Plenty of manufacturers use the word 'Reference' in relation to their product names. But what about 'Linear'?
Well, it turns out that this appellation is Consonance's way of indicating that the player uses no oversampling or upsampling. In other words, there's no digital filtering of any kind and not much in the way of analogue filtering either.
This approach has been used by only a few manufacturers in recent years (perhaps most notably by Audio Note) and is claimed to sound more natural despite measuring considerably worse.
Basic approach, modern design
In this case, you do actually get the option of upsampling to 88.2kHz, but Consonance's preference seems to be for non-upsampling.
Conversion from digital to analogue is done by a quartet of rather antique DAC chips, which are followed by passive current-to-voltage conversion, some very simple filtering and a lone valve for the output stage.
Construction is neat and surprisingly modern - a bit of a turn-up finding 1990s DAC chips, valves and surface-mount components all on one board!
As well as the all-black finish shown in the photo, silver front and natural wood top is an option. The Ref Linear, also shares the unusual control feature that we first experienced with the Ref 2.2.
These controls are actually joysticks which 'wobble' up, down and sideways and which are great fun to operate.
Suggesting that Consonance may be on to something in its abandonment of technical perfection, this player was very well-liked.
It conveyed to our listeners a consistently good impression of musical life and excitement, with a full-bodied bass that's always under control, plus lively and energetic upper frequencies.
It has a slightly more 'broad brush' approach than some, but despite that manages to keep a good grip on detail.
That is nowhere more evident than in stereo imaging, which was felt to be the best of the bunch in terms of overall spread and reach. It's not the most precise, but not the least so either and it is generally very persuasive.
One might say the same of midband tonality, which is not always absolutely neutral but nevertheless has a convincing ring to it.
There's a little boost, it seems, in the presence band which just occasionally can make the sound a touch strident, but despite that the quality of each individual instrument shines through, giving highly believable character to sax, violin and Hammond organ alike.
Never a boring CD player
Voices are particularly favoured, with natural timbre and good diction, thanks to a high degree of precision in the treble. A pleasantly 'airy' quality to the very high frequencies helps voices to sound distinct and completely clear of the instrumental backing.
We did feel that the sound can sometimes be a bit larger than life, but there is always enough of a rein kept on proceedings to prevent this sonic footprint from being oppressive.
The lively quality to the sound seems equally apt across a wide range of musical styles and, perhaps most significantly, this is never a boring player.