Linn Klimax DS

This article written by Malcolm Steward was first published in Hi-Fi Choice magazine (UK) 2011.

Linn Klimax DS

Linn Klimax DS

 The Linn Klimax DS is a staggeringly beautiful piece of hi-fi to behold. The simplicity and purity of line of its enclosure would make the founders of the Bauhaus turn cartwheels in delight… if they were still around. That it also plays music, and does so exceedingly well, is a bonus even at what is hardly an inconsequential price for most mere mortals.

The price of £11,650 GBP makes the Klimax DS an aspirational purchase and, as such, buyers will not be concerned that it has no internal storage for music and they will need, or need to purchase, a NAS drive to hold their rips and downloads. Nor does it offer any optical drive for ripping music: CD is a moribund format and only suitable for 16-bit/44kHz files, and, as high-resolution material downloads become the preferred means of delivery, they can add a broadband connected PC to that list of required ancillaries. The Klimax DS, described by Linn as “the pinnacle of audio perfection”, sets out to do just one job… and do it the best it can be done.

The Klimax enclosure is machined from a solid aluminium billet and there is not an ounce of clutter on the fascia… nor anywhere else for that matter. Not so much as a solitary button or switch disturbs the wholesomeness of the front panel design. There is just a magnificent sweep of aluminium with a centrally mounted, and notably discreet, display. The ‘lid’ of the enclosure overhangs the rear panel and effectively hides from view all the plugs and cables. One operates the device through a graphical user interface on a convenient PC or laptop on the same network, or through an equivalent app on a ‘smart’ mobile phone.

At the same time as reviewing the Klimax DS, I also had a £250 GBP Logitech Squeezebox Touch in my system. This does essentially the same job as the Klimax: it plays music from a network store or internet radio station through a hi-fi. The Squeezebox does this admirably but it does not compare sonically with the Linn, even though it is a remarkably capable and commendable device. The Linn, though, is around 46 times more expensive and, not surprisingly, sounds significantly better to the discerning ear. In truth, it outclasses most every other streaming device I have heard to date, as one would hope given the cost. It is surprising that a product this simple – essentially it is little more than a network interface and a DAC – can perform so differently and be so alarmingly more expensive than another such device. This is clearly an intellectual property matter rather than some consideration that the bill of materials would explain.

The sound of the Klimax is exceptionally composed and refined, almost sweet, while simultaneously being candid, open and unreservedly revealing. When, for example, comparing the sound of HDD data cables in my NAS units, it readily disclosed subtle but unquestionable differences.

One would expect it to be forthright playing high-resolution music tracks: and it is. However, it also elicits astonishing levels of detail from 16-bit/44.1kHz (standard CD-resolution) recordings; details that had not emerged quite as forcefully when I first listened to the original disc. This is a worthwhile benefit in my estimation: I am now enjoying music that would otherwise be languishing on a shelf gathering dust.

The overall musical performance of the Klimax DS is natural and impressively cohesive: it flows while being abundantly detailed; but that detail is never distracting or intrusive. For example, on “Neg Anwo” on the Creole Choir of Cuba’s album, “Undiscovered Voices“, the Linn deftly focused my attention on the percussion patterns playing quietly behind the effusive vocal lines that dominate the track, and allowed me to appreciate more fully their contribution to the arrangement. This subtle augmentation of the music had a profound effect on my enjoyment of it: such details can open up new perspectives for the listener and ably demonstrate why Linn’s ethos has always been maximum information retrieval, regardless of the format. That philosophy has, for example, kept the company’s Sondek LP12 turntable in the bestseller list for going on four decades so it clearly has merit.

To my surprise, the Klimax DS delivered outstanding performance with internet radio despite the low bit-rates involved. Okay, you might not salivate over the beauty of it but neither would you leap screaming from your chair to turn it off. It is exceptionally palatable and, truthfully, what more can one ask from a convenience medium? To its credit, the Klimax seems to make the most of whatever it is given – even internet radio.

The Klimax saves its best, though, for playing hi-res media, which, of course, Linn Records retails rather successfully. The player graphically demonstrates the superiority of 24-bit over 16-bit recordings when one compares one format to the other. “Please Read The Letter” from the 24-bit Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album, “Raising Sand“, sounded absolutely glorious played back at realistic levels: both singers’ voices had credible – and quite beautiful – texture while low frequency instruments enjoyed a similarly rich, well-rounded quality. The result is a performance and a sound that are wholly captivating and intensely musically persuasive. I found myself listening to the entire album repeatedly, even the tracks that I do not consider particular favourites.

However, with appropriately emotional music – Van Morrison’s “In The Garden” from the album “No Method, No Guru, No Teacher“, in this case – the Klimax can surpass this and provide a deeply moving listening experience, delivering real lump in the throat moments from old 16-bit recordings. That alone will surely justify the asking price for many true music lovers.

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