Linn Knekt Kivor hard-disk multizone music system Page 2

The third Kivor product is the Intersekt control center. While the Tunboks and Oktal can be used in standalone fashion in a single system—which is how I reviewed them—the Intersekt allows them to be used in a complete Linn Knekt multizone system. The Intersekt communicates with the Tunboks via an RS-232 connection and takes the eight pairs of analog outputs from the Oktal. It allows the Knekt Kivor owner, no matter what room he's in, independent access to any track, album, or playlist while feeding back real-time information on the music playing—album and track title, artist name, etc.—to the Knekt control handset. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the Intersekt serves all the zones in a multizone installation with analog music signals. Note that while the Intersekt is an integral part of the integrated Kivor system, I didn't test it.

The Playlist Paradigm
Linn supplied two programs for controlling the Tunboks, both using iMerge's XiVA-Link protocol (footnote 1). I installed the PC version, XiVA-Link , in an 866MHz Dell Pentium III running Windows ME. The Palm version, XiVA Palm, went on to my Palm Vx. Both PC and Palm communicate with the Tunboks via an RS-232 connection, the Palm sitting in its docking station, of course.

At its heart, XiVA is a relational database. Music tracks can be stored and played back by album, track, artist, or genre. The user can compile playlists by dragging and dropping tracks from CDs (PC GUI) or adding them via a menu screen (Palm). Unlike with a CD jukebox, accessing the tracks in a playlist was virtually instantaneous.

The genre category was the most interesting. Stored albums can be assigned a genre: Classical, Jazz, Rock, etc. Selecting a genre and Random Play, for example, will play all the tracks from all the albums in that genre. Be your own radio station! I could do this only with the Palm software, by the way, the PC software either not yet supporting genre playback or not yielding up all its secrets. And I would like to have been able to assign multiple genres to the same track—some of the cuts on Eberhard Weber's Endless Days (ECM 1748) are classical and jazz—or different genres to different tracks on albums like Stereophile's Test CDs, which mix different kinds of music. Yes, there are workarounds possible with the current software, such as using playlists, but hey—I like programs where the code warriors have already predicted what I want to do, no matter how perverse.

A Ripping Good Time
Linn supplied the Tunboks ready-loaded with a selection from the excellent Linn Records catalog, but naturally, I wanted to install my own music. Ripping CDs was a doddle. You insert the CD into the slot in the Tunboks' front panel, choose the Record All Tracks or the Custom radio button on the PC screen, choose among "full-bandwidth" MP3 at 128kbps, 160kbps, or 192kbps with the software's option screen, and let 'er, um, rip.

The tracks are listed numerically and initially displayed with an X in a red circle. This icon changes to a checkmark in a green circle when the track has been successfully copied. A time display at the bottom of the menu screen indicates the remaining time required (the Palm version of the XiVA software also indicates percentage remaining); CDs seemed to be copied at around 4x real time.

Once the CD's tracks are stored on the Tunboks' hard drives, you can enter the artist, album, and track information the hard way—manually—or the easy way: by allowing the Tunboks to dial the Gracenote database (footnote 2) and get this "metadata" for itself. With two recent CDs I didn't even have to do that, as the discs—our November "Recording of the Month," Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" (Columbia CK 88076); and Fantasies & Delusions, the new disc of classical piano works by Billy Joel (Sony Classical CK 85397)—were able themselves to give the Tunboks the necessary information.

Wary of copyright concerns, Linn, of course, advises you to rip only CDs that you have already purchased. However, as reported in Stereophile's "Industry Update," the record industry is rushing ahead with schemes to restrict access to the music data on CDs. Macrovision's SafeAudio system, for example, messes with a CD's pit format to provoke deliberate data errors. While these should be handled gracefully by a player's error-correction and concealment algorithms, when someone attempts to rip the music from the CD, the resulting WAV or MP3 files will be plagued with annoying clicks and pops.

Footnote 1: iMerge has its own single-room hard-disk server, the S1000 SoundServer, which sells in the UK for £1199. Like the Linn Tunboks, the S1000 is controlled by XiVA software.

Footnote 2: Formerly CDDB, the Gracenote database has archived the information for more than 12 million tracks from 950,000 albums. A subscription to Gracenote is included with the purchase of a Kivor system.

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MikeMaine's picture

Or you can buy a Mac

CuteStudio's picture

... that you can run the SeeDeClip4 multiuser music server on a regular, noisy PC in the spare room and access and/or control the music using any modern gadget like a Chromebook, tablet, iPad etc.

This makes the choice of client easy - there's lots of cheap alternatives and an iPad can be hooked up to Toslink using an Apple TV or Airport Express etc.

The free version does a lot more than you'd think, it's a complete home audio solution.

JonGreen's picture

A little late to the table(!), but thanks for an excellent, well-balanced review.

I was the systems architect of the Imerge SoundServer, which was rebadged (with some enhancements) as Linn's Kivor. I also designed the XiVA-Link communications protocol, and worked with Linn's Alan Clark (designer of the iconic Sondek CD12) on the S/PDIF hardware and drivers: Alan did most of the hardware work; I assisted in some of the FPGA firmware, and write the drivers.

I can confirm the accuracy of just about everything reported here. During 2000, both SoundServer and Kivor were going through a series of rapid evolutions. Towards the end of 2001, the products were settling down.

I'm a little surprised that they were reported as being MP3-only, though. One of the key selling points for audiophiles was that both products were able to rip and play uncompressed audio. This is why SoundServer (and, I believe, Kivor) came with up to 1.1 TB of storage - a massive amount at the time - configured as eleven 100 GB drives. It ran hot and heavy (and, yes, a bit noisy), but had enough elbow room to accommodate a lot of raw audio.

It was true that we only had one genre allocated to a track or album. This was partly because of the limited information we received from Gracenote. I always felt that having more than one genre per item in the database would be a good thing, but I was over-ruled. Apart from anything else, it would have made genre-based searches substantially slower, for a bunch of technical reasons it's not worth going into here. I think that if we'd done it today, we'd have used a noSQL database such as MongoDB or Couchbase, so we could have had the flexibility to enhance with additional fields such as user-assigned genres or arbitrary tags.

Anyway, thanks again. Great memories, revisiting that part of my career!