SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIHot Product Archives

Published April 1, 2003

 

Linn Adikt Phono Cartridge

In all the prose that is written on the subject of analog's continued survival in this certified age of digital, one little detail seems to get overlooked. We can't all afford $2000 moving-coil cartridges and the phono sections that love them.

Joe Grado has done a grand job of keeping the affordable moving-magnet cartridge alive, although folks tend to forget that Uncle Joe was the first man to price a cartridge above a grand. However, the Grados tend to hum with turntables with unshielded motors and no single brand, no matter how worthy, can please all audiophiles, so it's nice to see Linn revisit the less stratospheric reaches of cartridgedom with its $349-USD Adikt. (Oh, the possibilities inherent in that name -- must exercise self-control!)

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You might be wondering: Why a moving-magnet cartridge and why now?

Cartridges are divided into several categories, based on how they generate their electrical signal. The two most common groups are moving-coil cartridges and moving-magnet cartridges. Before we delve into the differences between the two, let's consider what a cartridge does.

The cartridge more or less works like a speaker -- only backwards. A speaker takes an electrical signal and converts it into magnetic pulses that move the driver element, which vibrates in response to them. A phono cartridge translates the grooves of a record into the vibrations of the stylus, which in turn creates a magnetic field, which in turn is translated into electrical signals of varying voltages, which drive the phono section and so on.

The difference between a moving-coil and a moving-magnet cartridge lies in how the magnetic field gets converted to an electrical one. In both cases, it involves coils of wire and magnets: In a moving-magnet cartridge, there are magnets attached to the stylus, and the stylus's movements through a record's grooves make those magnets move in and out of coils of wire. In a moving-coil cartridge, the stylus moves two coils of wire in relation to stationary magnets.

As a rule, moving-coil cartridges create far smaller amounts of electrical energy than moving-magnet designs and thus require more amplification in the phono preamplifier. They are also more difficult to manufacture and tend to cost more.

Back in the day when analog ruled, moving coils were considered exotic rarities and only the luckiest of audiophiles owned them. These days, it almost seems as though they are all that's out there. If you have an expensive turntable and a precision-engineered tonearm, you'll probably want to mate them to a good moving-coil cartridge. You also probably already know that.

What if you don't own a mega turntable? What if you own a Rega Planar 3, Linn Basik, or Sumiko Project and you want a better cartridge that doesn't require you to upgrade everything in the signal path? That's where the Adikt comes in.

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Linn's Adikt replaces Linn's venerable K-9 cartridge, whose age can be best summed up by the fact that it was named for its resemblance to Dr. Who's robot dog. The Adikt is just as clunky but in a different way.

It weighs seven grams and has a replaceable stylus. It has a shield-shaped frontispiece and curved sides -- it looks like the bow of a boat more than anything else. Its cantilever is aluminum and its coils are good ol' copper. Its output is a healthy 6.5mV and its load capacitance -- no surprise here -- is 47kohms.

It has become customary for expensive cartridges to come packaged in exotic hardwood boxes, nestled in rich plush; the Adikt comes in a plastic clamshell within a pasteboard box. On the other hand, unlike the high-priced spreads, it is packaged with a full panoply of useful accessories: four cartridge leads, two hardened-steel bolts, and an Allen wrench that not only tightens them but accesses the pillar of Linn's Basik tonearm (talk about brand synergy).

The top surface of the Adikt has the two conventional threaded mounting holes, but it also has two "horns," which are designed to help align the cartridge properly in slotted headshells, such as the one on Linn's Basik tonearm. This can obviously be a problem if you do not have a slotted headshell. Like Linn, I'm a big believer in the importance of the fit between headshell and cartridge body, so I won't suggest you attempt surgery upon the Adikt to make it fit non-slotted headshells -- look elsewhere is my advice. But if the Adikt fits, those horns make alignment a lot easier.

In fact, I installed the Adikt by eye and when I pulled out my alignment protractor, I barely had to breathe on the cartridge to get it spot on. It was the easiest set-up I've ever done.

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That ease extended to connecting it to a phono section, too. That's the great thing about moving-magnet cartridges -- they're plug'n'play: no loading, no gain matching, no hum, and no bother. Of course, this in itself is enough to spoil the fun of certain hair-shirt audiophiles. Myself, I like easy.

And I like the Adikt. From the moment I cued my first record -- my beloved blue vinyl pressing of Mickey Jupp's Juppanese [Stiff 10] -- I found its big, brawny sound easy to cotton to. Bass was generous, muscular, and well controlled. Jupp's voice sounded wistful and full-bodied, while the overtones of his acoustic guitar were fast and extremely natural.

Say what you will about vinyl's "inherent distortion," there's just something extremely satisfying about hearing a record played upon a good turntable/tonearm/cartridge combination. In this regard, the Adikt is a thoroughbred; it made me want to play record after record -- not for the "sound," but for the music.

Oh it sounded good, but given the choice between listening to music and listening to sound, which would you choose? Me, too.

There was that pace thing, for example. Linn has gotten a lot of flack over the years for suggesting that some components render the note-to-note progression of music better than others, but it's true, some do.

If pace bothers you as a name, then call it what you will -- microdynamics or microtiming or global phrasing, or some such quasi-technical-sounding word. It all comes down to the same thing: music moves in time, and time requires just as much precision as pitch when it comes to reproducing music.

The Adikt, true to its Linn heritage, has a snappy, fast sound. Music jumps out at you, full of life and full of energy. Yet, unlike many moving-coil cartridges, it doesn't have a bright, tonally tipped-up sound. Quite the opposite -- it could have a tad more sparkle to balance its broad-shouldered brawn.

However, if it doesn't have quite the ultra-high-frequency ease of reproduction of the best moving coils, it has most of them beat in the foundation department -- this baby's got bottom.

I pulled out one of my favorites -- Christopher Hogwood's glorious Music For England [L'Oiseau-Lyre D263D2 2 LPs], which has inexplicably never been released on CD -- and cued the Haydn Piano Trio (Hob. XV, No. 18) with Monica Huggett (violin), Anthony Pleeth (cello) and Hogwood (fortepiano). This is a rollicking good reading of the trio and all three musicians shine, but it's Hogwood's show and he coaxes all the color he can out of his trusty old Broadwood. Not only did the Adikt capture the pacing and rolling slam of the intricate trio give-and-take, it also reproduced the slightly clunky string tone of the fortepiano perfectly (described by one wag as a spinet piano with a head cold). Good show!

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The natural comparison for the Adikt is the Sumiko Blue Point Special, which is a high-output moving coil priced at an extremely competitive $349. The Sumiko, since it's a high-output 'coil, doesn't need a high-gain phono preamp, nor does it need any out-of-the-ordinary cartridge loading -- like the Adikt, it's pretty much plug'n'play.

Except, it has no protective body. Since bodies can rattle, many audiophiles like to play their cartridges "nude" and, in fact, many Linn cartridge owners swear by prying off the plastic shells that encase their cartridges' innards. The problem is that this makes the cartridge vulnerable to environmental depredations to an even greater degree than usual. Like they say at the nudist colonies, if you're going to go au natural, you better watch where you point that thing!

The BPS shares the Adikt's great sense of pace and motion. It won't bore you or sludge-up a sprightly performance with added mass or grunge. It's slightly better at reproducing the string overtones of, say, Mickey Jupp's acoustic guitar or Monica Huggett's violin than the Adikt. Overtones seem to hover in the air weightlessly before disappearing from the centers outward until they simply aren't there, like the Cheshire cat. The Adikt doesn't float them for as long or make their disappearance seem quite so effervescent.

On the other hand, I find the BPS rather lightweight tonally. Jupp's voice has less body to it and Anthony Pleeth's cello has less orotundity -- in fact, it honks just the slightest bit.

But down in the bottom lands, it's no contest -- the bass is the place where the Adikt simply blows the BPS away. In pitch definition and extension, it simply gets the job done, whereas the bottom-most bass loses energy and precision through the Sumiko.

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It's ironic that today's record lover has the highest-quality phono-reproduction equipment ever manufactured available to him or her -- but there you have it. As John Atkinson is fond of observing, a technology is usually replaced just as it approaches maturation. In other words, digital came along just as we were getting the hang of analog. What's fascinating to me is that the maturation has continued for almost 20 years, and now we're seeing products like the Linn Adikt that would have ruled the roost in the years before digital was introduced. And these are "affordable" products.

Affordable the Adikt certainly is, especially compared to moving-coil cartridges at the performance extremes, but it is not a scaled-down product. It's a new moving-magnet cartridge that offers exceptional performance, full-bodied sound, and unerring tracking.

If you're looking for a new phono cartridge or looking to rediscover the joys of your record collection, consider getting Adikted.

(What? You didn't think I could get through an entire review without going there, did you?)

 ...Wes Phillips
wes@onhifi.com

Linn Adikt Phono Cartridge
Price: $349 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

Linn Products Limited
Floors Road
Waterfoot
Glasgow
G76 0EP
Scotland, UK
Phone: +44 (0) 141 307 7777 or 0500 888909
Fax: +44 (0) 141 644 4262

Website: www.linn.co.uk  

US distributor:
Linn Products Inc.
8787 Perimeter Par Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL 32216
Phone: (904) 645 5242 or (888) 671-LINN
Fax: (904) 645 7275

Website: www.linninc.com  


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