Linn Akurate DSM Review
At 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]
Akurate DSM and Kinsky
The 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.
As 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.
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 - Linn Akurate DSM network music player
- Price - $8,500
- Product Page - Link
- Source: 15" MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display, C.A.P.S. v3 Carbon Server
- DAC: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2
- Digital to Digital Converter: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Preamp: Spectral Audio DMC-30SS Series 2
- Amplifier: Spectral Audio DMA-260
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: JRemote
- Remote Control Hardware: iPhone 5, iPad (3rd Generation)
- Playback Software Windows 8: J River Media Center 18
- Playback Software Mac OS X 10.8.3 : J River Media Center 18, Audirvana Plus
- UPnP Server: Synology Media Server
- UPnP Control Point: Linn Kinsky Version 4.3.14 (Davaar)
- Cables: MIT Matrix HD 60 Bi-Wire Loudspeaker Cable, MIT Oracle Matrix 50 Analog Interconnects (RCA), ALO Audio AC6 Power Cables, Wire World Silver Starlight USB Cable, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable
- Network: Cisco SG200-26 Switch, Baaske MI-1005 Ethernet Isolator, Micro Connectors Augmented Cat6A Ethernet Cable, Apple AirPort Extreme, PFSense Router / Firewall, Cisco DPC3000 Docsis 3.0 cable modem, Comcast Extreme 105 Mbps Internet Service
- Product - Linn Akurate DSM network music player