Linn Unidisk SC universal disc player Wes Phillips, July 2005

Wes Phillips wrote about the Unidisk SC in July 2005 (Vol.28 No.7):

Of course, if my previous experience with universal players was blurred, obscured, and diminished by their lack of high-end cred, it behooved me to compare the $5995 Ayre C-5xe to something with higher aspirations. Fortunately, John Atkinson had a Linn Unidisk SC on hand. The SC, of course, is Linn's single-box, $4995 universal player, preamp, video switcher, and surround-sound processor. This means that it's designed with a lot of extras that will make it very attractive to someone who's combined his or her music system with a home theater, but that may also be unnecessary distractions for the sort of two-channel music enthusiast the C-5xe is aimed at. Still, he must needs go that the devil drives—and the Unidisk SC was what we had.

To make it a level playing field, I outfitted the Linn with Ayre's Myrtle Wood Blocks and ran the Simple, But Efficacious! sweep tone from the Ayre CD through it before making my level-matched comparisons.

Playing CDs—Basie Big Band, for instance—the Ayre C-5xe had more bass slam and drive. John Duke's big bass sound locked into sync with Butch Miles' drums and Freddie Green's guitar to create a rhythm section that, through the C-5xe, could have marched the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to Queens. The Linn had less low-end presence and less midrange body, as well—with the result that Green's guitar sounded "tinkly" rather than integral to the band's motor. The Ayre also captured more of the breathiness of Eric Dixon's flute, as well as tons more dynamic wallop when the massed horns lunge in after the intro.

Matters were more equal in the SACD realm, but the Ayre captured the acoustic weight of the St. Ignatius Loyola Church with greater conviction on Music for Organ, Brass, and Timpani—again, I was left wondering whether there even was a noise floor for the music to rise above (of course there must be, but it made me wonder).

I don't want to imply that the Linn didn't sound great, because it did. I thought the organ was convincing and timbrally true, but the Ayre seemed to place the king of instruments (and all those other instruments) in a space that was more convincing—and who doesn't want "more convincing"?

Playing DVDs, the Ayre's high contrast between silence and sound, combined with its ability to capture the smallest dynamic shadings, caused me to prefer it again—especially with material such as Henry Cowell's Pulse, on the Classic DAD of the same name. I was particularly struck by how effortlessly the Ayre presented the stunning dynamic swings of Cowell's four-minute workout—and also by how much warm tonality it imparted to the woodblocks and tom-toms. Through the Linn, these last were dramatic but given a bit less tonal life.—Wes Phillips

US distributor: Linn Inc.
8787 Perimeter Park Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL 32216
(904) 645-5242