Building the “ultimate” head-fi setup can be a game of trial-and-error - finding the right combination of digital-to-analogue converter and amplifier to pair with your headphones can often take years of journeying through various gear (and researching gear forums!) until you eventually find that magic synergy that resonates with both your listening preferences, as well as your favourite headphones. And then, once you think you’ve settled on your “endgame” rig, restlessness will invariably creep in as you wonder whether you’re actually treating your ever-more-discerning ears to the absolute best musical reproduction possible.
Headphone audiophiles are possibly even more fickle and critical than their two-channel counterparts, and I think that’s because when you have a pair of drivers sat only a couple of centimetres from your ears you tend to pick up on the minutiae of subtleties that changing any part of your audio chain imparts. It’s no wonder then that you can easily spend more than a few hours weeding through community forums with arguments raging over what DAC chip or amplifier topology reigns supreme when it comes to a pair of particular obscure headphones…and then find yourself even more confused than ever.
dCS Audio, hailing from Cambridge in the U.K, has been producing cutting-edge digital audio products since their inception back in 1987. You know, the kind of cutting-edge digital audio products that make you want to work much harder at your career so you can afford to have the pleasure of having them sitting in your listening room - a mere mention of names like “Vivaldi” and “Rossini” are enough to instantly evoke equal feelings of desire and jealousy among any seasoned audiophile.
After tempting more head-fi-inclined audiophiles with the addition of an inbuilt headphone amplifier into their “Bartok” all-in-one DAC/streamer/preamp, dCS went back to the drawing board to develop the ultimate system for the particular needs of headphone listeners. Or in their words, “...the definitive system for headphone playback: a system that reveals the full potential of your chosen headphones, plus the full breadth of detail, artistry and emotion in your music”.
The result? Something pretty remarkable, and something which caught my attention like no other when I first caught wind of its launch announcement. Fast forward to a few weeks later, and I had to pinch myself when I learned that I was able to have the absolute privilege of being able to spend some time with the newest dCS audio system to help give you, the reader, an idea of what it’s like to live with and what it’s like to listen to what is undoubtedly the greatest headphone listening experience yet devised.
Introducing the dCS Lina System
Rather than creating a “one-box” solution, dCS has developed their new Lina “System” comprising no fewer than three separate elements which all work in unison to help realise dCS’s vision of a definitive headphone playback system: the $20000 dCS Lina Network Streaming DAC, the $11500 dCS Lina Master Clock, and the $14300 dCS Lina Headphone Amplifier. Each can be preordered now separately from Addicted To Audio, and each will perform brilliantly as a standalone device in your listening setup in their respective roles. However, the Lina DAC, Master Clock and Headphone Amplifier are most definitely intended to be matched together as one Lina “System” for one brilliantly matched and perfectly synergised solution for headphone enjoyment.
Unboxing and setting up the dCS Lina System
Arriving in three suitably large individual boxes, the Lina System feels very much like a serious high-end and comprehensive end-to-end audio solution the minute the (considerable) package lands on your doorstep. The three “LINA”-labelled boxes housing the DAC, Master Clock and Headphone amplifier look suitably fancy and would probably feel appropriate for the transportation of Fabergé Eggs.
Lifting the lid off each box presents you with a leather-bound instruction manual, which I suggest wading through before attempting to connect the three units together and trying to get them to work - particularly in the case of the Lina DAC, which is quite the complex and featured unit.
Each of the three units are discretely powered with an IEC feeding their internal power supplies, and each share the same longer-rather-than-wider rectangular dimensions, with their outer chassis being made of an appropriate solid black billeted aluminium that exudes quality the moment you (veeeery gently) lift them out of their foam enclosures. Each Lina unit is well-supplied with an array of power, digital, analogue and network cables to help combine the three Lina units into the super-Voltron that is the Lina System.
Being three free-standing units, the Lina System can be arrayed either side-by-side, or stacked into a “tower” - dCS recommends having the Network DAC on the top, the Headphone Amplifier on the bottom, and the Master Clock sandwiched in-between. Given that headphone enjoyment is (mostly) a desktop pursuit, I think that most Lina System owners will opt to have them stacked to allow for more desktop real estate, and that’s the way that I had it setup during my review time. The Lina System “stack” looks all business when positioned in its vertical arrangement - it’s not blingy or shouty, it just looks extremely capable and purposeful when parked on my desktop, towering far above any other audio gear I have on hand. You certainly feel like you’re getting your money’s worth in terms of sheer hardware alone with this 25-odd kilogram dark, brooding spire.
Getting the Lina System setup is a ten-minute job at most, and is reasonably straightforward thanks to the comprehensive instructions provided by dCS. Connecting the DAC to the Headphone Amplifier is a case of connecting them via the pair of supplied XLR cables (you can also connect them via single-ended RCA cables, but this is obviously less than ideal), and connecting the DAC with the Master Clock is done by connecting two BNC digital cables between the two units. You also have the option of linking each Lina unit together with the “Power Link” cables - these RJ45 connections which allow you to connect the Lina DAC to both the Master Clock and Headphone Amplifier (via their similar inputs) to act as a “trigger” that turns all units in the Lina System on/off at the same time rather than switching them on/off individually.
The last input on the Lina DAC is for connecting a network cable to hooking it up to a wifi router for it to perform its “network” duties. I must point out that the Lina DAC is not wifi streaming-enabled, and so will require you to park it within an ethernet cable’s worth of distance from your router. Wifi and Bluetooth streaming are considered to be “table stakes” for many modern digital audio devices, but I figure that the Lina System is intended to be a no-compromise headphone listening solution and so dCS has eschewed going down the path of adding wifi connectivity so as to ensure that the most stable and reliable source connection is given to the Lina DAC, minus the potential interference of wifi signals. As for Bluetooth…well you don’t really want to go to all the trouble of obtaining this kind of superlative listening system merely to feed it with a lossy signal…right?
Once the Lina DAC has established a connection with your home network, this allows you to stream via the following services and protocols:
- Internet Radio
- Apple AirPlay 2 (support at 44.1 or 48kS/s)
Streaming and general device management for the Lina DAC is managed via dCS’s “Mosaic” companion device management app for iOS and Android, which provides playback control via integrated Deezer/Tidal/Qobuz as well as for local files via UPnP and storage devices connected via USB. Mosaic also provides input selection, DAC filter, crossfeed, upsampling, and screen brightness control (and more) at the touch/swipe of a thumb, meaning you’ll never need to get a fingerprint on the screen of your nice new Lina DAC (don’t worry, dCS provides a nice microfibre cloth for that eventuality!). dCS have also made sure the Lina System is future-proofed courtesy of future firmware updates, which will also be managed via the Mosaic app.
When connected to your home wifi network, I found it was also possible to use the Tidal and Spotify apps to stream directly to the Lina DAC, which was recognised as a Tidal/Spotify Connect source. I had no such joy with the Qobuz app, although when I added my account credentials into the Mosaic app I was easily able to stream my favourite artists and playlists using the app’s straightforward and intuitive navigation.
The Lina DAC is a fully “Roon Ready” device, meaning you have full streaming control of the device when connected to the same network as your Roon Core. I’m a massive Roon fan and use it daily as my main control “hub” when playing digital music - it manages my local FLAC and DSD library along with my saved Qobuz and Tidal music, and seamlessly collates it via Roon’s brilliantly curated user interface. If you’re not a Roon user, you might want to think about it if you’re getting your hands on a streaming DAC of the calibre of the Lina DAC, but the Mosaic app is no slouch when it comes to managing streaming playback and ought to have you well covered in that regard.
dCS Lina Network DAC
At the heart of the new Lina Network DAC lies dCS’ signature “Ring DAC” and Digital Processing Platform. “dCS” and “Ring DAC” are somewhat synonymous with one another - their proprietary digital architecture that doesn’t quite fit neatly into the usual “Ladder” versus “Chip”-based DAC dichotomy. While the Ring DAC features a series of resistors for each current source like many “ladder” DACs, the way dCS digital products go about decoding 1’s and 0’s is quite different, and rather technical - and so I think it’s better that I let them explain this part:
“There is a latch and a resistor for each current source, and these current sources are fed to a summing bus. The key difference between the Ring DAC and Ladder DACs, however, is that the Ring DAC uses current sources of equal value. This is what is known as a ‘unitary weighted’ or ‘thermometer coded’ DAC architecture. Additionally, the Ring DAC does not use the same current source(s) for the same bit every time. The Ring DAC is based around a set of latches, all of which are turned on and off at high speeds to produce an equal amount of current. The FPGA on the Ring DAC employs a sophisticated mapping algorithm to turn sources on and off in such a way that any component value errors are averaged out over time. Given that any combination of current sources can be fired for any bit in the Ring DAC, the error generated is completely unrelated to the audio signal; it is decorrelated. This decorrelation means that any errors are randomised and converted to white noise. This approach reduces distortion to vanishingly low levels, avoiding the nonlinearities that can obscure low-level details that are so important in our understanding of a musical event.”
This DAC implementation allows dCS Ring DACs to shine thanks to low noise and distortion, low jitter, and a wide bandwidth. While this might all seem like an exceptionally complex way to decode a digital file into an analogue signal (and it is), dCS’ intent is to recreate music in a way that’s utterly faithful to the source, with no added colouration whatsoever. Further to this, dCS has included some extra tricks in their Lina Network DAC which are designed to give headphone listeners further customisation power and listening options. “dCS Expanse” is the name of their headphone processing platform, which offers a comprehensive crossfeed functionality that is managed in the digital domain and which specifically aims to maintain the sense of reverberation in a recording to help keep imaging and spatial cues intact.
The 2,000+ individual components that go into creating the Network DAC have had to be squeezed into the more compact Lina chassis using a “flex-rigid” circuit board, which keeps each of the Network DAC’s features arrayed onto a single circuit board (and hence an intact signal path) which saving space. It’s a stunning achievement not only of electronic engineering, but also one of industrial design - I highly recommend watching this short “making of” video to get a sense of the technology, craft, and sheer genius that has gone into the design of the Lina System:
While the Lina Network DAC is intended for Network and streaming playback (as its name suggests), it includes a bevy of “standard” digital connection options, namely the following (as well as their filetype/bitrate capabilities):
- 2 x AES/EBU on 3 pin XLR 44.1-384kS/s
- 1 x S/PDIF BNC Coax 44.1-192kS/s
- 1 x S/PDIF on RCA 44.1-192kS/s
- 1 x Toslink 44.1-96kS/s
- 1 x USB Type B 44.1-384kS/s, PCM and DSD, DSDx2 in Async Mode
- 1 x USB Type A connector for mass storage devices (navigated using the companion dCS Mosaic app)
In terms of analogue outputs, the Network DAC features a pair of single-ended RCA as well as a pair of XLR balanced outputs for connection to the Lina Headphone Amplifier, or any other amplifier, for that matter. Seeing as I had such a brilliant DAC (and Master Clock) sitting on my desk during my review time with the Lina System, I also used it as a digital source with my two-channel system and the results were expectedly excellent. The analogue output voltage of the Network DAC is also switchable between .2V, .6V, 2V or 6V for pairing with a range of amplifiers and headphones with differing sensitivities.
If you want to get a little more “hands on” with the Lina DAC, all device controls (bar streaming navigation) can be managed via the four touch-screen “buttons” on the front display screen of the device. It’s a pretty simple and intuitive system and I found that changing sources and settings was dead simple. The four buttons on the screen by default manage source selection, crossfeed on/off, crossfeed “Expanse” settings, and “menu”, although you can reconfigure these to keep your most used settings a press away at all times.
As for the screen itself, the LED “face” of the Lina DAC keeps you informed about what input, digital filter and clock settings are used as well as the bit/sample rate of the music being played. When streaming, the track and artist name as well as the track progression time are also displayed. It’s a reasonably good-looking and helpful display, and is thankfully fairly subtle - you can also dim the screen to your liking via the on-screen or in-app controls.
As I mentioned earlier, the two BNC inputs on its rear that allow for connectivity to the Lina Master Clock via the supplied cables that are supplied with the Lina Master Clock. The Lina DAC can certainly operate as a very capable DAC without being hooked up to the Master Clock, and yes - you’d be correct in saying that it already has its own internal clock for helping to minimise “jitter”, the variations in frequency that can cause a loss of fine detail in music. The Lina DAC has three clock settings to help manage keep unwanted jitter at bay: “Master” allows the Lina DAC to control data delivered via network or USB sources bu itself; “Audio” locks on to the data stream being sent from SPDIF or AES digital sources; and “Word Clock” locks onto the data stream from an external clock - in this instance, the Lina Master Clock.
Lina Master Clock
I’ll let you in on a secret - I’ve never once thought about the need for have a dedicated “Master Clock” in my audio chain, and until I started reading about the Lina Master Clock I would have struggled to articulate precisely what they are, and how they can create an audible benefit when it comes to your enjoyment of music. On the other hand, dCS certainly understands the importance of a Master Clock when it comes to fastidiously extracting those final few percentages of performance from digital audio, having spent the past 30+ years building them, and they and have deemed the addition of an external clock to be necessary when it comes to completing the entire Lina System, and they believe it can and will create a “significant sonic benefit” to your listening experience.
So what does a clock do, exactly? Well, in layman's terms, they essentially “keep time” if you will. If you think of the audio signals that come into a DAC as arriving at a particular “rhythm” - say 44.1kHz or 48kHz per second, a Master Clock essentially acts as a “conductor” - providing a precise and stable reference to match the incoming audio signal to, and thereby avoiding jitter that would otherwise be arriving at an incorrect speed. dCS has created the Lina Master Clock as a separate unit so as to avoid unwanted interference and crosstalk from other components, and to ensure that the two internal crystal oscillators can produce a precise clocking reference for all the audio formats and frequencies that the Lina DAC is compatible with (pretty much all of them!).
The reason the Lina Master Clock has two separate crystal oscillators is that each one of them is “clocked” to a specific sample speed - in this case, 44.1kHz and 48kHz. When music arrives at that sample rate, or a direct multiple thereof - for instance 44.1kHz x 4 = 176.4kHz, or 48kHz x 4 = 191kHz - the Lina Master Clock allows the Lina DAC’s own internal clock system to lock onto the master signal being sent from one of the two BNC cables for an even more precise audio signal…and therefore greater musical fidelity.
Needless to say, the crystal oscillators need to be incredibly precise to warrant the use of a separate device over and above the internal clock inside the Lina DAC. How precise? dCS claims that the clock signal is accurate to > +/-1 part per million. Inside the Lina Master Clock, each crystal oscillator is “oven-controlled” to ensure that their performance remains consistent and unaffected by changes in external conditions and temperatures. In operation, the Lina Master Clock runs dead silent, and only a slight warmth when switched on plus the “W1” or “W2” symbol appearing on the screen of the Lina DAC (depending on the sample rate) lets you know that it’s working away hard in the background to keep the Lina DAC working in perfect time.
dCS Lina Headphone Amplifier
The last component, but certainly not the least considering that it’s the part that actually makes your headphones “go”, is the Lina Headphone Amplifier. The amp uses a Class AB design, and builds upon dCS’ experience that they gleaned from the development of their Bartok headphone amplifier. As their first ever standalone headphone amplifier, dCS developed this all-new design to work as either a separate amp within an existing head-fi system, or (ideally!) as a core component within the Lina System. dCS explains that they opted for a Class AB design to combine the linearity and fidelity of Class A with the lower heat and efficiency of a Class B design, and so they developed a unique DC servo system with “novel error correction” to allow for a maximum fidelity in the signal path and correct incoming voltage.
With a maximum balanced output of 2 Watts into a 30-ohm load (and 0.48 Watts into a 300-ohm load), a super-low output impedance of less than 0.09-ohms and two gain settings, the Lina Headphone Amplifier has been designed to perform with a wide range of headphones, from the most sensitive IEMs right up to difficult-to-drive planars without any colouration or distortion. dCS explains that their philosophy behind the Lina Headphone Amplifier was to create “perfect neutrality”, revealing the true characteristics of any pair of headphones while delivering power, grip, and a dynamic performance - irrespective of a headphone’s load or sensitivity.
Connecting my extremely sensitive 10-ohm CIEMs into the balanced XLR output of the Lina Headphone Amplifier via a 2.5mm adapter I could only detect the absolute faintest hint of a background noise-floor, which became immediately inaudible the moment I started playing music. This noise was undetectable using the 6.3mm single-ended output, which has a slightly lower maximum power output of 1.6 Watts into 30-ohms and 0.2 Watts into 300-ohms, and using both outputs I was able to confirm a dead neutral tuning with my familiar CIEMs without any hint of bass-bloat nor any frequency dips/peaks that can rear their heads with a change in output impedance - a quick test confirmed the Lina Headphone amp simply delivers glorious clarity, well-controlled bass and terrific detail and micro-dynamics. But, more on how the Lina System sounds shortly.
dCS has equipped their Lina Headphone amplifier with three output options on its front panel - a standard 6.3mm single-ended output, a single four-pin balanced XLR output plus dual three-pin balanced XLR outputs for those of you with fancy aftermarket cables. The Lina Headphone Amplifier sports a large volume wheel which is a traditional analogue potentiometer. It has excellent “knob-feel” and feels great to use, with a nice linear action. On the underside of the volume knob is a two-way gain switch, with low and high settings for pairing with more sensitive and harder-to-drive headphones respectively.
The Lina Headphone Amplifier sports three pairs of analogue inputs - a standard RCA unbalanced input, an “unbuffered” balanced XLR input, intended for pairing with the Lina DAC, plus a “buffered” XLR input with a higher output impedance of 96-ohms for pairing with different audio sources. Input selection is managed via a small button underneath the front panel of the amp, which lights up the front LED white (unbuffered XLR), magenta (RCA), or blue (buffered) accordingly. Preamplifier outputs are conspicuously missing on the Lina Headphone Amplifier - this beast is intended purely to be used for driving headphones. I can respect dCS’ single-mindedness here, and perhaps the addition of a preamp circuit may have degraded the Lina’s headphone performance, but if you want to hook up the Lina to a two-channel system or a pair of powered monitors you’ll need to control the volume elsewhere with a separate device.
Listening to the dCS Lina
As someone who’s been fortunate enough to listen to plenty of top-tier gear as an audio reviewer, I do have a higher benchmark than most when it comes to assessing hifi equipment. When most things sound “good”, or even “excellent”, it does tend to temper your expectations somewhat when you approach a new piece of gear, even one with the superb lineage and specifications (as well as the daunting price tag) of the dCS Lina System. I expected the Lina to sound “excellent”, but just not quite as “head-and-shoulders-above-everything-else, excellent” as it quickly revealed itself to be after only a listening to couple of tracks with it.
I won’t be so cavalier as to say that it’s “like seeing a 4K image for the first time after only seeing 1080p”, but the Lina really is unlike anything I’ve used to listen to headphones with. The Lina gives you an uncanny sense of clarity, depth, and overall correctness that not only provides you with more apparent detail on the surface (and everywhere else in-between), but it just makes music feel, well, more real. To go back to the TV analogy again, it’s a bit like watching a 60 frames-per-second video when you didn’t know that your settings have been changed over from the standard 25/30 fps. You know something’s different - in a good way - and while you’re not quite sure how it’s managed to happen, you realise that you don’t want to ever go back over to the old way of doing things again.
As excellent as the Lina Headphone Amplifier is, the DAC really is the star of the show here. Listening with my Sennheiser HD800s, the headphones I trust most to tell what’s “really going on” in my source chain, and with which I’m used to hearing an extremely diffuse soundstage with far more modest source gear, The Lemonhead’s stripped-back acoustic cover of Round Here not only sounded but felt absolutely vivid. There is such a deft rendering around the edges of each individual vocal track and guitar strum that you feel like you can almost reach out there and grab it. Music isn’t just presented left to right with the Lina System, it’s densely and richly layered, and if you close your eyes you can picture where each echo of a plucked string, a cymbal strike or a backup vocalist is laid out on a giant stage in front, around, and even above you.
I won’t try and bother what sort of “tonality” the Lina System has, because it genuinely doesn’t have one to speak of. It’s one of the few times that I’ve felt like the gear absolutely gets out of the way and places you at the dead-centre of a track, with only the individual characteristics of your favourite headphones left to pick up the slack and do their job. “Perfectly neutral”? I’d have to say “yes” on that front. It’s not a “flat” sound though, per se - no, the Lina System has dynamics, engagement, and excitement aplenty.
Default by Atoms For Peace is as complex and multi-faceted as test tracks come, and it shows off the Lina’s uncanny ability to adroitly step through lightning-fast transients and rapidly fire-off perfectly rendered staccato notes. Listening with the Audeze LCD-5, I felt as though I was in a sound-field that reminded me of sitting in the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History - the image clarity and definition is simply off the charts. The Lina Headphone Amplifier is a superb match for Audeze’s flagship planar, and in high gain it barely needs to reach 8:30 on the volume wheel to unleash all the resolving and dynamic glory that the LCD-5 is capable of mustering when paired with superb source gear.
This felt like a good opportunity to hear what it’s like to add/remove the Lina Master Clock from proceedings, and how this affected the sound. I was prepared for it to be practically unnoticeable (a bit like when changing a digital filter setting, for example), but the difference is most certainly audible - and noticeably improved with the Master Clock keeping tempo. By simply switching off the Master Clock, or changing the Clock setting in the Lina DAC from “Word Clock” to “Master”, you can immediately A/B between having the Lina Master Clock engaged or not. With the Master Clock disengaged, things sound a little “flatter”. Thom Yorke’s vocals step back into a more smeared mix with the other notes, there’s less definition around the edges of notes that have a less-pronounced sense of attack. Overall, the Lina Master Clock gives the Lina System an added dose of incisiveness and clarity, and ultimately that’s what sets the Lina System apart from other headphone systems. Yes, the Lina Master Clock is by no means a cheap “accessory” to add on to a top-tier DAC and headphone amplifier, but if you have any of the Lina products in your short-list then you’re not exactly mucking around - you’re chasing after every last scrap of fidelity and engagement, and that’s exactly what it does.
Changing pace for a moment with a 24-bit/192kHz Qobuz stream of Beck’s Lonesome Tears, the Lina System gave me easily the closest “look” into this recording that I’ve ever heard with the LCD-5. The sheer “drama” in the string section made it feel like a live performance, and I realised for the first time that an individual track that I thought was a clarinet was in fact a synth (and I’m a clarinet player!). The timbre and dynamics in Nigel Godrich’s subtle percussion is wonderfully palpable, and you’re able to hear every subtle inflection in Beck’s voice as well as the emotion that it conveys. The Lina allows every instrumental part in the excellent arrangement is given the opportunity to shine - even during the wild cacophony in the crescendo at the end of the track.
While not “technically” an acoustic recording in the purest sense, Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill (Acoustic) album is a far more intimate and bare-bones take on her 1995 globe-stomping juggernaut, and shows off a much softer side of all the emotion and personality that she poured into the original studio version. A stream of the 192kHz Tidal MQA version felt like an appropriate way to see how the Lina System would fare with the notoriously fickle HIFIMAN Susvara, and whether the 2 Watts of Class AB power would provide the “oomph” they need to sing. During track #1, All I Really Want I got the immediate impression that the Susvara was sounding a little soft and lacking impact with the Lina. I then remembered that I had the Lina DAC’s output set to 2V by default, and a quick nudge of it up to 6V seemed to give the Lina Headphone Amplifier the added pep to help the Susvara sound more like what it’s capable of, and meant turning down the volume knob from about 10:30 to 9 o’clock.
The reverbed vocals and piano on Perfect sounded - yep - pretty much perfect over the Susvara, with brilliant organic texture and decay. The acoustic guitar in You Learn was crisp and shone with a nice crystalline texture, and the bass guitar and drum parts were deliciously taut and dynamic - even at lower volume which was interesting, as I find the Susvara usually needs quite a nudge of volume to start performing at its dynamic best. The lightning-fast snare snap on my favourite track on the album, Not The Doctor, had all the hallmarks of having a drum kit in front of me on the front stage - drums are hard to do convincingly, especially when under-driving the Susvara, but absolute full marks here to the Lina System for sheer immersion and bringing the “live/acoustic” feeling to life.
While perhaps not as accomplished as the aforementioned flagship headphones, my Grado GH1s remains among the higher-rotating headphones in my collection thanks to its raw energy, spades of detail and ability to bring instruments and vocals to life in an unmistakable life. While the Lina System is most certainly intended for pairing with the upper-echelons of the headphone world, I knew from the moment the piano joined the bass and drum intro of Radioheads A Punchup At A Wedding that the Lina System was bringing out the best performance that my GH1s have ever managed to date. While perhaps not delivering the same treat of layered imaging and immersion as with the LCD-5, the GH1 overdelivered on the same kind of visceral dynamics and unmistakable analogue sound of vocals and instruments that you’d expect from being in the room with the band.
I don’t tend to use crossfeed in general headphone listening, but can certainly appreciate its benefits with particular recordings or when listening can become a little fatiguing. I chose the 24-bit/192kHz Qobuz version of Pink Floyd’s Meddle to test out of the crossfeed and “Expanse” settings. The Grado GH1 can become a little “spicy” after an hour or two of listening, and engaging the crossfeed circuit certainly help rein in the some of the overly aggressive left/right panning with a softer, more focused “in head” effect. Engaging the two “Expanse” settings had an interesting effect - rather than simply “blurring” things together in the centre, it seemed to open things up into an airier, more resonant space without actually exaggerating the width of the stereo image. I suspect that it will come down to the individual preferences on the listener whether you choose to keep it on or not, but I’d highly recommend giving trying it out with different headphones and recordings.
I’ll be honest and say that I was initially a little daunted reviewing the highly anticipated and intimidatingly-specified Lina System to give the reader an honest and comprehensive idea of a) what it’s like to live with, and b) how it actually sounds. However, after overcoming the brief learning curve to understand how to operate and get the best out the three components in the Lina System, from there, all I had to do was relax and simply enjoy listening to my favourite music on my favourite headphones - the Lina System certainly “wows” from a technical sense, but it also happens to sound bloody addictive.
I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I’ll be sending the Lina DAC, Master Clock and Headphone Amp back at the end of this review, and so I’m tempted to uncover more features and pull out more headphone simply to keep the Lina System stacked on my desk - it really is a revelatory headphone listening experience. Thankfully, dCS has coupled the Lina System’s marvellous sound with a terrific user interface and a great app. It’s ready to play music pretty much straight out of the box, and when you do you’re going to want to play music on it as much as you can - it’s that good.
So, does the Lina System represent good “value”? It’s a hard question to answer, and it come down to whether you want to go “all in” on headphone listening. On one hand, you can look at the three Lina devices and think of all the other audio gear that you’re never going to need to buy again, and then try and do the maths in your head. But that’s a bit of a boring game. I think it’s better to think of the dCS Lina as a downpayment on a lifetime of unadulterated musical enjoyment - and I could very happily pack my speakers away in my cupboard if the dCS Lina were to find a permanent space on my desktop.
It’s a nice feeling knowing that you’re getting the absolute best possible performance and the clearest connection to your favourite artists each and every time you sit down to enjoy music, without a care in the world. Worries = eliminated. And you can’t put a price on that.