We get hands‑on with a unique percussive instrument from Lumen.
Conceived 10 years ago by South African Guy Jackson as a DIY project, on the back of a salad bowl in a kitchen, and initially funded by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the Lumen digital handpan has been a long time coming.
If you’re not already familiar with the handpan as an acoustic instrument (see the ‘Handpan History’ box, later), the Lumen probably looks like a particularly odd proposition. With its dome‑shaped shell and nine pads, it has been designed to emulate its acoustic counterpart both physically and sonically. A built‑in speaker and battery allows the instrument to be played anywhere without additional power or amplification but, unlike an acoustic handpan, you can change instruments, keys, scales and volume on the fly. MIDI and USB connectivity take the Lumen into the digital domain for easy integration into your studio setup. I’m not sure if the world has been waiting for a digital handpan, but as a player myself, I was intrigued to see how it stacked up as an electronic version of one of the most unique percussion instruments around.
The Lumen ships in a padded, hard‑shell backpack with a small pocket on its side to carry the power supply. This not only looks fantastic but protects it extremely well, and is ideally suited to the unique nature of the product. The instrument itself is around 19 inches across — a little smaller than most of the acoustic handpans I have encountered. The upper surface also has less of a pronounced dome than a regular handpan, which further emphasises its compact look and feel.
The shell is made from spun aluminium and has eight FSR (Force Sensitive Resistor) Thermal Poly Rubber pads evenly distributed around it, with a ninth pad in the centre. The pads each have their own dedicated signal processors and feature five pressure‑sensitive zones that detect where you strike the pad, as well as the physical pressure you apply.
All functions of the Lumen are controlled via the central control panel, a unique touch interface that comprises a two‑inch‑wide, hard‑plastic ring surrounding the centre pad. The inner part of the ring has a touch‑sensitive groove that runs almost all the way round, with a small gap at the point where it faces the player. Pushing on the outer part of the ring with a single, double or long press selects the menu, and running your finger around the grooved section changes the selection or parameter value. A ring of bright blue LEDs mirrors your moves.
It does take time to get used to this innovative way of controlling the Lumen, but after a while it becomes second nature, so you can move around the various menus quickly and, more importantly, without having to stop playing.
One of the big differences between the Lumen and other percussion controllers is the inclusion of a 30‑watt speaker mounted inside the unit, which (in conjunction with a large‑capacity, 10800mAh onboard battery with a quoted playing time of six hours) enables it to be played as a standalone instrument. A perforated grille runs around the outer edge of the unit, giving full 360‑degree sound coverage with not inconsiderable volume — certainly comparable to an acoustic handpan — and a very acceptable tone.
The underside of the Lumen is similarly dome shaped, with a slightly deeper curve that allows it to sit very comfortably on your lap. At the very base of the unit, in the area that would occupy the soundhole on an acoustic handpan, is where the audio and MIDI connections are located. Connectivity is limited to a single MIDI output port, quarter‑inch stereo jack output, and a USB...