• Linn Majik DS-I Review

    November 24, 2009 Linn announced it would stop production of CD players at the end of the year. Computer audiophiles around the globe were jubilant while skeptics were unconvinced the announcement was anything more than a publicity stunt. Opinions aside the cessation of CD player manufacturing was a bold step in an industry where homeostasis has been the norm for so long. This announcement and subsequent halt to CD player production wouldn't have been possible without Linn's foresight into the disc-less world of hifi. Linn's commitment to its Digital Streaming line of products began years before most consumers could even conceptualize listening to music without a Compact Disc let alone streaming music via Ethernet. Linn announced its first DS (Digital Stream) player, the Klimax DS, back in 2007. Since that time Linn has released several DS components at various price and performance levels. The Linn Majik DS-I, Digital Stream player with Integrated amplifier, is the newest component in the Digital Stream lineup.
     


    About the Linn Majik DS-I

    The Linn Majik DS-I is an incredibly versatile high end audio component. The DS-I consists of a Linn DS player/DAC, preamplifier, Chakra power amplifier, and Dynamik power supply all in one chassis. Straight out of the box the DS-I is ready to perform very well in numerous configurations only limited by the imagination. Using the player as an integrated amplifier allows one to take advantage of all that Linn has put into the DS-I. The preamplifier section has eleven total inputs and six outputs. Single-ended analog in and outputs as well as digital in and outputs. The volume control in the DS-I is completely digital.

    The Chakra power amplifier delivers ~100 watts (4 ?) into two channels. Chakra power amplification is a patent pending unique Linn technology. According to the Linn Chakra white paper, "... When output current is less than a few amps, all of the power output comes from the monolithic, maximising the speed and linear properties of this design. At higher output currents the bi-polars provide the majority of the output current, leaving the monolithic to operate well within its capability and so able to correct any error instantaneously...The Linn CHAKRA technology eliminates the weaknesses and maximises the strengths of monolithic linear amplifier technology. It combines the speed and precision of a high integration chip technology with the ruggedness and smoothness of discrete ultra-linear bipolar transistors and delivers precisely controlled Linn Silent Power at all listening levels." Throughout the review I used Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers. Listening to music from dynamic orchestral pieces to the electric bass of Marcus Miller the solid state Chakra integrated amplification easily powered these speakers.

    The newest Dynamik power supply has several improvements over Linn's previous power supplies and according to Linn the Dynamik supply and its internal filters are more effective than external power filters and conditioners. On one hand its nice to have power filtering engineered by the same people as the other component(s). It's in their best interest to make the products sound as good as possible. On the other hand products using the Linn Dynamik supply are locked in to filtering that can't be disengaged in favor of a third party power product. There are a number of manufacturers specializing in only power products who know this area as well as anyone.

    A common argument against using integrated amplifiers is the lack of an upgrade path. The Majik DS-I's plethora of in and outputs enable the component to serve many functions in many different system configurations. Thus the DS-I allows an incredible number of upgrade paths. Want to get a different power amplifier or different DAC? No problem just configure the DS-I appropriately and it'll function wonderfully with either new component.

    Here are some of the many configurations possible.

    • 1. Use the DS-I as an integrated one chassis unit that does everything. (DS-I Integrated)

    • 2. Digital input to analog pre-out to an external amplifier. (DS-I DAC & Preamplifier)

    • 3. Digital input via Ethernet to electrical or optical digital output to external DAC. (DS-I bit perfect Ethernet to S/PDIF conversion)

    • 4. Digital input to line-out analog to external preamplifier. (DS-I DAC only)

    • 5. Phono input - MM or MC. (DS-I Integrated or Preamplifier or Phono Stage only)

    • 6. Analog input from external DAC. (DS-I Preamplifier and Amplifier)

    • 7. Analog input from external DAC to analog Pre-out to external amplifier. (DS-I Preamplifier)



     


    Digital Stream Player Detail

    The most notable part of the Linn Majik DS-I is the integrated Digital Stream player. In layman's terms the Digital Stream player connects to a home network via Ethernet. A computer on the home network feeds music files via Ethernet to the DS-I for playback. A more technical description of the Digital Stream player requires information about the surrounding technology. Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is a broad protocol defining device connectivity on home and corporate networks. UPnP is an open standard. If nothing else, readers should understand that UPnP enables network connected devices to see each other and interoperate with no or almost no configuration. Universal Plug and Play Audio / Video (UPnP AV) is a subset of UPnP applying only to audio and video devices. The Linn Majik DS-I uses the UPnP AV v1.0 standard. This standard separates devices into different components. The three central components for this review are Media Server, Media Renderer, and Control Point.


    Media Server - Media Servers store content such as audio, video, and photos and provide a directory of this content. This content is streamed from the Media Server to the Media Renderer. Examples of Media Server hardware are Network Attached Storage devices (NAS), or Windows and Mac OS X music servers with locally stored content. Media Servers also require UPnP software. Example of this software include Twonky Media Server, Asset UPnP, and J River Media Center. This software determines what menus and content the Control Point can access.

    Media Renderer - Media Renderers play content streamed from a Media Server. The pertinent example of a Media Renderer is the Linn DS-I and all other Linn Digital Stream players.

    Control Point - Control Points automatically find Media Servers and Media Renderers on the network. Control Points browse content on the Media Server, create playlists, and have various remote capabilities such as track forward/backward, volume up/down, viewing menus for navigation, and album art. Examples of Control Point hardware are iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, PDA, Windows computer, Mac OS X computer. Control Points require UPnP software for functionality. Examples of Control Point software are PlugPlayer and Konductor for the Apple devices, KinskyDesktop for Mac and Windows, Asset Control for Windows, and SongBook for Mac OS X.

    Unique to the Linn DS range of products are the Linn UPnP AV Extensions. The following extensions are only available on specific Control Points designed to work with the Linn extensions.

    A. Multiple Media Renderers - Using the SongBook Control Point software on a Mac or J River Media Center on a Windows PC it is possible to view and control multiple renderers.

    B. Multiple Control Point support - This extension makes it possible to use an iPhone and iPad, or similar device, for control of the same DS player simultaneously.

    C. On device playlists - This is my favorite extension. It allows one to create a playlist that is automatically stored on the DS player. Once the playlist has been created the control point (iPad, JRMC, etc...) no longer has to be powered on. In fact the Linn DS-I remote control can control the playlist. Using the Linn remote is very similar to controlling a CD player. The forward and back, play and pause buttons work just like the days of old. The best part of this extension is the ability to store the playlist while the DS-I is powered off. During the review period I frequently walked in to my listening room, grabbed the Linn remote and pressed play. The last playlist started right in without the need to touch a UPnP Control Point like the iPad or computer.

    D. Full preamp integration - This enables Control Points like the iPad to adjust the volume on the DS-I.


    The Linn DS players rely on an existing home network in addition to a Media Server and Control Point to operate. The data path from Media Server storage to speakers is pretty efficient and logical. The Control Point (iPad running PlugPlayer) browses the music library on the Media Server (NAS running Twonky Media Server). The Control Point (iPad running PlugPlayer) then signals the Media Renderer (Linn Majik DS-I) to pull selected file(s) directly from the Media Server (NAS running Twonky Media Server). The Majik DS-I streams small portions of the music file as needed to keep a small buffer full and music playing uninterrupted (Graphic). A very nice feature of the buffer is it allows audio to fade out slowly when there is a network problem prohibiting the buffer from refiling. Once the buffer is full again the sound slowly fades back up to the normal volume level. According to Linn the advantages to this method of streaming are a small buffer requirement, file size is inconsequential, and the small amount of data required to fill the buffer can be transferred quickly. After the buffer audio is passed through the DAC, preamp, amp, and finally out to the speakers. The Control Point and Media Server software and hardware mentioned are only a few of the many options available. During my research of UPnP hardware and software I asked the very friendly readers of the Linn Forum for their input and recommendations. The feedback I received was very good and enabled me to operate the DS-I in my systems with ease.

     

    Computer Audiophile DS-I Configurations

    The numerous Media Server and Control Point hardware/software options can be a bit overwhelming. I tried many of them but settled on four main UPnP configurations and one more traditional music server configuration without using UPnP. Most of the items listed below can be interchanged with hardware or software preferred by the user.


    1. Playback directly from NAS with iPad control. This configuration is simple to setup and use but doesn't offer the best library navigation features.

    Hardware
    Linn Majik DS-I - This is the Media Renderer
    Basic PC - This is only used for initial DS-I setup and ripping CDs or copying downloaded music to the NAS. Core Duo processor, two GB of RAM, and 160 GB spinning hard drive.
    Thecus N5200B Pro Network Attached Storage (NAS) - The Media Server user for storing all the music and running UPnP compliant Media Server software.
    iPad - Running UPnP compliant Control Point software PlugPlayer used to browse the music library and control the Linn DS-I.
    Apple Airport Extreme Base Station - Provides the wired and wireless network infrastructure for the UPnP components to communicate.
    Category 6 cables to connect devices - Connect all devices to the Airport Extreme, including the DS-I.
     
    Software
    Windows 7 - Current operating system capable of running the needed software. No built-in features of Windows 7 are necessary.
    dBpoweramp - Used to rip CDs to the NAS Media Server.
    Konfig for Windows - Used for initial Majik DS-I setup only.
    PlugPlayer - Control Point software runs on iPad. Features full library navigation and search as well as album art and DS-I volume control.
    TwonkyMedia server - Media Server software runs on Thecus N5200B Pro NAS. TwonkyMedia server indexes the music files on the NAS and provides the navigation menus available to PlugPlayer on the iPad. A major reason TwonkeyMedia server is not my favorite software is its lack of support for browsing a library by Album Artist.

     

    The system works as follows. Every device is connected to the Airport Extreme wired or wireless. I recommend only connecting the iPad via wireless. Cat 6 Ethernet cables can run 100 meters, eliviating the need to place any of this hardware near the Majik DS-I. The DS-I is configured from the Windows PC one time using Linn's Konfig for Windows. dBpoweramp is setup on the PC to rip CDs to the Thecus NAS Media Server and meet the user's ripping requirements. I tried WAV, AIFF, and FLAC formats. I settled on FLAC because the DS-I and UPnP applications supported FLAC metadata much better the others. TwonkyMedia server is installed and configured on the Thecus NAS Media Server. PlugPlayer for the iPad is downloaded from the App Store and configured as the Control Point. PlugPlayer configuration simply involves looking at a list of devices already broadcast on the network and selecting the appropriate Media Server (NAS) and Media Renderer (DS-I) to control. Once this is complete the user needn't worry about it again. Playback directly from the NAS to the DS-I can now be controlled from the iPad. There is no need for the Windows PC to be powered on as it only provides CD ripping capability.

     



     


    2. Playback directly from NAS with Mac OS X running SongBook as the Control Point. This is very similar to the previous configuration. It is a little more Mac-centric and requires a computer for control. Again, any number of devices like an iPad can also supplement this configuration. I will stray a bit from the configuration I used in order to show readers a simpler setup. In addition to the hardware and software listed below I continue to use dBpoweramp on a PC to rip FLAC files to my NAS. This is replaced by the Mac that also acts as the Control Point in this configuration.

    Hardware
    Linn Majik DS-I - This is the Media Renderer
    MacBook Pro - This is only used for initial DS-I setup, ripping CDs or copying downloaded music to the NAS, and the Control Point. Core 2 Duo processor, four GB of RAM, and 64 GB SSD.
    Thecus N5200B Pro Network Attached Storage (NAS) - The Media Server user for storing all the music and running UPnP compliant Media Server software.
    Apple Airport Extreme Base Station - Provides the wired and wireless network infrastructure for the UPnP components to communicate.
    Category 6 cables to connect devices - Connect all devices to the Airport Extreme, including the DS-I.
     
    Software
    Mac OS X Snow Leopard - Current operating system capable of running the needed software. Nothing special is required from the operating system.
    SongBook - Excellent Control Point application that also rips CDs to FLAC. SongBook can browse a music library directing the DS-I to pull files directly from a NAS Media Server.
    Konfig for Mac - Used for initial Majik DS-I setup only.
    TwonkyMedia server - Media Server software runs on Thecus N5200B Pro NAS. TwonkyMedia server indexes the music files on the NAS and provides the navigation menus available to SongBook on the Mac. A major reason TwonkeyMedia server is not my favorite software is its lack of support for browsing a library by Album Artist.

     

    This system operates similar to system number 1. All devices are connected to the Airport Extreme via wired Ethernet. The DS-I is configured from the Mac one time only. The SongBook Control Point and CD ripping application runs on the Mac but does not provide any music or send any files itself. This avoids the need to worry about sample rate conversion or anything related to Audio Midi Setup. The music flows directly from the NAS to the Majik DS-I where the DS-I automatically adjusts to the sample rate. TwonkyMedia server running on the NAS provides the library browsing information to SongBook. Through SongBook users browse the library similar to most other playback applications. One difference that is neither good nor bad is SongBooks use of playlists. In fact all the UPnP Control Point software operates this way. Selected files are added to a playlist. Playback is only initiated by working with the playlist, not the files directly in the library. There may be a way to change this but I am unaware at this time. It's really no big deal and I got used to working this way. I usually added an album to the playlist and worked through the tracks at my leisure. SongBook is capable of using the Linn UPnP AV extensions. Notably, placing the playlist on the DS-I itself. Thus when launching SongBook it automatically reads the DS-I playlist and mirrors its playlist to the DS-I's playlist. Another way to use this UPnP extension is to load up a playlist through SongBook then exit the application. Every track on the playlist, stored on the DS-I, is accessible via the Linn remote control just like a CD player. Forward and backward buttons go through the tracks in the playlist and call the tracks directly from the NAS Media Server. I actually used this functionality quite a bit. Often when I enter my listening room I don't have a control readily available to start music playback. Using the Linn remote I was able to press play to startup the stored playlist without a single computer powered on. This works because my NAS Media Server is powered on 24/7.

    I used this configuration mostly when working on a Mac at my desk in my listening room. I ran SongBook in the background just like iTunes. It's the perfect configuration for using a DS-I in the office. The SongBook application can also use local playlists to send music to the DS-I instead of a NAS Media Server. This option is even better for the office system as NAS units can be a bit noisy and overkill for most offices.

     



     


    3. Playback using Windows 7 computer as the Media Server storing music files locally. J River Media Center is used as the software interface to manage the music library and as the Control Point.

    Hardware
    Linn Majik DS-I - This is the Media Renderer
    Basic PC - This is used for initial DS-I setup, ripping CDs or storing downloaded music, and running Control Point software. This computer must contain a hard drive large enough to store all one's music. Think of this as a basic Windows / JRMC music server. The only difference will be the output method.
    Apple Airport Extreme Base Station - Provides the wired and wireless network infrastructure for the UPnP components to communicate.
    Category 6 cables to connect devices - Connect all devices to the Airport Extreme, including the DS-I.
     
    Software
    Windows 7 - Current operating system capable of running the needed software. No built-in features of Windows 7 are necessary.
    J River Media Center - JRMC's DLNA features really shine in this configuration. JRMC identifies the Majik DS-I as a separate playback Zone automatically. There is no need to create a separate Zone. This allows one to use the app exactly the same as if a DAC was connected to the computer locally. JRMC handles all the UPnP/DLNA work behind the scenes as long as the user selects the DS-I Zone.
    Konfig for Windows - Used for initial Majik DS-I setup only.

     

    Similar to the previous Mac based system this Windows 7 system uses a full application to control playback as opposed to a mobile app for a dedicated device. The major difference is J River Media Center also stores the music library in its own format and on the local computer. There is no NAS Media Server involved in this configuration. In fact the playback chain is a bit different using this configuration as well. The Majik DS-I is no longer receiving a signal from a Control Point directing it to pull a file from a Media Server. J River Media Center is actually using the DS-I as a UPnP "output device" / Media Renderer. This configuration does not take full advantage of the Linn UPnP extensions such as the DS-I stored playlist. JRMC functions as it always does storing the playlist in its database and adding tracks by double-clicking them in the library. Users who prefer playing tracks directly from the library and hearing immediate playback will prefer the JRMC based configuration. There is no need to create a playlist before playback. This configuration is not my favorite but nonetheless it's simple to use and eases users comfortable with PCs and JRMC into UPnP playback. Like all four UPnP configurations the Linn Majik DS-I can be located hundreds of feet from any computer or Media Server. Using JRMC's Zones it is entirely possible to use several Linn DS components and play different music on each DS at the same time, all from a single JRMC console. This level of convenience and sound quality can make whole house audio very appealing.

     



     


    4. Control Point is PlugPlayer on an iPad, Media Server is Asset running on Windows 7, music files stored on NAS. This is my favorite configuration for navigation and convenience.

    Hardware
    Linn Majik DS-I - This is the Media Renderer
    Basic PC - This is used for initial DS-I setup, ripping CDs, and running Media Server software. There is no need for large internal storage as all music is stored on a NAS.
    iPad - Running UPnP compliant Control Point software PlugPlayer used to browse the music library and control the Linn DS-I.
    Thecus N5200B Pro Network Attached Storage (NAS) - The NAS will store all music files but will not run TwonkyMedia or any other UPnP Media Server software.
    Apple Airport Extreme Base Station - Provides the wired and wireless network infrastructure for the UPnP components to communicate.
    Category 6 cables to connect devices - Connect all devices to the Airport Extreme, including the DS-I.
     
    Software
    Windows 7 - Current operating system capable of running the needed software. No built-in features of Windows 7 are necessary.
    dBpoweramp - Used to rip CDs to the NAS Media Server.
    Asset - UPnP Media Server application. Asset is directed to the NAS drive music folder location. Asset indexes all the music files on the NAS. Asset has terrific metadata support enabling UPnP Control Points to browse by album artist, bit rate, number of bits, and many more great navigation options.
    Konfig for Windows - Used for initial Majik DS-I setup only.
    PlugPlayer - Control Point software runs on iPad. Features full library navigation and search as well as album art and DS-I volume control.

     

    This configuration is a bit more complex than previous configurations. Keep in mind most of the work and complexity involves one-and-done configurations that a Linn dealer can also help configure. A unique part of this configuration involves splitting the Media Server application from the NAS that stores all the music. The reason for this is the Asset application's superior handling of metadata and menu navigations options. One drawback to running the Media Server software on a separate computer is this computer must remain powered on to browse the music library and for music playback. In reality this isn't a big deal as the no computer required configuration is more of a feel good method. Leaving a computer running in another room in order to access a music library isn't very troublesome for most people. It just feels good to think a separate computer isn't required to play music from a NAS. If Asset could run on my NAS unit I would install it there instead of the Windows computer for simplicity and stability, nothing else. In addition to Asset's great support of metadata it can also enable the Majik DS-I to stream Internet radio. Sure sound quality is less than desirable via the Internet but it's a great way to discover new music.

    Once the initial setup is complete this configuration is fabulous to use. Simply launch PlugPlayer on the iPad and browse the complete music library. Asset in conjunction with PlugPlayer on an iPad offer virtually endless ways to find music in the library. The key is support for metadata / tags embedded into the ripped music files. In my ripping strategy and methodology article I stressed the importance of metadata and FLAC's stellar support of these tags. Other file formats really take away from the overall Majik DS-I experience. Using WAV or AIFF can make it very hard or nearly impossible to locate specific albums and the DS-I cannot read the information to display track, artists and album across its display. The problem is these formats don't follow standards like FLAC. Not all AIFF files are tagged in a similar fashion. This increases complexity to a degree that many applications offer support on a best effort basis. The application developer will give it his best effort, within reason, to support AIFF metadata but usually there are bigger fish to fry.

    It was this configuration with Asset and PlugPlayer that I couldn't stop using. It was so easy to use I frequently drifted away from the other configurations subconsciously. LIke anything in life it's tough to downgrade once one has had a taste of something very good.

     



     


    Using any of these four UPnP configurations it didn't take me long to forget about sample rates and bit depths. The Linn player instantly adjusts to whatever resolution is played. The front panel of the DS-I displays the current sample rate and bit depth in addition to several other user selectable information screens. When playing FLAC files the track, artist and album scroll across the display panel once shortly after the track begins. The DS-I via Ethernet / UPnP is really convenient and seems quite awkward at first. Without any traditional analog or digital interconnects my listening room seemed bare. The lone Ethernet wire going to the DS-I was comparable to something Apple's sleek design team would recommend. Computer audiophiles in need of a nice looking system without yards of ugly cabling will be pleased with the DS-I.

    The Majik DS-I supports FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF, AAC and MP3 file formats at all common sample rates. I had no problems playing 24/88.2 and 24/176.4 files on the DS-I. Via its Ethernet input the unit didn't even hiccup on any sample rate or any number of frequent sample rate changes I threw its way. The DS-I does upsample all incoming data streams. 44.1 kHz based sample rates are upsampled to 358.2 kHz and 48 kHz based sample rates are upsampled to 384 kHz. In fact all Linn DS products use a custom upsampling engine implemented in a Xilinx Virtex-4 Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). I must admit my bias against upsampled music before giving my opinion on sound quality. From day one a lack of reverb in every recording I played was evident. I suspected upsampling and later confirmed this with Linn headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland. No matter what UPnP configuration I used all sound quality was equal via the Ethernet input. I tried to alter the sound quality by adding layers of devices between the music files and the Ethernet input but nothing had any effect on sonics. Extremely heavy NAS use did cause the DS-I to fade out music playback gracefully until the NAS could provide the needed data at the required speed to fill the DS-I's buffer. This graceful fade in and out is a very nice touch. Users don't need to worry about blowing tweeters with bursts of noise coming through the system.

     

    5. The remaining configuration used was a more "traditional" direct connection between the DS-I and the computer. Playback was from the C.A.P.S. server with an ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim audio card outputting coaxial S/PDIF directly to the Majik DS-I. This configuration bypassed all UPnP hardware and software. After extensive listening tests I concluded the sound quality using this configuration exceeded that of the four Ethernet UPnP based configurations. The increase in quality was evident in the mid to lower frequencies. Instruments were tighter and had better separation. The Ethernet input sounded wonderful on its own until I tested the sound quality via S/PDIF. The sound in the mid and lower frequencies via Ethernet was a bit mushy when compared directly to the DS-I's coaxial S/PDIF input. In no way am I stating the sound quality via Ethernet was bad, it just wasn't as good as the DS-I's S/PDIF input. Accounting for the sonic differences can be quite difficult if not impossible. Listeners including myself often favor the sound they are used to hearing. I use S/PDIF digital inputs and the C.A.P.S. server nearly every day of the week. Since the DS-I is the first high quality Ethernet / UPnP component I've heard in my listening room I can't rule out favoritism of the familiar.


     

    Quality All Around

    The Linn Majik DS-I is a terrific audio component. Despite some sonic differences between its Ethernet and S/PDIF inputs the overall sound quality is very good. I connected the analog pre-out from the DS-I to my McIntosh MC275 tube amplifier to compare with the Linn solid state amplifier. At first blush I preferred the MC275 and thought it had more power. Shortly after my listening session began I lost interest in the music through the tube amplifier. Usually this is evidence that the sound quality is just not there. I switched back to the Linn Chakra internal amplifier and played the same music. The sonic superiority of the Linn was immediately evident. Sure it sounded very solid state-esque but the low level resolution was much better. My brain wasn't trying as hard to fill in gaps in the sound or to erase the inherent color of the MC275. Preference for either the MC275 tubes or the DS-I Chakra solid state amplification is an entirely different matter than sonic quality and accurate reproduction. In the long run I may prefer the MC275 for my listening pleasure. This preference could arise after the DS-I heads back to Linn and I fall back into tube mode. With nothing to directly compare the MC275 against I'm sure I'll like it's warmth more than ever. The DS-I like other Linn products has a very clean sound. I didn't hear any audible "distractions" throughout the length of the review. Linn's control over every aspect of the DS-I from the power input to the speaker output terminals is major reason for this impeccable degree of sonic cleanliness.

    The Majik DS-I is also very aesthetically pleasing. Linn has a knack for great design and attention to the little details. The DS-I chassis is really light. It's less than 11 lbs. frame shouldn't be equated to anything but light weight. The DS-I easily rests on an equipment rack, desk, or shelving unit. Access to the front panel headphone input and 3.5mm analog input is a great feature for units residing on a desk. The front display has numerous user selectable views. The standard view I selected displayed the currently playing bit and sample rate. In a tip of the cap to the old days I also used a view that looked like a CD player. This view allowed switching between the time counting up from zero or down from the end of the track. I always like knowing how much time remains in each track. Through the web interface if the DS-I it is possible to set the display to completely off once playback has commenced. Little details like these separate Linn from a plethora of other manufacturers. There is no doubt the Linn name is synonymous with great quality.

     

    Final Thoughts

    Prior to receiving the Majik DS-I I was very aware of Linn's products. What I did not know or expect was its level of dedication to providing information about its products and technology. Like most in the industry Linn realizes music servers and digital streaming products do not operate like toasters. Unlike most Linn is doing something about this by providing page after page of technical documentation, layman's explanations, and assisting its customers via the Linn online community site. I used the LinnDocs site extensively while researching the DS range of products. The Linn Forums are also incredibly useful for users of Linn products or those considering a Linn purchase. I highly recommend Computer Audiophile readers browse the Linn community site for a while. One interesting link leads to another and before you know it hours have passed. Unlike wasted hours spent on FaceBook the hours spent on the Linn community site will increase one's knowledge of all things computer audio exponentially.


    The Linn Majik DS-I in incredibly versatile and sounds very good. The Ethernet input and UPnP capability are the real stars of the show. The complete user experience and ability to just listen to music is wonderful. A single chassis clean looking and clean sounding component that accepts all common sample rates without user intervention is exactly what many readers have been seeking. Using the Majik DS-I provides the user some piece of mind as well. There are no worries about bit perfect output, a KMixer, Exclusive Mode, Audio Midi, ASIO, or WASAPI. At $4,200 the Majik DS-I is a terrific buy. I highly recommend visiting a Linn dealer to spend some time using the Majik DS-I. This is the type of product that sells itself. I happy to place the Linn Majik DS-I on the C.A.S.H. List as the first high end UPnP digital streaming component.


     


     

    Click to enlarge

    LinnDS-I-08   LinnDS-I-01   LinnDS-I-07   LinnDS-I-06   LinnDS-I-04   LinnDS-I-02  


    LinnDS-I-03   LinnDS-I-05  





    LinnDS-I-10   LinnDS-I-11   LinnDS-I-12  


     

     



    Product Information

    • Price - $4,200

    • Power - 90 W RMS per channel into 4 ?

    • DAC - up to 24/192 via all digital inputs

    • Manual - Link

    • Chakra Amplification White Paper - Link

    • Informational pdf - Link


     

    Links

    • Linn Majik DS-I Product Page - Link

    • Linn Recommended Software - Link

    • Linn Community - Link

    • PlugPlayer Product Page - Link

    • TwonkyMedia server Product Page - Link

    • Asset UPnP Product Page - Link

    • dBpoweramp Product Page - Link

    • J River Media Center Product Page - Link

    • Thecus N5200B Pro NAS CA Review - Link

    • SongBook UPnP Control Software - Link


     

    Associate Equipment:

    Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers, McIntosh MC275 amplification, Richard Gray's Power Company High Tension Wires, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, Wavelength Audio Proton, Ayre AX-7e Integrated Amp, C.A.P.S. server, Bel Canto USB Link, Halide Design Bridge, dCS Debussy DAC, dCS Puccini U-Clock, Kimber USB Cu, Kimber USB Ag, Benchmark DAC1 PRE, Kimber Select KS1011 Analog Cables, Kimber Select KS2020 Digital Cable, Kimber Monocle X Loudspeaker Cable, ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim, Apple iPad, Sonic Studio's Amarra.

     

     

     

     
    Comments 47 Comments
    1. suriyothai's Avatar
      suriyothai -
      <br />
      Great post Chris, it is really exciting to see new products that are tailored towards the new way we listen to music. Thank you for the detailed review and suggestions to how the Majik DSi can be used. It has almost convinced me heading to the nearest Linn dealer.<br />
      <br />
      I have a couple of question though, do you recommend using the Mac Mini connected to the Majik DSi through ethernet?<br />
      What would be the difficulties (if any) concerning Audio Midi setup?<br />
      Also if this setup was supplemented with an Ipad as a control point, would it suffer from the same lack of meta-data you ran into with Twonky media server on a PC?<br />
      <br />
      I guess I am trying to figure out how best to use the Mac Mini as a media server, without the need for an NAS.<br />
      <br />
      Thank you very much for you hard work.
    1. Elprior's Avatar
      Elprior -
      He Chris,<br />
      <br />
      excellent review, especially on the different configurations side (very slick).<br />
      I was more than curious as to how to use this along with MC.<br />
      <br />
      Now I'm a bit puzzled by the fact that the spdif input is better... <br />
      <br />
      Elp
    1. nomenclatura's Avatar
      nomenclatura -
      This was exactly the review I was waiting for - Thanks a lot!<br />
      In fact the most important point for me was your statement about the S/PDIF input vs. Ethernet, because this is the way I plan to connect my Mac Mini to the DS-I. I already have it like this via M-Audio Transit USB => Toslink =>DENON 4306 =>Bi-Amping with Piega TC50 = really great sound. My idea is to reduce the Denon to the pure AVR part and use the DS-I for the Stereo. This can be integrated perfectly via the feature Unity Gain, means if using the Denon as input for the DS-I the Denon takes over the volume control for the 5.1 setup. <br />
      Because you mentioned the quality of the S/PDIF input via Coax, is/was there any difference to the toslink input? Reason behind is, I really want to keep on using iTunes with Pure Music. Jumping through my music library or listen to my numerous playlists is very convenient with iTunes and - this is the best feature 100% stable! I have read quite a lot about problems with Twonky, PlugPlayer, Konfik, etc. ... .<br />
      Second question: Besides configuring the DS-I via Web-Interface (Bonjour), are there any possibilities to control the DS-I via Browser, too? I mean volume control, input select, etc. like with the Denon. <br />
      <br />
      @suriyothai: I have connected a WD My Book Studio II via Firewire to my Mac Mini. If there is no access to the disks the WD goes into sleep modus after several minutes - same to my Mac. You can share the disk within the whole network. So for me there is no need for a NAS. <br />
      <br />
      Regards<br />
      Paul<br />
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris<br />
      <br />
      Were you (did you) test using the SPDIF output into an alternative (your Berkeley) DAC? I think this is possible - there is certainly an SPDIF output on the Magik DS-I.<br />
      <br />
      This would be interesting as might indicate how the Linn DS is as a source for a DAC. It's often commented (by Linn and their enthusistic users) that the SPDIF output is identical on all the DS range (well Sneaky DS and Magik DS) and people often ask if the Linn DS would be a good source avoiding computers in the listening room.<br />
      <br />
      Eloise<br />
      <br />
      PS. Is there any change that when you do reviews you could list European price and/or distributors?
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris - this question might be better served asked on the J.River thread, but can J.River be setup so that it is a control point only, accessing the music stored on a separate UPnP server on a NAS (or other computer)?<br />
      <br />
      Was thinking in this way J.River would work well on a netBook device for control of the Linn DS (or other UPnP renderer).<br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. Elprior's Avatar
      Elprior -
      Hi Eloise,<br />
      <br />
      I think this is using configuration 3, with JRiver pointing to the NAS as the source of files.<br />
      <br />
      Elp
    1. Encore's Avatar
      Encore -
      I really like your thorough description of the different ways of running and controlling the DS. I remember having had trouble to come to grasps with the different components needed to put together a DS-based system. That was when I borrowed a Sneaky DS a long time ago (actually not, but many equipment generations past ;-) ). <br />
      <br />
      One thing I'm missing from your review is an evaluation of how the digital output of the DS-I measures up when it's feeding your favorite DAC. When I borrowed the Sneaky, I found its digital output into my then Accustic Arts DAC to be very good, at least compared to the digital out of an unmodified Sq.box3. I have been contemplating for some time now to get a Sneaky or Majik DS to use as an S/PDIF source to my EmmLabs DAC, but your experience with the DS lowers my expectations. Another related question: Were the files played through Ethernet and S/PDIF both FLAC? In my system, FLAC files also suffer from a lack of reverb when compared to WAV files ...
    1. Tog's Avatar
      Tog -
      <br />
      Fab review - thinking about replacing my Cyrus kit with the Majik DS-I but have been put off by the rough edges of its software particularly when using a mac. I will probably end up using the optical input from a mac straight into the Majik and wait for the software to improve. I was particularly interested by your views on the sound quality coming from the direct input.<br />
      <br />
      The alternative would be the NAIMUniti - great reviews - has a CD drive as well - digital Ipod input (apple approved like Wadia) and wireless streaming. The downside for me is the lack of ALAC or Aiff support (FLAC or god forbid WAV!) and to my mind its aesthetics; all texture black metal and neon green. Should I be worried by looks - well I did marry Mrs Tog because she was beautiful so I suppose I have set a precedent.<br />
      <br />
      Any one else tried the NAIM and can see past the blacksmith aesthetic?<br />
      <br />
      Yours, one of the beautiful people, tog
    1. Lakefield's Avatar
      Lakefield -
      I noticed your, well, 'problem' with the sound quality of the Ethernet compared to SPDIF. Did you use a dedicated Network for the DS-i. Speaking of only DS-i, NAS and Control Unit. I often read about Linn users having the same trouble and a dedicated Router (which can be connected to your Home-Network) solved that little problem. <br />
      Ethernet and SPDIF should have the same quality (when comming from the same source, like a Mac Mini) as they share the same DAC. <br />
      <br />
      An interesting point is that the DS-i can also act as a High End ADC (Analouge-to-Digital Converter). combined with the superb Phonostage you'll be able to transfer your Vinyl via SPDIF to your Computer in 24bit/192kHz! Ain't that great !?<br />
      <br />
      And the best is yet to come. With one of the next Firmware updates it will be possible to stream Analouge signals into your Home-Network. 24/192 Vinyl streams in my Bathroom!!
    1. Tog's Avatar
      Tog -
      A refreshing viewpoint - SPDIF & ethernet (sic) having the same quality - there are those (Linn included) who would argue that ethernet is better and avoids the dreaded jitter. My Linn dealer thinks I am bonkers to use optical instead of the digital streaming bit of the Majik - my guess is either Chris found that the DAC re-clocks the signal very well or jitter isn't that much of a problem. The issue about sub-networks has been commented on by reviewers in the UK many of whom are a bit mystified by the need for a separate router when other competitors have no issues.<br />
      <br />
      My main gripe is that the firmware/control software is so Mac unfriendly and using Songbook to control the Macs with its insistence on playlists would drive this small bear nuts. Of course most Linn dealers are preset to sell you a RipNAS rather than fiddle with Macs.<br />
      <br />
      yours, still fiddling, tog
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      Nice work. Exciting product for our hobby and I bet it's a just a glimps of what is to come.<br />
      <br />
      I have some comments though<br />
      <br />
      You say, "•1. Use the DS-I as an integrated one chassis unit that does everything. (DS-I Integrated)"<br />
      <br />
      I guess I don't see that it does everything as you need a bunch of support features to make it complete. For example, ripping, storing, network switching and so on. I'm putting it down, but it only does what it does.<br />
      <br />
      Eloise said, "It's often commented (by Linn and their enthusistic users) that the SPDIF output is identical on all the DS range (well Sneaky DS and Magik DS) and people often ask if the Linn DS would be a good source avoiding computers in the listening room." <br />
      <br />
      I know Eloise is just repeating what people are saying. However, when people ask that question (if the Linn DS would be a good source avoiding computers in the listening room) we just need to point out that it is a computer! You can paint it pink with black dots and it would still be a computer. Sure it's not a typical computer and we can leave it at that.<br />
      <br />
      Now what is left is for me to drop an amp in my server so I can say it does everything....hehehe<br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
      www.sonore.us
    1. Encore's Avatar
      Encore -
      "Eloise said, "It's often commented (by Linn and their enthusistic users) that the SPDIF output is identical on all the DS range (well Sneaky DS and Magik DS) and people often ask if the Linn DS would be a good source avoiding computers in the listening room."<br />
      <br />
      I know Eloise is just repeating what people are saying. However, when people ask that question (if the Linn DS would be a good source avoiding computers in the listening room) we just need to point out that it is a computer! You can paint it pink with black dots and it would still be a computer. Sure it's not a typical computer and we can leave it at that."<br />
      <br />
      I think there's more to it. Since it is an audio product, we may set our hopes higher that the engineers have thought of fitting it with a good power supply, something that IME has a huge influence on the sound, also when is source's only task is to deliver an S/PDIF signal. And to me it would seem that a good power suplly is the Achilles heel of ordinary computers.
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      I'm sure Linn has done their homework on the power supply and it sounds great. I can tell you that the power supply makes or breaks the system from tests we have conducted! A great power supply for a computer audio setup is actually not that hard to find and are not very expensive. There are some good products on the market (designed in the US and made overseas) that have excellent specs and perform well and are pretty cheap. These companies make a good amount of units and that keeps the price down. It's a win win situtation to do a little bit of research....<br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
      www.sonore.us
    1. ferenc's Avatar
      ferenc -
      If on a Mac, Elgato Eyeconnect used as UPnP server, it will convert ALAC or AIFF to wav in real-time, so this way Naim Uniti can be used with those file types as a UPnP renderer.
    1. dummy's Avatar
      dummy -
      Hello!<br />
      <br />
      I am a newbie here and a tad slow (well, ok, dumb!) so I am not quite sure I truly understand what the new Linn truly is... <br />
      <br />
      At first, I pretty much thought it was an all-you-can-eat type of product but after talking with a Linn seller at an audio show, I am not quite sure anymore. Thing is, the way he answered me, I felt like he didn't knew better either, from his answer vs what I've read about the DS-i. Also, I felt he was just as lost as I was by his demeanor and told me whatever to make me go away, but who knows... Maybe I had too much Tang that day! <br />
      <br />
      1- I asked If the Linn was a DAC too, beside being a streamer. No was his reply. Everything has to go through a network/router for It to work. Ok. Fine. Now, reading about It, and now reading this review, my understanding is that It is (can be?) both. Meaning, the ethernet connection with all the scenarios proposed here, makes It a streamer, while the fifth configuration here (SPDIF) makes It a regular SPDIF DAC. Am I correct here or is It more complicated than that?<br />
      <br />
      2- Although It would be beside the point to buy It for that, If using only the analogue audio inputs, does the DS-i becomes simply a regular integrated just like their Majik-i integrated or any other integrated for that matter?<br />
      <br />
      The thing is, I am still not quite sure I understand what is the difference between a USB-DAC and a streamer. I mean, I know what a DAC is/does but in regard to computer audio I am a bit at loss... I know this is pretty much computer 101 here but, hey, I am dumb, what can I say?! Is there a "Computer audio for dummies" out there? <br />
      <br />
      My understanding is that a DAC is, well, a DAC (!) and a streamer is some sort of specialist audio computer with a DAC, ie, with an interface, to deal with everything. <br />
      And that the Linn is a pretty good one, with better audio (DAC) than others (Transporter?). Where the Peachtree is an integrated with a DAC. <br />
      <br />
      Right? Wrong? <br />
      <br />
      Who cares?<br />
      <br />
      Oh well... <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      The one who'll answer me like I am a 3 year old here, will win, well, my gratitude! How's that?!<br />
      <br />
      Thanks!<br />
      <br />
    1. Lakefield's Avatar
      Lakefield -
      #1: Yes, the DS-i is a DAC as well (you can use the Tape-Out and connect it to another Pre-Amp, this works with SPDIF and Ethernet. Well, but it wouldn't make sense buying a DS-i and use it just as a normal DAC). Config. 5 is used as SPDIF DAC.<br />
      <br />
      #2: Yes, the DS-i is pretty much like the Majik-i combined with the Majik DS. Plus extra Digital inputs. You can use it like any other analogue Amp. I think if you buy the Majik-i and the Majik DS you'll get a better performance out of it, but it's much more expensive (2200€ + 2400€ = 4600€) (Sorry, i only know the german price tags). The DS-i will give you 90% of the performance but it will cost much less (3000€) and is better equipped.<br />
      <br />
      Difference between a USB-DAC and a streamer:<br />
      <br />
      A USB-DAC is like a external Sound card. You hook it up with your computer, Select the DAC in the settings, etc. and connect the DAC to your Audio-System. USB cable length is limited to 5m, so this will only work if you have a Computer/Laptop in your Listening Room. And you better make sure the Computer is quiet (and not quiet in Computer terms, but in HiFi terms).<br />
      The idea of a Network Player/Streamer is that you have your music stored on a Server (Computer/NAS) which is placed in one room of your house and you can have access to it from another room. Which means that you can listen in your room to the music you like while another person can listen to music in another room they like. So you can connect several Players to your network and access the server. A Network streamer requires some basic Network knowledge, but don't be shy. <br />
      You can of course use a computer/NAS just in your room and connect the DS-i via Ethernet to it. <br />
      Well, i orderd the DS-i and i don't have no use for Multiroom Audio. So i will decide then if i use it via Ethernet or SPDIF. I got a Mac Mini and we will see what sounds best (i think there will be no big difference, but i can play 192kHz files via ethernet (the SPDIF input of the DS-i can handle 192kHz as well, but the Mac Mini won't)), but more important what handles the best. A Streamer stands and falls with the provided software, so does the Computer.<br />
      <br />
      If you use it with SPDIF or Ethernet, you won't pay too much for it. The analogue Majik-i is 2200€, so you'll get a State-of-the-art DAC/Streamer for 800€ <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      I hope this will help you a little bit.
    1. Tog's Avatar
      Tog -
      Cool<br />
      <br />
      yours, cool, tog
    1. blueteq's Avatar
      blueteq -
      I have been a Linn supporter for years now, Having owned the Sneaky DS (Majik DSi's Little brother) for over a year now I have to say Digital is the way to go.<br />
      I put together a very nice ubuntu server running Twonky Media and a few scripts that allows me to insert a CD it will auto rip it into lossless flac. <br />
      Also Sign up for B&W Society of Sound, think its $59US per year and every month you get a free 24bit album. They sound terrific! <br />
      <br />
      More and more artists and labels are now releasing 24bit audio. I have a few friends that have bands who gives me their studio master digital copies... make a difference. <br />
      <br />
      However even CD ripped sound great, very nice DAC. <br />
      And as I use to worry about vibrations etc in the past, separating the transport... etc.. <br />
    1. suriyothai's Avatar
      suriyothai -
      @Lakefield: just curious, how do you plan to control the Mac Mini, will you be using an ipod Touch/iphone, or connect the mini to a screen to use the front row GUI/ or something like Plex and Boxee?<br />
      I am about to pull the trigger on a Mac Mini + DS-i combo and would like opinions on how compatible the two are together.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks,
    1. blueteq's Avatar
      blueteq -
      Depending on the UPnP software you use. <br />
      Twonky, which is paid for is multi platform and works very well. <br />
      Not to over promote twonky, go look on Linn's site, Twonky is one of the few that follow most of the DLNA standard. <br />
      <br />
      I have tried most Control point software on the iphone, and Plug Player is the best... supports Album art in the latest release. <br />
      <br />
      O yes, FLAC and OS X dont play well together... get VLC to playback tracks on the Mac. <br />
      Also to rip on the Mini... get MAX.<br />
      <br />