Linn Selekt DSM
As reviewed the Linn Selekt DSM is a streaming preamplifier, but it can be transformed into something else entirely.
Linn was very early in deciding that the source of the future was definitely not the CD. It stopped making CD players back in 2009. But with turntables not yet revived to their present level of resurgence, that left a question. The ‘source-first’ philosophy, as defined by Linn with its Sondek turntable in the 1970s, was by then accepted the world over, but what exactly was the source of the future? Linn reckoned it was music streaming — originally file-based, more recently supplemented or supplanted by online music services. And the company was, of course, absolutely right.
Even the very first Linn DS network music player could play ‘Studio Master’ quality recordings up to 24-bit resolution and 192kHz sampling frequency — indeed Linn Records was a pioneer at releasing such high-res recordings. And another decade on came Linn’s new generation of streamer, the Selekt DSM reviewed here. In some ways it was a continuing development from previous DS and DSM releases. But in other notable ways, it marked a new generation of product from Linn, for a new generation of music lover. For one thing, the Selekt DSM is far easier to use with products (especially speakers) from other brands; indeed Linn has measured dozens of speaker models, perhaps hundreds, for inclusion within its Space Optimization software (see opposite).
But the biggest change here is the extraordinary modularity of the new model. This goes beyond the usual ‘add a DAC’ option or ‘add different inputs’ that we’ve seen elsewhere, such as in the NAD streamer in this group. The Selekt DSM here listed as a network music player, although for Linn ‘DSM’ has always indicated preamplifier functionality as well (DS models being source only). Except... it also has upgrade options, one of which is to add amplification — not so much an upgrade as a wholesale change from one type of product to another. The UK’s wise Alan Sircom has referred to this as “messing with the Platonic forms of hi-fi”; the traditional definitions of hi-fi are unable to fully define the Selekt DSM. What is it, exactly?
Well, perhaps the answer is that you, the customer, get to decide what it is. And even better, you can always change your mind later. The big choice is whether to have amplifiers, making this a complete just-add-speakers system solution. Another upgrade option is to include Linn’s higher-end Katalyst DAC architecture — as did the unit we reviewed. Or you can do both. See the specs box for pricing.
This Linn player also marks an aesthetic change to Linn’s networking range. It’s recognisably Linn, but all grown up. The front display is monochrome (colour-capable, we gather, but holding its hues in reserve), and it has quite a big knob on the top, which marries to an identically-sized central foot below. Linn was sensible to stop the knob fetish where it did, for fear of anyone shouting ‘Naim’ too loudly in their ear (Linn and Naim being the separated lovers of 1970s hi-fi — see also the Naim ND 555 in this issue, though disappointingly this has no knob at all). Besides, this Linn knob moves laterally to select things, it’s a completely different kind of knob, OK?
There are six preset buttons in front of the knob, user defined to link to any song, playlist, station or source available to the Selekt DSM, reminding us of Bose SoundTouch products (which have six buttons which can be user defined to link to any song, playlist, or station…). We profusely praised the SoundTouch system, so we can only similarly praise Linn for independently adopting something similar.
Networking is via Ethernet (there is, note, no Wi-Fi; it must have an Ethernet cable connection), and there are nine inputs in total. There are two each of optical and coaxial digital, and an HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) output, so it can suck the audio back from one of your TV’s HDMI inputs (usually there is one particular TV input with ARC written next to it). There is
USB-B into which you can plug
a computer, which would be less notable were this not the first time Linn has ever included such an input on one of its streaming players. There’s no USB-A slot to allow direct connection of sticks or drives, but after all, Linn calls these ‘network’ players for a reason.
On the analogue side are two phono turntable inputs (separate sockets for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges) and one single analogue line-level input. These inputs are all digitised on arrival, as is increasingly common on products which rely on digital processing and volume control, and in fact, RIAA equalisation and other phono stage filtering can gain considerable advantages in avoiding the phase distortion inherent in an analogue interpretation. You might improve the sound of your turntable by treating it digitally. Hurts, doesn’t it?
The outputs vary according to the Selekt DSM you ‘build’, but our review streamer/ preamp offered both unbalanced RCA analogue and balanced XLR sockets. Linn’s proprietary ExaktLink connections aside, there are no conventional digital outputs.
With the Ethernet connected, you’re able to use Linn’s Kazoo app (although Linn users often integrate other and sometimes multiple apps for control). It can run not only on portable devices, both iOS and Android, but also as software for Windows and Mac computers, so that you can control your Linn device from pretty much anywhere. Kazoo includes easy access to certain streaming services — seemingly hand-picked for quality since it includes Tidal and Qobuz (the latter finally available in Australia), both of which have subscription levels which can access high-res files, indee Qobuz has no lower level. There’s also internet radio built in, with its variable quality streams.
And if you’re a Roon user, the Selekt DSM is compatible with Roon, if not officially ‘Roon Ready’ because of the way it streams. Similarly if you’re already using Minimserver or Twonky on a NAS drive, Linn’s Kazoo app will be happy searching through those, rather than you needing to add Kazoo Server as a double-up or replacement.
Linn’s Space Optimization acoustic modelling is not a system which uses a microphone to listen and then correct. Instead you (or your Linn dealer) create a virtual room plan with the speaker positions and listening position/s marked within it. You can tell it where all the windows and doors are, their size, the wall surfaces, room height, even compensate for room temperature and humidity. If possible, Linn’s software will also take into account the speakers you are using. The software then predicts which frequencies will be affected by your environment and adjusts their energy accordingly.
In our music room with high quality recordings we thought the optimisation to add a little artifice, flattening the spaces within Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 on Linn Records’ own release of Artur Pizarro with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, curbing the Selekt’s excellent unoptimised sense of realism as the brash sweeps of the intro were delivered wide open and dynamic, Pizarro’s piano playing percussive and strong.
Other times we could detect no notable difference at all, which was perfectly fine, since the Linn was on song without optimisation.
Its dynamic abilities impressed even during warm-up, when it scored a slam-dunk presentation of Germlin doing Helter Skelter, so entertaining, this, that all activity ceased as we turned things up and howled at the manic German indie noise. Hi-fi that can make you laugh must be doing something right on the emotion-passing side.
Detail is another definite strength — lifting the level on Brian Wilson’s lush S’Wonderful opened up a soundstage that was not merely wide but also deep and full of distance and air. The spread of harmonies across this was spine-tinglingly delicious.
We also enjoyed a long vinyl session, and we’d never have guessed that the Selekt DSM digitally samples vinyl playback: we’ve not heard Genesis’ Firth of Fifth delivered from our ‘Selling England...’ vinyl as freshly and firmly as here. As further Tidal listening confirmed, this is a thoroughly high-end presentation of everything the original files can possibly reveal. The Selekt DSM is an undoubted high water mark in the development of Linn’s streaming products.