Thursday, 18 July 2013

How Good Can It Be?

I've now had my current system config for about 12 months, and we seem to be getting on well together.  I feel as though the upgraditis of the previous 18 months was worth all the box shuffling and uncertaintity has paid off.  In that time I've also made a few friends along the way through the forums, at House of Linn and with some local audiophiliacs.  Good stuff.  Music has not been so addictive before and I truly relish and look forward to the few hours I can find each week to sit down and get immersed into the music and play "just one more track".

So, lots of self-contratulations there - perhaps I should get into the theatre and the award ceremony merry-go-round.  Perhaps not.

So this means all is good and no further upgrades are required, right?  Yes.  For now.  But I work in a strategy role, and that occasionally kind of spills over into non-work time.  Plus, any significant changes are going to take equally significant chunks of cash.  So a plan needs to be worked on so next steps can be planned out and funds saved over time.  If you don't know where you're going its difficult to know which way to go, how long its going to take to get there: you might end up in the wrong place and get lost along the way.

Way back, when I'd decided that the Marantz CD40 wasn't the best CD player out there (this kind of decision is usually linked to availability of cash), I could've taken a number of steps over time and worked my way up the CD player hierarchy.  But I chose not too - deciding to save over a period of time and go straight to where I thought I wanted to get to - the Meridian 508.  Perhaps that also saved some cash due to less depreciation steps along the way. And maybe that's what I should think about now.  Indeed, the 508.20 worked well for me and actually did end up being my last serious CD player, so the wait was worthwhile and I didn't hear anything in the 10 years it was in my system that convinced me there was a need to move on.  Plus, it sold for a reasonable price and, along with letting the LP12 go to a new home, gave me the opportunity to go into streaming at a reasonable high level of quality.

So does that mean it'll be straight to the top with Klimax DS, Klimax Kontrol, lots of Klimax Solos and a pair of 350s in active config then?  Errr, no, not really.  The end game doesn't need to be the ultimate possible, but a balance of what's best within a budget and a time frame.  If you aim too high, there's a very real possibility that you'll never get there.  And I've heard the 350s, and I don't think they're as good as the Komris they replaced.  Timing can also allow for the secondhand market and when the products currently available might reach a more acceptable price point.

So there's the usual bit of pre-amble and positioning stuff out of the way, now lets get down to the content of this post.  And its more on the Akubariks.

House of Linn ran an Akubarik open couple of days recently, so having booked into an evening session, I took local Roksan owning neighbour Chris along to listen and get a second opinion.  In typical HoL style we were welcomed with cups of tea / coffee, a bit of a chat and introduction to Chris before moving into the front listening room where we found a pair of Oak active Akubariks, Klimax DS/1 and Klimax Kontrol all hooked up and ready to go, powered by PS Audio mains regenerators.  HoL know that the LP12 doesn't interest me these days, so vinyl was off the menu.  We loaded up my list of demo tracks (see here for clues) and got stuck into listening to some music.  The demo tracks are chosen for the following reasons, in order of priority: emotionally involving; excellent songwriting and/or musicianship; excellent recording quality; something that would test at least one aspect of what a system can do, such as bass depth, slam, delicacy of the treble, female vocals, imaging etc. etc.

If you've read the post below, you'll know that I found it difficult to concentrate on the sound being produced last time I heard the Akubariks - as hard as I was trying, I kept getting distracted by the music and forgot about the sound quality.  Well, as we were using music I'm very familiar with this time, perhaps it was a touch easier to focus on the system, yet still I struggled to find a flavour, or character for this system.  For sure, the bass goes deep - deeper than the Majik 140s - but there's something there that just doesn't happen with the 140s, Majik Isos, 242s, 350p, 350a and many other non-Linn speakers such as those from Wilson Benesch, Kudos, Vienna Acoustics and many others on which I've listened to the same tracks.  And that's the tune.  There is so much more tune going on in the bass that I've not heard on any other system before.  I know some systems can differentiate bass notes better than others, and can remove some of apparent monotonic bass lines presented by other systems (such as moving from Linn Keilidhs to Majik 140), but this combination of components really plays a tune in the bass - its quite a remarkable revelation and one I encourage you to seek out.  I found myself wrapped up in following this aspect of the music - to the point where I was smiling involuntarily at the revelation.  Marvellous.

Elsewhere, the 3K array seems to integrate very well with the lower mid-range driver - in other Linn designs with the 3K array it's often discernable where this unit finishes and the lower frequency drivers take over - if there is a problem with that in the Akubarik, I need better ears to detect it.  There's been a change to the phasing of the crossovers for the 3K array itsself and, as noted in the earlier report below, this seems to have driven out a step change in the ability of a Linn speaker to image properly.  L to R, front to back and up & down, this system images extremely well - little to no vagueness, realistic instrument sizing (where the recording allows of course) and rock solid in the soundstage (but see the next posting above about other observations on this particular aspect).  I expect that the tuning of the crossover to match the actual drive units installed in each speaker (to the point that the crossovers in a pair of speakers may be very slightly different between left and right speakers) to eliminate any differences that manufacturing tolerances may have introduced could well be a contributor to this new found imaging performance.  The other characteristics of the array remain intact - such as the very clear highest frequencies with no edginess - good news.

And that's about all I can say about this system (I know this is primarily about the active Akubariks as they are the new bit here, but they can't perform unless they're given a good signal).  Acoustic music, bass heavy electronica, happy dance music, female vocals covering depressing scenarios, all came across with heaps of emotion, extensive detail, rock solid imaging and lots and lots of tune laden attitude.

You might've detected that I'm a fan.  I've heard systems that can do that last nth level of deeper bass, I've heard those that can perhaps slam a touch harder, I've heard systems that cost twice as much and were abysmal and I've heard Linn's current top of the range speaker system.  All of them have compromises that tend to outweigh the benefits of that little thing they do just that little bit better. You can read about many of those experiences elsewhere in the blog, but for me, this is the most tuneful, enjoyable, uncompromised system I've heard to date.

I think I see some clarity of direction emerging.

Thanks to B & T at HoL for hosting and Chris for looking a bit gobsmacked (by the music and the list prices!).