Linn Klimax Kontrol preamplifier & Klimax Twin power amplifier Page 4

The Klimaxes departed from the ideal in small ways only. First, while the combination didn't sound like a solid-state amp in the pejorative sense—by which I mean, it didn't sound gritty or glassy or overly bright or musically constipated—neither did it sound like a tube preamp and amp, per se. And, in particular, the Linn Klimaxes did not sound like a SET. My idea of a good SET is something that does the notes'n'beats thing, at least through the midrange if not the bottom octaves, but that also sounds richly colorful (perhaps, I admit, even more colorful than the original); that floats voices and solo instruments between the speakers with not so much a traditional sense of imaging precision but with a big, tangible, almost eerie presence; and that errs in the direction of sounding softer and more liquid than the original, if and when it errs at all.

Well, if you hanker for that sort of thing, whether or not that's your or someone else's idea of what's "right," then you should try a good SET: The Linn Klimaxes won't do it. As to its spatial qualities in particular, the Linn combo sounded slightly forward, with less of a sense of depth than the SETs I know and love, albeit with no less delicacy and naturalness. Again, the question of which is "right," or even which we're "supposed" to prefer, is one I'm not going anywhere near right now.

The only other drawback I can tell you about—and some of you won't think it a drawback at all—was that the Klimax Kontrol preamp seemed just a wee bit goosed-up in the bass. The Tony Rice guitar break that opens the fine Chris Hillman song "Doesn't Mean that Much Anymore" (CD, Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen, Rounder 11661-0450-2) begins more or less in the middle of the instrument's range, but the Linn preamp made it sound bassier than that. And Dave Pegg's lovely bass line in Fairport Convention's "Wizard of the Worldly Game" (LP, Angel Delight, Island ILPS 9162) sounded thicker than usual. Don't get me wrong: The Linn had no trouble scooting these notes along. But, remarkably, the all-tube Audio Note M3, driving the Klimax Twin amp in balanced mode, was flatter and even a bit clearer in the bass.

Conclusions
A brief statement of philosophy: Setting aside the matter of a given component's sound—its timbral balance, its texture, its dynamic capabilities, its imaging or spatial properties, and so forth—I do, as you may know, believe that all audio hardware distorts the essence of the music itself, most obviously in distortions of pitch and timing. Whether this is caused by simple harmonic distortions that alter each note's attack, sustain, and decay components by changing the shape of the overall complex waveform that "contains" them, or whether the mechanism at work is something even more subtle and inscrutable, I don't know. But the effect is real, and every product does it to a greater or lesser extent.

The Linn Klimax Kontrol preamplifier and Klimax Twin power amplifier are among those things that distort music to a lesser extent—and if that sounds like damning with faint praise, believe me: It isn't. Based on what I've heard over the years, the seemingly passive act of refraining from screwing up the music is the rarest thing in audio. The Linns get that right. For that reason, they're among the relatively few products in hi-fi that I could picture myself owning and loving.

But a component that plays music well needn't sound bad, and here the Linns are equally impressive: They not only sing, they sing with uncommon clarity and articulation. And, when it's called for, they impress with sheer force.

Of course, there's the thorny matter of value. These are expensive products by anyone's reckoning (I would hope), and at least part of that big wad of dough has gone toward qualities that don't necessarily have to do with music: appearance, cachet, ergonomics, and, arguably, durability. I'm confident that, as reproducers of music and as things that just plain sound good, these Linns have few peers and very few betters. There may very well be $19,000 worth of those qualities in these two silvery boxes—although, as always, only you can make that determination for yourself. Not I, nor Ivor Tiefenbrun.

If not for their very high prices, I'd think of the Klimaxes as among the easiest recommendations I could make for most types of systems and most types of listeners, if only because they do so much so well—and so easily. Sadly, if unavoidably, the cost of the Linn Klimax Kontrol and Klimax Twin will be a barrier for many of the people who would most appreciate them; for the remaining fortunate few among record-lovers, they jump to the top of the list.

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