Country of Origin
This review first appeared in April 2021 on fairaudio.de. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated from the German original to reach a broader English audience. Ed.
Reviewer: Michael Bruß
Analog sources: J. Sikora Initial w. Kuzma Stogi Reference S12 VAT arm and Transrotor Figaro cartridge
Digital sources: LinnenberG Telemann DAC, Norma Audio Revo w. DAC module, Auralic Aries, MacBook Pro
Integrated amplifier: Linn Classik Movie II
Preamplifîers: LinnenberG Bizet, Neukomm MCA112S phonostages; Norma Audio Revo linestage.
Power amp: LinnenberG Liszt stereo
Loudspeakers: Argon Audio Forte A5, Qln Prestige Three, Nubert NuPro A100
Cables: Gutwire Chime 3, EON-Z, Synchrony 2 SE SV-8, G Clef 2 & Ultimate Ground, Fastaudio Black Science, Audioquest Yukon, Tornado, Vodka & Cinnamon Ethernet & Carbon & NRG-2, Graditech Kide 3 und Kide, JIB Boaacoustic Silver Digital Xeno USB
Rack: customized Roterring Belmaro 33
Power delivery: Tsakiridis Super Athina
Other: Ydol Relax 60 und fastaudio Absorber, Acoustic System resonators, The Gryphon De-Magnetizer
Listening room: 24.5m² with 2.7m ceiling
Review component pricing: €12'900 phonostage, €17'800 DAC/pre
Neue Klassiker. Two of the German Baroque era's most famous composers recently visited; well, idealized reincarnations of them by way of the Johann Sebastian Bach phono amp and his DAC/pre colleague Georg Philipp Telemann, both from the LinnenberG Audio boutique in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Neither is pure homage. Both will play music no matter the composer. My job was testing how good they'd do. LinnenberG's portfolio structures very clearly. Their smaller line includes the French Romantic composer Bizet (George, MC phono, €5'999), Satie (Erik, Pre/DAC, €9'450) and Widor (Charles-Marie, stereo power amp, €16'000). The bigger line of Baroque Teutonic heavy hitters will soon round out with the Georg Friedrich Händel mono amps expected at ~€22-23K. Since those are still around the bend, let's focus today on the two sources. They can obviously be operated individually or together.
Should their elevated pricing promise expansive footprints and herniating weights, the very first contact with LinnenberG's new top guns already sees something different. They're just as streamlined and simple as the portfolio itself. Forget frills or advanced styling elements. Ivo Linnenberg's new kit is purely about maximized performance from form factors which he keeps as compact as possible. Be more than you seem. Telephone calls with designers can meander. Not with Ivo or his gear. He's direct, to the point and lives his job. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of each machine, let's consider his overall design ethos. It's why these compact rather plain though immaculately finished machines carry their demanding stickers: fully symmetrical circuitry in dual mono.
On paper, that alone isn't unique. Many promise the same. Upon closer inspection meanwhile, supposedly 'symmetrical' components routinely default to non-symmetrical circuit junctions to use fewer parts before they symmetrize the signal path again [volume controls are a common example – Ed]. Such conversions add two processing stages. "It's because of this back/forth conversion that symmetry has gotten a bad rep. Incorrectly applied, it often leads to circuits whose unbalanced sockets sound better. When there is zero back/forth conversion, there are zero problems. This also solves one of the bigger misconceptions in hifi: that symmetry in home audio is redundant or ineffective altogether."
It's why Ivo designed today's decks strictly symmetrical from input to output. That means twice of everything to treat the inverted and non-inverted signal halves exactly the same. A symmetrical differential amplifier handles the signal subtraction process. Hello quad signal path. But Ivo Linnenberg goes further. He lays out his circuit traces including digital such that true symmetry imposes its maximum benefits. "PCB layout wants to route inverted and not-inverted traces in closest proximity to insure that whatever disturbances are picked up affect both equally to then cancel perfectly in the end. This often leads to a circuit layout which also balances geometrically." Again, the promise of balanced operation—to reduce distortion—relies on true symmetry so the same distortion is shared on both legs. Another benefit is removal of the ground from the signal path. That's most important when all manner of 'dirty' currents run on the ground plane to disturb the audio signal. Here Ivo explains that the more components collaborate symmetrically, the clearer these advantages compound.
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