My first exposure to the Scottish firm Linn Products came back in the 1970s through the company’s groundbreaking (and now iconic) Sondek LP12 turntable. The LP12 introduced the then-shocking idea that—apart from measurable characteristics such as wow, flutter, and rumble—there were other qualitative difference between turntables that listeners could readily hear and appreciate as they listened to music. If you stop to think about it for a moment, the quest for meaningful sonic differences that transcend performance specifications and product descriptions is the whole point of high-end audio and of The Absolute Sound—something the movers and shakers at Linn have always understood. Over the years Linn has remained in the thick of the high-end movement, branching outward from its initial analog offerings to create loudspeakers, amplification components, and digital players that put music first. Today, the quest is carried forward by Linn’s mid-priced Majik Series components, including the $3500 Majik CD player, $3100 Majik Kontrol preamplifier, and $2350 Majik 2100 power amplifier. (For reasons that remain obscure to me, Linn goes to great lengths to include the letter “k” in most of its product names.) Our mission here is to investigate the Majik models to see if their sound is, well, magic.
All three Majik components share a common chassis size, shape, and styling motif, and are exceptionally light (the heaviest of the units weighs less than 12 pounds). How does Linn pull heavyweight sound from bantamweight components? The answer is that the Majik components use light, efficient switch-mode power supplies that, says Linn, provide “excellent tolerance to lesser quality mains supplies,” and that offer nearly optimal performance when AC power is “quite badly corrupted.” Interestingly, the Majik power supplies also support automatic voltage selection, meaning that with appropriate power cords the Majik components can be used anywhere in the world. The Majik Kontrol and CD player share a common remote control that is easy and intuitive to use, and that helps hold clutter to an absolute minimum. The 2100 amp, in turn, is designed to be left in standby mode until an input signal in sensed, at which point the amp automatically switches itself on and begins to play. The CD player and preamp feature inputs and outputs for Linn’s KNEKT system, which relays remote control commands to other KNEKT-enabled Linn products. To maximize flexibility the Majik CD player and Kontrol preamp offer set-up menus similar to, but simpler than, those found in typical A/V players and controllers. Plainly, the Majik components are easy to configure and to use, but how do they perform?
The dominant sonic characteristic of the Majik system is a richly detailed sound that emphasizes lively transient response and beautiful micro-to-midlevel dynamics (a qualifier I add only because the Majik 2100 amplifier puts outa modest 56Wpc at 8 ohms, and therefore cannot do some things that higher-powered amplifiers can). Overall, the Majik components retrieve a tremendous amount of musical information, which they infuse with compelling, lifelike energy. With the Majik system in play, one has the sense that musical details are always delineated for the sake of greater communication and deeper musical enjoyment—not just for the sake of dry, lifeless dissection and analysis. While all three Majik components play important roles, the Kontrol preamplifier is really what gives this system its distinctive voice. In short, the Kontrol is the strongest individual performer in the group, and the component most responsible for lifting its teammates to the next level.
The versatile Majik Kontrol preamp is—first, last, and always—transparent. I tried the Kontrol both with the Majik CD player and with Rega’s excellent Saturn CD player, and it made child’s play of delineating the sonic differences between the two. But as a much tougher test, I also fed the Kontrol from both the vacuumtube and solid-state output stages of my reference Musical Fidelity kW SACD player. The differences between the two output stages are sufficiently subtle that I think many mid-priced components might miss them, but the Kontrol made them plain as day. For example, the Kontrol revealed that the Musical Fidelity’s solid-state outputs offer a certain crystalline purity and produce very big soundstages, while the tube outputs convey a slightly broader spectrum of harmonic information, do a somewhat better job with extremely low-level details, and produce soundstages that are slightly deeper and wider than their solid-state counterparts. In short, the Kontrol is sufficiently transparent to be used with higher-end source components that cost much more than it does.
To appreciate the Kontrol’s effortless clarity, try listening to the delicate percussion details and soft solo pi