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Positive Feedback ISSUE
the Komri Reference Monitor loudspeakers
by David W. Robinson
All photography and digital image processing for web by David W. Robinson.
The chain of audio reproduction that leads from a site or studio ultimately leads us to the transducer in our listening rooms: the loudspeaker. While the significance of the loudspeaker in the audiophile scheme of things is debatedsome accord it a place of primacy, transcending all other components, while others are more concerned with the "front end" or sources of an audio systemI dont know anyone who denies that fine audio isnt seriously affected by the quality and placement of the speakers used.
This isnt an "either-or" proposition, however. Attempts to construct tempests in a teapot over some variation of "which is more important, the turntable/SACD player and preamp, or the loudspeaker?" miss the fundamental proposition: all audio systems, being systems, are synergies that either work in concert, or in conflict. All must work in harmony, or they will drown in dissonance.
Stretching from the quality and the medium of the recordings used all the way to the construction of the listening room itselfand including the soul of the listeneris, or should be, a considered and tuned instrument. There is no aspect of the reproduction of recorded music that should escape the attention of the audiophile, but the sum of the whole will always be either greater or alas, lesser than the sum of the parts. This means that we must put behind us the immature "either-or" arguments; excellence in audio is found only in "both-and" passionate attention to detail, and in critical awareness of the systemic interpretive voice that is emerging from our work in our listening rooms.
This means that all worthwhile component reviews in fine audio publications, this one included, must be taken in context of what the writer is creating, and must be used in the context of what the reader would like to create. The challenge to the reviewer is to make clear what that context is, what preferences govern in that world regardless of who is expressing an opinion I make no exceptions at all to this observation these remain only the writers preferences, and should be taken only as guides, possibilities, and indicatorsNOT as "holy writ", so that the reader can decide if his or her own personal audio journey ought to transit in that direction.
In other words, a component review is always and at best only a road sign along the way. It is not the destination.
Background to a Review
Phone calls from my good friend Brian Morris at Linn are always a treat. First of all, hes a great fellow with an excellent sense of humor. Second, hes got many years of experience in audio. And finally, as the person responsible for PR at Linn, which is one of the best (and largest!) fine audio firms on the planet, hes the person who keeps me in touch with Linns latest developments. Our conversations are always a lot of fun, and informative to boot.
This time around during the fall of 2001 the tale was one of loudspeakers. Linn, said Brian, had released the production version of their new reference monitor loudspeaker, the Komri. Would Positive Feedback be willing to give it a go?
Given my experience with Linn gear, this didnt require any thought whatsoever, especially since I had seen and heard the prototype under show conditions (always a difficult setting, by the way) at CES in 2001. The sound was promising, and worth the usual logistical difficulties of pursuit. Additionally, I had spent nearly a year enjoying the Komris predecessor, the Keltik, driven by active crossovers from a four amp stack of Klouts. Very fine, very musical sound, delivered with great authority. With such exposure to the upper regions of Linns product line, would I do it?
Of course I would!
Linn Komri Technical Specifications
Retailing at US $40,000 the pair, the Komri is Linns most ambitious speaker product to date. Designed as a "no compromise" product, the Komri was built to be a reference grade transducer, with neutrality a central consideration. At this price point, the Komri are sharing ground with some legendary company; how do they measure up?
Delivery and Setup
One of the toughest things about doing a speaker (or turntable!) review is the sheer logistics of it all. Packaging and proper handling of the equipment is difficult at best, and loudspeakers are quite often the bulkiest and heaviest pieces of equipment that an audiophile will deploy. Some firms do well with their shipping materials, others do not. Linn, like Avalon, NOVA, Talon, and Silverline, do a superb job in protecting their speakers, though at the price of some heavy lifting in getting them through the door.
As always, shipping and handling from Linn were impeccable. After the arrangements had been made, a single pallet arrived, carefully shrink-wrapped for delivery. Shortly thereafter, Brian arrived for a weekend session of setup and listening to music.
Once we had the Komri out of their boxes and carted upstairs to my listening room, Brian began a meticulous process of assembly and setup. The look and feel was outstanding; finished in a blond maple, the Komri are quite striking to look at. The base, finished in matching maple with silver metallic corners, was secured to the main speaker housing. Then Brian added the spikes to the base and very carefully leveled the whole.
In my years of working with Brian, I have always been struck by how much care he takes to get the position of loudspeakers "just so" to the nearest ¼"! Given the configuration of PF Centrals listening room and the design of the Komri, speaker placement is critical. As you can see from the above photograph, Brian chose to put the Komri near the back corners of the room, with a moderate toe-in (approximately 15°) towards the listening position (a solid oak three person futon very comfortable, but heavy!).
Once the speaker position was established, Morris then worked to get the Komri leveled precisely (see photo above). Ive seen him do this on several occasions, but am always struck by the extreme care that Brian takes to get the speakers exactly right in a listening room. Using a tape measure, the speakers are put into proper position; then, when tape measure and ear indicate that the location is right, he rocks the speakers to assure maximum penetration of the spikes through the rug to the sub-flooring. Finally, with the aid of a bubble level, the Komri spikes were adjusted for truly level operation.
The Komri has an ingenious system for doing this. The spikes are integrated into the maple and metal frame, which is outside the bottom of the speakers. Access to the spikes is from the top of the frame; by using a special wrench that comes with the Komri, a user can adjust any spike without tilting/moving the speaker. This allows you to achieve a true level without endangering placementor yourself! (If youve ever driven a spike through finger or foot, you know what I mean.)
An Innovative Design
The Komri present a speaker array unlike anything else that Ive seenand Ive seen more than a few loudspeakers in my time. The layout is a five-way system, with Linns "Active Servo Bass technology" providing the deep foundation. The double woofer system is actively powered and controlled by an integrated switching amplifier that draws a maximum of 2000 watts. As you can see from the photograph above, the other four drivers (mid-bass, midrange, tweeter and super tweeter) are arranged in an overlapping fashion. This has been done through the eye-catching "figure eight" metal overlay, which provides a carefully configured and solidly designed platform for the upper three drivers.
According to Brian Morris, the goal was to achieve a speaker array that approaches "point source" in the mid-bass and above, without some of the drawbacks of single-driver, DAppolito, spherical-radiated designs, etc. By utilizing the layout above, Linn sought to maximize coherence in the critical listening frequencies without either the loss of phase-correctness or the sacrifice of deep bass.
The system uses a passive crossover for the upper drivers, with carefully matched high-quality components. (Down the road, Linn is considering the possibility of going fully active with the Komri, each driver receiving its own Linn switching amplifier. If so, based on my experience with the Keltik/Klout combination, the results will be extraordinary! Bring it on!)
The foundation is provided by the Active Servo system that handles the deep bass that the Komri is capable of. (More on that anon.) Power is supplied by an efficient switching amplifier a la Klimax that is built into the back of the speaker. Power up is via a small soft-touch button, which toggles through optional power modes/settings. There are long cooling vanes on the back of the speaker, to assure proper thermal dissipation of this sealed box design.
Because of the multiplicity of the driver system, connection to the Komri is made through four pair (!) of binding posts at the bottom rear of the speaker. These are easily accessible (unlike some speakers), and allowed us to connect to the associated pair of Linn Klimax amplifiers that we were using to drive the Komri.
Long-time readers know that I have a great and long-term affection for the NOVA Rendition and Rendition II loudspeakers. Originally designed by Murray Zeligman, this all Scanspeak-based, ported design has been a particular favorite of mine over the past few years. (Not that I havent heard some other fine speakers over the past few years; Alan Yuns Silverline Audio Grandeurs, Winston Mas Avalons, George Cardas custom-tweaked Maggies, and Rick Gardners ESP Concert Grand Signatures come to mind immediately.) The ease, naturalness, good efficiency and solid construction make them exceptionally musical companions for ones audio journey. I was therefore quite curious to hear how the beautiful but radically different Linn Komri would sound after they hit their stride.
here are several things that I noticed immediately. First and foremost is the quality of the bass especially the DEEP bass. Long-time readers know that I am a firm believer in the need for full-range audio systems, if we are to reproduce sound with maximum authority, ease, and weight. The Komri are rated at a -3dB point at 20 Hz, rolling off a -6dB at around 16 Hzvery low! I have owned/reviewed several speakers that reached into the 18-25 Hz range: the venerable TDL Reference Standard (16-18 Hz), the NOVA Rendition I and II (25 Hz), the Silverline Grandeurs (18 Hz), and the Von Schweikert VR-4 (20 Hz) and VR-6 (about 18 Hz as I recall). None of these are active servo-controlled designs, however, and rely on the associated components for bass characteristics. Depending on the complementary preamp/amp/cabling system, the bass could be either extended and reasonably controlled, or a bit loose and tubby.
There is no doubt that the Linn Komri represents the deepest, tightest, best-controlled bass that I have ever heard in my listening room. This is especially striking given their "sealed box" design; heretofore, my favored designs for bass were either ported, or (especially) transmission lines. While sealed boxes can sound clean, they also have a tendency to leanness that can become astringent; the Komri are not in danger of being accused of that! It's clear that the design team at Linn worked very hard to get the foundation right.
It's also clear that theyve accomplished their goal. This was confirmed by using one of my acid-test SACDs, the rare and extraordinary alternative rock recording Pop Condition by Spitball on the Sony/Columbia label. (Dont go looking for it; a contract dispute apparently left this SACD out of current distribution. A real pity this is a "must have" disc for anyone who enjoys excellent Euro-Alternative.) A prodigiously well engineered SA, with dynamics, detail, and DEEP BASS, it will work out any system downstream. (This is one of those discs that can actually put the Linn Klimax into thermal standby mode; there arent many of these.) You have to watch your volume control rather carefully at places; even with the Komri but less with these than with any other speakers that Ive listened to this disc with. Ditto with such SACDs as Satrianis Engines of Creation the very deep synthesizer bass bathes you with ease on cuts like "Champagne."
The mid-bass/mid-range is marked by extraordinary neutrality. There are no tendencies to the nasal, nor any "honk" in presentation. I havent noted any beaming to the midrange, and the sweet-spot is reasonably large. Female vocals like the three smashing Patricia Barber SACD releases from Mobile Fidelity (hallelujah theyre back!!)Café Blue, Modern Cool, and Nightclub (if you dont have these get em!)float with an almost unreal clarity. Surprising, this; I wondered if a "sealed box" could shed its "boxiness." It could indeed!
At the upper end of the spectrum, the Komri is rated -3dB at a respectable 28 kHz; extraordinary, though, is a claimed -6dB point at 40 kHz! According to Morris, the Komri was designed with DSD and SACDand their increased upper frequency response (out to a nominal 100 kHz)clearly in mind. Ive noted for several years now that the greater frequency response and dynamic range that SACD delivers means that were going to have to expand the audio reproduction envelope significantly. (As PF Onlines Senior Assistant Editor Rick Gardner is wont to point out, "were gonna need a bigger boat!")
Having an integrated high-end to this level really puts the shimmer in cymbals, the simmer on sibilance, the edge on trumpets, and the air in atmosphere. There is no peakiness, spit, beaminess, or metallic harshness in the high frequencies of the Komri. Partly this is due to the SACD and vinyl sources used, but even standard CDs were less offensive than usual (though the Linn CD-12 deserves some of the credit for that, as well). The eerie capability of SACD to deliver a sense of place, the back wall of the studio, the roundness of a recording, is taken to a new level.
A speaker without seams!
One of the most notable achievements by Linn in the Komri is the remarkable seamlessness of its driver array. The "near point source" goal has been accomplished in a wonderful way. Sitting in my listening room and listening for hours on end eyes open, eyes closed, head bobbing I have not been subject to that very annoying sensation of knowing where the drivers are.
Dont underestimate the importance of this. Highly complex collections of drivers can trip over their own intricate crossovers, phase cancellations, beaminess, port configuration, fascia, cabling, power requirements, and inefficiency. These are difficult to design, and expensive to build.
When I spent an extended time with the Lowther PM2A speakers courtesy of audio friend Tony Glynn (see Positive Feedback, Vol. 8, No. 4), I had an opportunity to listen to a single point source driver design. The integrated nature of the sound was exceptionalone cannot sin with a driver array with only one driverbut the cost was a loss of extension at both the lower and upper frequencies.
In the Komri, Linn has sought to minimize the trade-offs inherent to a multi-driver array of this sophistication and complexity. Their very innovative design seems to have accomplished the goal in a very appealing way. The Komri sounds more like a point source than a DAppolito or a standard bass/mid/tweet stack but a "point source" on steroids!
I would summarize the results as the achievement of a marvelous coherence in the Komri. Everything is there, is right, is properly connected. This leads to terrific timbre without a loss of warmth, and proper proportion throughout the range of reproduced music. Coherence and neutrality are the hallmark of these speakers, making them capable of fidelity at a level only rarely heard in audio.
What about imaging and soundstaging?
No surprise here. Given the above mentioned characteristics, the Komri excel at
placing well-recorded instruments in space. Listen to recordings like
Even with the mild toe-in that Brian established, left and right extend nicely beyond the speakers. Front-to-back spaciousness one of the truly revolutionary ways that SACD gives us back REAL soundstaging is very fine. Given the way that the Komri vanish into their presentation, though, this is not a shocking thing; its precisely what I would expect.
I have to confess that the quality of the Komri is such that it was almost disorienting at times. The extreme clarity, without compromise of musical expression, is exceptional, but I confess I had to recalibrate! Its unusual to hear so much; in tandem with my modified (thanks to Audiocom and Richard Kern!) Sony SCD-1 SACD player, you have to get used to the sheer detail and coherence of what youre hearing. Fair warning!
In other words, the coherence of the presentation of the Komri is supreme: top to bottom, front to back, side to side, a true world-class reference standard in fine audio loudspeakers has emerged.
A Challenge or Two
Having praised the Linn Komri highly, I do need to point out several factors that potential buyers will need to consider.
First of all, with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, youll need to make sure
that you have plenty of current to drive the Komri. Given the complexity of the speaker, I
wouldnt even think of driving these with much less than a few hundred
Second, and complementary to this, is the fact that the Komri do not set any records for efficiency. At 87dB/watt/meter, this is the least efficient speaker that Ive listened to since the days of the TDL Reference Standards. Youll definitely notice that youre turning up your preamp more than youre accustomed when listening to the Komri. I note that Im probably 20-25% higher on the Audio Research Reference Two, Mk. II preamp volume control than I was when using the NOVA Rendition IIs. This isnt a problem for methe Audio Research preamp is utterly quiet (my ear has to be within an inch of the Komri to hear any white noise at all)but that isnt true of all systems. If you have a problem with noise/RF in your system, youll want to keep this in mind.
This means that the Komri are not for the faint of power, nor for mediocre audio systems. If you dont have the necessary components to feed these speakers correctly, youll either have to upgrade (the Klimax are an excellent step up, by the way!) or look elsewhere.
I should also note that the Komri do take some break-in; Id reckon on 100-200 hours to work in a fresh pair. Theyll begin to hit their stride after that. For some people this is a frustration; me, Im philosophical. Like it or not, fine audio components require break-in.
Finally, Im still meditating over the question of speaker cables. Im not convinced that the Linn speaker cables are the best possible for the Komri; if Im able to try some others, Ill report in a follow-up issue of Positive Feedback Online.
The Linn Komri gave me the feeling of being in the studio, listening though a live microphone feed. This is seduction of the highest order for a person like memy entire listening room life has been dedicated to re-creating "mic feeds and master tapes" in my home. In my opinion, Linn has crafted a very rare loudspeaker: one that gives coherence, neutrality, clarity; a speaker that combines physical beauty with real authority, and helps you to approach that grand goal of fine audioreal fidelity in audio reproduction.
In combination with reference level equipment, and using either SACD or vinyl, the Linn Komri is a stratospheric reference loudspeaker. I therefore give it my "very highest recommendation"enthusiastically!
Komri Reference Monitor loudspeakers