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Review and Measurements of Linn Akurate DSM DAC/Streamer

amirm

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#1
This is a (performance) review and detailed measurements of the Linn Akurate DSM DAC and networked streamer. A local member kindly brought it over to our house to measure. It retails for .... get ready for it... USD $10,250. Yes, we are moving up in the world!

Linn is a Scottish company that has a long tradition/history among audiophiles although most of it earned through their legendary turntables than digital technology.

I had a lot of fun chatting with the owner of it so forgot to take a picture of it. Here is the stock photo from Linn's site:

Linn Akurate DSM DAC and Streamer Review.jpg

The unit is quite substantial and with luxury feel.

Due to shortness of time, I did not have a chance to play much with its functionality. I was pleased that it supported Roon Endpoint and I could stream full 24-bit, high sample rate content to it with equal performance to its S/PDIF input which I used for testing.

Why S/PDIF input? Oddly there is no USB input on Linn Akurate DSM. So no way to use it as a USB DAC unless you buy a USB to S/PDIF bridge.

We downloaded their app for Windows to control it since we didn't have the remote. The Akurate DSM comes with Linn's interesting room EQ which does NOT rely on measurements. The owner had configured it such and we had to turn that off for testing.

For streaming functionality you need to download their app naturally to your favorite device. I personally am not a fan of such functionality. I don't believe that each one of these companies can keep up with likes of Roon in having a fully functional, rich and ever evolving and stable app. So that functionality is lost on me.

There are tons of inputs and outputs on the unit as it can be used as a pre-amp. In the interest of time, I only tested the unit as a DAC by feeding it S/PDIF and measuring its balanced output. Let's see how she performed.

Measurements
As usual, we start with our dashboard view:

Linn Akurate DSM DAC and Streamer Measurements.png


The Akurate DSK checks the right boxes with 4 volt output.

On performance, it sets a new precedence by easily exceeding its stated spec! Distortion is far lower than 0.002%, clocking almost an order of magnitude lower at 0.0003%. Perhaps they use a wider bandwidth when measuring THD+N than I use (22.4 kHz). Regardless, it is a pleasure to see such conservative rating.

This puts the Linn Akurate DSM at the top of our performance quadrants:

1547678987673.png


They have announced a new generation of their DACs which higher performance so maybe those will grab the crown of the best DAC we have tested. For now, it falls a bit short of the best of the best which one would expect at this price point.

Switching to dynamic range, we see the same trend of honest reporting:

Linn Akurate DSM DAC and Streamer Dynamic Range Measurements.png


Right on the money.

Intermodulation distortion is not rated and unfortunately disappoints in noise department:
Linn Akurate DSM DAC and Streamer Intermodulation Distortion Measurements.png


But nicely makes up for it in having no distortion at max level (no upward trend in the graph).

Linearity is very good but not as perfect as I like it to be:
Linn Akurate DSM DAC and Streamer Linearity Measurements.png


I like to see deviation below 0.5 dB at -120 dB (20 bits) on the left side of the graph. Instead we have a bit more than double that in one channel. It also gets chewed up a bit early for a high-performance DAC.

Good news comes in the form of broadband distortion+noise relative to frequency:
Linn Akurate DSM DAC and Streamer THD+N distortino versus frequency Measurements.png


As noted, this requires good control of noise in ultrasonics together with lack of harmonic distortion as frequencies get higher.

Lastly, this is a zoomed response to white noise showing how well the reconstruction filter gets rid of out of band signals as required by digital audio theory (all content above 22.05 kHz/half the sampling rate of CD's 44.1 kHz needs to be eliminated):
Linn Akurate DSM DAC and Streamer White Noise Filter Measurements.png


We get nearly 100 dB of out of band rejection which is excellent. I have seen DACs that do far, far worse than that.

Conclusions
The Linn Akurate DSM is a very well engineered piece of hardware. It is impossible to find any design faults in it. The issue for audience that hangs around here is price versus performance. There, I would have wanted to see it reach to the maximum level of performance possible. The Akurate DSM falls just short of that. Fortunately that is how the product is spec'ed so no one should be surprised.

For people who buy high-end products and hence don't consider such a device "expensive," it is a very good choice in that it is not built on voodoo but real engineering. Those of you in UK may also have cost advantages versus importing products from elsewhere.

I am caught between a rock and a hard place as far as recommending or not recommending the Akurate DSM. I like to recommend it but falling short of superb performance keeps me from doing so given the high cost. So I let you determine thumbs up or down on your own. :)

-------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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restorer-john

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#4
Are the digital outs (toslink and coax) just loop outs or does it contain an internal A/D as well?

It's an interesting device, clearly a 'hub' of sorts for a lot of AV gear. Clearly a device mostly intended to be used with a remote or external control due to the few buttons on the front panel.

Thanks for testing it. Very nice to see genuinely conservative specs from a respected company.
 
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PierreV

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#5
It already looks like a very recent version (already upgraded) - at least the "Katalyst DAC Architecture" mention at the back seems to indicate that. I own one, the previous version for which Linn offered a board upgrade, which I took. Quite happy with it. Prices seem to have increased a bit though.
And yes, John, remote or their own custom software (https://www.linn.co.uk/software)

Totally configurable
1547696365494.png


and it offers computational room optimisation (not through a calibration microphone) - here's an example

1547696657488.png
 

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Headphonaholic

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#8
I think it's worth noting that this device is more than a Topping D50 in that it's not meant to be just a dac. I agree 100% that it's very highly priced given the performance but I also don't know what one should pay for this feature set. So I don't feel it's 100% fair to compare to a standard desktop dac.
 

Jimster480

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#9
I think it's worth noting that this device is more than a Topping D50 in that it's not meant to be just a dac. I agree 100% that it's very highly priced given the performance but I also don't know what one should pay for this feature set. So I don't feel it's 100% fair to compare to a standard desktop dac.
Yes it has some proprietary DSP and its meant to be used with some special acoustic tuning for the room/setting where its installed as Amir said.

Still the DAC performance really isn't acceptable at this price point considering that we know that Topping can do a better job with a DAC for $250 so with 40x the price.... $250 for the DAC module (this is literally a retail unit, so the price is actually much much lower for integration) should be a given.

Nevermind something like that Khadas tone board that could be integrated is $125?
 

vitalii427

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#10
Wow, that is double hit for me today with cute little NuPrime uDSD and now Linn Katalyst DAC. Thank you very much, Amir. And thanks to the owner of this unit. This is the one unit I was waiting for the most. I did not even hope that any of the owners agree to loan such thing. I would if I was in US. I’ve listened a lot to Akurate DS (pre Katalyst) and comapared it with my now sold Yggdrasil. That Akurate was so good even with my strong bias towards Yggdrasil. Tests was not proper DBT as I now know. Many local golden ear audiophiles swear by Linn sources. And I was so curious how these units measures. Especially recent Katalyst which I can play with soon. Thank you again, Amir, for all your work for this great community.
 
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sonci

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#11
$250 "blows out" $10,000. Incredible.
Where else but in in the high-end audio industry/hobby can something like that happen.
Amir and ASR cohorts deserve so much credit for shedding this light for all to see and learn.
Except that the Topping sounds like 250$, the Linn much much better!
Now I know that measurements are not everything..
 

PierreV

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#12
On the pricing issue, I do 100% agree it is too expensive. And don't even look at the Klimax line, the Akurate line is only the "standard" line. But you have to keep in mind that this device

- has generally been available for a few years already - it had the same set of inputs in 2011 (minus the recent Katalyst upgrade).
- wasn't based on standard off-the shelf high performance DAC chipsets which weren't available as they are now (and USB/Wifi was a non starter back then).
- offers many inputs and options such as the capability to drive the active line of Linn speakers through the Exact Link
- avoids the need for hacks or HDMI extractors
- offers what I assume is a decent to very good phono stage for their famous Linn's LP-12 (I am not into vinyl, but some people are)
- offered very reliable Ethernet streaming in 2011 already.
- is reliable, supported and upgrade-able. The upgrade wasn't what I'd call cheap either, the two boards were upgraded in my system at a cost of roughly 2000 EUR, but people who bought their system in 2011 weren't left behind with old stuff in 2018.

My dealer has a bunch of horror stories in terms of support, service and repairs with the different brands he carries, but not with Linn.

So, for someone who needed a good phono stage, a good DAC, a good Ethernet streamer and a bunch of other different inputs in 2011, the whole package made total sense and could even be seen as a good deal at the time. It probably wouldn't be implemented in the same way today, as the world has changed a lot since 2011 (for example, there were no lossless streaming services back then as far as I know). The newest Linn system is cheaper and modular btw.

Now, I don't have golden ears and I am not married to Linn and, yes, that is expensive stuff but it is reassuring to see that, unlike some of the other jewel like high end gear, it performs as claimed. Not sure I would still be happy in 2018 if I had purchased a Hugo Dac, a dedicated Ethernet streamer, a phono stage and a preamp instead.

OTOH, Linn is a pain in other ways, my 2 of my 3 main speaker pairs aren't supported in room optimization (they are modeled as point sources), they abruptly closed their very nice online community, when you report a bug, they won't acknowledge or even answer (but they will fix it quickly in their frequent SW updates).

But all in all, a piece of gear I am happy to use.

And, but that is highly subjective, it is the type of "classy not flashy" gear I like ( except for speakers ;) ).
 

rebbiputzmaker

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#14
Except that the Topping sounds like 250$, the Linn much much better!
Now I know that measurements are not everything..
Are you sure? I don't know, as I get the exact same sound from my Linn LP12 as I do from my close and play!

1007linn1.jpg


3411bea0a49acc7fb3af239be4a86f2e.jpg
 

777

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#18
It is good to have all sorts of products, cheap and expensive. Honda Civic Type R probably is better on the road like Mercedes S Class but you know, performance is not everything. The same about Linn and Topping.
 

sonci

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#19
It is good to have all sorts of products, cheap and expensive. Honda Civic Type R probably is better on the road like Mercedes S Class but you know, performance is not everything. The same about Linn and Topping.
Have you ever drived a Mercedez? it has nothing to do with any japanese cars, especially class S, you close the door and there’s absolute silence, you can’t hear you own horn..
 

jasonq997

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#20
It is good to have all sorts of products, cheap and expensive. Honda Civic Type R probably is better on the road like Mercedes S Class but you know, performance is not everything. The same about Linn and Topping.
Except that if we are just comparing DACs, there are really no other creature comforts or subjective things to worry about. These are at this point basic devices technologically. If some of the other functionality is worth thousands of dollars to you then great.
 
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