Linn AV 51 System (SGHT Review) Page 3

The power
The 5105 stereo power amp is a wideband (2Hz—50kHz) dual-mono design: two separate amplifiers sharing the same chassis but isolated from each other and from ground. The circuit is direct-coupled and servo-controlled, meaning there are no potentially sound-degrading coupling capacitors in the signal path. A signal-sensing circuit automatically powers the amplifier from Standby mode.

In my review system the three-way 5140 front speakers were triamped, meaning that each woofer, midrange, and tweeter had its own dedicated channel of amplification. Of course, this requires three 5105 stereo power amplifiers fitted with internal crossover modules. A fourth 5105 handled the biamped 5120 center channel and the fifth amp powered the surrounds. The front triamped/biamped configuration required triple runs of bulky gray Linn speaker cables from the amps to the L/R speakers and a double run to the center channel. The dealer's formidable job is to get all eight cables from the amplifiers to the speakers without you seeing or tripping over them.

If you opt for the full-blown system, which substitutes an additional pair of full-range 5140s in the rear, you need two additional 5105s (approximately $6400), bringing the grand total to over $33,000. I'd hoped to upgrade to that version of the system, but time ran out and I had to ship it all to Santa Fe for photography and measurements.

The glory
When Linn's mild-mannered Brian Morris had finished setting up and configuring the system, I took a few minutes to marvel at its good looks before sitting down for a serious listen. Even in my cramped living room, I felt that the AV 51 had morphed itself into welcome, decor-enhancing furniture, unlike most A/V gear I've reviewed. More important, my wife actually agreed! Except for the 5110 Local surround speakers, which are merely unobtrusive, the AV 51 is a stunning assemblage of graceful geometric forms and rich veneers.

Operating (as opposed to installing) the system is relatively straightforward, but there are a few idiosyncrasies. For example, there is a lag between issuing a command and getting results. With most Japanese gear, you push a button and get instant gratification. However, when you tell the 5103 processor to do something, there's a purposeful pause, as if the unit is making thoughtful calculations in doing your bidding. At first I found myself repeating commands, which negates them. (For example, hit Standby to turn the unit on; when nothing happens, you hit it again—which turns it off!) However, this is no problem once you're used to it.

I also encountered an annoying lag in the signal-sensing amps when switching modes. In stereo mode, no signal is sent to the center-channel amplifier, so it reverts to Standby status. When you switch to Dolby Digital or Pro Logic, dialog instantly collapses to the center channel, but you hear nothing until the amp warms up. Fortunately, the signal-sensing sensitivity is adjustable, or your dealer can disable it, which I recommend for the center-channel amp.

Most A/V processors I've encountered automatically detect and switch between Dolby Digital and PCM signals. However, the 5103 requires you to go into the GUI when switching between the two (e.g., when listening to CDs on the DVD player or comparing the Dolby Digital and PCM signals encoded on some DVDs). This is a real pain. It turns out that a PCM Detect software upgrade was instituted as the review cycle was about to end, solving this problem.

Another feature in the same upgrade package adds Linn Limbik, a full-range multichannel surround-sound format derived from a two-channel signal. Upgrading is simple: Linn sends your dealer a floppy diskette, and he brings his PC to your home and downloads the upgrade. Unfortunately, I never got to hear Linn Limbik because time ran out. But before it did, I spent a few months luxuriating in the richest, most detailed, most deliriously spectacular home-theater presentation I've ever experienced in my livng room.

Was I skeptical about what could be accomplished by throwing $27,000 at movie soundtracks? You betcha! Assembling soundtracks is like making sausage: If you want to enjoy, you're best off not knowing how it's done. Unfortunately, I do know, and we're not talking "minimalist" miking or "purist" mastering chains. Even though film-music engineers like the great Shawn Murphy record using classic miking techniques, by the time the music is married to the dialog, Foley, and sound-effects tracks and put through the Dolby Digital meat grinder, what comes out is not what went in. In addition, the final mix is not meant for home consumption, which is why many home-theater systems have Cinema EQ switches and complex equalizers. Not Linn. Despite the source material, Linn is committed to a purist approach.

4540 Southside Blvd., Suite 402
Jacksonville, FL 32216
(888) 671-LINN (5466)