Linn Akurate Speaker System
I've always been a sucker for simplicity. Whether it's the functional beauty of a Mies van der Rohe building or a diesel-engine Mercedes-Benz with a manual-shift transmission, the "less is more" concept has always made sense to me. Unnecessary complexity often does little more than dilute a design's original functionality. This way of thinking has also been used in high-end hi-fi design, with some designers on the tweakier fringe embracing concepts like ultra-simple single-ended tube amplifiers and single-driver loudspeakers. Simple designs like these often have a straightforward clarity to their sound; each time you introduce new elements in order to make something play louder, higher, or deeper, you risk losing some of that clarity in the process.
With this thinking in mind, I was pretty curious to see how Linn's designers were able to pull off their ambitious Akurate speaker system. In a 5.1-channel package, it manages to incorporate a whopping total of 24 drivers. While getting so many drivers to work together harmoniously seems like a pretty daunting task, when you look beyond the raw numbers, you'll find that the Akurates are actually a highly focused design.
The Akurate Series comprises four basic speaker models: the 242 floorstanding speaker, the 212 stand-mounted speaker, the 225 center-channel speaker, and the 221 subwoofer. All except the subwoofer are based around just two basic elements: a 6.5-inch sandwich cone woofer and a three-driver compound array that Linn has dubbed the 3K Array. This assembly positions the midrange, tweeter, and super tweeter very closely together on a special mounting plate in an attempt to make them behave a bit more like one wide-range driver. With traditional multi-driver speakers, the sound varies depending on the listening angle, due in part to interference between the drivers. The 3K Array attempts to minimize this effect; because Linn uses this same assembly in each Akurate model, you can expect good sonic consistency among the various speakers in a surround package.
All the Right Connections
If you think that connecting a pair of speakers is simply a case of hooking up the red end to the positive terminal and the black end to the negative terminal, you're likely to get dizzy when you check out the Akurate speakers' back panels. Each 242 and 225 boasts no fewer than six pairs of binding posts, while each 212 has four pairs. Most audiophiles are familiar with biwiring, but what the heck do you call it when you can use up to five separate cables between the amp and speaker? Quint-wiring? Penta-wiring? By the way, for those wondering about that sixth pair, the 242s and the 225 also give you a special bass-boost connection that pumps up the low bass a bit for use in larger rooms that might need it.
In truth, what Linn has done with all of these connections is give the Akurate owner a nice upgrading path that prepares the way for years of future system improvements. Beyond their ability to gobble up almost enough speaker wire to circumnavigate the globe, all of those connectors allow you to upgrade by adding amplifiers, moving through biamping and triamping until you actually have five separate channels of power per speaker.
Once you've reached this pinnacle, your retailer can convert the whole rig into what Linn calls an Aktiv system, bypassing all of the passive crossovers inside the speakers and replacing them with low-level crossovers at the input stage of each channel of amplification. Most of Linn's own amps are already set up to accommodate these filters, which makes it easy to put together a complete system that has been tailored to work together. While it might sound like running an Aktiv system would require a mountain of gear that rivals the next Spinal Tap tour, Linn has a neat solution called the AV 5125. This five-channel amp is perfect for driving one Akurate 242 or 225 in a fully active (or Aktiv) mode, with the appropriate filter cards installed. So get three AV 5125s to cover the three front channels. If that's not a dream yacht-purchasing scheme for the Linn dealers of the world, I don't know what is.
Return to the Real World
Coming back down to earth, my test rig comprised a somewhat simpler passive system, using a pair of 242s for the front channels, a pair of 212s for the surrounds, a 225 center channel, and a 221 subwoofer. Penta-wiring would have busted the cable budget, so I biwired the speakers using Linn's own K20 speaker cable with one run to drive the woofers and another to run the 3K Array. I did experiment with the bass-boost setting, but in my room this resulted in a tradeoff between a dollop of additional warmth and a certain loss of control and precision due to overloading the room with bass. After a fair amount of experimentation, I found that I got the best of both by using the normal bass mode while adding some carefully blended support from the 221 subwoofer. Having said that, when I auditioned two-channel SACD and DVD-Audio material that bypassed the subwoofer completely, I never felt like I was missing out significantly in the bass department.
The first thing that struck me was how together it all sounded. Complicated speakers often sound like a collection of parts, and it's easy to hear the point in the sonic spectrum where each individual driver comes in, but not with the Akurates. Better even than most two-way designs, the Akurates produced a seamless, homogenous sound from top to bottom. Considering the driver count, they sounded more like an incredibly wide-range single driver than they had any right to.
Many past Linn speakers have sounded lively and tuneful with that clichéd toe-tappin' bass, even if they sometimes missed the last word in areas like imaging and transparency. The Akurates have completely shattered that illusion. They rank among the most informative, transparent, dynamic speakers I've heard. Playing DVD-Audio versions of some remastered two-channel recordings of the Utah Symphony from the old Vox catalog, I heard such a spectacular sense of depth and space that I was puzzled as to why anyone would ever feel a need for 5.1 surround.
Once I used the whole surround rig, however, it soon became clear that the Akurates were equally at home whether music or movies were the source. Tonally, these speakers simply tell it like it is, with none of that rose-colored earmuff sound that people will look for if they like to soften out their movie sound a bit. Dynamics were very good; if there was a limiting factor, it was more likely my 140-watt Parasound amp rather than the speakers. I expect that this is one area where going Aktiv would really show its value.
The 242s by themselves have superbly tuneful bass; however, when used alone, they didn't quite have the very deepest visceral power I sometimes want, especially with action flicks. The 221 subwoofer is actually smaller overall than even the center channel, yet it managed to cover the bottom couple of octaves with extraordinarily impressive impact and control. Ultimately, maximum output is the limiting factor with a sub this small, but in my room I never sensed that I was reaching its limit.
There's no doubt that more than $20K is a lot of scratch for any speaker package. The Akurates, however, manage to combine qualities like tunefulness and pitch accuracy that have been Linn's stock-in-trade for decades with some of the most transparent and seamless sound I've ever heard from a dynamic speaker. Perhaps even Mies van der Rohe would want a set.
• Flexible system with a clear upgrade path
• Very coherent sound, despite the design complexity