Linn Klimax DS Network Music Player

Network music servers perform several distinct functions—acquiring and storing digital-audio files, managing and selecting what you want to listen to, streaming those files over a wired and/or wireless network, and receiving those files so the music can be played on a sound system. Most music-server products provide all these functions in an integrated system, but Scottish high-end long-timer Linn has taken a different approach. It's Digital Stream players, including the flagship Klimax DS, are strictly client devices that receive audio streams from the network and play them on any sound system.

All music-server systems start with a device that acquires digital-audio files by ripping CDs or downloading them from the Internet and storing them on a hard-disk drive. These functions are typically performed by a computer, which you must provide if you want to use the Klimax DS. Linn recommends storing the files on a NAS (network-attached storage) device for its increased security, flexibility, and expandability; some even include a CD drive that lets you rip CDs directly to the NAS hard disk.

To manage your library, Linn provides GUI (graphical user interface) software that can run on a Windows desktop or laptop computer, ultra-mobile PC, or PDA. The GUI lets you organize your music in various ways and specify what you want the system to play.

The computer then streams the selected files over your home network. It's possible to use WiFi, but since the Klimax DS can handle files up to 192kHz/24 bits, Linn strongly recommends a wired connection for greater reliability. The computer must be UPnP (Universal Plug 'n' Play) AV 1.0 certified, and it must support FLAC lossless compression. Linn recommends using Twonky server software on the computer.

Finally, the audio reaches the Klimax DS, which is designed to work with high-quality files, not lossy MP3s and the like. (High-resolution music files can be downloaded from iTrax and HDTracks among other online sources.) It can upsample all files to 352.8 or 384kHz before converting them to analog, which emerges from two balanced and two unbalanced outputs that are connected to a preamp such as the Klimax Kontrol shown with the Klimax DS in the photo above.

At $18,500, the Klimax DS costs more than most integrated music-server systems. And in his review for Stereophile, Wes Phillips called the GUI "the clunkiest interface I've experienced." However, he was extremely impressed with the sound quality, calling it "spectacularly good," and saying, "I suspect that it's going to be a lot easier for Linn to find a software programmer than it's going to be for any other company to find an electrical engineer up to taking digital to the Klimax DS's level."

In the end, Phillips calls it "an aspirational product—something that only audiophiles who care about owning the best would even consider. The rest of us punters will have to content ourselves with 'almost as good.' But we can always dream.

The Linn Klimax DS is the stuff that dreams are made of."