Linn Majik DS-I D/A integrated amplifier Page 2
As for software, the Majik DS-I user must download and install the following: digital media player/management software, such as KinskyDesktop (from Linn) or SongBook DS (from Bookshelf Apps); file-ripping software, such as dBpoweramp (from Illustrate); and a configuration program from Linn called LinnKonfig. Media-server software such as Twonky (from Packet Video) may also be required, depending on the installation. Finally, before the user can download and install much of the above, he or she will need to download and install the appealingly named Mono (from Novell), which is described as "an open source, cross-platform implementation of C# and the CLR that is binary compatible with Microsoft.NET." No wonder you need it!
A description of every task I performed in order to get my review sample of the Majik DS-I up and running would require more space than is occupied by most complete product reviews (I do not exaggerate). Suffice it to say, it wasn't easy. Suffice it also to add that, despite my own best efforts and those of two computer-music mavens, one of whom works for Linn's North American distributor, TC Group Americas, I never succeeded in getting my Apple iMac to perform as either an NAS or as a controller within a Linn DS network, evidently owing to a problem with the Kinsky software. In Linn's defense, the version of KinskyDesktop that runs in Apple's OS X environment and that can access an iTunes library was released exactly two days before I downloaded and installed it on my computer. (UPnP protocol is not directly compatible with iTunes.)
Even more in Linn's defense: Without exception, any Majik DS-I sold in the US is meant to be installed by an authorized Linn dealer. (The only documentation supplied with the DS-I is a typically useless 28-page booklet of safety warnings, some in languages I couldn't identify if my life depended on it.) Like those of the reviewer of 30 years ago who borrowed an LP12 turntable, installed it himself, screwed it up, and then skewered Linn in print for the unpleasantness of it all, my experiences in setting up the Majik DS-I are not germane to the presumed experience of the average consumer; I allude to them only in order to explain why, in this review, I fail to comment on the interface between the Linn DS network and Apple iTunes, among other variations.
For the record: Most of my own setup difficulties had to do with the conventions and components associated with Ethernetwhich, like tapas, Twitter, and love, is just a word some of us have heard but never really understood. The lack of an organizational overview for the decidedly individual documents on Linn's download site suggests not only that Ethernet has long been a part of their own corporate culture, but that the people responsible for that documentation take their own familiarity with Ethernet for granted. And it's here that the comparison between the LP12 experience and the DS experience falls apart: The former ultimately requires only that the user place a needle at the beginning of the groove and lift it away at the end, while the latter, with its continual ripping, frequent downloading, regular software updates, and occasional power outages, requires a lot more than just pressing Play and adjusting the volume.
Toward the end of my time with the Majik DS-I, there were occasions when I simply could not get music out of the thing without powering down all of the components in the Ethernet network and then powering them back up again in a very precise orderhoping, with each try, that perhaps this time my controller would find both my NAS and my . . . renderer.
The KinskyDesktop control software functioned on my iMac for only a brief time (less than the duration of one full song from my iTunes library), during which I was impressed with the sound, mildly unimpressed with the Kinsky's functionality, and wildly unimpressed with its graphics. After that brief audition, Kinsky shut itself downas it did, in a matter of seconds, on every subsequent attempt to launch it. But all was not lost: First, Linn's US distributor supplied me with an NAS (a QNAP TS-209II hard drive) on which he'd put many hundreds of hours' worth of FLAC files, a considerable number of which duplicated the music on my own iMac. (Those Linn people have very good taste!) Second, he also supplied me with an Apple iPod touch on which he'd installed SongBook DS, to use as a controller in place of Kinsky on my iMac. I was, as they say, in business.
So now, nearly 1500 words after I began, I can at last comment on the musical and sonic performance of the Linn Majik DS-I, both as a digital source in my present music system, playing FLAC files from a compatible NASand comparing the results to AIFF files of the same recordings, streamed from an iMac-iTunes package through a variety of outboard USB DACsand as a digital source plus integrated amp, driving only my reference loudspeakers.
Without question, the Ethernet-networked Linn Majik DS-I presented through my reference system a more open, nuanced, explicit, involving, and altogether natural musical experience than any USB-based digital source I've heard. Even the superb Ayre Acoustics QB-9 DAC, which I once thought unbeatable by any other computer-music source, was surpassed by the Linn DS system. (As a reminder not to let every pleasant landing fool me into thinking the stairs end there, I suppose the Linn DS taught me a damn good lesson.)