Linn Linto phono preamplifier Page 2

But Linn isn't selling packaged air; they saw the future coming a long time ago and constructed their Glasgow facility to take advantage of automation and high-quality surface-mount construction. Despite its light weight and empty real estate, there's a lot of technology packed into the Linto. Besides, as Linn points out, a square centimeter of circuit area can pick up more signal as interference than a moving-coil cartridge generates as music.

While many audiophiles swear by loading networks, Linn's reasons for avoiding them are compelling. Linn claims the switches used in most adjustable networks generate more noise voltage than the cartridge. Loading networks also increase the amount of circuitry on the input end of the amplifier, and Linn has gone to great lengths (so to speak) to keep the distance from the unit's inputs to its amplifying transistors as short as possible. The Linto's sole concession to flexibility is a single wire link, which can be cut to drop the gain by 10dB: If the overload light on the front panel flashes red while playing records, a Linn dealer can trim the wire and reduce the overall gain from 64dB to 54dB.

Since there are no other user-adjustable features, the Linto is a pretty simple box: it has two sets of gold-plated RCA outs, a single set of RCA inputs, a grounding post, an IEC mains module, and a front-mounted power switch. A green LED indicates that the unit is powered; the red LED signals input overload. And that's it.

Hush—I thought I heard it call my name
The Linto was quiet. (If this were a B-movie western, someone would chime in, "Too quiet," but I don't think that's possible in a phono section.) Crank up the gain on your line stage high enough and you'll be able to hear hiss, but there are very few amplification devices that remain silent at maximum output.

The Linto also sounded dynamic as all get-out, which, I reckon, was at least partially due to the absence of low-level noise. Notes stood out in stark relief from the silence, but differences in touch and attack were easy to distinguish. I've heard some phono sections that tried to put every ensemble into an off-the-rack suit—you could listen to small, medium, or large. But with the Linto, everything fit the performance perfectly. Differences between quiet and quieter were easy to follow, down to silence itself, and there never seemed to be any limit to how huge a group could sound—every time a new musician entered, no matter how big the soundstage had been, it got bigger. This freedom from dynamic limitation is one of the things that distinguishes live music from recorded sound, and products that have more of it tend to sound more real. The Linn has it in spades.

This was brought home to me when listening to Johnny Cash's "In Your Mind," from Classic Records' three-LP set of Dead Man Walking: The Soundtrack & The Score (C3-67989). The song starts with Cash singing and playing acoustic guitar, backed by a sparse-sounding band. As the song builds, Steve Earle's electric rhythm guitar, Roy Husky's bass, Jim Dickinson's piano, and Joachim Cooder's drums are augmented by Ry Cooder's electric slide and Roland White's mandolin; through the Linto, with each addition, the soundstage became broader, more fully populated. On the choruses, Cash's spooky vocals are fleshed out by six harmony vocalists. These folks are grouped around Cash himself, and while they don't expand the boundaries of the soundstage, they fill it—defining the space, inhabiting it fully. The Linto handled this naturally, without adding any signature of its own.

Instrumental timbre was delineated with a naturalness that would have been unheard of in a solid-state product five years ago—and, perhaps, is rare in any component, no matter what the technology.

The Linto was also a pacing king. Cash's guitar just kind of lopes along, but when Earle, Husky, and J. Cooder lock in, the character of the piece changes, becoming far more insistent. Three cuts later, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder duet on "The Face of Love," a song that mingles qwaali and rock in a sophisticated way—and succeeds only because of the subtle inflections of the rhythm section as they support the dreamily insistent vocals. Timing is all, they say; I've never heard "The Face of Love" fleshed out in its rhythmic subtlety better than through the Linto.

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