Linn Sondek CD12 CD Player Page 3
All of which wouldn't have amounted to a hill of beans had the Sondek CD12 not sounded fantastic. But it did. It had a sense of ease that was nothing short of remarkable. There was no edge, no grit, no haze, no hyper detail—nothing that sounded in the slightest way "digital" in any pejorative sense. In fact, the CD12 reminded me of nothing so much as my full-blown Linn LP12/Lingo/Cirkus/Ekos/Arkiv/Linto analog front-end. The two aren't quite identical, but they share more sonic attributes than not.
What does that mean? Well, to go through a sonic checklist, the CD12's bass was powerful and extended, but a trifle warmish just shy of the bottom octave. Call it bloom, if you like that sort of thing (I do), or call it bloat if you tend more toward a lean, clean, less embodied bottom end. The mids were clean, clear, and very uncolored, while the highs were superbly articulated and unobscured.
This last is an area where some people will perceive the Linn as sounding closed-down, but I didn't hear it that way. I think many recordings—and almost all CD players—tend to have an overabundance of high-frequency energy, which many audiophiles interpret as an "extended" top end. I was made aware of this when John Atkinson and I were preparing the master for Rendezvous: Jerome Harris Quintet Plays Jazz (STPH013-2—look for the upcoming article on the recording). The first time I listened to the master tapes, I wondered if we didn't need to boost the highs—the recording didn't sound dark, exactly, but it didn't sound like a commercial jazz release either.
But as I listened to a wide range of commercial jazz recordings, I began to hear how overly sizzly most of them sounded. I also realized that I could hear on Rendezvous the unique tonal identity of Billy Drummond's vintage K. Zildjian cymbals, as well as the decay of that sound in the acoustic of Chad Kassem's church. It was natural, just not very "hi-fi." We could have goosed the cymbals to make it sound more like a major-label recording, but the result would have sounded a lot less like Billy Drummond.
Linn must have been confronted by the same choice, and I think they chose wisely: The CD12's top end was neither sweet nor dark nor closed-down. But neither did it sound much like that of other CD players. Maybe that's why I liked it so much.
But it's a mistake to praise the Sondek because of its performance on a sonic checklist. That implies that good music reproduction is just a matter of bass, midrange, and treble. That ain't music, that's just details.
I certainly heard music while listening to CDs on the CD12. It was one of the few CD players I've had that I never tired of. As much as I like CD—and I really do like it—there comes a time in every listening session when I have to switch over to LP—not because I'm tired of CDs, usually, but because my LP collection is far larger than my CD collection. Sooner or later, I just have to hear something I have only on a 12" disc . . . Generally, when that happens, I find myself relaxing into that old, familiar LP sound, thinking, "Y'know, there's still something wonderful about this technology."
I never said that while the CD12 was in the house. In fact, I've just noticed that my Linto has been unplugged since last week, when JA came over to listen to some 24-bit/96kHz processors and we needed the mains cord. I can't tell you the last time I went a whole weekend without listening to a single LP. But with the CD12, I didn't miss them.
I'm not claiming that, with the CD12, compact disc reproduction has reached perfection, or that I'm ready to pack up my record collection—only that I don't think I've ever enjoyed listening to a CD player more than this one. I stopped fretting over differences and just listened to the music. That's a good thing.