About a year ago I reviewed the Linn Majik DS-I, a great combination of Linn’s Majik-I integrated amp and Majik DS digital streamer. The “Majik” series is Linn’s lowest-end product series, with the “Akurate” being a step up and the “Klimax” representing the top end. I was impressed by the Majik’s performance, especially when streaming hi-res digital music from a computer or NAS (Network Attached Storage device). My first Linn experience agreed with my growing impression that computer-based digital music systems generally sound better than optical reader-based systems, and my experience with the Linn Akurate system has eliminated all doubt. It’s also given me an indication of just how good digital music can sound.
The Akurate components sent to me are the latest iteration of the Akurate line, incorporating both technological improvements and aesthetic changes. As I have not heard the prior version of the Akurate components I don’t know how much better the new Akurate line sounds than the prior version. However, it was immediately obvious that the Akurate line is a major step up from the Majik line. In fact, if I didn’t know that there is still a Klimax line, I would have concluded that Akurate must be Linn’s top product line.
Description of Components and the Akurate System
The Akurate line was revised and reintroduced in November of 2010. In particular, the Akurate DS digital streamer and the Akurate Kontrol preamp were redone. Here’s a basic description of the components as revised.
First, and most importantly, the DS Plays digital music over a standard ethernet network. The advantage is that you do not have to use any unusual programs or configurations when you install the Akurate DS in your network. You might think of it as an ethernet connection that “substitutes” for what in a traditional transport would be the digital SPDIF input. The DS can be used to stream internet radio, podcasts and ‘listen again’ broadcasts.
Second, it decodes FLAC, WAV, ALAC, MP3, WMA (but not lossless), AIFF, AAC and OGG audio formats with up to 24-bit 192 kHz native sample rate. The sample rates available are: 7.35 k, 8 k, 11.025 k, 12 k, 14.7 k, 16 k, 22.05 k, 24 k, 29.4 k, 32 k, 44.1 k, 48 k, 88.2 k, 96 k, 176.4 k, 192 k. Word depths of 16-24 bit are accommodated.
Third, the Akurate DS rear panel is quite simple, with a power switch, power inlet, grounding terminal, ethernet input, four RS 232inputs for connecting to the Kontrol or an Akurate CD, a pair of balanced outputs and a pair of RCA outputs. There is no digital SPDIF input.
Fourth, it has six front panel buttons: the source select button, two skip track buttons (forward and back), a stop button, a play button, a standby button and a power switch. The front panel also sports a modest-sized display.
The Akurate’s dimensions are (H) 3.58 inches x (W) 15 inches x (d) 15 inches and it weighs 12.35 lb.
This version of the Akurate Kontrol replaces the prior multichannel version. The Akurate Kontrol is designed to control of all your analogue and digital sources, and to fit seamlessly into a Knekt multi-room system. It is a stereo analogue pre-amplifier with a built-in phono stage (MM/MC) (set to MC, but dealer-configurable), 2 Balanced (XLR) inputs and 4 single-ended (RCA) inputs (phono stage input configurable to line level), headphone output and Aux input (3.5 mm) on the front panel, and both balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) outputs, with one pair of RCA outputs fixed for recording.
One of the interesting philosophies implemented in the Kontrol is the ethernet-enabled networking that can be used for configuration and control options. This is quite different from what most audiophiles have experience with, and will take many people some time to get used to. However, it’s a very logical next step for those who want to integrate their home systems and have them all access and play digital music files. Configuration is done via the Linn Konfig software.
The Kontrol’s dimdensions are (H) 3.58 inches x (W) 15 inches x (d) 15 inches and its weight is 12.8 lb.
The amp I received, the 4200, is a 4-channel model with 200 W per channel (into 4 Ω) with four inputs and four outputs. Each channel has its own gain adjustment, sporting a range of 25.6 through 35.6 at 1dB intervals (the default is 22.6). I’ve decided that gain adjustment in my amps is an absolute must, especially when matching with other components. The 4200 is also available as a three-channel model. You also have a choice of balanced or single-ended models (XLR or RCA connectors). A very nice option, which I unfortunately could not try out, is that the 4200 is internally upgradeable with Aktiv crossover cards for use in a fully Aktiv system. This is one very well thought out high-end amp.
As an aside, I was initially irked by the fact that the power rating was based on 4 ohms, rather than the typical 8 ohm power rating. In the past I had seen this used by others as an advertising gimmick to make an amp appear more powerful. However, it seems that Linn’s use of the 4 ohm rating is actually the opposite – an attempt to convey real-world power. Since (a) many speakers dip well below 8 ohms during actual use, and (b) many amps’ power outputs do not double down as impedance doubles, the 4 ohm power output of an amp may be more important that its 8 ohm rating. This was the case with the 4200. As you’ll see below, though the Linn obviously couldn’t go head-to-head with my current biamped 2000 watts into 4 ohms setup, it comported itself quite well.
DS, Kontrol and 4200, Separately and Together
I evaluated the Akurate DS digital streamer, Kontrol preamplifier and 4200 multi-channel amplifier in three configurations. First, I replaced my front end combo (modded Qsonix/Empirical Audio PaceCar/Lessloss DAC 2004) with the DS and Kontrol. This front end then fed my modded Lyngdorf RP-1 room correction processor, which in turn sent the signal to a pair of Electrocompaniet Nemo and a pair of Electrocompaniet Nada (review to come) monoblocks, which biamped B&W Nautilus 800Ds. Second, I replaced the Nemo and Nada monoblocks with the 4200 multi-channel amp. Finally, I used the entire Linn Akurate stack to drive GamuT M7 speakers (review to come). Please note that I am not going to discuss setup here. The Akurate system is designed to integrate with your computer network, so you’ll need to take some steps that you may not be familiar with if you’ve used only traditional audio components. For now, I will focus on sound quality.
Akurate DS and Kontrol as the Front End
I began by inserting just the DS and Kontrol into my regular system, making them my front end. I then let them play music files for 24 hours before settling down for serious listening. My listening was divided between sessions playing 16-bit/44.1kHz files and 24-bit/48kHz and higher files from a hard drive. I used the supplied Linn XLR interconnects between the DS and the Kontrol, as well as MIT Oracle MA-X and Silent Source Music Reference balanced ICs. In all cases I used the Tara Labs Zero Gold interconnects (review to come) between the Kontrol and the Lyngdorf. Between the Lyngdorf and the amps I used Silent Source Silver Signature ICs when driving the 800Ds and the MIT Oracle MA-X ICs when driving the GamuT M7s. Speaker cables when driving the 800Ds were Silent Source Silver Signatures, and MIT Magnum biwire when driving the M7s.
16 Bit/44.1 kHz Music Files
In every case 16/44.1 files from the hard drive sounded clearly better than the same files played on any of the four optical disc players I have. I no longer have my modded Esoteric P-70/D-70 combo, so I was not able to directly compare the sound of the Akurate DS to that high-end optical disc player, but see my review of the Majik DS-I in Dagogo for my direct comparison of the DS-I to the Esoteric. In most cases the 16/44.1 files sounded better played through the Akurate DS than did the SACD layer of the same disc played on good SACD players. In this regard, one of my comparisons was to listen to the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed, which I had on the Deram deluxe edition hybrid SACD. I also recently downloaded the 24/96 version of this album from HD Tracks and will discuss in the next section how it sounds played as a hi-res computer file.
Playing the SACD layer of the album on a modded Marantz 8300, I enjoyed the natural sounding orchestral portions of the album, which is something that does not occur when playing the Redbook layer of the CD. I immediately noticed the excellent transparency of the Linn Akurate Kontrol, as well as the way in which it facilitated a very good pace, rhythm and timing of the music. Somewhat tentatively, I switched sources and played the 16/44.1 file of the same music through the Linn DS. Mind you, the 16/44.1 file was ripped from the Redbook layer of the same CD. At first I thought the music was indistinguishable from the SACD layer played from the optical disc, which I thought was a good thing. However, as I listened longer I immediately noticed an even greater sense of space and openness to the presentation than I heard from the SACD layer of the disc played on the Marantz. By the time I got to Tuesday Afternoon it was clear that the DS/Kontrol combo was something special. In particular, I was impressed with how well the DS and Kontrol cleaned up the sound, revealing large amounts of musical detail without sounding artificial or etched. The DS/Kontrol combo also added a surprising amount of spatial cues – more than I’d ever encountered from any digital source.
I then began selecting music which was recorded in particular venues to see if the spatial cues I thought I was hearing held in all circumstances. For instance, in all but the poorest systems, the listener can tell that the Cowboy Junkies’ I Don’t Get It from The Trinity Sessions is recorded in a cavernous venue. However, with the Linn DS and Kontrol I actually found myself effortlessly envisioning the interior walls. This led me to pull out several recordings made in a venue I’m quite familiar with – Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony. Sure enough, each of the recordings exhibited the most accurate sense of Symphony Hall that I’ve ever encountered. More impressively, it did not do this by creating an ephemeral image which was light on musical body. Quite the contrary, there was plenty of realistic musical body fused with superb soundstage located in a discernible venue. Very impressive. With this foundation I turned to hi-rez files.
High Resolution Music Files
As I had started my evaluation with a comparison of the SACD layer of the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed to the ripped 16/44.1 files of the same disc, and as I also recently downloaded that same recording in 24/96 from HD Tracks, it was natural to begin my hi-rez evaluation with the same music. I had already played this album on my Qsonix-Empirical-Lessloss front end, so I knew it would sound very good. Nonetheless, five minutes into the opening track I found myself sitting in my chair with a grin on my face thinking “this is amazing”. The sense of space, the position of the performers, the width and depth of the soundstage and the realistically natural body of the music was the best I’ve heard. This is not to say that musical detail and extension were shortchanged – quite the opposite. But from a subjective standpoint, I got the impression that the Akurate system provided an exactly correct reproduction of the notes and performers and then turned its efforts to providing an exact reproduction of the recording venue.
This impression was repeated on every hi-rez track I played, and contributed mightily to a sense that you were at the performance. This included well-known audiophile recordings, such as Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly, Jazz At The Pawnshop, Steely Dan’s Gaucho and Dave’s True Story’s Sex Without Bodies. Jazz At The Pawnshop in particular benefitted, with its already-vivid soundstage becoming holographic. In a few cases this ability to reproduce the venue caused a bit of a letdown when it was clear that the performance venue was poor, but even then the feeling of being at a live event more than compensated. Even studio recordings benefitted, primarily in terms of performer placement and soundstage depth. A good example is the 24/96 version of the Doors’ LA Woman. All of the instruments are located farther back, with Jim Morrison well in front. You get this effect with all good DACs, but the effect was magnified with the Akurate system, adding what felt like 10 feet to the apparent depth of the soundstage. Moreover, all of this was accomplished without losing musical body or slam.
I don’t mean to shortchange the Linn’s ability to accurately reproduce the timbre of instruments, the emotion conveyed by the performers, the pace, rhythm and timing of the music, or the slam and power of the presentation. These audiophile values were available in abundance and never failed to impress. The Linn Akurate DS’s reproduction of well-recorded 24/96 and 24/192 was very, very good in all aspects, and at times nothing short of spectacular.
Entire Akurate System with GamuT Speakers
The B&W N800Ds can be driven by as little as 50 watts per channel, but they don’t come close to their capabilities without massive amounts of power; more precisely, voltage. In short, they are a torture test for amps. Comparing the sound of the 800Ds driven by only two channels of the 200 wpc 4200 four-channel stereo amp to the sound of the 800Ds driven in biamp mode by a pair of 600 wpc Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks (bass) and a pair of 400 wpc Nada monoblocks (midrange and treble) wasn’t totally fair, but I did it anyway. The 4200 actually sounded very good, except at very loud levels I could tell the insatiable N800Ds were making it work pretty hard. I then switched in all four channels of the 4200, sending 200 watts to the bass and 200 watts to the mid and treble of each speaker. That definitely turned the trick. The difference between the sound of the 400-watts-to-each speaker 4200 and the 1,000-watts-to-each-speaker Nemo/Nada narrowed dramatically. The bass was much more controlled and explosive, and separation of the instruments improved. Most people would not have thought there was any shortcoming in the sound, but of course I live with the Nemo/Nada combination full time.
The story was quite different when the Akurate system was used to power Gamut M’inenT M7s. In that case, biamping was unnecessary overkill. It sounded great, but it also sounded great when I just used two of the four channels. In fact, this was easily one of the best-sounding component combinations I’ve had in my home. The component chain was the following: Linn Akurate DS → MIT Oracle MA-X interconnects → Linn Akurate Kontrol → Tara Labs Zero Gold interconnects → modified Lyngdorf RP-1 → MIT Oracle MA-X interconnects → Akurate 4200 → MIT Magnum biwire speaker cables (2 pairs of Silent Source Silver Signatures when biamping) → GamuT M’inenT M7 speakers. Power cables and conditioning were all Lessloss, except for MIT Oracle AC2 on the Akurate 4200.
All of the outstanding qualities of the Akurate DS and Kontrol described above were replicated in this system, but I now incorporated the performance of the 4200 stereo amp. Despite its slim profile and stylish appearance, the 4200 packs a real wallop especially when biamping with all 400 watts, incorporating Linn’s “Dynamik” technology. It had absolutely no trouble in maintaining a tight grip over the M7s, even at extremely high playback levels on complex music. The chorus of Carmina Burana was wide and deep, with excellent dynamic range that expressed the subtlety of quiet passages while shaking the room when the chorus was at full throat. The 4200 ensured very lively presentation of the clean, detailed and spacious sound of the DS and Kontrol. The bass was outstanding – tight but never clinical, with very good articulation combined with very good body. Treble extension was stratospheric, yet almost sweet and rich. I never got listening fatigue, while simultaneously hearing everything the performers had to offer.
For those of you who want a general comparison to other high end combinations, I can tell you that the Linn Akurate System is not only competitive with, but actually outperforms several of the best systems I’ve heard. For those of you who are only familiar with the Majik line of products, the Akurate DS, Kontrol and 4200 stereo amp are miles ahead of the Majik DS-I, and the Majik DS-I is outstanding as an all-in-one product. I had assumed that there would be a noticeable difference between the Majik and Akurate levels, but had not realized just how good the new Akurate components are. I’ve not heard the Klimax line, but it is inconceivable to me that it could be much better than the Akurate components I heard. If it is, I better start saving now.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the elegant appearance of the new version Akurate components. They incorporate a sleek and sophisticated design that looks good on any shelf. These are not components that your style-conscious spouse is going to object to. They come in silver and black and look better in person than their photos on the Linn website.
A short comment about Setup
Though you can certainly plug the 4200 amp and the Kontrol preamp in just like a traditional audio component, you can’t do that with the Akurate DS digital streamer. The DS doesn’t even have a traditional SPDIF interface, so you can’t even plug a transport into it. This because the DS is designed to fully realize the advantages of magnetically read music files stored on a hard drive. Moreover, the Akurate system is designed to give you the ability to “see” and control it with your computer network, so that even though you can treat the Kontrol just like a traditional preamp and the 4200 as a traditional stereo amp, you get this added functionality when they are integrated with the network.
It makes no sense here to lay out all of the instructions that Linn provides to set up your Akurate system in your home network; these are available on Linn’s website. Setup is not hard, but you have to have patience. If you’ve already set up a computer-based audio system, integrating the Akurate system will not be a problem. As I had already gone through the network setup process with the Linn Majik DS-I, setup was less intimidating than the first time around. Complete instructions from the Linn website are adequate, and describe the process in a step-by-step fashion; my experience with Linn’s customer support was very good.
If you have not previously set up a computer-based audio system and are not computer-savvy, I suggest that you get assistance from the dealer and/or a computer audiophile friend. If you’re intimidated after reading the preceding sentence, stop right there. All the effort in getting help would well worth it, and you will be rewarded with fabulous music. After all, you are spending money for a near state-of-the art digital audio front end, and it’s time to finally hear how good those music files on your hard drive can sound.
I can’t say that the Linn Akurate system is a “no compromise” system as the company itself has a higher product line. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine any music lover using the Linn Akurate system and not think that the musical performance of the system is exceptional. It’s a wonderful combination of audiophile values with no weaknesses, and it provides the best rendering of soundstage and performance venue I’ve ever heard. It will take a bit extra to integrate it into your home network, but if you have begun to accumulate music files on your computer you owe it to yourself to find out just how good it can sound. If you don’t yet have music files on your hard drive, you better start accumulating some, because Linn has demonstrated that hard drive-based 16/44.1 music files sound way better than the music on your CDs, and hi-rez files sound way better than you’ve ever heard anything before. Kudos to you, Linn.
Thank you so much for your excellent and thorough review of the Linn Akurate series. I’d enjoy seeing how the Akurate 242 speakers measure up to your GamuT speakers. You could try the 242’s in Aktiv configuration for full effect.
At Linn we pride ourselves on our passion for music and attention to detail through the engineering and manufacturing processes. I’m glad that we made the desired impression on you.
Linn Products Ltd
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