Focusing now on digital ingenuity, German brand Lindemann launches a new range of compact electronics. Trevor Butler put the top-of-the-range DAC through its paces and liked what he heard…
Lindemann is an audiophile brand created by Norbert Lindemann back in 1993 with a range of integrated amps and speakers. Later a CD player and phono stage were added until the line-up became extensive, embracing SACD and amplifiers to satisfy every taste. An epoch moment in 2013 saw all that change as the brand set its sights on the changing hi-fi market and began to specialise. Today it focuses all its attention on Musicbook products that embrace power amps and digital sources in slim cabinets of exquisite manufacturing quality. The new Musicbook 25 was launched at High End in Munich in 2016 and it was clear then that here was a high quality product. Even under show conditions it was producing a must-hear sound and one that I wanted to spend more time with. I wasn’t disappointed.
In a compact case measuring just 6.5cm tall but weighing some 3.5kg it is the top-of-the-range Musicbook; a range which begins with the model 10 DAC/pre-amp combo; 15 with additional CD slot; and the 20 with streaming ability in place of the CD. In the 25 we have it all, the option of three internal sources: a network music player, CD drive and DAC plus preamp. While not able to access Apple iTunes, there is the enormous range of internet radio channels (although their broadcast quality varies from something resembling little more than an analogue telephone line to ISDN standards and above), there’s also Tidal and Lindemann’s promise of ‘other popular services in the future’. Meanwhile, the USB connection means that almost any material can be played back relatively easily.
Both network (LAN, wi-fi) access along with Bluetooth are provided, so options are widespread including the ability to transmit from phones and tablets, accepting the reduced quality but enjoying the convenience. The latter taking over from the former more and more these days it seems, even among audiophiles.
So, what’s new about the latest Musicbook model? A question I put to the Lindemann team in Munich back in May. Key is the inclusion of DSD conversion and upsampling. There are lots of impressive numbers here and all the details are on the company’s highly informative website. Basically, there’s the ability to up-sample all digital signals through the Musicbook to 384kHz PCM not to mention DSD128. This is seen as a major selling point since it’s not an option on virtually (if not all) other CD players and DACs currently on the market. Just how long Lindemann can keep this exclusivity remains to be seen; we all know how fast technological advances occur. But for now, at least, it’s just one reason to fork out for the Musicbook (Marantz are already in on the game – Ed).
DSD is favoured by Lndemann since it eliminates signal processing in the DAC which merely acts as a filter while helping to eliminate jitter, something digital designers delight in achieving. No wonder DSD is included in the model’s nomenclature. Lindemann has opted for the AKM digital-to-analogue converter chip because it says it ‘sets a new benchmark’.
After some initial issues connecting the Musicbook:25 DSD to my network of Mac devices (lots of helpful advice from friendly Lindemann dealers not to mention those at the factory as well), I was up and running. To emulate a more usual set-up, I downloaded some tunes to a hard-drive and connected this via the rear USB socket for a much more hassle-free install. [Editor Kennedy also got good results in The-Ear’s offices using the unit as a streamer with a direct Ethernet feed from a Melco server].
Handling the Musicbook:25 was as satisfying as listening to it. Here, clearly, was a beautifully designed and meticulously engineered box. The rear panel, as sleek as the front, has enough inputs and outputs to cater for all , including balanced analogue out via XLRs (which made for simple connection to my Trigon Dwarf II monoblocks – also German-made), two pairs of line-level analogue inputs, a clutch of digital inputs, network connections, USB connection for hard drive or computer, and switched IEC mains input. All these recessed rather than protruding to spoil the unit’s gracious lines. The front is dominated by a backlit display, USB input for memory stick playback and rotary control which acts as a volume pot, plus a Class A headphone socket. Lindemann really have thought most carefully about what is required.
The remote handset is worthy of note. Designed and made in Germany as a bespoke item, it caused me endless grief and was, several times, hurled across the room in frustration. I can understand the need for symbols in the modern world (well, just about understand), but some notation in English is also deemed essential by this user since, in low light and with ageing eyesight, several of the tiny markings appear so similar as to be just annoying. There is one word the manufacture manages to print – its name! I was in awe at the adept way the team were using the remote during the High End launch in Munich, proving that practice makes perfect.
The rechargeable remote is sleek in appearance and the ideal width to hold in the hand even if it is too long to comfortably reach the buttons with the same hand. And, since almost everything has to be controlled from here (there being no front panel buttons or switches or touch-screen), it’s a case of ‘like it or lump it’. Thankfully, there is some respite since Lindemann has an App for both iOS and Android. This saved the day for me.
In Source View mode the easy-to-use App lets you choose sources: Internet radio, music server, MyFiles, USB host, CD player plus digital and analogue inputs. Then, in Browse View mode you can select which piece of music or radio station to hear, displaying music server or smartphone contents or lists of radio stations. Furthermore, Play View permits volume control, while tapping the cover image displays all available metadata. Phew!
Internet radio provides the ability to explore stations around the globe but the fascination soon wares off for me as broadcast after broadcast is reminiscent of a 78rpm gramophone record, such is the abysmally low bitrate from most of the sources. It’s just about good enough for use on the move but, at home, in front of a high-quality system, I demand better quality than Internet radio can offer.
The CD slot was the next obvious option and here the player excelled (this is not a unit for users of DVDs or Blu-ray). A recently acquired copy of a Carpe Diem Records’ collection of Hildegard von Bingen (Vox Cosmica) had me enthralled. I ended up listening to the entire album twice, almost mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the performance, which appeared to be portrayed so naturally by the Lindemann electronics. That was in straight PCM mode; selecting the optional DSD upsampling mode was interesting. One listener mentioned added ‘air’ around the performers, and he was right. All of a sudden it was as if everyone had stopped rehearsing and was going for a take, with added poise and finesse all round. In case this was all just the excitement of listening to a newly acquired disc, I reached for an old favourite and soon Phil Collins was blaring out ‘Another Day in Paradise’ (from his blockbuster But Seriously) which became even more involving than I’d ever recalled it and with a new sense of improved timing that had the feet tapping involuntarily.
Coupling my satellite receiver’s optical output to one of the Lindemann’s inputs (using my tried and now trusted Reference Optical Quartz digital interconnect from QED), I lived very happily with the sound from my usual mix of live radio broadcasts of speech (BBC Radio 4) and classical concerts and recordings (BBC Radio 3) including a most enjoyable Advent Choral Evensong live from St John’s College in Cambridge. David Hill’s descant in ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel!’ sent shivers down my spine, such was the feeling that I was in close proximity to the talented choristers and Joseph Wicks at the organ.
Just before disconnecting the unit for return to Lindemann, I had cause to listen to Mendelssohn’s Elijah (ASMF/Marriner) but soon found myself enjoying the entire performance and not just the segment I was required to hear. Had it always sounded like this? So compelling, so much air (that word, again) and with such precise instrument and vocal placement across the soundstage. Somehow the Lindemann managed to reveal another dimension, a new layer of inner detail that I did not recall – although it’s a disc I listen to fairly frequently. There seemed to be rhythmic and dynamic detail hitherto unappreciated, that’s not to say that it wasn’t there before, but that it wasn’t conveyed so completely.
At this price point, the Lindemann packs in a lot of features and incredible technology. Sonically it’s hard to beat, very hard indeed. Build quality is superb and it’s true to say that I am going to miss the sound quality a lot. But, for me, one reaches an age when operational simplicity becomes an important consideration as well, and here we have a piece of complex kit which demands concentration to use it to its full ability. However, I am sure that, with regular use over time it would become second-nature. For anyone needing to access digital sounds from a variety of sources, the Lindemann ticks all the boxes. Couple it to some active speakers and, bingo – you have a simple system producing quality to make your friends and neighbours envious.
Editor's note: Having spent several years using this type of device I find their operation fairly intuitive and did so with Lindemann. The ease of use issues that Trevor encountered are as he says easily overcome with familiarity, it also helps to have some instruction in the first place, a luxury that a dealer would provide but which was not the case for Trevor. I would say that the Musicbook:25 DSD is no harder to operate than any device of its kind and that its combinations of features and sound warrants our recommendation.