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Linn Majik DSM Network Music Player

Linn Majik DSM Network Music Player

Back in the good old days, the Linn range was made up of sources, amps, and speakers. You built a system of balance around these components – from the source downwards –often carefully guided by the hand of a good dealer. Then came the interwebs, and the potential for putting together an unbalanced system became a very real threat, as those advisers moved from ‘experts’ to ‘some outspoken guy’. To its credit, Linn Products effectively sidestepped the potential for unbalanced systems by creating a series of subsets or tiers of Linn performance; Majik, Akurate and Klimax. Majik is the core and traditional entry point to the whole Linn concept (although its Selekt, System 3 and System 5 active systems might argue that statement). The range comprises a variant of the classic LP12 turntable, a pair of stand-mount and a pair of floorstanding loudspeakers, and an integrated amplifier/streamer known as the Majik DSM. The previous Majik DSM was Linn’s best selling product, so its replacement was viewed with some trepidation. Fortunately, the new Majik DSM sounds every bit of its £2,950 asking price.

It’s been over a decade since Linn launched its first Majik DS-I all-in-one network player – and the previous Majik DSM had been in production since 2013 – but the Majik DSM is a rather different proposition to the identically-named product it replaces. It’s more wide-ranging in its functionality, more up-market and up-to-date in the technologies it deploys. It wants to be the engine, the heart and the brain of your entire audio/visual home entertainment system. Add speakers (and possibly a Majik LP12) and you’ll be good to go. There are no fewer than four HDMI 2.0 inputs, all of which are 4K-compatible – so audio information from games consoles, Blu-ray players, TVs or anything else with an HDMI output can be stripped from the signal by the Majik DSM before the video information is passed to a display by the Linn’s HDMI output. 

There are further physical connections in the shape of an Ethernet socket (though Wi-Fi is, naturally, integrated), a USB-B input and a Toslink input. The digital coaxial socket is assignable as an input or an output, and the stereo RCA input can similarly be defined as either line-level or moving-magnet phono stage. A pair of line-level stereo RCA outputs, binding posts for a single pair of speakers and a big ‘power on/off’ switch complete the line-up on the DSM’s rear panel.

As well as the physical socket array, there’s Bluetooth connectivity on board too, while Wi-Fi brings Apple AirPlay and Roon into the Majik DSM orbit. The Kazoo-powered Android control app allows for integration of internet radio (for TuneIn or CalmRadio subscribers), as well as Qobuz, Spotify and Tidal accounts. Not Tidal Masters, though, oh goodness me, no; Linn is ‘chilly’ on the subject… make that liquid nitrogen-grade ‘chilly’.

 

Mastery over Majik comes in the shape of an iOS version of the control app (without Kazoo involvement) and a handsome – if a bit slippery in the hand – full-function remote control handset. Linn asserts its ‘premium brand’ credentials strongly with both the amount of control the user can exert over the Majik DSM via the thelinn.co.uk site and with its exemplary suite of set-up videos. There are solid reasons so many call-centres like to have offices in Scotland, and the reassurance to be derived from these five videos goes some way to explaining that particular phenomenon.

The front of the Majik DSM is a smooth slab of glossily reflective black plastic. It’s home to a 6.3mm headphone socket, an admirably crisp display (text only, though – no lost album artwork here) and six customisable ‘pin’ buttons plus a multi-way menu function control button. The ‘pin’ buttons allow the user to allocate six favourites (radio stations, playlists, tracks… you name it) for immediate access. It’s a very thoughtful feature. 

The look and feel of the Majik DSM is a departure from Linn’s traditional lines, and borrows many of its styling cues from the company’s ‘breakout’ Selekt design. It lacks the clever top-mounted combination volume/indicator dial of the Selekt, but this does make the Majik DSM more ‘shelf-friendly’. It’s effectively 1980s minimalism brought up to date, with very clean lines and a functional (but extremely readable) white on black display. But given the wealth of colours available for the LP12’s plinth and speakers, the Majik DSM’s ‘none more black’ approach acts as contrast, not throwback. 

Doubtless, there will be those bemoaning the new look for not being the old look. There will be those decrying the display for not being a touchscreen, not being a full-colour display of the album cover, and for not being festooned with additional controls and features. But, there’s that ‘minimalism’ word bobbing around all of those negatives. The other side of the argument is not all of us want a ‘Mug’s Eyeful’ product full of bling and buttons. Maybe we just want our audio nerve centre to do its job without the all the trimmings and the trappings of excess. Maybe, just maybe, we want our products to be good on the inside rather than making a big splash on the outside. And that’s where the Majik DSM comes in, and comes in confidently; I’m fairly certain Linn couldn’t care less about whether or not alternative products have fascias that display album artwork. The Majik DSM sounds spectacularly good, and for Linn the rest is tinsel.

On the inside, the Majik DSM is, if anything, just as busy. The DAC architecture is, in much the same way as the DAC in the Series 3 wireless speaker we reviewed in Issue 178, derived from the Katalyst convertor – making it good for PCM resolutions up to 24bit/192kHz. Formats including DSD128, FLAC, WAV and AAC are catered for too, as well as quite a few of the more esoteric/unpopular alternatives. The moving-magnet phono stage, meanwhile, is a variation on the stand-alone Urika II hybrid analogue/digital phono stage and does absolutely as much of its work as possible in the digital domain. While at first glance putting the output of a moving magnet cartridge through the digital domain might be the equivalent of putting a bat up the nightdress of analogue enthusiasts, there are very good noise and accuracy of equalisation reasons for processing at least half the RIAA curve digitally. Just ask any Urika II owner!

There’s a new, dedicated headphone amplification circuit sitting behind that 6.3mm socket too. The volume control is digital, and consequently both lossless and low-distortion. And grunt is supplied by Class D amplification, rated at 100 watts per channel into 4ohms and 50 watts per channel into 8ohms. Which are respectable numbers but as not only Linn will tell you, it’s not how many watts you’ve got but how you deploy them. In this instance, power amplification is bespoke and Linn-designed, and promises low noise and distortion along with class-leading signal conversion efficiency.

The Majik DSM is compatible with Linn’s brow-furrowingly comprehensive and hair-raisingly effective Space Optimisation technology. Your Linn dealer will take care of the process once the Majik DSM is safely in position in your listening room – and although it still refuses to acknowledge the possibility that your listening environment might be completely brick-built, Space Optimisation is nevertheless a deeply impressive package. Once your dealer has informed the software all about your listening space (and I mean all about it, right down to its humidity), the speakers you’re using and the height of the chair you sit on, the software trims the Majik DSM to what Linn deems its perfect set-up. You might (rashly/confidently) feel you can improve on it, in which case you can trim for flatter frequency response or shorter decay time. 

 

And as observed at the very top of this review, there’s simply no doubting the Linn’s sonic abilities relative to the Majik DSM’s asking price. With its response Optimised for your Space, the Majik DSM is – like many a Linn product – a strikingly rapid and subtle listen, with hugely impressive powers of time-alignment.

Linn’s Space Optimisation system includes an extensive range of loudspeakers on its website, but we expect to see many complete Linn Majik systems to be used with the Majik DSM. It’s not hard to see why; the Linn Majik LP12 is a perfect match in terms of performance (and its choice of MM cartridge) and both Majik loudspeakers are equally well-liked and a fine match in their own right. All of which means that the bulk of the listening was conducted in an all-Majik context, and that’s a very entertaining place to be. I know that many of us are so wedded to the idea of ‘mix and match’, but when it sounds this good, maybe the turnkey approach works!

You don’t have to listen far into a 180g vinyl reissue of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band’s Safe as Milk [Buddah] via a Clearaudio Concept turntable for the Majik DSM to lay down the law. The tonal balance the Linn demonstrates is exquisitely judged – the bass guitar (which is mildly, but undeniably, out of tune throughout this album) is described with completely straight edges, the Majk snapping into the initial attack of notes and explaining their decay with equal enthusiasm. Low frequencies have bounce and substance, are controlled with complete authority and manage to combine impact with rapidity in a way that’s far from common. Many a late 60s recording can suffer from foggy, ill-disciplined low frequencies, but not when it’s been had at by the Majik DSM.

Higher up, Beefheart’s Howlin’ Wolf impersonation is absolutely loaded with character and detail – at times (during ‘Plastic Factory’, for example) it sounds authentically painful and surely unable to survive a second take. The top end clatters and crashes with well-organised abandon, and even though each individual element of the recording is safe in its own little area of space on the soundstage, the Linn integrates every constituent part into a seamlessly unified whole. It makes as strong a case for the timing of a piece of music as the single most significant factor in its sounding realistic and convincing as any Linn product ever has – which is saying something.

Switch up (or, at the very least, sideways) to Stereolab’s Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements[Duophonic] via Tidal integrated into the Linn/Kazoo app on an Android smartphone and the Majik DSM, if anything, gets even more compelling. The Krautrock-esque ‘motorik’ tempos are described with something approaching relish, while the grainy analogue keyboard sounds grind and spit unforgivingly. The relentless nature of the recording is perfectly rendered by the Linn, and it has both the insight and the facility with nuance to extract actual, coherent meaning from the vocal buried deep in the mix. Once again, it’s the innate sense of unity that’s perhaps most striking here – the sensation of numerous different components fusing into a single, complete entity is hard to come by at the best of times, no matter how much you pay for your music system nor how many boxes it comprises.

 

At every turn, the Linn Majik DSM proves a forthright, authoritative and, above all, transfixing listen. The clean, straight edges of its sound, the mastery of rhythm and tempo, and its effortless momentum are retained across every input, every storage format and every source component. No recording is too primitive or too complex to break the Majik DSM’s stride – it’s never less than utterly enjoyable to listen to. In other words, a product that sounds like every penny of the asking price, a product with the sonic talent to keep you happy for years. 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Product type: Integrated streaming amplifier with built-in MM phono stage

Amplification type: Class D

Power: 100 watts (into 4ohms), 50 watts (into 8ohms)

Analogue inputs: One MM phono input (via RCA jacks) or one line-level input (via RCA jacks)

Digital inputs: Two S/PDIF (one coaxial, one optical), one USB Type B port, four HDMI inputs, one Ethernet port

Analogue outputs: one line-level output (via RCA jacks)

Digital outputs: One coaxial S/PDIF, one HDMI ARC

Supported sample rates: up to 24bit/192kHz

Dimensions (H×W×D): 100 × 350 × 350mm

Weight: 4.1kg

Price: £2,950

Manufacturer: Linn Products

URL: linn.co.uk

Tags: FEATURED

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