An unpretentious, near-square box, the Linn Classik Music is a CD player, FM/AM tuner, DAC, preamp and power amp all in one, with a fair bit of multi-room capability built in as well.
It lays claim to 75-watt output, though that's into a four ohm load and it even has 'green' credentials in the form of a high-efficiency switch-mode supply, not to mention a 'paper-free' manual supplied on CD-ROM. Just about the only thing it doesn't seem to have is a phono stage.
Getting all this functionality into a case this size is quite an achievement, even in this age of miniaturisation. The CD transport (actually a DVD-ROM transport, if we've understood the labels on it correctly) is mounted amidships, but there's already an additional circuit board underneath it.
To the left is a heavily screened enclosure where the power supply resides, while on the right is another aluminium lump which turns out to be the heatsink for the power amp. A small fan, with a little air duct next to it, is mounted on the end of the heatsink: it's evidently temperature-controlled and must be a belt-and-braces inclusion as we never got it to come on, even when driving the amp hard and long in the lab.
Then at the back is another circuit board, mounted upside-down so that all one sees is circuit traces. Removing this, we found that the FM/AM tuner is a familiar device from Kwang Sung Electronics, the usual kind of package about the size of a pack of playing cards which does almost everything including RDS. Yet another circuit board is underneath it, with various connectors mounted on it.
One major space-saving has come from using integrated circuit power amplifier modules. Once reviled (with good enough reasons a couple of decades ago), these have improved over the years and now feature in some quite well-respected kit from a wide variety of manufacturers.
They don't quite eliminate the need for external components, but they reduce the parts count considerably, especially when one considers that they include all sorts of fault protection. From them, the signal runs to BFA connectors on the back panel – those slightly bizarre 'inverted 4mm plug' connectors invented to avoid a feared ban on regular 4mm sockets which never materialised. They work perfectly well, just make sure your dealer sells you some suitably terminated cables!
Unlike other single-box systems we've seen (Arcam Solo etc.), the Classik Music has output sockets to feed as many as four other rooms in a home via Linn's 'Knekt' system. This uses cheap and relatively unintrusive cable between rooms, with power amplification carried out locally. Of course, this isn't a full server and there is no capability for playing different sources to different rooms, but it's a nice feature to have.
Fine build quality
We've nothing but praise for the standard of build and finish of this unit. The CD drawer is perhaps the most discreet we've yet seen, it fits into the front panel so well that one could easily miss it altogether.
The rest of the fascia is very smart and other details, like the feel and consistency of the buttons, have been well attended to. The remote control is a little dowdy by comparison, though it does make life easier.
The display is smart and informative, and is dimmable – but by default it adjusts its brightness automatically according to ambient light conditions. Other features include balance and simple tone controls, plus a host of user settings which most folks will never need to use, but could save the day in odd cases.
We'll get our one ergonomic quibble out of the way first: this is possibly the very slowest CD in terms of disc loading that we've ever encountered.
Over 15 seconds feels like a very long time – indeed, it was long enough for us to wonder if it was time to get a replacement unit from Linn. But no, the machine was working and was worth the wait. This is a rather a tasty bit of kit.
If your expectations of Linn sound are based in the 1980s you'll, perhaps, only be partially satisfied. The famed Pace, Rhythm and Timing are pretty good, but they're not outstanding.
Instead, Linn has made some concessions to the detail and polish school of hi-fi thought and, while that may disappoint some diehards, we suspect it's a sensible direction to take given the likely market for the present device.
Perhaps, we should have tried Linn speakers, but we used mainly ATC and Bowers and Wilkins models, both moderately thirsty for watts and, in the latter case, for current in particular. In both cases we were rewarded with some very energetic music-making.
It seems the apparently modest output power is at least delivered willingly and though we could make the Classik run out of steam we were starting to get aurally overpowered before it did so.
So there's enough welly for normal applications. 'For normal applications' could be some sort of catchphrase for the Classik Music in a way, as it seems to have a very good grasp of what's required in all hi-fi areas without, perhaps, standing out in any of them.
That sounds like damning with faint praise, but consider this: not only by Linn standards but by anybody's, this is not expensive kit. Yes, £1,250 is a fair chunk of money, even in 2008, but for a CD player, DAC, tuner and amp it's reasonable in the extreme. And then it's pretty obvious that this device will not sell to the 'hi-fi nutter' who wants to tweak and tweak and optimise sound for some specific aural requirement. You buy a unit like this if you want decent sounds all round with the absolute minimum of hassle.
And decent it is. The clincher, though, is that the whole does seem to transcend the sum of the parts. Across all the sources and options, the sound of this unit is just very enjoyable, more involving than one might have expected at first hearing.
We used the internal CD drive for about half our listening and it is probably the strongest suit (and by the way, it is mechanically one of the quietest transports we've used in a while, a welcome finding when so many emit annoyingly audible clicks and whirrs).
Linn's great achievement
The DAC is just a shade less clear, though strangely it seemed to have slightly more 'kick' to its upper bass.
The tuner is very good, as free of background noise and the familiar FM distortions as any we've heard lately, while separating the variables as far as possible (by connecting external sources or listening to CDs via the line output and external amps) suggested that the amplifier is the limiting factor for detail, but is nevertheless no slouch in that area.
We feel that Linn has made an admirably sensible set of decisions in designing the Classik Music. Its sound is good enough to stand comparison with any stack of separates one could assemble for a similar cost and, if it could be beaten in specific areas, we still doubt that many systems could rival its all-round achievement and the general sense of 'being there' it manages to produce.
Operation is pleasant, looks are pure class and the saving in real estate is significant. Multi-room expansion options are merely the icing on a rather attractive cake.