A Visit at Musiikin.com
by Keijo Tanskanen
Musiikin.com: Juuso Närhi and Ossi Wilen
Several times I have missed to get familiar with Musiikin.com, a new hifi and high-end dealer in Finland, but finally it happened. Last December I managed to get a free afternoon for a short visit which luckily offered also Linn’s Reference set presentation, just a short time before the system was returned!
I must confess I have not much experience about Linn products. I’ve visited only couple of public events where a Linn system was presented among the others. But! I’ve happily owned Linn Sondek LP 12 in the end of 1980’s when I still had LPs. Then I made a decision to change my collection to the digital format. This was surely a double side decision which I’ve repented as well! My experiences of the LP 12 were mostly praising. It will stay as the best vinyl player I’ve ever owned although I’ve also had couple of Oracles! Nowadays there is no return to vinyls for me, because it would be impossible to get such a record collection I had those days, and I’m very pleased with the sound of my CD player.
History and philosophy
Linn is a long time audio brand and actually one of those who were creating the high-end culture to the world during 1970’s. Linn Products was established in 1972 by Ivor Tiefenbrun when the first version of Linn Sondek LP 12 was introduced and a long time success story was immediately prepared. Today, Linn is a substantial independent precision engineering company which is often labeled as a participant of the Flat Earth philosophy. Another participant is Naim. This philosophy is more or less unclear among the hifi and high-end enthusiasts, especially in Finland. I’ll now tell my short impressions of this philosophy.
The main idea of the Linn Flat Earth is to produce pure music. In other words this means for example extremely high level coherency, accurate pitches and timing. Those features, especially the pitch accuracy, are so prominent that the other features can be even partially sacrificed for the sake of them!? Can one hear Flat Earth? Well, although I already knew the basic ideas before my visit, I got several clarifying ideas during it. Firstly, the sound of the Linn brand IS different when compared to the mainstreams of hifi and high-end products if I refer to the two pure Linn systems I listened to. Secondly the philosophy seemed to work as it was promised: the music seemed to be in one package and I never had any thoughts of divergent frequency areas or disturbing tonal factors. The main feeling was that this is just music!
We began the sessions and listened first to the cheapest system which had Neat Motive 2 speakers. After few moments Ossi Wilen suggested us to change the system, which I naturally agreed at once. I think Ossi cleverly noticed the sound was not what a demanding visitor expected. So a new installation was done by Ossi as shown below - this is real customer service!
After the successful installation we listened to the pure Linn system: Linn Majik CD, Linn Majik I integrated amp, Linn Majik 140 speakers and Linn cablings. The improvement of the sound was nothing but quite dramatic and showed practical sights inside to the Flat Earth philosophy! As I told before I mainly did not have any divergent thoughts in my mind during the sessions of pure Linn systems. The listening was just a pleasure and fun. An enthusiast beside me even mentioned that my foot tapping may be a bit too dominating. What ever he meant, my reaction at least showed how satisfied I was to the improvement of the sound. Anyway, when evaluating the system it is also important to go to the details and find the personality of the sound.
Although the sound of the Majik system was generally applicable, very coherent and mainly clean through the frequency scale, I noticed also some lacks. I listened to my traditional test CDs and became convinced of the following notifications. The control of the bass was a bit defective and the lows were more or less smeared when compared to the higher quality speakers and systems, including Linn’s Reference set. The slight transparency, dynamics and speed lacks were noticed as well. For me the soundstaging features are very important. Because of that I always look very critically at how the sonical picture is built and how much dimensionality it has. This time the sonical picture was a bit generous and clearly lacked some dimensionality and focus. Anyway, one must remember the soundstaging features are not the most important issues for the Flat Earth philosophy, and I’m always comparing my listening experiences to the higher quality and more expensive systems as well. When taking account the price of the system, all the lacks were more than acceptable. Actually I’m still thinking if I have ever heard better sound in this price class!
After the rewarding second session it was time to go to the next room where Linn’s very impressive Reference system was presented. The first sight of the system was memorable, especially the stack of Klimax monoblocks were something very special. The Komris seemed to be heavy and relatively small speakers which were told to have servo bass units. The front end consisted of the Akurate multiformat CD player and Klimax Kontrol preamp. The finish was done with Linn cablings. The Linn crew had adjusted the system and Ossi and Juuso had accepted the results. Actually they told that the system had delivered the best ever sound in their listening experience.
So, the expectations were huge, especially when one takes account the price of the system, which was approximately 177.000 euros!? How did the Reference system sound then? Ossi began the session with couple of his CDs. After that we listened to some samples of my test collection, and finally couple of Musiikin.com vinyls by carefully tuned LP 12. It is not a surprise that this setup produced wider frequency spectrum and more accurate sound than the budget class Linn system during the second session. In fact the sound was better almost in every area. Only the frequency balance seemed to make an exception, and that was only because the Linn crew had adjusted the system’s frequency balance fulfilling their preferences.
The bass seemed to be a bit plenty, especially when listening to my music samples. I think the system setup and my test CDs had a slight unfortunate coincidence in the balance of bass. On the other hand the bass extensions and richness were very much what I had expected it to be, it went simply very low and delivered natural like tonality. The noticed lacks were tiny and did not disturb too much the entirety of the sound. Also, as I mentioned before, the level of bass would have been adjustable, but this time it was unreasonable to do because of the very limited time window of the listening session.
CD after CD and record after record the complex sonical textures flowed fluently in the listening room and caused always respectable thoughts in my mind. Especially the LPs sounded great! Every music sample launched easily a lot of low level details, which mean very high resolution. At the same time the pitch accuracy, overall tonal richness and firmness, which includes timing features, as I see it, were in an incomprehensibly nice package. In this manner the Linn Reference setup delivered one of the finest moments in my listening experience.
But, this kind of top quality system must always be compared to the other top systems as well. In the deep investigation I could see couple of things possibly to be better in the other reference systems, where for example Acapella, Avantgarde or Wilson speakers were used. I’ve heard slightly faster, even a bit more transparent, controlled and dynamic sound. Additionally the soundstaging and imaging features of the Linn Reference system did not quite achieve the same performance level what the other sonical features did.
The differences between the reference systems are not necessarily big ones but I’m convinced they exist, without deeper thinking whatever caused them this time and which one actually may have the right sound! Anyway, my slight criticism will not diminish at all the previously mentioned features where the Linn system shines on the top. The philosophy of these audio master piece components was heard and I believe the sound was just what the Linn crew wanted it to be.
My visit was a relatively short one. Because of that it is not fair to give very hard and deep judgements. The both Linn systems delivered very nice listening experiences and the hosts were friendly and they had deep “Linn” knowledge. The Reference system was naturally what I was especially interested in, and it rewarded me fully in certain sonical areas. The systems were surely not conventional. They had enough individuality and features to make some people, who are looking for very special audio products, to love them!
I’m convinced there are markets also for the Linn audio products in Finland, although the sound did not totally meet my preferences - actually no system has met so far. My guess is that if I had had a possibility to adjust the system just for me, the evaluation would have been even more positive. Despite of lacking that possibility I can now respect even more the ideas what Linn has advertised during the last three and half decades. Especially Linn Sondek LP 12 is now fabulously sounding vinyl player and I can give my highest recommendations for it.
The evaluation of price and quality relationships is always very challenging and subtle, especially in the case of top level high-end systems. This causes some pressure for the presented Linn Reference system as well, but this can be also argued almost endlessly because the question is very highly an individual one. I think it’s always better to give music and everyone’s budget to show the right choices for each enthusiast, just because there is no single best choice for everyone!
Linn Majik system (the prices in euros):
Linn Majik CD player 3.050
Linn Majik I integrated amp 2.318
Neat Motive 2 speakers 1.590
Linn Majik 140 speakers 2.379
Linn Silver Interconnects 339
Linn K400 bi-cable speaker cable (euros/m) 20
Linn Reference system (the prices in euros):
Linn Sondek SE incl. the
Keel and Trampolin II 5.700
Ekos SE tone arm 4.750
Akiva MC cartridge 3.050
Linn Linto RIAA 1.750
Linn Lingo II Power Supply Unit 1.500
Linn Akurate multi format CD player 6.405
Linn Klimax Kontrol preamplifier 10.516
Linn Klimax Tunebox active filter unit/channel 7.320
4 x Linn Klimax 500 Solo monoblocks/channel 10.516/amp
Linn Komri speakers 43.871
(Including two 750 W Klimax Solo amps for the
servo driven active bass per speaker)
Linn Silver Interconnects 339
Linn Silver Balanced Interconnects 185
Linn K400 speaker cable (euros/m) 20