The Linn Audio Studio Monitor Speaker System

The Linn Audio Studio Monitor Speaker System
The Linn Audio Studio Monitor Speaker
A Renaissance in Listening
The Linn Audio studio monitor speaker system is the culmination of decades of research and
development, as well as countless hours of expert and critical listening. It is so clear and distortion
free that it is unique in the high-performance music market today. It gives the cleanest sound you will
ever hear. It’s very high efficiency will perform well with tube amplifiers, even very low power ones,
such as single ended triodes, for the purest possible sound. We call our systems “a Renaissance in
listening.” Music so colorless and distortion free that it has never even been heard before. It also has
a very high SPL rating, and high power rating, so that it may be driven at very high SPL levels,
without displaying any distortion or coloration of the music.
This studio monitor speaker system has a very “large” sound that you will never hear in another
system of this size, or even considerably larger. It is perfect for recording studios who need colorless
reproduction of the recorded masters, or high-performance audiophiles who have limited space but
still want big, high-performance sound. With the included subwoofer, the frequency response is 20hz
to 20khz, similar to most floor standing speakers. And 5 of these units, combined with a very
powerful subwoofer, will give you as big and as dynamic a sound comparable (and even superior) to
much larger and more expensive systems. This system, either as stereo or surround (home theater)
setup, is an incredible value for performance vs. cost.
History of the Studio monitor System
The founder of Linn Audio, David Linn, has a lifetime of experience with high performance audio
equipment, having worked in the audio industry starting way back in 1965, when he was a sales rep
for JBL. At that time, JBL was the highest of the high end of its day, and Mr. Linn has not forgotten
the design principles and objectives of the JBL engineers. He utilizes many of these same principles
today. Mr. Linn has since had training as an Electrical Engineer, and has applied all his engineering
training and expertise, as well as a lifetime of listening and enjoying high-performance stereo, to the
development of his speaker systems. This most special system was designed around some of the
classic JBL principles, including large, paper cone woofers, with wide voice coils, and a mid-range
horn with a large compression driver. (See the section on “drivers” below, for more words about
horns.) Both these driver elements were used on some very famous, and still desirable systems,
such as the Paragon, which still commands a very high price for aficionados today.
The Current Status
So the result that we have come up with in the studio monitor design is something a little different
than what is typical for home audio speakers, most notably the compression driver/horn for the mid
range. Why do we still go for this old JBL design element when a cone mid range is more typical in
today’s designs? Simply because it sounds so good! Years of testing and listening has convinced us
that this design is still the best for home listening. Also, as implied above, we have searched the
world over for a compression driver that sounds great, and have located the one that we now offer in
the studio monitor system.
By searching the world over for drivers that sound the best in this design and cabinet configuration,
we have found what we consider to be the most desirable and musical. We have not prejudiced
ourselves by only considering the known name brands that are currently and commonly used in
today’s high end offerings, though we have tested and auditioned them all. We are being bold
enough to take this unorthodox departure from the current doctrine of high performance design, in
order to present the best possible musical performance to the buyers of these units, who will seek to
enjoy the great sounding music that this system is capable of producing. We do, however, utilize the
best available, and most famous brands of other components of the system, namely the binding
posts, capacitors and internal wiring used in the system.
Those of you who are sometimes bothered by the so-called “digital edge” on some CDs may find that
there will be a lot less of it in the use of this system. A lot of this “edge,” we have found, is
“component edge,” that it is in the speaker systems themselves, and the components used in them.
We have sought to eradicate it, as much as is feasible, in our systems, so that the Lyceum,
combined with other good quality components, amps, CD players, turntables, cables, etc., will reward
the listener with the most pleasing and enjoyable music possible.
Design Overview
A key design element is the use of very high sensitivity drivers, both the woofer, and the mid-range
compression driver/horn. In the old days, the only kinds of amplifiers available were tube type, so the
efficiency had to be good. But today’s high-end preference is also for tubes, using much the same
designs that were popular then. So this speaker system is especially suited for those who still lean
towards tubes. The mid range driver is extremely efficient, at 110 db, a very low power tube amp may
be used, such as a single ended triode design, which usually have quite low power, but the lowest
distortion and most pleasing sound. See the “Drivers” section for more information about the drivers.
We have searched the whole world over to find the ideal drivers for this design philosophy, spending
many years in the search. JBL itself now makes drivers that are more suited to commercial
applications, such as theaters, and PA systems. Though we have tested the current equivalent JBL
speakers, just to see if they are still suitable for a good home system, we have found others that we
like better. We have even gone so far as to obtain the old original JBL drivers on the used market, to
see how they stack up to what is available new today, and again decided that we could do better
The Cabinet
As stated above, the Studio monitor cabinet is built with the very best materials, selected for their
sonic merits, and constructed in a rigid and durable fashion. The walls of the enclosure are ¾” of
MDF, the preferred material for, high performance speakers. We use only the densest and heaviest
grade of MDF. The ported design is also a follow through from the original JBL design concepts,
since it matches these kinds of drivers well, and further enhances the high sensitivity, low power
requirements of the system. The cabinet is lined with 2 ½” thick variegated foam pads, which prevent
internal reflections that may adversely affect the sound, especially at the low end. We offer rosewood
natural finish wood veneer. It is an all natural wood cabinet, with all surfaces covered in real wood
veneer, and all finished with a very good quality, high-gloss piano type finish (12 coats of varnish!)
The Drivers
The woofer is a 12” paper cone type with an extremely large and heavy 20 pound magnet, working
on a 3” ribbon wound voice coil. This heavy-duty type bass driver is simply unheard of in other small,
stand mounted speakers on the market. This bass driver, when used in a ported cabinet, has very
high efficiency, and also an extended coverage from the bass into the lower mid range. Part of the
reason for the smooth response and low distortion of this system is this extended range aspect of the
The mid-range compression driver has been super selected to be the sweetest sounding for mid
range and lower highs than any other driver of any type we have auditioned. It has a 1 7/8” polymer
type diaphragm, and a 6 pound ferrite magnet assembly for very high sensitivity, and smooth
response covering from the mid-mid range all the way up to 20khz. So, this two-way design does not
really need a tweeter, though a super tweeter option is available that will take the high frequencies all
the way to 40khz. The horn has been specially developed for its smooth distribution of the sounds in
its frequency range, with an emphasis on both vertical and horizontal coverage to create a broad
“sweet spot” for good stereo imaging, whether standing or sitting.
The horn is a special design which is free of resonance, and all other typical colorations that are
usually found in plastic or aluminum horns. The shape of the horn is also unique. It is specifically
designed for studio or home audio use (most stock horns are intended for performance and theater
use) in that it has a very broad polar dispersion (which is more characteristic of cone drivers) so that it
does not “beam” high frequencies (again, typical of most stock horns) and thereby provides a very
broad “sweet spot” for the listener.
This is an unorthodox use for the typical home music system, which almost universally utilize cone
mid-ranges, but we have dared to depart from the doctrine, for the sake of musicality, sonic purity and
low coloration. Also, the typical practice of multiple midrange drivers, in order to get some “punch” in
loud passages of music, is not necessary here. The single compression driver has way more “punch”
that you will ever need, and lower distortion, at all levels of sound.
A Few More Words About Horns: It should be noted that engineers have long recognized that
compression driver/horns have much lower distortion and more musicality than cone type midrange
drivers. But manufacturers began to design away from them after the 1960’s, primarily due the high
cost of compression drivers, vs. the cost of cone mid-ranges. But today’s high-end studio monitor
manufacturers have continued to specify cone midrange drivers, even when the lowest cost is not the
primary concern. This, we believe, is just a “follow the leader” approach, and continues to be the
practice because (it is believed) that this is what people are used to seeing, and expect in a system.
We know what we hear, and have selected the compression driver/horn configuration for the Lyceum
based on long listening experience, and know “in our hearts” that a horn system is superior to cone
midrange configurations.
A 100% efficient speaker system has theoretically zero distortion. Horn systems are approximately
20% efficient, cone speakers are 2% efficient. Horn systems are capable of giving a closer
approximation of musical reality. With precision alignment, their performance achieves the highest
performance in linearity, fidelity, dispersion, efficiency and power. Horn systems are expensive to
manufacture. Quality compression drivers are machined to exact tolerances within microns.
Unfortunately today, selling is driven by marketing, not consumer understanding.
So we think that our somewhat unorthodox employment of the compression driver/horn for the
midrange in the studio monitor system makes the most sense in today’s studio and high performance
markets, and is a big reason why we believe that there is no better sounding system on the market
today, at anywhere near this price range.
Horns have very special properties, including lower distortion than conventional drivers, faster
transient response than conventional drivers, and are easier to drive at high SPL's than conventional
Lower distortion at a given SPL: For an equivalent SPL, horns require a smaller diaphragm, and
since distortion is directly proportional to the size of the diaphragm, a large diaphragm
electromechanical transducer (conventional cone driver) has to move much more than a horn
diaphragm in order to create the same SPL (sound pressure level). The larger the excursion, the
worse the distortion. So, for a given SPL, a horn loaded system will generate much lower distortion
than an electromechanical transducer.
Faster transient response: Since the diaphragm is smaller, it is lighter and thus it accelerates and
decelerates faster. This, in the real world, means superb, fast snappy transients. As the excursion of
the diaphragm is very small as compared to a typical electromechanical transducer, the voice coil is
much smaller and again, this translates to a lower moving mass, which again, results in fast
Higher SPL's with a given input wattage: Small voice coils also take full advantage of the flux in the
pole piece gap. This increases the efficiency of the transducer allowing the amplifier to work with
greater ease. Since the amplifier has more headroom and the driver handles peaks and high outputs
more efficiently, horns are able to produce much higher SPL's before they distort.
Thus, in the normal operating range, horn designs are faster, more dynamic, have a better transient
response, have less distortion, and are easier for an amplifier to drive than conventional driver
Why don’t all manufacturers of high-end speakers choose horns for their midrange drivers? For one
thing, as stated above, audiophiles are just more accustomed to seeing cone-type midrange drivers,
so the manufacturers just follow the market expectations, rather than lead the market with innovations
that have superior sound, as Linn Audio has done. But also there can be problems with horns, mostly
due to resonances, and other undesirable colorations in the horn part. This resonance, though
technically not distortion, can nevertheless sound like it. So, in other words, normally what superior
low distortion performance that you can get with a good compression driver, you can lose in the horn
part. But Linn Audio has overcome this problem, and produced a resonance free horn, that is also
free of other undesirable colorations, so that you get the full advantage of the compression driver,
without any losses in the horn part. Also our compression drivers use a polymer type diaphragm that
is much sweeter and more natural sounding than the typical metal diaphragm, and more suitable for
home audio or studio use. It does not have the “tinny” or “honky” sounds that some people identify
with typical compression driver/horns. In short, Linn Audio, after years of R&D, has developed a horn
system that has overcome all the shortcomings of horn systems, and left just the superior
performance characteristics of this type of system.
So, with the use of this special horn, you feel the music, you become part of the music, and the music
becomes part of you. The full-range phase coherent wave front of horns produces a solid image and
presentation, as opposed to the phase impaired, smeared, and diluted imaging of typical low
efficiency conventional (cone) driver designs, no matter what exotic material the cone is made of.
Horns will never sound veiled or compressed. The performers will be there, in your studio or room,
performing for you in the same way and location as the original recording venue. If the performer was
six feet from the microphone during the recording session, he will be six feet away from you when the
performance is reproduced through your system, not fifteen feet behind the speakers. Why would one
want the performers to be fifteen feet behind the speakers if that was not how the material was
recorded? We want the performers to be in the same room we are in, in front of us, so that we can
feel the music, front row center.
Due to their inherent benefits of low distortion, high efficiency, fast and accurate transient response,
and wide dynamic range, horn drivers provide a pure, unadulterated musical presentation, a more
organic and natural recreation of the acoustic event. As a result, each different musical selection is
portrayed with its own character and life, not that of the playback medium.
The High Frequencies
The Studio monitor system does not use a separate tweeter for the very high frequencies, those
above 20khz. The special compression driver used has the necessary extended range, that performs
all the way to 20khz, so that a tweeter is not really necessary. However, Linn Audio does offer an
accessory ribbon tweeter system that can extend the range up to 40khz, so that the very high
frequencies may be reproduced.
Crossovers and Wiring
Linn Audio has a unique design philosophy regarding crossover design. We abide by the principle
that the fewer components the better. All components, no matter how high quality, alter and color the
sound, and at worst, add distortion and phase shifts to the signal. This is especially true of crossover
components; capacitors and inductors. Most system designers of high performance speakers choose
or design random driver components, which may not be good matches for each other, and
compensate for these mismatched drivers by the use of massive and complex crossover designs,
necessarily requiring many components in the signal path. We believe this philosophy is flawed!
We have started at the other end of the system, the drivers themselves, and have chosen not only the
best we can find with regard to musicality and low distortion, but that match each other well, in terms
of sensitivity, impedance and complementary frequency ranges. By taking this path to design of the
system, we can minimize the components required to create a full audio spectrum, held to within +/–
3 db. It is very difficult to do, but we have done it, with the studio monitor system. It has been said
that: “the best sounding component is none at all!” So, we cannot have absolutely none, but we have
provided the next best thing; minimal components in the signal path. This is one of the main reasons
why our studio monitor has a very pure and clean sound, one that cannot be matched by systems
that use complex crossover designs.
All the internal components are of the highest quality available, with the use of Mundorf brand
polypropylene film capacitors, air core inductors, and insulated gold binding posts. The internal wiring
is also selected from the best grades and sizes of high-purity, oxygen free copper wire, while all
connections are point to point, and soldered with WBT silver solder. Resistors used for balancing the
separate driver components are Mundorf brand and are of a high wattage, and flame-proof type, that
will handle plenty of power.
Time and Phase Coherence
Much has been said about this issue in construction of high performance audio loudspeaker systems.
It is very important when it comes to accurately reproducing the sound stage, as well as the spatial
relationships of the various instruments, and reproducing the overall “presence” of the music. Time
and phase coherence add a dimension of clarity and spatial realism that cannot be achieved by other
means. Only a very few of the top-end speaker manufacturers properly address this problem, and
Linn Audio has sought to improve on all the solutions, to provide the best overall performance of any
high performance audio speaker system available today.
In order to achieve this desired effect, all the frequencies of the music should reach the listener at the
same time, that is, in the same “coherence” as that of the original source. This is a problem with most
speaker systems that use complex crossover networks, with many components in the signal path.
Crossover components create phase shifts in the audio waveform, so that the sound is “smeared out”
relative to the original signal, and different frequencies are reproduced by the drivers at different
relative times than in the original source. Different speaker drivers have voice coils and/or dispersion
points that are at different depths from each other, so when the audio signal reaches all the drivers at
the same time, the distance from the driver source, for the different frequencies, reach the listener at
slightly different times. Both these issues, though not contributing to distortion of the signal, can
adversely affect the “presence” of the music, as well as the breadth, depth and height of the sound
stage. Timing errors also create the loss of much directional or imaging information. Also affected is
the placement of the various instruments within the sound stage, in comparison with the original
performance. Outputs of the various drivers must be heard in unison to preserve the original
structure of the sound.
Linn Audio’s solutions to the first problem, that of phase incoherence, is to reduce the number of
components of the crossover in the signal path to a bare minimum, thus eliminating the phase shifts
associated with these components. (See the “crossovers” section for more information on this issue.)
Linn Audio also uses very wide bandwidth drivers, so that more of the frequencies are reproduced in
synchrony with each other from the same source/dispersion point. With the Linn Audio Reference
System the drivers are also mounted to achieve optimal driver dispersion for the listener’s position,
both in time and phase relationships.
Detailed Specifications:
Enclosure type: rear ported
Woofers: One - 12” paper cone type; 20 pound magnet, 3” voice coil
Midrange: One – compression driver/horn (1 7/8” diaphragm)
Sensitivity: 96 db
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Minimum/Maximum Power: 15 watts/450 watts RMS/900watts peak
Frequency response +/- 3 db 20hz – 20khz (with use of subwoofer, included)
Subwoofer: 12” driver; 120 watt amplifier; dimensions: 17” cube
Overall dimensions: Height; 21” Width; 14” Depth; 13.5”
Weight: 50 pounds each
Optional stands available – 24” high
Finish: Rosewood, with High-Gloss piano finish
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