Bril­liant Ma­jik

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - Afile@thes­ By SUJESH PAVITHRAN

TWel­come to to­mor­row, where cd play­ers are his­tory and mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ment un­lim­ited in scope. HE first step was sim­ple enough. Af­ter hear­ing a cou­ple of my fel­low re­view­ers go on about it, I took loan of a USB-DAC, un­earthed a USB cord from the depths of my cable pit, fired up my lap­top, opened the iTunes li­brary and made the nec­es­sary con­nec­tions. Well, what do you know, it worked!

The thrill of news dis­cov­er­ies lasted a few months as other mu­sic play­ers/li­braries like Foo­bar and Me­di­aMon­key were sam­pled. The po­ten­tial, I re­alised, was im­mense. Along the way, how­ever, it dawned upon me that I didn’t want to have to start up my lap­top each time I wanted to lis­ten to mu­sic. In­ter­est waned and even­tu­ally, the lap­top wound its way back to do­ing its in­tended chores.

The seed of a vi­sion, how­ever, had been planted – how con­ve­nient to be able to call up from a huge col­lec­tion of mu­sic with­out hav­ing to change discs, black or sil­ver!

Then, I be­gan read­ing about dig­i­tal stream play­ers which route mu­sic from a com­puter, In­ter­net ser­vice and/or net­work at­tached stor­age (NAS) sys­tem to your hi-fi. The last piqued my cu­rios­ity and a Linn Ma­jik DS was pro­cured. Linn’s dig­i­tal stream­ers have been in the mar­ket for a few years, and their suc­cess ob­vi­ously has­tened the end for the last Linn CD spin­ner.

Thanks to var­i­ous dis­trac­tions, it took me a few weeks to get the Ma­jik DS up and go­ing full tilt. Fi­nally, it was ready to rock ... but did it?

All streams go

There is no stor­age me­dia on the Ma­jik DS. You hook it up via the Eth­er­net port on its rear to your In­ter­net router and down­load a free Linn con­troller ap­pli­ca­tion called Kin­sky on the com­puter or iDe­vice (which, of course, are also con­nected to said router). The Linn man­ual says any UPnP AV 1.0-com­pat­i­ble third party de­vice can be used for con­trol.

If you have mu­sic stored on any of these de­vices, you can start stream­ing it, even wire­lessly, via the router to the Ma­jik DS – note that it has no wire­less op­tion and re­ceives all it sig­nals through the Eth­er­net con­nec­tion.

The full po­ten­tial of the Ma­jik DS, how­ever, is re­alised once you set up the NAS. Not ev­ery NAS works best with the Ma­jik DS; Linn has a list of rec­om­mended mod­els on its web­site. I ended up with a QNAP unit, fit­ted out with two 2TB hard disks that were con­fig­ured in mir­ror mode (for auto back-up).

The Ma­jik DS has two pairs of ana­logue RCA out­puts, two dig­i­tal out­puts (coax­ial and dig­i­tal), and a large and use­ful LED dis­play win­dow where song in­for­ma­tion can be viewed ef­fort­lessly from even five me­tres away. Oh, one more thing – the Linn Kon­fig soft­ware must be down­loaded on your com­puter for set­ting cer­tain pa­ram­e­ters of the Ma­jik, like en­abling its vol­ume con­trol. Yes, it has an on­board preamp, en­abling di­rect con­nec­tion to a power amp (the Ma­jik DS-I ver­sion comes with an in­te­grated amp on board, if you want a shorter cut).

The Ma­jik DS will stream var­i­ous au­dio for­mats – FLAC, WAV, MP3 and AIFF, im­por­tantly, up to 24-bit/192kHz na­tive sam­ple rate and every­thing in be­tween, in­clud­ing 88.2kHz, 96kHz and 176.4kHz. It can also ac­cess SHOUTcast In­ter­net ra­dio. Soft­ware up­grades are au­to­matic, so although the Ma­jik was in­tro­duced three years ago, Linn has been able to up­date it pe­ri­od­i­cally with min­i­mum fuss.

A switch­ing power sup­ply with auto-rang- ing means the Ma­jik DS can be used any­where in the world, no need for adap­tors. Fin­ish op­tions are sil­ver or black, and the over­all de­sign pos­sesses a sim­plic­ity that is hard to dis­like.

Sim­ply ir­re­sistible

One thing had to be put in place be­fore the dis­trib­u­tor de­liv­ered the Ma­jik DS – CAT 5 wiring, since my router and hi-fi sys­tem are in dif­fer­ent rooms. This done, the Ma­jik DS was set up, with Linn Kon­fig and Kin­sky in­stalled on my lap­top. Then, I be­gan stream­ing mu­sic stored on the lap­top (a Dell). This wasn’t ideal – all the au­dio files were in MP3 (320kbps) for­mat, and the sig­nal was be­ing out­put wire­lessly. Even so, at this stage, I liked what I heard – there was a clar­ity I had not wholly ex­pected, es­pe­cially with some high-res­o­lu­tion mu­sic from a Linn sam­pler.

Once the NAS was set up, I was ready to plunge into the deep end. Some high-res­o­lu­tion FLAC files were down­loaded, as were CDs rips done with dBpow­er­amp.

Most of the lis­ten­ing was done with the Ma­jik DS hooked up to the Odyssey Tem­pest 2 preamp and Khartago Ex­treme SE monoblocs, via the pro­vided pair of RCA in­ter­con­nects (which are pretty de­cent). Speak­ers were the Mag­ne­pla­nar MG1.6. At dif­fer­ent times, I sent the Ma­jik’s coax­ial dig­i­tal out­put to the res­i­dent Ayon CD-1s CD player’s dig­i­tal in­put, and also di­rectly to the monobloc power amps, with the Ma­jik’s preamp en­abled. Along the way, a pair of Mag­nepan’s new MG1.7 also joined in the fun.

The depth and black­ness in back­ground, I had not ex­pected; these lent the mu­sic an ex­pan­sive stage, with well de­fined im­ages that never sounded too sharply etched. As ex­pected, the clar­ity of the re­sults was im­pec­ca­ble, tinged with a touch of warmth in the highs. No ac­cu­sa­tions of be­ing clin­i­cal or ster­ile will be lev­elled at the Ma­jik DS.

While the over­all sound was hon­est and re­veal­ing, with some pretty im­pres­sive bass, the Ma­jik DS wasn’t bru­tally mer­ci­less. There was no harsh­ness or glare ob­vi­ous, sug­gest­ing that Linn bal­anced mu­si­cal­ity and neu­tral­ity ju­di­ciously. Yes, this is a streamer that will re­veal a wealth of de­tail in the record­ings, and with lovely depth and width in stage; the sug­ges­tion of an or­ganic slant made it ex­tremely pleas­ant to lis­ten to for hours on end (which I have been do­ing).

Chang­ing to the MIT in­ter­con­nects brought about bet­ter def­i­ni­tion of the lows and more air, and in­deed, a gen­er­ally inkier back­drop.

Com­par­isons were made be­tween a CD played on the Ayon, and the same CD ripped (on FLAC) and trans­ferred to the NAS – the Ma­jik DS never sounded want­ing. How­ever, when I routed the Ma­jik DS to the Ayon’s (up­sam­pling) DAC, the streamer eas­ily matched the costlier player, blow-for-blow. It showed the same in­ten­sity of de­liv­ery and res­o­lu­tion, with a near tac­tile qual­ity; it was no slouch in the ar­eas of slam and speed, too.

At this point, I asked – for the price, what more could one want? The Ma­jik DS made me for­get I had a CD player! When I plugged it di­rectly into the power amp, I re­alised how much thought had gone into the de­sign of the Ma­jik DS. Again, the res­i­dent preamp was not missed; the Ma­jik DS’ rich­ness in tex­tures and nu­ances made it in­volv­ing and ir­re­sistible. It was only the Tem­pest’s edge in the bass depart­ment (be­ing marginally bet­ter de­fined and co­he­sive) and the Ma­jik’s lack of source in­puts that won the preamp back its place!

A word about the In­ter­net ra­dio op­tions – Linn in­cludes a cou­ple of its own sta­tions (jazz in­cluded), and these are of very good res­o­lu­tion. These apart, there is a va­ri­ety to choose from, although most of the sta­tions are of stan­dard res­o­lu­tion.

What USB?

Hav­ing first re­sisted go­ing down this path, I now ad­mit to hav­ing no re­grets. It’s a whole new di­men­sion and ex­pe­ri­ence, from set­ting up the sys­tem, to build­ing up the mu­sic li­brary, to the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The Linn Magik DS proves that although pun­dits and au­dio­philes will ar­gue end­lessly about the “right” path, a well-im­ple­mented so­lu­tion can be very re­ward­ing.

What is ex­cit­ing about the Ma­jik DS is the po­ten­tial – I’m nat­u­rally cu­ri­ous to part­ner it with a costlier DAC and ob­tain more high­res­o­lu­tion ma­te­rial be­cause I can see my­self spend­ing a lot of time in front of it!

If you’re go­ing the NAS way, I rec­om­mend this strongly – de­spite the in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ap­proach, the Ma­jik DS, within its de­sign brief, is pretty well thought out and ex­e­cuted. And not a whis­per of USB any­where!

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