Amplifiers Streaming & Digital

Linn Majik DSM: All Together Now…!

The notion of the all-in-one hifi component is increasingly popular, Paul Rigby wonders if this one can still handle the competition as he reviews the Linn Majik DSM

It’s been around for a little while now but the Linn Majik DSM is replete with features and a reputation as big as a mountain to claim a stake in the all-in-one component stakes. The latest iteration of the Majik has undergone some slight improvements, upgrading the HDMI ports to version 2.0, adding 4K quality plus, said Linn, “HDR video pass-through for compatibility with ultra-high definition video sources and displays. This specification is also compatible with HDCP 2.2 encryption, ARC (audio return channel) and CEC (consumer electronics control). This is a simple upgrade, fitted by a Linn Specialist retailer.”

So this was a great opportunity to see if the Linn could still cut it in today’s market.

The Majik provides a Chakra 90W amplifier that sits next to a phono amplifier that can handle both MM and MC cartridges along with digital-to-analogue facilities.

The phono amplifier is set in MM mode, as a default. If you want to use the Linn in moving-coil (MC) mode, this requires an MC Upgrade Kit (available from your Linn retailer) and an internal hardware reconfiguration, which must be carried out by an authorised Linn retailer.

The front fascia is a simple affair with its relatively large readout window. To the left is a mute button, smaller volume buttons and mini, 3.5mm headphone socket. To the right is an auxiliary port, source buttons and power button.

Around the rear, apart from the power socket and two earths, you’ll find a pair of speaker terminals plus four pairs of RCA ins, a pre-out, Line out, four coaxial, three optical port inputs and an optical output (for an external DAC) as well as four – yes four – HDMI ports. Three are inputs and one is an output. Hence, you can play back the sound of a Blu-ray player or games console and allow the picture to head off to the TV. You won’t find Dolby Digital or DTS, though. There’s also an Ethernet port to connect to a network and two Exakt links (to connect to other Linn devices).

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 10.23.39

As for USB? Well, there are no USB ports which I find a little strange in a fully featured box such as this. Connecting a quality DAC via a laptop, for example, is a frequent pursuit these days.

For music streaming, the Majik hits 24bit/192kHz but DSD is not supported although Tidal and Qobuz is.

I asked Linn about the lack of DSD and a technical staff member replied with this, “DSD was invented to solve problems that no longer exist today. A good idea in 1999, DSD was conceived to improve the quality of music at home over the prevailing 16bit CD format. By bypassing the down-sampling and up-sampling filters in the CD audio chain, DSD sought to improve performance by shortening the audio signal path. However, DSD has been overtaken by modern technology; A-D and D-A converters have moved away from 1-bit, to far superior multi-bit processes and the down-sampling and up-sampling filters that DSD sought to bypass have been rendered transparent by the use of higher sample rates and modern algorithms. In fact, DSD is now the quality bottleneck in the modern recording and playback chain. The arrival of 192kHz 24bit capable Linn DS players in 2007 signalled the end of DSD. There is no longer the need to convert the original Studio Master recording, which is usually in PCM format, to a DSD stream, because the Studio Master can now be decoded natively on the Linn DS player. Hence, a needless and lossy conversion from PCM to DSD has been eliminated. DSD has, like so many audio formats, come to the end of it’s natural life. It’s time to move on.”

I would be interested to know if you have any comments regarding the Linn statement and DSD. Do you agree or disagree and, if so, why? What are your experiences with DSD, 24bit/192kHz and PCM? If you do have any thoughts, please add them to the bottom of this review.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 10.23.13

Finally, the system arrives with a decent silver, TV-type remote control. Weighing in a 4.9kg, the DSM spans 381 x 91 x 355mm.

IN USE

I then downloaded the Linn Kazoo app on my iPhone to help enable streaming as well as a host of Linn software-based systems on my MacBook including Kazoo (with Konfig which had to be downloaded, installed and configured first), Songcast and Kinsky. Songcast seemed to have an issue with my browser, Safari and so failed to run. The others failed to work either. At least, for me in the test time I allowed to it.

You know what? I respect the whole server thing and the extra features that they offer and I know that there’s lots of other branded servers from other companies online too and plenty of people love those and I know that a lot of those work really well but, facing all of these Linn apps, all at once, I just felt confused. I just yearned to be able to send a quick sound file with my phone or laptop to the Linn. There and then. The failure to get these apps to work is probably down to me and my ineptitude and Linn’s techie people are, no doubt, in fits of laughter and probably can’t believe that I didn’t get the system up and running and label me now as a complete prat. But look, I just wasn’t in the mood for the software hassle. I was a PC user for 25 years (I even edited two national UK PC magazines) and I’m done with that nonsense. Nowadays, software is supposed to chase after you – not you after it.

I fiddled around with the programs and felt lost within them. All I wanted was something like Airplay, Bluetooth…anything but the Linn does not feature those protocols. The above software apps were less than friendly, involved lots of hunting and frustration and setting up and…well, I just wanted them to work. And I didn’t want to do any work, if you see what I mean. I’m now a Mac user. I felt as though I’d just booted up a PC again. I didn’t like the Linn app experience.

SOUND QUALITY

I moved to CD/DAC and one of the strangest yet best dance tracks of the 90s, The Shamen (and Terence McKenna) with Re:Evolution. As McKenna talks in plodding spirals, The Shamen provide an uplifting and complex suite of beats.

The overall sound quality is definitely solid state in tone, approach and presentation. This is not a warming, valve-like sound but one that, while not bright or strident, is definitely on the cooler and slightly clinical sides of the overall sonic pattern.

What does this mean in practical listening terms? The McKenna, um, speech was clear, concise and open with a precision to the nth degree. This enabled his diction to be truly ‘on point’. At very high volumes, this style of sound can induce a measure of listening fatigue but there are plenty of people out there who will appreciate this approach (I’ve spoken to many hi-fi fans at hi-fi shows, for example who love this approach to sound) as it also digs into the mix, exposing every aspect of it meaning that even subtle areas are spotlighted while complex pieces – this track featured multi-layering of synth lines – are easily followed and tracked by the ear. Bass, while lacking an organic character, was focused, tight and punchy.

I then plugged in my Red Wine Audio-modded Astell&Kern AK120 DAP and played Bob Marley’s Jamming at 24bit/96kHz. Despite the less than organic bass, the lower frequencies were strong with fast transients that moved the music on a fair pace.

That said, the general soundstage was impressive in terms of the instrumental separation. This was a busy yet uncluttered soundstage that allowed the ear to roam from channel to channel, picking up even subtle information. Marley’s vocals were open and clear, sprightly and full of energy. Although the treble-infused cymbals had a slight splashy edge, the secondary percussion was precise and clean in tone.

I played Connie Francis’ original pressing Sings Bacharach and David (MGM) from 1968 via a Rega RP3 and found the performance excellent. Yes, the personalty of the Majik was retained as it shone a spotlight upon the midrange but that midrange was also relatively open and spacious with plenty of opportunity for subtle reverb tails to extend into the distance while even minor detail was served to the ear without any problem at all.

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I then tested the headphone amplifier via a pair of Sennheiser HD650 headphones via the same Connie Francis recording and was was wholly impressed by the performance of this module. Hardly a throwaway extra, the headphone amplifier was both insightful and svelte with no smearing of the mids or blooming of the bass while providing clear and informative detail.

CONCLUSION

The Linn Majik DSM is a neat and tidy design that is packed with features and can be utilised in a hi-fi system or a more lifestyle, TV-oriented chain. Despite the plethora of buttons and sockets and facilities that spout from within, I was perturbed by the lack of USB facilities. Any and every all-in-one product needs at least one but more likely two or three USB ports. Often, higher resolution music can often be only accessed via USB on some connectable hi-fi kit while DSD is becoming a viable option in terms of alternative formats. Downloadable DSD albums are on the up while the format is even becoming popular now in terms of vinyl ‘ripping’. Pro-Ject’s newly released Record Master is one such DSD ripping-oriented system for analogue fans. These missing elements all impact on the value for money rating.

I thought long and hard about the rating. The app issues were not a deal breaker, this unit can easily be enjoyed without them. Despite the wealth of facilities, though, basics like the missing USB and  also the arguably expected DSD and still being asked to pay almost £3,000 just did it for me. That said, I don’t want to appear damning here. The Majik remains a wholly capable and feature-laden device that is easy to use (apps excepting) and provides a niche sonic presentation that will be loved by many.


LINN MAJIK DSM

Price: £2,965

Tel: 0800 001 5111

Website: www.linn.co.uk

GOOD: features, build quality, ease of use, clean mids, punchy bass

BAD: no USBs, no DSD, no Bluetooth, no Airplay, price, some will not appreciate the cool sonics, slightly mechanical bass, app set-up

RATING: 7

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Rorie
    23rd July 2017 at 2:45 am

    I have yet to hear any DSD DAC replay the true tonal colours of a brass instrument or represent that tension properly between a bow and violin strings Etc…on the other hand Multi bit DACs are phenomenal (pcm) are in doing so.

    USB is an inferior method of transferring what amounts to dynamic real time and instantaneous playback and should have never made it as far as it has in the audio world. Rife with electrical noise on the power bus it’s a problem in recording studios too.

    I think you should be applauding this move and ask for higher standards from everyone in the high end community rather than creating a check list of must haves that may not be all that good anyhow

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      23rd July 2017 at 1:04 pm

      Hi Rorie

      Thank you very much for your reply. You’re obviously passionate about your hi-fi sound and I respect that. That said, our listening experience has obviously been very different and, I suspect, out expectations may very well be different too. And, hey, vive la difference!
      In terms of DSD quality? It depends on how it is implemented, it depends on whether the DSD signal has been processed initially as a PCM stream (this sub-standard stream was a sadly exclusive occurrence until very recently and I wonder if that’s what you’ve been hearing) or whether it’s a pure DSD signal. A pure DSD signal (and, as I suggest, such a beast is only now beginning to appear in hi-fi hardware) can sound wonderful. To my mind, DSD only really comes into its own when it hits DSD 256. Before that, I hear too many imperfections. DSD 64 and 128, to my ears, sound almost like watching a TV image with pixellated blocks in the picture screen. That’s how those lower res DSD signals sound to my ears. Done properly? DSD is far superior to 24bit/192kHz. Go here to see why DSD was utilised to process the Rolling Stones vinyl mono edition: http://theaudiophileman.com/stones-mono/
      For USB? Well, often USB is the only port on a piece of hifi that will actually support the highest resolution streams offered on any one product. I’ve reviewed many hardware products where, out of the range of digital options included, USB is the only one to support the highest PCM resolution. That’s a practical point. In terms of sound quality? Well, again, it’s how you implement the USB interface. USB is not black and white in how it delivers sound. You can tweak and modify it. The best piece of digital hardware that I’ve ever heard – receiving one of I think 4 Golden Groovies on this site from the hundreds of reviews posted here – is USB *only*. That’s right, there’s no other interface. Just USB. And the sound output from that offers the lowers noise I’ve heard from any digital box. Linn included. Click here to read more: http://theaudiophileman.com/cad-scot-berry/

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