Linn Klimax DS/1 network player
The new Dynamik power supply and a newly designed circuitboard make sure that the Klimax DS stays on top
This is a follow-up review to the original Linn Klimax DS/0. As such, this review will only concentrate on the differences in sound quality between the two. For an extensive description of all aspects, please see the earlier Klimax DS review.
Retail price DS/1 approx 17000 euro
Upgrade DS/0 to DS/1 approx 4000 euro
From the outside there is no difference whatsoever. Not in the casing, nor in the inscriptings. Both are called “Klimax DS”. Also the rear panel is the same and even all functionality is the same. The differences lie on the inside: a new power supply called “Dynamik” and a new circuit board. For owners of original DS/0’s that wanted to upgrade, there was the so called Renew Package, which was basically a plain, empty housing in which the old Klimax innards were placed, allowing for a dull-looking, yet fully functional Klimax DS at a fraction of its new price.
I have contemplated doing the upgrade but at a cost of 3200 euro for the circuitboard alone, I chose not to do so. However, I had been reading about it on the net and also got into contact with someone who has had the upgrade done. His name is Chet, after the famous trumpet player. He (the Dutchman, not the American) told me that the difference was very large and in a good way. What’s more: he was willing to come over and bring his DS/1 for a comparison.
And so started a comparison of the two. I must say that I was a bit sceptical. Surely there would be differences, but I feared that they would perhaps be of the technical kind. You know: more detail, more openness etcetara, but less soul. Well, it’s not like that at all, quite the opposite in fact!
To recap from the original review: the DS/0 excells in low level resolution, especially micro detailing and differentiation is extremely good. Also it has the most velvety, creamy-fluid treble I have ever heard in any player, CD or otherwise. Its treble is also very well-extended and airy. Bass is full yet nimble, but lacks a some body and drive, compared to bass champs such as the Levinson 390S or the Wadia S7i. But still in absolute terms it has very good bass. Midrange is colourful, rich and natural. Soundstaging is good, but not exceptionally so. It is more or less on par with the Levinson 390S, but is beaten by the PS Audio PWD and any Wadia. Overall, the DS/0 is impressive for what it does, which is not to sound like computer replay at all, while beating cd replay in terms of resolution and lack of grain.
But after listening to it longer, you start to notice that it lacks some get up and go. Instruments aren’t projected out of the stage much. Not in width or depth, but also not in loudness. Overall the DS/0 is quite restrained dynamically. It doesn’t really boogie, or to put it into other words: for me, after the initial amazement has passed, it is very much a mental experience, not so much an emotional one. This is evident in comparing to any other streamer here, including the Meridian Sooloos MC200, even when using its internal DAC. Once you’re over the initial mind-boggling sensation, strange as this may sound, you slowly lose interest as the music doesn’t really keeps your attention. I’ve tried to combat this in any way I could think of: powercables, position in the extensionblock, other extensionblocks with different feed cables, I tried various interlinks, including Linn’s own Silver Interconnect and experimented with position in the Spider Rack and the supporting feet. No matter what I did, the Klimax DS/0 was always gentlemanly. It simply would not shout. Not even if you kicked it in the nuts. And that just gets boring after a while. Don’t get me wrong: I love smoothness and fluidity and I hate agressiveness. But you can tip over in the other direction.
This is painfully clear when switching to the PS Audio PWD that only costs a third. Even Chet, the owner of the Klimax DS/1, thought that it sounded very good, much more involving in fact than the Klimax DS/0, even if that one had better resolution and much finer treble. The PWD just makes you sit up and take notice, and it makes your feet tap. It is just much more involving.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. The actual order in which we listened was as such:
1. Klimax DS/1
2. Klimax DS/0
3. PS Audio PWD
And then back and forth countless times, over the coarse of 6 hours.
Naturally I leveled the playing field in terms of interconnects and powercables by using powercables that come from a single schuko connector so that they not only are the same cable, but also have the same position in the extensionblock. Both DSses were setup on the same feet in the Spider rack and the Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C XLR interconnect was swapped from DS to DS. What’s more: the involvement factor goes up the higher you go in a Spider rack, and the DS/1 was in the bottom position, which puts it at a slight disadvantage. But as it would turn out: this was no limiting factor whatsoever.
When switching from DS/1 to DS/0, the DS/1’s owner and me looked at each other and it was clear that we were in agreement: the DS/0 just doesn’t keep up. Yes, its detailing and overall character is almost unchanged, but the DS/0 just doesn’t grab you. It sounds flat in comparison. The DS/1 is everything the DS/0 is, but better. It is every bit as smooth, creamy and fluid, perhaps even more finely resolved, but it is much more dynamic. It swings from super-soft to loudly-dynamic with amazing ease. Also its soundstaging is a lot better: instead of the DS/0’s smallish bubble, there is now a larger bubble with better focus. Instruments are more reach-out-and-grab, they stick out from the bubble more. Also piano attack and body is more real, more like what the PWD does, which makes the DS/1 much more acoustically credible. In a way, the DS/1 reminds me a lot of how my Levinson 390S sounds in terms of soundstaging and overall involvement.
Then for the final tests, I re-installed the Levinson 390S in its usual position (it had been kept powered on all the time), to see if the Klimax DS/1 would now be on equal ground. The Klimax DS/0 already challenged the CD player in some areas and even beat it in others, but overall I preferred the Levinson’s better timing and more royal character. Well, again using the same Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C interlink, switching between the tow, the DS/1 could now really be considered to be in the same league. There were differences but in absolute terms they were small. What’s more: Chet consistently felt that the DS was better. How about that! Myself, I felt that while the DS/1 had better treble and more nimble bass, as well as better resolution, the Levinson was still more generous, more enveloping and bigger. Chet described it as being “more veiled, more friendly” and indeed his observation is spot on. This was why I prefered the Levinson, and why he prefered the Linn. Same ears, different opinion. What’s clear to both of us though, is that both players are very nice and that it doesn’t take much time to get used to either one. But we couldn’t listen to the DS/0 very long before getting annoyed. And this is something to really think about.
The upgrade may be very expensive, but well-worth doing. It brings the whole delivery to another level. While the Klimax DS/0 was already regarded as the world’s best streamer, the DS/1 makes sure that Linn maintains that position. While I’m writing this I can imagine that some people may think that when the best has now been improved, surely “the best” wasn’t very good to begin with. I can understand that stance but this is not the case. When the DS/0 was introduced, there was simply nothing around that could equal its mix of utter naturalness and extremely finely detailed sound. Computer audio simply never sounded this good. Yet, some CD players had and have more bounce, more involvement, even if they sound less detailed and less well-balanced. This is what the DS/1 adresses: it takes all the DS/0 strong points and adds to them significantly. Importantly, it does this without sounding more analytical, more dry or otherwise more technical. The DS/1 is the reference, and I think that it will keep that position for quite a while. I sold my DS/0. Need I say more?