Linn Majik DSM Network Music Player

Sonic Lead into Gold

Equipment report
Categories:
Music servers and computer audio
Linn Majik DSM Network Music Player

The Setup
I used the Linn Majik DSM in four different configurations. First I installed the Majik DSM as a source component, routing its analog line-level output into a Parasound P-7 preamplifier in my main system. After almost a month there, I moved the Majik DSM into my living room’s real-world system. I removed the Parasound P-7 and Perreaux E-110 power amplifier that had been in that installation and replaced them with the Majik DSM. The speakers in this system were AV123 X-Statics modified by Skiing Ninja, augmented by a Velodyne DD-10+ subwoofer. After several weeks, I replaced the X-Statics and subwoofer with Linn Majik 140 floorstanding loudspeakers. Finally, after another couple of weeks of listening, the Linn Majik Exaktbox-I was added to the system. Once the Majik Exaktbox-1 was installed, the system was completely re-set up using Majik DSM’s “Space Optimization+” system of built-in room optimisation features. I’ve never before reviewed one component in so many different iterations.

The installation process for the Majik Exaktbox-I is far from a simple DIY procedure; it’s involved enough to require a trained Linn specialist. Darrin Kavanagh, the Denver area Linn representative, configured my review system and set up the Space Optimization+. It was an all-afternoon operation. (If you want to see what is involved in the process Linn has the tutorial here.) Once it has been set up, the Linn system can be configured so that the end-user can readjust the settings to his or her own taste, if desired.

To add the Majik Exaktbox-I to the system, you connect the Majik DSM to the Exaktbox via Exakt Link using Cat-5 cable, and then configure the Majik 140 speakers so they can be used with the Exaktbox-I. This involves moving some internal jumpers in the Majik 140s so that each driver in the loudspeaker is directly connected to its own unique channel of amplification. This also requires additional speaker cables, which were supplied by Linn. At the end of the process, all the analog crossover circuitry used with the 140s’ drivers is bypassed so the Exaktbox can perform those functions in the digital domain.

After the Exaktbox-I was connected to the Majik 140 loudspeakers, Linn’s unique Space Optimization+ room-correction system was installed. The process involves setting up the Majik 140 speakers in the most sonically optimal position in your room (regardless of the practicality of the placement for everyday use), taking measurements, and then moving the speakers into the position where you want them to reside. Then the system response is re-measured, and after comparing the results, Linn’s built-in correction can do an “expert system” setup where it chooses the necessary frequency-response corrections. Alternatively, the installer can do a completely manual setup where he controls and adjusts each parameter based on the results from the two tests. The goal is to achieve the same level of harmonic purity and minimization of additive and subtractive room interactions in the final set-up position as you obtained in the optimal one.

Once more I must stress that Linn’s Majik Exaktbox-I is a complex piece of gear that has plenty of flexibility—enough to completely screw up the sound if not set up properly. And while it was useful and instructive to be present during the process, it’s not something that an untrained end-user should attempt without assistance. But Linn does encourage the end-user to be present during installation to offer feedback. Given the extreme flexibility of the system, it can and most likely will be adjusted more for the end-user’s personal taste (and to overcome the room’s most pernicious sonic issues) than to achieve a ruler-flat frequency response.

Although the Linn Majik DSM can be used in any room, from a dedicated purpose-built listening room to a multi-use family room, the adjustment features built into the Space Optimization and Space Optimization+ were designed to cope with the less-than-ideal listening environment that you would encounter in a multi-purpose room. Space Optimization can be used with any networked Linn music player, but I tried it only with the Exakt and Majik 140 package.

Linn gives you several ways to control the Majik DSM system. You can use the supplied remote, which gives you access to most of the Majik DSM functions; it can also be programmed for several macros (multiple functions from one button push). But if you plan to use the Majik DSM primarily for streaming content from your NAS or remote sources such as Tidal, you’ll want to use the Linn Kazoo app, which can run on Mac OS, Windows, iOS, and Android. Since I don’t own an iPad, I used Kazoo on my MacBook Pro Retina 13" computer, 2009 Mac Mini, and 2013 MacPro desktop computers.

The Linn Kazoo app takes a bit of time to get used to, primarily because it is so fully featured and graphic-oriented. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to do most operations. Unlike the Roon playback app, which combines your Tidal and home music libraries into one gigantic library, with Kazoo these two libraries remain separate, similar to the way Sonos handles them.

Linn also has a second program for the Majik DSM called Linn Konfig, which is primarily for the initial setup. Konfig lets you name and rename inputs, add or subtract sources, and check the operating and current status of your DSM player. While I used Konfig during the first couple of weeks to check and redo some settings, after that it was basically there for insurance to make sure that everything was still operating optimally.

I did have some initial set-up issues caused by connection glitches between my Synology NAS and the Majik DSM. Linn recommends the QNAP brand of NAS, and during the first couple of weeks I used a loaner QNAP before I broke down and bought one of my own, after which I had no additional connection issues. The only additional bit of computer weirdness occurred when I initially activated Linn Kazoo via my MacBook portable after sleep mode; it couldn’t find the Majik DSM until I went into my MacBook’s WiFi connection panel and designated the 5.6MHz WiFi mode instead of the 2.6. Once changed, everything connected as expected.

The primary and most pernicious technical issue I had with the Majik DSM was that it refused to play HDtracks-sourced AIFF-format music files. It seems that all my HDtracks files did not adhere to Linn’s rather stringent requirements for a properly configured AIFF file. Anyone who has an extensive library of HDtracks files will find this current situation less than desirable. The quick DIY solution is to make another set of files in WAV or FLAC format, which will play via the Majik DSM. Those with an especially large HDtracks music collection in AIFF format can use a batch conversion tool such as dBpoweramp. Since the Majik DSM does not currently support DSD files, they too will need to be re-sampled into a PCM-friendly format.