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Product Review
 

Linn Genki CD PLayer

February, 2004

Ya Bing Chu

 

Click on Photo Above to See a Larger Version.

Specifications:
Type Spacer CD player
Analogue Outputs Spacer 2 pairs single-ended stereo analogue audio outputs
Output Level Fixed Spacer 2Vrms (peak code)
Output Level Variable Spacer to 2Vrms (peak code)
Digital Outputs Spacer SPDIF digital audio electrical output
Conversion Technology Spacer Delta-Sigma at 24-bit resolution with HDCD® decoding
Mains Supply Spacer Brilliant Slimline Power Supply
Power Consumption Spacer 20VA approx
Size Spacer W 320 x D 325 x H 80mm
Weight Spacer 3.3kg
MSRPt Spacer $1,950 USA Black or Silver

 

Linn

 

www.linn.co.uk

Introduction

Linn is well known for their extremely high-end components that each cost about as much as a family sedan or a year of college tuition. Having heard excellent demos and convincing salesmen, I have always been curious in doing an extended listen at home with anything made by Linn. It’s not easy to judge audio quality at the noisy show floor of CES, after all.

That being said, one must be skeptical when a company which serves audiophiles at appropriate cost presents to you a ‘value’ player. Certainly, some tradeoffs must occur – build quality, parts, and features. But a baby Benz is still a Mercedes, and there’s a certain allure and promise in that. Regardless of how well car manufacturers deliver on this promise, Linn has managed to carve out its niche in the sub-$2000 CD player market.

The Genki does not disappoint – it offers excellent value with some of the same technology from its pricier siblings, the Ikemi and Sondek 12. While certain usability issues exist, they are often irrelevant to the typical budding audiophile audience.

Appearance

The first thing I noticed was the unusual size of the attractive player – it’s still a black box, but it’s a little smaller than most theater components. I suppose that this sort of thing encourages one to purchase all their audio or theater components from one company. After all, moderately high-end equipment has to look and sound good, all while matching its multi-staged brethren. Taking a closer look at the fascia, a collection of rectangular and small circular buttons is aligned under the LCD panel, with the disc tray centered on the right side of the player.

Materials feel like decent quality plastic, though the buttons don’t have much tactile feedback, and the top cover could be more solid. In general, the materials feel ‘thin’ and ‘practical’, but not much more. The CD tray is relatively shallow, barely taller than the disc except for the faceplate. The tray got the job done, but didn’t have much smoothness – to me, this is a perfectly good tradeoff, as I don’t really believe the manner or speed at which a CD travels into the player affects the sonic characteristics once the CD is spinning inside.

For those who enjoy weightlifting with components, the Linn is surprisingly light – again, if a few dollars in cost can be saved by removing the lead, why not? Having worked with many consumer electronics companies in the past, I know that many do actually add weight in the chassis just to make the unit feel like it’s worth more. I wonder if we Americans have something to do with that; after all, we love our autos and fast food super-sized.

Usability

Let’s face it – few audiophile-oriented companies do usability well. Perhaps it is the higher cost of production and engineering or the lack of average Joe customers, but Linn won’t be mistaken for Apple user interfaces anytime soon. Let’s start with the remote. The power button doesn’t do anything as there is no standby mode for the player. There is a sleep mode for the readout display, but strangely, this only changes the display characters to two dashes, it doesn’t turn it off (more on that later).

The Random and Shuffle play have a significant lead time before play starts, as the player enumerates all the tracks and stores the play order before starting playback. One can turn the digital output on and off from remote – the analog output stays on – but holding the number “0” to do it is a bit odd, especially with the sheer number of buttons on the remote. This is my main complaint, as the remote has 56 evenly spaced and shaped buttons. There is no light and minimal coloring – oddly, the primary play, skip, and stop buttons have no unique colors. I imagine that Linn expects all users to have a universal remote, but then why would they include buttons for preamp functions?

Additionally, sleep mode activates while listening to a CD, removing the track information from the display. This sleep function must be turned on through the advanced user options, which is good because it certainly isn’t too useful.
There are some interesting user options, which have to do with power-up and power-down options. You can control the startup volume, CD auto-play, and CD status at power-down. However, without a standby, one needs to toggle the power physically at the player if you want to take advantage of these options (the autoplay feature does not pertain to insertion). At least most of these options are hidden by the user options menu, which is reminiscent of a ‘secret’ firmware menu in its access and change methods.

Listening

The Genki immediately impresses with its expertise at setting an expansive soundstage. Whereas some players tend to locate certain instruments at varying distances to the listener, the Linn consistently arranges instruments without favoritism. On occasion, the player surprised me with how far to the side an instrument could appear without feeling unbalanced level-wise.

Aside from the exciting tonal separation, another delight was the cleanliness of the playback. Vocals were always of the highest quality and exacting, though the accurate focus of the player may lack the vibrancy or warmth that many enjoy. This observation isn’t negative; I consider the lack of coloration in the source a good thing, though it’s foolish to compare the accuracy with other players based on listening alone. With this accuracy came a slight filtered sound that can make some recordings sound thin, exhibited by slightly muted horns and dull synthesized instruments. However, the tonal quality and spatial separation on well-produced recordings are spectacular.

The next thing I noticed after extended listening was the incredible note decay that the Genki offers. Zero 7’s “Simple Things” offers a lot of reverb and warble effects, and on these the music shines with a trailing edge that I’ve never noticed before. The first track, “I Have Seen”, reflects the Linn’s subtle nature, with the guitar strumming and synthesized warbles taking turns in the spotlight, sounding quite natural and rhythmic. The vocals here tend to be on the raspy side, but having heard this many times, I believe it to be in the recording. “Polaris” is a better track to test accuracy and sound levels with, as it has a consistent melody and similar instrument levels. Tonal separation raises its hand here, clearly wanting to be in a class of its own. The keyboard, strings, bass, guitar, and various percussion instruments reside gracefully on the same street, and pretty much in that order from left to right. This kind of vibrant layering stimulates one’s listening energy and prevents one from falling asleep due to muddy or thin reproduction.

“Red Dust” shows off the Genki’s aptitude for rhythm and bass attack – both capable without being overemphasized. Midway through the song, a flute wafts in with some blurred hesitation, though I was impressed by the reproduction of the flute player’s breath and warbling. The restraint and interplay of all instruments in this song impressed me as few players have reproduced this balanced approach while exposing notes I hadn’t really heard before. The Genki turned in an admirable performance on this album, and at times, I even felt that the source recording was the limiting factor in quality.

“Sounds from the Verve Hi-Fi” once again proved the Linn up to the challenge; the guitar plucking rhythm was lively and the horns blared effortlessly throughout the album. “Menina Flor” exhibits a punchy, live-sounding brass, a clear and present vocal track, and crisply transparent string plucking. “Ogd”, “Hard Latin”, and “Escapade” again show off the ability of the Linn to keep the music balanced while many overachieving melodies dance in their own floor space.

Yo-Yo Ma’s “The Cello Suites” is somewhat homogenous in its musical variety, but is a test marathon of rhythm, decay, tonal agility, and string rendering. Rhythmically, the player keeps pace with the music – breathlessly quick at times and expressively deliberate at others. Likewise, the tonal agility is up to the task, as Yo-Yo’s most intense phrases hit the ear with fast attack and breadth. The two areas where the Genki’s analytical nature show are in the string rendering and decay. Whereas tube equipment may add some pleasant organics to these two areas, the Linn responds more stiffly here; yet having heard the player excel in these areas previously, I must conclude that this is largely a result of the recording and the particular instrument. Still, the classical pieces are energetic, expressive, and far from flat. Closing my eyes conjured up visions of dark wood floors and a large fireplace – a luxurious sound indeed.

An interesting contrast to this music is Daft Punk’s “Discovery” – offering some finely produced synthesized tracks which can often reveal biases. Track 10, “Voyager”, was the most telling portion of the album. The tune’s crisp tone transitions and backing harp melody were consumed zealously by the Genki, and I could have sworn the player was smiling broadly, as I was when listening to it.

Conclusions

It’s been a while since I’ve plugged in an audio source that gave my speakers such a pleasant workout. Needless to say, I find the Genki a capable and willing mid-priced CD player for those who don’t like compromise. I highly recommend giving this a strong consideration if you’re in the market for that final CD player before the ballyhooed DVD-A / SACD revolution. With its variable output, I’m tempted to put it in my bedroom with an extra pair of active speakers for an elegant music solution.

Linn also offers a Classik line for those interested in more integrated functionality. One thoughtful touch was the addition of Linn interconnects to the CD player package. The Linn folks probably want to ensure that the out-of-box listening experience meets a base level of expectations; clearly, the company is pursuing folks who are upgrading from average consumer-level equipment. I did not do any comparative listening with the supplied interconnects versus other high end cables, though off-hand I found them to be just as capable as respected interconnects in the $100-200 range. You’ll find numerous cabling opinions on audiophile web sites – enough to match the endless number of people making them.


- Ya Bing Chu -

Equipment used:
Preamplifier: B&K Reference 30 (DVD-Audio analog bypass)
Speakers: (Powered) Paradigm Active/40s
Interconnects to preamp: Linn interconnects (from Genki package)
Interconnects to speakers: DH Labs Silver Sonics

Albums:
Next Stop Wonderland soundtrack
Zero 7 – Simple Things
Bebel Gilberto – Tanto Tiempo
Daft Punk – Discovery
Sarah Brightman - Time to Say Goodbye
Sounds from the Verve Hi-Fi compilation
Yo-Yo Ma – The Cello Suites

 

© Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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