Linn Sondek LP12 turntable & Klyde phono cartridge Page 2

But there's "quite liveable" and then there's "YEAH!" In comparison with similarly priced analog setups, the WTRP/Blue Point Special combo sounds terrific, offering truly high-end sound for under two grand. The $6000 Linn rig, however, offers a much more detailed, rhythmically powerful, rock-solid sound. That's why, when I reviewed eight promising affordable cartridges in Vol.16 Nos.3 and 4, I used the Linn rig as my He-Man reference. Because while the best cartridge of the bunch, the Sumiko Blue Point Special, sounded better than even the best digital I've heard yet when mated with the WTRP, the Linn Klyde mounted on the LP12 sounded much, much better.

Then I swapped cartridges.

Practice what you preach
Over the years, Linn has always asserted that a hi-fi system has a specific hierarchy of importance—that no component downstream could ever sound better than the component preceding it. Linn's concept of system hierarchy starts from the signal source and ends at the speaker: the turntable comes first, then the arm, the cartridge, the preamp, the amplifier, and finally the speaker (with CD as a source, it becomes transport, DAC, preamp, amp, speakers). This is in stark contrast to the conventional American wisdom, which asserts the exact opposite—that it's your speakers which make the biggest—and only—difference, so that's where you should spend most of your budget, with the remainder spent on an inexpensive CD player, preamp, and amplifier because they all sound the same in double-blind tests.

Linn's right. I get better sound driving the $550 Spica TC-50s with the $1850 Aragon 4004 Mk.II than I do driving the $4000 NHT 3.3s with $350 amps from Adcom and Rote' and better sound from the $2500 Theta Data II transport driving the $599 Cobalt processor than from the $450 Rotel RCD-955AX CD player driving the $4000 Theta Gen.III. I could probably even whip Jack English's ass if I ate steaks while he was limited to Cheez-Whiz.

So it occurred to me that the Klyde, being mounted to a top-ranked $5000 record-playing system, had a somewhat unfair advantage over the other cartridges I'd been comparing it with. That meant that even though the Klyde was specifically designed to be part of a closed-loop, all-Linn analog rig, I needed to compare it with these other cartridges on the same turntable before I could isolate its own intrinsic sound from the LP12/Ekos/Lingo.

Klyde vs Blue Point Special
First up was the Blue Point Special. The giant-killing $295 Sumiko BPS was far and away the best of the eight cartridges I reviewed this year, even offering a higher level of sound quality than several much pricier cartridges I tried, like the $400 Signet AT-OC9 and $695 AudioQuest 404i-H. In addition, I'd been using the Sumiko as my reference for over a year—it was a natural to see if the $1095 Klyde was indeed over three times as good as the overachieving Sumiko.

The Klyde/LP12 was much better than the Sumiko/WTRP. But after mounting the Klyde to the WTRP and the Blue Point Special to the LP12, I was shocked at what I was hearing—the Blue Point Special mounted to the LP12 killed the Klyde mounted on the WTRP! In fact, the distance between the Sumiko/LP12 rig and the Klyde/WTRP rig was far greater than what I heard when the Klyde was on the Linn and the Sumiko was on the Well-Tempered.

So I switched 'em back to their original 'tables—sure enough, the Klyde on the LP12 sounded much better than the other rig, just like before. But the Klyde/LP12 did not enjoy as wide a lead over the less expensive combo as the Sumiko/LP12 did over the Klyde/WTRP. It looked like much of what I'd been hearing earlier had been due to the LP12, not the Klyde. And that meant it was time for some head-to-head comparisons between the two cartridges on the same 'table.

With both cartridges mated to the LP12/Ekos/Lingo, I have to say that while the Klyde had a big, gutsy sound, I strongly preferred the Blue Point Special. The Klyde had the heavier bottom end, but at the cost of bass articulation and low-end detail—the Blue Point Special had a faster, tighter low end, and was able to extract rhythmic and tonal subtleties in the bass range that the Klyde obscured. Electric bass lines, one of the four major food groups, bounced and hit with more energy and tautness via the Sumiko. The Linn cartridge had the fuller-sounding balance, but the Sumiko's low end was much more lively and detailed—you could say the Blue Point Special's bottom sounded more "Linn" than the Linn, but then you might get beaten up one day by a couple of Scots shouting, "Angus, what's the frequency?"

Moving up the range, the Klyde was again outscored by the Sumiko through the all-important midrange. This is probably the Sumiko's strongest suit, and the Klyde sounded somewhat thick and muffled by comparison. On tracks with well-recorded instruments and vocals like Nirvana's "Lithium," from Nevermind, the Klyde sounded less open and clear than the Sumiko, whose clear, open midrange reproduced Kurt Cobain's vocal with more natural presence and freedom from coloration. The Klyde had a slightly pinched quality—almost a nasal coloration—in the lower midrange that ranked it below the Blue Point Special in terms of openness and clarity. The two cartridges' distinct characters held up whether I used the solid-state Exposure phono stage, which uses separate circuits for high-output and low-output preamplification, or the tube/FET hybrid Sonic Frontiers phono stage, which merely adds a 20dB FET gain stage to its lone phono section tube when using a low-output cartridge.