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Price (when reviewed): 67 300 + 39 000 PLN

Contact details:
Unit 1 | Buckingway Business Park
Swavesey | Cambridgeshire


Provided for test by: AUDIOFAST


translation Marek Dyba
photos by "High Fidelity", dCS (No. 4)

No 236

January 1, 2024

dCS IS A BRITISH COMPANY based in Cambridge focused on digital audio sources - D/A converters, SACD and audio file players. It debuted in 1987 in a military industry (with their (radar). The first A/D converter, the 950, released in 1989, was intended for recording studios, and it wasn't until some time later that versions for home systems were developed as well. We're testing its LINA file player and clock.

N MAY 2022, BRITISH COMPANY dCS introduced a three-piece reference Lina system designed for listening to music through headphones. Or at least that's how it was advertised. In the press materials one could read:

Lina is a new series of products by dCS, designed to meet the unique needs of headphone owners. Featuring a networked DAC, headphone amplifier and master clock, it redefines what dCS has to offer for headphone users and combines our world-leading audio technologies with new innovations developed specifically for headphone playback.

⸜ see HIGH FIDELITY NEWS, → «PL», accessed 21.11.2023.

And so it was received by reviewers, for whom it was a headphone system. When the dust settled after the launch, when it was possible to take a closer look at the new system, it became clear that the manufacturer's intentions are one thing, and reality is another. As it turned out, the centerpiece of the Lina system is not a headphone amplifier, but a file player, which the manufacturer refers to as a "DAC" or "Networked DAC."

Yes, Lina's headphone amplifier is excellent, and I'll talk about it too, the master clock that complements the player is also important. However, the player began to be treated differently than it was "intended" by dCS. The device turned out to be so successful that its size ceased to matter and one could start thinking of it as a full-fledged product. And that really changes the perspective.


THE LINA SERIES consists of three products: a file player, a master clock and a headphone amplifier. All of them feature the same extremely sturdy chassis, bolted from aluminum modules, and all three sport a narrow front panel. In the manufacturer's photos it is often shown as a "tower" - you remember such thing, launched in the 1970s by Japanese manufacturers, right? All the devices were placed one on top of the other, together becoming something like a tower.

Today we know that devices should stand separately so that they don't interfere with each other electromagnetically and so that they don't transmit vibrations to other components. However, the promotion department of dCS accurately read the main message that Lina was supposed to carry: it's a "handy" audio system that can complement the basic system and be used for listening to music in the bedroom, study, etc. As I say, reality surpassed their imaginations.


THINKING OF THE NEW SERIES as "auxiliary" devices, the manufacturer has reduced their size. The width of the front panel is now half of a classic device, in which they resemble the products of another British specialist, Cyrus. However, they are much taller and heavier than them. Although quite tall, their external design is visually light, and this is because part of the chassis has been moved back beyond the outer contour.

The weight of these devices is a result of the chassis used - it was cut out of a solid block of aluminum. Since the outline of the enclosure is small, this makes it the best mechanically damped enclosure in this manufacturer's range. The small size also necessitated redesigning the circuitry so that the signal path was as short as possible and the whole as compact as possible. To achieve this, the individual components were divided into separate circuit boards and connected by short ribbons. These boards are assembled in such a way that one occupies the bottom of the case and the other four occupy its sides. Again: this is good news.

The Lina file player is a versatile device. Its transport module was purchased from Austrian company StreamUnlimited, it's model S800. Let me remind you that similar modules are used in Ayon Audio's file players and transports (more → HERE). The device supports PCM 44.1-384 kHz, DSD64-DSD128, DSD + DoP, FLAC, WAV, AIFF and MQA signals.

The transport is an "outsourced" module, and perhaps that's why dCS puts so much emphasis on the second feature of the Lina player, namely its DAC. It's one of the versions of that manufacturer's patented Ring DAC chip, admittedly not the latest Apex version, that one probably wouldn't fit into such a small chassis, but still a very good one. The device offers six digital audio inputs and two inputs for an external clock: USB 2.0/1.0, 2 x AES/EBU, 2 x S/PDIF (1 x RCA, 1 x BNC) 1 x S/PDIF Toslink, 2 x Word Clock inputs. The output signal is available in balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA sockets.

Controlling it is really easy. It features a touchscreen display, which shows quite large titles and setting names, as well as digital signal parameters. There is no room for an album’s cover, which is something you have to put up with. You'll also change settings via the dCS remote control, or with the company's dCS Mosaic app, which allows you to interact with software and services such as Roon, Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, TIDAL, Internet radio and Apple AirPlay. We can also use it to change all the device’s parameters in it. And there are indeed quite a few of them.

We can select one of three upsampling modes, define the type of digital filter, separately for PCM and for DSD and even MQA, indicate our favorite type of Ring DAC control algorithm (so-called "mapping"), as well as specify the maximum output voltage, and in four steps. There is also balance and absolute phase adjustment. If you want to listen to music through headphones, the unit offers several options for changing the phase to help "translate" recordings intended for speakers; its corporate name is Expanse. There is also a digital volume control.

All dCS devices, except for the headphone amplifier and master clock, are microprocessor-based products. And this means that their software can be updated. So far, the Lina player has received two new versions, 1.1 and 2.0, which introduce new digital filters, mapping modes and balance between channels. At the time of the test, the device in Tidal Connect mode decoded MQA files from Tidal, without showing hi-res FLAC lossless files. A new version of this software allows playback of FLAC files up to 24 bits and 192 kHz. Presumably, it will be introduced for the Lina in some time as well.


THE LINA MASTER CLOCK features an almost identical chassis to the file player. It differs, obviously, with the front and rear panels. On the front, there is only a white LED indicating the operation of the device, on the back there are two BNC sockets for sending the clock signal out; next to it there are two Ethernet sockets, with which we connect all dCS devices, and which allow communication between them and shut down the system with a single button.

The manufacturer says that "the Lina Master Clock was developed specifically for users of the Lina Network DAC", or the tested file player. It uses two quartz oscillators, separately for 44.1 and 48 kHz frequencies and their multiples. When paired with a Lina DAC, it allows its internal DAC clock to be synchronized with a reference signal, which, as it reads, "guarantees even greater precision and excellent sound quality." And further:

Research conducted by dCS has shown that adding a master clock to a digital audio system can have a dramatic impact on sound. Subjective listening tests have revealed improved imaging, resolution, dynamic expression and localization, plus a greater sense of rhythmic movement and flow. It’s for this reason that we’ve continued to advance the standard of clocking and develop dedicated master clocks for all multi-component dCS systems.

⸜ →, accessed 21.11.2023.

The quartz oscillators have been placed in a compartment that maintains a constant temperature (the so-called "oven"), which translates into their precision. Using the company's patented clocking technology, it is expected to deliver a clock signal with an accuracy of > +/-1 ppm. And this is a really good result. The top clock from this manufacturer, the Vivaldi model, is more precise by an order of magnitude (+/-0.1 ppm), but you have to pay a lot more for it.


⸜ HOW WE LISTENED - The Lina audio file player, as well as its partner Lina clock, stood on the top carbon shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition Mk II rack on its feet. Its sound was compared to the AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF EDITION SACD player and the LUMIN T3 file player.

The player was connected with the router via my system, consisting of a SILENT ANGEL N16 LPS dual LAN switch, with its two modules in series, powered by a TIGLON TPL-2000A cable and via a TIGLON TPL-2000L LAN cable; more on this → HERE «PL»; the router was powered by a JCAT Optimo 3 Duo power supply.

Lina is really a complex product in which we can set many parameters. To save you the trouble, I tried them all out and selected the following settings:
- upsampling: 2xDSD,
- filter: #5; with MQA files - M1
- DAC Mapping: no. 1,
- Output voltage: 2 V.
For the latter parameter, you need to experiment in your system, the others are universal.

I treated the player and clock as a whole, but I also wrote a few words about what the latter brings to the sound. The clock was connected to the player via Shunyata Research Sigma v2 cables. The clock was powered by an Acrolink 8N-PC8100 Performante Nero Edizione cable (№ 1/15, more → HERE), and the player by a Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version cable. I also took a separate look at Lina's headphone amplifier - you'll find my observations in a separate box.

⸜ Recordings used for the test ⸜ a selection

⸜ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Midnight Sugar, Three Blind Mice/Impex Records IMP8308, Gold HDCD (1974/2004).
⸜ JOHN SCOFIELD, Uncle John's Band, ECM Records/Universal Classic Jazz & Rock UCCE-1201/2, 2 x SHM-CD (2023).
⸜ JOHN SCOFIELD, Uncle John's Band, ECM Records/Tidal, FLAC MQA 24/96 (2023).
⸜ MIKE OLDFIELD, Five Miles Out, Mercury/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-75879, 2 x SHM-CD + DVD (1982/2013).
⸜ MIKE OLDFIELD, Five Miles Out, Mercury/UniverTidal, MQA Studio 24/96 (1982/2013).
⸜ ŁONA, KONIECZNY, KRUPA, Taxi, Universal Music Polska/Tidal, FLAC 16/44,1 (2023).
⸜ LOW, Ones and Sixies, Sub Pop/Tidal, FLAC MQA 16/44,1 (2015).
⸜ TONES ON TAIL, Lions, 4AD/Tidal, FLAC 16/44,1 (1982/?).
⸜ SHAWN COLVIN, Uncovered, Fantasy/Tidal, FLAC MQA Studio 24/88,2 (2015).
⸜ MIKE BLOOMFIELD, AL KOOPER, STEVE STILLS, Super Session, CBS/Sony Records Int'l SICP 10144, 7-inch mini LP, SACD/CD (1968/2023).

The tracks used in the test can be found on the "HIGH FIDELITY: dCS Lina" playlist on Tidal → HERE.


QUITE OFTEN I HEAR FROM PEOPLE listening to music that dCS products sound bright. That they sound hard. Sometimes even that they sound harsh. I have never heard anything like that, and I have known the brand for a very, very long time and have tested most of its products. Over time, however, I came to understand where such opinions could come from.

And it is from the fact that this company's devices play a precise sound in which there is no room for euphony, i.e. physiologically motivated "boosting" of parts of the band and lowering of others. And it takes an extremely refined audio system to take advantage of this type of sound. Treatments of this type are legitimate, it is one way to achieve the desired effect, that is, an emotional connection with the music. But it's just one of many roads that lead there. The dCS has chosen a different one, one that is more purist, but also more difficult to implement, because it requires engineering proficiency. Of which Lina is a good example.

This is the "warmest" sounding player from this company that I know, if of course we can speak of "warmth" as such. When compared to CDs and SACDs played from the Ayon Audio player, it showed that it operated in a very similar frequency range and that its tonal balance was close to what I consider optimal. Admittedly, the Lumin T3 sounded noticeably lower and warmer, but this is precisely the case where the designers, wanting to get around the problems of streaming files, "hide" them.

Lina played in an open, fast and dynamic manner. TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO's piano from the Midnight Sugar album and JOHN SCOFIELD's guitar from the Uncle John's Band CD sounded in a fast, succinct and dynamic way. That's a difficult thing to do, because streaming’s property is often blurring of the signal in the time domain. However, the dCS has mastered solving such problems, so both performances were powerful, clear and open.

As I say, however, this is not bright playing. The brightness that some hear in dCS products is the problem of their system, not the signal source. The British devices, including the tested player, show a precise attack, but also fill in the part of the sound called "sustain." It is the one responsible for the impression of fullness and naturalness. Lina has both. Although the presentation had a slightly lower volume with it than with physical discs, the difference was not too severe. After accommodating it, I quickly forgot about it and was only reminded of it by comparing both medium again.

So, out of curiosity, I listened to some CDs with strong compression, since they are "small" in terms of scale. It turned out that the player handles it very well, not allowing brightening, but just slightly withdrawing the presentation. This is a good thing. Listened to at really high SPL levels, Five Miles Out, the title track from MIKE OLDFIELD's 1982 album, in the 2013 remaster, can overwhelm listeners with its aggressiveness.

Although it begins softly, with Maggie Reilly's vocals mixed in far into the stage, when we get to the part where the "roaring" fear is heard - remember, the track was created as a result of a traumatic flight, during which the pilot flew into a storm - the piling up of the tracks introduces aggression. The Lina player handled it very nicely, playing back the passage in a precise way and in that way taming its brightness and hard attack. The Lumin T3, by comparison, warmed and rounded the attack, which had a similar effect, although the sound was less clear and less dynamic with it.

And take a listen to the album by ŁONA, KONIECZNY and KRUPA titled Taxi. The lyrics came from conversations between Łona and cab drivers, and the music captures the somewhat claustrophobic and muffled nature of car interior acoustics. The dCS player played it exactly like this, the sound is dark low, and dense. Its lowest range is clear, with good selectivity and nice saturation. It's not playing with a very low extension, but to some extent that's a streaming problem - the same tracks played from a CD transport showed more there.

I would even say that the piece Blanket, for example, sounded like it was muffled. I know it's the producers' choice, but Lina didn't try to open it up. It played it as it was conceived. That's why the song Congregation by the band LOW, from the album Ones and Sixies, introduced such a contrast. The vocals, Alan Sparhawk’s set by the sound engineer in the right channel, and Mimi Parker’s in the left one, had an open sound, perfectly accentuated by the minimalist drumming. The bass, also heard from the left channel, was clear and powerful, with not a hint of roundness.

And that's a thing that happens to file players in a regular basis. So does blurring, as I've already mentioned. dCS doesn't do it. That's why even such spatial and internally quiet tracks, but with a strong emotional charge, as Lions by the British post-punk band TONES ON TAIL, formed by former members of the Bauhaus, were wonderfully reproduced. Their greatness lay in the fact that the low signals were clear, and what was strong was not "attacking" me. The oneiric mood of this piece and its detachment from reality were evident. And yet you could hear all the little flavors placed by the sound engineer far back in the stage.

That's right - the soundstage. It is interesting how it is formed. The foreground is the most important here, I have no doubt about that, The sound is not as tangible as from SACDs and CDs and even less so from a good vinyl record. But I don't think that there was any intent to bring it closer to the listener. The Lina forms the sound sources so that the vocals are big, powerful, but not to be brought closer to us, to be projected from half a meter behind the line connecting the speakers. That's how Lina could be heard, and that's how SHAWN COLVIN from the Uncovered album sounded, too.

The multiple Grammy Award winner, who on the Baker Street is accompanied by David Crosby, had a clear, lucid voice, but it was still the voice of a person with a low, "burned-out" voice. In a similar way I perceived her guitar, strummed quite hard. It had a high volume, was dense, but was also slightly receded into the depths of the stage. Both sound sources had a very good "here and now" feel only that without imposing their presence on me.


PART OF THE LINA SYSTEM IS a headphone amplifier. Having a chassis of the same proportions, looking very similar, it can complement it, but it can also work as an independent device. Intrigued by its capabilities and design, I decided to see how it would play with the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF SACD player (via RCA cables) and with HiFiMAN HF-1000 v2 and Sennheiser HD800 headphones, both with unbalanced and both balanced outputs. It costs £48,400.

dCS is not a company associated with the world of headphones. Although the Bartók, the first such product in its portfolio, found many loyal fans, that didn't change its image - it was ultimately a file player with a headphone amplifier. The Lina may change that. One, it's a standalone device, and two, it's an excellent headphone amplifier.

Initially one may find it difficult to attribute its sound to either "world": tube or solid-state. The precision in the rendering of the bass and the ample power reserve suggest transistors, but the depth of the sound and its overall refinement point to tubes. These are obvious stereotypes, but I bring them up to briefly illuminate to you what we are dealing with.

It's a precise sound, but also saturated. Listening to the excellent reissue of the MIKE BLOOMFIELD, AL KOOPER, STEVE STILLS Super Session album, beautifully remastered and wonderfully released this year as a 7-inch mini LP on SACD, I couldn't help but appreciate how beautifully it was all put together. This was immediately confirmed by TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO's Midnight Sugar, released on Gold HDCD by Impex Records. Both require extraordinary system clarity, high dynamics and excellent attack. But above all, coherence. And all this is guaranteed by the British amplifier.

Interesting, but using the balanced output I clearly preferred listening in the Low Gain setting - the sound was smoother and more natural then. On the other hand, with the TRS 6.3 mm output I preferred the High Gain setting. This is because when comparing the two, one can hear that the unbalanced output has slightly less accurately drawn contours, so the harder sound with high gain helps it.

And anyway, it is the balanced output that is the right one. You can start your adventure with the dCS Lina with an unbalanced connection, but it's worth keeping in mind that this is a transitional situation and ultimately we must have balanced cables. With which plug system? And this is really interesting. Theoretically they should not differ in sound, and yet....

I've heard it several times, I hear it here too. Namely, that double, three-pin XLR sockets are better than single four-pin ones. Their sound is fuller, deeper and more saturated. It's amazing that something like this happens, but, as I say, the difference is obvious. That's why I highly recommend this unit first and foremost with a balanced 2 x XLR output.

With the dCS Lina we get a fantastic "tool", both capable of working in the recording studio as a reference sound source, and at home with thousands of discs or a high-speed Internet connection. In both cases it will be one of the best headphone amplifiers you will find. .

ALL OF THE ABOVE COMMENTS about the file player apply to settings with upsampling set to 2 x DSD (DSD128) and filter #5. With MQA files, the player automatically selects the filter labeled "M1", optimized for that particular codec. After switching the upsampling to DXD, the sound was less clear, less filled and as if a bit more "empty." Double DSD was, for me and in my system, a much better option. The filters brought smaller changes to the sound, but even with them you could hear a better alignment of everything with the filter No. 5.

It was similar with FLAC files. DSD128 offered deeper timbre and better sound definition, although it was DXD that seemed more selective. However, this is an illusion due to the fact that it was a brighter sound with a more strongly drawn attack phase. In a very similar way, I perceived the presence of the master clock as if the DSD signal and the precise timing, i.e. the lack of signal fuzziness, had something to do with each other.

I perceive the Lina Clock as a nice addition to the system, but one that does not define it. That is, the file player, both with streaming and working as a DAC, is a finished product in itself, it plays very well. But fine-tuning its settings, and then connecting the clock signify everything about it - but something that was already there before.


SO WHAT IS SO GOOD about this sound? First and foremost, its tightness. This is a category we use quite often, but usually when describing it we talk about "precision" or "accuracy." But the tightness I'm talking about requires something more, it requires proper richness of the sound. These two elements, that is, precision and richness, are very good here. That's why all the CDs I listened to were enjoyable, and I was curious to see how the next one would sound like. I was not bored or tired of them.

Because the Lina is an excellent system that should be treated as a full-fledged audio system. I know, I know - the Bartók may seem more interesting because it is ... big. But, for me - and this is my personal opinion - the Lina is not inferior, and considering such features as sonic balance and resolution - it’s even better. And there is, after all, an excellent, truly reference headphone amplifier in the series, which can be an object of desire even for blasé reviewers like me.

It is a excellent system.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Supported formats and sample rates:
PCM 44.1-384 kHz, DSD64-DSD128, DSD + DoP, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MQA
Frequency response:
• Fs = 44.1 and 48 kS/s +/-0.1dB, 10 Hz-20 kHz
• Fs = 88.2 and 96 kS/s +/-0.1dB, 10 Hz-20 kHz -3 dB @ >38 kHz
• Fs = 176.4 and 192 kS/s +/-0.1dB, 10 Hz-20 kHz -3 dB @ >67 kHz
• Fs = 352.8 and 384 kS/s +/-0.1 dB, 10 Hz-20 kHz -3 dB @ >100 kHz
• DSD64 +/-0.1 dB, 10 Hz-20 kHz -3 dB @ >90 kHz
• DSD128 +/-0.1 dB, 10 Hz-20 kHz -3 dB @ >100 kHz
Output signal level: 0.2, 0.6, 2 or 6 V rms
Output impedance: 3 Ω
Minimum output load: 600 Ω (10 kΩ-100 kΩ recommended)
Digital inputs: USB 2.0/1.0, 2 x AES/EBU, 2 x S/PDIF (1 x RCA, 1 x BNC) 1 x S/PDIF Toslink, 2 x Word Clock inputs
Dimension (H x W x D): 120 x 220 x 340 mm
Weight: 7.2 kg
Color: black

Clock type: class 1 with thermally stabilized quartz oscillators
Clock accuracy: >+/-1 ppm over the ambient temperature range of +5 to +45°C
Standby time: about 10 minutes
- 2 x independently buffered TTL-compatible output on 75Ω BNC connectors
- Output 1: fixed frequency 44.1 kHz
- Output 2: fixed frequency 48 kHz
Power consumption: 10 W
Dimensions (H x W x D): 120 x 220 x 360 mm
Weight: 7 kg
Color: Black


THIS TEST HAS BEEN DESIGNED ACCORDING TO THE GUIDELINES adopted by the Association of International Audiophile Publications, an international audio press association concerned with ethical and professional standards in our industry, of which HIGH FIDELITY is a founding member. More about the association and its constituent titles → HERE.


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