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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime, Apple iMac 1TB with AIFF files up to 24/192, Weiss DAC2
Preamps: Esoteric C-03, ModWright DM 36.5, Bent Audio Tap X
Amplifiers: FirstWatt F5 & J2, ModWright KWA-100 SE, Trafomatic Audio Kaivalya, Octave Audio MRE-130 with SSB, Yamamoto A-09S
Speakers: ASI Tango R, Zu Essence, Boenicke SLS
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline, Furutech GT2 and WireWorld Starlight USB A-to-mini-B cables [on loan], LaCie and Entreq Firewire 800 cables, Entreq USB cable, Black Cat Cable Veloce S/PDIF cable [on loan]
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x Walker Audio Velocitor S, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail: €4.500 (cdp3E), €3.200 (amp2S)

Don't confuse Lindemann and Linnenberg
. While their names may seem vaguely similar and both are German, these are two different individuals and audio companies. Lindemann has enjoyed more international press. Today's review thus shines the light on accredited engineer Ivo Linnenberg by covering two-thirds of his œuvre. The brand's line-up is very simple: a €4.500 top-loading CDP with BNC digital i/o ports and XLR analog outputs only; a €3.200 low-power transistor integrated with remote control; and a pair of €6.900 "Magico Mini-type" but 3-way monitors.

With such a minimalist catalogue, you are forgiven for wondering. How could anyone stay in business for long? After 20 years in audio, Ivo would be first to concur. Hifi is his passion, not sole livelihood. While he can't afford to lose money on this passion, he no longer depends on the muse to feed him. His lighting systems, hi-speed infrared cameras and motor controllers for industrial conveyor belts now give unto Caesar. Only such relative financial freedom allows him an extremely focused and uncompromising approach to hifi. It's one which seems quite contrarious to fashion.

Being designed and built in Germany whilst selling through dealers and distributors—direct where none exist—his gear is also quite aggressively priced. Here are just a few of the counter fashion items involved. The cdp3E lacks USB or Firewire connectivity. Like the spinner, the amp2S runs XLRs exclusively. Then it dares to only make 40wpc into 4Ω, 25 into 8Ω (but a stable 65 into 2Ω). It roams the remote FirstWatt prairie if you will.

On the subject of which, "if you can live with the FirstWatt F5 in terms of output power, I see no reason for any problems using our amplifier. Compared to the F5, most technical parameters fall in the same region. The F5 has somewhat lower distortion because of the feedback loop used. Our amp is unconditionally stable into low impedances and reactive loads however. It likes symmetrical input signals to reach its full potential. Your Weiss DAC2 should be a perfect partner."

About the cdp3E, Ivo had the following: "It sports a full-featured digital input capable of operating up to 24-bit/192kHz. The circuit is based on the high-quality Crystal/Cirrus Logic CS8416 input receiver as the best currently available. You had it in your Yamamoto DAC. We included the digital input mainly for compatibility and convenience*. Although widely used and accepted, the S/PDIF communication protocol is not state of the art because it is a composite signal like FBAS in video.

"The CDP3E is a brilliant tool to evaluate this. As long as no digital signal is present on the input, its DAC board receives the digital signal via I²S bus comm from the CD-PRO2 . A valid signal on the digital input auto switches the DAC board to the digital input to become the new source. With this feature one can loop in a room correction processor or digital equalizer (Behringer or that sort). Or you can—which is not quite intended—send the signal from the digital output straight back to the input via a high-quality 75Ω link. Now you can instantly compare I²S and S/PDIF. What is most important here is that clock linking and synchronization remain fully operational for both paths. I²S sounds vastly superior. A 16/44.1 signal from an external not synchronized source loses even a tiny bit more. The situation changes with higher resolution files on the digital input despite the mediocre S/PDIF standard which hifi is sadly stuck with.

"The upshot is that to hear the really staggering performance of this player, one must use old-fashioned silver discs or hi-rez files. Keep in mind that the cdp3E is really a CD player, not an outboard DAC. An outboard DAC as we see it should have an asynchronous USB input, Firewire or non-standardized I²S input and in that order. S/PDIF, AES/EBU or optical communications are actually not up to the task of delivering high-quality low-jitter audio. Having built very many different DAC topologies, I finally concluded that the advantages of paralleling DACs are ultimately only theoretical. They are more than offset by higher distortion plus more radiated interference within the analog section. To my mind this does not warrant buying 2 or 3 decibels more channel separation. I thus run a single BB 1794-A chip with fully balanced passive I/V conversion resistors—no op amps!—and a very accurate 3ps crystal oscillator.

* The digital input's convenience admission shows Ivo to be no contrarian on principle. He fully appreciates that streaming files are the future. Any legacy machine with ambitions of continued relevance must have *some* means to interface with PCs. Considering currently available interfaces, he simply opted for the one he considers least compromised - true 75Ω BNC. Lest you think this capricious or ill-informed, Linnenberg had a very ambitious power DAC as early as 1994. While the German press was all over it as a pioneering project, it proved well ahead of its time in terms of consumer acceptance. But it does explain why 16 years later, Linnenberg's CD player would allow for the insertion of external DSP devices.

The cdp3E benefits from a custom daughter board to modify the stock CD-PRO2 transport. All control logic firmware was custom-written to give Linnenberg full control over the critical transport servo parameters. This demonstrates high-level engineering that's not content with quality stock solutions, even one as proven as the CD-PRO2. The cdp3E upconverts the extracted Redbook signal three times prior to conversion. Then a digital filter applies another 8 times oversampling. Asynchronous sample rate conversion however is deliberately shunned as Ivo Linnenberg considers it an inferior approach to jitter reduction whilst causing amplitude distortion. I/V conversion, spurious noise filtering and the class A output driver are dual differential.

The master clock and converter stage benefit from heavily regulated ultra low-noise supplies and the digital and analog section get their own discrete power toroids. The blue custom LED display—not the stock Daisy issue seen in most all other CD-PRO2 machines—runs in DC mode to avoid interference with the audio circuitry. The output stage generates 4V under full signal with a Zout of 470Ω.

As should be clear by now, Ivo's deliberate positioning of Linnenberg Audio as a low-volume destination for very specific customers allows him to be quite uncompromising. For the two-stage amp, the brief called for a dual mono architecture including two independent 225VA power toroids; zero NFB; ultra-short signal paths with minimal wiring; driver supply regulation; and PCB-mounted Neutrik XLRs to eliminate hookup wiring. Full-power bandwidth is DC to 200kHz -3dB. Circuit gain is 21dB, input impedance 10K. As a dual-differential design, the volume control is a four-channel affair and the input switching is performed with proprietary symmetrical relays. The front end is a folded-cascode differential voltage gain stage with small US-issue 'quad-core' Jfets from That Corp. The current buffer is a single-ended push-pull affair (one bipolar output transistor per phase) driven from lateral Mosfets. This wide-bandwidth DC-coupled circuit avoids even a servo to be completely free of feedback. Total power supply filter capacitance is 106.000uF. Damping factor into the usual speaker loads is 50. The physical dimensions are equally non-threatening - 90 x 440 x 340mm HxWxD.

Intermission. Where have introductions gotten us so far? Certainly to no bling and no outrageous pricing. No macho power, no obvious spec marketing either. Instead two compact enclosures with more smarts under their bonnets than the outsides give away; and business ends that flatly eliminate inferior sockets. That means zero RCAs on either component, no 5-way binding posts on the amp (or speaker for that matter).
It's banana funnels exclusively. We also have a 15-year old audio company clearly intent on sticking around (their discontinued cdp1 above]. Why we haven't heard more from them in the past is solely due to a wholesale absence of coverage in the English-speaking audio press. 6moons was now approached because the company is poised to become more visible to an international audience.

It seems clear that a prospective Linnenberg Audio customer will have graduated from the mainstream a while ago. This shopper must have the right speakers for the amp and/or a realistic appreciation for actual power consumption rather than buy into gratuitous stress marketing.

For the CD player the same buyer must primarily rely on physical discs as still the software medium of choice. Computer-happy listeners meanwhile can get a $150 24/192 USB-to-BNC interface from M2Tech and stream away. But Linnenberg is clearly a less-is-more proposition.

Even though the prime target audience for the player might not read online magazines, I was confident that the right customers for this product existed to have me accept this assignment. From personal curiosity—there's always that too when deciding on what to review—the cdp3E seemed to combine elements of the very excellent Yamamoto YDA-01 converter with its passive I/V conversion and ultra-short signal path; and Esoteric's well-publicized insistence on highly tweaked servo control circuits for digital transports. The integrated's concept meanwhile connected directly to my Nelson Pass F5 and J2 amplifiers. It simply added remote control and—important for more widespread appeal—an explicit ability to drive beastlier loads. Eliminating the need for a separate preamp was merely further incentive under the present economy's very real injunction to downsize.

The way it all looked and sounded to me on paper and after talking to Ivo Linnenberg on the phone, this had the earmarking of ultra-performance gear scaled to realistic rather than hyped needs. Simultaneously it seemed priced fairly (though let's not kid ourselves - 3G for an amplifier is the long green to anyone who wasn't baptized into the audiophile church long ago). Would my expectations be met to be able to report on a truly exciting discovery of an old—but to most of us new anyway—brand? These two products certainly were freshly minted models just very recently released.