Amplifier Review Streaming & Digital Review

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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 10.23.49

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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10 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: https://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: https://theaudiophileman.com/cad-scot-berry/

  • Reply
    Martin Boer
    13th November 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Being a Linn owner I must say I have never even missed the availibility of an USB port.
    If I would really want to, I could put a stick into my NAS and have that play the music to my Linn equipment, but even that hasn’t happended for over a year.

    As for DSD, if you look at the specifications of the DAC inside the Majik DSM (https://d3uzseaevmutz1.cloudfront.net/pubs/proDatasheet/WM8741_v4.3.pdf, the block diagram on page 2) you’ll notice that it has 2 DSD options: either play DSD directly, or transform it into PCM so it can use the PCM digital filters.
    Linn -needs- the PCM digital filters as that gives an interface to SPACE optimalisation, digital volume control, and Exakt when applicable.
    The DSD directly path doesn’t make any sense in a Linn DSM and neither does the transformation of DSD to PCM inside the DAC, as it is much better to have that transformation already done at the NAS. Besides, a music server like Mimim can transcode DSD to PCM on the fly so if you really must, you can keep your DSD files on your NAS.

    I can understand that at first glance the absense of both USB and DSD seem oversights, but once you are used to the NAS being present, it really isn’t.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      14th November 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Martin. Appreciate your time on that.

  • Reply
    PETER JASZ
    11th December 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Paul: You’re too nice. Call it for what it is; an expensive, total and complete turd that cold only appeal to the Linn faithful. (You should have removed the top cover to reveal what was lurking beneath)

    In today’s market, the omission of both USB ports/compatibility and DSD (regardless of Linn’s “take” -that btw, who gives a parc) is abysmal -as no doubt is their failing, fiscal ‘bottom-line’.

    L$3K ! -I’m still laughing.

    In fact, perhaps if they ‘enclosed’ it (the Majic -Magic alright) within a Sondek LP-12 deck, they could ask L$10K. I truly couldn’t bring myself to reviewing it. Hold on, actually, YES, I could; to forewarn readers that dinosaurs DO still exist ! Lol

    peter jasz

  • Reply
    Mandy Landa
    18th December 2017 at 2:29 am

    Being a Linn owner, we have spent more time trying to get the software to work. If it wasn’t for my computer experience, my husband wouldn’t be able to keep it operating. Great sound that comes with a ridiculously crappy assortment of software.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      18th December 2017 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Mandy. Appreciate it.

  • Reply
    Geoff
    2nd August 2018 at 7:51 am

    My review of your review will produce the same sum. First, what was the rest of your reproduction chain? UE Boom 2’s, or B&W Nautilae? Cables used?

    As for your complaints about software, many other reviewers, and my own experience show Linn software to be fairly seamless, but not perfection. I often have to reboot my network to get everything to work. To be fair however, I think that happens with many of our tech products today. Linn taking the open source approach to its software has helped this small company make a pretty good front end. The thing that shocked me was your lauding for vast computer knowledge while being an apple person. Asking for airplay or Bluetooth….really, you do tout yourself as an “audiophile”? If the most you can muster is lossy airplay, go buy three grand worth of Sonos.

    I first bought an HRT Streamer which I streamed out of my pc and into my system. I hated having to have the PC on all the time, and Foobar took a bit of fiddling. Later I got my first big boy streamer, an Oppo 105/D, and realised the USB was not the way to go. Here is where I question the core of your argument. If you really want to do digital music, you need a NAS, period. As stated by someone above, USBing any computer to your system is suboptimal at best. Is it a bit tricky to get Minimserver running on a QNAP NAS (sorry, the only way to go), yes, but welcome to the modern world. Because of this I truly question for competence. I live in a jurisdiction that Tidal, Spotify, and Quobuz (sp?) are not available, but a computer audiophile expert such as yourself should have had access to, and the savvy, to use and test these services, all of which are available in the main drop down menu of Kazoo. The Linn software has been much more reliable, and has a ton more features, than that of the Oppo.

    I question the commenter above about having to fiddle with the software. Neither the Oppo, nor the Linn, both still used daily in my system, have required anything more advanced than a reboot of all my network components and devices. My simple adage is you don’t have a computer problem until you’ve rebooted EVERYTHING at least three times. I have my router and NAS auto reboot themselves at 04:00 nightly, and sometimes I can go weeks without connectivity issues. Try that…but mostly, you don’t have a proper digital playback system until you get a NAS. If you can spend the equivalent of a decent used Honda Civic on a hifi component, you can spend the equivalent of a new set of tires for it for a NAS.

    So, am a Linnie, as defined in the second paragraph here:

    https://www.stereophile.com/standloudspeakers/linn_majik_109_loudspeaker/index.html

    Yes! I hope anyone coming too this review will also vote in the affirmative.

    Do I now have an all Linn system including cabling (incl QNAP NAS)? Yes! That makes me as much of a fanboi of Linn as you are of Apple. Have we both drunk the Koolaid and are evangelists for our respective deities? All I know is when I went from my extremely well regarded Oppo, to my Linn MDSM I was staggered by the improvement in sound quality, depth, detail, nuance, soundstage from the first notes that came out of it. Later I applied Linn’s SPACE Optimization, a very important technological component of Linn’s setup that you don’t even mention, and the sound took another leap forward.

    To anyone who stumbles upon this top of Google search term review, please look elsewhere for for more comprehensive advice on how to spend a significant amount of money, as this review lacks rigor, and is sorely lacking in technical basics. Sorry bud, do better!

    Don’t even get me started on valve wannabes, it’s 2018….

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      2nd August 2018 at 10:45 am

      Hi Geoff

      Thanks for taking the time and trouble to pen your missive. Where to start? Well, I can see where your coming from in terms of sonics re your comments and, more revealing perhaps, your outgoing comment re valves. You have you own sonic bias towards the digital side of Linn, how Linn does things and why and Linn’s digital sound, shall we say. And that’s fine, by the way. I have no issues with that. I applaud your decisive stance on the matter. Because of that, we differ from the off because my aim in hi-fi life, which you’ll see by reading any of my editorial comments within this site, is towards balance and neutrality. Actually, I think Linn can be pushed more towards neutrality if only the company addressed ‘noise’ properly, but that’s a different kettle of fish.
      As a pro-Linn voice, the fact that even you have had software issues and have spent time tweaking your digital set-up speaks volumes. In this day and age there should be no/zero/zilch software issues. At all. From anyone. I’m more interested in listening to music than working ‘under the hood’. The issues I had with Linn reminded me of working with PCs in the 80s. A period that still sends shivers through me. The bottom line, though is there’s no excuses here.
      Linn is not the only company to issue dodgy software onto the populous. I have criticised other brands for the same problem. Yamaha springs to mind, for example. The external version of Google’s Chromecast is another. That doesn’t mean that I have to be spoon-fed less than stable software and then doff my cap in thanks and keep quiet about it.
      I acknowledge that streaming is a popular music format. I am not a fan of streaming by any means, in strict audiophile terms but, as a reviewer, I am here to represent as many people as possible and many of my readers want and insist on Bluetooth/Airplay. Hence my reasonable call for either/both format(s) to be included.
      USB is actually an excellent interface if done properly (while USB-based solid state media is inherently quiet, as least in relative terms). For an explanation of the potential of USB, witness my review, on this site, of the USB-only DAC from CAD which received a very rare 10/10 Golden Groovy. Doing USB well is all about implementation. NAS drives are as noisy (in veiling terms, that is) as any other digital delivery system. On that point, I utilised the AK120 DAP in the review which is a solid state device which at least removes the clanking mechanical aspect of a typical, average NAS.
      Finally, re Apple and your other points, they have already been addressed in the review. Except I have to add my apologies for leaving out a reference list. Gawd knows why that happened. From memory, I used Tellurium Q cables, Quad and Spendor speakers and, I think, a digital box from Moon. Other kit was quoted in the review itself.
      In conclusion? I have the feeling that we might have to agree to disagree on this one. You are obviously happy with Linn and your Linn set-up and there’s many others out there who will vehemently agree with you. I’ve met a few 🙂 And that’s great for you and your music listening experience.

  • Reply
    Hiroyuki Nishioka
    2nd September 2018 at 2:13 pm

    As an user of MAJIK DSM3, I would like to emphasize that DSM can playback high-resolution digital sources as SACD/Blu-ray/DVD audio discs through its HDMI interfaces, however the most of commercially available S/PDIF only support 44.1/48kHz 16-bit mode.

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