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Linn Majik DS-I Review

July 16, 2010 By Geoffrey Morrison

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Linn Majik DS-I
Linn Majik DS-I
Linn Majik DS-I back panel

Brèagha ceòl: Linn's new Majik DS-I combines the best bits of their digital player, preamp and digital amplification, all squeezed into one package.

To be honest, I think Linn is an odd company.

Looking at their product lines, you have to wonder if they lack a decent spell-check or are just lifting names straight out of the Ikea catalog.

Linn Majik DS-I

Founder Ivor Sigmund Tiefenbrun doesn't exactly have a name that screams "Scottish," yet he is, born and raised—as is his company, from a land better known for golf, scotch, haggis, drinking and inventing most aspects of modern society. But this oddball company has a storied name, thanks to a long line of remarkable products. From a company that didn't make its first CD player till 1991, they have since embraced the digital high end, which brings us to the Majik DS-I.

The Majik DS-I is an integrated amp, rated at 90 watts per channel into 4 ohms, a signal-to-noise ratio greater than 115 dB and a dynamic range greater than 120 dB. On the preamp side, there are four analog inputs (one is a phono input), three each optical and coax digital inputs (1 out each), Ethernet, RS-232 and IR. And if you want to use the DS-I just as a preamp/decoder, there are analog line and preamp outputs. The decoder portion will decode all the standard file formats with resolutions up to 24/192.

Some setup is required before you get started if you want the DS-I to talk to your home network. Thankfully, you'll never have to see any of it, as each DS-I is set up by your dealer. There are lots of options to tweak individual settings, and even options on how you want your computer (or iPhone/iPad) to talk to the DS-I.

Linn Majik DS-I

There's a smooth volume ramp down and up as you change inputs. The remote has a plethora of buttons, most of which you'll never use. Unfortunately, the buttons you'll use the most are the same size as the rest. You'd never guess from the size and heft of the DS-I what kind of performance is inside.

Being rated at 90 watts into 4 ohms would mean that's likely only 45 watts into 8 ohms. But 45 watts should be plenty. I mean, Steve is reviewing an amp on page 31 that's only 30 watts. So my first test is a run at something played loud.

Jakob Dylan’s Women + Country is, I think, the best album so far this year. It sounds a lot like the Americana type music his father has been doing, but with a sort of chill grove to it. The sound is unmistakably producer T-Bone Burnett’s handiwork, with a creaminess to everything. And while this is a beautifully recorded album, it’s really bass heavy. So this is a great test for an amp at volume. The first track, “Nothing but the Whole Wide World” is very bass and bass drum heavy, even by the standards of the rest of the album. The Linn handled the bass without sounding muddy, which this album can do to many systems. Fast transients were handled well, like percussive hits. Track nine, “They’ve Trapped Us Boys,” is perhaps a more realistic test; each instrument and the different percussion remained separate up to the point where power ran out. So 45 watts is still 45 watts, but as long as you’re not looking to blow out the windows, you’ll be fine. If you are, there are the two line outs to run to a separate amp or pre-amp.

Though my Spanish is limited to being able to order in a restaurant (barely), I love Julieta Venegas’s latest, Otra Cosa. No idea what she’s saying, but the songs are great. Track two, “Bien a mal” has guitars, an accordion and layers of other instruments. The Linn remained warm despite an abundance of treble in this track. There was an openness to the sound.  

I tried a variety of tracks I've encoded uncompressed from a CD and as lightly compressed MP3s. The Linn does what I feel the best DACs do, which is to say they take the edge off. There is less harshness to the high end. Now if you’re starting with crap, like a 128 kbps MP3, nothing can work the miracle of making those sound great, but the DS-I will let you listen without the cringe factor of a poor DAC.

With the purchase of the DS-I, you also get a free download from Linn’s Record Store. This is a sampler: 15 tracks of varied types of music in 88k, 24-bit FLAC or WMA formats. Being able to play tracks of this resolution is a tremendous bonus. One standout, a little Ludwig Van, “Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, Op.58 - II. Andante con moto” by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, was a beautiful recording. In the beginning, the delicate openness of the piano contrasted with the in-your-face growl of the orchestra. The clarity and fidelity of the instruments just can’t be matched by CD (and certainly not any lossy compression). There are many other albums available in Linn’s store at even higher sample rates.

Linn Majik DS-I back panel

Overall the DS-I had a warm sound that I wasn’t expecting with such a digital product. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. The sound also had an element of three dimensionality, with lots of depth to the soundstage.

While the Linn DS-I is a little more expensive than many of its integrated amp brethren, the tremendous level of flexibility in setup that dealers can perform to fine tune the product to your tastes, plus an inviting sound regardless of what source you have, all add up to an excellent product. Or as they say, "tha sin glè mhath!"

PRICE: $4,200
CONTACT: Linn.co.uk


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