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The Digital Turntable - Along the Road to Convergence - Dr. Sardonicus Wades in the Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
Preview - Initial Impressions - The Lindemann 820 SACD Player
[Following sidebar of "First Impressions" by David W. Robinson]
There is something essential, something musky and organic in real music that digital playback does not seem to absolutely capture.
Whether it is the, Take me off to Bunnyland, spring and plate reverb, drug induced droning dampness of David Crosby's, "Laughing" or the rich contrasts of Johnny A's tube Vibrolux-sounding "Wichita Lineman" framed against Tuck Andre's, Gibson fueled - "Begin the Beguine," modern digital can come very close …but it just manages to eschew the damp underarms and sweaty reality of the thing.
As much as I respect and admire the EMM Labs system SACD playback (arguably the technically best SACD on the planet), I admit to finding it a bit …Vulcan, when what I often really want and need is more towards the Klingon side; some writhing Ga still crawling on my plate; the touch of an incisor over an engorged lower lip; lovemaking that leaves marks …something for my belly.
Enter the Lindemann 820, stage left.
Our goal at Positive Feedback Online is to pretty much examine everything SACD extant. We were the first national magazine to endorse DSD as the de facto digital standard and from those early, flame-baited days, we have never flinched. So, when I was wandering around in European audio land, I came across the Lindemann. A couple of rave German reviews for an SACD player I didn't' know existed.
Don't feel badly if you have not heard of it, neither had I. However, it is from a very well established and highly respected German manufacturer, headed by one Dr. Norbert Lindemann (more on the good doctor later).
I undertook one of my typical obsessive-compulsive search-and-obtain missions, and with the help of the charming (Fraulein) Junker, of Lindemann Audiotechik, eventually secured their new-generation SACD player, the 820.
The unit shipped to David Robinson's house, and he set it up for an A/B with the EMM Labs. It is a lovely, well-built two-box (one little box, the analog power supply) player; yadda, yadda, but how does it sound?
David and I share many things, and we agree on many things; however, not always and not everything, and I LOVE that! That is one of the best things in our relationship. While David was unambiguous (he is invited to insert appropriate editorial comment here—See below sez his editorship….) in his preference for the EMM Labs, my reaction was different. Whatever my intellectual appreciation for the EMM Labs, my heart went to the Lindemann, and with what I have learned about it since (it takes considerable break-in and not a small bit of optimization) it has taken its place as the most musically enjoyable digital playback I have ever experienced.
Uniformly, everyone else I have played this machine for has reacted similarly. "Beautiful," is the most common adjective.
Most simply and pointedly put, this thing is beautiful in operation …it sounds like organic music in a way I have not previously experienced from digital playback. It does not roll off, nor subdue; it does not hype or illuminate. I am still trying to get a real grasp on what it really does do. (Yes, I occasionally take a four-year-old's fartjoke delight in deliberately bad grammar! Neener, neener!).
I don't know if it is better than or inferior to the EMM Labs in some absolute way… who cares? What I care about is that it touches me as no other digital piece has ever done.
I am going to spend time with this player. I am trying to lure Dr. Lindemann into participating in a series of articles on SACD technology (up-sample, down-sample, convert, don't convert, high frequency filtering, and so on), and invite similar participation from Ed Meitner and from Esoteric (different approaches, arguably excellent results).
But mostly I have a cause here.
For those of us who value Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels, Crosby, Stills, and Nash's, "Lady of the Island" …and Deep Purple's, "Child in Time," just as much as the audiophile-approved barking-llama music du jour. (Note, I did not specifically identify the ubiquitous Patricia Barber treacle audiophiles seem to adore. Geez, I could at least understand why they liked Jennifer Warnes!) …
…the Lindemann 820 should become the Holy Grail of digital playback. Even before examining its SACD performance, its Redbook performance alone is sufficient justification for owning one. Unlike the EMM labs that converts Redbook to DSD, the Lindemann keeps Redbook intact, but up-samples it very effectively. I have many thousands of Redbook CD's and damned if they ALL don't sound hugely better on the Lindemann. Not sure why …not sure if I care why …I will write of technical details in future articles.
And SACD performance? Finally, after all these years of yearning and digital malnutrition we are getting to the blood, sinew, and viscera of the musical experience …to tears and sweat and hot flesh …to freshly baked pan rustica sopping up meat juices …to a long, quenching draught of cool ale, made with only water, malt, yeast and hops.
If you need to have your heart touched as much as your head come visit the Lindemann 820. She will kiss your lips and let you peak down the front of her blouse…
If the EMM Labs is the brilliant but somewhat aloof German scientist of pop film fame, the Lindemann is his equally brilliant, but lusty and busty blonde assistant, who can do virtually everything the professor does, while demurely making you want to spend all your time and money just occupying the same space and breathing the same air.
Is there a downside? Sadly, yes there is. This is a very expensive SACD player. How expensive? Well, we are not exactly sure, because US distribution is not sorted out yet, but assume five figures. I am not saying it's not worth it. It clearly is. But if this player were positioned in the five to eight thousand dollar range, it would revolutionize SACD playback and Lindemann would not be able to make them fast enough.
I am just worried it will get lost in the understandable concern audiophiles have to avoid the slings and arrows of the expensive unfamiliar.
I will be back shortly with more on this fabulous machine.
For now, unless they send some thick-necked guy named Gunter to physically take it away from me, the Lindemann 820 is chained into my listening room.
I am in love and will be …always …and I don't care who knows it.
[And now - some comments from Ye Olde Editor]
In which our hero meditates…
Well now, Rick, I'll just take you up on your invitation.
Having listened to the Lindemann 820 SACD player in my listening room for 1-2 weeks before Rick arrived to take it to his place, I do have some comparative reflections. These are not founded upon extended exposure to the 820, but I did put some serious mileage on it, and listened to a lot of SACDs and CDs while I had it.
I would agree with Rick that the Lindemann 820 has a ton of soul. It brings a terrific yumminess to SACD playback, a detailed sound that has a richness and warmth to it that I know appeals to Rick a great deal. The dynamics are very fine, the imaging is well done, and the soundstaging is hard to fault. I found that I didn't tire of listening to the 820; it had a way of hooking me in both DSD and Red Book modes, so that I just sat back, relaxed, and dug the music. I would say that of all the SACD players that I've heard to this point in time (no, I haven't heard them all yet …but we're working on it), the Lindemann would be in the top two or three, which ain't bad, my friends—I'm not easily impressed.
On the other hand, my extended love affair with the EMM Labs CDSD transport and DAC6e DAC is well documented, and rests upon the fact that I consider it to be a supreme achievement in fine audio. It established itself as my true reference standard (a term that means something in these parts) for what was possible in both SACD and CD playback upon its arrival, and—because I do not change my views about designs that are ne plus ultra for light or transient causes—it has stayed there despite other fine designs that I have auditioned both here and at audio shows.
The virtues of the EMM Labs include the finest transparency that I have heard, an ease and effortlessness that is the hallmark of that elusive quality, "the thing itself." There is extraordinary detail in the presentation of the CDSD/DAC6e that some listeners have found nearly overwhelming in my room. "There's so much information there!" said one recent visitor. Rick has commented on this, as well, though I think that he finds the detail to be distracting at times.
This is an area where Rick and I differ in our audio tastes, I think; I agree with him that this is a good thing. Like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17, for those of you following the text) Rick and I have spent countless hours agreeing/disagreeing over things audiolic. We do so with a great deal of fun, enjoying the point/counterpoint of intellectual and aesthetic discourse, which is at the heart of what we do here at PFO—he is absolutely correct about that. In this case, I would say (Rick will correct me if I am wrong in summarizing his thoughts) that he prefers the way that the Lindemann 820 presents the music. There's a rich soulishness to its projection of SACDs and CDs that lets him cut to the musical chase. If he had to choose between richness of musicality and richness of detail, I know what Rick would pick. A lot of people might well agree with him; the Lindemann is really lovely that way.
I don't think that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive, though. My personal holy grail is "mic feeds and master tapes," as long-time readers know. In one of my reviews back in late 2004 I said, "Give me truth; I'll deal with beauty." I want all that the original signal in the studio conveyed; that signal, properly re-expressed in my listening room, is precisely what brings me the greatest delight. I want to hear what was there…I want the final transformation and embodiment of the recording to take me through time and space.
And that, my friends, is what the EMM Labs CDSD and DAC6e delivers. I truly enjoyed the Lindemann 820, but—in cordial disagreement with my dear friend and colleague—found the EMM Labs system to be more transparent and more detailed than the Lindemann in both SACD and CD modes. I did not find that the EMM Labs gear lacked the musicality that Rick loves, but we seem to have different thresholds for detail in our diet. The EMM Labs gear is more expensive, of course, but if you're looking for the superlative experience that brings you into the presence of the studio signal, then you need to "Get thee to a Meitner!"
And …believe it or not…you need to stay tuned! Lawdy, Miss Clawdy!! There's a brilliant new development in Meitnerland that I'll be sharing with you any time now….
Ye Olde Editor
Lindemann audiotechnik GmbH