the strings and leading edge plucks along the strings are more pronounced, resulting in an overall sense that I’m closer to being in the jazz club. Strangely, I never noticed anything lacking with the music before; but this is a whole different performance; in hindsight, these details could be found when listening to the Aurender, but they were not presented in a way that it was easily noticed. It is important to say that some digital sources can be described as “too audiophile” — in that they are overly detailed and analytical but fatiguing and without soul; the LDMS manages to elevate these sonic attributes while preserving the fun and musicality, which is a rare feat.
“One” from U2’s Achtung Baby is another song which has played through the decades in my house. The song’s familiar tune took on the next level of complexity with the LDMS; starting with the guitar opening, each note had more definition, and Bono’s voice had more air and atmosphere. As the song builds, the individual threads of Bono, the Edge, Larry, and Adam were clearly separate and defined yet cohesive, whereas on the Aurender they were more blurred together. As Bono belts out “love is a temple, love the higher law”, the strain in his voice to the edge of breaking was so much more real it was as if I could see his sweat and spit flinging off in front of me.
Can Scarlett do classical? You bet. I love large orchestra, and with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (Mackerras / London Symphony Orchestra / Telarc CD-80208) I found the sound field to be so immense and dynamic, it was hard to believe I was not in the front row at Barbican Centre. As the fourth movement builds to its Shipwreck crescendo at 07:40, the massiveness of the brass blaring, the rows of strings swaying, and interposed woodwind accents brought forth imagery on a different scale than what the Aurender could ever do… and this is on headphones! LDMS showed another tour-de-force with Richard Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie (Kempe / Staatskapelle Dresden / EMI) when the story transitions from a calm afternoon into a full-blown rainstorm followed by sunset (tracks 18-21); the roaring percussion, wind machine and thundersheet were fully rendered in scale and definition. In comparison, on the Aurender, the music only gets louder and less refined; with the LDMS, the music gets large and alive.
The last song in The Phantom of the Opera (Original London Cast), as the Phantom says goodbye to Christine after their kiss and faces the loneliness of his life, was always a tear-jerking song which brought a grand finale to the whole musical. However, through the LDMS, I was brought into the front orchestra row at the Broadway Majestic Theater. The voices and instruments were hauntingly real; as Michael Crawford laments “masquerade, hide your face so the world will never find you… ” (8:42) I could see him alone on the stage, disappearing with his mask, saying goodbye to the audience. You can hear chairs creaking as the musicians swayed. Sarah Brightman’s soaring “say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime” had more sophisticated timbre and vibrato, more real, bringing a previously unrealized appreciation for her talent (even though I must have listened to this album 200 times?). As Michael Crawford finales “it’s ooooveerrrr now, the musiiiiiccc oooofff ttttthhhhe niiiiiight” with the crescendoing orchestra, with a such an impactful roll of the tympani, my jaw dropped as I have never felt such goosebumps from this ending. It was one of those moments when you just nod, and realize, damn that was really good.
So did I like Scarlett more by USB (Lampizator JL Sounds reclocked) or SPDIF (LDMS level 2 reclocked)? That is asking, Do you like hanging with her over coffee or a martini? Depends on the music and which cable. USB is more “high resolution”, (dare I say) “more audiophile” and tends to grab my attention with details without being overly analytical. On the other hand, SPDIF is slightly less hyperfocused, but a tad more relaxed, more cohesive, musical and slightly sweeter, especially for female vocals. As the cliche goes, SPDIF sounds a bit more analog. Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” (Qobuz 192kHz/24bit version) had slightly bite and grit with USB, and more airy, making the famous opening guitar riff more exciting and true to my imagination of Knopfler rocking away with his neon headband; on the other hand, SPDIF had slightly more tonal depth in the electric guitar. Diana Krall’s smokey voice in “Hit That Jive Jack” was perfect in delivery and enjoyment with SPDIF and the lights dimmed; whereas with USB it was as if I was moved from the middle of the jazz club into the front row, where microdetails in each lip smack, chair creak, sibilance and voice separation became more evident, but demanded a bit more attention for critical listening rather than just laying back with my eyes closed. The results clearly depended on the cables used, however — the differences between the Shunyata Sigma USB and Sigma SPDIF were so slight that I had to listen with our central AC shut off for complete background silence; the opening snare drums and hi-hats on Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” had more flesh and ring on the SPDIF, and the song just overall sounded more right, with more life.
Ed Sheeran’s “First Times” and “Supermarket Flowers” are also songs that sound incredible on the LDMS through SPDIF. The definitions and hauntingly real tone of his voice, guitar strums and background strings just blend together in a way that makes it hard to listen critically without losing myself in just enjoyment. The LDMS through a good SPDIF cable leaves nothing more to be desired in any of the audiophile attributes listed above; in fact, comparing it against the Aurender via USB, the old setup sounds significantly veiled, less immediate, more tonally and dynamically flat. Lyrics were less clear. Going back to the LDMS+SPDIF, I can now hear the subtlety of Ed inhaling, the separate layers of background vocalists, and the size of the recording venue and reverberations.
So should you spend the extra €1550 (at the time of this writing) for the LDMS reclocked SPDIF? Yes I would, simply to allow the flexibility to enjoy songs with both USB and SPDIF as they offer different interpretations. It would also future-proof the server for the myriad of DACs that may be optimized for one input or another. Regardless of your choice, I learned that the LDMS deserves the best possible digital cable to unleash the musical possibilities.
Coming from the Aurender universe, the LDMS opened up the Roon-based world of an only-streaming possibility. Using Qobuz, I compared locally-stored music against internet streaming. Norah Jones’ “The Long Day Is Over” and “The Nearness of You” (Qobuz vs local FLAC 192khz/24bit), I felt the local storage had a higher level of timbral immediacy, details and microdynamics in her voice compared to streaming to give her performance just that extra bit of realism and nuanced character. Christina Perri’s voice in “Human” was slightly rounded with local storage such that her “just a little humaaaaannnn” at 2:59 was a soaring fortississimo, while the streaming Qobuz version gained a slight edginess so that it became slightly abrasive, and the background drums was slightly less defined. The caveat, however, is that this is what was observed with my network setup through the ENO filter; others who invest much more into perfecting their streaming components may observe otherwise.
Is she the one?
And so TL;DR, yes, the Lucas Domansky Music Server is all that. It is at least 3 tiers of improvement over my Aurender, and the differences create an overall higher level of both enjoyment and amazement at each listening session. Does the LDMS server make everything sound perfect and I wake up in nirvana with honey pouring out of my ears? Of course not. Like any big component upgrade, mediocre recordings will continue to sound mediocre. But moments of “oh didn’t hear that before!” and “ah, now I understand her interpretation!” accompanied by a big grin on my face were frequent whether it was Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Emm Gryner, Dave Matthews Band, or Rachmaninoff. I am not one who has extensively owned the Lumin/Grimm/dCS/Aurender/Taiko/Auralic/streamer-market, so I cannot opine about the entire spectrum of references, but I have no doubt that my LDMS is competitive and on par.
Before LDMS was on my horizon, I invested a lot of energy tuning my setup with tubes, cabling and tweaks, some of which costed more than the Aurender, and thought I had reached the point where I was absolutely happy with my system and how it sang. But I did have the nagging feeling that a $2,700 baby Aurender feeding a DAC w/ NOS tubes costing $10,000 had ample room for digital server upgrade. The natural path from the N100H was to the N200 or N20, but through the online forums I was serendipitously introduced to the LDMS circle and folks that nudged me to call up Lucas. I am now part of that fanbase — be careful if you dip in your toes, you might be, too.
Now since my Scarlett came into this audio life, I couldn’t be happier and cannot imagine going back. It is a great feeling having a server/streamer that is near or at the pinnacle of digital performance and knowing it will be a spectacular partner for my future journey.
Incredible work, Lucas!!
I admire the beauty created when science intersects with art/faith. Or so I believe at least when I’m at work.
And that is why I love high-end audio. There is such a relentless pursuit for the ultimate quality and expression of beauty, and sometimes it is through real research and engineering, but often it is through just the art of trial and subjective listening. The musical joys we get are so difficult to achieve and describe, and yet so right when it’s there.
I live in the Pacific Northwest, trying to make sense of the world as a working dad, but also finding solace in music, community, and great food.
Lucas Domanksy Music Server / Network Acoustics filter / Lampizator Pacific 2 + Lampizator Golden Atlantic TRP 3
Rega P8 / Apheta 3 / Sutherland Little Loco II
Ampsandsound Nautilus / ZMF Verite Open
Shunyata power system, QSA-Lanedri / Shunyata / Sablon Audio cabling