• The Computer Audiophile
    The Computer Audiophile

    Linn Akurate DSM Review

    thumb.pngAt times things get a little complex here at Computer Audiophile. Maybe that’s the nature of both computer enthusiasts and audiophiles. The mentality that version 2.0 must be better than version 1.0 and the more work it takes the better the payoff can be seen throughout this wonderful hobby. There’s nothing wrong with exploring computer audio and taking it to the extreme in an effort to improve one’s music listening experience. In fact I encourage this every day as a way to take computer audio as a whole to the next level. However, complexity can take the fun out of almost anything. Countless times I’ve run into a computer issue and spent thirty minutes tracking down the cause. Meanwhile my friends listening to vinyl have already flipped the record over to Side B and started thinking about their next album to play. In the spirit of simplicity and enthusiasm for just listening to music I set out to use the Linn Akurate DSM network audio player as if I was brand new to this hobby. I wanted to forget about my enterprise Cisco based network with several UPnP / DLNA servers, control points, and renderers. Thus, I installed the Synology Media Server software on my Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive, used my iPad to control playback with Linn’s Kinsky app, and streamed music directly to the Akurate DSM. The experience left me pleasantly satisfied and wondering if I still needed my unusually complicated network audio configuration. This simple setup enabled me to listen to more music through the Akurate DSM and forget about how each packet was speeding through my switches and Ethernet cables. While listening I thoroughly enjoyed the very good sound quality put out by the Akurate DSM. A NAS, iPad, and Linn Akurate DSM is a very compelling package for those seeking high quality sound and simple network based audio.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

     

     

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    Akurate DSM and Kinsky

     

    section1para1.pngThe Akurate DSM is one step below Linn’s top of the line Klimax network audio player. The Akurate DSM is much more than a standard Ethernet based DAC. It is more like a next generation high end preamp that accepts both analog and digital audio. On the analog side Linn’s respect for audio purity is apparent in its decision to keep all analog signals in the analog domain from input to output. In addition the Akurate DSM’s volume control uses coarse analog / fine digital attenuation. This type of volume control is also used in the Weiss Engineering DAC202 that I placed on the CASH List in 2010. On the digital side the Akurate DSM can handle nearly anything sent its way. The HDMI inputs even accept the output from SACD players, downsampling the audio to 88.2 kHz or 176.4 kHz. Tons of Toslink and coaxial digital inputs are also available but the input Linn is now known for is its Ethernet input supporting UPnP AV. During this review I focused solely on the Ethernet input as it’s what separates Linn from many other manufacturers. As a computer audiophile when I think Linn I think Ethernet.

     

    I’ve followed Linn’s network audio products since the first Klimax DS was released in 2007. Over the last six years Linn has improved both the network player components and the control interfaces. Linn’s iPad application named Kinsky is a far cry from the first Klimax controller. iPad control applications have become critically important to computer audiophiles. Back in the day people had giant album covers or smaller CD booklets as a way to view and connect with their collections. Now we only use applications to interface with our collections. In a way, a great app helps us value our music collections. Without the ability to view album art and browse easily we forget what we have and the music becomes bits on a hard drive with less value every year. Kinsky is a pretty good app because it doesn’t do everything but does enough for the user to enjoy listening to music. I didn’t read a single word of instructions for the application and was able to figure everything out on the first day of use. The simplistic interface enables one to browse music on the left and play music on the right. Even creating and editing playlists is obvious with only two buttons below the currently playing tracks (Edit and Save). More important than ease of use is that the app actually works. Leaving out complexities that often cause problems was a smart decision by Linn. Adding music to the playlist, whether playing now, next, or later, just works. I’ve used a large number of control applications over the last few years and must say that many are underwhelming, don’t work a designed, or are poorly designed. Developing a great app isn’t a easy task for an audio manufacturer, but that’s no excuse for substandard app.

     

    Kinsky isn’t the best app for users with extended titles in their music collections. For example I title all my albums with extra information such as sample rate and bit depth. This enables me to browse albums and select the DSD version, PCM 44.1 version or even a higher resolution version by simply looking at the album name. Kinsky doesn’t show the entire album name if it’s longer than usual. Most albums appear just fine. Other apps have decreased the font size dynamically to display longer titles or scrolled long titles when necessary. Kinsky forces the user to press and hold the album to see the popup with options for Play Now, Next, or Later. Within this popup one can see the entire album name. Not the end of the world and not a show stopper, just an annoyance.

     

    Near the end of the review period Linn sent a Sneaky DSM ($2,750) for me to use in a multi zone system. I wanted to test the functionality of Kinsky and see how well the components work in a multi zone environment. In my recent UPnP / DLNA guide I streamed 24/192 audio to several zones simultaneously from JRiver Media Center without a hiccup. In my tests of both the Akurate DSM and Sneaky DSM both units performed identically in a single zone and multi zone system. The Synology Media Server app sent audio to both DSM units at all sample rates without issue. The Kinsky application is very nice for control of multiple Linn network music players. It’s even possible to control non-Linn UPnP renderers is needed. The user selects an obvious button titles Rooms to display the Linn music players on the network. Selecting a single player switches the app to control that player. It’s as simple as it comes for multi zone control. Independent audio streams and volume control right from the iPad are made simple with Kinsky.

     

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    Simple System

     

    section2para1-kinsky-100px-2.pngAs I said in the opening paragraph I used the Linn Akurate DSM in a simple configuration with a NAS and iPad. All music was stored on a Synology DS1812+ running the Synology Media Server application. This app is easily installed on the NAS from the Synology web interface. Tracks selected through the Kinsky app stream directly from the NAS to the Linn Akurate DSM. Once tracks are selected the iPad has nothing to do with playback and can even be turned off. My home network is Gigabit Ethernet throughout. The Akurate DSM features a 100 Megabit Ethernet card like most UPnP renderers. The added bandwidth of Gigabit Ethernet is unnecessary for streaming two channel audio even at high resolution.

     

    I set the Akurate DSM source to Playlist. Playlist is very similar to UPnP AV. According to Linn, “The UpnpAv source provides support for standard UPnP Media Renderers. If a Playlist source is available in a room it should be used in preference to the UpnpAv source as it offers the following benefits, 1. Gapless playback of tracks. 2. Retains the created playlist between KinskyDesktop sessions. and 3. Allows predicable playback in the presence of multiple control points.” Gapless playback through the Akurate DSM was great at 44.1 kHz, but failed with higher resolution material such as The Dark Side of the Moon 24 bit / 96 kHz version from the Immersion Box Set. At 24/96 the Akurate DSM faded out and back in between tracks when there should have been no gap. I made sure my network was not the problem by thoroughly testing it for my Complete Guide to UPnP / DLNA audio article. Other than gapless playback high resolution PCM music up through 24 bit / 192 kHz worked flawless through the Akurate DSM. Update: Thanks to CA readers who reported flawless gapless playback at all PCM sample rates and recommended I check the album art embedded into my high resolution files, I determined the gapless issue was caused by a combination of my files and the Linn Akurate DSM. I tested the same files in FLAC compressed, FLAC uncompressed, Apple Lossless, and WAV and all played gapless perfectly when I embedded 500x500px album art rather than the larger images I had previously embedded. It should be noted that some UPnP/DLNA renderers can handle large embedded images without playback issues.

     

    Selecting and listening to music with Kinsky and the Akurate DSM was very pleasurable. Sonically the Akurate DSM performs very good compared to other UPnP and USB solutions. I did extensive comparisons between the Akurate DSM ($8,500) and the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2 ($5,000) with Alpha USB converter ($1,800). I wasn’t trying to find a “better” system rather just comparing the two systems as they use quite different technologies. The overall sonic characteristics of the Akurate DSM, compared to the Berkeley components, were a bit of dullness similar to a matte finish versus glossy finish on a photograph, a bit less air around the instruments, and smaller soundstage. Listening to Ottmar Liebert’s One Guitar album in high resolution the guitar sounded very good through the Akurate DSM with a hint of smoothness or roundness to the edges of transients. In contrast the Alpha/Alpha combo had sharp edges with clearly defined stops and starts for transients. I characterize the Akurate DSM sound closer to that of solid state Audio Research components than the more neutral Berkeley components.

     

    Relaxing quite a bit while listening I got into a Miles Davis zone. I played the series of Albums Relaxin’, Steamin’, Cookin’, Walkin’, and Workin’ all ripped JVC XRCD K2 compact discs. These albums are fairly short but contain terrific music. I added all five albums to the Playlist using the Kinsky app then put my iPad aside. The Akurate DSM connected to my Spectral Audio system and TAD CR1 loudspeakers enabled me to just listen and enjoy my favorite music. The sound quality was very good. So much so that my mind didn’t wander too much during playback and I was able to get lost in the music. If I’m not mistaken that’s what this wonderful hobby is all about and why manufacturers create high end audio components. Linn’s Akurate DSM is completely capable of reproducing terrific sonic illusions that place the listener in the room with the recording musicians. Listening to Miles Davis talk in between takes I figuratively looked for the cigarette smoke in my listening room.

     

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    Conclusion

     

    It’s clear Linn has put tens of thousands of R&D hours into its network audio players. Perhaps more than any other manufacturer specializing in high end network audio. The fruits of its labor are the DS and DSM series of components. The Akurate DSM with its Linn signature Ethernet interface not only works very good but also sounds very good. Gapless playback of high resolution sample rates through 24/192 is nearly perfect. As an added feature the Akurate DSM supports AirPlay and works just as well accepting streams from an iPhone as it does from high resolution sources. The Kinsky iPad interface is simple to use. It doesn’t offer any revolutionary features but what it does offer works every time. The same can’t be said for some of the competition’s applications. Most importantly the very good sound quality from the Akurate DSM enables the listener to virtually escape to that concert hall or recording studio and forget about the interfaces, NAS drives, and components reproducing the music. That’s what being a music aficionado is all about.

     

     

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    Product Information:

     

     

     

    • Product - Linn Akurate DSM network music player
    • Price - $8,500
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    Hi Eloise - Can you be more specific?

    Sorry yes... My post appears to have lost half its text...

     

    In two respects. First (and I guess because of Linn's lead) in the UK more manufacturers are following the streaming route though several also have good USB DACs now.

     

    Second your comment on the sound of the Linn Akurate. It sounds like its voiced in a typically British (slightly laid back) way rather than the more American (in your face) sound that your Berkeley produces.

     

    As a final question; did you try the pre-amp capabilities of the DSM?

     

    Eloise

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    I never fail to enjoy reading your reviews, and I have a real appreciation for the wonderful photography as well. Thanks for all the great work!

     

    One thing I've been wanting more from your reviews lately is more comparisons. I really like the way you engaged in contrasting the characteristics of Berkeley to the Linn. I'd love to see more of this! One other thing I'd love to get is some recommendations. While this product is distinctly different in many ways than, let's say the Berkeley, I'd love to get your take on preference and value. When the Linn costs a good 2 grand more, do you think you get 2k more in value or quality? Which would you rather sit back and listen to? Is there still something else in the ball park you'd be sure to check out before picking up a Linn?

     

    Thanks again for all your hard work, dedication to promoting the hobby and for sharing it with us.

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    I never fail to enjoy reading your reviews, and I have a real appreciation for the wonderful photography as well. Thanks for all the great work!

     

    One thing I've been wanting more from your reviews lately is more comparisons. I really like the way you engaged in contrasting the characteristics of Berkeley to the Linn. I'd love to see more of this! One other thing I'd love to get is some recommendations. While this product is distinctly different in many ways than, let's say the Berkeley, I'd love to get your take on preference and value. When the Linn costs a good 2 grand more, do you think you get 2k more in value or quality? Which would you rather sit back and listen to? Is there still something else in the ball park you'd be sure to check out before picking up a Linn?

     

    Thanks again for all your hard work, dedication to promoting the hobby and for sharing it with us.

     

    The problem with assessing value is that it depends what you compare.

     

    For one thing, the Akurate DSM ($8500) is a complete analogue pre-amp as well as DAC. For a more direct comparison on costing you would have to compare the Berkeley plus USB ($6800) to the Akurate DS ($6990).

     

    Second price comparisons are only relevant in USA (when made by Chris). For example he says the Akurate DSM is $8500 USD - that as a direct conversion is £5,450. However the list price of the Akurate DSM here is £5,600 GBP. On the other hand the Berkeley Alpha DAC and USB he says is $6,800 USD Okay so in this case the price comparison does work out!

     

    Eloise

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    Thanks for the review Chris, I've heard the Linn streamers and also the Naim media players, you might also like the Naim NDS media player, which comes with it's own external power supply. It's in another league altogether, another fine product from the UK.

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    No gapless playback above 24/44.1?

     

    I have a lot of pieces of continuous music split into several files so I guess this wouldn't be the player for me.

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    No gapless playback above 24/44.1?

     

    I have a lot of pieces of continuous music split into several files so I guess this wouldn't be the player for me.

    I don't doubt this is Chris' experience - but I've never heard this complaint before...

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    This feels like part one of a review of this product. I hope a follow up will be coming that digs into the preamp capabilities, the excellent phono stage (which by the way can play your records 24/192 to other players on the network), the ability to play ANYTHING that is on your computer (including website audio) over Ethernet at the resolution it is stored or streamed, playing any of the many music services on your computer over your network, using it as a fantastic two channel movie preamp with it's HDMI inputs and output, etc. All of these features make it a unique high performance option and nearly a "Swiss Army Knife" of the digital music age as it stands today.

     

    I feel this piece is somewhat revolutionary in it's breadth of facilities and is a glimpse into the future of high performance digital playback and hopefully you can come back to it and explain and review some of the excellent other capabilities in the future.

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    I don't doubt this is Chris' experience - but I've never heard this complaint before...

     

    I have an Akurate DSM and never experienced a problem with gapless replay, neither with FLAC nor ALAC nor with any resolution from 16/44 up to 24/192. Just had a listen to Linn's recording of Stravinsky's Pulcinella suite in 24/192 (ALAC), and it played gapless as it should.

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    I have an Akurate DSM and never experienced a problem with gapless replay, neither with FLAC nor ALAC nor with any resolution from 16/44 up to 24/192. Just had a listen to Linn's recording of Stravinsky's Pulcinella suite in 24/192 (ALAC), and it played gapless as it should.

    Hi JF - Can you send me a link to that download and ill try the exact same test as you. Also what upnp server are you using and control point etc...?

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    Hi JF - Can you send me a link to that download and ill try the exact same test as you. Also what upnp server are you using and control point etc...?

     

    I use a Synology DS209+II NAS with built-in media server (DSM 4.2). Control point is Kinsky 4.3.14 on iPad and Macbook Pro. The DSM is in Playlist mode. I guess that since the DSM is in Playlist mode, the control point is probably not involved during the gapless playback.

     

    The album can be purchased here:

     

    Linn Records - Stravinsky Apollon musagète & Pulcinella Suite

     

    Continuous tracks would e.g. be Scherzino, Allegro, Andantino of the suite.

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    Hi JF - Can you send me a link to that download and ill try the exact same test as you. Also what upnp server are you using and control point etc...?

     

    While we are talking: I remember that once I did have a problem with gapless playback. That was with a Majik DS. The FLAC files of the album happened to have a very large in-line image. After resizing the image and adding it back with "metaflac" it played without gap.

     

    Perhaps worth a try before spending money on an album?

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    While we are talking: I remember that once I did have a problem with gapless playback. That was with a Majik DS. The FLAC files of the album happened to have a very large in-line image. After resizing the image and adding it back with "metaflac" it played without gap.

     

    Perhaps worth a try before spending money on an album?

    Thanks jf3011 I'll take a deeper look into this.

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    Like the other Linn owners, I have never had a problem with gapless on a Linn DS at any sample rate.

    I currently own a Klimax DS/1 and owned an Akurate DS/0 previously.

    I currently use Asset UPnP w/ a Synology 412+ NAS, but I also use mimimserver from time to time. control points I have used are Kinsky, Bubble DS and others.

    regardless of the software or control point used, gapless has always played flawlessly on my Linn DS players. Highly recommended.

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    Chris,

    I was unclear on how you hooked this into your system from your review info. Did you use this as a preamp or simply a source? Also wondered if you had it attached with balanced out or single ended.

     

    PS. I have not experienced any problems with gapless on 24/96 with any of the Linn DS components. I am using Asset UPnP server software on the PC side along with Eyeconnect and Asset on the Mac side.

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    Hi Guys - Thanks to the posts from some of you about flawless gapless performance, album art, and a specific album to test I was able to play gapless up through 24/192. I've updated both the main body of the review and the conclusion.

     

    The problem is related to large album art just as jf3011 suspected. When I stripped the album art out as a first test everything worked great. This is great to know, but also points to a weakness in many renderers. The Rendu devices handle this large album art without issue.

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    Hi Guys - Thanks to the posts from some of you about flawless gapless performance, album art, and a specific album to test I was able to play gapless up through 24/192. I've updated both the main body of the review and the conclusion.

     

    The problem is related to large album art just as jf3011 suspected. When I stripped the album art out as a first test everything worked great. This is great to know, but also points to a weakness in many renderers. The Rendu devices handle this large album art without issue.

    Chris; how large was the album art which caused the problem?

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    Looking at the rear panel, there are a few worth noting you don't see on many other amps.

     

    The roof covers the connection points, so dust falling on the connection points is minimised, and I guess some moisture to an extent, that's a good idea. Connections can be forgotten for many years on end if the equipment is not regularly pulled out from the rack and the rear connectors wiped and cleaned. The folds though are perhaps 18-20 gauge steel, and there are gaps, not quite the finish I would expect from the money wanted.

     

    Rare to see on hi-fi gear, as opposed to AVR are outputs as well as inputs for coax and Toslink. If you do have an external DAC, the outputs are a welcome.

     

    Why six or so HDMI inputs, I guess if you pay $30k a year to use the technology, may as well make the most of it. If you don't have an AVR, I would hope that the HDMI would pass through video from a BD player to a TV. As for serious audio use though HDMI is still to get out of the starting blocks.

     

    No internet radio, given network capability, I guess that can come from a NAS uPNP perhaps and render through this device. Or use PC with media access which leads to the next paragraph.

     

    The largest failing for this unit though is there's no USB input, so no chance of direct PC hook-up, then again if you're stubborn Brit, the design stays as it is, and no PC shall come near! Out with the crucifix!!

    Or you have to buy a USB-SPDIF converter, which brings a discussion to find the DSD logo, sort of a where's wally competition to start. Perhaps in the next model, to compete with the Marantz NA-11s1. That's some piece of kit to contend with.

     

    $8500, wow. There would be serious competition out there for that kind of performance, if it is in your face or not.

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    Looking at the rear panel, there are a few worth noting you don't see on many other amps.

     

    The roof covers the connection points, so dust falling on the connection points is minimised, and I guess some moisture to an extent, that's a good idea. Connections can be forgotten for many years on end if the equipment is not regularly pulled out from the rack and the rear connectors wiped and cleaned. The folds though are perhaps 18-20 gauge steel, and there are gaps, not quite the finish I would expect from the money wanted.

     

    Rare to see on hi-fi gear, as opposed to AVR are outputs as well as inputs for coax and Toslink. If you do have an external DAC, the outputs are a welcome.

     

    Why six or so HDMI inputs, I guess if you pay $30k a year to use the technology, may as well make the most of it. If you don't have an AVR, I would hope that the HDMI would pass through video from a BD player to a TV. As for serious audio use though HDMI is still to get out of the starting blocks.

     

    No internet radio, given network capability, I guess that can come from a NAS uPNP perhaps and render through this device. Or use PC with media access which leads to the next paragraph.

     

    The largest failing for this unit though is there's no USB input, so no chance of direct PC hook-up, then again if you're stubborn Brit, the design stays as it is, and no PC shall come near! Out with the crucifix!!

    Or you have to buy a USB-SPDIF converter, which brings a discussion to find the DSD logo, sort of a where's wally competition to start. Perhaps in the next model, to compete with the Marantz NA-11s1. That's some piece of kit to contend with.

     

    $8500, wow. There would be serious competition out there for that kind of performance, if it is in your face or not.

     

    The HDMI is pass through for video. There are six inputs as many folks have a number of HDMI devices such as; TV box, Blue Ray, Xbox, Mac Mini or Apple TV or ROKU, laptop, etc. you know all those things those young up and comers have. As you can see, it can be the heart of a serious A/V system into a projector or high def panel for gaming, concerts, TV, movies, etc. and as such it is a blinding success and one hell of of an all in one device for an elegant, superb sounding and stylish modern day playback system.

     

    PS. Heard the Marantz yet? I have. Think it can compete sound wise and also be all that this is?

    PPS. Linn is taking a wait and see on DSD. LOT'S of commentary on why Linn should or shouldn't jump into it. Personally I think their take on it is about right. Now on the other hand should they be tackling multi channel again? Heck yes.

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    To 1.5... (sorry for the short hand) the Linn does have Internet Radio.

     

    The HDMI can definitely pass video and will also extract the front two channels and pass the Center and rear to a separate processor (for LPCM feeds).

     

    To David / Real HiFi... This post Why DSD is a terrible idea in 2013 makes Linn's current thoughts on DSD quite clear.

     

    A new multi-channel processor from Linn would be nice. But most HiFi manufacturers are shying away from the HT market place.

     

    Eloise

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    To 1.5... (sorry for the short hand) the Linn does have Internet Radio.

     

    The HDMI can definitely pass video and will also extract the front two channels and pass the Center and rear to a separate processor (for LPCM feeds).

     

    Eloise

     

    That information makes a little more sense, thanks Eloise. I only read the review at CA missed that detail which I didn't verify at the manufacturer's site. Further details missed in the review and (among the missing) USB connector, the Analog preamp section, mentioned by others.

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    I've heard both the Linn Akurate and Linn Klimax several times on several different systems. The Akurate is definitely the sweet spot in the line up and it's sonic abilities as a preamp are quite good. Although Kinsky is a good app, Chorus and Songbook work a bit better IMO.....But there is a cost to both those apps.

     

    Having said that about the terrific Linn players, my new Marantz NA11S1 sounds just as good, if not better than the Akurate, cost less than half as much and does DSD via USB natively and flawlessly New competitive players in ADS/1 and KDS/1 domain!

     

    How good does the Marantz sound? After several weeks of comparing it to my DAC2X, I sold the DAC2X and kept the Marantz. Enough said. Oh, and the Linn iPad app works like a charm on the Marantz (but Marantz does have their own iOS app too). The Marantz is a game changer IMO.

     

    All formats on the Marantz via Ethernet worked like a charm and sounded better than via USB (although I still need to do more A/B testing to declare a winner). It's other built in features like Spotify and Pandora and Radio and its various other inputs all work extremely well.

     

    I gave up trying to do DSD via Ethernet using minimserver. I'm sure Chris could get it to work, but I ran out of patience. Chris' opening paragraph was spot on for me. I personally believe streaming DSD via Ethernet and the complications around it could be one of the reasons why we aren't seeing Linn support DSD via their DS line of players. The other reason is that they could be right. There is no need for DSD in 2013 as Eloise pointed out above with the link to the Linn forum: Why DSD is a terrible idea in 2013

     

    Mike

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    To David / Real HiFi... This post Why DSD is a terrible idea in 2013 makes Linn's current thoughts on DSD quite clear.

     

    A new multi-channel processor from Linn would be nice. But most HiFi manufacturers are shying away from the HT market place.

     

    Eloise

     

    Yep. Am aware of that thread.

     

    Multi channel done well is superb in both film and music and it would not surprise me to see Linn get back into the game now that have the licensing for HDMI under their belt.

    The Multi channel space is actually maturing and the constant upgrade cycle that was once needed has slowed considerably. If a small company like Primare can do it, Linn surely can. Their amps are so modular and are really perfect for an easy transition back into this arena.

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    Yep. Am aware of that thread.

     

    Multi channel done well is superb in both film and music and it would not surprise me to see Linn get back into the game now that have the licensing for HDMI under their belt.

    The Multi channel space is actually maturing and the constant upgrade cycle that was once needed has slowed considerably. If a small company like Primare can do it, Linn surely can. Their amps are so modular and are really perfect for an easy transition back into this arena.

    Is Linn bigger than Primare?

     

    I think Primare (like Arcam) have had quite a tricky time moving to HDMI and HD audio. Will be interesting how their second generation products fare...

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