Sunday, 24 November 2013

Britney Spears!

Browsing Qobuz.com today (other high res music sites are available) I noticed a Britney Spears album available in 24 bit. Its not my kind of music so I won't be buying it, but is this some kind of pop music tipping point that might be significant in terms of availability and security of the format for the future perhaps?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

AVForums Article On Linn Factory Tour Exakt

A reasonable read.  This report says that the most important part of Exakt is the ability to compensate for poor speaker placement in the room.  I don't agree, but that's their view.

http://www.avforums.com/article/linn-40th-anniversary-factory-tour.9502

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

First UK Dealer Exakt Demo

See below about the date and location of the first dealer Exakt demo evening:

http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/house-of-linn-demo-of-exakt-will-there.html

And here's the report on activities.  How exact is Exakt?  I deliberately didn't comment on the sound of Exakt heard at the 40th Anniversary event at the factory as the conditions just weren't suitable to make a sensible evaluation.  Tonight's event wasn't perfect as most of us won't be listening to a system with 18 other people, but it was much more realistic than the factory event, and later in the evening when the room emptied out, even better conditions were experienced.

As usual, Brian and Trevor were excellent hosts - drinks (including an excellent Malbec from Morissons, a bottle was seen in the hands of one Managing Director on his way out at the end of the evening...) and snacks made available and a relaxed atmosphere as the gathering built momentum from about 19:45 onwards.  For those who don't know House of Linn, it is just that - a very large substantially built end terrace house.  So the rooms are much more "domestic" than most dealers, including the kitchen / diner at the back of the house where we gathered - in the case of HoL the party starts in the kitchen, but usually ends with ears glued to the music in the large listening room at the ground floor front of the house.

Gilad Tiefenbrun, Susan and Andy represented Linn this time around and they were running the first dealer version of the Exakt demo for the UK, being an evolution of some demos done during the 40th Anniversary weekend at the factory.

Gilad kicked off the evening with about 18 customers in attendance (many happily making the best of the Malbec) explaining the basics of the Exakt technology (see here: http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/more-exakt-info.html  and here: http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/exakt-photos.html  for the salient points) and introducing some nicely produced animated videos to help with the explanation.  If anyone was still confused about what the technology is, the Q&A session didn't reveal any fundamental mis-understandings.

Andy from Linn (standing) and Gilad Tiefenbrun (sitting) and Some Abstract Art (hanging). Note the Dark Wood  Non-Exakt 350a Speakers in Place At This Point
 
Disclaimer:  I'm not the biggest fan of Linn's 350 speakers.  So please bear that in mind here - I prefer the Akubariks and Komris.  Having heard 350s in a number of different system configs and locations, I've never really got on with them.  However, its also worth saying that they sound much better at HoL than the did in the Linn Home dem rooms at the factory...  I mention this as I won't be able to say that what I heard was the best system I've ever heard (which I would expect Linn to be hoping customers to be saying), as there are compromises with these speakers that don't suit me, whereas the compromises in the Akubariks (for example) are easier for me to put to one side given how well they do pretty much everything else - particularly their ability to be difficult to listen to as a hifi component, because there's just so much music to listen to.  Anyway, I digress - so back to the 350 speakers used tonight - I'll not describe what I heard in absolute terms (other than setting a baseline from the non-Exakt system), but just in terms of the way they changed as the demos progressed.  Hope that makes some sense - trying to evaluate the effect of Exakt, rather than the basics of the system.   As usual, these notes are only my opinion and thoughts, based on the experience of the evening - its not definitive!

With the system feeding from PS Audio power re-generation products all evening, Andy then stepped us through the demo process as follows:

Starting System: KDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12, 350a in "tune-dem" determined position
2 x 30-45 seconds of track 1 - 24 bit FLAC
2 x 30-45 seconds of track 2 - vinyl

Audiophile Musings thoughts: the usual sound here - very tuneful, bags of detail in the treble and mid, sparkling smooth top end, something not quite right about imaging and the integration of the upper mid and lower mid drivers (exhibited, for me, as the vocals being clear, but strangely recessed in the mix, but moving forward and back in the mix, depending on the singer and even which part of the tune is being sung) and deep, powerful, but somewhat (struggling for the right phrase here) less than detailed bass.  I know this is not the KDSM electronics as it sounds great with other speakers in the Linn range.  So a very good sound, but not the ultimate sound, for me at least - but remember this is in context of a very expensive system - I suppose I just expect a bit more at this level of spend, but in terms of the complete hifi spectrum, this is still a very good sounding system.


Changed system to: KEDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12, Exakt 350 in the same location as the 350a - room optimization settings off, speaker position optimzation settings off
2 x 30-45 seconds of track 1 - 24 bit FLAC
2 x 30-45 seconds of track 2 - vinyl

Discussion on the differences
Audiophile Musings thoughts:  The tune is just as easy, if not easier to follow.  Timing of the bass lines improves dramatically, snapping into line with the rest of the music.  Instruments much more separated, much more stability in the vocals in terms of front to back in the mix and in terms of left to right image stability.  350s much easier to listen to.  Generally the room agrees it can here a significant difference but not all are fully convinced that everything is unequivocally better.  There is no disagreement about the effects being just as dramatic on vinyl as it is on the digital source.


Changed system back to KDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12, 350a in "tune-dem" determined position
1 x 30-45 seconds of track 1 - 24 bit FLAC
1 x 30-45 seconds of track 2 - vinyl

Discussion on the differences
Audiophile Musings thoughts: Going backwards in the upgrade path for me is usually easier to hear than an upgrade.  And so it proves here.  In the upgrade, what I've described above as much greater separation of instruments, in the step back, is much more discernible muddling (remember, this is all relative and the system is still very good in absolute terms - I think the reference point has been moved by Exakt, up a couple of steps on the ladder).  The vocals are much easier to identify as changing position over the pitch range to the point where its now clear that they are wandering around quite distinctly.  That lack of detail in the bass is back too.


2 x 30-45 seconds of track 3 - 24 bit FLAC
2 x 30-45 seconds of track 4 - vinyl

Changed system back to: KEDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12, Exakt 350 in the same location as the 350a - room optimization settings off, speaker position optimization settings off

1 x 30-45 seconds of track 3 - 24 bit FLAC
1 x 30-45 seconds of track 4 - vinyl

Discussion on the differences
Audiophile Musings thoughts: unsuprisingly all the Exakt changes are back.

Changed system to: KEDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12, Exakt 350 in the same location as the 350a - with room optimization settings on (determined earlier in the day), speaker position optimization settings off

1 x 30-45 seconds of track 3 - 24 bit FLAC
1 x 30-45 seconds of track 4 - vinyl

Discussion on the differences
Audiophile Musings thoughts: Bass much more tuneful.  At first it sounded less extended, but this is often the effect heard when bass is brought under greater control.  This also freed up the mid-range somewhat to let vocals be rock solid in the image now, and to really breath freely and flow in a very natural and fluid way.  Given that this software works based on the physical measurements of the room, I found the effect more profound than expected.  Was it a complete success?  May be not - I thought the music lost a touch of liveliness or impact, so its a different set of compromises.  On balance on the evidence of the evening, I preferred the music with the optimisation on, but I think its something that would have to go through a more thorough comparison in your own home to be absolutely sure.

Changed system to: KEDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12, Exakt 350 moved back into either side of the large bay window - with room optimization settings on, speaker position optimization settings off

1 x 30-45 seconds of track 3 - 24 bit FLAC
1 x 30-45 seconds of track 4 - vinyl

Discussion on the differences
Audiophile Musings thoughts:  Disastrously bad positioning of the speakers in this room.  Image collapsed and the tune was dragging its feet through mud.  A clearer demonstration of the benefits of placing speakers in the correct place in a room as I've ever heard.  And its amazing how you can pick this out in the first 3 or 4 bars of a very simply constructed acoustic track such as Emily Barker.   The idea here is that the speaker placement optimisation software is supposed to allow for a more "domestically acceptable" positioning of speakers, but only when the ideal position is not tenable.  To configure the speaker optimisation software, first the dealer will identify the best place for the speakers in the room using "tune dem" and record the measurements (from back and side walls), then tell the software the domestically acceptable position in the room and the optimisation is then applied to the signal by the Exakt engine in each speaker.  Interestingly, the distance to the side walls became the distance to the edges of the bay window, not to the edge of the room.

Changed system to: KEDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12, Exakt 350 moved back into either side of the large bay window - with room optimization settings on, speaker position optimization settings on (determined earlier in the day)

1 x 30-45 seconds of track 3 - 24 bit FLAC
1 x 30-45 seconds of track 4 - vinyl

Discussion on the differences
Audiophile Musings thoughts: The tune comes back, imaging somewhat improved, but its not a complete success - having the speakers in the correct position in the room is still clearly better.  But its an impressive result.  If 350s are too big for the room and you would need to apply speaker position optimisation, I think it would be worth trying some smaller speakers in the correct room position before making a decision.


Throughout, the TV in the room displayed the configuration in use and the track being played, to help us remember what was going on!  Also worth noting is that the speakers not in use were wheeled out of the room, so Brian and Trevor had a good deal of (heavy) box shifting to do through the evening.  So particular thanks to them for the hard work on this.

Brian Installing the Exakt 350 (again!) in Oak Finish

A Q&A session followed with Gilad which covered a number of topics.
Will there be an Akurate Exakt DSM? Nothing definite yet, but probably.
Will there be a Majik Exakt DSM?  Highly unlikely.
Will there be an Akurate Exakt Tunebox - probably and like the Klimax Exakt Tunebox it will eventually cover most, if not all, of Linn's current and previous speakers.
Including the Keilidh?  Yes, as there are around 27k Keilidhs out there, it would seem to make sense to do so, but it might not be an economically sensible way to spend a system upgrade budget, particularly with the Klimax Exakt Tunebox.
Akubarik the next to have an Exakt module?  Very likely, given that it was developed in parallel with Exakt and it has the ideal amp module format. As an aside, Gilad shared that there is no such thing as an "Aktiv Akubarik".  There is only "Akubarik" and "Akubarik Passive" as Linn now see active as the norm at Akurate and above, not the exception.
Will there be Exakt modules for the rear of Majik speakers and older Akurates such as the 242?  No, Exakt Tunebox will be the approach for these - the speaker cabinets are not designed for a built-in or built-on module.
Gilad confirmed that the Klimax (and Akurate, should there be one) Tunebox will be the same for all Linn speakers, with only the software for the digital crossovers being different for each speaker model - these will be downloadable from "the cloud" as the Internet seems to be referred to these days.
Confirmation that Exakt Tunebox and the relevant settings for Komri and Keltik will be next and soon.
Will there be a Urika Exakt version?  Unlikely.
Which is Linn's top system - is it KEDSM and Exakt 350a, or is it KEDSM, Exakt Tunebox, lots of Solos and 350p?  Gilad's answer was very revealling of Linn's thinking - they're both seen as the Linn reference system.  With KEDSM and Exakt 350 being the reference simple solution and the KEDSM / Tunebox / Solos / 350p being the reference enthusiast system.  They meet different demands and exhibit different compromises so are different references. So Audiophile Musing's take on this is that there is a "tidy reference" and a "geek reference".
Questions about pricing - no change here.  KEDSM with Exakt 350 is £50k.  KEDSM and Exakt upgrade for 350a / 350p / Artikulat priced at £25k (in this case you retain your KDS or KDSM to re-use elsewhere or sell on.
Will the optimisation software improve over time?  Yes, as more and more data is collected from installations, then the algorithms will be amended to improve the capability of the optimisation software - and these will be downloadable to be applied to their systems.

We then went back to KEDSM, maxed out Klimax LP12 (interestingly, not used for the rest of the evening), Exakt 350 in the same location as the 350a - with room optimization settings on (determined earlier in the day), speaker position optimization settings off and some really great tracks (I have to say this, they were from my own playlist!) were enjoyed as folks came and went - music in the demo room, chatter in the kitchen.  As usual, I came away with an introduction to some new music that I'll be buying.  In this instance it was Rachelle Ferrell's Individuality album.  Give it a try on Spotify - particularly the track "Sista".  Incredible voice.  Stayed until after midnight, just to be sure I'd given the system a good listen in a quiet room and with some very familiar music.  Overall the system at the end of the evening (I wasn't on the Malbec by the way, so I hadn't mellowed through the evening!) was significantly better in pure hifi terms and in sheer musicality - but my prejudices about the 350 remain - I just don't get lost in the music the way some systems can take me. 

Came away with a positive impression of Exakt - can't wait to hear KEDSM / Exakt Akubarik!  Best start saving, or buy a lottery ticket.  Probably both.