A Magnetic Personality
Line Magnetic is a relatively new brand to North America but have been in business in China restoring Western Electric tube amplifiers and serving as an OEM for a number of brands for many years. I became interested in Line Magnetic after auditioning their stunning LM 219Ia integrated amplifier driving ATC SCM 150 and Zu Audio Essence Loudspeakers. The LM 219Ia is a 24 watt SET amplifier employing 845 output tubes, 300B driver tubes, 310Input tubes, and 12AX7s for preamps duties and I liked the powerful yet nuanced sound it put out. (Review of the 219IA coming).
Having moved to Hong Kong I made it a point to purchase an entry level system. Not knowing if I would like Hong Kong and the contract being just two years I didn’t want to invest too heavily in a system. With much of my CD collection making the trip I needed a CD player. After several sessions I elected to purchase the LM CD-215 based largely on the fact that I enjoyed the overall experience listening to music through this player. Having lived with the player for a year I am still very happy with the results.
Why did it take a year to write the review? Well the main reason was that that U.S. Line Magnetic dealers were only carrying the amplifiers. They were not seriously considering the notion of bringing in a CD player in an age where CD player sales are dying off in favor of computer audio. That has changed as Tone Imports began importing the CD player and sending them out to their dealers.
The LM-215CD is not a feature riddled CD player – it plays CDs and doesn’t pull double duty as a USB/DAC, and connections are limited to RCA inputs, one Digital Optical output and one S/PDIF output. It uses a single 12AU7 tube (which the dealer here keeps telling me to roll), a Burr-Brown PCM 1792 DA Converter Chip (24Bit/192Khz) and an OPA2604 op amp with a Sony transport mechanism.
The LM 215 CD player has a nice easy to read red display along with a blue warm up light – when the light turns off it is ready to play (about 15 seconds). There are a 5 buttons on the front: Power, Stop/Open, Play/Pause, and skip forward and back. And that’s it! The solid toe breaking metal remote control has those same buttons (except power) but adds repeat, time, and number buttons for direct access to songs. It doesn’t get much more ordinary than this.
The remote requires a Philips screwdriver to remove the back metal plate in order to replace the batteries. Probably overkill but it seems to me that Chinese brands like Line Magnetic are working hard to reverse an image that their stuff isn’t built well. Besides, if you have a few of these products and their remotes around and you have speakers that sound better with those weight pucks you could use these remotes instead and save yourself a bunch of cash. I also appreciate the fact that the remote control is an aesthetic match to the CD player and not some flimsy black remote that looks like it was made for a completely different product.
A Magnetic Sound
Audiophiles like to read reviews that slice and dice components into sonic aspects. How big is the soundstage? What’s the bass like? Is the treble rolled off? All I suppose are valid questions but I grow weary reading reviews that reduce music into banal clichés. I prefer macro level listening to gear – what is the picture I see before me – what is the emotion? Does it seduce – does it generate an overall sense of correctness – does it sound natural?
A year in and I continue to say yes to all the above. I have not felt the need to upgrade. Now let me be clear, it’s not the last word in CD replay. I auditioned the $11,700 Audio Note CD 4.1X which provides considerably more foundation (bass and body), considerably more refined midrange, and is a CD player that can seriously enter the conversation against good, though not elite, vinyl rigs. Very good CD players in that price realm provide much better transport mechanisms, transformers, caps, etc. On a track such as The Yellowjackets’ “Wildlife,” the CD4.1x has a bigger 3 dimensional presentation and a sense of space rather than the more 2 dimensional leaner presentation offered up by the LM-215CD .
So you won’t get over the top proclamations from me that the LM-215CD is some kind of giant killer that slaps around the competition. Well at least not the near $12,000 competition.
What the 215 gets right is the vocal band. Singers don’t wind up suffering from a CD player added lisp that some players seem to give them. Horn instruments are vibrant, tactile and there’s lots of life to big band and busy orchestral tracks and the player doesn’t become a jumbled mess. Noise is very low (inaudible) and instruments are spread out properly across a wide stage.
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