ONLINE - ISSUE 24
The Inestimable Doctor Sardonicus Ponders on How One Thing Inexplicably Leads to Another or…
The Lindemann 820 SACD Player Follow-Up
"Help me, I think I've fallen …in love
I love the sound of sizzle; I really do. The hiss of Oregon Spot Prawns, scallions, garlic and ginger hitting the smoking peanut oil of a hot wok; rashers of smoky bacon crisping on a griddle; the comforting touch of hot flesh against my old, aching back in the middle of the night …I am a big fan of sizzle, truly I am.
That being said …sizzle is a contextual thing. I don't like it in weather, other people's personalities, or in electrical connections …and I think it has no place in fine audio.
Oh, to be sure it may be initially seductive. We may wave our hands and proclaim air and detail, but when we do this we are deluded. And this is a delusion we should have abandoned as neophyte audiophiles.
You remember those vulnerable days… like an ill-fated Wildebeest heading for the crocodile-infested river, you wandered into an audio shop whose unscrupulous proprietor was waiting for you, his pebbly-green, snaggletooth-filled head hidden behind the water reeds. They almost always sported some unsavory nickname, like "Spoon," didn't they?
Whilst honest people slept in their beds our villain had positioned the hyped, few-dB hotter (and higher profit-margin) speaker next to the flatter, less impressive one, in order to demonstrate clear superiority for the hapless consumer. How many of us bit on that particular lure? By the time we figured out we've been had, it was too late. Boom boom, sizzle, sizzle, sigh sigh …why does my head hurt? Oh, I know, it's cause he fastened his teeth in me and took me down for the death roll.
How do you think they continue to manage to sell so many Bose systems, after all?
Us monkey-boys is vulnerable
See, it is in our makeup. We like sugar, we like fat, we like louder rather than softer …we like more, rather than less …it takes a certain amount of signal strength to capture our attention, and the older and more sated with stimuli we get, the more signal strength it takes to move us.
The first time a drop of Tabasco sauce touched my mouth I was in agony for an eternity; now I buy it in the restaurant sized bottle and use it in place of ketchup. I worry for myself when habaneras don't get it for me. Well, there is always the Red Sorvino Habanera (over .5 million Scoville units of heat).
This is the human condition.
Remember …it is this very sizzle that actually differentiated vinyl from digital for most consumers (well, that and the pops and clicks and general hassle of records). This sizzle is ultimately inaccurate, amusical, and fatiguing …but in the short run …it impresses and what impresses …sells.
Boom, boom, sizzle, sizzle.
Scylla and Charybdis
It does not help the situation that historically in SACD world we have generally had two basic choices …romance and analysis; Geez, it's like a bad Woody Allen movie, and after BOTH you is nauseous.
If you are like the majority of serious audiophiles you still harbor at least some latent ambivalence about digital playback, even with hi-rez. My personal ambivalence stems from two sources; the first of these is the program material available on SACD. Yes, it has improved enormously and it is great to see such historical gems as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Dark Side of the Moon, and The Zombies being reissued in a medium that is actually makes them listenable. Bravo for those efforts.
But new music in SACD, while getting better, still …well, dare I say it? Sucks. (He ducks.) Any recording medium that cannot give me Crosby, Stills and Nash …as well as the newest Massive Attack album …well, it's just deficient.
Secondly, I know what DSD sounds like 'cause I have listened to it from the perspective of a/b'ing the actual DSD recorder (various generations of Genex) against the live microphone feed. Trust me, consumer playback still lags. And multi-channel SACD playback is, for the most part, grotesque. Yes, I said grotesque. The first concert I attend where I get poked in the ass by a clarinet during the performance, I will cheerfully withdraw this comment. But mostly it's a sonic freak show. 
Which organ are you going to please?
Ed Meitner's and Andreas Koch's EMM Labs gear is arguably the SOTA for SACD digital. Certainly his converters are viewed as such at both the consumer and professional levels. But as much as I appreciate the EMM labs' SACD playback I find it to be a bit clinical, overall. It is a minor quibble and detracts not at all from my intellectual conclusion that this has been the best digital reproduction on the planet … but, well . . . I don't always find it completely musical. It works very well for my head, but does not always touch my heart.
David Robinson tells me the new generation of EMM Labs is improved in this respect …I can't comment from personal experience …yet.
Then there are SACD players that err in the other direction, such as the Marantz: too lush, too romantic, even syrupy. They lose drive, detail and air.
Dr. Sardonicus and the Three Bears
"This porridge is TOO HOT! …This porridge is too COLD …and now, perhaps …this porridge is JUST RIGHT.
I try to keep my ear to the ground, which along with resulting in asymmetrically dirty ears, occasionally pays off with something special.
I had heard about the new Lindemann 820 SACD player by following European and Asian blogs and audio mags. And since I am impossible to embarrass and without fear in unfamiliar waters, I simply starting emailing Lindemann and pestering them for a player.
Of course, we are talking about Germany (Lindemann is not currently represented in the US), and they knew about as much about Positive Feedback Online as most Americans do about Schopenhauer. So, I fell back upon my native charm and obdurate persistence (Go ahead and wrinkle your forehead, it worked). Thus, in the fullness of time, the charming Frau(lien) Junker arranged for delivery of an 820 to David Robinson.
Yes, I secured it, I scored it, but I am never home in the daytime and he is the owner, so he got to sign for it. L Sigh. It's good to be the King.
In my preview on the Lindemann 820 I wrote about the brief a/b comparison we did at David's house between the Lindemann and the EMM Labs gear. Draw what conclusions you may about that. David and I are going be writing a great deal more on the subject of optimizing SACD playback over the next year and both of these world class machines are going to be put through their paces with a host of ancillaries. I don't know that either of us will move in our preferences, but it should be interesting, nonetheless.
The Lindemann 820 - Functionality
Good vibrations happening here…
The 820 is built on a Sony transport, mounted on substantial shock-mounted steel block to help control vibration. The transport employs a dual laser pickup with coated glass optics and a servo system with separate decoding for CD and SACD data. Even the bottom panel of the player is multilayered to control vibration. The player is equipped with aluminum feet, encapsulating three ceramic balls, intended to conduct resonances and vibrations away from the player into the mounting surface.
I think this focus on vibration control is significant to the synergy between the Lindemann player and the Critical Mass Systems isolation platform. The player is specifically designed to wick vibration away from the player itself into the mounting surface, and the Critical Mass Systems isolation platforms are designed to immediately accept this energy and convert it into heat.
Switching the OEM AC cables out for the JENA Labs, "The One" and "EZ One" had a profound impact as well. In tandem the Critical Mass and JENA Labs optimization allows the Lindemann to be what it is: arguably the finest one box digital player in the world.
The 820 is heavily constructed (although not so much as the original Sony SCD-1). Cosmetically the Lindemann is clean, attractive, and quite elegant looking. The remote is large, substantial in weight, and well designed.
In operation the Lindemann player is luxuriously silky and silent, with an extremely rapid cue up time for both CDs and SACDs. I have no issues whatever with the player layout or control functions. Very well done.
Transport and converter sections are completely isolated from each other electrically. In this regard the 820 functions as a separate transport and converter with the functional convenience of a single physical enclosure, much in the same manner as a dual monaural amplifier. The internal converter is fed by an external power supply.
There are a number of unique features here. The data feed from the transport comes to the DA converter through something called the "iCoupler." This means that data is transferred into I2S or DSD format. This approach is supposed to be an improvement from the more traditional conversion to SPDIF at the digital output and cable transfer.
The 820 has two completely separate power supplies. The first of these is internally located and uses a primary filter and separate filters for each secondary voltage. The second power supply is external and supplies the separate analog section through a special cable.
The 820 is a fully balanced design throughout. Two DA converters (operated in monaural mode) produce a double differential analog signal, which is filtered to remove unwanted high frequency noise. Analog volume control and output stages are also fully balanced.
The 820 is designed to function without a line stage preamplifier, should the user so desire. This is not an option for me because I remain an unrepentant co-user of analog, but for many, I suspect this may be their method of choice.
Historically, I have not been very impressed by "direct drive" from digital players, but the Lindemann is an exception. The pre-amplifier section is truly remarkable.
The analog section includes a selectable, precision volume control which employs a resistor ladder network. The volume adjustment is on the well laid out remote, and you also get phase reversal, a volume limiter, and so on. The "direct out" operation feeds the analog signal directly from the analog filter stage
The 820 is fitted with four digital inputs (three unbalanced and one balanced) driven by a Crystal CS 8416 input chip, capable of processing a 192 kHz sampling rate on one of the inputs, assuming you can provide something that would generate one.
The 820 is fully configurable via a fairly simple setup menu, though the remote. In addition to standard settings for volume, balance and input select, you can set the volume display, the maximum volume level, mute level, absolute phase and even the sample rate of the converter. There is a simple and clear text display (which features adjustable brightness).
The "iCoupler" (referenced above) is driven by a Burr-Brown SRC4193 sample rate converter. This "coupler" (apparently among other things) gives the listener the ability to select the option of two or four times upsampling of the CD data source, (88.2 or 176.4 from the original 44.1 kHz). The listener can switch between sampling rates during replay. The differences are quite audible, and I quickly settled on the higher rate. It does make a difference.
The DA Converter
The Lindemann 820 features a fully balanced Burr-Brown PCM1792 DAC. The converter uses the HiDRA® (High Definition Re-sampling Architecture) technology and features a sample rate converter (SRC) and a precision master clock. The SRC up-samples PCM to 176.4kHz, 24-bit. The converter (PCM 1792) then raises the sample rate to 1.411 MHz which is equivalent to a bit-rate of 5.64MHz. The DSD (SACD) signal is not converted; it is only filtered by the DAC.
The master clock features fully discrete construction and is powered by an isolated feed from the outboard power supply. All clock frequencies in the signal processing chain are derived from this master clock.
This architecture is said to greatly reduce jitter and improve low level detail retrieval.
There is a
proprietary "Super-Balanced" circuit designed by Dr. Lindemann that uses a
pair of DAC chips in differential mode feeding a reconstruction filter (to
manage common mode noise). Again, this should serve to positive impact low
level detail retrieval.
Ok, so, how does it sound?
I don't know any other way to say it …this is the most musical, beautiful digital playback I have ever heard. The only comparable playback experience I have had is from the Walker Proscenium Gold analog turntable. Everyone who has heard the Lindemann in my system has had pretty much the same reaction…
Beautiful. That is how it sounds.
When you're in love
I don't know about women (kind of an understatement, that), but when a man is truly in love, his behavior changes. When a man details all of the positive aspects of his new amour I immediately assume he is not in love; he is just running the balance sheet out loud. Part of it is mathematics and part of it is a justification, rationalization …either talking himself into, or out of, something.
When men are truly in love they grow quiet and get a stupid, vacant look on their face. When asked to describe their new love, they may stammer and stutter or say something nonsensical like, "I dunno, she just smells really good."
They stop watching football on TV, and hanging with their buddies …all of their free time is spent with their new lady.
That, my friends, is love.
The pragmatics of adding value to your music collection
These days I am listening to CDs and even SACDs (jazz, classical and rock …whatever) I haven't listened to for years, 'cause they were unrewarding or even unpleasant on my previous gear. Perversely, the better my equipment has gotten the more of my recordings I eschew. But that has changed now that love walked in.
Now, I end up sitting in my listening room, transfixed with recordings I thought I knew the measure of, when I should be doing other things. I fantasize about listening when I am at work (and yes, I DO have female companionship!) I return to my listening room with the narcotic anticipation of the veteran opium smoker, secure in the knowledge that nirvana is a scant few puffs away.
I want you to take a deep breath and re-read the previous two paragraph (no, NOT the opium metaphor, the other things). Be honest …how much of your expensive digital music collection sits there, gathering dust, un-played, not because you have outgrown or changed your opinion about the music, but because you can't stand to listen to the playback?
Now imagine something coming along that transforms many of those feckless plastic pucks and suddenly music magically comes out of them; not with the euphonic coloration used to mask problems (like air fresheners are used to mask bad odors), not some incremental reduction in annoyance, but rather the retrieval of the true emotional essence of the music, offsetting any technical deficit in the recording. Of course, without artificial euphony crappy recordings remain crappy recordings, but they no longer cause pain. You can hear what the engineer did or did not do, and either shake your head in dismay or nod in agreement, but it simply does not interfere all that much with the enjoyment of the music.
I will give you something to connect to here. Think about a road trip where you are listening to a crappy AM or FM radio station, and suddenly a song you haven't heard for years starts and you are transported back to your youth …the experience is sublime because of the music.
Will the Lindemann make the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album something other than opaque? No, but it helps. Nothing will fix a truly dreadful recording, but you will be amazed at how many recordings you may have thought fit into the "dreadful" category that it can fix.
I suppose the question is …is the Lindemann 820 technically better than, or inferior to other high end SACD players in its lofty, presumed price range? At this point I so don't care one way or the other.
I like how the 820 smells.
Partnered up with AC filtering and wire from JENA Labs and properly mounted to the Critical Mass isolation platform, I promise you; this incredible player will redefine what you think about digital reproduction.
I am in love and will be …always …
 With credit given to Steve Bednarski of Balance Audio Technology for this delightful term
Specifications (from the manufacturer)
Lindemann audiotechnik GmbH