Audio files player
Linn Klimax DS
Price (Klimax DS only): 10 450 GBP
Distribution: Linn Polska
Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Marek Dyba
Lets try to imagine a designer who hit the wall with his design. He can keep working on some improvements, enhancements but it will still keep him at the same side of this wall. To make a real breakthrough he has to risk it, go to the places nobody went before him to. That sounds crazy, doesn't it? It is crazy … and that's how the greatest ideas are born, how the progress is made. I think you could use this small story anywhere, anytime and it would always fit somebody who does some great things. One of such people is Ivor Tiefenburn, the owner of Linn.
I remember exactly how excited I was when listening to this company's HDCD player - Sondek CD12. It was designed out of Ivor's love for … vinyl and it proved how skillful and ambitious Scotts could be. It was (as it is not manufactured anymore) brilliant, beautiful device offering highest quality sound. When it came to improving it the designer hit the wall I mentioned at the beginning. He said it was still possible to design a better player – SACD one. But that would be just a small step – surely not a leap forward. The solution came from unexpected side – from Linn Records which was a part of the same corporation but dealt with recording and issuing the music. They realized that they had a great archives of high resolution mother-tapes. The next step was done with creating professional internet store where anybody could buy their music in almost any format including files almost identical to mother-tapes. Almost, as not all new 24/192 recordings are really mother-tapes. For couple of years already Linn puts their recordings to DSD files. As I've just learned Linn is presently the largest SACD label in the world! That's why some 24/192 and 24/96 recordings are in fact conversions from DSD format to PCM. Then Scotts realized that Sony didn't really care about their own technology so they moved from DSD format to DXD. That means they now record 24bits/384kHz PCM signal and then convert it to 24/192. For now DXD is still used only by recording studios. Audiophiles don't really have the means to use this format but hopefully it should change soon enough.
But I wanted to tell you about something else: Ivor asked his engineers to design a new player but they told him that any technology based on using some physical medium and thus involving some mechanical parts would be a dead end. The answer was the first DS – Digital Stream Player. Well – it is a file player. Every company that offers such devices came up with their own name - Naim, Blacknote and Linn. These device are sometimes called „servers” (which is wrong of course), but in fact these are specialized devices for playing audio files. So I am going to call them file players.
So what such a player do? You might say it does exactly the same as CD player, but it can do more. Within CD player we might name three main sections: drive, D/A converter and output, and user interface. It is the same with file players but each section's functions were redefined. Klimax DS, that represents a great example, consists of three separate elements:
The main difference (comparing to CD player) is that you need a CD only once to rip it and save on the HDD. Distributor delivered together with Klimax also a device called RipNAS – you just have to put in the CD and it will be automatically ripped to FLAC file. RipNAS includes in fact two HDDs – one is for storage and the other one is a backup copy (to make sure you won't loose your music if one the drives fails). Software used is dBPoweramp CD Ripper – I have also my copy on the notebook. Using it you can rip a standard CD in less than 4 minutes and decode HDCD with 24-bits resolution! The final result will be always a perfect copy in a FLAC file. If you have high resolution files you need to send them to RipNAS directly from your computer with a cable, but wireless connection will do it too. It might sound like a complex process but it's not – once you try it you will find it very simple. The second difference comparing to CD player is lack of any buttons or knobs in the main unit. There is only a small display showing artist's name and song's title – but to be honest from my point of view they might have even skipped installing this display. You can display the content of your whole music library in one of few ways – on your computer's screen (Linn delivers software for the computer called KinskyDesktop) or on your iPod Touch (iPhon too), or you could use a large touch screen tablet. Playing files is even simpler than playing CDs. Of course CD player's users have some habits so for me personally it was easier to play files with Bladelius Embla and Naim HDX, because these devices had a touch screen and a front panel which made them more similar to a CD player. I didn't have to use computer to play the music – but this is just me.
Klimax DS is capable of playing many types of files and their resolution might be up to 24/192. FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3 are not a problem and it offers a possibility to listen to internet radio too. It is also upgradable device as the changes are done to the software and software upgrades are free for all customers. Linn is one of the very few manufacturers who work hard on software development and when they come up with some novelties delivers them to the customers without any fee. What's more they are supported by a great tool – their own records label and their internet shop where HD music files are available. Combination of all these three elements: hardware, software and knowledge how to use them both together puts Linn in a unique position on the market and gives them obvious advantage. Watching closely company's development, devices they offer, and listening to these devices you can come to only one conclusion - Ivor is making most of this knowledge.
When I listened to more and more recordings ripped by RipNAS, these ripped on my computer, sent wireless directly to DS, and also the same files played from my computer using USB D/A Converter Wavelength Cosecant v3 and comparing them to the recordings played by my new Ancient Audio player (it was supposed to be called Prime SE, but finally this was a totally new design so the name should be different – probably Air) I created some story in my mind. But such stories are usually full of shortcuts, emotions so I would like to take a different approach this time and describe my impressions recording by recording. It should be different from my regular test descriptions but this approach should help to make it more clear and unequivocal And this is very important as in my opinion Klimax DS is a milestone device – revolutionary one, something like Matrix for the movie industry.
Barb Jungr, Love Me Tender, Linn Records, AKD 255, SACD/HDCD; review HERE
e.s.t., Viaticum, Music+Vision, ACT 6001-2, 2 x CD; review HERE
Helge Lion Trio, Hello Troll, Ozella Music, FLAC 24/96; review HERE
Not that Linn played it in a „light” way – there was drive, extension but no such a slam I was used to. On the other hand top-range was significantly better than from Wavelength No doubts this was forté of this player. Cymbals were extremely clear, very well placed in the space. The piano, a trio in fact, was presented with a little too bright upper midrange and wasn't so colorful. But it might have been more true sounding. What I meant was that this American DAC had been created with some specific vision of how it should have sounded. Yes, you could improve some things here and there but the basics: clarity, lack of coloration and great resolution of sound point out Linn as more prospective device. In this comparison Cosecant's sound was more euphonic and bit „slow”. It was still a very good sound achieved from laptop and USB DAC, but comparing to Klimax it looked just as the beginning of the road, and Klimax went down that road much much further. This particular recording confirmed what I had heard before – if I used a good hi-res file (as with every format also hi-res has to be done right to sound good) new perspectives opened for exploration. Something that couldn't be achieved using regular CD because of the limitations of this standard. Such a greatly prepared hi-res recording revealed the real class of Klimax DS – kids would have said „Klimax DS ruled!”. First contact with this medium showed only small improvements over playing CD – sound was clearer, deeper, richer etc. But as with every hi-end device I needed to learn it first to appreciate its real value.
The Beatles, 09.09.09 sampler, Parlophone/Apple/EMI Music, 84414 2 5, promo 2 x CD; review HERE
Frank Sinatra, My Way, Reprise/Universal Music Japan/Sinatra Society of Japan, UICY-94368, SHM-CD; review HERE
Tina Brooks, True Blue, Blue Note/Wave Audio, AWMXR-0004, XRCD24
John Coltrane, Blue Train, Blue Note/Classic Records, HDAD 2010, DVD-A 24/96+24/192
When my wife found out that all my CDs could be ripped and stored in the small, black box told me she wanted to buy it immediately as she hated hundreds of CD boxes all over the house. She thinks the same about books which makes her potentially a first customers of new Apple's device that will allow reading books, surfing net and so on. She simply can't stand anymore the overwhelming quantities of all these things at home. And I can understand that. But still it will be difficult for me to get rid off physical mediums of music or books. A file is very anonymous, you don't know who prepared it (maybe Japanese will specialize in that too?). Even a good description of a file will not accommodate all the information we get in the booklet with CD, and also reading of that is easier in paper version. That is why I invested recently in the expensive CD player. On he other hand a vision of me not looking for particular recording on shelfs or all over the house and still getting the highest quality sound is very tempting. I think that these who plan buying Klimax DS will have to first change their habits, the way of thinking. Sound will not be a problem as they will get a top-performance player.DESCRIPTION
As mentioned already before Klimax DS consists of three elements – player, file storage and user's interface. Some mass-storage you need to buy separately – Linn delivered along DS a RipNAS. It has two HDDs built in – one acting as a files storage and the other as backup. The main unit is made of a massive, heavy aluminum block with very nice proportions. The narrow font panel houses only a small half-round window with acrylic cover and blue alphanumeric dot-matrix display, that shows us information about the tune played at the moment. The top panel doesn't end when it meets the back panel. The idea behind it is that you can push Klimax against the wall until top panel touches it but even than there will be still enough space between back panel and the wall for all the connections, cables. There is a Ethernet socket, IEC socket with mechanical switch, and RCA and XLR outputs in the back panel. Placement of IEC socket excludes possibility of using any audio PC – you have to use a regular one „computer” type. According to Linn these work best – I disagree but I couldn't even try to prove that.
A look inside shows that this is a complex, technologically advanced device with quite small outputs circuits. The „heart” of the device is a microprocessor Virtex-4 Power-PC from Xilinx, and a precise clock placed next to it. There are also lot of different chips in there including one serving ethernet transfer, and some memory chips. But the most important is the output section. An important information – for each sampling frequency of input signal, starting from 32 kHz up to 192 kHz there are separate clocks with independent power supply. This solutions allows avoiding usage of PLL loop generators to create particular frequency which introduces lot of jitter to the signal. As this is top-of-the-line player so Linn guys maxed it out. D/A conversion is handled by two Wolfson Microelectronics WM8741GEDS chips per channel! Wolfson is quite a unique Scottish company based in Edinburgh – big enough to introduce to the market advanced applications, but at the same time small enough to cooperate with other companies to create some custom applications. Rega used this possibility already before and now Linn followed its footsteps. WM8741GEDS is a stereo 24/192 D/A converter with advanced ultra high performance Multi-bit Sigma-Delta architecture, with DSD bit-stream support. Its advantages include very low noise, high dynamics and advanced digital filtering. Device is equipped with interpolation system with dithering which means that all signals are changed to 24/192 form before conversion Signal is processed before in the powerful DSP chip. L4562 chips from National Semiconductor deal with i/U conversion All components use surface assembly except for output transformers. These are made by Lundahl and originally intended for matching microphone's inputs and these are the best there are. Another important information regarding Linn's design is that they use impulse power supplies. This technology has been almost totally abandoned by audiophiles (mostly for good reasons) but at the same time it has been perfected by Ivor. Even CD12 used same kind of PS… Klimax version I reviewed was equipped with the new version called Dynamik. You can control the device with remote control or iPod Touch (iPhone) or via computer. For the latter you will get nice software called KinskyDesktop. Regardless of how convenient this way of control was I lacked knobs and buttons in the front panel – old habits …
Klimax is extremely capable device when it comes to fitting into the system – you can use it for example to play files from your computer in your audio system. I can also recommend reading of a manual prepared by a Polish Linn's representative - HERE.
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