Linn Akurate 242 loudspeaker Page 2
The Akurate 242's enclosure, like that of other modern loudspeakers, is of the sort one rarely saw before computer-controlled milling machines became commonplace: I can't imagine how many machine operations it would take to form all the complex bracing and the separate loading chambers, but it looks daunting enough from here. Besides the above-mentioned recess, the front baffle is also machined so that protective metal grilles can be fitted to each woofer with only a slender molded ring, keeping to a minimum unsightly and possibly diffractive bulk. And in addition to the plate that holds the various connecting jacks, access to the crossover elements—and a clear view of additional braces and wire conduits—can be had through a sturdy alloy plate on the bottom of the enclosure. Thick strands of something called Van Damme Pro Loudspeaker cable run up and down the inside of the cabinet like carotid arteries, carrying signals between the input jacks and the drivers. Down in the crossover's chamber, most of the internal connections are made using 14-gauge, 2.5mm cross-section stranded wires, some of which are pink.
The Akurate's bottom is also home to a quartet of chunky threaded inserts, used to hold the speaker's metal standwork in place. Each cabinet gets two neat-looking cast-alloy supports, the corners of which are equipped with the cleverest feet I've seen: two-piece assemblies in which both the spike and its substantial locking mechanism can be easily adjusted from above, the former with a screwdriver, the latter with a special tool supplied for the purpose.
Electrically as well as physically, the Akurate 242 is a marvel of clever construction. This five-way speaker is equipped with five separate pairs of input jacks, plus a sixth pair that addresses a bass-boost filter for the lowest woofer, for rooms or musical tastes that require such a thing. As shipped, the Akurate's five main inputs are linked together, for single-wired performance (with unboosted bass), but various extra links are supplied—along with yet another purpose-made tool, for getting the connectors on and off—that allow the user to biwire, triwire, quadwire, or quintwire. One could power a single Akurate 242 with up to five mono amplifiers, if desired; for presumably even greater performance, one could convert the Akurate 242 from passive to active status with the addition of Linn's own electronic crossovers.
There wasn't a single aspect of the Akurate 242's construction I could fault: There were no wrong notes anywhere. Where a wood screw might suffice, Linn uses alloy T-nuts, machine bolts, and a gasket. Where a slip-on connector might go unheard, Linn solders it anyway, then anchors the wire so it won't rattle or come undone. (George Paterson did a superb job of assembling my review pair.) Product durability—something I don't always mention in equipment reports but probably should—appears better than average here, both because of the high build quality and because every element of the design, from the crossover's access panel to the modular nature of the high-frequency array, seems to have been chosen with serviceability in mind. All in all, this is one of the most thoroughly engineered loudspeakers I've had the pleasure of using.
It's not so much that positive reviews are the hardest to write—although that may be true for some—but rather that certain kinds of very good products are difficult to praise in ways that are meaningful and fresh. This is one of them.
That's at least partly because the Linn Akurate 242 was consistently, unfailingly neutral in my music system. It appeared to have neither an identifiable sound of its own, nor any limitation in its ability to play back music with high fidelity to the original. That such a description has become a cliché in our trade doesn't make it any less true in this instance.
But the Linn was more than merely truthful—it was convincing. I've heard a great many speakers that achieved a certain commendable lack of coloration, but that did so in ways that sucked all the life out of the music and seemingly ignored every performance parameter other than the almighty response curve. The domestic audio world is full of such things—overengineered, overbuilt, overpriced monstrosities that make reproduced music sound like the master tape in that single sense, but that miss the flow, drama, and, ultimately, the meaning of the aural art they're supposed to unfurl.
The Akurate was of a higher order. Considered on the basis of the most elemental speaker requirements, it was peerlessly good—I mean that literally—at conveying pitches and pitch relationships, from the highest audible notes down to the lowest. And with the right amplifiers, it always succeeded at putting those notes across as lines of notes, with real momentum and flow.
The Akurate was also rhythmically clear and undistorted—as good as I've heard. The first Linn speakers, the Isobariks and the Saras of a quarter century ago, had few competitors when it came to playing music without slowing and slurring; the new Linn carried on that tradition while adding a number of other nice things to its mix of strengths.
In particular, you may never have heard a Linn speaker as colorless and open as this—world-beatingly so. I regard the Quad ESL-989, a pair of which I own, as among the most open, transparent, and uncolored loudspeaker available at any price, especially through its midrange. The Linn Akurate sounded remarkably similar in my room, in terms of both bass extension and overall timbral character. Actually, the Linn had a bit more clarity and sharpness in both the deep bass and, surprisingly, the mids and upper mids, where flutes sounded somewhat more metallic through the Akurate (but only appropriately so). On one or two occasions toward the end of the review period, when I tended to keep both pairs near to one another for comparison's sake, I walked into my listening room with a record playing and was momentarily confused: Which speakers are hooked up and playing right now?
It was possible to tease worse sound from the Linns. When I spaced them too far apart or toed them in, the tonal balance at the listening area became less flat, and voices and instruments took on a bit of a hollow sound—that, plus the top end, made its presence too well known, meaning that record ticks and the like didn't dissolve into the room the way they should have, and otherwise did. Resist the temptation to toe in the Akurate 242s toward the listening area: Make it straight ahead, steady as she goes.
And don't get lazy with Linn's stands: They were among the most influential I've heard. Failing to get the spikes just right diminished the tunefulness and ease of the Akurate 242s, and made their spatial qualities fidgety instead of natural and right.
Those spatial qualities were remarkable. Again, anyone whose experience of Linn speakers is limited to the Isobariks or Saras of yesteryear will be astonished—no, gobsmacked (in honor of the late but not terribly lamented mag The Flat Response)—to hear the convincing and engaging yet thoroughly unfussy stereo imaging of the Akurate 242s. On small-scale music in particular, they were beguiling and magical—as on a Rudolf Serkin–led recording of Brahms' Liebeslieder-Walzer, a collection for piano four-hands and vocal quartet (LP, Columbia MS 6236). The vocal soloists had better-than-average presence and solidity through the Linns, with the piano sounding convincingly there.
And on something larger, such as the Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande recording of Ravel's Ma mère l'oye (LP, Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2062), the instruments were utterly freed from the confines of the Linns' cabinets, filling the space between and all around them. Most surprising of all was the Akurates' fine sense of physical depth, when called for. The trumpets in the rightly famous Fritz Reiner/CSO recording of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije suite (LP, RCA Living Stereo LSC-2150) were way out there. And the solo voices in the first episode of Alfven's astonishing Symphony 4 (LP, Swedish Society SLT 33186) were as convincingly distant as I've heard—a sonic effect with greater-than-average musical consequence in that eerie, moving piece. All in all, the Akurates' re-creations of depth, width, and specificity were top-drawer on that and other good stereo recordings.
Whereas the Akurates' timbral and spatial performance could be affected by their physical placements, I found their bass performance to be surprisingly unfazed. I didn't try placing the cabinets all the way against the rear wall—Linn recommends keeping these speakers at least 9" away from adjacent walls—but I tried various other dimensions, all with at least decent results in terms of bass extension.
Bass quality, on the other hand, was subject to other things—most notably different wiring schemes. My big box of cables and garage-door openers contains no five-in-one speaker cables, but I was able to try both bi- and triwiring, both with small but definite gains in bass clarity.
As far as electronics were concerned, I discovered a few fairly interesting things. Because I was already familiar with the Scottish company's solid-state Klimax Twin power amplifier, Linn's Brian Morris loaned me one of those for a few months—and it sounded quite nice with the Akurate 242, to the surprise of no one. Also unsurprising was the fact that the Lamm ML2.1 single-ended triode amps didn't mate well with the Akurates—but not because the Lamms ran out of steam. (Well, they did, eventually, but not as soon or as suddenly as you'd think.) There was just something about the Lamms that made the Linns sound too dark even for me.
The Akurates also seemed to require more than 20W to deliver their best spatial performance. With the single-ended Lamms, the sound tended to congeal around the speaker enclosures, as on the Josef Krips/Vienna Philharmonic recording of Brahms' Symphony 1 (LP, London STS 15144), which required the passing of significantly more current before the gorgeous massed string tone on that record was believably spread out.
But the Akurates' best performance by far came when I drove them with my EAR 890 stereo amplifier: 70Wpc of sweet, nonmechanical-sounding tetrode power. The EAR plus a triwire set of Nordost SPM speaker cables produced sound that was nothing short of lovely: perhaps not quite as magically textured and present as the combination of Lamm ML2.1s and Quad ESL-989s—which, despite their similar specs, are a great deal more satisfied with those 20W than were the Linns—but consistently listenable, fun, and revelatory in every other way. And for a lot less money overall.
Though once the prickly upstart, Linn has become part of the establishment. They sell multichannel gear alongside their two-channel stuff, and words such as transparent and soundstage have found their way into Linn's promotional literature. There are Linn hi-fi systems on the Queen Elizabeth 2and in Virgin Atlantic's first-class lounge, and HRH Princess Anne has been to the factory. Linn founder Ivor Tiefenbrun got a proper haircut years ago, and doesn't wear loud shirts any more.
There are doubtless some who will avoid current Linn products for those reasons (excepting the shirts), just as there are enthusiasts out there who will buy and use only gear that promotes their own sense of self—their own coolness. A SET devotee myself, it pains me to see how many people we have like that in our ranks.
And that's too bad: A system built well around a pair of Linn Akurate 242s could be among the best, most musical you can buy for less than the price of a Subaru Outback.
Judging from the sheer number of directly competing products, $10,000/pair speakers enjoy some measure of popularity these days. As with so many other things, neither I nor anyone else can honestly claim to know more than a fraction of those speakers—but after my months with the Akurate 242, I know it deserves the attention of any such buyer before he or she plunks down plastic on something else. The Akurate is extremely well engineered, has no egregious flaws, and it has soul. Most speakers, at some time or another, will close the door on the music you want to hear; the Linn Akurate 242 seems always to open outward. Brilliant stuff.