The background for this was due to an error of judgement on my part in selecting a new headphone/integrated amplifier for my main system. I had reasoned that I would not need a small office based system as I would be listening all the time to the main system. Therefore in the items I traded in for the new amp were my old amp and my old office system.
This office system comprised an Auralic Aries Mini and an ifi Audio “stack” of iDSD, iCAN and iUSB power thingy.
Of course things change and now I realised I needed an office system again!
So I looked around for a simple one box solution (if possible) of streamer, DAC and headphone amp and of course there are a number and at a range of prices.
The main contenders were as follows….
Aries Mini + ifi Zen Dac
Pro Ject Stream box S2 Ultra + Digital box S2
BlueSound Node 2i
And of course the Lindemann Limetree Network
I am a big fan of Auralic streamers and their Lightning DS software but I found it difficult to source a Mini and the Altair G1 has too big a footprint and is too expensive. The Pioneer is likewise a bit too big and has rather buggy software. The Pro Ject kit looks great but it’s 2 boxes and I really wanted just one. My dealer also reckoned the Limetree was a better machine. The BlueSound is popular but didn’t feel like it was a step on from the Aries Mini.
I appreciate these are not all the possible options but I thought the Limetree gave me all the options although there is no MQA facility.
Set up and running
It has one very important attribute straight out of the box and that is it is easy to set up on WLAN via the WPS button and then link with Tidal which is my streaming platform of choice. The software is even easier to set up than the Lightning DS but maybe a bit less user friendly. It does seem nice and stable though. I feel that the operating software and its stability is at highly important in such devices and if it is slow or buggy or prone to drop outs then I am going to discount it as a contender even if the sound quality is good. I know that may appear slightly heretical but that’s my view for what it’s worth.
Now I am not very techy, and still consider streaming over Wi-Fi to be a form of witchcraft, so rather than pretend I understand all the stuff here is a link to the tech details
There are some of the points I understand enough to cover. The Limetree doesn’t do MQA as Lindemann are non-believers. This would have a been a pity but for the fact that by flipping a toggle switch the incoming signal can be converted to DSD due to the fancy AKM processing chips (there is one for each channel) and Femto clock which I think is borrowed from the Lindemann Music book machines which are highly regarded. The difference is small but worthwhile in terms of stereo imaging so the loss of MQA is not an issue. Then if you try it with actual high resolution DSD files I have mine on a USB stick the sound quality kicks up another notch or two.
So the Limetree has a USB input for sticks and even a computer style external CD drive if you wish.
The headphone output is a 3.5mm jack. There is no provision for balanced operation sadly. I would guess either Lindemann are not fans or there isn’t enough space under the lid to allow for that. It would be interesting to try out the Limetree headphone device and as that is a pure class A headphone amp to see if it raises the SQ any further.
As note the overall form factor of the Limetree is compact and bijou. I have added a photo with a CD alongside so you can see just how small it is.
You can run the Limetree with Ethernet via a connector on the back but my router lives in the hall and consequently I much prefer WLAN for streaming so I can’t tell you if there is a sonic difference.
It also has RCA outputs so you can add an external amplifier, active speakers or similar.
In terms of sound quality I listened to a whole list of albums and tracks on Tidal from the Beatles, Bowie, Etta James, Rickie Lee Jones, Norah Jones, Leon Bridges, Dusty, Hendrix, Eagles, Aretha and many others.
I compared it to my Cayin N5ii DAP with the same Tidal tracks and also a Meridian Explorer2 DAC amp from my laptop again with the same tracks.
The headphones I used initially were my portable Audio Technica MSR7b which I chose as are they are closed back yet have really good stereo imaging and neutrality. These are 2 of my key reference points on listening to new kit. It is important also that the music flows and makes me forget I am listening for audiophile stuff and just enjoy the music. They are my normal headphones for the office based system.
In any case the results were not close. The Cayin DAP felt a bit warm and muddy by comparison and the Explorer2 lacks a decent soundstage in comparison.
The Limetree sounds very neutral right from the bass which is extended but tight, through the mid ranges allowing vocals to “sing” both male and female. Treble is clear and open. The imaging is broad and deep with good separation between vocalists and instruments. Certainly this provided a sound quality that was at least as good as my Aries Mini with ifi stack had been and in some ways even better in terms of the mid-range and vocal neutrality.
I briefly tried my main system headphones the Sennheiser HD800S and the Limetree could certainly drive them to loud enough levels. The music came even more alive and the instruments and vocals had a cleaner and clearer staging. This is not going to be a routine set up as the AT headphones are better for my office based system with their closed back design to stop as much background noise leaking in.
I am happy I purchased the Limetree Network for certain. The ease of use and stability of the software coupled with the excellent sound quality are great. To have it all bundled up in a dinky little box is ideal for my home office desk. To that end I feel it represents excellent value for money at only £895 or thereabouts in your currency.
Is it perfect? Well not entirely. I would say the cabling for the extremal power supply is too short and could do with at least another 0.5m. The second is a wish for a 4.4mm balanced headphone output but that may not be feasible of course!
I will recommend it to you with absolute pleasure, but with the caveat is it will be up to you decide if it fits your requirements as it’s your money.