Linn CD12 vs. EMM CDSA
I had an opportunity to compare my own Linn CD12 against an EMM one-box CDSA yesterday, in a dealer's system that I know pretty well. This was only a redbook comparison. I made the comparison because I was curious how the Linn would hold up against some of the best new redbook technology. I auditioned only CDs that I knew, and had auditioned on this same system previously. (In fact, I'd bought the Linn from this same dealer.) (The system consisted of a VTL pre-amp, 2 BEL amps, Vivaldi speakers modded by BEL, and BEL cable.)
My impression was that the EMM extracted more information from the CDs than the Linn...had more "reach," as I've heard it called. For example, I spent some time with Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely. On the Linn, Sinatra's voice sounded bigger than it did on the EMM, but the EMM seemed to be giving more detail, and seemed to be rendering the relative proportion of voice to other instruments more accurately. I recognize, though, that "accuracy" is a relative term in hi-fi land; let me just say this was my impression. The strings on the Linn were more "buttery" than on the EMM; yet I heard more information about the individual instruments on the EMM.
I heard the same effects, in general, on Boz Scagg's album of jazz standards, But Beautiful. Boz's voice was bigger (and a bit more lush) on the Linn, but more proportionate and "accurate" seeming on the EMM. There were differences in the presentation of the cymbals, and I'm inclined to say that the EMM again seemed more accurate, but I didn't study that as closely as the voice. (This is a swell album, by the way, criticizm from Scagg's fans notwithstanding.)
A superb CD on the French label Timpani of orchestral music by D'Indy (including Istar) brought some good opportunities, again, to notice greater detail in the massed strings from the EMM, with the Linn again sounding a bit more lush and buttery, but less clearly delineated. A CD of Barbirolli conducting Delius on EMI produced similar results.
Those were the main observations I could make after a 90-minute session. There were differences in timbre and dynamics but, for me at least, they would have required more study to figure out. In terms of bass or treble emphasis, brightness, etc, nothing jumped out at me. They both rendered the music in a musical way. Both CD players are among the best made (as far as I've heard). To a large extent, one's preference for one or the other could well be on the basis of one's taste for a particular "flavor" of sound...one might put it as the old "euphonic" (Linn) versus "detailed" (EMM) conundrum, except the EMM was quite "euphonic." Or, you might put the Linn in the "colorful" or even "technicolor" catagory, with the EMM being more "what you see is what you get," though then you get back into the argument of what's more "accurate" and I'm not prepared to go there. I will say this, however: though I tend to prefer "buttery and lush," I've got to say that the EMM tempted my appetite to hear more of what it did. If I had endless funds, I'd have both, play them back and forth over 6 months or so, and maybe decide. Or maybe not.
I have to add, this being the crazy world of hi-fi, that we topped off the session with a Harry Belafonte Lp cut for 45 RPM on a turntable I'd never heard of (that I think was called a Worthington?) with a Lyra Argo cartridge. It didn't quite leave both CD players in the dust, but it sure did make me stop and listen, my jaw dropping just a bit. And I'm not even particularly fond of Belafonte.