Exclusive: Linn’s new Majik DSM – First Impressions
- Alan Sircom
- Aug 2020
I’ve been fortunate in being the only person not working for Linn who got an exclusive pre-release listen to the new £2,950 Majik DSM. OK, to bring myself into line I had to change my name from ‘Sircom’ to ‘Sirkom’ for the duration, but that’s a small price to pay for the privilege. And listening to the Linn Majik DSM in advance was a bit of a privilege.
Let’s be honest. Hi-Fi has got a bit po-faced. We’ve gone down a snobby route that can work against us. We shun any form of wireless connection, think HDMI or video connections are the devil’s own work, and the idea of hooking up a games console to our shrine to the audio gods is an abomination.
On the other hand, in the real world, people do all those things without turning a hair. They stream music wirelessly to their audio systems, then flip to streaming Netflix to their TV, then playing games, and so on. We can snooty our way into a corner by saying “it’s not hi-fi” but home entertainment in its wider context has diversity today. By taking this more modern and pragmatic path, Linn’s new Majik DSM is one of the rare audio components that takes on modern life… and wins.
I had the opportunity for a one-on-one session for the new Majik DSM in the swanky Linn Concession store on the fifth floor of Harrods in Kensington, London. In that concession is a small space that’s set up like a living room and although not fully soundproofed, it does make for a good approximation of the kind of living spaces people in London might have today. Also, it’s the perfect size to put together a small Majik system with Linn’s own Majik 109 loudspeakers (and a Majik LP12 turntable complete with shiny new one-point Karousel bearing and latest RAL colour scheme options). The soundproofing used in the room does absorb a lot of sound in the room too; it’s both dead and you need to wick up the volume higher than usual, but this gave an example of just how good the system was at a range of volume levels. `
I’m not going to trawl through the specifications, as they are on the press release. Instead, the easy way to think of this is ‘yes, it can do it.’ Roon – yep. AirPlay – Yep, with AirPlay 2 on the cards. HDMI? Yep, loads of them, bi-directional and one-direction; even HDMI ARC (audio return channel) for simplicity of cable layout. But more importantly, the Majik DSM pushes all the buttons for the person who has never heard the word ‘audiophile’ but simply wants to play sounds in a bloody good way, this box does it all. You can use the Majik DSM as your AV hub, switching from music to PlayStation to cable TV box without tears. Sound quality aside, the nearest we get to nerdy is the ¼” headphone jack with a good amp behind it, meaning you can play some of the more gnarly headphone loads.
Of course, Linn cut its teeth on vinyl replay and the Majik system wouldn’t be complete without the option to play LPs. Here, the MM-only phono stage is a part-analogue, part-digital affair derived from Linn’s top devices.
What matters here is performance, though. And ‘performance’ in this context is more than just ‘how it sounds’, although it actually sounds pretty damn good too. Performance in a modern context is how seamlessly it connects to the outside world, how effortlessly the app drives the system, whether or not using it is a frustrating experience, and so on. When properly set-up, a good system should be as effortless in use as a good toaster. Almost.
Everything from this is driven by the app, and the app (Android and iOS) works well. Linn has more than a decade of understanding whether people are using local music storage or online streaming services and the trend is very much toward online streaming services, and the app is well geared toward that, seamlessly blending local and online libraries. If you are used to using Tidal’s own app – for example – there’s a touch of learning curve while you learn to live in the Linn ecosystem, but the length of time it will take you to read this first look is about twice as long as most people will take to get with the programme. The large front panel display deliberately goes for large white on black text rather than colour touchscreens or showing off album covers. Having spent some hours trying to download the right album art into metadata to prevent looking at the ‘Quavers of Doom’ greyed-out beamed eighth notes used to depict an absence of album cover, a simple text display is all you really need.
Ease of use only gets you so far, though. It’s got to sound good. And it does. Played in the context of an all-Majik system – the aforementioned Majik 109 speakers and Majik LP12 in a fine shade of Lambo orange – we also had the best-selling, previous generation Majik DSM to compare and contrast. I thought the original was extremely good, but in comparison it sounds flat and lifeless, with bass that is indistinct and ‘flubby’. In other words, all the things the original did well, the new one does so well it makes the original sound almost mediocre.
The sound is clean and dry (like a good Martini, not like the Gobi Desert) in the typical Linn way, and is perfectly suited to speakers like the Majik 109s. Like its predecessor – but to a greater degree – it’s tidy and ordered with a fine sense of rhythm. And if it’s a big change on the digital side, it’s huge in vinyl, with a more detailed, focussed and precise sound that also retains all of the melodic and rhythmic properties that made the older DSM good. We usually flub the issue about ‘should you upgrade’, but this time it’s a distinct ‘yes’… if you have the older model, the upgrade is worth doing.
Playing to the old crowd is not enough, and it’s here where the Majik DSM really shines. The sonics push this to the top of the pile of one-box does-it-all devices (or at least at the top of the pile that doesn’t cost as much as a decent second-hand car), and it’s inherent flexibility and the quality of the Komplete Majik Kit makes a lot of sense to someone who’s decided there’s more to life than Sonos. That it can then talk to other streaming devices around the home (especially Linn-flavoured devices like the Series 3) is icing on the cake. This is one of those easy recommendations someone like me would make round the dinner table to hi-fi and non-hi-fi types alike… if only we could sit round the dinner table!
It’s odd but hi-fi is shining once more. If 2020 has taught us anything, thanks to the eldritch horrors beyond our front doors, staying in is the new going out. This means, we make the best of our homes once more, and that includes making the best of our home entertainment in its widest sense. Linn’s Majik system – with the new Majik DSM – makes that home entertainment sound better. We hope to have a deeper play with this system soon.
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