|Linn Kisto System Controller|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Wednesday, 01 February 2006|
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The proliferation of home theaters has been the driving force and market growth area for the audio industry for the last decade or so and has inspired the design of some really great gear for home theater components. As AV manufacturers gained more practical knowledge on how their products are used, the integration of audio and video control has gotten much better and far simpler to use. In the case of the preamp/processor, never has it been more critical that this component in your rig pull everything else together. It used to be that you wouldn’t dare run a video signal to anything other than your display for fear that it would be adulterated by the less than awe-inspiring video section of older preamps/processors. And if your audio requirements are for CD, DVD-Audio or SACD, are you always sure that the set-up for each format is correct? It’s not always obvious or straightforward.
Audio and video switching has taken precedence with designers because they better understand the integration issues early adopters went through. Without a system architecture that is easy to interface and extremely flexible, your frustration level will be proportionate to the difficulty of navigating the set-up and of running your home theater and music. The real merits of these products are two-fold: how well they integrate other components in your system, and how easy it is to get the right output for the intended use.
The Linn Kisto System Controller at $12,995 is one of those special products that takes the genre of preamps/processors to the highest level. Staying within the mantra of the ultimate sound, Linn engineers have devised a product that provides superior performance in any just about every disc format for music, as well as topnotch video switching that integrates seamlessly with other components within Linn’s product line, like the Unidisk or the Knekt multi-room system, for the ultimate in home musik distribution; oops, got caught up in the phonetic spelling phenomenon the folks at Linn seem to enjoy.
The diminutive size of the Kisto falls in line with Linn’s other components. Linn engineers seem to revel in their ability to optimize space requirements for their gear. The Kisto is probably the largest piece in the product line, yet it is small by all other preamp/processor standards. The elegant and simply stated enclosure is 15 inches wide, 15 inches deep and five-and-one-half inches tall, weighing 16.5 pounds. It houses three separate chasses and 11 circuit boards, all engineered by Linn. The Kisto comes in two different finishes, either silver or black (the review sample was the latter).
The first thing that stands out about the Kisto is the lack of knobs and/or myriad buttons found of other preamps/processors. The dominant feature on the front panel is the large six-and-one-half-inch by two-inch blue vacuum fluorescent display that is large enough to be easily read and allows you to forgo using the OSD for system navigation. Below the display is a single rectangular power switch, which is dimly lit blue when the system is in standby mode. Below this switch is a access panel that, when manually raised, exposes a connection for a keyboard to type in the name of sources you want to add that aren’t pre-configured in the Kisto, a pair of stereo analog inputs, an S-Video and composite video input, one optical digital in/out, and a output for Dolby headphones. For system manipulation without the remote, there is a navigation button array similar to the remote, with 10 ancillary buttons for anything from set-up to adding a new source to changing the surround sound format. Using these controls was a snap and easily navigated and understood. The last button operates the slick door-closing mechanism of the access door, putting the front panel of the Kisto back into its sleek appearance mode.
Just because the Kisto is a smaller unit than the typical pre/pro doesn’t mean that you have to make due without. The easily upgradeable Linn-designed software and configurable nature of the hardware allows for quite a bit of connection flexibility. The processing side of the Kisto handles Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround EX, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS ES, DTS 96/24, OCM, MPEG-2 and AAC (MPEG-4), as well as Linn's Limbik Party mode, which is Linn’s own proprietary software for taking two-channel material and outputting a signal to all speakers.
Nuts and Bolts
Looking at the organized and well laid-out rear panel, the functionality of the system is evidenced by all of the inputs and outputs, over 100 in all. The video section resides at the top of the panel. Here you’ll find 12 composite inputs that can be reconfigured to four component inputs, five BNC inputs and outputs that can do double duty as component or RGBHV for older video sources, two S-Video outputs and six S-Video inputs, and three composite outputs that can also be configured for one component output. Because the Kisto is a European product, the requisite SCART input and output connections are present, eating more real estate than I’m sure Linn would like.
For the custom installation and other Linn gear, the control section occupies a small section to the left, and consists of an Ethernet connection, RS232 in/out (RJ12), in and out provisions for linking to a Knekt system (RJ45), four 12 volt triggers (Phoenix) and two IR connections.
The remainder is assigned for audio and consists of one set of eight RCA analog outputs for four stereo pairs or configured for 7.1, two pairs of RCA analog outputs for recording or configured for outputs to additional subs if you like, six RCA audio inputs for three stereo pairs or configured for SACD and DVD-Audio, eight XLR balanced outputs, a pair of XLR balanced inputs, four Toslink inputs, two Toslink outputs, two S-PDIF outputs and four S-PDIF inputs. The Toslink, S-PDIF, RGB/YPrPb+H+V and S-Cideo connections are all configurable for total component flexibility.
What the Kisto does extremely well besides being a killer pre-pro is provide integration of all of your other components with an eye on total system synergy. If you have control issues, the Kisto can take that personality flaw up several notches by allowing the manipulation of every aspect of your entertainment system. Not only will the Kisto integrate and optimize the function of your source components to the nth degree, it will also combine other elements of your entertainment system, like lighting, screen operation and closing curtains.