Linn Mimik CD Playerby Jeff Fritz
So what about Linns Mimik? Here is a player whose basic design has been around for about six years, so its long in the tooth for a digital product. Continuously updated, (some even call it the Mimik 2 because recent changes are so important), its present form represents Linns current thinking on the entry-level (for Linn) one-box CD player. With Linns commitment to cutting-edge digital products such as the Sondek CD12 reference CD player, the company must feel confident in the Mimiks capability for good sound. I really didnt know quite what to expect, never having reviewed a Linn product, or a recent CD player for that matter. Confused? Bear with me.
My long-time reference Sony ES player has been a reliable, satisfying machine that Ive enjoyed for the past few years. Recently, though, Ive had the Pioneer DV606D doing double duty for music and movies in my system. It hardly seems a match for my rig with respect to price, but as good performance does not always coincide with high price, who cares? The rest of my system includes the Krell KSA-100S/KRC-3 combo linked up with Transparent Super XL cabling. Speakers consisted of the two best, though quite different, systems Ive heard: the Wisdom Adrenaline Dipole 75 system and Wilson Audio X-1 Grand SLAMMs. The Bybee Pro Power Purifier and Quantum Chargers fed clean AC to all components involved. My dedicated listening room is 18'L x 14'W x 9.5'H with no windows. Large acoustically absorbent panels hang on the side walls and behind the listening position. Dedicated 30-amp lines feed the amplifiers, while a single 20-amp line powers everything else.
The Linn Mimik arrived nicely packaged in a sturdy shipping box. Included was a well-written owners manual that clearly explains all the units functions and design features. The unit itself is housed in a mid-sized, textured gray chassis that I found attractive and easy to place. The front panel is minimal with a drawer mechanism offset to the right side. To the left youll find six large buttons for basic operation, these underneath a green display that I found easy to read from across the room. Useful information such as track number, track time, and remaining time are displayed for 20 seconds before turning off, ostensibly to save power. A large power button presides alone on the bottom right side of the player. Rear-panel facilities include two sets of audio outputs using RCA connectors. This allows for connection to a primary and secondary system simultaneously. An S/PDIF electrical data output is provided through a BNC jack for connection of an external DAC such as Linns own Numerik. There is also a remote in/out terminal for connecting an entire Linn system to the Mimik. This enables remote operation to be passed on to other components such as those in other rooms or inside cabinetry. The Mimik comes standard with a remote control that operates other Linn products. With this handset you also gain additional control over the Mimik with functions such as direct track access, display configuration, and index. You definitely get the feeling that Linn favors a "system" approach for its products. A detachable power cord is provided for AC connection.
Inside the box we find high-quality circuit boards with surface-mounted electronics. The entire layout is clean and uncluttered, a confidence-inspiring trait. Digital conversion is performed by a 1-bit delta-sigma converter. Linn includes an advanced error-correction circuit for problem discs. I certainly had no problem playing some of my older, slightly "worn" discs that cause tracking errors with the Pioneer DVD player. The transport is said to be shock resistant, although I did not test this claim. The power supply appears to be good quality with a well-proportioned 115VA toroidal transformer and three 6800-microfarad capacitors.
The sound of the Linn Mimik was quite the opposite of what I was expecting. To some degree, affordable CD players still seem to be fighting the demons that have plagued all but the best digital equipment (hence my reluctance to spend my own money on units Ive auditioned in various shops and in my own system). Grainy, hard treble and a thin midrange are characteristics that just appear to be hard to remove. Upon first listening to the Mimik, though, I found that my preconceptions changed. I was struck by the smooth, natural quality of the midrange. "Wait, digital doesnt sound like this," I kept telling myself. My, but it does! Vocal texture was pleasing and rich. Sarah McLachlans voice on "Adia" from her Surfacing CD [Arista 07822-18970-2] took on a creamy character that was decidedly un-digital. Linns commitment to analog sound has certainly paid off in the voicing of the Mimik. In fact, from the midband through to the lower treble, the sound was almost entirely void of digital artifacts. This will be welcome news to the owners of bright systems looking for relief. Moreover, those of you with multichannel solid-state amplifiers may find that the Mimik tames these beasts (some of this breed sacrifice subtlety for power, a necessary ingredient in home theater). Disc after disc showed this civilized character to be present. Listening to male vocals was as equally rewarding as the Mimiks sound was full and palpable. These qualities existed without succumbing to any noticeable colorations. Neither was the sound forward in any way. The Mimik just placed the performers in proper perspective within the performance, while maintaining an overall natural sound.
Rock music benefited from the Mimiks sound as well. The Red Hot Chili Peppers "Give it Away" from their Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik CD [WB926681-2] was quite listenable while retaining that funky quality I find addicting. I did not fight the urge to blast this disc for all in my neighborhood to hear. The sound did not become strident or hard. Even historically bright CDs like Alanis Morrisettes Jagged Little Pill [Maverick/Reprise 945901-2] became more tolerable (this is one of those CDs that you continually try and play because you like the music, but remove because you cant stand the sonics). The treble range retained the sparkle and shimmer that I have heard with more expensive players. Cymbals were silky and without glare. I would not characterize the highs as aggressive or bleached. They were sufficiently extended but perhaps without that last bit of "air" an ultra-wide-bandwidth player may have. Partnering the Mimik with speakers that possess a revealing treble (the NHT models come to mind) may prove a synergistic match.
While the upper frequencies were definitely not what you expect from your average CD player, the Mimik is not the last word in resolution and detail. If you favor a sound that offers microscopic detail, you may be left wanting. The only liability in this area for me was that the sound could occasionally wash out while I listened at very low volumes. This was rarely the case, though, at the levels I find myself listening. A hard treble is most assuredly a major cause of listener fatigue, but the Linn Mimik inspired long listening sessions late into the night, and fatigue never became a factor.
The midbass-to-low-bass region was rendered with appropriate pitch and weight. The Mimik displayed a punchy sound that was never exaggerated or bloated. The speed and impact of Patricia Barbers "Nardis" (starting at about 4:30 into the cut) from her Café Blue CD [Prem-737-2] was quite good. The smooth midrange in no way masked the note delineation into the upper bass. Probably the most demanding bass track Ive recently heard is Stanley Clarkes "Mothership Connection (Starchild)" from The Bass-ic Collection [EK 64277]. This particular song has a introductory drum solo that, quite frankly, most systems cant reproduce properly. I would recommend it as essential when auditioning components. Theres so much going on at the same time that most systems get confused, or simply cant keep up. The Mimik fought admirably to keep note definition clean and smearing to a minimum. Low bass was sufficiently extended and powerful. Tracks from the Crystal Methods CD Vegas [OPRD-30003] came through with heart-stopping impact. Definition into the lowest registers remained excellent.
Soundstaging had pinpoint accuracy, but it was not as expansive as Ive heard. It could be argued that the Mimik did not exaggerate the size of the soundstage, but instead it placed performers with accuracy and in proper proportion. This favored small jazz ensembles such as the work of audiophile favorites Diana Krall and Holly Cole (the seductive midband did not hurt either). The Mimik mimicked the intimate venues in which you would expect to hear these performers. The natural quality of the upper treble served to let the soundstage develop fully (if not become unnaturally large). It has been my experience that a hard, grainy treble will destroy the illusion of the soundspace. This explains my interpretation of the old audiophile adage: "sounds like hi-fi, not music." The Mimik certainly sounds musical. The soundspace on The Cowboy Junkies entire CD The Trinity Session [RCA-8568-2-R] was naturally constructed within my room. Judging the soundstaging capabilities of two-channel audio can be tricky if one listens to multichannel movie soundtracks for any length of time. A good two-channel setup, in lieu of a live performance, should be referenced directly before a review begins. Having said this, the Linn Mimik compares favorably in this area with the better CD-sourced systems Ive heard.
Comparisons were made with a Sony ES and a Pioneer DVD player. The Linn simply outclassed the Sony in every category. The natural, coherent presentation of the Mimik was more pleasurable in the long term than the Sony player. Direct comparisons revealed a hard quality in the upper midrange and a slightly hot treble in the Japanese player. After prolonged listening to the Mimik, I found that the Sony produced an annoying listener fatigue that I just could not shake. Suffice it to say the Sony went into the closet as a "bankruptcy backup."
The really interesting comparison was with the Pioneer DVD player. There has been much discussion on the Internet comparing inexpensive DVD players to more refined, more expensive CD players. Audiophiles are always on the prowl for reasonably priced components that perform like the cost-no-object gear. I purchased the Pioneer DVD player when it handily outperformed the Sony in my system. A decision to wait out the format wars before sinking big bucks into a state-of-the-art digital rig seems logical. The comparison with the Linn Mimik was quite revealing. It served to educate me on the differences between an emerging technology with great promise versus a mature standard with years of refinement. It should be noted, however, that the Linn CD player and the Pioneer DVD player were compared using standard CDs. Due to software issues as well as the eventual arrival of DVD audio, comparisons of the two formats were avoided.
The most obvious differences between the two machines can be summed up as follows: The Mimik had a smoother, more refined sound, which was welcome on most of the CDs in my collection. This departed from the Pioneers high resolution and detailed perspective. I found it interesting that although the Linn did not seem to retrieve as much information as the Pioneer, it was hardly missed when listening to my favorite music. The Linn remained fatigue free and tonally more pleasing (I dont know about more neutral, however) than almost any player Ive heard. The DVD player showed great promise on well-recorded music such as Sara Ks Hobo [Chesky JD155]. On "Brick House" for example, background noises and voices were easily heard over the Pioneer, less so with the Linn. The DVD player seems thinner throughout the midrange, however, not displaying as much body. Overall, the Mimik was more civilized-sounding and tonally rich throughout the frequency range.
Long term, one could be quite satisfied with the Linn Mimik. The Pioneer player doesnt claim to be a reference-quality machine. It sounds strident on many rock recordings. I think the recording practices that many engineers employ with rock music (to get your attention on the radio) simply come through as bright and grainy on the Pioneer. The DVD player does shine on music such as acoustic guitar though. The lack of electronic glare (from electronic sounds) along with the fine detail is pleasing -- you actually hear fingers on strings. Its a matter of preference really, but as an all around performer on the majority of my CD collection, Id choose the Mimik.
One other area of comparison, which often gets overlooked by reviewers, is the "feel" of the component itself -- those of you that are of the "other than sound quality all other factors are irrelevant" club can kindly skip to the conclusion. The Linn Mimik feels like a better component than the Pioneer DVD player. The feel of the controls, the quality of construction, and general attention to detail of the Linn player are superior to that of the Pioneer. The DVD player, with its cheap plastic parts and noisy transport, just doesnt fit a high-end system. You dont get the feeling that anyone ever listened to the unit. Part of the high-end appeal is buying something you know the designer labored over in order to make every aspect as perfect as possible (within the budget constraints). In other words, the DVD player is comparable to mass-market receivers and would look at home in an inexpensive rack system. The Linn is of a different breed.
I bring all of this up because a purchasing decision usually takes into account all factors. These include sound quality, aesthetics, build quality, reliability, how it interfaces with other components, etc. The Linn Mimik scores big in all of these areas, and the inexpensive DVD player does not (and does not claim to).
Linn has taken a balanced approach with the Mimik CD player. With a hint of the companys analog magic, the Mimik sounds smooth and refined. If you have found CD players harsh and fatiguing and have been looking for relief, look no further. Without being overly warm or rolled off at the extremes, the Linn Mimik sounds musical and natural. If you prefer the ultra-high-resolution sound found in some of the esoteric digital gear available, this machine is not for you. It does avoid many of the mistakes inexpensive players make when trying too hard to uncover detail, and "detail done right" requires a substantial investment in my opinion. I would much rather live with the Mimik, whose errors are of omission, than with a player that seemingly hypes up the presentation. The Mimik is kind to most CDs without being obvious about it, and those of us with substantial CD collections made up of rock and pop music will likely find the Linn Mimik a good match.
My time with the Linn Mimik was quite enjoyable. As we are all seeking more pleasure from our music collections, I guess thats the most important fact of all.
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