Linn Selekt DSM Katalyst with Integrated Amplifier Review
A feast for both the eyes and ears, the swish new Linn Selekt DSM single-box system is a sensory delight, says Mark Gusew…
Selekt DSM Katalyst
Network Streaming DAC and Integrated Amplifier
Back in the early nineteen seventies, the young Ivor Tiefenbrun realised that the source was the most important component in a hi-fi system, and duly set about to prove it. His reasoning – “garbage in, garbage out” – was borrowed from the computer industry, and he made his case with energy and erudition. The Linn Sondek LP12 turntable went on to be highly influential, with some saying that it was the world’s first-ever high-end record player.
Then, nearly a decade and a half ago, Linn was first-to-market with a high-end network music player. The Klimax DS took the hi-fi world by surprise and established the company as a streaming specialist. And now the Selekt DSM range offers high-end streaming, DAC and digital preamplifier functionality in one box.
There are various configurations to choose from. This review covers the Selekt DSM with Katalyst DAC and Integrated power amplifier, costing $13,995. The range starts at $7,995 for the line-level version, and the optional Katalyst DAC brings this to $11,995, with the Integrated amplifier functionality taking it to $13,995. The optional HDMI switching module costs $1,295, the power amp and sub out cartridge is $2,495, and the line out cartridge is $1,645. Even the most basic package offers high-quality network music playback with embedded Tidal, Spotify and Qobuz – plus the option of Apple AirPlay.
Katalyst is Linn’s newest fourth-generation DAC architecture, as used in the more expensive Klimax and Akurate range of network music players, as well as the active loudspeakers. The Selekt DSM is of modular construction, with spare slots available for additional cards – although it is not meant to be upgraded by an end-user, but rather an authorised Linn dealer. This, along with regular firmware updates, gives the unit a degree of future-proofing.
Purposeful, modern and characterful, Linn’s Selekt DSM looks superb. Dressed in black, it is dominated by the 65mm glowing backlit dial made from cut glass, set into the top surface. This acts as an enhanced volume control with a band of one hundred small LED lines that grow as the volume level is increased, with the Linn logo at the centre. It’s also a four-way controller that gives you quick access to source, balance, software updates, and more. It’s super smooth but does take more effort than you might first expect to use. There’s also an almost imperceptible row of six piano buttons on the front edge of the unit that can be programmed to perform various functions. Otherwise, the front of the unit is devoid of any other controls; most other needs are taken care of by the high-quality remote control or via Linn apps.
The front face features a paper-white OLED that looks very contemporary; it displays text but no album art. To the rear of the unit is a single unbalanced RCA input, plus provision for both MM and MC phono inputs and a raft of digital inputs including USB, and an HDMI audio return channel input for sound from a television. Being a Linn, there are Exakt Links for connection to Exakt-ready active Linn loudspeakers too.
Customers also get installation and set-up as part of their service from their Linn dealer. You’ll need a wired Ethernet connection because no Wi-Fi functionality is currently fitted. Your supplying dealer will use some clever Linn Space Optimisation configuration software which has DSP presets for over 400 loudspeakers, to minimise room/speaker matching issues. The system works very well, bringing noticeable improvements to the bass response without interfering with things further up the frequency spectrum. This software goes a long way to correct loudspeakers placed in non-ideal positions and in rooms that have issues like bass boom. There is also the ability to customise the frequency response with user settings. It’s very clever and a useful addition to the repertoire of features that add value to the Linn product mix.
Despite me meting out some seriously hard punishment, the Selekt DSM system never seemed stressed. Its remote control was a joy, with tactile buttons, and just the right balance in your hand. There are some nice inbuilt smarts that help you enjoy fuss-free music; for example, the Linn remembers your last inputs, and there’s a ‘Wake Display on Proximity Detection’ option which sensed me coming over to the unit to adjust something. Should the internet connection be lost, the Linn logo changes from white to red, signifying that something is amiss. Indeed the whole user experience is a pleasure.
The company recommends that you download and install the Linn Kazoo and Kazoo Server apps for controlling and setting up the Selekt DSM. Kazoo is available for iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows and Mac, with the Server version is especially suitable for QNAP NAS devices (Intel x86 versions). It offers the standard feature set found on most apps, as well as having the ability to control inputs and streaming accounts, like TIDAL, Qobuz, Spotify and TuneIn Radio. Kazoo operated flawlessly, and it’s simple enough for anyone to use – and there’s also seamless Roon integration too. I also used Linn Kinsky, which is an earlier app that also works with other UPnP compatible devices. You can also opt to use your own control app of choice from a list of third-party providers – such as BubbleDS, MinimServer, Asset UPnP, Twonky Media Server or Jamcast.
With the immense resources of Linn, you would expect the Selekt DSM to sound good, and so it does. With reasonably sensitive loudspeakers hooked up, it presents itself as a very high-quality playback device that would not feel out of school with loudspeakers worth tens of thousands of dollars. Although the manufacturer does not state the power output, the two-channel version is said to deliver 50W per channel into 8 ohm loads and 100W into half that. It uses Class D amplification of a unique Linn design, which enables the unit to put out serious power from a small box with limited cooling.
There was certainly enough grunt to drive my loudspeakers to high levels, with good control of the bass and no perceived distress. It sounded fast, clean and detailed, and was able to give a sense of the music glinting out of a black background, the notes starting and stopping really quickly. As with all Linn products in my experience, tonally it wasn’t exactly sumptuous – it sounds lean and agile rather than warm and fluffy.
Considering the type of unit we’re listening to here – a compact, stylish all-in-one box design – it punches way above its weight. It has fine dynamics and impressive detail resolution – especially in the digital domain where the high-grade Katalyst architecture really does its job very well. There is a total absence of background noise, with inter-track silences being just that.
As is Linn’s creed, the better the quality of the recording being played, the nicer it sounded through the Selekt DSM – lossless Tidal was clean and open with lots of detail and punch when called for. The Linn software found the hi-res music tracks on my NAS and played them back perfectly. Regardless of the type of music being played, it coped exceedingly well. It got down and boogied with dance music, conveyed the melancholy of blues and excited and raised the heartbeat playing rock’n’roll. The music’s emotional content was accurately conveyed, and there was enough transparency to allow instruments and vocals to stay distinct from one another.
I also spent some time with the unit in my bedroom connected to a 55-inch Samsung TV connected via the HDMI ARC, with absolutely no issues at all. It sounded fantastic and was a guilty pleasure having such a quality device to use in the bedroom. Yet such is the flexibility and small form factor of the Linn Selekt that it seemed natural to do so.
I do not see the Linn Selekt DSM being purchased with sound quality as one’s sole criterion; it won’t win a shoot-out between a similarly priced separate pre and power amplifier combination. But this is to miss the point – the little Linn is a jack of all trades, and does this elegantly. It’s a high-quality music streamer, DAC/preamp and integrated amplifier that gets on with the job without any fuss and with a load of style. So it’s not your average streaming integrated amplifier, rather the highly polished centrepiece of an entire entertainment system – one that is a timeless and tactile delight.
This product shows just where Linn is going – the company has an eye on its illustrious past, but its gaze is fixed firmly on the future. The Selekt DSM’s combination of superb ergonomics, high style, serious build quality and excellent sound – plus the modular approach – shows the way forward. It’s an expensive bit of gear alright, but you certainly don’t come away feeling cheated. Go on, spoil yourself, why don’t you?
For more information, visit Linn.
Related: Linn Factory Tour : Access All Areas
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.