Linn Klimax Kontrol preamplifier & Klimax Twin power amplifier Page 2

A word or two about the Kontrol's user interface: As digital volume controls go, this is certainly the nicest and most "human" I've used by far, being smooth, quick, and adjustable—via more programming—in terms of both increment size and the units by which those increments are expressed on the readout. And the balance control is nothing short of superb: Because my ears are not identical in sensitivity, I consider a balance control a necessity—or at least I would, but for the fact that most balance schemes place an additional potentiometer in the signal path. Not so the Klimax Kontrol, which gives the user very precise control over the two channels' separate resistive ladders.

The Kontrol's mute function, activated with a single touch, moves down and back through all the volume increments, albeit quickly. (Incidentally, the Mute button is lavender—a comment on guys who can't take macho-man volume levels at all times?) The Standby control, which acts like a general anesthetic compared with the Mute control's catnap, silences everything instantaneously, and readies the preamp for programming. And I was so happy to find a Mono switch: If I owned a Kontrol, that's the button that would wear out before any others, even the lavender Mute.

But the Klimax Kontrol lacks a switch for reversing signal polarity (Hi, Carl), and it seems to me that that could have been easily done. It also lacks tone controls and a channel-reversal switch (Hi, Tony), which I believe are the sorts of things perfectionist audio designers are going to have to reconsider in order to stay competitive in the market for expensive toys. When I asked Ian Wilson of the Klimax design team about this, he said that he preferred to think of the Klimax Kontrol as "essentially a switch and an attenuator, without the compromise of switch contacts—and any more than that would color the sound and would not be transparent." Fair enough—but since when did people at Linn start using words like color and transparent?!

And, of course, the line-level-only Klimax Kontrol lacks a phono section (Hi, Mikey), although later this year Linn will add a top-of-the-line phono preamplifier to their Klimax series. As someone who is very impressed with the same company's Linto phono preamp—a borrowed sample of which I used with the Klimax Kontrol and Klimax Twin for this review—I admit up front that it's hard for me to imagine a solid-state phono unit that's better in general, and quieter in specific, than the Linto. We'll see.

The Klimax Twin power amplifier is crazy-easy to use: Unbox it, make your connections, plug it in, and switch it on. At 20 lbs and roughly 14" square, the Twin can adapt itself to a wide range of domestic furniture or purpose-built stands. While I thought it looked very pretty sitting next to the Klimax Kontrol on my faux-mission table, I behaved like a responsible reviewer and did all my listening with the amp perched on a Base isolation platter from England, itself perched on the hardwood floor. The Klimax Twin never went beyond being mildly warm to the touch, although I suppose if it ever does, the built-in fan and cooling tunnel will handle matters nicely.

Apart from the setup difficulties posed by the amp's and preamp's drastically recessed rear panels, the only thing I disliked about using the Klimax Twin was its sleep mode: If this amplifier gets no signal for 10 minutes, it goes into a standby mode of its own, confirmed by a dimming of its little blue light; a signal greater than 150µV is required to wake it back up. The kiss of stylus on lead-in groove is enough to do that, as is the residual hiss of some tube phono preamps. But CDs are a different story, and for the first one you play in any given listening session, you must get in the habit of hitting Play twice, lest you miss the first microsecond of music. One more reason to hate the little silver bastards.

The Klimaxes have some technical features in common, the most obvious being Linn's proprietary Brilliant SPS, a self-contained switch-mode power supply that the company says is smaller, quieter, more capacious, and altogether faster than traditional circuits with their big, noisy old transformer. I hadn't the means to check their claims for the Brilliant SPS's capacity and speed, but Linn's success at keeping things small and light was obvious, as was the utter lack of 60Hz hum in either of these products. The Klimax Kontrol has a separate supply for its digital control circuitry, which is kept isolated from the analog supply.

Of even greater interest is the absence of discrete transistors in either of these solid-state "amplifiers"—the Kontrol and the Twin use op-amps exclusively. Ian Wilson says that Linn prefers working with these devices for a number of reasons, chief among which are the sonic benefits that arise from keeping signal paths very short. (Incidentally, the Kontrol and Twin are completely free of capacitors in their signal paths as well.) The Twin's output stage runs in class-AB.

Finally, although both owner's manuals are fine, I particularly praise the one that comes with the Klimax Twin: It continues Linn's trend—begun, as far as I know, with the Linto—of supplying support documentation that is readable, useful, and superbly informative. The prose is nonstrident, too—magnanimous, even: "There have been many fine amplifier designs over the history of audio," it says at one point. Ha! And you were expecting, "Everything else is crap!" The Scots have come a long way from eating their suet and oatmeal and chopped-up bits of lung out of sheeps' stomachs. Now they're just as likely to use pudding bowls.

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