Here is my take on a true high-end piece of hi-fi, continue reading my Linn Klimax review.
A brief history of Linn
Linn are one of the grandfathers of British (actually Scottish) hi-fi. They produce probably the best turntable that money can buy, the LP12. More recently they have focused on digital audio and have a range of high quality, expensive streamers, amplifiers and speakers. Linn push the boundaries of technology within hi-fi; their Exact technology uses active crossovers in powered speakers and their DS and DSM streamers are fitted with Space Optimisation that provides EQ compensation for room correction. To top it all off they even have their own record label, providing high resolution audio files.
Linn have always been ahead of the curve: they pioneered digital streaming at home, stopped producing CD players before anyone else, sold high resolution digital audio files online and more recently stopped making preamplifiers.
Before I tried the Klimax, I always thought of Linn as being a bit “old fogey” like its the kind of hi-fi your grandad would have. I’m not sure whether its the conservative styling or my perception of the average age of their customer. So the fact that they are very focused on new technology is a nice balance.
What is a Klimax Renew DS/0 when it’s at home?
Linn produce a whole series of hi-fi streamers which can be broadly split into two types: DS and DSM. The DS models provide streaming functionality and are controlled using an app (compatible with iOS and Android). The DS models have limited features otherwise: round the back you will see a single pair of unbalanced and balanced audio out connections and a power switch. The DSM models build upon the DS by turning the DS into a streaming preamplifier hybrid. DSM models have digital inputs (toslink and coax), analogue inputs (balanced and unbalanced) and even HDMI inputs too. In this way, a DS would complement an existing hi-fi while a DSM would be the centre-piece.
So DS / DSM essentially defines the capabilities. Its not always that clear cut though, the lower-end DSMs also include power amplification whereas the high end models do not (presumably as they can be used with Linn’s Exact active configuration).
There are then a number of ranges starting from “entry level” to high end: Sekrit, Sneaky, Majik, Akurate and Klimax (everything Linn makes has the K in it for some reason). The Klimax is well known as being pretty much the best streamer you can buy. It is a money-no-object piece of kit which offers performance that has no equal.
Each of those ranges are updated periodically to provide incremental updates. These updates are numbered like so: Akurate DS/0, then Akurate DS/1 and so on; this is a little confusing as it means “mark 1” has the number “0”. You get the idea? Good.
So here I am reviewing the Linn Klimax Renew DS/0 – hang on, what does the “Renew” part of it’s name mean? One of the many things that Linn are good at is treating their customers well. Linn customers are a fiercely loyal bunch.
When Linn updated the range topping Klimax from DS/0 to DS/1, they gave existing customers the options of a cheaper upgrade path. You see, the Klimax case is a solid piece of gorgeous but heavy aluminium and a new unit costs around £15,000. Linn do not expect customers to fork out £15,000 to upgrade; not only is this incredibly expensive but also wasteful of such a lovely case!
So, Linn offer the “Renew” service. What happens is this: you send your DS/DSM to Linn, they replace the innards with the new model, put the old innards in a cheaper black box and then send both back to you. So you end up with the new model in the old, fancy, expensive aluminium case while your old model is now in a new cheaper box. You then have the choice of having a Linn system in another room or you can sell it on.
That is how I got my hands on this unit. What I have here is a hi-fi streamer that was the very best you could get 8-10 years ago. There are plenty of 2nd hand Renew models going around, still expensive to you and me, but this is a taste of the high-life! The Renew is a small box with no display – just a blue LED light on the front.
Linn have recently release the Klimax DS/3, so this unit is now four iterations old. Does that mean it is obsolete and outdated? Hell no!
Linn Klimax review
My Linn Klimax Renew as hooked up to my Nord preamplifier and power amplifier. Listening to this, you know right from the outset that it is something special. Even in the unassuming black Renew box, the DS/0 absolutely kicks ass. It has a smooth, detailed and sophisticated sound. The Klimax is proof that digital audio can be as good as if not better than vinyl. The sound it makes is just so well balanced and presented.
If I had to use one word to describe the sound, I would say “natural”. It feels as if the music just sounds how it was originally intended. You can hear every nuance of information in the music: yes it is detailed, but it doesn’t ram it down your throat. The music hangs in the air like a three dimensional amorphous blob that you can dive into. It makes music almost tangible; precision, realism and accuracy are off the charts.
Thats not to say that it makes you analyse the music, it doesn’t. The very fact that it is so natural makes you forget about the hi-fi and listen to the performance instead. Hours will fly by while you feel that you must listen to album after album, each one all the way through – no track skipping!
The Linn Klimax will not make your music more exciting or artificially improve on it in any way. What it does is present it to you exactly how it should be heard. If you have a poor quality recording – then that is what you will hear.
The Linn app (Kazoo) is great to use. You can filter your record collection by artist, album, date, genre and even search too (not all other competing systems have this search feature). I found the app to be easy and stable using my iPad.
Konfig and Space Optimisation
In order to change any of the settings on the Klimax DS, you must install an application called Konfig onto your computer. This lets you name the device, enable/disable inputs, install firmware updates and also access Space Optimisation. As I said earlier, Linn are good to their loyal customers. Space Optimisation was made available as part of a firmware update to all DS and DSMs – completely free. This means that you could have been using your Klimax DS for 10 years and Linn are still updating it to add new features. This is great customer service.
So what is Space Optimisation? Basically you answer a bunch of questions about the size of your room, position of your speakers and where you sit in the room. The Konfig application then calculates what room modes you are likely to be suffering from. If you want to know about room modes then read this.
It does all of this without actually measuring the room; usually you use a microphone and some test tones (similar to what most home cinema receivers do) so the Linn may not be as accurate. I ran Space Optimisation and then compared the results I had from a microphone and the awesome Room EQ Wizard (REW). The Linn’s estimation was actually pretty good: Space Optimisation said I would have 2 room modes at 45Hz and 52Hz whereas, REW measure it at 47Hz and 53hz.
Whats the end result of using Space Optimisation? Basically you lose that “bass bloom” effect whereby particular notes seem to be too loud and dominate the music. Space Optimisation applies an EQ cut to the “blooming” frequencies (in my case 47Hz and 53Hz). This has the effect of making all the bass frequencies equally audible which means you can hear more detail in the music. Its a great feature which adds more value to an already compelling hi-fi component.
A Linn Klimax streamer is one of the very best systems that money can buy, but it comes at a cost. I was only able to afford this thanks to a number of 2nd hand Renew models coming into my price range, even then the technology is 10 years old. So this is not for everyone of course. That being said, it is an incredibly competent piece of kit. It sounds amazing, works reliably and in my opinion takes digital audio as far as it can go.