Linn Sondek CD12 CD Player Page 4

Compared to what?
But that's all rather vague and touchy-feely. I had on hand Sonic Frontiers' $14,000 Class A Transport 3/Processor 3 combo (reviewed in the October 1998 Stereophile) for comparison, having hijacked them from October's cover shoot. Shannon Dickson was right—the SF gear sets a high standard for CD playback—but I liked the Linn better. The T3/P3 threw a huge soundstage for Mahler's Das Klagende Lied (Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony, RCA 68599-2). Even though the piece is as early-Mahler as you can get, the orchestral writing is assured—and the Sonic Frontiers combo definitely delivered the dynamic goods when the castle collapsed at the end of the Hochzeitsstuck.

The CD12 matched the Sonic Frontiers duo strength for strength: Orchestral timbres were exquisitely rendered, the width and depth of the soundstage were equally as impressive, and the dynamic range, from solo flute to crashing battlements, was spectacular. But the orchestra seemed to hold together more with the Linn, its blend more cohesive. And during the Hochzeitsstuck, the offstage band was even more clearly offstage.

If these sound like minor differences, in a way, they are. But the Linn, for my tastes, succeeded in making the SFS sound more like a world-class orchestra playing together than did the SFI gear, while at the same time extracting the extremely subtle hall information that clearly sets the performance in San Francisco's Davies Hall, both on- and offstage.

About the time I put the Linn in my system, I received John Marks Records' reissue of Ruggiero Ricci and Brooks Smith's Paganini's Dreams ( JMR 11). What a great recording! Recorded by Kavi Alexander in Christ the King Chapel in Santa Barbara with a pair of EAR/MILAB microphones, it beautifully captures violin and piano in a large space. The T3/P3 made it glow—the direct sound of the violin was warm and caressing, while the slightly more distant piano had a limpid, almost melting sound.

Perhaps too melting. The Linn did a better job of separating the piano's sound from that of the room. This is a tricky call, of course—the sound of any instrument is inextricable from that of the space in which it is played, but the Sonic Frontiers seemed to emphasize the reverberant ambience ever so slightly more than the direct sound of the piano, while the CD12 had it ever so slightly the other way around. Which was more accurate? Without access to the master, I couldn't guess—but I know which sounded more musically convincing, and that's what I'd go with.

Yet I have to say that, while the differences in sheer sonic terms seemed minor, the differences between the players didn't seem trivial. In a head-to-head comparison with the Sonic Frontiers T3/P3, I'd take the Linn CD12 in a heartbeat.

Thou swell, thou grand
Can I justify the $6000 difference in price between the Linn CD12 and the Sonic Frontiers Transport 3/Processor 3? Certainly not on the grounds of practicality—if practicality has any place at all in a discussion of CD players costing $20,000 and $14,000. I'm not at all sure it does. In real-world terms, 20 grand buys a car, covers a couple years' worth of mortgage payments, or gets you two semesters at an Ivy League college. Maybe the Linn Sondek CD12 isn't intended for guys like me, who have to think in those terms. Maybe it's for folks who just happen to have a spare $20k eating a hole in their pockets.

Even then, I'm not sure the CD12 is a no-brainer. It's a CD-only device—its digital outputs have everything to do with incorporating it into a multiroom, multisource system, and nothing at all to do with future-proofing. If you want to play CDs now, DVDs later, and who knows what in the future, the CD12 isn't the one-box answer.

But it is the best CD player I've ever heard, and the one I'd want to listen to every day, if only I could. If you don't flinch every time I tell you that it costs $20,000, and you have a large library of CDs that you'd like to listen to for the next few decades, it's probably the CD player you're looking for. It's most assuredly the one I've been looking for.

Wonder if I can convince Linn that Customs impounded it . . .

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