Linn CD 12 Compact Disc Player Reviewed

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'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?' Given the recent flap over Elia Kazan's honours at the Oscars and my belief in a conspiracy that was Linnism, I feel it's somehow appropriate to adapt this question to audio. 'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Flat Earth Society?' My answers would be 'No' and 'No', but I hadn't reckoned on the Linn Sondek CD12. It is, in its own way, as comprehensive a denial of Linn's past as would be Clinton embracing celibacy.

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It's necessary to back-track, both to inform readers under 30 and to remind older ones that a selective memory won't alter the fact that, during the early years of CD, Ivor Tiefenbrun - Linn Products Ltd in anthropomorphic form - had a favourite party trick of concocting preposterous anti-digital declarations, likening CD to every ill imaginable. He may wish to retract, to disavow, to , but I, like so many others, witnessed the espousing of such homilies as 'A Dansette sounds better than CD'. OK, it was pure salesmanship, but underlying every remark was the bile of sincere fanaticism. [See Barry Fox's history of Linn in 3/99 for a definition of the 20-80/hype-to-fact ratio.] As the years rolled by, and Linn was forced to admit that digital audio was here to stay, Ivor's maxims evolved into, 'We never hated digital; we just didn't think it was good enough', or 'We decided not to make a CD player until it was as good as an LP12', ad nauseum.

As the sayings go, there are none more anti-cigarette than an ex-smoker, nor more self-righteous than an ex-hooker.

Thus, Linn changed its mind. Now we are so far down the path to post-analogue perdition that I'd be amazed if there were any who still think we can stop such juggernauts as digital audio, let alone the Euro, the Labour Party and other evils which will render the 21st Century something less than Paradise. And so Linn did produce CD players early on, none of which to my ears sounded anywhere near as good as an LP12, let alone a CAL Tempest IISE, a Theta DATAIII/Pro Gen 5a or a Marantz CD-12. (Sorry, Ivor, Marantz got there first, just like AR and Thorens...) Maybe that's just me; either way, I was not prepared for the Linn Sondek CD12 simply because I was not conditioned to look to Linn, as opposed to say, Krell or Theta, for cutting-edge CD players.

Now we're faced with the CD12, Linn's no-compromise entry/final word on the subject. As has been pointed out more than once, CD is the last major audio-only format which doesn't use ANY form of data reduction or compression. Linn recognised this, and it's why I was told by Ivor himself - while showing me the prototype at CEDIA in 1997 - that the CD12 was conceived to be "the World's Last Great CD Player". Or, more accurately, the Last Great Source Component Free Of The Deceit Of Digital Space-Saving.

At £12,000 a pop, it ought to be.

Immediately upon removal from its flight case, you sense greatness. Although it's tiny - a mere 320x350x80mm - it weighs a serious 12kg. It has the sort of fit and finish associate only with precision gear made in Switzerland, however much IT wants to blather on about Scotland's unchallenged global supremacy in feats of engineering. The production of watches and cameras are yardsticks for this sort of manufacturing, not stuffing cereal into sheep bladders.

A thing of beauty? So clean, so uncluttered, so is the look of the CD12 that people with any semblance of taste are predisposed toward it without any verbal inducement from a salesperson or otherwise. It is, like a Zippo lighter, so that all other CD players are rendered instantly and forever ugly. (The only alternative with aspirations to perfection would be one favouring total 'function over form' - the laboratory look of Nagra, for example. But they don't make a CD player.) If the truth be known, this is the digital successor to Technics' marvellous, charming, LP-sleeve-sized SL10 turntable.

Its total absence of buttonry and switches has become the CD12's most talked-about aspect. Linn created a command system which rendering conventional push-buttonry obsolete. Every operation is available on the hand-held remote, like nearly every other CD player on the market, but, for occasions when you are near the player itself, you can perform the primary functions simply by touching the CD tray's front edge. Called 'Linn Smart Drawer' operation, open, close, play, stop and skip forward can be accessed by this method; customisation moves let you create your own learning curve. If ever a hi-fi product's operation deserved to be called elegant, it's the CD12's.

A thin, exposed edge is all you see, the drawer/tray made from electro-nickel-plated aluminium alloy. Open, close and 'nudge' are detected by optical sensors mounted within the CD Engine; all detection circuitry is electronic, so there are no parts to wear out, while software controls acceleration, de-acceleration and speed control. If left open, the drawer will close after two minutes, a bonus feature being a solenoid locking the tray when closed (whether the power is on or off) to prevent it opening when the CD12 in transit or threatened by children or drunks.

Below the tray is the usual display, providing track and time read-outs, which you can show in elapsed or remaining time. Another nice touch is the CD12's ability to play from a precise time position on the disc; you can, if you desire, go straight to that solo at 2min 09sec on Track 4. Naturally, this player can cope with all manner of programming options, including some you'd never think of in a million years. I suppose the reasoning is that it's better to leave nothing out, even stuff that will never be used, than to upset some sick freak who actually uses, say, A-B repeat mode. All of which is a far cry from the minimalism Linn once championed...

Read more about the Linn CD 12 on Page 2.

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