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Lindemann 820S SACD Player Review

Ed Momkus sheds light on how the $21,700 Lindemann 820S SACD player raises the stakes of the digital medium

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Lindemann 820S SACD player

How did I get so lucky?

Lindemann. Its one of those audio names I first heard of in 2002, when it was one of the first companies other than Sony to offer a high-end SACD player that also read HDCD discs. I had a Cary 306/200 at the time which read HDCD discs, and I thought it was a pretty good redbook player. An SACD player that would also read HDCD-encoded redbook discs was intriguing, and the initial reaction from other reviewers were promising.

I resolved to audition the Lindemann D680 SACD player, but never had the chance. In 2004, the model was replaced by the 820, which got even better reviews. Alas, I didn’t get to audition the 820 either, instead opting for good deal on a state-of-the-art redbook-only combo from Esoteric: the P-70/D-70.

Fast forward to October of 2008. I’m at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and Constantine Soo has arranged for us to go to the home of Brian Ackermann, owner of Aaudio Imports. Brian is the distributor for some pretty impressive brands: Acapella, Audiotop, Einstein, Isoclean, Millennium, Raidho, Stage III and, of course Lindemann. Do you think that he might have a nice system in his home? And do you think that it might feature the Lindemann 820S? Yes!

The most daunting aspect of listening to the Lindemann 820S in Brian’s home was that his entire system is other-worldly. I couldn’t tell what was being contributed by each component or how much of the overall sound was the synergy between the components, the customized power or the room treatments. Moreover, I didn’t want to be a pest and demand to hear blues and classical and reggae and rock and electronic and mambo and….well…. every genre, just to satisfy my curiosity. As it turned out, I didn’t need to do any of that because Brian offered the Lindemann 820S to Dagogo for review and Constantine Soo gave me the option to do the honors.

The upshot of all this is that a few weeks later, I took possession of Brian’s 820S, and I have used it extensively in both my main and secondary systems as a CD/ SACD player, a CD/SACD/Preamp and as a transport. My report? After several weeks of critical listening, I’ve concluded exactly what I thought after the first five minutes – this is one of the best CD/SACD players on the planet, and a bargain to boot, at least in terms of high-end pricing.

Description

The Lindemann 820S is a two box design. The main unit houses everything but the analog power supply. The analog power supply is connected to the main unit via a 15-pin SUB-D connector. Each box has its own IEC inlet, so you will need two power cords to make it work. You will want to use a pair of high-end power cables with the 820S, so build two into your budget.

Mechanically, the 820S uses a Sony transport mounted on a steel block for mass and stability. It employs separate D/A converters for each channel for true balanced operation. The complete unit sits on three conical feet with ceramic balls in them to address vibration.

The 820S incorporates a preamplifier, so if your main source is your CD/SACD player you can forego a separate preamp. I shall discuss it in greater detail below, but the preamp incorporates an excellent analog volume control that allows you to use the 820S as a digital preamp without fear of losing bits through digital attenuation. On the digital side, the Lindemann 820S sports 3 S/P DIF inputs and 1 AES/EBU input (audio data only – it will not process Dolby digital or similar encoded formats), as well as 2 digital outputs: 1 S/P DIF and 1 AES/EBU. This makes for an extremely versatile component.

You can (a) run the 820S CD/SACD player through its onboard preamp, (b) also run several transports through the 820S’s DACs and preamp section, (c) run the 820S and those transports through the DACs and then to a separate preamp, or (d) run the digital output (but not a DSD signal) to outboard DACs.

I should note that Lindemann also offers a USB-DDC digital-to-digital converter that enables the DACs to process music files from a PC or a Mac. I received one from Brian Ackermann in anticipation of reviewing a high-end music server with the Lindemann’s DACs, but the server review sample has yet to come.

On the analog side, you have both pairs of balanced XLR and RCA outputs. Both outputs are active at the same time, which makes it handy for second system and subwoofer applications.

The 820S includes all of the CD/SACD player functions you would see on any modern player, including PAUSE, skip-search and playlist programming. It also displays CD text data if it is included on the disc.

The preamplifier functions include VOLUME with maximum volume settings for safety, BALANCE, adjustable in .05 dB increments, MUTE, with customizable mute levels, DIGITAL INPUT SELECTION with customizable names, DISPLAY CONTROL, DAC sample rate and phase. VOLUME is adjustable in .5 dB increments and has a 60dB range. Sample rates can be set to 44.1 kHz, 88.2 kHz and 176.4 kHz.

A bit on Specs

It’s not my custom to dwell much on specs or design, you can usually glean that stuff from the website or from others that are more knowledgeable in technical matters. I try to describe the sound of the component, both on its own and in comparison to other similar components. I invite you to look at Lindemann’s description of the 820S design on its website. (Also see SPEFICIATIONS at the top of this review. –Editor) It is refreshingly clear and understandable and focuses on the things that matter. However, I’m going to do a bit of the “technical” thing here because I think it may be in the reader’s interest in understanding the Lindemann 820S. Paraphrasing from Lindemann’s website:

  • The sample rate converter upsamples the CD signal to 176.4 kHz, 24-bit, which improves soundstaging, low-level detail and the purity of high frequencies.
  • The PCM 1792 converter then raises the sample rate further to 1.411 MHz – equivalent to a bit-rate of 5.64 MHz for a subsequent sigma-delta multi-bit DAC conversion.
  • Unlike the PCM signal, the DSD signal is not converted. Since it already has a bit-rate of 2.82 MHz after decoding, it is simply filtered by the DAC.
  • A master clock with fully discrete construction and powered by a dedicated feed from the outboard power supply is located in close proximity to the converter circuits to ensure ultra-fast re-clocking. All required clock frequencies in the signal processing chain are derived from this master clock – from the generation of audio PCM and DSD data on the servo board right through to the converters themselves, resulting in a closed loop system.
  • An innovative type of capacitor in the converter’s ‘on-board’ power supply reduces high frequency interference in the band up to 10 MHz. Although outside the audible frequency range, this ‘out-of-band’ noise can still generate undesirable intermodulation effects which will indirectly affect the sound quality of the associated amplifier.
  • Special lead-free solder with a high silver content in the manufacture of the modules and gold-plated pure copper fuses.
  • For those of you familiar with the earlier 820, the 820S uses completely revised firmware that makes the 820S easier to operate and provides a standard menu that is used in all Lindemann 800 Series components.

Review Setup

Although I also used the Lindemann 820S in my secondary listening room, this review will focus on the evaluation I made in my main listening room. The speakers used were my B&W Nautilus 800D and a pair of Gemme Audio Katanas I had for review. The amps were Electrocompaniet Nemo monos. Interconnects and speaker cables were Silent Source Silver Signatures. Power conditioning was the Walker Audio Velocitor and several Audience AR1p’s, and power cords were the LessLoss Dynamic Filtering, Silent Source Signature High Current and JPS Labs The Digital AC. The best results were obtained with the LessLoss DF for both the digital and analog sections of the 820S, so most of the listening was done with those power cables.

Direct comparisons were made primarily to my Upgrade Company modded Esoteric P-70/D-70 and to my Marantz DV 8300 Universal player. Though compared only from memory, the following players, each of which I lived with for extended periods, were used as additional reference points: EMM Labs CDSA SE; Oracle CD 2500; Mark Levinson 390S; and Music Hall Maverick. The dCS Verdi/Purcell/Delius (now superceded by the Scarlatti series of components), which I have not had in my own system but which I heard extensively with different components, was also used as a reference. It is important to note that I placed as much emphasis on redbook CD as I did on SACD since my collection is overwhelmingly redbook.

Finally, I operated the Lindemann 802S in four modes: (1) as a CD/SACD/Preamp; (2) as a CD/SACD player; (3) in transport-only mode and (4) in DAC-only mode. I was limited to redbook replay in the last two modes, so I only operated the 820S in those modes to determine that, if indeed, the 820S was an excellent standalone transport and standalone DAC. The result was positive. However, the 820S was such a superior unit in the first two modes that I could not imagine anyone buying it to use in the last two modes.

When auditioning any audio product you must listen for a range of qualities, such as pace, rhythm and timing, dynamics, soundstaging, deep bass and grain-free treble. When auditioning a digital front-end, experience has taught me to especially listen for four things: 1) glare; 2) overall perspective, 3) soundstage transparency and 4) sense of space. In the past, digital components have often been weak in these qualities.

The following were a few of the selections I played to elicit these qualities: The Best of Talking Heads, Talking Heads; Hell Freezes Over, Eagles (XRCD); Best of Mambo, Perez Prado (XRCD); Luke and the Locomotives, Robert Lucas (XRCD); LA Woman, Doors (HDCD); The Best That I Could Do, John Mellencamp (HDCD); Yola, Eleanor McEvoy (hybrid SACD); Avalon, Roxy Music (hybrid SACD); Days of Future Past, Moody Blues (hybrid SACD); Concierto, Jim Hall (hybrid SACD); The Marvin Gaye Collection, Marvin Gaye (hybrid SACD); Carmina Burana, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (hybrid SACD); and Hot Rocks 1964-1971, Rolling Stones (hybrid SACD).

Clarity and transparency that’s not analytical

My first serious listening sessions were with the 802S in CD/SACD/Preamp mode. Even though it’s quite detailed, the Lindemann 820S was very musical in this mode. In my opinion, it straddled the line between richness and detail perfectly when playing SACDs. I could easily choose to enjoy either (a) the music’s emotional power or (b) the complexity of its detail, and in many recordings I found myself doing both. The SACD version of Orff’s Carmina Burana was a great example. The voices could be easily sorted out both side-to-side and front-to-back, but the resulting music was holistic, and emotionally dynamic. Though not as evident in redbook mode, this aspect of the Lindemann 820S’s character continued to be a blend of detail and emotional impact.

This was evident on both the Talking Heads CD and on the Roberts Lucas XRCD. The Heads’ (Nothing But) Flowers employs a range of instruments in lightning-quick percussion-like patterns that challenges you to follow them all at the same time. What’s usually missed however, are the ironic but emotionally-charged inflections of David Byrne’s message. The Lindemann conveyed both. Robert Lucas’ Shed A Tear isn’t just a study in vocal vibrato, but only with a superior player like the 820S can you feel his plaintive plea for sympathy.

I did not have the two units head-to-head, but I predominantly like the Lindemann 820S better than the old dCS Verdi/Purcell/Delius combo. The 820S was not quite as airy – though very close – but its speed and delicacy were the dCS’ equal, while its bass reproduction was clearly superior (see separate section below). Further, I would say from memory that the 802S’s overall transparency – one of the dCS’ greatest strengths – was the equal to that of the dCS.

In terms of midrange, the Lindemann 820S reminded me very much of the Levinson 390S. That player had a warm yet basically neutral presentation which in my opinion was attributable to the character of its midrange and the “integrated” nature of its presentation. My front-end only acquired this warmth in the midrange after (a) significant mods to the Esoteric, (b) I introduced Transparent Reference Digital cables (three at $1100 a pop!) and (c) inserted the MBL 5011 preamp; but this type of presentation came “standard” in the Lindemann. This midrange warmth was rare to find in a player that also has the dCS-like transparency exhibited by the 802S. Roxy Music’s Avalon illustrates this quality. The title track can sound airy and transparent but clinical even when using the best of players. There was nothing clinical about Avalon when played through the Lindemann 802S.

Attack and slam are excellent when playing both SACDs and redbook CDs. I thought the 802S was a bit better when playing SACDs and the Esoteric was a bit better when playing redbook CDs. For this, I used Flim and the BB’s Tricycle. The title tune started out quietly and built throughout the entire piece, but even the loudest pieces have had individual notes with wide dynamic range. It can be quite an interesting disc to play if you’re trying to judge your system’s ability to hit you in the gut with its fortissimo notes. Eleanor McEvoy’s Yola is also useful in evaluating your player for this quality, as well as bass performance.

Bite

I want to discuss a quality that I don’t hear many reviewers mention: “bite”. I find this quality to be a significant point of differentiation between rock and other musical genres. In fact, you might even say that “bite” is the musical equivalent of the rebellious, in-your-face sentiments of rock. The sentiment of the words and the way the singer spits them out is paired with the screech of the electric guitar to let you know that they’re bored and disgusted with the usual norms of day-to-day life.

Ok – so maybe I’m being overly-dramatic, but I’m not making this up. The Neil Young-inspired “dirty” distorted guitar sound, has become standard for many rock guitarists. The heavy emphasis on smoothness found in classical music – and therefore in equipment reviews by classical music aficionados – totally ignores this aspect of rock. On the other hand, my modded Esoteric P-70/D-70 is wonderful at conveying “bite” without glare, and every SACD player I’ve heard prior to the 820S softens this effect. The Lindemann 820S came very close to doing this as well as my Esoteric combo while also managing being absolutely smooth on classical material. In my mind, this was a great accomplishment. Digital players have often been (a) just plain lousy, (b) too smooth and polite to exhibit “bite”, or (c) “bite” without finesse. If you listen to a wide variety of music, including both classical and rock, you have finally found the player that does both superbly. The Lindemann 820S.

“Real” Bass

I know that this is going to get me in trouble, but there are heavyily-quoted reviewers who give “best of” ratings to digital components that have average bass performance. I am not one of them – I crave bass. I recognize that many of those reviewers are devotees of symphonic classical music (PLEASE – i’m not “picking on” classical) and that most of the music of this genre has minimal deep bass and/or bass that is meant to be staccato quick; pipe organs being the most obvious exception. I also recognize that much popular music is also devoid of really deep bass and is poorly recorded to boot.

Finally, I certainly agree that people can perceive “good” bass differently and that allowance must be made for variations in hearing. However, if your listening is primarily well-recorded symphonic or chamber music, you don’t get much experience with many modern bass sounds. Even if you regularly play jazz that features acoustic double bass, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your system will excel in reproducing the deliberately overdriven sound of amplified double bass, electric bass or synthesizers found in modern music.

Both the dCS Verdi/Purcell/Delius combo and the EMM Labs CDSA SE fit this category. I auditioned the dCS stack at a dealership after reading the superlative reviews. It sounded great (no – not just great – superb) playing the classical music the dealer teed up. However, when I substituted my own specially-selected music that was recorded in my presence in a studio, the bass weight that I knew was supposed to be there was conspicuously absent. Oh sure, I got every note, but now the notes were light and airy – not at all how the musicians recorded them.

The CDSA SE was a more revealing experience. In short order, I auditioned one briefly at home and then got another one about two months later, but this time modified by The Upgrade Company. The first one was, like the dCS, nimble, light and airy but produced modest bass weight. The modded version was just as fast, but with much-improved bass weight.

OK. Now that I have that off my chest, the bass produced by my modded Esoteric P-70/D-70 is still the best I’ve heard on redbook, but the Lindemann 820S came very close when playing redbook discs – so close as to require very deliberate comparisons. In comparison to the dCS stack and the unmodified CDSA SE, both the Lindemann 820S and my Esoteric were superior in bass weight and slam. Again, if you’re familiar with the Levinson 390S, the bass weight was in the same league, but with better definition.

In SACD mode, the Lindemann 820S surpassed the bass of the redbook-only P-70/D-70. Not by as much as you might think, but it clearly did. This was repeatedly demonstrated when playing the Roxy Music, Rolling Stones and Jim Hall hybrid SACDs. The bass was both deeper and weightier, though not faster or cleaner. Occasionally, I wondered whether the SACD version excessively rounded some bass notes – there was sometimes less of a “growl” (“bite”?) to the bass than I would hear on the Esoteric, but I have no way of knowing if the “growl” was intended by the musicians.

The Lindemann 820S as a player-only

I enjoyed the Lindemann 820S so much in CD player/preamp mode I was actually reluctant to run it through my MBL 5011 preamp. However, I can tell you that the 820S remains a wonderful CD player when used only in that mode and that you can tweak some of its qualities by using a separate preamp. In my case, the MBL added just a bit of weight and substance, and possibly a little darkness, to the presentation in a way that I enjoyed, but that I probably could also have achieved with different power cords or interconnects.

This got me thinking that I could have saved a bunch of money if I had waited for the 820S. Consider at retail: a $14,000 transport/DAC, three digital cables at $3300, $3,000 of upgrades, a $9500 pre, three LessLoss power cords (actually a great deal at $1650) and isolation for three components at approximately $1600. That’s $33,050 at retail. Now consider the Lindemann 820S at $21,700, two LessLoss PCs for $1100 and isolation at $550. Throw in mods by a mod-wizard, say $2,000, and you’re “only” at $24,650. Of course, you lose the ability to route a turntable, but I don’t have one anyway. That’s another $8,400 I could have put into my retirement account and watched evaporate in 2008….(sigh).

Just to test my ears, I did one more thing to evaluate the 820S in player-only mode. I completely bypassed the preamp and ran the 820S and my Esoteric combo directly into my amps by using EVS Ultimate Nude Attennuators (balanced 110 ohm XLR, not RCA, to take advantage of the 820S’s 4.4 V output voltage) at the amp inputs. I won’t dwell on the details, but all the relative characteristics described above remained. In fact, the 820S’s high output voltage when using its balanced outputs makes it a great candidate for those who want to play with purely passive volume attenuation, with relatively little loss in overall dynamics when run “preampless”.

Conclusion: the 820S is a world-class CD/SACD player in its own right and has a built-in superior preamp/volume control.

FINAL CONCLUSION

I give the Lindemann 820S an unequivocal and enthusiastic endorsement – no hedging or mealy-mouthed qualifications. Let me say that again in another way. This is among the best players on the planet and is a bargain compared to many ultra-high-end players. Let me say it once more another way: I didn’t want to let this baby go even though I already own a specially tweaked and modded version of one of my favorite players. My experience with the 820S clearly has me wanting to hear more Lindemann components. Their engineers obviously have a darn good idea of what they’re doing.

U.S. Importer’s comment:

Many thanks to Ed Momkus for his wonderful review of Lindemann’s Flagship SACD player.

When I first discovered Lindemann back in 2002, I was intrigued by their SACD technology. After reading all the rave reviews they received in Europe, I decided to make contact with the company. But it wasn’t until 2007 that I was able to add the Lindemann product line to my offerings. During this 5 year period Lindemann was quite busy developing their new 800 series products which consist of Three new amplifiers, Two new Preamplifiers, Two new SACD players, USB Converter and a new line of Cables. Also in the works, Reference Loudspeakers. Lindemann has come a long way since 2002.

Working with Lindemann has been a joy… Both Elisabeth Junker and Norbert Lindemann are some of the nicest people that I have met in this industry. Their products are beautifully built and have exceptional engineering behind them. Please check our website often to discover more good reading on Lindemann’s amps and preamps in the coming months…

In closing I would like thank Constantine Soo for employing some of the very best high end audio writers in our industry.

Sincerely,

Brian Ackerman, President
Aaudio imports
4871 Raintree Drive
Parker CO. 80134

(tel) 720-851-2525
(fax) 720-851-7575
(cel) 303-264-8831

(email) brian@aaudioimports.com
(website) www.aaudioimports.com

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