Linn Kiko review
What does a modern hi-fi look like in this day and age? Does it have a CD player? An FM radio? Or is it really just an amplifier, some speakers and the ability to hoover up music from your home network and play it with superb quality?
Linn seems to think there's merit in a media streamer, and not just your cheap, few-hundred-quid job from one of the old micro-system companies, this is £2,500 of streamer. And for that kind of money, it's going to need to be all kinds of awesome to justify its existence.
Built to last
Most electronics will last ages these days, with solid-state components meaning that something you buy today will more than likely still be working long after the machines have taken over and enslaved humanity. But even with this longevity, there's something about the Linn that inspires confidence in its build quality. It is, to quote the song, solid as a rock.
What makes it so solid is its metal casing, which is formed from a single piece of aluminium. This is used on both the speakers and the main unit, and gives the system a sturdy feel, but also helps to keep the sound quality in check, we're told.
This is a matched system too, so there's filthy great speaker cable provided which feeds each unit from its own amplifier. This is another quality decision
The streaming portion of the Kiko is pretty much everything here. The analogue and digital inputs are handy, of course, but the ability to draw music from all over your network is much more useful, and important.
It is quite important to note though, that the Kiko is very reliant on either the Kinsky PC software, or the Android/iPad/iPhone app. These both work pretty similarly, and certainly look alike. We had no real problems with either, and the PC app is certainly a good way to manage the system, far better than the remote would be, as there's no way for the limited display on the device to show much information.
Audio can come from a variety of sources. First, there's internet radio with popular stations listed within what seems to be a curated list. All of the BBC output is there, along with some Linn stations for classical and mixed music and a few commercial stations, Magic is listed, Capital is not, for example. Sound quality, it has to be said, is superb even from modest bitrates. Lovely clear audio that makes us realise that there's some merit in digital broadcasting over FM, even if DAB has its fair share of problems. Perhaps that's why there's no radio built in here, and it's all about online content delivery. A smart move from Linn, and given the availability of broadband now, something that should be available to more people than DAB is.
The next aspect is Airplay. Anyone with Apple devices will know what this system is, and how easy it is to use. If you have an iOS device or iTunes, playing music on the Kiko is also very straightforward. Look for the Airplay logo - it's a triangle pointing in to a box - press it and any Airplay-ready devices on your network will show up. The Linn will be listed here under the name you give it, in our case: Main Room: Kiko DSM. Once you select it, the music starts to play.
The functionality we find most exciting though, is Songcast, which works in a similar manner to Airplay, but will send any output from your sound card over to the Kiko. This is extremely handy and means that internet radio stations, podcasts or whatever you're listening to on the computer can be played out of the speakers. It's not entirely instant, so while it will work for video, we wouldn't recommend it!
If you need delay-free audio, then simply connect your PC with the analogue audio or one of the digital inputs. We've done this, and have used the Linn as a general-purpose PC audio system. It sounds truly amazing. Of course, if you have a decent CD player or record deck - you'll probably need a pre-amp - then you can still enjoy them through the Kiko.
As well as all that, Twonky and DLNA servers are also directly compatible here, and any music you have stored in these libaries will be found, and will play with no problems. If you have music stored in an iTunes library, then the Kinsky software can handle that too, and allow you to play it. You can build playlists, and if you want to import music directly into Kinsky, that's also possible.
Can be used for your home cinema
There are HDMI inputs and an output, along with digital coax and optical sockets on the back of the Linn. This allows you to connect a DVD player, Sky box, or anything else to your TV via the Kiko. We can see the logic, especially if it's your only audio system. Stereo amplification of TV is a bit old school these days, but it can make a massive difference over your TV's speakers.
However, we'd suggest that this isn't the best way to go with TV audio. The Linn isn't tuned for such sound really. While it will do a solid job with stereo, it's got little to offer over a much cheaper AV system and has no way to deliver the low-range sound demanded by action movies.
Network and updates
One thing that's quite important to note, is that the Kiko does not have Wi-Fi built in. Of course, you connect it to a wireless repeater if you feel like it, but that's extra hassle, configuration and expense. If necessary, we'd suggest you grab some Homeplugs and use those instead, as they require zero configuration and will easily handle the speeds needed for the Kiko.
An Ethernet socket is provided. Linn says this is the best way to ensure maximum quality, because wired internet access is much less likely to drop out, or be affected by random solar activity or microwave ovens.
Like everything these days, there are pretty much constant updates to the system to improve functionality and stability. To get these, you need to download an app called Linn Konfig - we have no idea where the K obsession comes from either - and from here you can run diagnostics - helpful if something isn't working - and see if any of the Linn devices on your network need to be updated.
As you'd hope, your £2,500 buys you a big lump of audio brilliance. We tested as much music as we could from our library, including some of the high-bitrate, uncompressed music that Linn sells in its webstore. It all blew us away.
But it's easy to make good-quality music sound good, it's less easy to make low-bitrate MP3s and internet radio stations sound brilliant too. The Linn manages to make music sound superb.
The overall sound is very controlled. There is bass here, but not spadefuls of it, if you find a track with lots of low end, the Linn will cover it. That means the room will not shake, but you won't feel deprived. In fact, when bass does come, it's a treat and something to be savoured.
Everything else, from low-end up to high-end is well-balanced. There's no extra brightness in the treble here, just a pleasant and considered sound. It is, without doubt, the best streamer we've heard.
There's no argument that this is an expensive bit of kit. It's probably out of most people's budgets, which is a shame, because it sounds amazing, looks stunning and will last as long as you do.
What Linn has done with Airplay, and the various apps for streaming audio from a PC is incredibly smart. It makes listening to anything digital incredibly easy. In fact, it's one of the simplest streamers we've used. Good though Sonos is, it can't match the Kiko in either audio quality or outright ease of use. We also found the Kiko more reliable than our Sonos system, with which we have no end of podcast problems.
The audio quality is everything you'd expect. Control at high volume is superb, there's an amazing audio range and all music, from classical to electronic, is covered brilliantly. It's basically the audiophile's Sonos, but it's never pretentious or silly, it's just a beautiful-sounding, stunning-looking piece of hardware. Consider us smitten.