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World mail September 2012 issue
Letters are published first in the magazine, then here in our web archive. We cannot guarantee to answer all mail, but we do manage most!
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Your experts are -
Linn DSM preamplifier and 242 loudspeaker.
THE POWER OF LINN
Having first noted Dr Jeremy Honeybun’s April letter concerning the lack of Linn reviews, as an owner of various Linn items I was interested to read Noel’s August issue appraisal of the Linn Akurate DSM full system that was ‘forced’ upon him! – and in particular his rather lukewarm reaction to the amplifier and speakers. The front ends of my fairly modest system consist of Linn LP12/Lingo 1/Ekos 2/Klyde/Linto vinyl and Genki CD feeding a Kairn pre-amp.
The output end however consists of Musical Fidelity XA50 monoblocks (upgraded a couple of years ago by J S Audio – an excellent Hi-Fi World suggestion!) and Tannoy M20 Gold MkII speakers (very effectively upgraded by Derek Gilligan of Kudos fame).
I use Russ Andrews / Kimber mains, interconnects and speaker cables. Everything apart from the cables, cartridge, XA50s and speakers were obtained second hand. The LP12 was bought in 1980 and has been steadily upgraded to ‘just short of SE’ spec. I have owned the Genki and Kairn for the past six years. I have bought everything other than the cartridge only after careful comparative listening.
I enjoy a wide range of music folk/rock/pop/blues/soul/jazz/classical. The XA50s were originally bought in 1998 to partner an Audiolab 8000C pre-amp because I found that they brought dynamics, space and air – at odds with the rather sterile and grey sound of the Audiolab power amps of that era – and this brings me to my main point.
Like those Audiolab power amps, I find that Linn seem to be able make theirs measure well (as borne out by Noel’s review) but somehow sound ‘sat upon’. In addition, their speakers often seem to exhibit overblown bass. As a strong supporter of much of what Linn do therefore, I find it frustrating that complete Linn systems just never seem to ‘do it’ for me.
To my ears, my comparatively modest LP12 and Genki front ends with the Kairn exhibit an unusual combination of clarity and cleanness, yet warmth and lack of harshness far beyond their price range (particularly second hand!) that I find very appealing, yet I have to turn to other manufacturers to hear their full potential.
It is a shame that Linn resist single item reviews. I am sure that if they changed this policy many more people could learn to appreciate just how good Linn ‘front end’ gear can be.
I feel that they could also usefully do a u-turn on their ‘no CD player’ policy and release a Genki replacement as evidenced by the overall comparatively slow take-up of computer audio; we don’t all want to stream our music!
Perhaps Linn could then spend the income from extra sales on developing power amps and speakers to do justice to the rest of their gear! Might I even dare to hope they could allow Hi-Fi World comparative reviews?
Cartridges are of course an item for which reviews are particularly important. Perhaps I could ask right now in fact: are there good alternatives to the Klyde that suit the Ekos?
Finally, on a slightly different matter I am sure that a lot of LP12 owners would be fascinated by a comparative test of the range of LP12 upgrades now available e.g. Funk, Inspire, Tiger Paw et al. A minefield to arrange, I am sure, but if you can pull it off you’re welcome to the loan of my deck for a start!
All best wishes,
Prof David A Deeks
Thanks for your views on Linn products David. If you want to exploit Linn's unique three-point cartridge fixing then you have only the Akiva to consider. If you don't care about this then the world is your oyster! Look toward Ortofon, from Cadenza Bronze upward, or to Benz Micro or Van den Hul. All make fine MCs. I am happy with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze that has a lovely tonality and also a golden sheen to treble. For a darker sound use a Cadenza Black, and Tony Bolton would suggest a model from Benz Micro I suspect. NK
Thank you for running such a comprehensive and balanced review of Linn in your August issue. It’s great to see Linn getting some decent coverage. I actually agree with everything you say, and I was very interested to learn about Linn’s approach to the Hi-Fi Press. I feel they are their own worst enemy there. Whilst I am clearly a Linn fan, I would be the first to say that their speakers are pretty awful, for my purposes at least; and I don’t think I am understating it there, given their price.
My experience is not great, but I have heard the 242 speakers driven by an Akurate DS. In my experience, although a hi-fi system is a sum of its parts, it is the ‘speakers that have the greatest influence on sound quality and character. What one person hates another can love, and there is no substitute for listening, as I’m sure you will agree.
I listen mainly to organ and choral music, and through the 242s the organ pedal notes were woolly and indistinct. Hook the DSM and the 2200 up to a pair of PMC OB1is, as I have, and the quality is a revelation – and at half the price! I actually bi-amp the speakers with a Linn 4200, which brings further benefits in focus and solidity. I have also heard them through a pair of large Proac floor standers with similar results.
So, Linn produce excellent electronics, but pretty poor speakers, which was more or less your conclusion I think. One just has to rely on a dealer who sells more than one manufacturer's equipment! I don’t think Linn should be disappointed at that. One can’t be good at everything after all! Thanks again for an excellent review!
Dr Jeremy Honeybun
Another loudspeaker from Glasgow that competes with the Linn 242, the Tannoy DC10.
Big bass and point source imaging, lovely finish and accurate balance, but lower price tag.
The Linn 242 loudspeakers came alive on the end of a Tellurium Q Iridium power amplifier, sounding both smooth and dynamic. I understood and appreciated their strengths in this situation, although bass quality remained open to question, shall we say!
But as you note, there’s no shortage of competition out there, not just from PMC but also KEF, B&W, Monitor Audio, Tannoy, Triangle, Quadral – the list goes on – at the price. Against this commercial backdrop the 242s don’t look so competitive. They were lacklustre in styling and finish too.
In contrast to the 242s, the Akurate DSM network connected preamp was a tour-de-force of engineering and a rare beast indeed. Few other preamps in the world combine a quality MC phono input along with wi-fi control from an App. plus internet radio and music streaming from network drives or a computer, plus HDMI input and output.
Coincidentally, in this issue we review an Onkyo TX-8050 receiver that could be seen as a budget version of the DSM, offering similar basic functionality. It isn't a Linn by any means of course, but it's an interesting package all the same.
I suspect stereo ‘preamps’ that do it all will become more popular in future. But in the meantime Linn’s DSM stands virtually alone in its broad range of abilities and is as impressive as you said! Linn have a lot to offer. It is a pity that getting it in for review was such a task because more exposure is needed, especially with a product as complex as the DSM. NK
After a number of months in silence I was motivated by the June 2012 Letter of the Month to drop you a line. I can’t stop being amazed by Hi-Fi World readers, their views and fresh opinions based on current or past experiences. In this case, the fact that Steve Bennett's IMFs may be addictive in spite of being icons from a much different era. Steve centers some of his decisions, regarding the evolution of his system, on keeping his Dynavector Karat 17D3.
I have been directly touched by this option as, after many decades of trying different cartridges, I always come faithfully back to the Karat in any of its incarnations. Maybe two decades ago the main problem I have faced using the then Karat 17D (I think that is how the model was named in the mid nineties) was the need of serious gain to really profit of its genetic qualities.
With the current version, the problem remains and the need for high gain in the preamp still exists. Such a low output challenges you and your records a lot more. To get rid of a baffled sound once and for all, it won’t be enough to pick a good preamp and a good phono stage.
If the elected cartridge is a Dynavector Karat, correct equipment matching is absolutely necessary. Most of the Karat's users have no idea about the extraordinary performance they may extract from this classic cartridge.
The Dynavector brand includes several exquisite cartridges and some a lot more expensive than the good old Karat but, the Karat is an addictive object, almost a religious object in the USA where there are plenty of Karat dependants – some even known to swear by it.
The most recent Karat versions must have been designed with the American market in perspective and only such a fact explains why it works better with American pre amps. I’ve tried mine with a Conrad Johnson and a VTL 5.5 and the results were excellent. The Conrad Johnson is much too expensive but the VTL 5.5, though pricey, is a perfect option and a lot less expensive too.
The phono stage puts a complete different question. We need gain but we also need transparency and analytical detail to compensate for the Koetsu like properties of the Karat. Very good American phono stages are also very expensive ones and Dynavector’s own P75 isn’t enough for the job.
Trying not to go bankrupt I faced the dilemma of using the Karat with an Icon Audio PS3, or go for a solid-state European phono stage. My amplification wouldn’t allow the use of the Icon Audio as I am using a pair of bridged (modified) BAT VK60s plus a pair of KEF Reference 107/2 R. Cook. And though very interesting and velvety, the tonality became too dark.
After many different hearings I ended up with a German ASR Basis Exclusive and couldn’t be happier with the final results. The sound is crystal clear, instruments are well and singularly placed on the sound stage and the bass levels are more vivid than with the best CDs and respective players. There is a depth and control to bass that was unsuspected before. Voices are amazingly present in the room even with big choral works, Britten or Elgar. Absolutely astounding. I do not ask for more, at least, as previous experiences already told me, for the time being.
I’m currently using two absolutely different turntables, out of the many different turntables I have accumulated for the last 37 years: a heavily modified Technics, like Steve’s one (sorry but I don’t buy the SME 309 idea) equipped with a Rega RB1000 (modified) and also, because their presentations are so different, a Well Tempered Lab Amadeus GTA (I only changed the plate mat).
Both are equipped with Dynavector Karat cartridges (the Rega arm sports a K 17D2MKII and the Amadeus, the more recent Karat 17D3). In the end some records and some music styles still need different turntables to spin at their best. But that’s how this hobby goes. What’s true today will be overtaken next year, vinyl being the only exception I know.
Best regards and thanks for an outstanding Mag!
Mario Kopke Tulio
ASR Basis Exclusive phono stage. "I couldn't be happier with the result"
says Mario Kopke Tulio.
Ah – words of wisdom from deep experience! However, I don't quite understand why you don't 'buy' the SME309; Adam Smith thought it a superb arm sonically and it is beautifully finished too. And I have always used an SME, albeit a 12in one. But then, Regas are good also. Thanks for your experiences, as always. NK