From its headquarters west of Munich, Lindeman has become a leading international audio brand, not least for its streaming technology. The man behind the company is founder Norbert Lindemann; he’s already received countless awards for his various designs over some thirty years, and has now launched something that many of us have been waiting for. Not just a steaming DAC but, for the first time from his hand, one with a built-in amplifier. The Musicbook Combo is launched as an all-in-one audio system, just add speakers and you’re ready to roll.
Being such a stylish and compact unit, the MusicBook Combo really doesn’t need to sit on a conventional hi-fi rack. Living up to its name, its book-sized proportions mean it would be well-sited alongside/under a TV since it takes up very little room and, running in Class D, does not get very hot in use.
What we have here is the Lindemann flagship series combined into a chic-looking single case, milled from solid aluminium block, complete with high-res network player and D/A converter, digital and analogue inputs including an MM phono stage, plus a Class A headphone amp (which isn’t at all shabby) along with amplification to power even quite demanding loudspeakers, as I discovered.
The device is Roon ready (to work with a Roon core) multi-room capable, and offers numerous streaming services such as Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, Qobuz and HighResAudio. Dual antennae ensure high data rates, even in wireless mode. PC style external CD drives can be integrated via USB.
For those who like details, the Combo caters for streaming via UPnP/DLNA from music servers (NAS) and storage media (hard disc, USB stick), each via LAN or WLAN at up to 384 kHz/24bit and DSD 256. Bluetooth support is according to codecs SBC/AAC although I was surprised not to see aptX high-definition offered here, but one can’t have everything. There will probably be others moaning that there’s no provision for moving coil cartridges.
Also surprising was the relative lack of digital inputs: just one coaxial and one optical are provided, but then Lindemann know their market and need to cater for vinyl users so internal space is taken-up with a phono stage.
Lindemann has opted for the innovative Hypex N-Core Class D modules which incorporate MosFET transistors and avoid the limitations of Class AB power amplifiers in compact applications, not least low-power efficiency and excessive heat generation (even at moderate power outputs).
With the Hypex multi-level Class D audio amplifier circuit technology it has been possible to improve power consumption while reducing electromagnetic interference and out-of-band noise. Manufacturing costs are also reduced by eliminating, or at least minimizing, the need for filters, helping to save design space. The result is a smaller, cooler and lighter product that points toward the future of hi-fi.
Decoding is down to a pair of DAC chips from AKM working in dual-differential mode, one per channel. The re-sampler used is from the same source and can be activated, at will, to implement a DSD mode such that all digital signals are converted into DSD256. While it’s not possible to ‘add digits’ that do not exist in the original file, this process is intended to create a sonic improvement.
Operation of the Combo is straightforward and can be achieved using the supplied IR remote, but to access everything use of Lindemann’s own app is essential (iOS, Android) which allows for selection of internet radio stations. The app also automatically-opens Connected streaming service apps (Tidal, Spotify) to make track selection an absolute synch.
Internet radio can be just magical and I enjoyed the superb quality that BBC Radio 3 offers of 320kbps with MPEG 4 AAC encoding. This is in stark contrast to some of the pop stations, such as Radio 1, which can manage just 128kbps, while Radio 4 relies on AAC encoding for its mostly speech service. It was also a delight to access Linn Classical (320kbps) with an endless stream of wonderful music.
I use an all-in-one streamer/DAC/amp on a daily basis and, of late, have enjoyed both the Hegel H190 and the Atoll Signature ST200. Each has its shortcomings over what would make ‘the perfect’ product for me. I am not keen that the Hegel, while designed in Norway, is actually made in the Far East although appreciate that this helps to keep the price down. It also lacks a digital output and an easy way to access internet radio, partly because it does not have a proprietary control app. The Atoll, on the other hand, makes it difficult to access Apple Music which is a pain because all my music is stored in the iCloud music library – don’t ask me why, it seemed convenient at the time and it’s are all there now.
When the unit arrived, I was using a pair of Sonus faber Olympica Nova 1 standmount loudspeakers and could not resist connecting the Musicbook Combo. Wow, the results were an instant upgrade over the Class A/B amplifier I had been using. The speakers really came to life to reveal a hitherto hidden timing ability. The sound remained as refined and natural as it was before, but now with added gusto which got my previously dormant feet tapping involuntarily.
The Italian units having been returned I was left with my trusty Harbeth M30.1s. These are a personal favourite, not least because I became so used to this kind of sound when sitting in BBC studios. The Class D amp in the Combo proved an ideal match for the monitors, increasing the timing ability and giving extra punch to the presentation while not destroying the all-important midrange. This quality was noticeable on some of my favourite BBC spoken-word recordings, such as Alan Bennett’s History Boys with the unmistakable tones of Richard Griffiths retaining their magic and sounding as natural as ever.
Apart from indulging in online radio feeds I spent a good deal of time listening to streaming services and signed up to Tidal and Spotify as well as using Apple Music thanks to the ability to stream my music through the Combo.
Track after track revealed the its abilities in all their glory, across all manner of material from a wide range of musical genres and much spoken word from radio dramas to TV news and current affairs. I was particularly struck by the emotion conveyed by Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, from his Ninth’ (Furtwängler at the Bayreuth Festival on EMI from 1951). The performance can sound rather perfunctory with lesser equipment but, with the Combo in charge we were presented with something of the composer’s vision of the work’s vastness as part of an unparalleled ecstasy of sound.
Much has been said, and indeed written, about Class D, some quite harsh things at that. All I can say is that in this particular incarnation the two loudspeakers I tried both revelled in the Combo’s company and produced highly-involving, most enjoyable, toe-tapping sounds which really drew me into the performances. There was immense detail across all the material I selected from small-scale and large orchestral works. The music really did ‘come alive’ if that’s not a clichéd term in reviewing circles. There was a precision and drive to the material which seemed much more evident than I am used to. One of the last pieces I played before penning this review was something that’s become a test-track for me since it was released, Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise which I must have heard on thousands of systems over the decades. Leaving aside the social messages it contains, with the Combo into my monitors it not only had my foot tapping but sent a spine-tingling shudder up my back, such was the emotional impact of the sound.
I think I’ve found my streaming/DAC/amplification solution for the future, and it is the Lindemann Musicbook Combo. Given its pedigree it’s really fairly priced and offers great value for a European built component, and that’s not something I say very often.
Stylish and elegant aesthetically, it works so well with my Harbeth M30 monitors, really bringing them to life, it offers such ease-of-use and an app that’s an absolute cinch for convenience. Added to that it has internet radio capacity and I could even add a turntable, should I ever feel the need. The fact that it does all this in such a compact enclosure is just a bonus. Well done, Mr Lindemann – you have just provided the ideal audio solution for many and elevated them to Elysian Fields.