Linn’s Klimax DS is a dedicated streamer with just an ethernet input to connect to your music library and yet it costs almost £16 000. Can Linn justify this high price with an equally stunning performance? Dan Worth finds out. 

2007 saw the release of the very first Klimax DS from Scottish audio giants Linn. The first DS, much like future products, utilises first class audio components confined in their clam-shell chassis which is itself milled from a single billet of aluminium.  Throughout the years Linn have pushed forward, advancing and refining their design on a hardware and software basis, continually striving to be a leader in digital audio playback with today’s Klimax DS being the 4th incarnation.

The launch of Linn’s 4th generation Katalyst DAC Architecture within the newest of Klimax DS dedicated streamers is notably more mature in its ability to take absolute control over critical elements that lie in the heart of the analogue signal’s creation – offering what Linn state to be their most accurate reproduction ever from a digital source and “completely devoid of noise”. 

Completely independent isolated power supplies are employed for each process in the Klimax DS, ensuring that there is zero feedback from each of the processes to interfere with the next, making for a far greater reduction in overall noise distortion.

Linn have their own proprietary optimisation stage employed in the Klimax DS, detailed specifics are not available but Linn say that along with Master Clocking with independent power supply the “optimisation stage prepares the digital signal before any conversion takes place, which maximises error control and reproduction accuracy right at the start of the process.” 

Linn’s newest ultra-low distortion Analogue Output Driver prepares the analogue signal before output. Much the same as Input Signal Optimisation completes its task, the Analogue Output Optimisation removes any final noise distortion and dumps it before the pre-amplification stage in order to enhance signal purity and stability.

System Installation and Integration

Installation of the DS is simple, a somewhat more closed design is apparent over the companies DSM variant which has 7 digital inputs, DS being optimised purely for the on-board streamer via a single Ethernet input to link to local network libraries and streaming services. I was a little concerned to say the least about such a closed architecture until Linn pointed out that they were offering the use of their Katalyst DAC with any other digital source on their DSM module, all be it at a premium of £3,100 extra on top of the price of the DS at £15,800.

With fully balanced XLR outputs and single ended RCA the connectivity of the Klimax DS is pretty much complete apart from some further RJ45 Exakt Links. 

Fit and Finish 

Some may regard Linn’s product line up as being a little understated in the looks department and may suggest you are not getting enough bling for your buck. I tend to disagree, not everybody wants huge shiny boxes dressed like a Christmas tree. It’s modest styling is sleek and inoffensive in any decor. Looking at a piece of Linn’s electronics in a photograph on the internet or in a brochure has no real bearing when confronted with the sleek lines of the physical product and when one handles one of their products an undeniable appreciation for precision build quality is immediately realised.

Set Up 

Linn recommend using a NAS drive as the music source library to support the Klimax DS, offering me a Netgear Ready Nas for use during the review, I already have two of these for data backup for all my system,  alongside a Melco N1a/2 which is my main music library for its benefits outlined in previous reviews. My pre-amplifier is the Audio Music RT-1 which is a great partner to my Gamut d200 mk3 power amplifier and Ayon Seagull Ceramic loudspeakers, all items have carefully selected modifications.

Ethernet in, Analogue RCA out and the flip of a power switch on the Linn and essentially everything is ready to go. Nice and simple! 

Linn Kazoo Control App 

Linn have upgraded many hardware and software aspects inside the new Klimax DS, as well as employing a new control app called Kazoo – over the older Kinsky app. Kazoo is available on Mac and Windows along with Android and iOS devices through their relative app stores or via the Linn website. Installation couldn’t be easier and in use Kazoo is extremely informative. Users have the benefit of choosing the player/source and accompanying local library where the music is stored, alongside being able to enter their login credentials for Tidal or Qobuz.

Playing back music offers all relevant album information as well as displaying any associated artwork and the overall screen layout can be set as a list or tiles. Playlists can be built and songs can be queued for a relaxing and fuss free evening of music without needing to intervene with this already very simple way of enjoying ones favourite tunes. I especially like the black theme that Kazoo has from the outset, it prevents eye strain in darkened rooms and also looks sleek.

The Sound 

Normally I’d begin this section with information based around the burning in of a product. Today I feel like that is an unnecessary topic to touch on – needless to say there is of course one, but when a Klimax DS is installed into a system the immediate impact it has is such a joy to behold that anything other than the music becomes irrelevant.  Most notably for me on first listen was the amount of organic information displayed around the timbre of instruments. An acoustic guitar has a more meaningful description of each note’s connection with the room and of course the instruments body. During Derrin Nuendorf’s ‘Ghost Train’ tonality was reinforced by its incredibly detailed natural timbre, which uncannily didn’t feel as if the music was slowing down as my brain adjusted to the plethora of information on offer. When masses of information is communicated to the human brain it naturally has a slowing down effect. Life changing experiences such as accidents are always reported by an individual to have happened almost in slow motion – of course, time hasn’t slowed but the attention and analytical nature of the brain comes into play allowing for potentially better reactions and assessment of the situation.

Linn’s Klimax DS easily puts the listener into the acoustic space and firmly into the heart of the performance from the outset. The evening I first installed the DS was with my girlfriend – she loves hearing new equipment and is very interested in their mechanics, but her true passion lies with the music and its reproduction – she has a very broad taste. We started to trawl through a range of music we both enjoy (which was mainly acoustic during the first evening) and I could quickly see how soon she wandered off into the presentation of the system.

Listening to the Damien Rice ‘O’ album my impressions of Rice’s vocal in comparison with my usual reference of the Melco and the DiDiT DAC was an obvious cleaner approach, there was still great balance in tonality, with a fluidness that gave the lyrics meaningful expression. The cleaner tonality allowed for an added layer of realism, or in the room sense of presence of the music as a whole.

The following day whilst my partner was at work I had some more time listening to the Klimax DS at higher volumes than the previous night, curious to hear if I could trip the DS up whilst listening out for any sharp tones lurking in its sea of cleaner, well rendered rendition of notes. I threw a bunch of material at it, more acoustic, some jazz, a bunch of 80’s rock music along with some electronica and pop.

I’d like to convey my admiration for the way the Linn deals with jazz; I’m not a huge fan at all of the newer funky jazz or any of its other derivatives, I’m more in favour of traditional jazz, Anker Bilk, Frank Sinatra, John Venturi, Earl Hines etc. I remember when my brother-in-law used to have a shop in London and he sold LP12’s and the Klimax DS gave me fond memories of the Sondek setup, the undeniable musicality and bounciness it lent to jazz and the playfulness it conveys still to this day is pretty much unrivalled by any other deck. I don’t know how Linn have managed it but I have searched and searched and I cannot find where inside the DS they have managed to hide the LP12 and it seems that Linn are being very tight lipped about this too! My speakers, being of an all ceramic array of drivers, conveyed this fun loving appeal very well, but undoubtedly paper cones would have been even more thrilling. It’s a very fine balancing act to produce a piece of equipment which portrays great accuracy and extended amounts of detail, especially in bass registers, without delivering an incredibly tight bass that feels just too dry. The Klimax DS doesn’t deliver as rich a tone as my current front-end setup, but then it is tailored to my system to create a terrific balance. However, the balancing act between exceptional tonality in timbre and extraction of detail on all levels of bass notes dignifies the company’s prowess in being one of the leaders in digital music reproduction.

Music from the likes of Bon Jovi, Genesis, Meatloaf, Fleetwood Mac etc filled me with great joy also. I have always had a place in my heart for this kind of music, having grown up with these groups, listening to them in the evenings and weekends as my Mum prepared meals for us. You would often catch her dancing around the kitchen, having a good old sing song with pots and pans boiling away as if she was appearing on Stars In Their Eyes! At the time I always remember her red cylindrical AM/FM radio cassette player and every now and then it would beep and chatter when the portable phone was about to ring, I even used to be able to pick up police radios on it with careful tuning. My point is that that time of my life contained some of my greatest memories, I loved where we lived, music was always playing, no matter what it was played from and my life was just so adventurous and care free as a small child. The Klimax DS is one of a few pieces of equipment that had transported me back to my childhood  and this is due I think to the undeniable signature it brings to the music and nothing to do with price. I found myself toe-tapping, singing along and inadvertently searching for the next song on a reminiscence basis rather than, “ I bet this recording will sound good on it”. And that’s what it’s all about really, I don’t care if something costs £50 or nearly £16k, any piece of equipment should be created ultimately to reproduce music and not just an array of over-embellished, over-detailed sounds. Each pricepoint as we climb the cost ladder needs to offer more insight and resolution, of course, but the fundamental factor in any music lovers system has to be the connection to the music and what it means to you personally. The Klimax DS achieves this – it has a heart!

My mid to late teens took me heavily into electronica and dance music, in fact it pretty much took me over for a while. I craved dynamic transients, huge punchy bass notes and synthesised sounds that enveloped me. My systems at the time moved from simple two channel receivers to multi-channel, multi-speaker arrangements that got me in trouble with my parents and neighbours alike. I moved out at a young age and when I got my first place I remember my Mum visiting to instruct on where things should be placed and what furniture I required. My reaction to this was simple, “I’ll setup the system first, then we’ll work out where everything else needs to go”. This made absolutely no sense to her “it’s a home not a nightclub” but for me music has always taken a priority. Again, this story isn’t something I reminisce about often, but it’s a story that was brought to the fore again by the Linn Klimax DS. I can imagine that within the four walls of their Scotland factory they have the technology and the know how to create pieces of equipment that can champion a whole range of attributes that would lend their abilities to very specific criteria; whether a vocal and acoustic masterpiece, a big band or orchestral masterclass or a dynamically astute enthralling wizard on the dance floor, how on earth can you get all of these specialties into one box though? Ask Linn, because they really have achieved it.

I already had a strong appreciation for the Klimax DS’s way of naturally rendering transients and harmonically its decays can be playful or subtle, in this case, however, the inner child was reborn and the pressure levels in the room increased dramatically as did the volume.

Most likely untested by many, within the factory or out, the Klimax DS’s sonic signature and effortless reproduction was absolutely on the money with this genre of music. It took on a new level of control with heaps of confidence – details were astonishing, kick drums were tight and fast and the midrange when vocals were included were simply exhilarating. The Klimax DS will have enthusiasts of all ages and tastes lost in their favourite genres. With the correct amp/speaker combination to tailor to one’s room and tastes, Linn’s Klimax DS will change the game for many, and in many respects it could be the last source that you will ever need (with the caveat, that if you don’t require any further digital inputs). It’s infinitely transparent, agile, textured, informative as well as being subtle and delicate in its approach to reproducing any music, but also ready to let its hair down and party.

Whether listening to Tidal, Qobuz or music from your own local library in standard or higher bit rates, the Linn Klimax DS will deliver. Newer, higher resolution formats from either of the above services shine through the intricately constructed and outstanding on-board Katalyst DAC, yet never left me wanting when listening to my large 16bit libraries. The Linn adds an authority to the music that is often overlooked and delivers a rarely surpassed performance with its associated features and app support making for a seamless integration into any system, and not just an all Linn arrangement. To be able to deliver this much charisma and character without influencing tonal colour is an achievement in itself, but to be able to combine this without becoming stale and uninteresting is testament to what Linn have achieved here. 

AT A GLANCE

Conclusion 

I’ve pretty much concluded this review above, so I will discuss the realities of owning a streamer which costs little under £16,000. First, the market for such a product is far smaller than that of the typical £2k to £7k high-end streamer, which in most cases carries more features.

The Linn Klimax DS has a very closed architecture and if one desires an array of digital inputs for other devices there is that £3k premium to add for the privilege of the DSM model. Personally, I feel that for this sort of money the DS should have at least one further digital input, with my preference being for optical. The addition of Bluetooth would have been a fantastic addition too.

What you do receive though is a dedicated and isolated streaming peripheral that at its heart has one of the most wonderfully implemented DACs on today’s market, connecting directly to the renderer, with absolutely no eyes for anything else whatsoever.

In Hifi terms this approach tends to make the purists happy and others who want maximum flexibility and less boxes not so. I’d imagine that consumers in the market for a dedicated streamer such as the DS would indeed favour the dedicated version over the DSM and those who want more flexibility in this price bracket at least have the option of knowing that with Linn’s “Input Signal Optimisation” and “Output Driver” technology they are in safe hands.

There are strong arguments all day long for and against both implementations and I don’t believe that these will ever combine to one universal trail of thought, so for now we need to simply accept the reality of this product and its target market.

Build Quality: Absolutely stunning!

Sound Quality: Heart felt, engaging and engrossing, very transparent and insightful.

Value For Money: I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Pros: Bespoke parts throughout. Incredible attention to detail, physically and sound-wise. Exceptional DAC integration. Genre flexibility. Transparent and engaging. Most of all musical!

Cons: Expensive enough to be positioned at a specific sector of the market, but then Linn do offer more reasonably priced models. Should have had at least one digital input or perhaps even Bluetooth.

Price – £15,800

Dan Worth

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