HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



June
2005

Reviewed by
Anthony Di Marco
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2005


Linar Audio
Model 10 Multichannel
Integrated Amplifier

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Model 10

Price: $4200 USD
Dimensions: 18"W x 7.25"H x 16"D
Weight: 65 pounds

Warranty: Three years parts and labor

Features

  • Six two-channel RCA inputs
  • 5.1-channel input
  • No capacitors in signal path
  • No overall feedback used in circuitry

Features (cont'd)
  • Capable of driving low-impedance loudspeakers
  • Extremely stable under capacitive load
  • Advanced soft-start circuit to limit noise or damage when turning on/off
  • DC voltage protection circuit to prevent damage to speakers and amplifier
  • Fully complementary design from input to output
  • Dual 750VA custom-made toroidal transformers
  • Matched JFET input transistors
  • Remote control

Simplicity and longevity are two concepts rarely associated with home-theater products. Numerous choices and constantly changing technologies can make building a high-performance home-theater system confusing and expensive, but reducing the number of components can help alleviate sticker shock. For instance, you don’t necessarily need to buy that expensive processor or receiver for decoding audio -- many moderately priced DVD players come equipped with full 5.1-channel decoding of DTS and Dolby Digital audio signals.

Although few, there are options when it comes to amplifying a DVD player’s 5.1 output. You can purchase a separate multichannel preamp such as McCormack Audio’s MAP-1 and a companion multichannel amplifier such as Audio Research Corporation’s 150M.5, or you can set your sights on a more cost-effective solution -- such as Linar Audio’s new Model 10 multichannel integrated amplifier ($4200).

The face of simplicity, built for the long haul

Victor Sima, founder of Simaudio Ltd. and now owner of Linar Audio, designed the Linar Model 10 as a high-value component. The 10 is attractive in a minimalist, industrial-design sort of way -- a reminder of Sima’s enduring philosophy of putting performance before appearance. The 10’s chassis construction and interconnectivity benefit from the tight assembly of carefully chosen parts, including robust, all-metal, five-way speaker binding posts and heavy-duty RCA jacks for multichannel and CD inputs and, to keep costs down, standard, circuit-board-mounted RCAs for the less critical Tuner, Tape, and Aux 2 inputs.

Apart from its high-quality connections, it’s the Linar 10’s 65 pounds that suggest the presence of something special beneath its antimagnetic skin -- this integrated amplifier packs five channels of 120W amplification into its single chassis. Two 750VA transformers and a bank of capacitors totaling 120,000F comprise a power supply that Victor Sima alleges can easily drive all capacitive and complex loads. At first I thought the 10’s power supply worked similarly to that of the Anthem MCA 50 multichannel amplifier: one transformer handling the front two channels while the other drives the center and rears. But it turns out that Sima uses two transformers for managing space inside the Model 10’s tight enclosure. In application, the transformers are wired in series to perform as a single 1500VA toroid. Sima designed the power supply to redirect all of its capability to any channel that needs it -- this design choice enables the 10 to drive all but the largest speakers with unflappable ease.

All Sima designs have large, stable power supplies, but you’d be wrong to assume that the Linar Model 10 is simply a reworking of a current Simaudio amp. Sima is quick to point out that the Linar 10 is a completely new design that is the result of almost five years of prototyping and listening. JFETs on the input feed output MOSFETs via fully complementary, DC-coupled circuit paths. Negative feedback is eschewed, and each of the Model 10’s five channels uses the same high-quality parts. Sima claims that this configuration, along with his secret recipe of handpicked MOSFETs, gives the 10 a liquid, glare-free, non-transistory sound.

My main reservations about the Linar 10’s design concerned its preamplifier section and digital volume control. A preamplifier is a separate circuit with variable gain, which can boost the relatively weak output of a source component so that there’s enough oomph to drive the input of an amplifier. Music and movies can sound compressed and dull if the amplifier’s input isn’t driven adequately. At first I believed the 10 used a digital volume control. Was this an inexpensive digital attenuator that might add noise to the signal? My concerns were allayed when Victor Sima described how the volume control actually works. The Linar 10 does not use a preamplifier section; instead, the digital volume control directly adjusts the amplifier’s output gain. According to Sima, omitting the preamp reduces the noise floor, which increases the 10’s overall dynamic range.

Simple setup

There was nothing physically difficult about setting up the Linar 10. There’s plenty of room on the rear panel to plant cables, and I found the stout binding posts easy to tighten without tools. Still, some of the 10’s settings differ from what you may be accustomed to. Unlike many surround-sound products, the individual channels of a surround array can’t be calibrated via the Linar 10, which offers only three choices of speaker level: fronts, rears, and subwoofer. Victor Sima expects customers to make individual channel adjustments via their DVD player and overall balance among the fronts, rears, and subs via the Linar 10. This proved logical and easily done.

I had one issue with the remote control. The Rear Volume button toggles between the rear and subwoofer volume levels. The problem is that it’s placed directly below the main volume controls. I often accidentally hit the Rear Volume instead of the overall Volume button, unintentionally adjusting the rear or sub level instead of the system volume. Compounding the issue is the Linar 10’s painfully sparse display, which isn’t the easiest to read at a distance and offers for volume level only a hash-marked bar, not a numerical readout. Initial setup and adjustments require using a sound-pressure-level meter. I would rather see a display with a numerical readout and a remote control whose Rear Volume button was in a safer position.

Simply wonderful sound

Linar recommends a break-in period of 200 hours. Victor Sima points out that until they settle in, the Model 10’s sensitive electrical components cause nonlinearity in the delivery of voltage and current. I don’t necessarily believe in long break-ins, but I heeded the warning and let the 10 settle in for a week before doing any serious listening. The only anomaly I experienced during my evaluation was a gentle turn-on thump on first powering up the Linar 10. Sima recommends leaving the amplifier on at all times to keep its circuits stabilized.

The soundtrack of Black Hawk Down will plunk you down in the middle of the action if your equipment is up to the task, and it demonstrated the Model 10’s considerable muscle and grace. The bass in chapters 9 and 10 emerged from my Thiel CS2.4 speakers with both weight and nimbleness, while destructive weaponry cut through the air effortlessly. The Model 10 reproduced complexly layered Foley and sound effects with unrestrained ease. There was never a moment when sounds were smeared or bunched together -- every spent artillery shell clearly stood out against the mle of close-proximity combat and overlapping dialogue. The Model 10’s nonexistent noise floor can take a lot of the credit for its amazing resolution. Many amplifiers I’ve auditioned always seemed to produce a little noise or an annoying hum through the speakers. The Linar exhibited neither, even when I placed my ear right up against my Thiel CS2.4s’ extremely revealing drivers.

A home-theater component should find an enjoyable balance between transparency and restraint, but solid-state amplifiers with the Linar’s crisp, open quality run the risk of sounding uncomfortably bright, or of ruining the show by letting through too many of a recording’s flaws. Action films are typically mixed hot, which adds edge and sizzle to the clang of swords or plosive sounds. Chapters 3 and 5 of the fun but brainless Van Helsing include some sonically strident scenes; the Linar 10 added a touch of sugar to the shrieks of airborne bloodsuckers as Dracula’s brides attack an unsuspecting village.

Despite its modest claimed output of 120Wpc, the Linar came across as an incredibly powerful amplifier. Several scenes in the extremely well-produced Hellboy will test any amplifier, alternating as they do between silence and earth-shaking destruction. The Linar really strutted its stuff in chapter 2, "Closing the Portal," and chapter 22, "Something Big." Each scene was startling in its realism.

Music-only recordings were reproduced with just as much enjoyment. Tony Banks’ Seven: A Suite for Orchestra, performed by Mike Dixon and the London Philharmonic [Naxos 8.557466], sounds stunning when given the appropriate amount of power and finesse. The fourth movement, The Ram, showcases a recursive string motif that pulls you right in, and sparkling percussion that can have an edgy sound through less-refined equipment. The Linar 10’s fantastic high-frequency reproduction did a remarkable job of keeping things under control with just a hint of harmonic sweetness, and bass control never wavered, even in the most demanding passages. Robert Shaw’s bombastic rendition of Orff’s Carmina Burana [Telarc CD-80056] took hold of my Thiel CS2.4s with authority.

Comparison

Together, Audio Research’s MP1 multichannel preamplifier and 150M.5 multichannel amplifier produce a sound that is liquid, powerful, and alluring. I love the ARC combo, especially the 150M.5. Still, $14,500 for the pair is expensive; the Linar makes a compelling argument for pocketing $10,000 and saving some shelf space in the deal.

The qualities of construction of the ARC pair and the Linar 10 are comparable. Both sport well-finished, heavy-gauge boxes made entirely of aluminum and secured using machine screws instead of less-expensive sheet-metal screws. Each ARC product uses much-higher-quality switchgear and an impressive vacuum-fluorescent display, while the Linar’s display and silver buttons look as if pulled from the same parts bin as my cell phone’s. The binding posts on these products differ but are both of extremely high quality.

In terms of circuit design, however, the two are at opposite ends of the playing field. The 150M.5’s digital amplifier design is based on the popular Tripath Technologies class-T Digital Power Processing (DPP) semiconductor, while the Linar’s amplifier is based on traditional class-A/B design principles with Victor Sima’s own modifications and well-protected parts recipe. Both are reported by their manufacturers as being unconditionally stable into the most demanding speaker loads.

ARC’s MP1 preamplifier has no direct counterpart in the Linar. The MP1 does use a class-A circuit to (reportedly) minimize distortion; the Linar sidesteps a preamplifier section altogether by directly adjusting the amplifier’s output gain.

In terms of cost, the ARC combo requires five cables (balanced for best performance) to connect the 150M.5 to the MP1. I used ARC’s own brand of balanced interconnects, which cost about $300 per 2m pair, or $750 for a five-channel system. Because the Linar 10 adjusts gain internally, there is no need for interconnects other than those from the DVD player.

Sound quality is where the major similarities converge. I listened to the ARC combo for quite a while before replacing it with the Linar Model 10. Once installed, the Linar immediately impressed me with its bass extension and delicate high frequencies. The Linar presented a more controlled and bottomless low end to my ear and backside, while the ARC favored a bit more warmth. The high-frequency performances of the two sounded very similar. Whether it was the subtle mechanical sounds in chapter 22 of Hellboy or the layered Foley effects in Blade 2, both captivated me with the amount of inner detail and sophistication they were able to let through from any recording.

The midrange was where they differed. The ARC combo exhibited a bit more forwardness and bloom, while the Linar sounded slightly more reserved. And a comparison of the noise levels was no comparison at all: the Linar clearly won out when compared to the slight but readily apparent hiss of the ARC combo.

Simplicity isn’t easy to accomplish

What Victor Sima has done with the Linar Model 10 is astonishing -- at $4200, the Model 10 multichannel integrated amplifier has to be one of the greatest values in audio. It’s hard enough to find a processor that sounds good with music, much less an amplifier to go with it, all for $4200. With the Model 10, all you need is a top-flight DVD player for out-of-this-world home-theater sound. The Model 10 is a high-value component bred from an impressive bloodline, and the next great product for audiophiles looking to make their lives a bit simpler.

Review System
Speakers - Thiel CS2.4 (mains), MCS1 (center), PowerPoint (surrounds), SS2 (subwoofer)
Preamplifiers - McCormack MAP-1, Audio Research MP1
Amplifier - Audio Research 150M.5
Sources - Esoteric DV-50, Panasonic DVD-RP82S, Denon DVD-2900, Simaudio Moon Orbital universal A/V players; Arcam FMJ DVD-27A DVD player
Cables - Analysis Plus, Stereovox
Monitor - Mitsubishi WT-46809 rear-projection widescreen monitor with Duvetyne modification and full ISF calibration
Power Conditioning - Panamax, Shunyata Research
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Linar Audio Inc.
1830 Siberie
Brossard, Quebec J4X 1R2
Canada
Phone: (450) 923-8142
Fax: (450) 672-1187

E-mail: linar@vif.com
Website: www.linaraudio.com

 


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