Linn. The mere name when mentioned amongst audiophiles usually brings about two reactions: devotion or hatred. Occasionally, those who hate the brand have a grudging respect for the longevity of the Scottish hi-fi manufacturer in such a fickle audiophile marketplace. Many brands have come and gone or been swallowed up by large conglomerates. This, though, is where any positives from them abruptly end.
A quick scan of internet hi-fi forums (naturally outside of Linn’s own) reveal a strength of negative feeling usually reserved for genocidal superpowers. Linn Products are generally perceived as overpriced, overhyped and underwhelming. It is never clear whether any of Linn’s detractors have actually listened to the equipment. I suspect in many cases they haven’t.
I took the decision to go and have a listen to a Linn system after coming to something of a crossroads in my audiophile journey.
After 20 years of swapping boxes in out of my system in an effort to get to closer to the music to coin a well worn phrase I was left with a great valve based system that produced a much heat as all the radiators in the house put together (and probably cost as much to run), needed an hour or so of warm up time and regularly required me rugby tackling my 3 year old daughter to stop her from removing the exposed valves when cold or causing severe burns when the amplifier was switched on.
With the valve based system the means always seemed to justify the ends and in terms of sound quality I was more than satisfied. From a system journey perspective I have owned valve amplifiers for at least the last 10 years and could never have imagined going back to solid state. Also, the upgrade bug hadn’t hit for a while which was always a good sign from a financial, spousal and mental health perspective.
Despite this I have for a while followed with interest the hard disk based audio solutions that seemed to be becoming the format of choice for many audiophile manufacturers. A couple of years ago a friend of mine took the plunge and got rid of his CD player and went totally computer based for his audio. I told him he was mad and that CD was here to stay for the foreseeable future and after a very brief flirtation with a Logitech Squeezebox felt that, despite the flaws inherent in the little silver discs, hard disk audio still had a long way to go to compete with CD. Again I had these pre-conceived ideas based on what I had experienced in my system.
Despite invitations I didn’t (and haven’t, yet) heard his system.
Other than the impracticalities of my system I also found that my house was getting filled with CD’s. My study was overflowing with to the point where I had completely run out of storage. There were pools of CD’s around my hi-fi rack, boxes of them gathering dust on top of cupboards, some in the car, some in the kids bedrooms. The straw that broke the camels back was when I was trying to find a couple of albums to play when I had friends round. I was keen to show of this singer (can’t remember the name now) and in my determination to find it I must have spent half an hour going through shelf after shelf and box after box in an effort to locate the two evasive slim line jewel cases.
In the end I gave up and returned to the lounge disappointed and empty handed. They turned up in a pile of CD’s behind the study door a couple of days later.
There must be a better to solution that would satisfy my audiophile needs. And what better place to start than a company who if the market is to be believed stopped manufacturing CD players ion the basis that there hard disk audio solution sounded significantly batter,. Enter, stage left, Linn.
First thing to do was to find a local dealer where I could go and listen. Where I live is generally bereft of any dealers selling high end equipment and the closest I could find was around 25 miles away from where I live. Not round the corner but close enough to bundle the wife and two kids in the car and make the journey to see what all the fuss was about. Why take two ears when you can take 8 and also set you friendly dealer the challenge of two children to keep entertained and an inquisitive wife who won’t fall for the usual audiophile flannel that she thinks I would. As if!
House of Linn are based in a small town north of Manchester. Their business is based out of a large semi-detached Victorian house and each of the rooms downstairs and on the first floor is a separate dedicated listening room. Each room contains a different level of the Linn System hierarchy. From Majik to Akurate to Klimax they are able to demonstrate each system in it’s own tailor made environment pretty much as you would experience it at home.
There are none of the usual soulless listening rooms that you would usually come across at regular dealers. With a coffee in hand and the FLAC files I had brought loaded up onto their laptop we sat on the huge sofa in the main listening room ready to listen. In front of us sat a pair of Majik 140 floorstanding speakers. Electronics consisted of a Majik DS and 1200 power amplifier. A simple two box system that took up no room at all. I could see my wife’s eyes light up.
Whilst I (and she) would never say she was an audiophile she does enjoy music played through a good system and has a good ear for what sounds right and always a great leveller when, in the past, enthusiasm for a product has gotten the better of me.
Trevor sat between my wife and I and went through the simplicity of the control software on their iPad. He brought up the Album search screen and before long Alison Krauss with singing Down to the River to Pray from her live album with Union Station.
So far so good. The sound was very clean and detailed with a good soundstage. The warmth that comes with the valve based system was missing but so was the mush that I had forgotten was there. It lacked a little emotion but it was music I could easily live with in the long term. It didn’t reach out and throttle you like some systems (Naim being one I heard recently) and neither did it’s presentation draw attention to itself in any one area. We listened to a half dozen more tracks, chatting along the way about how the DS system works from a technical perspective in the home.
Trevor then suggested I try the Akurate DS. In his opinion, good as the Majik is, many of his customers upgrade before long to the Akurate. I was a little sceptical and thought at the time it was the typical dealer ploy of trying to squeeze more money out of a customer. The number of times I have gone with a budget of £2,000 only to be shown all the products in a shop at £3,000………and then walked out.
Trevor swapped over the necessary boxes and we were ready to go. We cued up the Alison Krauss track again. Whilst we did this Trevor was explaining some of the other attributes of their iPad and how this works. When the music started again this time my wife and I were both stopped in our tracks.
The difference between the Majik and the Akurate is, to my ears, night and day. More detail, more soundstage, width, height and depth. There is also some added warmth and a presentation more akin to analogue.
It really felt as though you were listening into that concert in the auditorium in Kentucky. The vocals were much better projected and the separation of voices when guys of Union Station came in with their harmonic backing was spookily real.
Track after track revealed the same improvements. Hearing into a recording was much easier. Suffice to say I was sold on the idea and what seemed anathema to me to store music as a file on a hard drive was now clear to me as the future of music storage.
We left with smiles on our faces discussing not if we could afford to upgrade the system but how we were going to do it………………………….
And do it we did. Before the order went in we discovered that a new improved version of the Akurate DS was to be released. Waiting time would be a little longer but we were assured that the wait would be more than worth it for the improvements over the old unit.
Next up, listening to the Linn System at home with the new DS………