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 Sound
When I used the Majik DSM as a source component connected to the Parasound P-7 via analog outputs I was immediately impressed by its overall sound quality. I had been using two high-end DAC/sources in that system: the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC and the Cary DS-600SE digital player. After adjusting for output levels, when I compared identical music files I found the Majik DSM could produce comparable sound quality. The Majik DSM’s soundstage size and imaging specificity were equal to those of the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC. Surprisingly, I found the Majik DSM bested that DAC when it came to low-bass energy, with a response that was more dynamic and had greater impact. Compared to the dual-output Cary DS-600SE, the Majik DSM had more inner detail when the Cary was in tube-output mode, but it proved to be almost indistinguishable from it in solid-state-output mode. Though the Cary had slightly greater overall image height, the bass response and treble extension of both DACs were identical.

While I did not find the music played through the Majik DSM any more “hummable” than via other players—remember that “Where’s the Tune?” pin from 1984—I did discover that playback through the Majik DSM did have a certain unique musicality that successfully negotiated the fine line between euphony and an excessively analytical presentation. And while probably only a small minority of owners will be employing the Majik DSM exclusively as a source device, the component certainly has the sonic chops to perform on a high level when used in that manner.

A reader recently called me to task on my last integrated amplifier review for not trying the phonostage. My Majik DSM review sample came with the moving-magnet (lower-gain) phonostage installed. Linn has a moving-coil version that can replace the mm phonostage at an additional charge of $480. However, both of my turntables currently are set up with lower-output moving-coil phono carts, so I did not employ the phonograph inputs during the review, but I did route the line-level outs of my two phonostages into the line-level inputs of the Majik DSM. The results were such that I could not identify any noticeable loss of fidelity or increase in noise levels compared with routing those sources directly into the Parasound P-7.

When I installed the Majik DSM in my living room, it was the first time I’d had a chance to hear the DSM’s built-in amplifier. It had enough power to drive the medium-efficiency X-Static loudspeakers to satisfying volume levels; most of my critical listening was done with the volume setting somewhere between 45 and 60 depending on program material (the volume control goes up to 80, the default setting, but can be configured to go up to 100).

When I compared the Majik DSM’s overall sound quality with the rig it replaced—the Parasound P-7, Perreaux E-110, and Sony HAP-Z1ES—I felt like the overall sound quality was comparable. Both systems propelled the X-Static loudspeakers forward with a wide, deep soundstage, good low-frequency control, and excellent low-level detail and articulation. I did need to adjust the Velodyne DD-10+ subwoofer a bit, changing its crossover point from 60 to 70Hz and then turning down its level slightly. The small amount of additional bass energy that I noticed when using the Majik DSM as a source component was also present when it was used as a standalone system.

The majority of the sonic issues I noticed with the Majik DSM in my living room system were (and are) a result of the room. As in most non-purpose-built listening areas, the bass is not as well controlled as I would like, with several obvious resonant peaks and nulls caused by the room’s dimensional and structural factors. My solution so far with most systems has been to truncate the low bass into the main speakers and re-route that bass energy into the subwoofer, which I can position to minimize room interactions.

When I replaced the AV123 X-Static loudspeakers with the Linn Majik 140 floorstanders the overall sound quality changed somewhat. Imaging through the Majik 140 speakers was slightly more precise and the overall soundstage was a bit larger. The Majik 140s also produced more midbass power, which was a mixed blessing because the added low-end energy excited room resonances to a greater degree. To reduce this energy, I had to move the Majik 140s farther into the center of the room. Although this was a better position sonically, it was less convenient and not where I would want speakers to remain on a permanent basis.

For the final set-up iteration the $6320 Majik Exaktbox-I was installed into the system. And it sure isn’t your dad’s basic power amplifier. Along with eight discrete channels of amplification it also has D/As, digital crossovers, and additional digital horsepower. As I mentioned in the set-up section, placing it into the system necessitated the substitution of all the Majik 140 loudspeaker’s internal crossovers with the Exaktbox-I’s digital crossovers. At this point Linn’s Space Optimization+ room correction was also set up, which allowed me to move the Majik 140 loudspeakers back into a more acceptable position in the room.

The change in sonics was not subtle. Instantly the overall sound quality of the system went from very good albeit with obvious room-induced issues to excellent with most of the room’s issues reduced to a point where they were mere shadows of their former selves, especially in the lower midrange and upper bass.

How much of this sonic improvement was a result of the Exaktbox-I’s individually dedicated power amplifiers versus Linn’s Space Optimization+? Since turning off the latter was as simple as going into the Linn Konfig app and changing one setting from on to off, it was easy to hear that most of the improvements were from the combination of Space Optimization+ and amplifier rather than from the power amp alone.

Besides less low-frequency room bloom, the Exaktbox-I /Space Optimization+ also produced a more stable and solid three-dimensional image. Although the size of the image didn’t change, all the defining edges—the spaces where sound transitioned from an instrument in the soundstage to the space where there was no instrument—were more decisive and clear-cut.

Since Linn was kind enough to include a headphone output, I put it through its paces. The Majik DSM’s headphone output had no problems propelling my hardest-to-drive cans, the Beyer Dynamic DT-990 600-ohm version, up to my own personal max loudness level and beyond. The volume level was only at 57 out of 80. With the highly efficient Westone ES-5 custom in-ear monitors the Majik DSM needed only a fraction of its output capabilities. The volume setting was only at 31 when I maxed out my loudness limit. There was a faint hiss from the Majik DSM’s amp when no music was playing, even when the volume was set to zero. But with medium- and lower-sensitivity headphones the Majik DSM’s headphone amp was dead quiet. Overall soundstage size, inner detail, and imaging were excellent with any ’phones I tried. And while perhaps not quite as good as the very best can-amps I’ve used, the sound was nonetheless involving and musical.

Summary
If you’ve had the stamina to read this far you should have good idea of how and why the Linn Majik DSM, Majik 140 loudspeakers, and Majik Exaktbox-I, along with Space Optimization room-correction system work together to form a high-resolution, yet musical system that can be placed into an environment that is less than ideal and still offer optimal results. In short, if you have a lousy-sounding room wherein sonic issues can’t be fixed easily with room treatments, the Linn Majik system offers a viable alternative to giving up all hope of decent sound. While not magic, Linn’s Majik system comes as close as possible to musical alchemy, by turning leaden-sounding rooms into sonic gold.

SPECS AND PRICING

Majik DSM Network Music Player and Integrated Pre/Power Amp
Power amp: Built-in 2x 90W Linn Chakra
Digital audio formats played/supported: FLAC, Apple Lossless (ALAC), WAV, MP3, WMA (except lossless), AIFF, AAC, OGG
Digital audio resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
Inputs: 1x Ethernet (RJ45), 4x RCA phono, 3x TosLink, 3x SPDIF, 4x HDMI, 1x 3.5mm stereo AUX
Outputs: 1x RCA phono (line level), 1x RCA phono (pre-out), 1x TosLink, 1x SPDIF, 1x HDMI, 2x Exakt Link, 1x 3.5mm stereo headphone out, two pairs of 4mm binding post/banana/spade
Built-in phonostage: Configurable to mm or line level and upgradeable to MC
Dimensions: 15" x 3.6" x 14"
Price: $4750

Majik Exaktbox-I
No. of channels: 8
Speaker types supported: 1 pair of stereo speakers, up to 4-way
Exakt connections: 2x Exakt Link
Analog outputs: 8x unbalanced RCA phono
Power amps built-in: 8x 100W Chakra
Speaker connections: 16x 4mm banana/binding posts
Dimensions: 15.1" x 3.6" x 14.3"
Price: $6320

Majik 140
Speaker type: 4-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Analog connections: Four pairs of binding posts (bare wire/4mm banana/spade)
Driver complement: 0.6" silk-dome tweeter, 1.2" PU dome midrange, 6.5" doped-paper upper bass, 6.5" sandwich-cone lower bass
Impedance: 4 ohms
Efficiency: 88dB
Frequency response: 55Hz—20kHz
Crossover: Analog passive, upgradeable to external Exakt digital
Dimensions: 9.8" x 38.4" x 13.2"
Weight: 46.9 lbs.
Price: $2995/pr.

Associated Equipment
Source devices: Late 2013 MacPro model 3.7 GHz quad-core computer with 16GB of memory with OS 10.11.1, running iTunes 12.3.1 and Amarra Symphony 3.0, Pure Music 3.0.1, and Audirvana+ 2.24, Roon, Tidal 1.1, a 2010 Mac Mini with 8GB of memory and OS 10.11.1, and similar apps. QNAP TS-251, Roon, Tidal, Sony HAP Z-1ES
Analog sources: VPI TNT III w/Graham 1.1 tonearm and ClearAudio Victory II cartridge, VPI HW-19 with Souther SLA-3 ’arm and Denon 103/VanDenHul cartridge. Vendetta 2B and Rossi LIO phono preamps
DACs: PS Audio Direct Stream DSD DAC, Cary Audio DS-600SE
Amplifiers: Perreaux E-110, April Music S-1 monoblocks
Loudspeakers: AV123 X-Static modified by Skiing Ninja, Spatial M-3+ Turbo, Emerald Physics 4.3, two JL Audio Fathom F-112 subwoofers, one Velodyne DD-10+ subwoofer
Cables and accessories: Wireworld USB cable, AudioQuest Carbon USB cables, AudioQuest Colorado single-ended RCA interconnect, Kimber KCAG interconnect, Audience Speaker AU24e speaker cable, PS Audio Quintet, Dectet, and Premier power conditioners