The Linn Akurate DS has replaced my Cambridge Azur 840C CD Player and Logitech Squeezebox and is now my only audio player in the living room, feeding my NAD T785 amp through a Linn Silver interconnect, which somehow outperformed my old Van den Hul Jubilee cable. The move from Squeezebox to Linn Akurate is a huge jump in audio quality and detail, while the move from the Azur CD player to Akurate DS is a more subtle and very different kind of jump, resulting in a warmer, more coherent audio experience. It feels like there are layers in the music and the distinction between each layer is greater than before. The instruments have a place and don't interfere with each other, they play together in sweet harmony.
I have always sworn by CDs because they offered the best audio quality available, and scoffed at inferior quality MP3 downloads and streaming services. When I started this website a year and a half ago, I wrote that the only way to make me pay for a digital download of an album would be if someone created a lossless copy of the album master in a higher sound quality than a CD. With my recent discovery of HDTracks.com, my wish has come true and I felt an immediate urge to test this and see if I could hear any difference. I purchased Dream Theater's new self titled album both on CD and in the 24bit/96khz HDTracks version, as well as a few Rush albums from HDTracks, which I also have on CD. Over the course of ten years I have ripped my 1700+ CD collection three times, finally finding the right format and ripping method with the dBpoweramp ripper and the FLAC format.
HDTracks.com - Dream Theater and Rush
I set forth on my quest to compare the HDTracks releases with my CD rips, namely the new Dream Theater album and Rush's Grace Under Pressure. I started with Dream Theater and was astounded that I could clearly hear a difference. My lossless FLAC CD rip felt too aggressive and lacking in detail and warmth compared to the HDTracks 24bit/96khz release. I compared the opening of The Enemy Within several times and found a great distinction. It is most clearly evident in the drum work and the cymbals, which have extra detail and a certain finesse, but overall the HDTracks release has a sound where each instrument is balanced, compared to my CD rip where the instruments seem to struggle for place in the sound. I found the CD release to be much louder than the HDTracks version and that may have something to do with the unbalanced feel of the instruments in the CD's sound. Verdict: The winner is clearly Dream Theater's HDTracks release. I had honestly hoped for a different outcome, since now, I know that I will be purchasing Hi-res releases in the future whenever possible and i will lose the physical enjoyment of a CD. But for me there is no question; I will always favor the best audio quality.
Next up was Rush's Grace Under Pressure. I have the 1997 remaster and recently purchased Sector 3 from HDTracks where the album is included, The differences in sound between the two are more subtle but they are clearly there. On the HDTracks version, the cymbals have more punch and better distinction. The vocals are clearer and overall the sound feels slightly more balanced. The differences are less audible than on the Dream Theater release but enough to make me prefer the HDTracks release.
CD's and FLAC's
After this Hi-res adventure, I continued with my favorite songs playlist, made up of 1700+ carefully chosen songs. This confirmed what I had experienced when I heard the Linn Akurate DS for the first time; My existing CDs somehow got a new life through this player. It is quite hard to explain but the player makes the music feel as if I can reach out and touch it. There is a coherence and a balance to the overall audio experience that was missing previously. This resulted in some amazing moments as the hours went by. I discovered a strain in Jim Stenman's voice during Bad For Good when he went deep during the last part of the song. When Dream Theater's The Spirit Carries On began, I was transported to another place and time. I experienced an incredible sense of closeness in the music and the vocals suddenly felt personal. Legion, from Saviour Machine's debut took on a whole new life as the music opened up and seemed to offer an embrace. This song was also an example of the Akurate DS's unforgiving nature, showcasing the shortcomings of a production as well as emphasizing its greatness; evident in Eric Clayton's voice which had a severe lisp, as if it had been compressed too much. Don't You Forget me by Simple Minds showcased a timing I have never before noticed. The whole song just seemed to flow differently from what I had heard before. This was carried through to Gamma Ray's Watcher in the Sky and many other songs, where I noticed a flow I had not felt before.
With each new song, I looked up, smiled, toasted the stereo and enjoyed the new experience.
Or maybe I should say retro experience, since I experienced a feeling of reliving the discovery of each old album I heard. It is hard to explain but it was pretty damn amazing. I've listened to Queensrÿche's Rage For Order countless times, since my discovery of said album in the early nineties, but when I Dream in Infrared came on, I was taken back to my youth and remembered that unique feeling again. Virgin Steele's Wings of Vengeance suddenly had a deep sense of urgency to it, something I have not noticed before, yet it suits the song perfectly. The Beach Boys' California Dreamin' showcased the coherence and flow I talked about earlier, while Stiltskin's She had an extra punch to the drums and guitar. Hugo's So Many Tears had an incredible sense of closeness in its opening moments but also showcased the overproduction of his voice. Enuff Z'Nuff's lacking production on Dissonance also reared its head but their groove was emphasized as well. Tori Amos' voice on Girl from her debut suddenly had a strange digital feeling, an almost robotic tinge, A Trace of Blood from Pain of Salvation's Remedy Lane had a huge sound, mixing the elaborate details of the song with new clarity, making room for both guitar and piano.
The Phantom Opera Ghost by Iced Earth had an incredible tightness and sounded perfect, the drums in particular had a fantastic sound. Shadow Gallery's I Believe brought chills in its opening moments as the music felt so much bigger than what I remembered. Tori Amos' Curtain Call had details and an instrument way at the back of the sound, I had never noticed before. Accept's Russian Roulette was given extra punch. A Touch of Blessing by Evergrey gently eased me into its embrace before blasting away with drums and guitar. Streettalk's Responsible was an exercise in harmonic bliss and I naturally had to sing along. Mind Games by Eternity X opened with softly caressing acoustic guitars and a feel I had not caught previously. Queen's We are The Champions had a great flow and Sieges Even's Behind Closed Doors was a joy to listen to due to its exquisite drum sound and details both in drums and cymbals,which stood out like never before. Damian Wilson's Disciple had an unmatched sense of closeness in the vocals and in Virgin Steele's Forever Will I Roam, the acoustic guitar stood out with a thick, warm feeling.
Redemption's Love Kills Us all/Life In One Day ended a most interesting day of music on a high note.
The Linn Akurate DS plays the losslessly ripped digital versions of my CD's much better than my Cambridge CD player and in addition to that it plays high resolution music with a distinctly sweet lift in quality. I miss replaygain support and an official Windows Phone 8 control app but hopefully those are on the horizon.
My first impression of the Linn Akurate DS is that it really likes acoustic music, excels in bringing a sense of closeness to the music, creates a clearer distinction between instruments and best of all, brings a sublime timing to music, no matter the genre. It has made listening to my CD collection an exciting experience in many respects. So many "Wow!" moments were scattered over this day that I am quite impressed. I expect a long and prosperous relationship.
With so much praise, you would be forgiven to think that I have been paid for writing this "sort of" review or that I would be serving some need for justifying my purchase, but in all reality, this is simply about my pure enjoyment of music on a new level and the hope that someone out there can use this to guide you towards that same fulfillment.
The Akurate DS stirs my urge to sing along to nearly everything it plays. I can listen to this system all day, and I just did. Yay!
Update - April 12, 2014
After living with this new system for 4 months, I am no less enthusiastic about it. Every time I sit down to listen it feels like rediscovering music I already know by heart, and that is pretty amazing. I am constantly surprised by the new sound stage, the depth and multiple layers suddenly showing themselves where they weren't before. What I also find very interesting is the fact that the quality of each album's production now stands out much more clearly. The experience is completely different from what I had before. And I am talking about my regular CD's in FLAC format here, not high resolution music. I simply don't understand how the Linn Akurate DS can make everything sound so much more natural. It is some kind of magic.
The high resolution music I have bought from HDTracks raises the bar even further and I now hope and pray that every band will use this way of releasing high resolution versions (24bit/192kHz) of their music as soon as possible. I would still prefer a physical release as opposed to a download, where the hi-res files were available on a media of some form. This would make it possible to have artwork, lyrics and other things included and the packaging would have infinite possibilities as the shape would not be limited by a CD. A downloadable PDF is just not very exciting. Another problem with the current state of affairs is that it's too damn expensive to buy everything in high resolution. The price at HDTracks is very steep.
But for me, there is no doubt; High resolution music and digital network music streamers is the future.
Written By Steen
Online: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Updated: Saturday, April 5, 2014 - Added the April update