Linn Klimax DS Digital Streamer

Serotonin Burst

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
Linn Klimax DS
Linn Klimax DS Digital Streamer

Because this was a very hush-hush review, with strict embargos and non-disclosure agreements that explained in graphic detail what would happen to my technical area if I even breathed a word about this product before the middle of September, I listened to the new Klimax in a top-spec Linn system in Scotland, and I used the previous-generation Klimax as comparison. This, however, is a decent place to start because the older Klimax is already among the best digital streamers out there, and many such units will be used in this system context. I had expected the comparison process to be a protracted, nuanced affair, trying to define subtle differences between products that really weren’t that different. So, out came “Son of a Preacher Man” from Dusty Springfield’s justly famous Dusty in Memphis album [Phillips], which sounded extremely good on the older product. Two bars into the same track on the new Klimax and it sounded like she was singing with a band, where the older model now sounded like she was singing to a backing track. It was as if a group of better and better-rehearsed musicians had turned up. In truth, it took longer to acclimate myself to the conditions than it did to parse the differences between the two models. In the context of a system you know, if you already have a Linn Klimax the amount of time you will need to audition the new model before realizing you have to buy the new one is about twice as long as it will take you to read this sentence.

Naturally, this hot Linn-on-Linn comparison action came with several Studio Master albums from the Linn label. Perhaps the most significant was the Largo from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 [Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Linn Records]. This is a wonderful piece of music, played beautifully, and on the older Klimax, listening was a therapeutic experience, as it felt as if your heart rate and blood pressure calmed in the listening. But the new unit took this to new levels. It felt like Beethoven was working on you at a synaptic level. This felt like a serotonin burst. I probably wasn’t a smarter or nicer person for the playing of this track, but I felt a burning desire to work some differential calculus while rescuing a kitten. “Get Lucky” from Random Access Memories by Daft Punk [Columbia] sounded like “Get Lucky” on the previous model, but on the new one it sounded like “Get Lucky” on cocaine, in gold lamé hot pants, and with glitter sprinkles.

Then there’s the whole finding new music aspect, which comes as a result of that effortless Tidal connectivity. “String Trio—Continuity Theory” by the Janaki String Trio on its Debut album [Yarlung] is not something I would normally play, but I happened upon it almost at random and found it profound and powerful.

“Profound” is the watchword, here. The new Klimax simply makes music more profound. That sounds trite, but it holds throughout. Although the comparison between old and new is an instant one, the difference also has more staying power. With less “filter” in the way of the music, the new Klimax opens the listener up to so much greater depth to his music, and as a result, listening sessions get protracted. Like the best LP replay systems, you can follow every line of the music, without losing sight of the composition and intent of the musician. This was possible with the previous-generation Klimax, because of that streamer’s unfatiguing delivery and inherently “undigital” treble, but the level of musical insight the new model brings to the music just makes the process a lot more organic, in the way you might turn your attention from one musician to another, or from melody to harmony, when listening to live music.

It’s not just audiophile-approved pieces of music that have this kind of effect through the new Klimax. “The Hunter” by bizarre Icleandic space pixie Bjork, “Because” by the Beatles, “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, even “Satellite” by Nine Inch Nails, all captivate, all drag you into the music. This is music replay as orgiastic tribal stuff. The last time it got this atavistic, I’m sure there was a big black monolith and a thighbone involved.

The strange thing about the Klimax sound is you don’t tend to talk about the sound, more about how the sound has an influence on you. It is, obviously, extremely detailed, very tonally accurate, dynamic, coherent, and possessed of the sort of ringing-free, effortless treble that when not present makes a lot of digital audio sound, well, digital. But where many other products focus on these aspects of performance, this one does that rare holistic thing that makes you reach deeper into your musical collection, whether locally streamed or on Tidal or Qobuz. If you have spent any time with the original or second-generation Klimax, you’ll know what I am talking about here—and what the Klimax DS does, the new Klimax does an order of magnitude better.

I’ve not heard every single digital device, but I’ve heard a lot of them, and new Klimax is the best of the ones I’ve heard, or at least the best I’ve heard that don’t cost as much as a decent luxury car. And even at the super-lofty end of high-end digital, the Klimax DS stands with the best of them, and even shows a clean pair of heels to some of audio’s upper echelon with ease. It might even be the best of all of them, and therefore comes profoundly recommended.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Network music player (DSM with preamp functions)
Analog inputs (DSM only): 1x balanced XLR pair
Digital input: Ethernet RJ45 (DSM adds 3x HDMI Type A, 1x SPDIF RCA also configurable as output, 2x TosLink)
Analog output: 1x balanced XLR pair, 1x unbalanced RCA pair
Digital output: 2x RJ45 Exakt link (DSM adds 1x HDMI Type A)
Supported file types: FLAC, Apple Lossless (ALAC), WAV, MP3, WMA (except lossless), AIFF, AAC, OGG
Audio sample rates: Up to 192kHz
Word lengths: 16–24 bits
Control protocol: Compatible with UPnP media servers, UPnP AV 1.0 control points, THD+N (line output): <0.0007%
Dynamic range: >110dB
Gain range: -80dB to +20dB, 1dB steps
Finish: Black or silver
Dimensions: 35×6×35.5cm
Weight: 8.6kg
Price: Klimax DS, $23,375; DSM, $27,500; Klimax DS upgrade, $5720; Klimax DSM upgrade, $6160

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