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HIFICRITIC
Volume 8 No. 1

Subjective Sounds
Vintage And New Audio Gear
Article By Paul Messenger

 

  Those with long memories will recall that way back in the early 1970s, when both companies were young and small, Linn Products and Naim Audio forged a powerful complementary alliance, the former contributing record player and speakers either side of the latter's electronics. Both were very successful, but rapid growth led to a rather acrimonious split in the mid-1980s, as each developed components that competed with the other. Substantial differences in the sound character or flavour of systems demonstrated by the two companies became increasingly obvious. Owners of Linn/Naim systems such as yours truly were faced with choosing between the two rival alternatives, and (for good or ill) I elected to stick with Naim's electronics.

However, listening to Linn's latest 40th Anniversary LP12 Sondek 'full monte' record player (pp16-17) took me right back to the time of the schism, reminding me very strongly of the classic characteristic Linn sound that I'd heard back then. In the mid-1980s, both companies were setting standards for vinyl replay that were way ahead of the international norm, just as both continue to set class leading agendas to this day. The Naim component timbre was slightly warmer, richer and more romantic, whereas the Linn sound seemed to be cooler, brighter and drier. The new Linn record player certainly provided loads of musical information from a wide selection of discs, while the adjectives and phrases that invariably came to mind were cool, calm and under tight control. I wondered to what extent that was down to the turntable, and how much was the responsibility of the electronics – specifically the Urika phono stage and/or its high frequency (switch-mode) power supply. Much as I dislike (and try to avoid) stereotyping, I can't avoid making the observation that ‘cool and clean if clinical' does seem to sum up some of the experiences that I hear when listening to electronics equipped with switch-mode (as distinct from linear) supplies, so I decided to try and pin this down.

Happily I had the necessary bits and pieces on hand to bypass the Urika phono stage and substitute a Naim Stage Line (with a borrowed Super Cap supply). The changeover was no trivial task, as I discovered, but the end results amply confirmed my suspicion that much of the ‘character' of the sound was being determined by the phono stage electronics. The exceptional vinyl replay was audible via both routes, but the contributions of the phono stage electronics had a powerful effect upon the overall timbre. The contrast in sonic character between Linn and Naim systems might well be down to personal preference, but the difference still clearly exists, and mixing the two is still arguably better avoided.

 

Vertere Update
Some issues back I discussed the excellent cables that Roksan co-founder Touraj Moghaddam is designing and building in his Chiswick office suite under the new Vertere brand. I regularly use Pulse interconnects now, but I'd found his speaker cables good but not exceptional. However, he hadn't realised that the Naim NAP500 power amp I normally use had a balanced output configuration rather than the normal single-ended arrangement.

He therefore brought down some cables that had been specifically designed for amplifiers with balanced outputs, and these simply blew me away. Sometimes one feels the need to check a system change by going back to what was being used previously; sometimes an improvement is sufficiently obvious that such a procedure is unnecessary. Just as I'd found when changing from PMC's IB2is to IB2SEs a few months back, so it was with these special 'Pulse X for balanced' speaker cables. I just wish I could figure out what he'd done and why they worked so well...

 

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