As we were in Paris last weekend visiting the Haute Fidélité show, Linn invited us along to Audio Synthèse, a high-end retailer in the city, to take a listen to the new Linn Exakt system. How could we refuse!
I’m sure most folk will be well aware of the Linn brand and I for one certainly lusted after the company’s LP12 back in the mid 80s. Indeed, as a new student with a full grant burning a hole in my pocket I ended up buying one…but could never actually afford to buy an arm for it. This reminds me of a story I was told not too long ago about a chap attending a hi-fi show in Japan. Apparently he’d bought an LP12 but lived in a small house with his extended family and the fact that he woke for work so early in the morning, combined with the (literally) paper thin walls of his house, meant that he was unable to play music on it. The story goes that every morning he would sit in front of the turntable, put on a record and imagine what it would sound like if he were actually able to play it with volume. Very Zen, but I digress.
Time was short and we had planned to spend just half an hour with Angus, Keith and Laurent, Linn’s representatives who had travelled to Paris to host a weekend of demos at the outlet. First of all the shop was not quite what I’d expected; there were no shelves of kit in the main area just a sofa, a TV and a pair of speakers…oh, there was a pair of B & W Nautilus skulking in the background, sadly not wired up. We were introduced to the various Linn folk and were given the full demo.
Truth be known, it’s a few years since I’ve owned any Linn kit…my last experience was about seven years ago with a full system comprising of Keilidh speakers, Majik amp and Karik CD player and this system is what reignited my passion for quality audio reproduction in the home… I also very nearly bought a used LP12 very recently, but didn’t quite get there for one reason and another. This set up in the shop looked a lot different to the Linn system I owned – One box under the TV, a pair of speakers and….and nothing, that’s it. Keith Robertson, Linn’s technical director took a few moments to explain the background to the Exakt system. Basically he’s from a computer background and had the idea back in 2004 to marry computing into a hi-fi company and in 2007 the Linn DS was born, which brought Keith’s idea to reality. Basically this was a system that would pull your tunes from the “cloud” and push them through your existing system. In 2011 a preamplifier was added to the DS and then in 2013 the Exakt system was born.
The system we heard in this room was the Klimax Exakt DSM wired via Cat 5 cable to the Klimax Exakt 350 loudspeakers. This means that essentially the speakers become “connected and intelligent” and the slogan Linn are using is “The source is the speaker”. The theory goes that what you get with the Exakt system is the studio master recording sent directly to the speaker without having to have pre amps, amps, speaker cables, cuddly toy getting in the way of the signal…. importantly in Linn’s opinion is that the system also does away with passive crossovers.
Inside the speakers is what Linn call the Exakt Engine which they say eliminates magnitude and phase distortion inherent in passive crossovers, corrects for variance in drive units and then optimizes for your personal listening space.
It goes something like this: Exakt DSM links to the speaker containing the Exakt Engine via Cat 5, which then goes to the speakers internal DACs, which feed the internal amps, which then power the drivers. Sounds simple enough, but Linn claim the system will optimize to your room, your furniture and to the placement of the speakers. Impressive stuff if it works!
We were led downstairs to a purpose built and relatively bijou listening room that contained a small pair of Exakt standmounts, the Akurate Akudoriks which interestingly have all the active electronic gubbins in the stand. It’s an elegant looking system and one that will appeal to those looking for a good looking and unobtrusive means of playing tunes. Sound-wise it’s always difficult to ascertain what is going on critically in a new space, but the system was fast and involving whilst playing Gregory Porter’s “Hey Laura”. The speakers were placed relatively far apart, which we were told was the position that was optimum for best sound quality, but then a physical model of the room is made in the computer to further optimize them. Now I’d heard that this system could be used to play vinyl and I have to say I was a little more than a bit skeptical, so I was interested to hear what happened when they played the LP12 they had set up. Basically the turntable feeds into the DS box, the signal is digitized and then fed into the speakers’ active bits and bobs. Sounded great in this setting I have to say playing Emily Barker.
So what about upgrading the system. After all, audiophiles seem to be on a never ending quest to upgrade to the latest and the greatest and the response from Linn was a simple “The upgrade path is via the internals and the software”. To me this initially represented a negative aspect of the system… most audiophiles tend to be box collectors, but it seems that Linn has thought of this… more in a moment.
The demo continued in this room and using a Beth Orton track where we were shown what happened when the speakers were moved from the optimum position to a more realistic domestic position and with the optimization trickery turned off. It wasn’t good with the resulting sound being dull, flat and lack lustre in comparison to the optimized position. However, the same track was played with the speakers in this “domestic” position with the optimization gubbins turned on and it was a weird experience; the soundstage was wider, the music clearer and more full. I found it a bit difficult to fathom given the visual clues of the speakers being close together and backed up against the wall and had to close my eyes so as not to have these visual clues cloud what I was hearing. It’s impressive stuff and if it works as well in the home I can see it being popular with folk looking for good sound but not wanting to compromise domestic harmony too much.
But what about the box collectors such as myself? Well, it seems that Linn have this covered too with the Exakt Box (pictured right). Basically it’s a box that can output to any speaker (both Linn and other brands) with up to five outputs per channel, meaning it will work with speakers with anything up to five drivers and effectively bypasses the speakers onboard passive crossovers….this is where the skulking B & W Nautilus’ had been used the day before.
An hour and a bit had passed and we were on a tight schedule so we cut the final part of the demo of the Exakt box a little short, but if it works as well as the system we heard previously it will be pretty impressive …and allow for folk to indulge in a bit of box-swapping.
The main thing I brought away from this admittedly short demonstration was that Linn have a clear and well thought out strategy of where they think the future of music in the home lies…and that is with apparently simple systems that appeal to those looking for sound quality, without myriad boxes and without having to compromise the living environment to accommodate a sprawling system. The second thing I brought away was that Linn abhor the concept and limitations of the passive crossover.
This system will have its supporters and it will have its detractors, that’s just the way things go with technology that is a departure from what is accepted as being the norm, but I for one can see that it will prove to be popular with those looking to marry great sound with a system that is domestically appealing and relatively hassle free.