Linn Majik 109 loudspeaker

I've always wanted to review a Linn product.

But what, exactly, is a "Linnie"? I've heard several definitions over the years: 1) a fan of audio gear manufactured by Linn Products; 2) an audiophile who believes that a system's front-end, whether analog or digital, is its most critical part; 3) an audiophile who believes that a system's ability to "carry the tune" and inspire the listener to "tap his feet" to the music is at least as important as its neutrality, resolution of detail, and ability to soundstage.

My purchase of a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable in 1982 certainly qualified me as a Linnie under the first two definitions. I couldn't resist. I'd been suckered in by the brainwashing of the British press and my local Linn dealer in London, so when the British pound crashed against the US dollar and the LP12's London retail price dropped to less than half the US price, I had to grab one before I moved back to New York City. That upgrade, together with my purchase of Conrad-Johnson electronics, took my system to a level of musical realism I'd never before experienced, and I became hooked. My subsequent moves to, first, a Goldmund Studio turntable, and most recently to a VPI TNT, resulted in significantly improved sound, but I haven't heard a Linn turntable in my own system since 1985. My fellow Linnies on the Stereophile staff assure me that the upgrades Linn has provided LP12 owners over the past 24 years have been substantial.

Those Linnies would be John Atkinson, Art Dudley, Robert Deutsch, and Wes Phillips, who meet all three definitions (footnote 1). All in all, I think the third definition is the most critical. Over the years, I've found that those who think a component's ability to "carry the tune" (other audio writers may express this as "spectral and temporal coherence") is more important than maximizing the number of audiogeek analytical attributes on some sonic checklist are also capable of a deeper level of listening, and are more critical and harder to please. If a component has excellent resolution of detail, a wide and deep soundstage, and no serious colorations, to a Linnie it won't mean a damn thing if the component can't "play music," as AD would say. That ability to "play music" simply means that the component lets all frequencies hit the ear at the same time without any blurring or sharpening of transients, and with a dynamic envelope that is linear and organic.

Some audio manufacturers and distributors outside the purview of Linn Products are also Linnies, and one of them is Roy Hall of Music Hall, New York importer of Creek, Epos, and Shanling, and manufacturer of his own Music Hall products. Over the years I've listened to many of the products Hall represents, and all share the ability to make coherent music in a convincing and organic way at very affordable prices—even in difficult rooms at audio shows. Still, Roy Hall isn't entirely outside the purview of Linn Products. While growing up in Glasgow, he was a childhood friend of Linn's founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun—and in the early 1980s, before establishing Music Hall, he ran Linn's US division, manufacturing the company's Sara and Kan bookshelf speakers for the US market. Nor has Hall completely let go of the Linn mystique. No matter how many Music Hall turntables he sells in the US, there's still a Linn LP12 set up in his listening room.

I've always wanted to review a Linn product.

The problem is that, despite all the great-sounding Linn gear I've heard at audio shows, I never found any speakers that fit into my self-imposed affordable price range—below $2000/pair—until a few months ago, when I contacted Linn Products searching for an affordable speaker to review, and was told that they were introducing a new bookshelf model, the Majik 109, for $1590/pair. Would I be interesting in receiving the first review sample from the production line? And how.

The Majik 109 is the lowest-priced entry in a seven-model line of two-channel Linn speakers that culminates in the floorstanding Komri ($47,060/pair, footnote 2). The three-way 109 is unusual in comprising a 0.75" (19mm) fabric-dome supertweeter covering all frequencies above 6kHz, a 1.2" (30mm) soft-dome tweeter of polyurethane elastomer whose range is 1.5–6kHz, and a 5" woofer that handles everything from 1.5kHz down. This combination of tweeter and supertweeter, which Linn dubs the 2K array, is derived from the 3K and 4K tweeter-supertweeter arrays used in Linn speakers costing $6000–$47,000/pair. The primary differences between the tweeters and supertweeters used in the 2K array and those used in the more expensive speakers are the diameters of the drivers, which are determined by the different crossover points used in the Majik 109.

Another unusual aspect of the 109 is that the 2K array is mounted on a dedicated cast-alloy chassis directly in front of the front-firing reflex port. The impetus for this design came from Linn Japan, which was pressing for a bookshelf model diminutive enough to easily fit into a small Tokyo apartment. As a result, Linn chose a front-firing port to enable the speakers to function properly when placed flush against a wall. In fact, in addition to dedicated stands (available in black or silver), these speakers are available with optional Linn Brakits for wall mounting. (For this review, I used my trusty Celestion Si stands, loaded with sand and lead shot.) The Majik 109 is designed to be triwired, but can also be ordered in Aktiv configuration, in which the three drivers are driven by separate amplifiers. This review is of the regular passive version.

I found my review samples, finished in American Cherry, gorgeous. (The Majik 109 is also available in Maple, Black Ash, or White.) The 109 lacks a grille per se; instead, each driver is protected by its own fine mesh of black metal. The speaker is not shielded for video applications, but the manufacturer claims this is becoming less relevant as CRT video monitors are becoming less common in home-theater setups.

I first cranked up the Majik 109s during my annual Christmas Eve seafood and wine feast. A well-recorded vocal performance will instantly reveal a speaker's midrange capabilities, and the medieval carols on Anonymous 4's On Yoolis Night (CD, Harmonia Mundi 907099) were reproduced by the Linns in organic, silky, holographic, and uncolored verisimilitude. I was so captivated by the reproduction of these four women's voices that it was difficult to focus on my guests and re-relegate the music to its intended status as aural wallpaper. Even Norah Jones's "Don't Know Why," from Come Away With Me (CD, Blue Note 32088), had me analyzing this overplayed chestnut, focusing on every bit of the singer's uniquely subtle phrasing.

Footnote 1: Although JA, RD, and AD still have their Linns, WP's LP12 left the building along with his vinyl collection a few years ago, his exit from the world of LPs inspired by a desire to please his wife by making more room in their apartment. What a man! Imagine Michael Fremer ditching his LPs to make his wife happy...

Footnote 2: Linn also makes a wide range of home-theater and in-wall speakers, amplifiers, CD players, turntables, and multi-room music servers. The company also has its own record label, Linn Records.

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