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JONATHAN REVIEWS LINN KLIMAX DSM

Whilst browsing comments on Facebook we noticed a Linn customer bemoaning the lack of real-world reviews of the new Linn Klimax DSM.

We agreed so we sent him a message and offered to drop off our demo version so he could have a listen...and write a review himself! Not the sort of thing your local hi-fi shop would do, but we're a bit different.  It's what makes being a Linn dealer so exciting right now.

Here's what Jonathan Barrett had to say and, honestly, we think he's got a bright future as a hi-fi journo! Grab a glass of something and indulge yourself...

 

‘No, I’m serious. I’ll bring it down. We’ll play some music and compare my demo Klimax Organic DSM to your Selekt’. You see, I’d moaned on the Linn Facebook forum page that there were no reviews. Realistically I wasn’t ever going to buy one. Out of my league. But I love hearing about how science, design and engineering are improving our enjoyment of music. And being a part of the Linn family, I just hope that some of this new technology will trickle down to an upgrade for me in 2 or 3 years. So, there we were, arranging a time. Simon Wigginton from Grammo had challenged me – ‘I’ll bring the hardware; you write a review’. Simon was both kind and foolish enough to follow through on his word. He was keen to get some end user feedback, perhaps from a different point of view to the target market for this high-end streamer, phono-stage, DAC and Pre-amp (I said that in case any non-Linnies read this). His bad luck was my good fortune (sorry Simon) and an accident meant that he had to leave the Klimax with me for a couple of days - a member of his team brought it over (thanks Marcus). Throughout this experience, Simon has delivered on his promises – that’s not a plug for him. Before this I didn’t know Simon at all, but I appreciate it when people demonstrate that they care about the service and want to leave a good impression. For me this was fun, and he never once did anything other than make sure I was happy. I appreciate your time Simon. Thanks. 


So hi-fi journo I am not. Words I won’t use here. Dynamics. Smear. Phasing. Or phrasing! I also don’t understand PRaT so I can’t tell if this has it or not. This is just an ordinary listener. Albeit one lucky enough to be able to afford some gear that I find incredible. I have a Linn Selekt, one of their more basic streamers, but it is blessed with a Katalyst DAC upgrade. Balanced XLR out to my other favourite things - my active ATCs. Again at ‘entry’ level as ATC put it. SCM40As. But they are amazing. I’ve been an active fan for a long time - I think it’s a great way to get the best bang for your buck in hi-fi terms. I’m not saying they, or actives, are the best. But they work for me. Selekt into Actives. Simple. Elegant. Blissful. 


I’ve never been a vinyl fan, so I can’t tell you whether this is an LP12 beater. I can tell you it’s an ‘everything I’ve ever heard before’ beater though. This quite beautiful piece of metal is luxurious - both in how it looks and feels, and of course how it sounds. Oh, how it sounds! If you are lucky enough to be able to buy one of these, you are in for a treat. You may not care for the detail of how this plays so exquisitely, but I can tell you that if you just want to collapse into your plush chair with a glass of wine at the end of hard day of surgery, flying or barrister...ing, or something equally exotic, you just want to enjoy the beauty and know you have something that is pure class playing in front of you - this is it. Touching it is surprisingly enjoyable. Those grooves. That will keep the vinyl lovers happy. You can caress them and run your dirty fingers all over them without having to rush off, berating yourself, to get your record cleaner. You have to see it in the flesh. Personally, I prefer it to the old Klimax DSM. I realise that many people don’t. But I do think most people who will get to see it in the flesh will end up liking it. They certainly will once they’ve heard it. They may not be able to lift it though. It is proper heavy. 


I really like this thing. I mean…really, really like it. There are some things that I don’t like - more about that in a sec. So how does it sound. A few tracks I’ll mention to give you examples. This wasn’t a blind or scientific test. Mainly me doing a lot of plugging and unplugging. It’s my opinion, and it’s valid only in the context of my room, my system, with my cables and my ears. I did blind A/B my wife on one track. She found it easy to pick out. It sounds live, she said. Not recorded. So did my 2 teen/preteen girls. “What’s your favourite track ever lovely?” I asked my 10-year-old. I doubt Carl Douglas’ Kungfu Fighting has ever sounded so good. I turned SO (Sound Optimisation) off on both devices. I could get SO Konfig working for the KDSM and SO2 online working for the Selekt. Not enough time to get both working at the same time. All tracks were from QoBuz - a mix of various hi-res and also 44.1/16 tracks. That’s it!


I played some tracks I love. Not test tracks. Tracks that you judge by how hard you wave your arms about. How they continue to surprise you with how much joy they can bring. My first - Boomtown Rats, ‘I don’t like Mondays’. It sounded like a studio session. My wife’s comment above was Independently delivered, and a day later than my immediate and first text to Simon. It just felt like I was in a session with Bob Geldof. Honestly, it sounded so much more ‘real’ than my Selekt. You can hear the energy on the piano keys. I know that sounds silly and pretentious, but you can feel it. The treble has an amazingly twinkly naturalness. I’d never felt like I was in a studio until that first play on this incredible unit. 


‘Into the Mystic’ next please. Pick a part. Any part. You want to follow the bass line, pick a guitar, hear Van Morrison’s voice in all its wonderful imperfectness. Swap between them. Or just listen to the whole thing. Separation of instruments - they all have their discrete places around the room. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ from Radiohead - delicate individual cymbal hits rather than just treble. I mean, I hear this in the Selekt. But it’s so much more defined and easier. Detail I’ve not heard before. These are my ‘test’ tracks. To me they don’t get better than this. I’ve heard them a million times. I’ve heard all they have to offer. Or so I thought. ‘5.06am (Every Strangers Eyes)’. Roger Waters. The angry or coughing customers at the beginning. The Klimax really evokes the smell of the café and the steamed-up windows, you can see yourself there, perched on an uncomfortable chair. Then she speaks. ‘You wanna cup of coffee?’ You hear the movement and moisture of her mouth - that sound when dry lips slightly stick together when someone talks. Then you forget the softness, there’s a great big slam to the drums - more attack than on my Selekt. 


If you want to find out if you’ve got room nodes, try this one. Nakhane and ‘Presbyteria’ - an airiness and beautiful tone envelops you until the bass kicks in. Or even ‘Xanny’ by Billie Eilish - don’t forget that the distortion isn’t your speakers breaking!! The KDSM was controlled, but deep. In all the songs, the drums snap with an impressive thump, bang or beat - take your pick on your genre! ATCs are not too shabby at the tight bass thingy. The Klimax enjoyed showing me that they have lots more to give if ever thought I was hard enough! 


Enhanced ethereal sounds float around the room, especially when you find one of those tracks that has a solid wall of syrupy lovliness as a background, and hear the tune played out in front of it, never clear on where this blanket comes from. I thought the Selekt gave me a pretty immersive experience for 2-channel. The KDSM really took it broader and deeper into the room. A simple example is the slightly more sophisticated drum and bass sounds of Bicep with ‘Atlas’. 


I didn’t like the unforgiving nature so much. Sometimes you want a ‘de-wince’ button that takes a little off the top and adds it to the middle. But it’s really poor recordings, or those mastered for different equipment!! ‘Too Original (feat Elliphant)’ by Major Lazer is a track that needs something less neutral. Less revealing. Like a massive ‘sound system’ rolling along in a carnival. It doesn’t need the KDSM. It’s a shame. If you have to suffer having an inferior system (like most of us I should think) give it a play. It’s not for the fainthearted but it’s a mover! 


I’m not sure if you can turn the display down but at night the screen glows too brightly. I suspect Linn had to make it brighter to be seen behind the mirror finish. The glazing looks fabulous, but it’s lost when the lights go down and it looks like no-one remembered to test the KDSM in a darkened room. I think the dial on top looks high quality, in keeping with the engineering of the beast and it’s really nice to turn (are you like me and can’t help yourself but compare washing machines by how well the dial turns?) However, pressing it feels inaccurate, like a cheap joystick from the 80’s. It’s the same on the Selekt. I thought mine may have had coffee spilt on it at one point as it just didn’t feel right. More work needed for me on the control mechanism.  The most annoying thing was that the IOS app seemed to lose contact with the KDSM more than my Selekt. Perhaps the software needs a few bugs sorted out. That wouldn’t be uncommon for a new product. Often my playlists would be offline for ages. I used the new app, not Kazoo. Overall, though, the Linn app remains an ‘acceptable’ user interface. I do hope they continue to develop it further into something more engaging. 


Other than that, I can only congratulate Linn and the whole design team. You’ve delivered something really special. Hats off to you all. The Selekt is a lovely bit of kit. But the Klimax is an excellent and sophisticated bit of hardware and software, brought into a single, highly evocative package. It’s just more involving. More rounded. More everything really. For those familiar with SO, you’ll know it can really enhance the soundstage and pinpoint detail - but sometimes it feels that is at the expense of some of the lower frequencies. The KDSM gave me SO level delicacy but then with the bass added back in. And a little bit extra midrange for a big warm hug to make you feel loved. Getting SO on this thing, if you need it, will be awesome! 


Last track – ‘Another day of Sun’ from the La La Land soundtrack - really joyful. I think the way this track sounded helped to sum up my opinion on this extremely capable box of magic. The percussion instruments were swirling around beautifully, everything was sparkling - you know that feeling when it’s late spring, the clouds open and everyone has to take shelter from the downpour. Then, when it clears quickly, the sun emerges and instantly you can feel the warmth on your face.  The water is dripping from the leaves on all of trees, the grass seems greener and lusher, the trees have a little more swish, the birds are happier and sing a little louder. Nature starts showing us how beautiful life is. That’s what it’s like listening to the KDSM. It’s all just more.... well….Organik.