We tend to divide up audio components into two categories audiophile and lifestyle. Audiophile components concentrate on the functionality and performance and let's face it, sometimes bling. There's no doubt Lindemann's musicbook:15 DSD audio music player as reviewed here is a component that has some very useful features for all music fans. Lifestyle components are designed to be sleek and attractive, with a simplified user interface. But some companies break these simple rules. They make components that scream lifestyle, but they stuff those boxes with high quality components which produce excellent sonics. Count me among the biggest fans of these companies. We've all seen examples from NAIM, from Linn, from PS Audio and so on. Let's see if we can add Lindemann, a boutique German manufacturer, to that list.
Lindemann knows there is no one size fits all so they offer their musicbook in four levels of functionality, from a simple Bluetooth and high res USB capable preamp with headphone output, to a versatile front end including both a network streamer and a CD drive.
Here the full line up:
musicbook:10 DSD Preamp with analog, Bluetooth and USB input ($3495)
Naturally there are matching stereo power amps:
musicbook:50 - Class D Power Amp 80 Wpc ($2095)
Did I mention all these components are cute as a button and just 2.6" tall by 11" wide?
Let's Get Going
First let's take a look at the technology involved. The CD drive is a slot type TEAC drive. My only complaint here I the startup time is some 18 seconds, about double the time my EMM Labs XDS1 to start playing. Other than that it responds quickly to commands and coped with CD's that are scratched or dirty with ease.
The DAC section uses dual AK 4490 chips from Japan's AKM in dual differential mono mode, fed by the new AK 4137 resampler. DSD inputs are accepted up to DSD 256 and are not converted to PCM for processing as they are in most implementations. DSD 64 can be converted directly or first upconverted to DSD256. PCM inputs can be processed as they are, or resampled and processed as DSD or resampled into higher sampling rate PCM. The front panel always shows the format of the bitstream (eg PCM 44.1 -> DSD 128 or DSD 64 -> DSD 256 etc) before and after resampling. The USB interface runs in asynchronous mode and inputs are supported up to DSD 256 or PCM 384kHz/24-bit. Jitter is controlled through an ultra-stable DPLL clock. For PCM operation, Lindemann offers a minimum phase filter for the best response in the time domain and you can select between a slow and fast roll-off.
The Bluetooth receiver supports both aptX and AAC for streaming from your phone. There are two additional optical inputs, supporting up to 96kHz/24-bit and two 192k/24bit capable S/PDIF inputs. Completing the picture are two analog RCA inputs.
Lindemann understands that some people will use the musicbook:15 DSD with an existing preamp or integrated amp, so you can set a fixed output level and control volume using your current remote control. This fixes the output level to volume level 99. This will suit anyone wishing to add some digital inputs to a good analog system. Others will use the musicbook:15 DSD as their main preamp, feeding it directly into a power amp, such as a musicbook:55. The volume control, based on a MUSES 72320, has 100 steps. From 0 to 20 it moves in 2dB increments, then from 21 to 60 the increments are 1dB, and from 61 to 99 in 0.5dB steps. I found this works very well in practice.
The MUSES part is an electronic resistance ladder and it is also used in the Pass Labs XP30, a magnificent three chassis preamplifier, which says a lot for its abilities. The output stage is a high current Class A design, capable of driving most headphones, including the rather fussy Sennheiser HD800 through a standard ¼" front panel socket. Lindemann uses a "diamond" buffer to offer a very high bandwidth (down just 3dB at 200kHz) without negative feedback. For extra flexibility when pairing with an amplifier, you can select low, medium or high output levels. I used the high output level in my testing.
Given the wide range of inputs and adjustments, and the small size of the unit, Lindemann decided on a multifunction wheel to navigate source selection, volume level and menu navigation, plus a simple standby switch on the top panel. It responds to taps, to presses and to rotation. The wheel takes some getting used to, to learn all its tricks, but it has a very classy feel to it. I'm sure once set up, most users will control the unit through its wand like rechargeable remote control. I have some nits to pick here. I find the remote confusing, because the rows of tiny buttons are close together with the legends placed centrally between the rows so you're not always sure which legend belongs to which button as seen in this picture below.
You'll get used to this too, as I did, but I hope Lindemann will make a running change to make it more intuitive. For those of you considering the musicbook:20 DSD or musicbook:25 DSD, you can download an app to control the musicbook from your phone, which can eliminate this issue altogether.
The front panel has a very clear display. Fit and finish are top notch, and the rear panel layout is exemplary. I used a Nordost Valhalla 2 power cable to drive the musicbook 15 DSD. So far so good. Now let's listen.
I detected only small differences between the slow filter rolloff and the fast option, settling on the slow setting. The resampling options proved more interesting. Using the direct option (no upsampling) produced the crispest but the least satisfying of the three options. Upsampling to high bit rate PCM sounded smoother and more delicate and brought me closer to the music. Best of all was the option to resample to DSD 128, altogether more musical in my opinion, and retaining almost all of the vitality of the first option. This is not a surprising result to me, since the manufacturer recommends this setting, and it is a path chosen by some of the best sounding DACs, and implemented by EMM Labs in the XDS1. Having settled on the optimum settings, I found a very upfront sound, quite warm, strong in the bass, without any noticeable peakiness in the treble even with the HD800s which have been criticized for this in some reviews.
Switching to my reference system, with the same phones driven from the output of the EMM preamp, gives a more open and three dimensional image, with more wide ranging color and greater definition. Now let's remember, we are comparing the headphone output of the musicbook:15 DSD to a dedicated preamp which costs four times as much. The Graham Slee Solo Ultralinear headphone amp lies somewhere between the EMM Pre 2 and the Lindemann. When compared to the headphone output of the Parasound Halo Integrated 2.1 I would say things are neck and neck, although the Halo can play louder, and the Lindemann has a clear edge over the NAIM UnitiQute's headphone output, especially at the frequency extremes.
Main Rig Music Time
Plugged into my reference system, and with the fixed output selected, the musicbook continued to surprise me on the upside. The level of resolution is strong and the output is well balanced across the frequency bands. Imaging is stable, leaving no hole in the middle, and with fairly good depth. However it was not as pinpoint as the megabuck reference source, the EMM Labs XDS1. I was very pleased with the dynamic and colorful sound from the CD player and when playing redbook quality CD tracks from my laptop and when playing CD's directly from the music book's internal drive, I could barely detect any difference in sound quality. Resolution, depth and dynamics all took a significant step up from the internal headphone output. But switching to Hi-Res Music sources, both PCM and more especially DSD, gives crystal clear reproduction that approached the level of the same material playing on an SACD disc on the XDS1. This is an excellent result, achieved previously only by some brilliant Chord DACs.
I'm lucky to have a large array of Hi-Res Music material on the hard disk of my computer, and this is the way I listened for most of the time the musicbook spent with me. Some components shine on particular types of music, and sound far from optimal on others. Not many can get the best out of Beethoven's Ninth and Keb' Mo', on Anna Netrebko and Astrid Gilberto, on Paul Simon's "Wristband" or Pink Floyd's "Money". The musicbook can. Why? Precisely because it has such an even and extended frequency range, such distortion and high resolution. That's what I look for when I'm buying or recommending a component in any price range.
I mentioned some will route this into their existing preamp, as I did, but others will find this unit flexible enough they don't need another preamp, and so I tried driving the ModWright KWA 150SE directly using the balanced interconnects and the variable output setting on the musicbook. In theory, this should sound better. We've got rid of one set of interconnects and one output setting. In practice it's going to depend on just how good the volume control on the musicbook is. Well let me tell you this. It rules! This was the clearest, cleanest sound, a notch above my earlier listening tests. That a $3995 component, with all this functionality, could play at such a high level through an amp, cables and speakers that are designed for shocking levels of transparency is a high achievement indeed.
I'm not throwing the XDS1 and Pre 2 out just yet. Using those same tracks on my hard disk and using the XDS1 as my USB DAC, the full reference system is both more explosive, more colorful and higher in definition. Its image is bigger, deeper and more pinpoint, which makes it more relaxing to listen to for long periods. It responds faster to transients and sustains harmonics for longer. But you're paying almost ten times the price for that extra level of refinement. At just $3995 the musicbox:15 DSD represents amazing value and will stand up well in the best of systems. Any small sins it has are sins of omission, not commission.
For sure, Lindemann's musicbook:15 DSD belongs in the select group of components that look like lifestyle products but play like audiophile's elite.
Thank you very much for this very positive review of our musicbook:15 DSD. We're delighted and don't have anything to add to the article.
However, I can't deny myself a little personal addition: the gain in sound quality through DSD re-sampling is not only amazing with USB audio and CD playback, but also with the FLAC 44 files from the TIDAL and Qobuz streaming services, which we offer both in the musicbook:20 and 25. Here the Redbook resolution is raised to almost the level of high-res recordings. Apart from that, original high-res recordings will, of course, also benefit from being played back as DSD 256. They will show an extra gain in three-dimensionality and verve.
With audiophile greetings,