Linn takes Akurate step in digital streaming revolution

Linn has announced the latest additions to its family of digital streaming products. Three new Akurate devices were launched, as well as new finishes and a new platform for the Akurate loudspeakers, and together provide a complete digital music system.

At an informative press launch this morning, some of the key men behind the latest Linn kit were on hand to explain the thinking behind the new Akurate products and reveal a little more information on the company itself.

Keith Robertson, technical director at Linn, kicked things with a primer on the Scottish company as it stands today. And 'more Scottish than ever', would certaily be one key point. The company, formed in 1972 in Glasgow, now takes care of every stage of production from one solitary factory in the city. What's more, more components than ever are sourced closer to home - some just a stone's throw from the factory - as the logistics and cost of working with companies in the Far East no longer make the same sense.

It's a local, personal touch that has always been crucial to Linn's ethos - you'll still find the name of the person who assembled your individual Linn component printed on the bottom of the product.

But that's not to make the company sound archaic or stuck in its ways, Linn is proud of its position as a pioneer within the digital music domain and also when it comes to active speakers, two areas which are now at the heart of everything Linn does. As Robertson tells us, some 40% of Linn's business is now occupied by its digital stream (DS) players and the company remains focused on providing the complete digital music solution from source to speaker.

Where better to start, suggests Linn, than with the Linn Records label, recent winner of Gramophone's music label of the year award. The label's Studio Master Quality downloads offer an enviably high source material to set your digital system in motion, delivering 192k/24-bit quality tracks, delivering 9.2mbps - a hefty jump from CD's 1.4mbps maximum.

The availability of this high quality digital music, Robertson argues, is one of the reasons Linn announced this time last year that it would stop making CD players. But the engineers will tell you there are plenty of benefits to the manufacturing process as a result of no longer worrying about a transport. Murray Smith, Linn's electrical hardware engineer, waxes lyrical on the interference, noise and heat introduced by a CD transport, without which more space is freed-up to make cleaner circuit layouts within which crucial components can be isolated for improved performance. For similar reasons, you won't find a hard disk drive on any of these Linn products.

Smith, holding an Akurate DS that's had its lid removed, talks us through the circuit layout, pointing out some of the key points and improvements in the new model. The circuit board is broadly in two halves, one dealing with the incoming signal, the other taking care of the digital-to-analogue conversion. (Though, as Smith points out, there is now an SPDIF optical output should you want to bypass the internal DAC.) A new precision audio clock with ultra-low jitter is arguably the most crucial addition to the neat array of circuitry and components, ensuring low distortion throughout.

Next in line was the Akurate Control, which represents Linn 'going back to basics' with an analogue stereo preamplifier. Most interesting here in terms of technical development was the Linn team's efforts to truly separate the individual inputs. For, as Smith told us to the odd disbelieving frown, any connected device, whether powered on or not, will impact on the sound. That's right: simply having a set of cables connected to another device will have an affect on the performance of your amplifier. So Linn has added new individual input switches, ensuring each source is separated internally, completely disconnecting electrically any unused source.

But it's not just on the inside that the new products have changed, as David Williamson, mechanical product designer, was happy to explain. The new Akurate range has been given a fresh design overhaul and with it, its own identity, one that's been nearly four years in the making. And you might say it's overdue - the current Linn enclosure with which you may be familiar has been around for some 15 years.

'Born from function not form', the new box aims to still share family traits with existing systems, such as the Linn Majik, while introducing chrome buttons, a 'Linn smile' design curve at the top of the fascia, machined feet to add weight and stability, a front-mounted on/off button and a thinner sleeve material (2mm rather than 3mm, no less).

Linn would love you to partner a pair of Akurate 212 or 242 speakers with your digital music system, and so announced a host of new finishes and a new stand in an effort to convince you. Now available in a choice of six standard matt or high gloss wood veneer finishes, you can also choose from a total of over 200 high gloss finishes from the RAL classic colour range. The new stand, which ships as standard, is milled from solid aluminium for reduced cabinet vibration, tighter, faster bass and more precise high frequencies - at least that's the thinking according to Phil Budd, Linn's acoustic engineer.

With a choice of not one but two apps - Chorus DS and SongBook DS - allowing you to control your Linn system from an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, it's clear Linn is fully embracing the digital future and after a thorough briefing on the new Akurate kit, we're looking forward to getting our hands on the kit very soon...

Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is Content Director for T3 and What Hi-Fi?, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for more than 15 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).