Equipment Review No. 2   July-August 2002

Linn Linto
Direct Coupled Precision Phono Preamplifier
SRP: $1600
Linn, Inc.
8787 Perimeter Park Blvd.
Jacksonville, FL 32216
904-645-5242/ Fax: 904-645-7275
www.linninc.com

SPECS

Input connectors: gold-plated direct circuit board mounted RCA jacks
Output connectors: two pairs jacks (as above)
Audio input level: 150 microvolts nominal, High Gain
500 , Low Gain
Input Impedance: 150 Ohms, in parallel with 4.7nF
Output impedance: 100 ohms both pairs of outputs
Gain: 64dB at 1KHz, High Gain
54dB at 1 KHz, Low Gain
Power consumption: 6 watts, 12VA approximately
Dimensions: 320 x 320 x 80mm
Weight 1.5kg

INTRO

The vinyl resurgence is finding many audio buffs upgrading or replacing their older turntables and many young people - who were brought up without a record player in the house - purchasing their first turntable to sample the vinyl delights. The variety of turntables, cartridges, arms and phono preamp now available is staggering; though the average person would probably be dumbfounded to learn that audiophiles not only haven’t given up on vinyl years ago but are investing unbelievable funds in high end analog front ends and in prized audiophile and mint collectors LPs.

I myself was without a operating turntable for about nine months due to my move to another state. Getting more deeply into surround sound for music in my new reference system, I sold my two-channel tube preamp and need a dedicated moving coil phono preamp for my analog front end (SO
TA modified Star Sapphire TT with vacuum hold-down, SME V tone arm, Transfiguration Spirit MC cartridge. Most AV surround preamp/processors no longer feature a phono input of any sort. They are just line level, thus requiring an outboard phono preamp. One of the few to include a phono preamp is only for moving magnet catridges and like most high end vinyl fans I’m partial to moving coils. Also, I haven’t switched and mounted/set up cartridges/arms for some years, and even if I could be happy with a good MM such as Grado’s I don’t have the time or patience for that setup.

So the Linto is the first of some fairly sensibly-priced phono preamps I am evaluating. I do know what the cost-no-object preamps sound like, having lived for a time with John Curl’s superb and no-longer-produced masterpiece. However, I don’t plan to even audition any $7500 phono preamps.


FEATURES
My previous preamp, a Counterpoint, had about five different front panel settings for MC cartridge loading. I must admit I never could tell any real difference among them and usually just left it at the 47K setting. Linn feels that loading networks bring about more problems than they solve. They cite its waste of signal power and the generation of more noise than inherent in the cartridge. Also that the network can generate more voltage than does the cartridge and the size and complexity of the circuitry must be greater to accommodate the cartridge loading network. They do provide an option for those with unusually high output MCs - a single wire inside which may be cut to drop the overall gain by 10dB - from 64 dB to 54. The indication for doing this is seeing the front panel indicator LED flash red at the loudest points on an LP. Another aspect of this design is that the output from the cartridge is transferred directly into the amplifying transistors since no loading network resistors and caps are in the path. This is the direct coupled feature.

The Linto also employs Linn’s proprietary Linn Brilliant switch mode power supply which converts the incoming AC power into high voltage DC which it then processes and applies to a tiny transformer. The transformer output is then converted back to a smooth DC voltage. This is in opposition to the general approach of using increasingly larger transformers and capacitors for the power supplies. As noted above, there is no continuously-adjustable gain-matching, but perhaps the elimination of that pot also contributes to the amazingly low noise level of the Linto. With my Transfiguration it put out a somewhat higher level signal than either of my SACD players but was in no danger of overloading anything.

The preamp should be situated close to the turntable but not directly under or over it due to possible hum problems. The shorter the cable from the Linto to your preamp, the better. This is a patch that would be most likely to benefit from the highest quality interconnect due to the voltages being orders of magnitude smaller than any of your other sound sources. I used a Cardas phono cable. Special resistance to RF interference is a feature of the Linto. I used a borrowed one to test for AM radio interference at a house I was considering purchasing here. When the nearby very powerful AM station came in loud and clear not only on the telephones in the house but also on the Linto I decided that house was not the proper environment for my listening room/home theater.

AUDITIONING

After letting the Linto run for several days I tried it with a variety of vinyl. There is an on/off switch but Linn suggests just leaving it on since the solid state circuit draws so little current. At first I was struck by the deep bass extension with the Linto. The unit does have gangbuster low end but I believe part of that is due to the improved support system for my SOTA table over what I had at my previous home. It was on an Arcici bladder base but in a CWD cabinet. Now it is on top of a low CWD cabinet with a heavy MSB metal-layer IsoePlate on top of the Arcici. (The SOTA was converted some time ago from the original spring suspension system to an elastomer suspension.)

The Classic Records version of the Living Stereo LP of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra with Fritz Reiner had a super-wide range in both the frequency and dynamic domains. The various solo instruments and orchestral sections stood out more boldly on the stereo soundstage than I
recall from previous hearings. There was a brief portion of surface noise/static partway into the first side. While not terribly annoying it was slightly more pronounced than with the other phono preamp I had at hand - the E.A.R.

Next was the flute and piano duo of Jim Walker and Mike Garson
on the Reference Recordings 45 rpm disc “Reflections.” This light and tasteful suite of short pieces were a complete delight with clear and realistic flute sound together with very natural piano reproduction that never seemed 30 feet wide like so many piano recordings. The clean and simpler sounds of a duo such as this can show up any hint of rumble or hum, and neither reared its head during this audition. Another Reference Recordings album used for evaluation was Dr. Johnson’s 45 rpm Sampler. The early Kronos Quartet string tone was ravishing, the African drums highly rhythmic and percussive, and Red Norvo’s extremely percussively struck vibraphone came across with a you-are-thereness I hadn’t heard before.

SUMMARY

The Linto had a very clean and silky presentation of everything fed thru it. It may sound quite different with a different cartridge, arm and table, but I found it tops in most of the parameters of high quality reproduction. The direct-coupled approach did seem to involve the listener more directly in the music in the grooves. It did tend to subtly minimize gross inadequacies in some LPs, such as overly strident strings. If you own a preamp or receiver lacking a phono input and want to get the most out of your vinyl sources, the Linto is certainly a candidate for your serious consideration. If you have a Linn table already you may find the synergistic combination of the two units has even more sonic advantages than when used with other vinyl spinners.

- John Sunier

Back to top of this page

To Next Equipment Review

To Monthly Index of Equipment Reviews

Return to July-August 2002 Home Page