Editor’s note: In the weeks between encountering the Linn Selekt DSM and today, some of my opinions have changed. They are included in an addendum at the bottom of this review.
In the network streaming kennel, Linn Products is one of the alpha dogs. But, it has to be said, the DSM platform – while remaining current – is very mature… and maturity is a mixed blessing in a market that defines itself by a ‘what have you done for me lately’ approach that is locked to the product life cycles of smartphones and computers. However, Linn has been incredibly smart with the new Selekt DSM network player, in that it simultaneously makes for an upgradable, open-ended platform for the next few years, and one that sits happily in the existing product line without rendering anything obsolete.
The Selekt DSM is an entirely new line of device for Linn, one that doesn’t just sit in context of other Linn equipment. It’s something of a paradox that one of the most open-source brands builds systems that are treated like a closed loop, but that loop gets broken with the Selekt DSM. This isn’t designed to be a part of an active Linn loudspeaker system, but instead as a source component in any decent audio system. With its inherent modularity, it’s possible that the Selekt DSM will grow from a source component to a better source component (with the Katalyst DAC cartridge upgrade), and then to a complete amplifier solution or headphone amplifier (to follow). But there is no expectation of the Selekt being used with any existing Linn equipment, even Linn loudspeakers. This doesn’t sound like a big thing when discussed in the context of open-ended systems, but many Linn dealers have become so conditioned to selling Linn with more Linn, just mentioning the notion of the Selekt DSM being played with KEFs or Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers (as they were at the demonstration provided by Linn at its Waterfoot HQ in Glasgow) is tantamount to heresy.
A modular system is not exactly a new thing, and not even new to Linn, but the Selekt DSM’s approach is unique all the same. Many modular approaches require a modicum of ‘tech savvy’ on the part of the installer; an unplugging of a wiring loom here, a solder tag there, a tea cup filled with 65 grub screws of different sizes… that sort of thing. Some even require the product being returned to the factory for its upgrades, something that becomes prohibitively expensive when international clients start shipping products around the world.
Linn’s new approach to modularity is designed to make almost anyone fully equipped with the technological know-how to upgrade, thanks to a series of what look like AGP or PCI ports running along the rear side of the Selekt’s front panel. Undo two bolts and the top-plate slides off. Unscrew four more and the front section lifts and pivots forward, then slot and decouple the upgrade cards as you feel fit. If you move to the full Class D amplifier module set, there is a beefier encased power supply to insert, which follows along the same lines. These need to be named in the Konfig app, but that’s it. In short, if you installed your own network card (or similar) in a desktop PC and didn’t need a fire extinguisher, you could update a Linn Selekt DSM. That being said, updates and upgrades will be a job for a dealer, but this can just as easily be a home visit rather than taking the Selekt DSM back to the store. It really is that simple. In addition to taking the strain off the end user, this is considered a good thing for a dealer – they get to see your set-up first hand and might be able to offer a fresh install or upgrade tips in context, and it’s also good for them to have a ‘call out’ that isn’t depressing – most times after the initial install, dealer visits to the home are all about fixing broken things; this one’s a more positive experience all round.
While we are on the subject of things Linn are doing that are not immediately connected to the Selekt DSM, the company is to quietly drop the DS versions of the Majik, Akurate, and Klimax models (meaning there will only be DSM-based source+preamp models and no more source-only variants). Apparently, almost no-one chooses the source-only models these days. At the same time, there is a significant change to the company’s Space Optimisation room correction system to allow for greater variation of room shape and position of objects like doors and windows. This is not for Exakt users, however… for the moment.
There are also a few nice design touches to the case, like the etched logo into the top plate, the 90° vents laid out like a riffle shuffle, and the fact the third of the three feet sits directly under the control/volume knob, giving the Selekt DSM the look of having a solid tube of tech running from the top to the equipment support. It is a bit ‘none more black,’ however. In short, it’s a break from Linn’s more conventional look, and a welcome one at that.
The Selekt DSM’s look is a bold departure for Linn. While it is an all-black design not dissimilar in size and weight to the Majik DSM integrated amplifier, the acrylic front panel, the multi-way top-mounted control dial, and the large OLED screen with an array of fully configurable hard buttons represents a big change for a company that doesn’t change its product design with the wind.
The aspect of the design that will draw the most attention is that dial on the top. In fairness, manufacturers have been putting knobs and dials on top of products since the first electrical goods created the need for a dial. But that’s probably not how it will be taken in some circles. The dial is more than just a rotary commander for the digital volume control, as moving it left and right or up and down allows access to set-up menus or a review through available sources. It also highlights when problems arise in the network or the pausing of a track, depending on the speed and intensity of the glowing Linn logo at the dial’s centre. It’s all very intuitive, and works well with the monochrome front screen.
Linn decided to go with a monochromatic text display, rather than a multicolour display that can support album art, even though the display itself is a full colour model. There are good reasons for staying with monochrome: there’s nothing worse than staring at a dirty great big visual question mark when you can’t find the album art; and, from a psychological perspective, large white lettering on black screen are both easy to read and stop people thinking the screen is a touchscreen. The album details are clear and can be read across the room.
Between the display and the dial, there are six small fully user configurable buttons, and in saying ‘user configurable,’ Linn is not mincing its words. You can assign anything from a single track held anywhere in your musical sphere, through a mounted source component, an internet radio stream, right through to a specific playlist or even a track you love. So, the leftmost button could be a turntable (the Selekt has its own MM and MC phono stages), the next could be Robbie Williams singing ‘Angels’ (hey, it’s your call), the next could be the internet radio stream of Dance Attack FM, the next a playlist of Stockhausen from your Network Attached Storage, then a playlist of West Coast jazz from Tidal, and so on. These are all driven from Linn’s free Kazoo app, which is a silly name for a surprisingly powerful app, available on all platforms except Linux.
There is another seemingly subtle and in fact hugely significant change to the Selekt DSM – it supports USB! The other Linn streaming devices in the range have all been exceptionally good at dealing with UPnP streaming, and more recently online streaming from Tidal or Spotify, but plugging in a humble PC full of music via USB was simply not done in Linn circles. There were accusations of elitism by Linn’s rivals (it was low-hanging fruit for the competition), and more than a few red-faces among fresh-faced Linn reps trying to find a USB port. That all ends with the Selekt DSM, as it sports a Class 2 USB port, and your computer – if not a USB hard drive – can now play from a Linn product. DSD is coming, but MQA remains steadfastly MIA.
Before we get to the performance, let’s just focus a little more on the hardware itself. The Selekt acts identically with analogue or digital sources, in that its first step is to pass any analogue sources through an A-D converter and all subsequent processing is performed in the digital domain. This means the built-in MM and MC phono stage has a lot in common with Linn’s flagship Urika II t. At its most basic configuration, the Selekt DSM is a standalone streaming source component/limited function preamplifier, and subsequent upgrades (available at launch) include the Katalyst DAC cartridge, and power amplifiers. A headphone amp module and potentially other products in the Selekt line will launch later.
But it’s how it sounds that matters. Selekt DSM sits midway between the Majik DSM integrated streaming amplifier and the Akurate DSM. In standard guise (as in without Katalyst DAC), its performance is in line with its price positioning; it’s a lot better than Majik DSM and not quite as good as Akurate DSM. Adding the Katalyst DAC cartridge upends this happy placement, however, as the Selekt DSM has more control over the music than the Akurate DSM. The differences are not substantial however; it’s more an ‘edges past by a nose’ rather than ‘pistol-whipping the Akurate into submission.’ It has that characteristic Linn lean, clean, tight, and dry sound common across the range, but the precision of that sound improves significantly by adding the Katalyst DAC cartridge. It doesn’t ‘obsolete’ Majik or Akurate. Probably.
A more interesting test is with the inclusion of its amplifiers modules, making the Selekt DSM a very close price match with the Naim Uniti Nova. Typically, this test wouldn’t be performed because of Linn’s almost shut-in approach, but the Selekt DSM is the ‘outreach’ device, and this makes for interesting listening. The Linn has both a drier sound and a more satisfying bass than the Naim product (even in standard DAC guise), and when the Katalyst DAC is in place, the differences between the two are substantial and significant. Granted at that point the Linn product is considerably more expensive than the Naim, and it was a quick test, but I suspect many people would choose the Linn if they performed the same comparison.
Finally, there’s Space Optimisation. Where before it had a basic set of room construction options, it now allows far more nuanced real-world room settings, accounting for L-shaped rooms, more accurate placement of doors and windows, and a graphical user interface that allows you to draw your room. The listening room was rectangular anyway, so we are not going to access Space Optimisation’s refinements, but once again the improvement is worth making especially if you are in a less-than-perfect setting.
Linn’s new Selekt DSM has a series of Linn-relevant ‘firsts’. It’s the company’s first fully new digital streaming platform in years, and it will undoubtedly form the basis for new models. It’s the first product in years that is designed to break free of Planet Linn’s gravitational pull, and it is modular enough to attract a range of listeners. I think Linn has got it right with the Selekt DSM.
Addendum:In reading my review back having let it settle for a month or so, I’m of the opinion that I underplayed some aspects of the product’s design and performance. Whether this was because I had just come off the end of one of the busiest writing schedules in my career, that I was setting the Selekt DSM in the wrong context, or a combination of these things remains unclear to me, but I feel like I was pulling my punches.
The biggest change I would add to this is in regard to the Selekt DSM’s modularity. This is not a small step forward; it’s a step-change in audio design. We’ve had modular amplifiers before (in fact, I’d reviewed two of them in quick succession before I got to the Selekt DSM), but not an amplifier where it’s very status as ‘amplifier’ is part of that modularity. This makes the Selekt DSM uniquely modular, not just a modular amplifier. It’s a modular headphone amplifier, a modular source component, modular preamp, or a modular integrated amplifier. In fact, a more accurate term might be a modular/modal design – the modularity of the stages (integrated amp, headphone amp, source, preamp) and modal in terms of DAC cartridge options. Given too this cartridge approach to DAC design means that if there’s a breakthrough in hardware (or software that requires more than just a firmware update), the change can be accommodated… even if it requires a beefed-up power supply.
That sort of open-ended modularity challenges what could be considered the Platonic Forms of audio categorisation. And, while valid, that is the most pretentious sentence I have written in audio… and will be until I start discussing product testing in terms of Kantian deontology. What I mean by this is we tend to use typology in audio (“it’s a power amp!” etc) and a genre-bending product that simply side-steps that kind of classification can sometimes confound where it should inspire. In reality, the Linn Selekt DSM is the perfect ‘now’ product because of its refusal to be classified. It means if you are starting out, starting anew, simply changing up your streaming source, or refreshing a few products in the chain, this becomes one of the front-runners. Which means it’s not one product in one category. It’s one product (with a lot of variations) in about six different categories. That’s what makes it so important, and not simply for Linn products. That alone demands so starry-eyed, slack-jawed fanboidom!
The other big punch-pulling was with regard to where Selekt DSM sits in the Linn echelon. In it’s standard guise, it’s better than Majik, but it’s more expensive than Majik. The full-up Aktiv Akurate DSM system is better than Selekt DSM, but it’s also a very narrow, very expensive Linn-related option. But the big issue is that bit in-between, where Selekt DSM takes on an Akurate DSM with Akurate amps in a passive context. Now it gets nuanced. The full Katalyst-enabled Selekt DSM with its brace of on-board Class D amps gets extremely close in performance terms to the Akurate DSM and power amp combination, and in many respects outguns the older platform. And yet, Selekt DSM is cheaper than Akurate in this setting. In fairness, I can’t see many Akurate users side-shifting to Selekt DSM, but I also can’t see many freshly minted passive Akurate users now that Selekt DSM exists. It’s that good.
I still stand by the notion that the Linn Selekt DSM is so strong because it’s the Linn system for non-Linn users – you don’t need to have Aktive Linn speakers and the rest in your sights and you don’t need to buy into the whole Linn ethos from the get-go. Selekt DSM could be your first Linn product, and needn’t be your last, but it doesn’t lay open a trail to the Linn factory – you could partner this with a pair of good speakers and be done with audio component selection for the next decade or more.
However, the Linn Selekt DSM’s strength lies beyond this. It takes on behemoths both inside and outside the Linn Katalogue, and in most cases wins… and wins big and hard, too. This is there for the long term and will move with the times, but right out of the starting gates, the Selekt DSM looks like a winner.
- DAC Type: Switched-capacitor DAC with low-noise reference voltage
- THD+N : 0.0002% (1kHz 0dBFS at volume 80)
- Dynamic Range: 114dB (Measured at Line-out module XLR output with AES17 measurement filter)
- Katalyst DAC upgrade
- THD+N : 0.0002% (1kHz 0dBFS at volume 80)
- Dynamic Range: 117dB (Measured at Line-out module XLR output with AES17 measurement filter)
- Digital inputs
- Type: FPGA based S/PDIF receiver with digital PLL
- SPDIF ×2 | Toslink ×2 | HDMI ARC ×1
- Supported sample rates (kHz): 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192
- Type: USB Audio Class 2 endpoint.
- Supported sample rates (kHz): 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192
- Analogue inputs
- Type: Digitising analogue input stage with independent analogue phono preamps for MM and MC cartridges.
- ADC Sample rate/resolution: 192kHz/24 bits
- Line-in (RCA): Max input voltage : 4.25Vrms
- MM Phono (RCA): Max input voltage (1kHz): 67mVrms
- MC Phono (RCA): Max input voltage (1kHz): 5.5mVrms
- Space Optimisation |Exakt crossover filtering (option) | Upsampling to 768kHz/32 bits |
- Digital Volume Control
- Line-out module
- Type: Direct-coupled output stage with balanced and unbalanced outputs
- Output Level: 2Vrms (RCA), 4Vrms (XLR) @volume 80
- Output Impedance: 300 Ohms (RCA), 600 Ohms (XLR)
- Power amplifier upgrade
- Type: Bridged Class-D amplifier with post-filter feedback.
- Max output power: 100W/channel into 4 Ohms, 50W/channel into 8 Ohms
- THD+N (Measured with AES17 measurement filter): <0.01% (1kHz, 100W into 4 Ohms) <0.001% (1kHz, 12.5W into 4 Ohms) <0.005% (1kHz, 50W into 8 Ohms) <0.001% (1kHz, 6.25W into 8 Ohms)
- Exakt Link: 2 Exakt Link ports to allow connection to: Exakt speakers | Exaktboxes | Urika II
- Ethernet: 10/100 Base-T RJ45 Socket
- Price: From £4,000
Manufactured by: Linn Products
Tel: +44(0)141 307 7777