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Linn Klimax Twin Stereo Amplifier Review

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linn 500 amplifierKlimax Twin is the stereo version of Klimax 500 Solo, Linn’s latest amplification statement. The Twin is identical in dimensions and weight as one monoblock 500 Solo with a little less than half the output capability.

The Linn’s accompanying, ring-bound 24-page Owner’s Manual rivals the readability and resourcefulness of manuals I have read to date in contents and layout, and can easily become a collector’s item. Among the eight sections in the Manual, namely “Introduction”, “What is it?”, “How does the Klimax work?”, “Installation”, “Operation”, Specifications”, “Guarantee and service” and “Index”, the third section alone in it’s 10 pages can provide a good hour of engaging discussion of the technologies of the Klimax.

The major significance of the Klimax Twin’s switching power management technology was its dispensing with modern solid core and toroidal transformer technologies. According to the Manual, the primary form of switching power was developed by the computer industries, and the adaptation process of this technology from computer applications to the high-end audio one was a major undertaking. Linn claimed that its fully developed switching power supply harnessed potential superiority over conventional methods in its compactness, high efficiency, fast response, good mains input, good load tolerances, low acoustic noise, low material use and environmental friendliness. More importantly, in terms of marketing and sales, Linn’s marketing norm-defying vision of a slim-lined amplifier was also an exceptionally bold one.

At the front of the Klimax Twin, there was a blue operation indicator inside the “stylus-in-the-groove” smiling-face fascia at the center. All inputs and outputs terminals at the rear were amazingly arranged within the confinement of the chassis’ shallow height and were recessed under the top panel. Divided by the central heat exchanger, the switchable balanced and RCA inputs were located on the left rear panel, and IEC receptacle, power switch and speaker binding posts were on the right. Although using oversized power cords and speaker cables, such as Virtual Dynamics’ Nite interconnects and speaker cables was possible, the oversized VD hoses made system reconfigurations laborious. In addition, the triple-run makeup of VD’s AC main was even thicker than its interconnects and speaker cables, and thus could not be fitted within the space constraints of the KT’s rear panel. In this case, the Granite Audio #560 AC Cord was used in alternation with Linn’s stock cord.

The central heat exchanger represented the other most predominant visual feature as it ran through the center top chassis from the front to the rear, allowing heat to rise from within the Klimax. The exchanger also had a small, internal fan near a rear opening for forced air convection cooling when necessary.

Finally, the KT’s idling power consumption of 18W provided the most profound statement in amplification evolution in contrast to the 600W of power consumption of my Reference Line Preeminence One Signature during idling. This thoughtful design muted the output after 10 minutes of inactivity and put the KT in standby mode. With the negligible power consumption in standby, I kept the KT in optimal operating mode by leaving it on during most of the week, along with the power-on 47 Lab digital front end and a muted Audio Note M3 preamplifier.

AUDITION

The Klimax Twin’s rated 4 Ohm output of 250 Wpc made it an universal amplifier for all speakers at my residence, hence the KT was rotated among all of them, with the 84 dB/3.5 Ohm Apogee Duetta Signature being the least efficient, and the 104dB/8 Ohm Klipschorn the most efficient. Other speakers included the 90dB/4 Ohm, 3-way 4-driver, floorstanding ELAC 518, 90dB/6 Ohm Genesis VI, 82dB/8 Ohm Celestion SL700 and the 94dB/8 Ohm Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver loudspeaker systems.

Digital front ends were my 47 Lab Flatfish and Progression Redbook CD system and the Sony SCD-777ES SCD Player, with each of them plugged into a separate medical grade AC power isolation device “ISO” for line conditioning. The Audio Note M3 tube preamplifier served at the helm with Virtual Dynamics Nite series cable system applied throughout.

Arguably Anton Bruckner’s most brilliant and involving symphony in its continuity and originality, his Symphony No. 7 [Deutsche Grammophon “Karajan Gold” 439 037-2],via a reading by Maestro Herbert von Karajan as performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, did not contain a fleeting moment of dullness or repetition in any movement when they tended to sprout up in his other symphonies. The composer rose to the challenge and instilled this large-scale work with bold but intricate ideas throughout, creating tremendous suspense.

The Klimax Twin’s conveyance of this Redbook CD’s formidable scale via the $20,000 Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver was as intimate as it was colossal, as the orchestra’s distinguished, splendorous signature brass and sonorous strings were impressively communicative in forging a formidable, collective scale. While the Linn/AN combo was portraying the upward extending flares of the horns and the perfectly unified, blazing violins, the entire frequency spectrum traversed in such grace that there was not a trace of the characteristic forward or upward transistor bite.

This very unconventional persona of the Klimax Twin set itself apart from all other transistor amplifiers that I’d used, in that even as they all strove to deliver a sound with as integral a spectrum and extended a bandwidth as possible, none approached this level of sophistication from the KT. The Linn’s sonic makeup had startling congruity of the Audio Note M3 tube preamplifier’s tonal abundance, with an unusually firm grip at maintaining frequency purity that seemingly inferred an examining intelligence from within the KT. This finesse of the KT became even more startlingly appreciable in its coupling to relatively affordable cone speakers, such as the ELAC 518 and the Celestion SL700, when the amplifier invoked unprecedented spectral purity in instrument characteristics sans the sporadic resonance and ringing common from high-volume transistor amplifier applications.

Using the AN speaker in an experience of Klimax Twin’s amplification of the Seiji Ozawa SACD 2002 New Year’s Concert [Philips 470 615-2 PSA] was another cause for celebration. Knowing the Audio Note designer’s expressed forbearance in using his speakers to reproduce non-musical special effects, I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised by the realism of audience applause accorded by the combo. Live effects aside, the Philips SACD’s dynamic was so dramatic, along with tonalities so flamboyant and dimensionality so specific that it was as if oxygen in the listening space was purer. I reckon that the Klimax Twin implementation of the Linn Switching Power pushed the envelope of amplifier/loudspeaker interaction. As much credit as the Sony DSD sound-processing technique might deserve, the SACD would never sound this good without the paramount augmentation of the joint forces of Linn’s Klimax Twin and Audio Note’s AN-E SEC Silver.

Driving the inefficient, all-ribbon Apogee Duetta Signature, the Linn KT maintained its stability in substantial output of current during the climactic passages of the Anton Bruckner symphony and the Philips SACD. The immense radiating surface of the flat-panel speakers yielded stirring sonics of such vigor that although the Apogee’s were tonally less evocative than the AN-E SEC Silver’s, the approaching sound waves produced by the ribbons were wholesomely encompassing and intimately enveloping.

A noteworthy, fatigue-purging 2 hour-succession of the two discs via the Apogee’s prompted the middle part of the KT’s top chassis to become extremely hot while still touchable, indicating that it was working at peak condition driving the 84dB/3.5 Ohms Apogees. Yet, the internal cooling fan was never engaged. Knowing Apogee’s requirement for high current amplification, the fact that the 2.3 inches thin, toroidal-lacking KT was able to drive the Apogee’s to extremely high volumes with ease and finesse defied established doctrines in amplifier choices.

Also noteworthy were the sessions the KT’s spent with the 104dB/8 Ohm Klipschorn, which bore witness to decisive dynamics set against an expansive soundstage, with delicate instrument harmonics manifested, despite the K-horn’s relative weakness in tonal depiction. Although the KT only needed to supply the K-horns with an infinitesimal fraction of its output capability, the amplifier’s utmost operational quietness also complimented the horns’ extreme sensitivity fittingly.

The Klimax Twin also emancipated the ELAC 518’s remarkable JET tweeter in a showcase of airy and full-bodied orchestral strings, accompanied by undaunted double bass rumbling in a spectacularly extended top and bottom-end ovation. The unassuming Klimax Twin unleashed the potentials of the $3,700 ELAC 518 summarily. Thus, the tremendous value of the ELAC was startlingly reaffirmed by a reign of the stylishly invigorating Linn.

SUMMARY

In the company of the incredibly resolute Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver Loudspeaker, the Linn Klimax Twin’s class-D, solid-state dispositions delivered a coherent, expansive and refined spectral presentation with a most notable and consistent iteration of top-end finesse. While it did not transcend renowned SET design’s attributes of vivid tonalities and highly communicative midrange, the $9,000, slim-lined amplifier rallied prestigious prowess in sustained outputs, exerted extraordinary spectral uniformity from speakers and imparted rousing tonal articulation yet to be heard from other elite amplification designs.

In fact, the solid-state Klimax Twin’s subtle but resounding tonal flamboyance and vibrancy ridded music reproduction of the common transistor-ridden artificiality, and was in the same kinship of the previously reviewed 47 Laboratory 4706 Gaincard S Integrated Amplifier. Together, these two elite products’ handling of instrument harmonics reconstituted one’s faith in the solid-state methodology.

The Linn also garnered such ease and grace that it set itself apart from the transistor powerhouses of the Reference Line Preeminence One Signature and the more affordable McCormack DNA1 Deluxe. As the house-warming, high-biased, class-A titan Reference Line charged to reproduce with eminence and force when called for, the KT proceeded with an equally mighty stance and yet with such elated swiftness and style that makes it an amplifier of truly aristocratic taste.

Furthermore, the Klimax Twin’s incredible strength deserved recognition in driving progressively inefficient speakers, such as the $9,500, 90dB/6 Ohms ribbon-tweeter Genesis VI, the $3,700, 89dB/4 Ohms ELAC 518 and the $4,500, 86dB/4 Ohms Apogee Duetta Signature. It was because what the Reference Line amplifier charged to reproduce with force when called for, the Klimax Twin rose up to the challenge confidently with the gracefulness of seemingly polishing each musical note.

Thus, investing into the KT is akin to purchasing a $7,000 Audio Note or Koetsu cartridge, in which the amount of investment is assured of a return in quality despite the relatively modest amount of mass. Its extremely slim dimensions and meticulously designed chassis body culminating into a fashion statement notwithstanding, the KT has such sonic capabilities that it is a startling member of an emerging design concept and effort that is fundamentally unique to the U.S. audience, and perhaps one that is infused with French connections.

In tandem with the arrival of high-resolution formats, many prestigious, forefront solid-state amplification companies endeavored to expand their amplifiers’ ultra-bandwidth signal sustainability and the preservation of signal purity. Although a considerable number of audiophiles from my generation and on are “digiphiles” growing up to the sound of 44.1k/16 CDs who do not consider digital music unsatisfactory in this hobby, the proliferation of progressive non-linearity in many solid-state amplifiers when pushed hard brought distaste to those audiophiles who became valve purveyors eventually.

The $9,000 Klimax Twin is unique in its avant-garde technological marvels presented in a classy design statement, not to mention a sonic presentation as resplendent with audiophilia criteria as it is rich in musicality. Traversing in the same spirit of Dr. King, I envision a world in which all amplifiers are not judged by their external dimensions; but by the level of excellence they are capable of.

The switch mode power management is of such significant in high-end audio application, only companies with a steadfast commitment, a large pool of human talents and expert management implementation could have carried the technology from conception to fruition. The fact that the technology is executed into such a timeless exterior simply transcends the known boundaries of human imagination and inspiration.

Amplifier manufacturers past and present have all ventured to create a revolutionary product at some point in their product offerings. As ingenious as many of those products had been, none had created the ripple effect Linn has with its Switching Power technology. In terms of marketing and sales, the advantages that the Switching Power accords to Linn can be far-reaching. To the generation growing up with electronics operating with this compact but potent power management system, the existence of present day’s air conditioner-sized behemoths would be incomprehensible.

In addition, as reported in my Review of Linn’s Ikemi CD Player, this new power supply technology can represent escalated level of sonic excellence to any electronics in an audio system currently powered by large transformers. For any readers considering a top-flight solid-state amplifier purchase, Linn’s Klimax Twin represented the most fashionable state-of-the-art investment.

In this day and age of energy consciousness, power-draining powerhouses are increasingly being put under the spotlight. With the emergence of the Linn Klimax Twin, Linn has ushered in a new era of advanced, high-output amplification.

Associated Equipment:

Digital Front End
47 Laboratory 4713 Flatfish CD Transport/4705 Progression DAC
Audio Note DAC One 1.1x Signature
Audio Note DAC 5 Special
CEC TL1 CD transport
Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player

Amplification
Audio Note M3 preamplifier
Audion Golden Dream monoblock power amplifiers
Decware SE84C
Linn Klimax Twin
Loth-X JI300
Music Reference RM9 II
Reference Line Preeminence One Signature amplifier
Z-systems RDP-1 Reference Digital Preamplifier

Speakers
Apogee Duetta Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver
Celestion SL700
ELAC 518
Genesis VI
Klipschorn
Loth-X BS1
Royal Device Laura Mk II Studio with Miranda circular horn

Cabling
Audio Note AN-La copper speaker cable (8 feet, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-V silver interconnect (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Audio Note AN-SPx silver speaker cable (8 feet, banana bi-wired)
Audio Note Sogon silver speaker cable
Aural Symphonics AS-One (RCA 1m pair, 0.5m pair)
Canare L-5CFB 75-ohm digital cable (RCA, 1.5m)
Canare D206 110 ohm digital cable (AES/EBU, 1.5m)
Cardas Quadlink 5C (8feet)
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Granite Audio #560 AC Mains
Illuminations D-60 75 Ohm digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Loth-X
Van den Hul MCD-352 (8feet)
Virtual Dynamics Nite Series complete cable system

Accessories
ISO, Salamander Synergy 20 (2), ASC Tube Traps, Flat Traps

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