Linn Karik/Numerik CD player Page 5

Without hearing the effect of the separate sync cable, one would not suspect something was missing. But plugging it back in returned the magic and threw into sharp relief the Linn's best attributes. These impressions were repeated with a variety of music. It's tragic that a separate sync cable was not made part of the S/PDIF standard. Just because the mass market chooses to ignore this source of major improvement, the High End shouldn't accept this compromise. All high-end digital transports and processors should have a separate sync cable (footnote 2).

While working on this review, I had a call from a brand new Stereophile reader whose first experience with auditioning CD players in one way paralleled my own experience with the Linn. The reader had a mediocre system, with a bottom-of-the-line mass-market CD player as a source. After reading about the Rotel RCD-855 in the February 1991 Stereophile, he bought one on the condition that he could return it to the dealer if he didn't like it. He got the Rotel home and compared it to his cheap player. Listening for specific characteristics, he heard no improvement from the Rotel. Curious about why he didn't hear a big leap forward, he called me for advice. After discussing other areas of his system that could be improved, I advised him to keep the Rotel, listen to it for a few weeks or months, and then go back to his old CD player.

The fledgling audiophile then admitted that although he heard no overt differences between players, music just felt better through the Rotel. He hesitated when telling me this, then immediately discounted this perception as not a valid experience. Needless to say, I counseled him that having the music feel right was the most valid indicator of quality, and that listening for specific performance attributes could preclude this perception of feeling right.

I had a similar experience with the Linn. Music felt right. It was a joy to listen. I would suddenly discover my foot tapping and head bobbing more enthusiastically than usual. On many occasions I found myself enjoying the music immensely, on a "high" after it was over. Further, long listening sessions were relaxed and free of fatigue. In this fundamental ability to convey the music's expression and provide a sense of ease, I have nothing but praise for the Linn Karik/Numerik.

I very much enjoyed my time with the Linn Karik/Numerik CD player. Its presentation of digital sources was very different from what I'm accustomed to. In particular, the Linn was very laid-back, gentle, and velvety-smooth. The treble presentation was superb, with a remarkable lack of grain and hash. Soundstage presentation was similarly idiosyncratic, eschewing a vivid "Technicolor" character in favor of a smaller, more intimate portrayal. What really set the Linn apart, however, was its superb rendering of natural instrumental timbres. Instruments just sounded right, lacking artificiality, sterility, and a synthetic quality. In this regard, the Linn sets new standards in digital playback, in my opinion.

Although I came to like the Linn's presentation immensely, I had a few criticisms. The mid and upper bass was somewhat threadbare, lacking the sense of warmth and roundness heard from the DAC1-20 and other processors. The low bass didn't have the tightness and punch of the Theta and Wadia processors. Finally, the Linn's treble smoothness and slightly softer transient rendering could make some recordings less palpable, lacking life and vitality.

I suspect that some listeners will find the Linn's interpretation exactly to their liking, while others will prefer the more dramatic rendering of competing units. In immediate side-by-side comparisons, the Linn may sound smaller, less dynamic, and not as arresting. Over the long term, however, the Linn's "un-hi-fi" presentation and lack of listener fatigue may prove more musically satisfying.

In some ways, I enjoyed music more through the Linn than from any other digital source. Although it wasn't my first choice for all recordings, the Linn was nevertheless fundamentally musical and conveyed the music's essence. On this basis, the Linn Karik/Numerik CD player has earned a Class A recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."

Analog-leaning music lovers who have been putting off buying a digital front end: the Linn Karik/Numerik was worth the wait.—Robert Harley

Footnote 2: Some professional digital formats lock the data source to the processor. In the Sony PCM-1630 format, used to make virtually all CD master tapes, the 1630 controls the ¾" VTR's capstan motor speed. Like the Linn, the processor is the master and the data source is the slave. Unfortunately, the professional world is converting to the AES/EBU interface, a single balanced line that carries the clock embedded in the data. The AES/EBU interface is nearly identical to the consumer S/PDIF. Ironically, the official AES document specifying the interface—"AES Recommended Practice for Digital Audio Engineering, Serial Transmission Format for Linearly Represented Digital Audio Data"—has this to say about clock recovery: "Clock extraction is simple..." Oh yeah?—Robert Harley