SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIHot Product Archives

Published May 1, 2000


Linn Classik

Is this a boombox I see before me?

Not long ago, a dealer invited me to see his most ambitious whole-house music/theater installation. The house had umpteen zillion zones and you could listen to a whole laundry list of sources from any room in the place. As he unlocked the kitchen door, he was explaining just how versatile the system was -- and it cost "only" $450,000, too.

As he waved me into the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice that an obviously much -used Sony boombox had pride of place on the breakfast bar. When he saw what I was looking at, my dealer-friend blushed bright crimson and let me in on a little known secret -- this wasn’t the first time he’d seen this happen. After spending unbelievable amounts of money on integrated home entertainment systems, a surprising number of people end up listening to table radios.

It’s not that the fancy installations can’t put music in the kitchen -- the one I was being shown had radio and TV capabilities and over 2,000 CDs permanently installed in mega-changers. It even gave you separate volume control over the breakfast bar, food prep, and family dining areas of the kitchen. But the Sony was on the counter because it was just simpler to use.

So it got used. And thousands of dollars worth of prewiring, IR control, and in-wall speakers did not.

It's a gift to be simple

When you’re considering functional simplicity, you can’t get much simpler than a Linn Classik. Its plain black (also available in green, white, silver and blue), textured chassis contains a high quality line-level preamplifier, a 75Wpc power amp, a ripping good AM/FM tuner section, and a single disc CD player. It even comes packaged with a nicely terminated 8ft set of speaker cables. While its front panel controls are kept to a minimal eleven keys, its remote can control all of its functions and program a wide range of user options as well. And did I mention that it’s a clock, too? The price is $1995.

Old school audiophiles may sneer at the very idea that concepts such as convenience and simplicity have any place in the hobby, but they can just keep jumping up and crossing the room every time they want to change the volume. I’m a modern kind of a guy and I reveled in the Linn’s controllability.

Come in Rangoon!

Let’s start with its tuner. Not only does it have the usual manual tuning, scan, and preset options, it lets you set its muting threshold to reject weak or unusable signals (and since its range is from 1 (receive all signals) to 50 (receive strongest signals only), you can really tweak it to your location). After a few minutes of experimentation, I found that the Classik gave me about five times the number of clear stations I had been able to receive up here in NW CT with the other tuners I have used. No wonder it gives you 50 presets -- you get a ton of usable signals! And once it grabs a station, it keeps it. This alone has greatly increased the amount of music I’ve been listening to.

The CD engine is fairly straightforward. Linn’s CD players are well respected and, while they won’t say much about the Classik’s CD technology, they do allow it "uses Linn’s high accuracy pickup and decoding technology." It delivers extremely smooth, exactingly precise, music from the best recorded discs available. I also found it shared a characteristic with Linn’s flagship CD-12 CD player -- less well recorded discs sounded better than I thought they ought to. Like a fine Islay malt, the Classik seemed to take the edge off of the digital nasties.

The Classik’s line level preamplifier has a single auxiliary input, two tape loops, and a preamplifier out. It also sports antenna connections and two pairs of speaker terminals, allowing you to bi-wire or drive two pairs of loudspeakers.

The preamplifier allows the user to adjust bass and treble. I’m not generally a huge fan of these broadband tone controls, but Linn seems to have done some serious research into making them useful. They won’t correct for bad room sound -- no EQ can -- but they may allow some flexibility with speaker placement. I also approved of the Classik’s balance control, which offered a truly useful range of adjustability for those who simply must sit off center while listening to music.

Other useful areas of control included the alarm (you can actually set two different "days," which means you could program in both weekday and weekend wakeup times). You can also adjust the clock settings (12 or 24 hour clock), unity gain (useful for integrating the Classik into a home theater system), alarm mode, amp settings, and amp memory. There’s one other setting you can adjust with the Classik and that’s the Mute Speed -- when you switch sources, it quickly ramps down the volume, and then ramps it back up to where it had been. It’s a thoughtful touch that I began to appreciate once I noticed it. It’s a lot easier on the nerves than jump starting from source to source.

Power to the people

The big question I had with the Classik was whether or not the amplifier section was up to being challenged, or if it just wanted to cruise along unruffled. Paired with Linn Tukans ( full review to come) or B&W DM 302s, the Classik really delivered the goods. It had robust, full-bodied sound that neither stinted the bass nor overemphasized the top end. It was just good, balanced, extremely natural sound, that was as convincing playing the delicate and moody Had Miles Met Maurice (Dorian DOR-93198) as it was reproducing the telecaster honk of Kenny Neal's What You Got (Telarc Blues CD 83467).

So I ambushed the Classik with my Dynaudio Microns -- a wall mounted loudspeaker with an 85dB sensitivity. Like most high-end Dynaudio speakers, however, the Microns like to be pushed. If you want to get them to open up and bloom, you’ve got to feed ‘em high current and crank it up. The Classik was totally cool with that. I had to drive it a lot harder than with either the Linn or the B&W speakers, but it kept the sound liquid and unforced and it never got hot. It just kept on cruising, seemingly with power to spare.

And the Microns? I never heard them sound better. They had space and air galore -- qualities that not every amp they’ve met has brought out in them.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler

The question is, how can Linn pack all of that into such a tiny box? High density surface mount electronics and years of experience in microprocessor control and software development, I reckon. All I can tell you is that the Classik outperformed my expectation on almost every level.

Let me reiterate that thought. The Linn was fun to use. Because it was nearly transparent in operation and because it did everything it does so well, I listened to music early in the morning and late at night. When I was too lazy to choose the next CD, it was simplicity itself to sort through the late night radio stations to find one that interested me -- and because the Classik’s tuner actually pulled in more stations than I had previously been able to get, I had a larger selection to choose from. I even used its alarm function to keep my afternoon naps down to a reasonable length (although an alarm clock that can be turned off with a remote control is just too easy to circumvent for the truly dedicated sloth).

If you’re looking to simplify your life or your audio system, I strongly recommend Linn’s amazing Classik.

...Wes Phillips

Linn Classik
Price: $1995 USD (available in black, green, white, silver and blue)

Manufactured by:
Linn Products Ltd.
Floors Road
Waterfoot, Glasgow
G76 0EP
Scotland, UK

Distributed by:
Linn Incorporated
4540 Southside Blvd.
Suite 402
Jacksonville, FL 32216
Phone: (904)645-5242
Fax: (904) 645-7275


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