We have come a long way since the small bemused dog i
heard his master‘s voice boom out ofa trumpet-like speaker. But what should you buy? Trevor Johnston reports on Glasgow-based company Linn Products Ltd and offers an economy—wise guide to the current hi-fi market. Additional research by Andrew Burnet.
TABLES 0N co’s
"l'here's so much jargon bandied around about hi-fi. but we have a highly technical word to describe Linn equipment. "Better". A six year-old kid could tell yott that the sound coming from our turntable is sitnply "better" than the competitors.‘ So says Marketing Director (‘harlie Brennan of independent (ilasgow-based hi-fi manufacturers Linn. and to the ttntrained ear his statement replicates the familiar hard sell. However. for a growing number of music enthusiasts all over the world. the claims are entirely borne out by the performance of the equipment. with Linn turntables. amplifiers and
speakers recognised by press and public alike as out-performing any competition the huge Japanese electronics corporations have to offer.
Although they‘ve been producing their highly-rated Linn Sondek turntable series since 1973. it has been developments like their involvement in The Blue Nile‘s classic Walk Across“ The Rooftops album and their move to a smart new hi-tech factory. designed by controversial architect Richard Rodgers. which have brought the company to wider attention. However. with their turnover burgeoning by around some 30‘? a
year. and an increasingly wide range of products that also includes cartridges. speakers and amplification. it should not be long before the name makes its way into quite a few more households.
‘In order that people would believe all we claimed for our equipment .‘ Brennan explains. ‘we created a small revolution in sales by starting to insist that dealers sold our product by demonstration. [n all these chain stores you can‘t really get to hear the products properly. and so you come away with Japanese name equiptnent because they’re what’s familiar. These are legititnate products. bill they don't offer the best sound performance. Most people are unaware that what they call their hi-fi is in fact pretty rubbishy. We don’t mind if you don't buy our equiptnent. because it is not cheap. bttt you should go to a shop that’ll let you hear prperly what you’re spending your money on. Yott can probably put together a system for £400 that’ll outperform any Japanese midi system tip to about £l000.’
In a comfortable demonstration room. 1 compared a Linn Sondek LPl2A (£707 with basic tone arm and cartidge) with a Marantz (‘1) S5 ( £550) to hear for myself what the
fuss was all about. Listening to a track on the new Anita Baker record and (7D exposed the deficiencies of the latter medium. Sound definition on both the machines was obviously very good. bttt the turntable felt a lot more natural. especially on the twang of the bass being played and the chink-chink of the drummer‘s hi-hat cymbals. while the (‘1) seemed metallic and compressed. It's difficult to usefully describe music in words. so maybe one should just say that the Linn was ‘better‘ to my ears anyway.
But not as good as the full top of the range Linn system. including Linn amplifiers and speaker. a snip at £6773. which catne the closest to offering the sense of separation of instruments and of musical depth that you get with a live performance of any audio equipment 1 have ever heard. Even though I have about as much chance of taking Anita Baker home with me.
I STOCKISTS: You cart find the full range of Linn equipment from the £29 cartridge upwards. as well as demonstration facilities to listen for yourself. at Stereo Stereo in (ilasgow. and Russ Andrews 1 li—Fi in Edinburgh. See shop listing for full details.
With a seemingly distressing array of fearsome looking audio equipment on the market and the threat ofsales staff fluent in inderciphcrable techno-speak. the idea of going out to btty a qttality sound system can appear a rather daunting one. Here however. are a few sensible points for the novice audiophile to bear in mind. as well as a helpful selection of high performance separates at budget prices.
I What do I really want? The sound that comes from the source (the turntable cassette deck (‘1) that is). needs to be of the highest quality before it gets amplified and goes through the speakers. 'l‘herefore you should always have in mind which of these sources is the tnost important to you. If you pritnarily want a
system to play your records. then it might be worth your while to spend that little bit tnore on buying a quality turntable.
I How much should I spend? 11‘ you only have say. £400. and you are intent on getting a full system with (‘1) for your money then you could be on to a loser. The simple fact is that good performance hi-fi needs the best electronic components and so doesn't come cheaply. Any component under £ 100 will probably .be kinder on your pocket than your
More expensive separates can be better value in terms ofthe difference in sound quality they offer compared to the additional cost. so you might be better off adding them a piece at a time to your existing equipment. Most Japanese midi
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systems offer very average turntables. so you could consider upgrading to a better record player instead of trying to buy a whole system whose performance will be compromised by budgetary restrictions. The rest of the separates can come later. and you’ll have an impressive combination that’ll provide lasting performance.
I Choosing a shop Your selection of equipment shouldbe based on sound quality. so you should hear it properly before parting with your hard-earned shekels. Any shop that offers a separate demonstration room is to be recommended. Be wary of retail outlets that use a comparator box to let you hear different combinations ofequipment on the store shelves. as this is hardly an ideal listening environment and can distort the sound being produced.
I Choosing equipment A good system should sound tnore like music and less like a record. In other words. rather than a single stream ofsound. you should be able to make out what each one of the separate musicians is doing at any given moment. The best way to make a decision about a hi-fi then. is to bring along a recording you know well. preferably one with a good range from low-level bass to treny cymbals. and then try to follow each of the instruments to assess how well you can hear what each of them is doing. A good system should bring ottt more information and so add to your listening pleasure. while the mark ofa weaker performance is a poorer representation of each of the music‘s disparate elements. Use your ears. if
it sounds good then it is good. Yott don‘t need to be an expert to listen to music.
THE BUDGET SELECTION
So far as turntables go. the Ariston 0 (£150). tnade at Prestwick on the west coast. is fast becoming a market leader: the Rega Planar ll ( £150). with its glass turntable offers a stylish alternative: and the (ierman-made Dual 03505 Ill remains a popular choice.
Small British companies tend to dominate the market for low-cost. high quality amplifiers. with the ARCAM Alpha (£159). 0E0 A240 (£169). Mission Cyrus One ( £179) and Creek 40/40 all recommended. Slightly less expensive. the NAD 30208 (£120) and the Hotel RA820A (£130) both prove consistent sellers.
Britain again dominates the manufacture of impressive speakers at attractive prices. The Tannoy Eclipse (£120). made in Edinburgh. Heybrook Point Five (t‘ 120). and Castle Trent ( £120) are worth checking ottt. as is the Acoustic Research 122 ( £140). The Mission and KEF ranges have a substantial following. and the Whartedale Diamond ( £100) still offers excellent performance for its compact size.
Japanese electronics expertise. on the other hand. means that products from the Far East have the market for cassette decks and (‘l) players more or less sewn tip. The Aiwa. Denon. Kenwood and Marantz range of cassette decks (from around £100 upwards) come highly-praised. while Yamaha. Denon and Marantz are the names to look for in (‘1) technology (from around £200).
58 The List 11 — 24 November 1988