Linn Sneaky Music DS review
Impeccable audio quality and beautiful design but undermined by truly awful control software.
Being able to stream music from a PC or NAS drive to your hi-fi is not a new concept, but it's yet to take off in audiophile circles in a big way. The reason for this is that there's a serious lack of quality mid-range players - where once there was a glut of CD-players filling the £500 to £1,500 price gap from the likes of Arcam, Musical Fidelity, Linn and so on, there is now a gaping technological hole.
Scottish hi-fi manufacturer Linn is hoping to fill that space with its range of enthusiast digital streaming - DS - players, and the range starts at £865 exc VAT with the "low end" Sneaky Music DS. Available in reassuringly understated silver and black finishes, the Sneaky certainly looks the part. Its metal chassis feels solid, the chromed feet add a touch of alluring sparkle and the blue LED Linn logo on the front imparts a feel of real exclusivity. Pop this in your hi-fi rack and it will not look out of place next to other boutique gear.
In hardware terms, the Linn is minimal simplicity itself. There's no display to clutter its clean lines and at the rear is a bare minimum of connections. A single Ethernet port deals with connection to the network, outputs range from optical and coaxial S/PDIF sockets to stereo phono connectors for hooking it straight up to your amplifier. And there's also a set of direct speaker outputs: the Linn has a built-in 20W amplifier, so you can replace your traditional two-box system with it if you like.
Elsewhere, the specifications look to be up to the job: the player is UPnP compatible, so it's compatible with popular media server software and hardware such as Windows Media Player and TwonkyMedia, and it supports a decent range of audio formats, though not as comprehensive as either Sonos' multi-room systems or Logitech's Squeezebox devices. Importantly, among this list is Flac, the open source lossless compression format and the Linn shows its high end credentials by supporting up to 24-bit and 192kHz versions of this format.
All of this goes together to create a player that sounds absolutely wonderful - music is clean, balanced with solid bass control and a crystal clear top end, whether you choose to listen to that output via the internal amplifier or the line out. It's significantly better than any of the Logitech or Sonos products.
Alas, the software used to control the Sneaky DS lets it down badly. There's a version of this you can install on Laptop or PC and one that runs on Windows Mobile 6-based devices, but this flexibility is the limit of its appeal. It not only looks ugly but it's also very basic in its operation: you can't drag tracks around in the playlist window, you can't run keyword searches and neither does it support album art. We also had problems in testing with some music tracks. The DS failed to play quite a few of our MP3 tracks and Flac files for no reason we could fathom, and often required a reboot to recover.
For a player with such high-end pretensions, this is a big disappointment. The Sneaky DS' sound quality is extremely good and it looks simply fabulous, but the dreadful software and music format problems mean it's not something we would feel happy with recommending.
Software and OS support
|Operating system Windows 7 supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||yes|
|Operating system Mac OS X supported?||no|
|Operating system Linux supported?||no|
|Dimensions||345 x 274 x 45mm (WDH)|
Audio format support
|Other audio codec support||ALAC|
Video format support
Ports and communications
|UPnP media server?||yes|
|802.11 draft-n support||no|
|Wired adapter speed||100Mbits/sec|
|RCA (phono) outputs||1|
|3.5mm audio jacks||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||1|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||1|