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.
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.
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!