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Cymbiosis – First Contact

By Alex Colburn

September saw the launch of Linn’s new DAC architecture “Katalyst” in their Klimax range of digital streamers amid a flurry of publicity. As a Klimax DSM (KDSM) owner, this caught my attention. Not being one to jump in with both feet on new technology, I sat back and waited for the dust to settle and opinions to roll in. After a couple of months the general opinions on Katalyst were very positive so I thought I had better go have a listen…

Having made the decision to book a demo, I phoned my local Linn dealer to discover they did not stock the latest Klimax range and that many other dealers were in the same situation. This meant a search was on for a stocking dealer within a reasonable striking distance. A search of the Linn dealer map identified two stocking dealers a similar distance away but in opposite directions. Further research turned up some very positive comments on one of the dealers located north-east of Leicester called Cymbiosis. A quick chat on the phone with Phil at Cymbiosis confirmed that they had both the Katalyst and non-Katalyst DSM’s on permanent demo and an appointment was booked for the following Tuesday.

My earliest visits to HiFi retailers were invariably a trip to a “box shifter” to gaze at row upon row of shiny Japanese boxes with the odd one or two British offerings. Demo facilities were very primitive or non-existent and the sales assistants knew next to nothing about the products they were selling but were very happy to sell you whatever the manager needed to shift that week. Nowadays I expect more, a lot more…

Cymbiosis was set up in Leicester back in 1990, at a city centre location on Hotel Street. In December 2014, the business relocated to a new more rural site in Brook Park Business Park Rearsby 8 miles north-east of Leicester. The new premises provided custom designed demo rooms, service workshop, offices and ample free parking. By offering a selected range of products from quality manufacturers Cymbiosis occupies its own niche in the audiophile market.

Demo room

Service workshop

The team at Cymbiosis boasts a combined total of over 70 years’ experience in the HiFi industry, all of them passionate about music both live and reproduced. Peter Swain is the owner and founder of Cymbiosis and has a world-wide reputation as an expert in the setup and tuning of turntables. Though fully involved in every aspect of the business, he still manages to find the time to travel visiting customers all over the world.

Peter Swain

Phil Mulvaney has spent most of his career in electronics retail and joined the Cymbiosis team back in 1990. Phil specialises in the setup and installation of digital streaming systems and networking solutions as well as being one of the Cymbiosis webmasters.

Phil Mulvaney

Wayne Smith joined the Cymbiosis team in 2005 and oversees the service department, used and ex-demo equipment as well as general sales. He also takes on the important role of ensuring all the kit gets to wherever and when it is supposed to through domestic and international shipping.

Wayne Smith

A trip to Cymbiosis for me is a 40 mile 45 minute drive each way so not too far, though I have driven much further for a demo. The out of town location is a real positive for me, I hate having to tour round a town looking for a parking space only to end up half a mile away and paying a small fortune for the privilege. Then if you buy anything, how do you get it back to the car without needing remedial surgery afterwards?

When deciding whether it is worth parting with hard earned cash it’s always a good idea to take along a second pair of ears to the demo. It’s preferable to choose someone with similar tastes and interests in HiFi so I asked a friend who runs a system I know well and who also knows my system. The other essential is a USB stick with a good selection of your favourite music, I filled an 8GB stick with well recorded tracks ranging from classical to progressive rock and the many flavours in between and from CD quality to 24 bit/ 96kHz.

Arriving about ten minutes early, we gained access by pressing the intercom bell and were warmly greeted into Cymbiosis. After introductions to the team, we were shown to a very comfortable sofa in the demo room and offered beverages of our choice. Meanwhile Phil was transferring my music selection onto the Cymbiosis network. A good dealer knows his products inside out and will choose appropriate equipment to complement the item being demonstrated and as sympathetic as possible to your own system. Phil recommended Klimax Solo amplifiers driving Kudos Titan 808 speakers for the comparative demo of both versions of the KDSM which proved to be an excellent choice. Interconnects were unbalanced Linn silvers and Linn K20 speaker cable.

After being presented with an iPad running the Linn Kazoo control point we settled down to listen to the pre-Katalyst KDSM Mk2 and were effectively left to our own devices. Though we had not heard this combination as a system before, we had heard various elements individually on a number of occasions so they were not totally unfamiliar to us. The next hour was spent familiarising ourselves with this new combination. Confident we had a good understanding of the system performance, Phil was called back it to connect the Katalyst KDSM Mk3. Another round of beverages was in order, volumes were adjusted and a further two hours of listening followed. We stopped listening and spent the next 15 minutes discussing what we had heard before calling Phil back in to re-connect the pre-Katalyst KDSM Mk2. It only took a few minutes of listening to confirm our impressions of Linn’s Katalyst DAC architecture and we were done. I’m not going to give you a full report, I’ll save that for another time…

A discussion with Phil ensued as to what the next steps would be if I decided to upgrade my KDSM. Since my unit was the original KDSM Mk1, they would have to ship it back to Linn for upgrade as some machining of the casework is needed to fit the new boards. The lead time for the factory upgrade was currently 5 working days plus shipping time so I would be without music for 7 working days. The later version of KDSM (Mk2 which has the Linn Exakt links) could be upgraded in house with a kit of parts supplied by Linn. The trip home to serve my mandatory cooling-off period was extended due to traffic congestion but served useful for further discussion.

Following 2 ½ weeks of listening to my existing system, I had come to the conclusion that Katalyst would be a worthwhile and cost effective upgrade route for me. I phoned Phil to let him know of my decision and place my order and he suggested he could organise the returns paperwork with Linn and book the shipping in advance to minimise the down time I would experience. Later the same day he called back to say he had the returns authorisation and I arranged to take in the KDSM the following day. Six working days later I received a call to say it was on its way back from Linn and would be ready to pick up the next day. And on the seventh day I was a happy bunny!

Having spent half a day at the demo and experienced the way they deal with customers, I can only confirm the recommendations of others.  Overall, my experience with Cymbiosis was very positive, a relaxed unpressured environment with very knowledgeable staff who are willing to go that extra mile in customer satisfaction.  Would I use them again? Absolutely, they are now on my list of preferred dealers!

Images courtesy of Cymbiosis.

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