Linn Majik DS-I D/A integrated amplifier

For older enthusiasts who wish to stay current, there's a bump in the road to modernity. We all agree on the functions expected of a turntable—or a loudspeaker, or an amplifier, or even a D/A converter. Yet the term music server appears to mean different things to different designers and suppliers.

Hence my quandary on receiving for review the Linn Majik DS-I: What, precisely, is it supposed to do? Does the Majik DS-I contain a hard disk and music-ripping software, so I can use it to store all the music in my CD collection? Does it have a graphical user interface (GUI) that at least matches the one provided by the endearingly free Apple iTunes? Does it include a DAC that allows it to play the music files I've already put on my computer?

The answers to those questions—no, no, and sort of—served only to put an edge on my wondering: What the heck is this thing?

Description
The answer, excepting for a moment the Majik DS-I's integral phono section, preamp, and power amp, is: a perfectionist-quality D/A converter that conforms to Linn's well-defined ideas on the subject of music storage and reproduction:

• For domestic playback, archived music files have the potential to be much more faithful to the original recording than digital media played back in real time (ie, CDs and CD players), given that the former are subject to more deliberate error correction. (Err in haste and correct at leisure, as your grandmother used to say.)
• A music system in which files are stored, served, and played within a local-area network (LAN) is superior to even the finest computer-music systems in which files are streamed to a D/A converter via S/PDIF, USB, FireWire, or other data-transfer technologies.
• The best dedicated ripping programs can create files that are audibly superior to those ripped by, say, iTunes.
• D/A chip quality matters.
• D/A implementation matters, too—which is why Linn forgoes the internal auxiliary features of the Wolfson chips they use, preferring instead to write their own filtering algorithms and such.

Thus, considered as a piece of hardware, and with the enduring, temporary exception of that built-in preamp and amplifier, the Linn Majik DS-I ($4200) is an outboard D/A converter designed to communicate with other music-playback gear by means of an Ethernet LAN, streaming files in accordance with current UPnP specifications. Also provided are S/PDIF (coax) and optical (TosLink) digital inputs, as well as line- and phono-level analog inputs, for direct connection to various non-network source components, but USB and FireWire digital inputs are conspicuously absent. Absent, too, are a hard drive for archival storage, an optical drive for ripping CDs, a video display of useful size, and GUI software, all of which must be separately purchased, installed, and made available to the Majik DS-I via that Ethernet network. (A source-only version of this product, the Linn Majik DS, which lacks the integrated amp, is available for $3500.)

To be fair, I should note that Linn doesn't refer to the Majik DS-I or their other DS products as music servers, but simply as digital players. Pressed for a more technical term, Linn uses the more universal if opaque term media renderers.

Setup and installation
Assuming one wants a Linn Majik DS-I for playing high-resolution digital files ripped from one's own CD collection—a safe enough assumption, I would think—some minimal requirements must be observed in terms of both hardware and software. With regard to the former, the prospective user must also have: a network-accessible storage unit, or NAS (Linn suggests that this can be the hard drive in one's own computer, though they'd rather you buy a high-capacity outboard hard drive for the task); a control unit (which, we're told, can also be one's PC, or even an iPod or handheld "personal data assistant"); an optical drive for ripping additional music files (quite possibly, the one on your computer); and an Ethernet router and switch, which plays conductor to all of those network elements. And, of course, the user needs a few Ethernet cables, which generally aren't too expensive—yet.

COMPANY INFO
Linn Products Limited
US distributor: TC Group Americas
335 gage Avenue #1
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2M 5E1
(519) 745-1158
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COMMENTS
deckeda's picture

1) Linn says Ethernet sounds better but doesn't explain why.
2) AD concurs.
3) JA apparently theorizes about jitter and goes looking but doesn't find meaningful differences.
4) Linn says yes, it's lower jitter that makes RJ-45 et al better but JA's test equipment can't reveal it.
5) JA says actually, yes it can.

*********************

I didn't get a sense at all that the "stupidness" software issue has been overcome. And Linn---"open" software more often than not means everyone is free to design by committee, with predicable results. Don't tout that too strongly.

There are other facets not covered here, like why iTunes isn't a great ripper (it has a selectable error correction, giving the software more time for example) or why something that incorporates CD Paranoia while ripping wouldn't suffice.

This review is a good example of the perils of subjecting single components to scrutiny that demands investigation beyond the norm---so much more interaction occurs with computer-based music replay.

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