Linn at Fantasy

Linn at Fantasy


Constantine Soo

20 June 2003

On June 12th Brian Morris of Linn invited ten guests, including myself, out for an evening of music and refreshment as part of a two-day, 5.1 SACD demonstration at Berkeley’s Fantasy Recording Studio in Northern California. The demonstration was for the benefit of approximately 60 sound engineers, some of whom were multiple Oscar winners for works on music and motion picture soundtracks. Since 1971, Fantasy Recording Studio has been making recordings for renowned artists, such as Santana, U2, Elton John, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Journey and many others. Upon entering its 2600 Tenth Street location’s atrium, one is presented with a 2-story wall full of gold and platinum Long-Playing vinyl in recognition of both the artists and their marketing success. On the other side of the atrium was yet another wall of gold and platinum 45’s. 

In an auditorium of 50 seats, Linn designer, Philip Hobbs presented five of the company’s new, 328A Reference Monitoring Loudspeakers. A four-way speaker, each 328A sported one centralized, “3K” driver array of one 75mm midrange, one 25mm tweeter and one 13mm super tweeter, accompanied on each side by 8-inch servo bass units. Every 328A was equipped with a version of Linn’s top-of-the-line Klimax amplifier that I reviewed in March, 2003. Mounted in their original, horizontal configuration, each 328A was elevated about five feet high, with three flanking the front left, center and right channels, and two more at the rears of the auditorium behind and above us. SACDs were played by Linn’s newest universal disk player, the Unidisk 1.1.

Hobbs acknowledged that the 328A was a derivative of the original design from its $45,000 home audio flagship, the Komri. The 328A idea was born when the Komri was used in mastering recordings and the engineers were so impressed that three opera recordings were subsequently produced via the Linn speakers. Thus, the 328A was born based on the Komri with refinement and revision targeted towards mobility and other studio monitoring applications.

The demonstration commenced with songs by Peter Gabriel, and the evening quickly kicked into high gear when Brian and his gang put on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon“. The Linn system captured the creativity of the SACD re-mix breathtakingly, prompting everyone present to gasp at what they endured for the past 30 years. Transients were expeditious and the sweeping dynamics conveyed ample liveliness and scale. Channel discernment within the enveloping soundfield was the most discrete I’ve experienced, and the fact that it was implemented in a five-channel system deserves additional credit. From my position, the rear channels were rousing when the effects called for it, and I was still able to fully emerge myself in the vivid instrumentations and vocals from the main, front speakers. The presentation convinced everyone present of the viability of the format, as well as what it can do to deliver the ultimate version of the music, culminating into an elation surpassing what the original artists envisioned and intended. I can only imagine what the 328As can do for audiophiles in a 2-channel setup.

Retrospectively, Sony’s 5.1 SACD demonstration on the Press Day of the previous week’s HE 2003 failed for one major reason: a newly-released Sony receiver was used to drive all five channels of Wilson Watt Puppy 7s. A self-contained active loudspeaker system, such as the Linn 328A, can solve the many issues a home theater system must face such as protecting integrity of a living environment against equipment multiplicity, as well as the crucial amplifier/speaker interface. 

Apart from the hardware excellence used in this demonstration, the surround sound reproduction of classical music remains a diffident prospect. In pop music, it was not unnatural at all to be surrounded by effects because the genre is meant to be as entertaining as possible, and studios have been applying effects in their music for decades. Classical music, on the other hand, has always been an art of discipline and structure from the vantage points of both artists and patrons, and applying surround effects in classical music may not enhance the listening experience, if it does not distract the genre’s most diehard fans first.

On a classical track Linn demonstrated for a few minutes, I did not hear the rear channels at all. In this instance, it could have been more effective to either increase the rear level to portray hall ambience, or to sit a few rows closer to the rear for improved discernment. There are symphonies that call for performers to stand on balconies above the audience, or sometimes even in the rear as according to the composer, of course symphonies like these are also far from numerous. In my opinion, surround sound in classical music would be as difficult to implement as it is to listen to, particularly when everyone in the audience is in their seats and staring at you, alone on the podium. Brian, if you’re reading this, let me know what the meeting will be for next time, that way I can bring my hybrid, multi-channel classical SACD’s along instead of an empty stomach.


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