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Linn Classik Movie Di Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 October 2003
ImageThe Linn Classik Movie Di is the latest all-in-one movie system from Linn and the big brother to their compelling Classik Movie System. The Classik Di is essentially Linn’s high-end option for a home theater-in-a-box. Like the Classik Movie, the Di is an all-in-one entertainment solution, complete with CD playback, AM/FM tuner, multi-channel DVD, and multi-room distributed audio, for a price of $4,900.

During my recent trips to the large electronics retailers, I have noticed more and more “Home Theater In a Box” systems crowding the shelves. These systems typically feature a 5.1 subwoofer/satellite system, packaged with a surround receiver containing a built-in DVD player. The difference between the majority of those systems and the Linn CMS Di is the emphasis Linn puts on sound quality. The Di sets itself apart from garden-variety electronics by providing time-tested audiophile sound in a physically tiny, aesthetically pleasing package. The CMS Di, at $4,900 in black or $4,950 in either silver, koral blue, arctic white or Baltic green, is quite a bit more than most of the other DVD lifestyle systems.
Linn is a Scottish company with a 30-year history of excellence in high-end audio and video products. While many of the Linn products of the past three decades have received numerous accolades and honors, they have also been priced on the expensive side, with many products in the five-figure range. Linn launched the Classik line in 1997 to provide quality AV products at a lower cost, in an attempt to draw in those enthusiasts who have long been dissuaded by Linn’s hefty price tags.

The original Linn Classik Movie sounds quite good in its own right, but the Classik Movie System Di is a step forward, with improved audio and video capabilities, as well as more flexibility. The Di’s increased performance is due mainly to the Silver Disk chip set taken from their newly-launched and industry-respected Unidisk player. The increased flexibility includes component video switching capability and the ability to accept and process external digital sources.
The first thing that caught my attention upon unpacking the unit is the Linn’s incredibly compact size. The Di system measures just over one foot square, and 3.1 inches in height. It was hard to believe that this small box housed a CD/DVD player, AM/FM tuner, five channels of 75 watts per channel amplification and a multi-channel preamp/processor with Dolby Digital and Pro Logic II, as well as DTS. This compact 11-pound package is contemporarily styled and comes in five colors. My review sample was an attractive powder coated silver-gray. The front panel of the Linn features the disc drawer in the center of the panel, positioned directly above the black LCD screen. Flanking the screen are nearly identical button clusters on each side of the display, making for a symmetrical panel layout. The groups of buttons each center around a DVD remote-style navigation disc. The group on the left controls source selection and input; the group on the right is mainly used to navigate the menus. The front panel also features a headphone jack.

The rear panel features 5.1 outputs, two auxiliary analog audio inputs, two optical digital inputs, analog and optical digital outputs, VCR in and out, TV (audio) in, and speaker level outputs for five channels. The rear panel also features composite, s-video and component inputs and outputs. The crowded rear panel also features antenna connections, IR flasher outputs, and six Knekt ports for connecting to Linn’s multi-room system.

You may be wondering how Linn can fit so much in a rear panel measuring only three by 12 inches. Linn saves space by providing Deltron reverse plugs for the speaker connections. Also in the box, you’ll find a pretty cool remote that is a definite step up from its predecessor. The long thin remote fit nicely in my hand and was exceptionally easy to use for navigation. Although I initially recognized that this remote was not the average piece of garbage that many components and home theater-in-a-box systems are furnished with, it wasn’t until I turned off the lights that I realized its coolest feature: the keys glow mint blue and remain easily readable in the dark.

I placed the CMS Di into my bedroom A/V system and found the Di to be quite simple to set up. The menu system was easy to navigate and I had everything configured within an hour. This is clearly an advantage with an all-inclusive AV electronics system, as opposed to a combination of receiver, DVD player and other sources. A modern DVD-Audio/SACD player by itself takes as many as eight cables to hook up (six for high-res audio, one for video and one for digital audio). The cables alone can cost a fortune, not to mention the pain that is caused by trying to fit them into the back of a rack or cabinet. The Di removes such worries. Almost as easy as an Apple iMac, the Di was a pleasure to set up.

Music and Movies
I began my listening with Norah Jones’ debut album Come Away With Me (Blue Note - CD). I immediately noticed a sense of ease in the Linn’s portrayal of the hit “Don’t Know Why.” The vocals were full and smooth and the upper frequencies were relaxed without being laid back, as compared to demos I heard at retail outlets on receivers and other home theater-in-a-box systems. The soundstage was deep, with solid image placement, which on the surface was surprising for a unit of this size and price. The Linn seemed to have no problem resolving the nuances in Jones’ voice or the sonic cues that made the imaging solid. The sound was reminiscent of tubes, sounding smooth yet detailed. The bass was perhaps slightly reduced in weight in the lower ranges, but it had some nice speed.

Many esoteric AV components are capable of delicate audiophile sound, which is nice, but I wanted to know if this little sucker had the guts to rock. I cued up U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” from their Joshua Tree album (Island/Mobile Fidelity). The opening drums were solid and detailed, but it was the guitars that would be the test on this track. On many systems, the guitar sound on this record can be grating and painful to listen to at volume. On the Linn Di, they retained their piercing, gritty character but were never grating. The Linn did as well on male vocals as it had on Jones, cleanly and authentically reproducing Bono’s voice. I cranked the system up to see how the Linn’s 75 watts per channel amplifier would do. I was able to reach louder volumes than would be comfortable for long-term listening but not quite concert level volumes before the Linn ran out of steam. Linn produces some of the best-sounding amplifiers in the world, including their flagship Klimax Solos. Although very expensive, they have a neutral and transparent sound and are known for packing more punch than their rated power. It appears that they have leveraged this technology to bring much greater spank than your average 75 watts. I was pleased to hear that the tonal character did not change at higher volumes, unlike what occurs on some other home theater-in-a-box solutions.

I recently watched the newest James Bond movie in my collection, “Die Another Day” (MGM). The opening surfing scene was very revealing of the Linn’s ability to resolve subtle details. The Linn Di was detailed enough to recreate the various splashes and crashing of the surf in the surround channels. I was able to pick out individual sounds rather than just a muted roar, making the portrayal very accurate. I had been at the beach earlier that day, so the sound of the surf was fresh in my head; this was ideal for comparison to the soundtrack played through the Linn. As silly as it sounds, the waves were reproduced so naturally that it was not a stretch to believe that I resided on the cliffs above Malibu. Another scene involved the typical James Bond battle, with machine guns, explosions, hovercraft chases and crashes that sent people flying. The Linn continued to be detailed enough to easily separate the complex mess of sounds without confusion. The Di may tend to suffer in dynamic range at the loudest volumes, indicating that its mighty little amplifiers can only do so much. The Linn’s 75 watts per channel were adequate at normal to high listening levels, but when cranked up to obscenity, the information could sound a bit compressed.

The picture quality was excellent in both bright and dark scenes. I should also mention that the Linn has different proprietary settings for video decoding of the MPEG stream. I played with the settings and stuck with the default setting, which was free from digital artifacts. The image was well defined and sharp, without any visible noise during program material.

In a later session, I watched “Identity” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). This movie is big on dialogue and relies heavily on sonic cues for ambience. The Linn Di’s detail really shone, placing me in the center of the movie. The spatial cues from raindrops to the various creaks and groans were well defined and made the soundstage envelopment convincing.

The Downside
At nearly $5,000, the Linn CMS Di is expensive for an all-in-one lifestyle system, and for the same price, one can buy separates that will perform very well. This might lend future flexibility and additional upgradeability. The Linn Di is also somewhat limited in power. If you want to crank it up to greater than normal levels, you will need efficient speakers, especially if you have a large room. Also, if you have a large system with many sources, the Linn’s limited inputs will require the use of an external switcher. While these issues must be addressed, I do not think they are limiting to most potential purchasers, as most people who buy lifestyle systems are doing so because they don’t want the clutter and complication of a bunch of source components and they do not have large rooms to swallow up their systems.

A couple of obvious omissions are the Linn’s inability to play DVD-Audio or SACD-encoded discs. I found this surprising, as Linn manufactures and OEM’s the UniDisk player that they could seemingly use for this package. If you want to hear the ultimate in audio playback from the latest discs, you are out of luck with the Di. While this might not be critical right now, considering how few high-resolution titles there are out there at present, as one or both of these formats start to take off, you might wish you had such playback capabilities.

The Linn Classik Di is a sleek and sexy package for those who want plug-and-play simplicity. Because it’s a single component, it doesn’t offer the flexibility and upgradeability that separates do. However, what it does do is offer refined high-end performance that will tickle the most discerning music and movie enthusiast. I found the Classik Di to perform well above its price, which makes it a great choice for those looking for a system that is small enough to hide and simple enough to connect without help. The unit is built bulletproof and its construction is worthy of both its name and its price. Additionally, the built-in multi-room audio system is an added bonus for those who already have other Linn components. If you desire to build a simple high-end theater system and are tight on space and the time to learn and connect complicated separate systems, the Linn Di is a fantastic choice.

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