Linn AV 51 System (SGHT Review)

Note: This review appeared in the February 1999 issue of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater (issue number 22) and is appearing here until SGHT completes its own Archives database.

Even before you listen, you can see that the Linn AV 51 has an attitude. It stares back at you with a smirk. It's not a defiant Robert DeNiro "You talkin' to me?" but more of a Jack Nicholson "Wait'll you get a load of this."

Everything about the system's appearance makes a strong, challenging design statement: the flared shape of the seamless, exquisitely veneered speaker cabinets (a rich American Cherry finish), the so-opaque-it-seems-to-disappear finish on the stack of five sleek stereo amplifiers, the visual and tactile attraction of the hard, shiny, hemispherical, I-dare-you-not-to-touch-me buttons on both the system controller and the boldly shaped remote unit.

I know, you don't buy an A/V sound system for its looks, but when you're spending $27,000 or so, it had better say something to you! The Linn system definitely says something about the Scottish company's sonic, visual, and electronic aesthetic, as well as its stubborn, focused individualism.

The Linn A/V 51 system is not an assemble-it-yourself product. The 11 or so boxes I received were accompanied by a Linn representative (not in a box), who set everything up and configured the system while I watched (a real novelty). If you buy the system, the dealer will come to set it up and run you through its operation and (hopefully) teach you how to make configuration changes, should you so desire, without your having to beg for a house call.

The system starts with the 5103 System Controller, which is basically a Dolby Digital A/V preamp/processor. Amplification is provided by five (or more) 5105 dual-mono, 100 Wpc (into 8 ohms) stereo amplifiers, which include internally mounted crossover network cards. The speakers include two 5140 full-range, floorstanding L/R speakers; a 5120 center-channel speaker (which can also be used for front L/R duty in a less expensive system); a pair of compact 5110 surrounds; and a large, veneered, impossibly handsome, art deco-style 5150 powered subwoofer. And, of course, you also get free dealer setup, which by itself is worth as much as a budget A/V receiver.

The heart with a hole
The software-driven 5103 controller will be the beginning and/or end of your consideration of the Linn system (assuming it's within your budget in the first place). Of course, it includes Dolby Digital processing, but it does not include DTS as of this writing. (A plug-in card will shortly remedy that.) More problematic for some is the dearth of S-video inputs: there are only two. This is fine if you have LD and DVD, but not so fine if you also have a satellite dish and an S-VHS VCR.

And if your camcorder is of the Hi-8 variety, you're out of luck unless you don't mind connecting and disconnecting S-video cables at the back of the controller. There are no front-mounted inputs of any kind, so you'll need a short A/V extension cord hanging from the back for convenient camcorder connections. Fortunately, there is a solution: an outboard S-video switcher, such as the Monster Cable Entec Director AV4.1 (reviewed in the November '98 issue). Aside from the display, which is too small to read from more than a few feet away, I have few other complaints about the Linn system. I have mostly praise.

4540 Southside Blvd., Suite 402
Jacksonville, FL 32216
(888) 671-LINN (5466)