Linn Klimax DSM AV review
Linn has been in the streamer game longer than most, and it shows in the sophistication and quality of the new Klimax DSM. In our experience, few rival companies can match the slickness of its streamers or their sonic performance.
So, when the Scottish brand decides to go all out for its new range-topper, the chances are that it will be special. Add that huge price tag into the equation and the expectation only gets bigger.
(Image credit: Linn)
There are three variants of the Klimax DSM. One is intended to be used as a digital source in a two-channel music set-up. It can access music across your home network from a NAS unit or stream using Tidal, Qobuz or Spotify Connect. Theres also Bluetooth (version 4.2) and AirPlay connectivity to add greater flexibility. It can also work as a Roon endpoint.
The AV variant, the one we have on test here, sells at exactly the same price as the music-only version but adds four HDMI 2.0 sockets and a single e-ARC-equipped output to that already extensive features list. Specify the optional surround sound module for an extra £1200 ($1,560/AU$2395) and it can decode all the current movie sound formats bar Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, though we wouldnt be surprised if both of these got added over time.
Unfortunately, if you do want to go down the surround sound route its not as straightforward as specifying that dedicated module and connecting via analogue interconnects to any standard multichannel power amplifier.
To get the sound out of the Klimax AV youll have to invest heavily into Linns ecosystem, using either a complete 7.1 active set-up equipped with the companys proprietary Exakt digital link or, rather less neatly, employ a combination of the DSMs stereo analogue outputs and Exakt connections for a hybrid passive/active set up. Either way, were talking a fair bit of complexity and huge money.
The System Hub is the final Klimax DSM variant, and thats designed specifically to work in an all-Linn set-up, connecting to the rest of the system through the Exakt connection. The balanced XLR and single-ended RCA analogue outputs of the other two models are deleted. Otherwise, the System Hub features the same suite of features, options and connections as the AV version, and surprisingly, costs only half as much.
(Image credit: Linn)
Rather than being a mere streamer, the DSM is more accurately described as a streaming preamplifier. It has the expected digital inputs – USB Type B, optical and a pair of coaxials (in BNC form) – as well as analogue equivalents in Balanced XLR and single-ended RCA (x2) form. Of course lets not forget about the raft of HDMI connections that comes as standard on our AV variant.
The big technology highlight here is the introduction of the Organik digital-to-analogue circuitry. This is Linns first in-house DAC design and has been developed from first principles using the companys three-decades worth of digital experience. Organik combines FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) processing with a discrete conversion stage that allows the engineers to control and optimise every part of the conversion process for the very first time.
The FPGA processing employs bespoke algorithms for things like upsampling and signal modulation while the partnering conversion stage aims to minimise distortion through low jitter and short signal paths. Its impressive that the company builds and populates these surface-mount circuit boards in-house rather than having them made elsewhere as most rivals do.
(Image credit: Linn)
The Klimax DSMs casework is equally impressive. Its machined from solid aluminium, with precision cut partitions that separate the analogue, digital and power-supply sections of the circuitry. Doing things this way minimises any unwanted electrical and mechanical interactions that could degrade the performance. This casework is also carefully damped to reduce the impact of external vibrations. The hefty overall mass of 16.4 kg helps in that cause too.
The level of fit and finish is exceptional, just as it should be for the price. The Klimax DSM AV looks every inch the upmarket luxury product it is, and neat design touches such as the diamond-cut pattern on the top panel that echoes the grooves of a vinyl record – alluding to Linns enviable history in this area – are lovely. The precision-cut glass volume dial on the top panel looks classy too with its 100 segment indicator lights. This dial feels nice and responsive when turned to change the volume, but its mechanism feels a little vague when we push down on the appropriate edges to navigate the on-board menus or try to pause the music when streaming.
Audio formats FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, DSD (64/128/256), MP3, WMA (except lossless), AIFF, AAC, OGG
Inputs Toslink x1, SPDIF x2, balanced XLR x1, RCA phono x2 pairs, USB Type B x1, HDMI x4 (AV only), eARC x1 (via HDMI output)
Outputs Balanced XLR x1, RCA phono x1, HDMI x1 (AV only)
Resolution Up to 24-bit 384kHz
Integrated services Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify Connect, Airplay, Roon, TuneIn, Calm Radio
Dimensions (hwd) 12.6 x 35 x 35 cm
This Linn comes in two standard finishes – silver or black – and both combine well with the reflective nature of the large front display to allow the unit to blend well into most rooms. The DSMs display is large enough to read from the other side of our test room and is pleasingly crisp with it. Its text only though, so you wont see any cover art. We have to admit, that loss doesnt bother us much, particularly as the cover art is shown on the dedicated Linn app anyway. This app is pretty slick and over the weeks of our testing proves stable.
As with other recent Linn streaming products youll find six assignable switches on the front top edge. Each of these can be easily programmed as a shortcut to a specific music source or input. Its a neat arrangement that works really well in use.
The Klimax DSM AV has to be configured using the Manage System software, which is accessed through the users account through the Linn website. Youll need a suitable computer that is connected to the same network as the streamer too. We would expect the selling dealer to do the installation, though the software is pretty easy to use. Manage Systems is also the place where youll access Linns Space Optimisation room correction software.
In some ways Space Optimisation doesnt feel as sophisticated as mic-driven alternatives, but provided youre accurate when feeding in your rooms details as well as your speakers and their positioning, youll find the software does a pretty good job. It certainly improves the clarity of our set-up and makes the low-end better controlled, though rhythmic drive and dynamic expression suffer a touch in the process. Space Optimisation is certainly worth a try though, and its easy to switch off if you dont like the results.
(Image credit: Linn)
A product such as the Klimax DSM AV positively demands a top-class partnering system. We plug it into our reference set-up of Burmester 088/911 Mk III amplifier and ATC SCM50 speakers. We also have Naims range-topping ND555/555 PS DR music streamer (£21,000 / $33,000), our current reference, on hand for comparison purposes.
Once the DSM is given a few days to settle its pretty obvious that its an exceptional product that sets new standards for the streamer category as a whole. We certainly havent heard an alternative that betters the Linns detail resolution or dynamic expression.
Time and time again we hear new details in recordings that we have been using for years and know well. When we listen to an old favourite like Arvo Pärts Tabula Rasa were far more aware of the recording venue than ever before, thanks to the clarity with which the Linn resolves the low-level ambience information. Each instrument is placed securely in position within the soundstage and stays sharply focused no matter how demanding the music gets.
Were astonished by just how convincing the instrumental textures are and the skilful way the Klimax renders subtle changes in dynamic intensity. The leading edge of each note is outlined with care, but the Linn follows through with rich, well-defined harmonics. Theres plenty of muscle when required, but the whole presentation is also infused with breathtaking subtlety too. This is a player thats as happy to thump out a huge orchestral crescendo as it is to revel in a lonely, solo violin.
Weve found some of Linns previous products to sound a little lean and lacking in natural warmth in the past, but those criticisms dont apply here. The Klimax DSM sounds neutral and natural, with no obvious deviation throughout the frequency range. It still delivers a crisp and clean sound but here its painted with class-leading refinement. Theres no hint of undue harshness – unless its in the original signal, that is.
(Image credit: Linn)
We switch to Massive Attacks Heligoland and the Klimax DSM AV continues to shine. The streamers authority in the bass is absolute. We havent come across a rival that delivers bass with such grip, depth or power. Even our reference Naim streamer has to step aside here, sounding a little blurred and soft in comparison. In fact, apart from slightly superior rhythmic drive theres not one other area that we prefer our Naims performance. Thats astonishing considering how superior the ND555/555 PS DR sounds to most rivals, though its also wise to remember the sizeable price gap between the Linn and the Naim.
We try out the Linns digital inputs and are pleased to report that the Organik DAC circuit performs superbly. Its right up there with the very best number crunchers on the market when it comes to insight and organisation. Importantly, its musical too and makes the most of the range of sources we use. Sometimes we find that the USB input on a DAC has a different character to either the coaxial or optical, but that is not the case here. Even wireless connections such as Bluetooth and AirPlay sound good, though understandably, not quite up to the quality levels of the hardwired connections.
The DSMs analogue input performance is one of the few areas we find less than satisfactory. We have no doubt that Linn has tried hard to make these work well, but we find them lacking the subtlety and expressiveness of the digital inputs. Theyre perfectly serviceable, but they dont show the unit at its considerable best.
The Klimax DSM AV has a volume control built in, so we connect it directly to our Burmester 911 Mk III power amplifier. This works well, improving transparency of the overall sound and even giving us a touch more precision, though we do miss the dimensionality and natural warmth of our Burmester 088 preamp. Connecting the Klimax directly is the way to go if you have anything other than a top-end analogue preamplifier.
Some people will never get past the Klimax DSM AVs huge price tag and we can understand that. But if youre lucky enough to contemplate spending this much on a streamer, we say dive right in. It currently represents the state of the art when it comes to streaming sound quality as far as were concerned.
- Sound 5
- Build 5
- Features 5