Worldwide events designed to introduce consumers to computer-based music
Linn’s giving its music-streaming systems a major push at the moment: a promotion is just wrapping up offering buyers of its DS products incentives including free Linn Records music and Apple hardware, and Saturday, February 8th saw Linn dealers worldwide offering Streaming Made Simple sessions designed to introduce streaming to customers.
From Hull to Helsinki to Hawaii to Hartley Wintney, for one Saturday Linn dealers worldwide were doing the same thing – a fairly amazing feat of co-ordination and commitment from Linn and its dealer network
Regular readers will know that I already run a networked music system at home, have reviewed a wide range of streaming players, including Linn models from the Kiko system up to the Akurate DSM, and was up in Glasgow late last year to have a first listen to the company’s flagship Exakt system.
I was intrigued to find out how the company was introducing customers to its systems at a dealer level, and what its dealers could do to smooth the transition from playing CDs to streaming a music collection and more.
So last Saturday morning I made the trip to Hidden Systems, located on the A30 on the way to Basingstoke, for the first of its Streaming Made Simple sessions that day.
I must admit I’ve driven through Hartley Wintney many times, and never realised there was a hi-fi dealer there: only when I knew where it was, and looked carefully for the sign above a well-known local estate agent, did I see the sign and the entrance – right in the centre of the property company’s frontage.
With the benefit of four-hour free parking right outside the door, Hidden Systems is definitely convenient – once you’ve found it! That’s something the company’s Chris Fuller acknowledged with a smile when he met me on my arrival – guess he’s heard the ‘Hidden by name, hidden by nature’ thing more than once before.
But up on the first floor, complete with exposed roof beams and low door-frames – they were a lot shorter when place like this were built –, you walk into the small reception area/showroom, beyond which are the two demonstration rooms.
Chris explained that Hidden Systems came about in 2005: he has an electronics background – he trained in the BBC equipment department in the 1980s, then had 25 years in IT sales consultancy –, while James Harding, the other half of the team, deals with the IT side of hi-fi and home cinema systems.
It’s certainly unusual to find a hi-fi retailer coming from the IT direction rather than from audio, but it makes Hidden Systems especially well set-up to handle all the ‘digital plumbing’ involved in modern audio installations, an area with which some retailers seem to struggle, or which they choose to outsource.
My companions for the first Streaming Made Simple session were a father and teenage son, both with their own systems at home, but thinking about moving into music streaming though perhaps not to the extent of networking their systems together.
Chris started out with a brief explanation of the Hidden set-up: a server elsewhere on the premises held the music, and the first room system used the Linn Majik DSM and Majik 140 speakers, with the later addition of an Akurate DS player.
Right from the start this was as far from the old cliché of Linn single-speaker deems as one could get: after only a track or two to get the ’sound’ of the room, we were led straight into a brief introduction to the Kinsky control interface on an iPad, and then encouraged to stream music to the system from our various smartphones, and hear what it could with our own choices.
It was informal, involving and interesting to see how quickly we got to grips with what the system could do, before we moved into Hidden Systems’ second room, which was running a complete Exakt system of Klimax Exakt DSM player/preamp and Exakt 350A active speakers.
It’s a system I’d previously heard up at the Linn factory, but in this much smaller room it sounded every bit as good, as Chris explained how the system could be optimised to any room, and demonstrated its potential with music from the server and again from our own smartphones.
Linn’s Streaming Made Simple idea is about computer-stored music, but there was more to this demonstration than that: we were shown how even YouTube videos could be enhanced by the system, using Songcast to take the sound from a laptop and give us a taste of a Nissan GTR being driven in anger, some Dead Can Dance from Spotify, and a spot of Royksopp – with seriously scary bass – from an iPhone.
And just to show there’s more to these systems than just music, an Apple TV was pressed into use to deliver some Netflix, and a scene from Breaking Bad complete with sound through the Exakt system. The session concluded with an LP12 fed into the Klimax Exakt DSM, playing music digitised on the fly, fed through the Exakt system’s digital processing, and sounding really rather superb.
As when I visited the Linn factory, the potential of hearing good vinyl played well through an otherwise all-digital system was the most impressive part of a very good demonstration.
Let’s hope Linn run some more of these Streaming Made Simple events in the future, because I’d suggest anyone unsure of what can be achieved by playing music this way should at least go along and have a listen.
Freed from any sense of a hard sell, I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours trying to encounter all this potential as a newcomer might do, and came away with even more enthusiasm about what could be achieved at home.
And if I really had been wondering what all this streaming stuff was about, I know I would have come away better informed, and more confident in knowing whether it was right for me, and if so what equipment I should be considering to achieve what I wanted to do.
All that, the discovery of a good hi-fi dealer I never even knew existed not a million miles from home, and some excellent coffee into the bargain – there are much worse ways to spend a Saturday morning…
Written by Andrew Everard