Linn Majik 109 loudspeaker Page 2

This midrange neutrality and detail resolution went hand in hand with the 109's superb ability to render subtle low-level dynamic inflections. In the tango collection Serà Una Noche (CD, M•A Recordings M052A), Gabriel Rivan's subtle midrange phrasings on bandonán breathed in and out in uncolored fashion, as if he were in my listening room. The 109 also liked well-recorded piano performances. Listening to Robert Silverman's reading of Rachmaninoff's Sonata 1 in D Minor (CD, Stereophile STPH019-2), I found it easy to follow the subtle phrasings emerging from the rich lower midrange of his Hamburg Steinway.

One of the 109's strongest qualities was that music emerged from the speakers in an effortless, linear, organic fashion at all frequencies—that is, it had a sense of bloom. Back to my Christmas feast, and Solid Brass's arrangements of Christmas carols on Christmas with Solid Brass (CD, Dorian DOR-90114): The burnished glow of the baritone horns, French horns, and trombones in their lower and middle registers flowed effortlessly from all tracks on this recording, creating a sense of space and a recorded acoustic envelope that suggested I was listening to much larger speakers. The middle section of "Zoot Suite," from Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition (CD, ECM 1152), features some syrupy yet swinging lower-register harmonizing by Arthur Blythe on alto saxophone and David Murray on tenor sax, over an arco pedal-tone foundation from Peter Warren's double bass. The horns emerged with a silky, breathy quality without any sense of compression, strain, or coloration.

With a bookshelf speaker this small, one concern is always the quality of the bass reproduction. Not a problem with the Majik 109. The DeJohnette tune opens with a single descending walking-bass melody. Through the Linn, Warren's bass had the ideal blend of wood, warmth, snap, and sustain, and every note sounded complete: rounded, unblunted, and uncolored, with plenty of heft in the bottom register. Even cranked up for "Lord's Tundra," from Ucross, Dean Peer's album of electric-bass solos (LP, Jazz Planet/Classic JP 5002-1), the entire range of Peer's instrument was dynamic and forceful, with perfect transients and no trace of compression. Of course, you can't ask any speaker to defy the laws of physics: When pushed too hard, the 109's mid- to upper bass could take on a thick, thuddy quality, as it did with the bass synthesizer and percussive blasts in "Man/Machine," from Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611)—but only when I tried to exceed 95dB in my very large room.

The low-bass extension also seemed rather impressive for a small bookshelf speaker. The opening bass drum in "Dog Breath Variations," from Frank Zappa's The Yellow Shark (CD, Barking Pumpkin R2 71600), rumbled in forcefully on the downbeats, just as I've heard through larger speakers. And the organ-pedal notes in Timothy Seelig and the Turtle Creek Chorale's recording of John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD) sounded natural, although the lowest notes were lower in volume than I've heard from larger speakers. Regardless, I'm skeptical of Linn's published lower-frequency limit of 72Hz—to my ears, the Majik 109 went lower than that. We'll see what JA's measurements say.

When I unpacked the Majik 109s and discovered that I'd be reviewing a three-way bookshelf model with a midwoofer, tweeter, and supertweeter, I expected a speaker that called attention to its high-frequency reproduction. It turned out that nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the highs had a relaxed, laid-back quality that was natural and quite intoxicating. But it was the quality of those highs that floored me. At the risk of being accused of superlative-mongering, I can't help myself: In all my 25-plus years of reviewing, I have never heard any other speaker at any price whose high frequencies sounded more natural than those of the Linn Majik 109. With every recording I played, the highs were detailed, pure, uncolored, and extended, with plenty of top-octave air. That purity was so far beyond what I've heard from other speakers anywhere near the Linn's price that it seemed as if I were listening to master tapes through the Majik 109s, but hearing only second-generation dubs through all those other speakers.

And not once did the 109's highs call attention to themselves. Drummer Mark Flynn's delicate cymbal work on "Fruit Forward," from my quartet Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), was so revealing via the Linns that I found myself analyzing the upper-register harmonic signature of each cymbal he used. In the first movement of the title track of composer-percussionist Susie Ibarra's Radiance (CD, Hopscotch HOP 2), she uses a wide range of mallet techniques on different parts of various cymbals to alter timbre and texture. Having seen Ibarra in concert performing similar works, it was very easy to visualize her playing through the Linns.

The Majik 109 was a wonderful speaker for comparing the techniques of different jazz drummers. I kept thinking about Jack DeJohnette's work on "Zoot Suite" while listening to Joey Baron's drumming on John Abercrombie's Class Trip (CD, ECM 1846): two great jazz drummers, two different approaches to the instruments. It was easy to hear in "Dansi" the different places Baron's sticks hit the cymbals, then compare them with DeJohnette's choices. I know I'm beating percussionists to death here (bada-boom!), but I must also mention Steve Nelson's vibes solo on "The Mooche," from Jerome Harris's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2). The reproduction of every thwack of Nelson's mallets had just the right amount of hardness and thunk, along with gorgeous shimmering decay.

My percussive obsession with the Majik 109 was driven by its flawless reproduction of high-frequency transients. Each was lightning-fast, with no trace of overshoot or hardness, and the 109 paradoxically revealed tons of HF detail in the hairier transient passages while simultaneously retaining the laid-back "background" quality of the highs. I found no better example than listening to Robert Miller play John Cage's Sonatas for Prepared Piano I, V, X, and XII (LP, New World NW 203). In these breathtaking pieces, screws, bolts, and other foreign objects are attached to the piano's strings to alter the harmonic and dynamic envelopes of the notes. With Miller's piano converted to an 88-piece orchestra of tuned percussion, the Linn 109s splatted, shplunked, and crbringgged through these sonatas. I found myself staring at the speakers, awestruck at their realism, which forced me to pay attention.

But the Majik 109 is a Linn—could it "follow the tune"? Every tune on Herbie Nichols' The Complete Blue Note Recordings (CD, Blue Note CDP 8 59352 2) emerged from the Linns as a complete, coherent, integrated whole. In the interplay of Al McKibbon's bass and Max Roach's drums on "Terpsichore," Roach plays delicate little fills with his sticks that surround McKibbon's deliberate, forceful, and tuneful quarter-note runs. Yes, my head was bobbing and my right knee was shaking as the trio played on. The Majik 109 could play the tune.

I compared the Linn Majik 109 ($1590) with the Amphion Helium2 ($1200), Monitor Audio RS6 Silver ($1200), and Epos M16i ($1998). (All prices per pair.)

Although the Amphion Helium2 had a rich midrange and silky highs and was very delicate and involving, the Linn Majik 109 was a little more organic, detailed, and involving, with even better low-level dynamic articulation and cleaner high-frequency detail, conveying more information, especially of vocal sibilants. The Linn's quality and extension of bass were also superior.

Although the Monitor RS6 Silver also had excellent inner detail in the midrange, the Linn was better still. The Monitor's highs were as extended as the Linn's, but much rougher. Although the RS6's bass extension and high-level dynamic capabilities were both far superior to the Majik 109's, I felt the latter's mid-to-upper-bass region was slightly cleaner.

The Epos M16i also exhibited excellent inner detail with superb high frequencies, but the Linn's highs were more delicate. I found the Linn a touch more organic and involving in the midrange, but I'm splitting hairs. The Epos's bass seemed a touch more mechanical than the Linn's, but did extend deeper into the bottom end. However, the M16i's midrange performance and high-level dynamics were just as good as the Majik 109's.

Summing up
I was thrilled with every minute I spent with the Linn Majik 109. It's an attractive, affordable, well-made bookshelf speaker with a level of high-frequency reproduction that far exceeds everything near its price. Its only shortcomings are those that you'd expect from a speaker this small: limited low bass and overall dynamics. Those aside, the Majik 109 effectively has no flaws that I can hear—and makes we wonder what Linn's more expensive models might sound like in my room and system. Hmmm...the Majik 140 floorstander has the same 2K tweeter-supertweeter array as the 109. Maybe I'll hear it someday.

Linn Products Ltd.
US distributor: Tannoy North America
#1-335 Gage Avenue
Kitchener, ON N2M 5E1, Canada