The DCS Lina DAC Review (With Speakers)
By Steve Huff
This is a review I am thrilled about writing. The DCS Lina is a streaming DAC which incorporates the now legendary DCS Ring DAC technology and it allows someone to get into a real DCS ring DAC for what can be considered an affordable price (by DCS standards).
No it is not affordable to me, but for a legit DCS Ring DAC with streaming capability it is priced about right, especially when I see what other comparable products are priced at in todays crazy inflated (2022) world.
A recent video I did on my top ten fave dacs that I have heard over the last couple of years. Guess who made the top spot?
The $9k Leica M11 Manual Focus Camera Body.
In the audio world we have brands like Leica with DCS, Chord, MSB, Linn, etc.
While this new Lina network streaming DAC was made to be part of a three piece headphone system this review will talk about the DAC in regards to a two channel speaker setup as I am not into big money headphones myself. I am very interested in hearing just this DAC within my reference system, and without the add on $8k master clock.
I am curious what paying nearly $13k gets us in a modern day DCS DAC. After auditioning, testing, reviewing and buying some pretty serious DACs over the last two years I was ready to see what the Lina brought to the table vs the others.
The Lina Network DAC supports streaming via Roon, Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, TIDAL, Internet Radio and Apple AirPlay .
Ny First DCS Experience was in 1998.
This is a DCS stack from the 1990s…
I remember my first experience with a DCS product, the Elgar DAC. Yu can see it above in an entire DCS stack, and it was considered a holy grail of digital back then by many audiophiles. Back in the late 90s I remember walking into an audio store in Phoenix AZ (that is no longer around today) and this is where by accident I was able to hear a demo of the DCS Elgar.
I walked in to the shop looking for a Cary audio V12R tube amp that was on special. It was a demo piece and was being offered up at a great price. When I arrived to the shop to check the amp out I saw no one around. I did see the Cary amp behind the counter, but no salesman or anyone else to be found.
All of the sudden I heard laughter and talking coming from a room down the hall. I then heard what sounded like some very big and very dynamic sounds emerging from this room. As I listened and moved closer the shop owner comes out of the room and sees me. He asked if I was there for the Cary and I went on to make the purchase but I was really thinking to myself “Wow, that DCS is sounding amazing in that room”.
In fact. it far exceeded what I was hearing in my space at the time. Back then I had a set of Merlin Bookshelf Speakers that I adored. I ran them with that Cary Audio V12R, a Cary SLP98p preamp and a Cary 306200 CD player. While I had lovely rich sound, it was not to the same levels as what I was hearing from that room on that day.
After buying the Cary V12 I stayed in the shop for a moment to listen to the music coming from that room.
As for the sound from that system I knew was way too rich for my blood. It was alive. It was super dynamic and powerful. It was larger than life and music just filled that space with such ease. It was clean, very crisp yet had body and a fullness that was so lacking in almost everything else I heard at the time.
Ella Fitgerald was playing and it sounded as if she was right there in the flesh, singing but she was actually life sized. I understood the excitement of the group who was listening on that evening.
I will say though it was not perfect. It was exciting but it was also a little technical and dry sounding as well and that is the complaint most had about DCS back in that time. I was used to my tubes and the soft mellow Cary sound at the time so hearing the other end of the audio spectrum made me take notice even though I knew I could not afford that DCS.
That day, that experience. It was something that stuck with me and ever since I always had a curiosity about DCS and what a DCS DAC would sound like in my system. I would imagine owning a DCS Vivaldi or Rossini knowing they were way out of my price league. Even so, this was fun to think and dream about. We all do it in this hobby ; )
I have always admired the DCS brand for creating top of the heap designs when it comes to DAC’s and digital music solutions even if I could not afford them. It means tech moves forward and later on, some of that tech may find its way down into a more affordable product. That is exactly what has happened with this beautiful Lina system DCS has created.
DCS and DIGTAL go hand in hand in this high end audio world, and they have for over three decades now. They are one of the good guys, with longevity, passion, great after the purchase service and when you buy DCS you are buying a product that can and will be upgraded down the line. Resale is great with DCS as well.
These kind of HiFi pieces are meant for long term ownership so one can benefit from the upgrades that will eventually come down the road. Many hate on brands like this that charge a pretty penny for their HiFi but they wouldn’t be made if people did not buy them and enjoy them. If DCS wasn’t doing something very right they would have been long gone by now. Instead they keep pushing the tech forward and creating new products for audio and music lovers.
Much like the PS Audio DirectSream DAC that was always upgraded via updates that actually changed the sound, the Lina and all other DCS DACs are upgradable by YOU, at your HOME just by having your DAC hooked up to your network/internet.
In fact, DCS just updated the ever so popular $20k BARTOK DAC/HEAD AMP/PRE AMP with version 2.0 and it is said to take it to an all new level. I have heard the Bartok but it has been a while. I heard the first version when the DAC was $15k (Now its $18k for the DAC) about a year ago. I thought it was amazing in build but at the time the sound in my system was a bit soft, smooth and dare I say a touch dull. Huh?
Well today I know why this happened and it was a synergy thing with the amps, preamp and even speakers I used for the audition. I will talk more about that later but I hope to hear the new version of the DCS Bartok this year and maybe next year a Rossini. Synergy is always the #1 think to think about when looking for a new piece to your system.
But let us get to it.
This review today will be all about the new and exciting (to me) DCS Lina DAC.
This is the new DAC that the team from Cambridge at DCS created as part of their $29,000 top of the line Headphone setup. This DAC is $12,700.00 Retail in the US.
It’s interesting that high end headphone setups are getting to the same price as high end speakers setups. At $29k for the stack you could be at $35k-$40k after picking up a set of nice headphones that will allows the Lina system to shine.
I remember when I was 11 and thinking my headphones were the best ever. They cost my parents $15 at the time and I wore those things almost daily. I enjoyed the heck out of those things until the foam withered away. I wish I still had them so I could eventually hook them into the $29k stack. Hahahaha kidding.
In regards to the Lina DAC, yes it was made to be part of the three part stack of DAC, AMP and Master Clock. The DAC on its own though can be used in a 2 channel stereo speaker system as its the same as any other DAC in this regard. The DAC is NOT just for headphones.
Check this out. This is the inside of the Lina DAC. These boards all fold up to fit inside the box. Wow. That’s how they fit a RING DAC into this smaller box.
This is not a Headphone DAC! It’s a DAC that includes a couple of features for Headphones that can be used or turned off.
I can state with 100% confidence and fact that this DAC is every bit at home in a two channel system as it is with headphones. In fact, the Lina is said to be the brands very own well reviewed and received $17k Bartok DAC in a smaller “DAC Only” package. I personally can not verify if this is the case though.
It costs thousands less than a Bartok but the Lina network DAC still comes in at just under $13,000. I have owned the Chord DAVE and own a Weiss 501 which is just under $10k. So yes, I have been there but really had to hear the new DCS “entry level” DAC for my own curiosity.
They are ALL GOOD, just DIFFERENT
When you get to this level, there really are no bad DACs. They are just different and offer up a different presentation and in some cases this can be slight or dramatic. The job for us is to find the DAC that meshes with our system the best. Remember SYNERGY is what it is all about in high end Audio.
It’s like buying a camera. Some have a 24 MP sensor. Some have a 60MP sensor. They will each render an image differently, but not drastically different. One will have deeper color, one may have sharper focus. One may have a slight haze over the image. Audio gear is the same and any piece of gear you swap will make a difference to the sound wether it is slight or drastic.
For me, all I seek is a DAC that doesn’t give off a digital edge or shine. I do not like digital hash, treble glare and compressed music. Some DAC’s can seemingly make all of these issues non existent as once you hear a well designed high end DAC you start to realize that these high dollar boxes are doing something very right when it comes to the way music is presented.
A great DAC at this level does absolutely without question make a difference in a well setup system. No, all DACs are not the same nor do they sound the same. That is a fact.
Now that I have heard so many DACs over $3500 (and up to almost $20k) I now have an idea of each brands house sound and what each brand brings to the table in regards to character.
Some may say that a DAC should not bring any character at all to the sound, but I have to say that every and any DAC made today (and all electronics within your HiFi chain) does bring forth the music in a different way. Each adds their own flavor to the sound and while DCS says they do not “voice” their equipment there is a signature sound with DCS that I have never heard from any other DAC.
So does this mean every other company does voice the DAC? If so, why? The DCS sound is rather spectacular as is, which tells me it is letting the music through just how it should.
The question now becomes…”with all of these devices sounding different which one is RIGHT”?
That is easy and no it is not the one that measures better (measurements have nothing to do with audio enjoyment AT ALL) rather it is the one that sounds best to us, our ears, in our room. Our ear is the only measurement tool that can tell us what sounds good to us. Yes, I have heard audio products that sounded awful within my system and room that measured very well.
This may be a spoiler but I will say right now that I have never heard a DAC sound like the DCS Lina sounds. Not the $10k Weiss, the $15k Nagra, or the $13k Chord Dave.
The Chord Dave DAC
The Dave gets very very close in sound to the Lina but the Dave leans a bit leaner and sharper where the DCS Lina is fuller, thicker, smoother with more density yet it never moves anywhere near dull or soft territory. The DCS has that density and drive and fullness that no other DAC I have auditioned has.
My video review of the Lina Network DAC by DCS
The Lina has resolution for days, as it effortlessly is decoding the digital bits and turning them into such beautiful music that sounds oh so much so like real music, real life and real humans making music. It’s that extra body and fullness that tells our brains “this is good stuff”.
Hear a little bit of my system with the Lina installed in this unlisted video HERE.
This is a fact: I have never said the word “WOW” more during listening sessions! I have never turned my head more looking for an airborne sound. I have never felt the bass more in my chest and body with my reference speakers, and I do not use subs.
As good as some of the top reference DACs are that I have heard, the Lina does surpass them in most ways that matter for me but this is all personal and this is my room. my speakers, my amp and my ears. I am loving what I am hearing with the Lina and it has been responsible for many nights of little sleep.
As we climb the ladder in DAC cost we get more refinement, blacker backgrounds, zero noise. Sometimes we get sharper treble, sometimes it is softer. Sometimes the mids are recessed, sometimes they push out forward. Sometimes the bass gets tighter and smaller rather than bigger and more powerful.
It is true that I have heard the very first early software version of the DCS Bartok and I was not the biggest fan of it due to what it cost. It was amazing, do not get me wrong, but for what it costs I felt there were better options for a DAC. If the Lina is reportedly either the same DAC (or very similar) how could I pass on the Bartok review but praise the Lina so early in this review?
Well, maybe the early version of the Bartok was not to my liking. Maybe the Lina is very different? Maybe it was the fact that I had it in a different system with different amps (warmer amps), which made the bartok too much of a good thing in THAT system. The Bartok and Lina lean to the fuller, bigger, grander and warmer side of the audio spectrum while bringing forth incredible and silky details.
My Speakers are warm as well and when I tried the Bartok I had my warm speakers, the warm leaning Bartok and the very warm Pass Labs Class A XA 60.8 amps. It was too much warmth and a synergy issue, which is why I need up not doing a Bartok review at the time. I knew there was an issue, and it wasn’t the Bartok.
See, there it is again…that synergy thing. If I had the Bartok today here with its 2.0 update I bet it would sound as good and most likely better than the Lina in my system today. My system today is not as warm leaning as it once was, so the DCS sound meshes very well with this sound.
My system for this review consists of the Fleetwood Deville SQ Speakers, Enleum AMP 23R Integrated (THE perfect match for the Fleetwood Speakers), and Cardas cables. I also have Pass Labs XA 60.8 amps and a Pass Labs preamp I will swap in for a while as well.
Before I get more into what the Lina is, let me just say that what it does for the human voice and scale is truly extraordinary when compared to other DACs in this price range. More on this later though but this is what truly impressed me with the Lina DAC.
The Little Black Box
When the DCS Lina DAC arrived I was excited as I have been on a DAC kick for the last year or so. I have been testing all kinds of DACs from low cost to mid cost to almost crazy cost. The Lina is what I personally consider to be almost crazy in my world of finances. I am not a rich guy and have made many mistakes over the years buying audio gear. Learning experiences is what I call them. : )
With all of the DACs I have heard, my faves in my current system have been the Weiss 501, the Chord DAVE and Denafrips Terminator Plus. They all are so different and offer up a different but equally lovely sound. I could live with any of these DACs (and other lower cost options) but when the Lina was placed in the system and ran in for just 20 hours I was hearing a sound like I never heard before. It was different and one thing really made me sit up and take notice instantly.
The Lovely Grimm MU1 worked serous magic with the Denafrips, Weiss and all other DACs I tested it with. It seems to improve lower end dacs as well.
But first…external streamer or built in streamer?
Even with the huge improvement I heard by using the Grimm MU1 music server with most DACs I tried with it (see that review HERE) the Lina took up the performance even more …without using the Grimm. What? I couldn’t believe it myself but I preferred the streaming sound quality within the DCS Lina more so than when I hooked up the Grimm MU1 to it as a streamer. The DCS was a little more livelier and the Grimm made the already smooth sounding DCS a little too smooth.
The Grimm is a $11k+ upsampling “streamer only” and has made big improvements to most DACs I have tried with it. In fact it is without question the nicest streamer I have ever had the privilege to test out. The fact that the Lina’s built in streaming was preferable to me was a bit surprising to me but hey, that is a good thing. The Grimm is $11k for a streamer. The Lina is $13k for a streamer and that very unique and desirable Ring DAC that I preferred all on its own when listening to Tidal or Qobuz streams.
Even when using just the DCS Lina for streaming and DAC duties is is absolutely gorgeous in sound quality. In ease of use. In looks and build. A streamer is not needed with the Lina as the built in is truly amazing.
BTW, I do not have any affiliation with any audio company. I make no money, commissions or kickbacks from anyone. This review has no links to affiliate sales. It’s done from passion and love, not motivated by money. I will not make even 25 cents from this review. This is fact.
When the DCS arrived I was surprised at the size of the shipping box. It was smaller than I expected. It was lighter than I thought it would be. When I opened the outer box the inner box brought forth a WOW moment. It was packaging taken to the extreme. So gorgeous and makes you feel like the money you just spent was maybe…worth it.
If I graded packaging the Lina would get an 11 out of 10. Even the quick start guide comes in what looks like a leather envelope (though I do not think it is leather). Either way, it exudes high class. Not that this matters as the sound is what we pay the big bucks for. Still, it’s nice to see the attention to detail at this price point, Not all companies are like this.
Looks wise the Lina is sort of basic. It’s a black box, made of metal and with nice looking feet. The LCD screen is decent but does not show album art or fancy VU meters like the HiFi Rose 150b does for half the cost (see that review HERE).
The HiFi Rose from South Korea is a fantastic and gorgeous all in one for $5k
When I placed the Lina DAC on my cabinet it replaced the Denafrips Terminator Plus, which is my third favorite DAC ever as of July 2022. I was using a Grimm MU1 as the music server as it was still in for review. This is an over $10k music server only that is of extreme high quality.
I started listening to the DCS Lina streaming Qobuz, Tidal and even Spotify. Some DACs do OK with Spotify, some sound muffled with Spotify and a couple of DACs I have had made Spotify sound almost as good as the other hi res offerings. The Lina was absolutely gorgeous with Spotify and for me, the best I have heard Spotify sound.
The Lina DAC grabbed me instantly…
When I started a very familiar playlist using the DCS Lina I was instantly made to sit and pay attention, quickly. The sound was incredibly dense and massive. The scale was large as life, in a good way and maybe larger. The music sounded alive, wet, silky and velvet like all at the same time. It sounded juicy, yet had a sweet treble and voices were hauntingly real.
All at the same time, the way the imaging was taking shape was also surreal but no sir, it was not surgical or etched.
I am used to DACs and enjoy DACs that image very well, but in a natural way. With that said, the Lina does imaging in a way that is very right. It sounds very real and natural. Nice. Nothing is overdone or underdone. It’s about perfect for these ears and creates a very fluid, massive and somewhat dynamic soundstage. Best I have heard in this regard. No contest actually. The Lina DAC is something special indeed and the sound quality is almost otherworldly.
I can only imaging what the new Rossini APEX or Vivaldi APEX sound like. If the entry level DCS sounds THIS GOOD then holy WOW.
The DCS Lina sound is very realistic.
I can not even explain it in words really but imagine you are sitting in the audience of a live performance. You should hear the life of the instruments, in place where they are on a stage. The vocals should be front and center and sound real with blood, sweat and tears behind them. Backing vocals should not sound like they are within a mix, but more like they are part of the main vocals. We should hear that separation in a human way rather than digital etched way. The Lina does this, and no other DAC I have heard in my life does this.
You should hear layers of music as it happens but in a natural way. You should hear the pound and kick from the drums, and you should FEEL IT. You should hear the human voice in a way that is as real, alive and with all of the details and breaths intact.
Many high end DACs today try to do this but as a result they can sometimes sound a bit dry and overcooked. Some may bring the goosebumps with some music, but lack with different music. These kind of DACs usually try to wow you with special effects and details but over time they may start to grind on you a bit and there it is. You go off looking for the best great thing.
The DCS Lina DAC streaming Qobuz was the grandest I have heard digital music yet. The biggest and the most realistic as well. Each instrument had scale and the sound was so natural and so ethereal yet richly detailed. There was massive weight behind each note as well.
Lots of weight here as the bass in my Fleetwood Deville SQ speakers jumped up a notch in the mids and down below. It seemed as if I was getting an extra octave of low end, and it was tight and controlled. Amazing. Again, never happened with any other DAC and I feel this DCS sound truly makes music sound like it should. Others have noted this in DCS reviews as well. The Scale. The Weight. The Density. The Layers. The “rightness” to the music.
The bass truly shocked me. No matter the piece I have had in here nothing has sounded like the Lina in regards to bass. It’s much more prevalent, as if my speakers have gotten an adrenaline boost. The texture and body to the music is helping to make everything sound bigger and more lifelike.
NOPE, It’s not nearly as “sparkly” or all out dynamic as a Chord DAVE in the treble but always stays smooth, and very very sweet.
Holy cow this is impressive. Very impressive.
The INs and OUTs
The DCS Lina has most of the ins and outs we need to connect to modern day audio gear. It has XLR and RCA outs and you can set those outs to the voltage/output level you desire to match up with your amplification. It has AES in, Optical, COAX as well as USB. There is an ethereal in and the connectors for using the master clock add on. I found that using the Lina with just the Ethernet cable and my RCA outs going to my Enleum AMP 23R worked out the best for me. Using it with an external streamer did not improve the sound vs the built in on the Lina.
You can plug in a CD player as well and allow the Lina to improve every shiny disc you own. I may add a CD transport down the road if the Lina stays put as I still own quite a few discs. I am very curious how the Lina will do with a nice CD transport. Stay tuned for that.
DCS has their own app for their network streaming DACs called mosaic. It is decent and about on par with other apps from Lumin, Bluesound, etc. It seems easy to navigate, see album art and it has always hooked up to the Lina without issue. You can stream direct from this app after entering your credentials in for your streaming service of choice. You can also use the Tidal and Spotify apps to stream direct to the Lina. The Lina is super easy to set up and start streaming using the Mosaic app.
Interestingly enough, the Lina DAC sounded great out of the box but did open up more and more over the first 20-30 hours. So yes, burn in is real with this one but the difference is slight really.
After 50 hours I heard no more changes to the sound so was an easy painless burn in. The device even has a burn in feature if you want too activate it and speed it up some. I know the Bartok has this as well but I have never seen this feature on any other HiFi piece. Pretty cool. Bottom line is do not judge this DAC during the first few hours. Give it some time to warm up and settle in out of the box, and you will notice a small change.
MQA and Tidal. Yes, the Lina does MQA.
I will admit. I have not been an all in fan of MQA or Tidal. These days I usually stream Qobuz and plain vanilla Spotify. While I have enjoyed MQA from Tidal in the past I was never fully convinced it was a better format.
Well, with the DCS Lina MQA does indeed sound better to me than it ever has, and it is easy to hear it now. Very crazy indeed, as this is the first MQA DAC that I have heard that really delivers those MQA files from Tidal in a way that was promised.
It is incredible and made me subscribe to Tidal again ; ) So yes, this DAC will work with Tidal MQA files. I would expect nothing less at this price point. Even so, this is not a reason to buy the DAC as it truly makes all formats sound amazing. What it does for plain old vanilla Spotify is unreal. I can almost swear that when streaming from the Lina that Spotify sounds just as good as the others. That has also never happened so this little Lina is doing wonders for standard res Spotify files.
What are the CONS of the DCS Lina as a Streaming DAC?
The DCS Lina has to have cons right? Well, I can say the price at $12,700 for a DAC does sure seem expensive to me but I also understand that DCS is a luxury brand. Brands like Leica and Hasselblad. Those names in the camera world are also considered luxury and many love them even though the cost is insane for what is a body and sensor, usually made by Sony (the sensor). Expect to pay $20k for a new Leica or Hasselblad with a lens even though our phones take lovely photos these days.
There will aways be a luxury market.
With the DCS Lina we are getting a pure all in house hand made DAC using only quality parts and construction. DCS has been around and making converters for over 35 years my friends. They do indeed know digital and they have come a long way from their early days. Back in the day DCS was known to be technical sounding, analytical and dry. Today they are quite the opposite of that and deliver music with a bonafide life-force behind it.
I would have loved to have seen a more thought out display. One that shows cover art, etc. While it’s a decent size, from my listening seat I can not read any of the text so I end up turning off the display when listening. It’s easy to do with the DCS Mosaic app that you use to control this DAC. It’s a nice display, I just feel for the cost it could have been better. Look at the HiFi Rose 150b display ; )
Also, just because this DAC is working wonders for me in my room and my system doesn’t mean it will sound the same for you. If you have a very warm system the Lina may put it to sleep. If you have a neutral system, the Lina should sound rather amazing. If you have a bright system, the Lina may plump it up a little but you should be looking for a new amp or speakers instead to tame issues like that.
The fact is that everything makes a difference in audio.
The room is #1, the Speakers #2, then the front end like this DCS. If they do not all mesh well together then it may not sound like you expected so ALWAYS AUDITION first! There are places to buy a Lina online with 30 days of audition (buy, if you do not like it, return for refund).
I have nothing else I can add as a con and I cannot even say the price is a con. After time with the DCS Lina it has easily, without breaking a sweat, bested the other DACs I have on hand and have tested. It is without question a sound that is unique and beautiful. It is complete and while it has been here has never sounded digital, bright, jagged or technical. For me, this is well worth full retail cost if you have a system that can stand toe to toe with it. I mean, if it is within your audio budget and you have a nicely set up system worthy of a DCS then by all means, audition one if you are in the market for a new DAC.
The DCS Lina is a small but very technologically advanced DAC. It continues the rich long 35 year history of DCS and brings their Ring DAC tech to a an all new audience, at a lower price than ever before. While it comes in at $13k, it is built and sounds like a DAC at this price level without question. It has easily bested all others I have on hand, within my system and room of course.
Compared to the Chord DAVE the DCS has less snap, bite and is less technical sounding. We get all of the details with the DCS but there is more weight to each sound, voice and instrument. This brings a larger soundstage and bigger sound to the room here.
The DCS is a smooth sounding DAC indeed but it is not one of those that sound overly smooth. The Denafrips Terminator PLUS for example is a very smooth sounding DAC but the T+ also sounds more expansive than even the DCS with a more relaxed, suck me into the music kind of vibe. I love the Terminator PLUS and it has showed me that it can compete with the best that I have heard, but it has a flavor that is not for all and can be a bit laid back at times.
The Weiss 501 sounds closest to an in studio experience, where we get the master tape kind of sound. Correct, detailed and with some exiting energy. The treble performance of the Weiss is a touch more open up top vs the DCS Lina but the Weiss doesn’t have the all out smoothness of the Lina. The Lina also betters the Weiss in the soundstage department. It’s bigger, wider and taller. Overall the DCS sounds better to me than the already superb Weiss and the DCS has even more size and density going on.
Compared to the Rose 150b which is a streamer and DAC much like the DCS Lina? The ROSE feels and looks to be built to a similar level (at least the outside) and is gorgeous as well. The Rose is $5k and has that large 14.7″ display that can bring forth VU Meters or Album Art.
The Rose is chock full of features but the weakest link with the 150b is its internal DAC. It sounds lovely, and has a smoother sound vs most lower cost DAC’s but at the end of the day you can still hear the digital evidence with the ROSE. What I mean is you can tell that you are listening to digital with it as sometimes you can hear that treble energy sound a bit rough. Sometimes it may sound thin or even dull, depends on the music really. It’s not nearly as refined or together in the DAC department when comparing it to upper echelon products.
Overall though the Rose is well worth the $5k it demands and if that is your budget I think you would really enjoy the ROSE. It’s a lovely piece that almost any music lover would cherish.
The Lina is a neutral to warm leaning DAC as it brings a softer yet still very extended treble, and it really brought a shot of adrenaline to the BASS department, much more so than the Dave. Wether this is a good thing depends on the speakers and the room. Did I crave more bass? Well no. Does it sound better or worse? Everything is sounding better than ever so I guess I wasn’t aware of what I was missing until I heard it.
That my friends is why you should only audition a DAC like this is you are ready to purchase. If it sounds as good for you as it does me, you will not want to send it back!
As for value, the DAVE is not the best value. The Weiss is not the best value. The Denafrips is a great value but still is just a DAC. The Rose is a great value as it offers you so much for the money.
The entire Lina stack from the back
If its the sound you are after though, as well as company support and longevity then the DCS starts to look very attractive. DCS upgrades their DACs via firmware and have for years. They just upgraded the Bartok to 2.0 and from what I hear, it is a massive improvement. I love companies that do this. PS Audio did the for years with there Direct Stream DAC and improved it over the years, allowing anyone who bought one to enjoy the upgrades for free.
This my friends means that DCS is actually a good value and here is why.
It is a streamer, so you can stream direct from Tidal or Spotify. No streamer or computer needed. Using the DCS Mosaic app, you can also stream Qobuz. It is Roon ready and if you have a Roon core on hand, you are good to go with Roon. This is awesome because with a DAC like the Weiss 501 and Denafrips, I can not stream direct from Spotify or Tidal without a dedicated streamer in front of it. Same for the Denafrips.
The Lina is a fantastic MQA DAC as well.
This Lina includes a bonafide DCS Ring DAC and is sort of future proof like all of the DCS offerings these days. DCS is not a fly by night kind of company. They have been around decades doing what they do, and their customer service and support is top notch as well.
I have spent close to this on just a DAC that didn’t sound as good as the Lina, and it didn’t have a streamer. So when we look closer, the DCS Lina DAC is well worth what it costs and lets face it..high end audio is not for everyone. It’s a hobby and passion that can really take you down many rabbit holes where money is spent and happiness is not always guaranteed. DCS knows their stuff with digital and if you are looking at end game kind of stuff, then DCS should without question be on your list.
Bottom line is that the Lina is a world class DAC just like the Chord DAVE, Terminator PLUS and Weiss 501 and wether it bests the rest can only be answered by YOU and your ears within your own system ; ) They are all different and will bring something unique to your listening room.
Sound characteristics of the Lina?
Smooth, Wet, Juiced Up kind of sound, Complete, Bass Kick/Impact. Here is another way I can describe it. Have you ever noticed that FM broadcasts (or even streaming radio) always sound “juiced up”. Music always sounds right on FM, no matter the recording quality. The bass is more prevalent and the sound is usually full and juicy sounding. FM is in no way Audiophile but it can sound damn good at times due to the way all music sounds full and beefy on FM.
The DCS does something similar making everything sound bigger, juicier and fuller. It does this with much more class than any FM broadcast though as we actually get black backgrounds, real imaging and a massive soundstage with incredible scale. We get better details and a much more refined presentation, an audiophile presentation. But the sound is just bigger, as if my system received an upgrade and everything became more powerful.
Strange but welcome. I have never heard a DAC as good as the Lina in my two channel speaker setup and the crazy (and exciting) thing is that I know it can get better if we venture up the DCS line. Scary but exciting at the same time ; )
I bought this DAC online, paid full price and enjoyed every second of my time with it. It’s my new reference for my speaker system and nothing else came close for me but I love the sound of the Lina and what it does for my digital front end. This means the HiFi Rose will move to system #2 (it is just so full of useful features that I enjoy) where it will be enjoyed by myself and others who visit.
These are in stock right now but they are also brand new, just released. I am not sure of many reviews (not done by dealers) out there yet for the DAC alone and I have not seen any that review the DAC with speakers. I hope this was useful for anyone who chose to read it and maybe it will lead you to a DCS Lina audition ; )
Thanks all, and enjoy your tunes! That is what it is all about after all!!
My favorite part about reviewing audio gear is listening to music. There are tracks I know inside and out. Tracks I have heard on systems raging from hundreds of dollars into the stratosphere. With the Lina DAC, it did not matter what kind of music I played or from where it was played. Wether I streamed MQA from Tidal or music from Spotify Premium the result was a beautiful, full bodied musical presentation.
Jewel from her album Freewheeling Woman. The track “When You Loved Me” features a hauntingly realistic vocal from Jewel. I was sitting in my listening spot with my Pass Labs XA 60.8’s hooked up to a Pass Labs XP12 Preamp. The sound was massive, as in Jewel sounded like the superstar she is, larger than life on that stage in front of my couch,
The vocals were beefy, rich and solidified in the center with natural imaging throughout the song. As she sings, with every breath and crack in her voice heard, I feel the emotion pouring out of her. The entire song sounds well put together with the DCS Lina in charge and its truly a spectacular performance. Compared to the Weiss 501, the DCS adds more weight to the music and voice and at the same time the voice is much more realistic with the Lina.
There is a plumpness and juiciness to the song with the DCS and the Weiss thins it out a little bit with a smaller soundstage as well. Both sound lovely but the DCS adds that human touch. My brain says…”THIS IS GOOD”.
RYX “Vampires” from Spotify Premium. This track is an airy and expansive type of sound. Sort of ambient but with some very transparent and silky vocals from the DCS Lina. I have heard this song on many a system and many a dac. With the Lina this song once again sounds complete. The soundstage is perfect size, not too cavernous yet not shrunken. The vocals are so intimate and gentle and then when the chorus kicks in we get to hear another talent of the Lina. The Dynamics open up teh song and make it all swell to a large and airy beat. I listen too RYX alot when I sit down to write. I also listen sometimes at night when his music can really envelop you. Not for everyone but I dig it.
Another one to check out is “Sweat” from the Dusk Sessions album. This also sounds fantastic with the Lina as this is a live acoustic performance. The sound from the Lina once again is masterful. Has the depth and airiness required to deliver this live performance with ease. At the same time we get a drum beat with an actual BEAT and THUMP instead of a tinny clink that some other DACS reproduces it as. The body is incredible and for me is one of the things that set the Lina apart.
Other dacs that have tried this often times sound muffled or too full. The DCS does not have any of these issues. It’s still crisp, clean and yet provides that body and warmth that is so needed in music. When background instruments come in during sweat near the end we hear every detail floating around the speakers with air and transparency. The Lina just sounds like a dac made by a company who knows their stuff.
This is the Walk by David O’Dowds. This track is yet again another example of a beautiful and realistic vocal performance. In addition there are some very interesting musical effects within this track. The piano spreads from left to right and fills the space with an airiness and beauty of the instrument. While we hear this the vocals come in with that large lifelike scale right down the middle by a few feed in front of the speakers. A true holographic presentation in my space, and about as close as I will ever get to a real live session in my room.
For fun I removed the Lina and placed in the Denafrips T+. The sound was also beautiful but the vocal scale shrunk sone and sat within the instruments and presented itself as a more relaxed wider presentation. It was a shade darker as well but the T+ has a way with 3D and sucking you in with the performance. I enjoyed it but it was a different sound completely from the DCS. The DCS has a live “wet” sound. The T+ is a more mellow expansive sound.
With the Weiss 501 this track sounded its most “alive” as the treble here was the most tipped up. This bright forth an even more exciting performance but the DCS was more elastic, weighty and dense. I preferred the treble performance from the DCS yet again. The bass goes to the DCS as well. With the ROSE 150b the sound shrank some in comparison to the others, and gained some sharpness in the treble. It was a touch flatter in direct comparisons and without the density and bass of the DCS.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Waiting for You” from Ghosteen. This track is MAGIC with the DCS, full stop. Nicks voice is so present, so full of emotion and that does convey through the speakers with the DCS. With the other dacs the voice does not have the life, the sadness, the regret or the fullness and scale to convince me that Nick Cave is with me. It’s remarkable really and while the Lina is not a magic box, and may not even be to everyone’s liking, I am a little in disbelief at just how correct everything sounds. I thought this with the Weiss which is also a world class DAC. As good as the Weiss is, and it is very good, the DCS Lina bests it for me in my system, and it is not even close.
This track is one of those that can bring a tear to your eye in the right system, and when you are in the right mood. It sounds great with all of the dacs I have here but they do all present it in a different way.
Steve, I recently bought the Hifi Rose 159B partly due to your review as well as several others. It replaced my beloved LUMIN A1 which I had for many years. The 150B sounds better to me than the LUMIN but it is so much more engaging and the video features have added so much more to the experience.
I recently stumbled across the dcs Lina in a review elsewhere and then read your review. The Lina definitely sounds like something I would like to add to my system, along with the world clock, but I love the 150B and am wondering if I can use the Lina as the DAC portion of the system and keep the 150B as the streamer. I read your review where you used the denafrips DAC with the Rose, but I’d like to know your thoughts about combining the Rose and the Lina. Further, if so, what is the best way to connect them? AES?
Short answer: Yes you can do that. AES would be perfect. LONG ANSWER: While I see no use for the Rose if using a Lina (it has a built in network streamer that is quite good) you can connect the ROSE to the Lina via a digital input and then use the ROSE as the streamer and the Lina only as the DAC. You can use any of the digital inputs that are convenient for you. USB, COAX, AES, etc. The Lina is a better DAC than the ROSE, and the clock does make a nice difference (smoother, more refined) as well.
Steve, thank you for this excellent review. i appreciate the thoughtfulness and acknowledgment of the importance if synergy. This is essential IMHO. I am currently a Denafrips owner and was set on demoing and upgrading to the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC (similar price range to the Lina) until I read this review. Have you listened to the Tambaqui? if so, how does it compare to the Lina? I hope DCS offers in home demos like Mola Mola does so I can assess synergy with my system.
Hey John, the Lina is a wonderful DAC and a way to get into DCS without spending $20k. I have heard the Mola Mola though not in my system. It was also a nice DAC but it didn’t make me want to switch. The Lina is a DAC with richness, detail, body and music comes into the room. very 3D, spatial, etc. I have had a ton of DACs in this room and for me, the Lina bested the rest though there are many great options out there. Good luck! I do know Headphones.com sells the Lina range and they offer a 365 DAY return policy. Crazy, but somehow they do it!
Thanks for a great review Steve, most informative and beautifully written. I look forward to your review re the cd transport as this is what I would mainly use this DAC for should I decide to buy it.
Warmest regards from South Africa.
CD transport review is already up, and thank you! https://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2022/09/01/jays-audio-cdt-3-mkii-dac-2-mkiii-review/
Thanks for a great review. Does the Lina DAC have a good volume control and therefore allows direct connection to power amps?
No volume control, no remote. The Lina DAC is not a preamp. It’s a streamer and dac that must be hooked up to an integrated amp or preamp, or the Lina headphones amp.
with all respect – you can’t hear DAC differences as long as the DACs are good engineered. Make a real blindfolded test between this overpriced DAC and maybe a good 200$ Topping DAC. You wont’t hear any differences blindfolded.
Invest in a good parametric EQ or in a nice roomcompensation System (like Dirac) and optimze your Room for good acoustics.
Or even better use compoensated active Speaker like the Genelec Pro Systems.
With that You will make a gigant step forward regarding sound quality. With diffrent DACs Cabels and Amplifiers, you step on the spot.
Yes you can buy friend and it’s very easy. DAC’s sound very different from each other at a certain level. At the $500-$1k level they do not. But when you have a system that can reveal these differences it is like night and day, no matter what anyone says. I have done it blindfolded in the past, it’s not hard. The Lina DAC and Clock I have now sound extremely different from the Chord DAVE and the Weiss 501 and the Jays Audio new DAC. Much different from the Node. They all have their own flavor. Some are more 3 dimensional, some are flat, some have a large soundstage, some do not. They are designed to do this, which is why they cost more. They use higher end parts and a more careful build. To hear this one must have synergy with their gear to allow them to hear these differences, and synergy is the hardest part and not always found. Also, a well setup space is required. Anyone who says these things sound the same never heard a well set up system with different high end DAC’s being placed in. I do not promote sites that use measurements for audio as you can not in any way measure how a piece of gear will sound. That is not possible. A measurement does not take into account the amp you will use, teh speakers or the room. Only our ears can measure what we hear when it comes to audio.That is why I always recommend an audition with your own ears before plunking down cash for hifi. Thank You for the comment.
Take listen for yourself, you could even hear the difference on YT blindfolded: https://youtu.be/QKvV-LF0xdE
Hey Steve – Been following your YouTube channel a while now and appreciate your perspective and enthusiasm on hi-fi. I’ve been a long time hi-fi hobbiest myself. I’ve upgraded my system for what I feel is significant. I have a large cd collection as well but stream (Tidal hi-resi) 95% of the time so I’m looking to upgrade my dac/streamer as this is definitely the weakest part of my system now (Bluesound Node 2i). I also share your sentiment about the price of higher-end audio equipment. That said, I’ve been looking at a used DCS Bartok, the Weiss 501/502, and Aurender A15. Now that the Lina is out I’m seriously considering auditioning (if I can find a dealer that will work with me). Would you mind sharing if you think the Lina would be a god fit with my system as I’m not really sure it would be considered more so on the cool, neutral, or warm side. As you like to say, it just sounds right to me. My present setup is Wilson Audio Sabrina X speakers, Gryphon Diablo 300 int amp, Marantz Ki-Ruby sacd, Audioquest Oak, Columbia, Coffee, NRG Z3/Y2 power cables, and Niagara 1200 power conditioner. I’ve clearly followed the rabbit hole and I’m somewhat paranoid about making a “bad” decision should the new dac not integrate well. Especially since this has become a very expensive audio journey in the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets thus far and have thoroughly enjoyed listening to every system addition/upgrade along the way. Appreciate any feedback or advice you can share.
You have a great system there! Congrats! As for the DAC, the Lina on its own is a neutral to warm leaning DAC. It’s not like a Chord DAVE. With the Clock it goes up a notch in the realism dept. The reverb in the studio is more prevalent and you will hear more details emerge, but gently. You can buy the Lina DAC from headphones.com and they offer a crazy crazy crazy 365 day return policy. You could demo it in your home and if it didn’t work out, return it. I have no affiliation with them nor do I make any commission if you buy one there but here is the link: https://headphones.com/products/dcs-lina-network-dac?_pos=3&_sid=efcc2d6c0&_ss=r
I think the Lina would be great in your system, probably better than the Weiss which is a touch hotter up top and without the expansiveness of the Lina. Lina is superb, with clock its even better, with nicer cables connecting them…end game indeed. The streamer in the Lina is also fantastic and bested my Lumin U1 Mini. It’s not cheap but your gear is worthy for sure.
Great review! I’m buying a new pair of Klipsch La Scala’s soon. I’ve narrowed my amps down to 3. PrimaLuna EVO 300, Pass Labs, or Pathos Inpol Remix. You’ve sold me on the Lina, however I’m not sure if I need to buy the clock that is sold separately? I would think adding the clock, albeit it’s extremely expensive, would make a world of difference. I’m not a headphone listener, so I don’t need it. I’m also really interested in getting an Aurender N20 music server/streamer. I’m not sure if it’s compatible with the Lina. Thanks for all your reviews. We definitely have very similar taste and opinions.
Thanks Steve for another from-the-heart review. I really appreciate your sensibility. I too believe in system synergy. I wonder if you are going to review the Holo Audio May DAC and Auralic Aries G 1.1 any time soon.
Hi Steve, excellent review as always. I ended up buying a Holo Audio May DAC. I have had it for three months now and it is a match made in heaven with my Pass XA 30.8, XP-22 and Martin Logan Theos. 100% agreed, it is all about system synergy. This is the end game for me. All I will do is add an Auralic Aries 1.1 as a streamer transport and I am done. I hope you will review a Holo and Auralic product soon.
Steve, I have followed you down the rabbit hole so many times. Looks like I’ll be doing it again with the Lina.
Have both bartok dac and lina great but bartok mosaicic much easier to setup—however great dac
Hmmm, setup was the same for both with me. No issues, same app, same hookups, etc. Plug in, turn on, download app, and it works. Thank you.
Thank’s a lot for this great and detailed review of the Lina DAC from DCS . I am in the market for a new DAC . The Weiss 501 4channel was in my to try list but after what you have written on the Lina I definitely need to hear this new DAC in my system. .\
I do like a lot your writing and honest feedback .