The Linn Exotik+DA was an excellent preamplifier and processor. And yet we were surprised to learn from Linn that it has already been replaced with a component called the Akurate Kontrol.
The Kontrol forms part of a new range from Linn that includes the Kontrol preamp, 2200 power amplifier (2x 200 watts), Tuner and existing 242 loudspeakers.
However, the most interesting product from this suprise new range is this disc player, rather confusingly dubbed the Akurate CD. In fact, it's so much more than that, as it plays both the high-resolution formats - SACD and DVD-Audio, as well as DTS, in stereo and multichannel.
Also, if you look at Linn's current range, the Akurate is now the flagship music-only disc player that Linn produces - the three more expensive Unidisk machines offer video playback in addition to audio.
The range of formats the Akurate plays is, as far as we're aware, unique; there are no other DVD-A players that don't do video. This is a multichannel player too, with outputs for centre, surround and subwoofer channels alongside two sets of stereo/front left/right connections.
There's even a pair of XLR sockets to get the stereo signal in balanced form, as well as optical and coaxial digital outs. For some reason the output here is limited to what can be had from a CD; it won't deliver the 24/96 data rate from DVD-A that other machines do. It will, however, upsample CD's 44.1kHz, to 96kHz for a digital connection to the Kontrol preamplifier.
The Akurate CD is built around Linn's Silver Disk Engine - about the only SACD drive developed in this part of the world - and a component with a build quality that's echoed in the machined disc drawer that flows out of the player with a purr.
It's a very slick operator, albeit one that takes a little while to come to terms with SACD. If you discount the drawer, the Akurate is a rather plain-looking player for its price, and a small one at that. This is because Linn uses 'silent power' switch-mode power supplies that don't require large transformers.
Linn clearly believes we should be buying with our ears, not our eyes. This could be a dangerous policy if the rest of the high-end is anything to go by. Linn's angle is that the Silver Disk Engine reconfigures the player for each disc format in order to produce the highest performance level that each can offer and presumably this is why it takes its time.
Other features include track titling for SACD-only - we're not sure why this should be limited to SACD, as CD Text is available on a number of CDs too. Still, you can have titles scroll once or continually, or turn them off for a bit of visual peace.
Set-up is via the front-panel display, as there's no video output, which could make navigating DVD-A discs tricky. The key here is to do what the Akurate does automatically: go straight into play on insertion. For similar reasons, level setting for multichannel set-ups will have to be done with an accompanying multichannel preamp or processor.
The Akurate's sonic character, while ostensibly neutral in balance terms, has a strong tendency to produce a large-scale sound regardless of what you put in its drawer.
So, with live Led Zeppelin the atmosphere and scale of the event is quite stunning and significantly greater than with most players. With Gillian Welch's studio creations you get a real sense of her being in the room with you in captivating fashion.
There's also a slight thickening of the bass and smoothing through the midrange and high frequencies that undermines absolute clarity, but makes harder recordings more palatable when played in anger. This quality is both good and bad: good because it's hard to get an edgy sound out of the player, but bad because there's a degree of veiling that ultimately seems to undermine depth of image.
This seems a little at odds with the general 'bigness' of sound, but most of that scale is two-dimensional; it doesn't seem to extend behind the speakers very well. In fact, there's more of a tendency to place the musicians in front of the speakers, which is an unusual effect, but not an unattractive one.
It's this that gives the Gillian Welch tracks and others such a tremendous sense of presence in the room. But whether it's truly accurate is hard to say.
The Linn has a rich and densely detailed sound, but one that seems intrinsically loud, which is something that'll work better in some systems than in others and which will favour some types of material over others.
In our Audio Zone Pre-T1/Gamut D200/B&W 802D system, it complements Frank Zappa's slightly dirty-sounding Sleep Dirt album, but does fewer favours for better recordings such as Linn's own Barb Jungr SACD, Walking In The Sun.
The latter, however, is definitely improved by the Akurate's sense of pace, a quality that Linn's turntable has always been prized for, but not one that's often found in silver-disc players.
This is also apparent with Helge Sunde's Denada disc, another SACD with music that literally jumps and wriggles in the Akurate's hands, the brass instrumentation delivering thrilling power and dynamic range without threatening to wear you down.
The Accustic Arts Surround-Player 1 delivers significantly more space and depth with SACD, regardless of whether you compare the two machines using the same interconnects or give the Linn the benefit of the Linn lead supplied. The AA is, of course, a more expensive model, but when you consider the quality of casework and the video facility it offers, the difference isn't so great.
However - and this is the key point - what the Akurate does that very few other disc spinners do is play music in a fashion that's grin-inducingly gripping.
We don't think that high musicality and high transparency should be mutually exclusive, but if you listen to the LP12 you'll hear the same sort of result - it's not the most revealing and precise turntable around (although the new LP12 SE may have changed that), but its ability to turn vinyl into music is among the best you can get.
The Akurate performs the same trick; it makes musicality its first priority. Its ability to communicate emotion is extraordinary, and more than makes up for its shortcomings in pure fidelity terms.
It took us a while to figure out what this player is about, which is probably more of a reflection on the reviewing process than anything else, but we got there and have been getting into our tunes ever since.
It may not look particularly special, but like a Q-plate car, the Akurate delivers what you want. What's more, it does so with the finest formats that the music industry has provided for us, not perhaps in the numbers we would have hoped for, but there are a fair few SACDs available today.
The Akurate makes a great case for putting the music first, and anyone with an ear for a tune will have difficulty resisting.