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Linn Classik CD Player Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 August 2000
ImageFamed British manufacturer Linn, well known and respected for their extremely high-performance audio components such as the legendary LP 12 turntable and the ($135,000 plus) Keltik active system, has created perhaps the first true high-end all-in-one music playback system. The compact and sleek Classik ($1950 or $1995, depending on which of five colors is chosen) combines a tuner, CD player and amplifier into a small (H 80 x W 320 x D325 mm) metal chassis. It looks and sounds right as much at home in your main listening room as it would on a bookshelf or desk in an office or den. Loudspeakers are not prepackaged with the Classik. However, the Linn Tukans ($800 to 850) are frequently used with the Classik to create a complete music playback system, priced at $2,800.

The amplifier section delivers an impressive 75 watts a side, far more than any other self-contained unit. The preamplifier supplies three line level inputs for adding other devices, along with tape outputs for a cassette deck. The tuner provides plenty of tuner presets, 80 in all, plus a clock alarm/timer that gently wakes you with the radio or your favorite CD. The Linn Classik is more than your typical off-the-shelf, plug and play boombox or mini-system. Under the hood, the design is pure, uncompromising Linn, including trickle-down technology from Linn’s big gun audio products. There are a host of creature comforts built right into the Classik, ranging from the ability to adjust the rate at which a source is muted to saving the settings on your CDs. My favorite option is the preset memory that can either use the same volume, balance, bass and treble settings on all sources, or establish a completely different setting for each input. The CD player offers the usual random, shuffle, scan and programmed playback.

All functionality is either accessed directly from the front panel or the remote control. I found the remote to be far more intuitive to use than the more compact, icon-based buttons on the front panel. The multi-functionality of these 11 buttons is rather ingenious, but it may take you some time to get used to them. When you first start playing with a Linn Classik, you’ll likely want to use the remote to make it sing, as all of the buttons are clearly marked and easy to use.

Other cool features on the Classik include the ability to use the power outlet on the rear to operate lights and other appliances. Not only will the Classik wake you up in the morning with the caress of sweet music, it will start a pot of the finest Jamaican coffee. In the U.S., you’ll need a $25 adapter to make the appliance trigger function properly. The Classik shows its stylish side by being available in a variety of colors, including traditional Linn black and sleek silver. Other colors include simple white, Atlantic Green and Pacific Blue.

The Classik scores big by being able to drive my reference Revel Performa F30s ($3,500). While most end users will utilize the Classik with Linn speakers, such as the Tukans, I found the audio performance and power to exceed my previously-held expectations for such a physically (but not sonically) diminutive audio component. At a stout 75 watts per channel, the Classik has the guts to power more than a bookshelf speaker. It can take on less efficient, full-range American speakers like my beloved Revels with finesse and ease.

On to the music. The gritty track titled "Loaded" from Sister Seven’s second effort ‘Wrestling Over Tiny Matters’ (Arista) surprised me with its forcefulness and distinct midrange punch through the Classik. I was musically lured into continually pumping up the volume, anticipating that I’d quickly find the end of the Classik’s amplifiers. My ears gave way before the Classik did. Remarkably, considering its size and price, the Classik has the ability to reproduce large-scale musical energy.

For over 20 years, Linn has been preaching the importance of an excellent source as the heart of any music playback system. The CD player in the Classik is able to create excellent stereo imaging, conveying the intimacy of the live setting for a very personal and transparent performance. The fiery dual guitars of Strunz and Farah from their ‘Live’ album (Selva) were highly resonant, exhibiting exceptional depth on the Classik. Considering that the price of my reference system ranges between $50,000 and $100,000, it’s amazing that I was able to actually suspend my disbelief during this track. I forgot that I was listening to a stereo system. My audio experience transported me into another realm.

The performance of Strunz and Farah on the Classik was emotionally engaging but not sonically perfect. In comparison to my Sunfire Theater Grand II and Proceed AMP 2 (approx. $6,000), the articulation in the most intricate passages on the Classik is very good, though a sense of air that allows the instruments to breathe is lacking, resulting in a slightly compressed feel to the track.

Ray Lynch’s whimsical "Ralph’s Rhapsody" from ‘The Best of Volume One’ (Windham Hill) reveals brightness without harshness or glare. It wasn’t until the Enya-styled sampled vocal effects came in that I detected some mushiness in the midrange, compared to my Proceed reference system. Despite this rather unbalanced contrasting, the Classik’s warmth and precision is better than I would expect from such a demanding track on far less expensive electronics.

The smooth neutral and well-modulated tonal balance of Tiger Okoshi’s mournful trumpet on "Kagome, Kagome" from ‘The Color of Soil’ (JVC XRCD2 album) is realistic and stable. The cello and violin on this piece are vibrant and strong with plenty of presence, proving that the Linn Classik is capable of producing a very realistic acoustical playback experience.

More than the sum of its parts, the Linn Classik is better evaluated for its individual components than as a typical executive-style system. AV receivers and mini systems are loaded with features, but often come up short on sonic character. The Linn Classik does not. Unlike lifestyle products from the likes of B&O and Nakamichi that appeal to our aesthetic senses with wow and wonder, Linn has opted for the simple and elegant approach. They’d rather have you say "wow" about the music than the way the CD drawer opens.

The Downside
Despite the fact that the internal source is a CD player, the Classik is deeply rooted in the analog world, with only line level inputs and outputs. I would have expected at least a single digital input and probably a digital output for a MD recorder or CR-R, in place of a cassette deck. At this level of performance and price, I was taken aback that the most sophisticated of buyers weren’t considered, especially since this product is touted as a complete system solution, not some wimpy desktop piece you’ve delegated for background music. Moreover, those wimpy mini-systems do offer digital I/O’s.

The unit can technically be used with practically any pair of speakers, particularly bookshelf-style. However, the supplied cables are unusual. The terminations that fit into the Classik are proprietary, designed to connect to its recessed and unconventional speaker terminals. At the other end of the cable is a banana plug connector, but it is of a slightly smaller diameter than the connectors found on most high-end audio speaker cables. These connectors can be used on any other speaker with five-way binding posts. Unfortunately, using your own cables is out of the question, because neither the Classik nor the Linn book-style speakers can accommodate other style banana plugs, spade lugs or even bare wire.

Adding a subwoofer would have been my first instinct, but the odd plugs on the Linn products proved to be a barrier. While I could have run the cables from the Classik to the speaker input terminals of a subwoofer, the return cables to the Tukans required a set of those smaller diameter banana plugs and I didn’t have an extra set. Instead, I opted to plug the Classik directly into the Revel Performa F30s that were used exclusively for this evaluation.

At first look, the Classik seems like it should be lumped into the executive system category, due to its all-in-one system approach and features like alarm clocks and timers. However, it actually has a heritage rich in quality and no-compromise performance. The Classik was bred from the research and development DNA of high-performance Linn components such as the Klout and Majik amplifiers and the Minik and Genki CD Players, as well as the Kudos Tuner.

The Linn Classik doesn’t compete with the mini-systems and lifestyle products on the level of "wow" factors and feature sets. What the Linn Classik will do is outperform any executive/lifestyle/mini system you place alongside it, fulfilling the discriminating needs of users who probably already feature high-end products in their main systems. In fact, in any situation from the bedroom to the boardroom where high performance with a minimum of wires and components is demanded, the Classik will more than suffice, it will excel.

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