|Linn Unidisk 1.1 Universal Disc Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Saturday, 01 October 2005|
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Music and Movies
Linn’s audio heritage has been to create an emotional musical experience. This has driven the design of some incredible hardware. The Sondek CD12 was arguably the best CD playback machine ever produced. A burning question is how well the Unidisk 1.1 can handle CD reproduction.
Once I played the first CD through the 1.1, the CD world as I knew it would never be the same. I found myself filing through my collection, curious to see how the Unidisk 1.1 would perform on some well-known favorites. INXS’ Shabooh Shoobah (Atlantic Records) captured my attention with the use of driving synthesizer, guitar and catchy lyrics with a lot of energy. The musicians could actually perform without the use of computers, and did so quite well. Michael Hutchence’s vocal textures rise to the top of the mix on “Spy of Love,” defining the midrange textures of his voice with oodles of information. The pinpoint location of his voice between the speakers had tons of air around the image of the vocals and laid back nicely in the soundstage. The body of the synthesizer benefited greatly from the improved resolution, revealing more detail and texture within each note, fleshing out even the subtle nuances that I had no idea even existed in the recording. Dynamics at first seemed a bit polite, but the more I listened, the more I realized that what I had heard prior to having the Unidisk 1.1 in my system was in fact some of the brittleness and harsh, edgy digital sound that other players had me accustomed to hearing. The Unidisk 1.1 also had a pronounced affect on the pitch accuracy of the recording. The music opened up and was free of any noticeable compression. Guitar strings sounded more natural, cymbals decayed more realistically and bass notes exhibited more character than I have heard from any other player.
The driving bass line in “Soul Mistake” was a case in point. Deep, taut and well-extended, the Unidisk 1.1 just kept getting better the louder I played it.
My favorite CD reference found its way into rotation next. Alice In Chains’ Unplugged (Sony Music Entertainment) captured one of the premiere Seattle grunge rock acts just before the group came apart at the seams. Layne Staley managed to hold it together long enough to make this recording that set the bar for this type of project. Performing acoustic sets of their mostly electric repertoire thrilled fans with how well the songs transitioned over to that style. “Sludge Factory” is a heavy, dark tune that loses nothing when played acoustically. The action of the guitars is set so close that the strings rattle on adjacent frets. This came across extremely well with the Unidisk. I could actually hear the strings not only hitting the frets but also resonating in the body of the guitar. Midrange clarity and transparency were simply stunning. Pace and rhythm were maintained with authority and control. Staley’s vocals were highlighted by the intricately detailed timbre of his unique sound, capturing the low-throated growl with a newfound sense of presence. The opening bass line on “Would” detailed the vibrating strings in space with an almost unreal palpability. The transient slap of each note remained fully intact at extremely high volumes.
“We Can Talk” on The Band’s Music From Big Pink (Capitol Records) found its way to the top of the stack. This outing by The Band is a radically different direction than any of their previous work, pioneering a new and interesting genre of rock with country elements and roots style in a not quite jam type of approach. The 5.1 mix of this effort captures the earthy, soulful feel to the arrangements, better defining the artistic craft underlying the structure of the songs. The Unidisk 1.1 helped me understand the truth of the music on “We Can Talk,” which portrays The Band’s developing prowess as it might sound on the original analog tapes. Open, airy and transparent, this tune had clarity and soul that were mesmerizing.
The organ on “Chest Fever” sports a very articulate groove with Robertson’s guitar playing along the same line. The vocals work to bring you within the song weaving in and out of the groove with so much body and detail that it’s hard to believe how natural this sounds.
I love atmospheric music that can float you along and paint an aural soundscape within your mind. “Thousand Years” on Sting’s Brand New Day (DTS Entertainment) seemed like a good test for the Unidisk 1.1. Sting’s vocals were extremely focused. Sibilance was outstanding with a slight yet natural-sounding shimmer to the ends of the words I had not heard before. The bass was well extended and deep without any boominess or congestion at high volumes. All the 5.1 information remained intact. Leading edge transients were faithfully blended while traveling from one channel to the next in the most seamless presentation I have ever heard on the surround format. The Unidisk threw a much larger soundstage than I’m used to hearing on this or any of the previously mention 5.1 surround tracks. The Unidisk 1.1 was liquidly smooth, never seeming to bat a digital eyebrow, regardless of the nature of the assault.
To get a feel for female vocals, I enlisted the help of Sheryl Crow. The Globe Sessions (DTS Entertainment) is, in my opinion, one of Crow’s best projects to date. “The Difficult Kind” displays how beautiful her voice can be. The slightly raspy quality and throaty croon of her voice is warm with a wonderful midrange bloom as she carries the note through completion. Dynamics, micro detail and transparency were all presented with alacrity by the Unidisk 1.1. The spaciousness of the soundstage once again made the tune much more engrossing.
Peter Gabriel’s remastered to SACD of So (Geffen Records) has a stunning presentation of “Mercy Street,” which the Unidisk 1.1 took to the next level. The bass and the synthesizer both exhibited a level of low-frequency control, grabbing the lowest octaves of the notes and eking out every ounce of extension and resonance. The intricate interplay of Gabriel’s voice and the backing vocals are stunningly delineated, as is the non-linear bass playing of Tony Levin. Additionally, the Unidisk 1.1 will scroll the name of the tune of any SACD as the track starts playing, which is a very cool feature.
Next I switched gears to test the Unidisk’s video prowess. My previous reference, the Toshiba SD9200, paled miserably in comparison to the video side of the Unidisk 1.1. The Unidisk 1.1 image was substantially improved in sharpness and clarity. Edge definition improved dramatically without any noticeable stair-stepping or blurriness. Contrast, color saturation and black level detail were top-notch, the best I’ve seen in my system.
“Appleseed” (Geneon) is a modern CG anime film with a vintage anime look. Colors are not blended for shadows but are composites of different colors to give the computer-generated characters the look of hand-drawn cells. This type of image gives video play quite a handful to deal with. The Unidisk 1.1 kept this sorted out in the opening melee where the main character, Deunan Knute, is waiting to ambush several mobile gun platforms amidst the burned-out ruins of a city. Shadows, bright flashes of gunfire and fast action remain coherent throughout this onslaught as the battle works through its paces. Color definition is further highlighted by the transitions from shadow to light as Deunan dodges between buildings in a twilight setting. There was no indication of chroma-bugs or digital artifacts in any of the scenes, and image depth was further enhanced, breathing new life into movie-watching. The rousing soundtrack by the Boom Boom Satellites keeps pace with the action, exemplifying the sonic dexterity that was displayed in the other listening tests.