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April 2003Linn Adikt Phono Cartridge
by Jason Thorpe
Linns $349-USD Adikt is billed as a high-quality high-output (6.5mV) moving-magnet cartridge. With its aluminum cantilever and replaceable Gyger II stylus, the plastic-bodied Adikt is specified as 7 grams in weight, and its recommended tracking force is 1.75 grams. The Adikt comes packaged with long Allen-head screws that youll likely need as the cartridge threads are deeper than usual (the body is threaded, which means no fumbling around with loose nuts). Also included is a hex key to fit the screws and wire jumpers for those tonearms that require them. The instructions provided with the Adikt are of the Ikea school -- international pictograms without verbiage -- and show how to mount the cartridge in the most basic fashion. No alignment gauges or other tools are included.
According to Linn, the Adikt is suitable for use in either of its own tonearms, the Ekos and Akito, or, with slight modifications, in non-Linn 'arms. In order to align the Adikt in a Linn tonearm, the cartridge uses two plastic posts that protrude from the top and fit into recesses in the tonearm. This works in much the same way as the third mounting hole on Rega tonearms, which matches up with a corresponding hole in Rega cartridges. If youre using a Linn 'arm, the posts make things really easy as theres no fussing with alignment -- just screw the cartridge on and youre set.
What exactly do you need to do if you want to use the Adikt in a tonearm thats not of Linns manufacture? First off, according to Linn, youll need to get a razor blade, Xacto knife, or a file. I suggest one of the first two, as the last thing you want is to use a file and have lots of little shavings anywhere near a cartridge. Then you have to cut the posts off the top of the cartridge so that itll fit flush with the headshell. To tell the truth, I was a touch nervous about this, as Ive always thought of and treated cartridges as though they are delicate little quails eggs, so hacking off part of one with a carpet knife didnt come naturally. The Adikt's plastic body is quite hard, but it wasnt too difficult to get the little posts off. The only significant challenge was in holding the cartridge -- its quite rounded and small, which makes it hard to keep your fingers out of the way and at the same time retain a tight grip. I briefly considered the vise on my workbench but decided against using it. After getting the posts off, I had to shave away a little more of the body in order to get rid of the high spots where the posts were.
When it came time to mount the cartridge, I had one further difficulty: The screws felt as though they were cross-threading into the body. So I backed them out and removed the cartridge from the tonearm. On further investigation, I got the impression that the screws werent really cross-threading, but rather cutting their way into the plastic, which wasnt exactly reassuring. I re-mounted the cartridge by pushing the screws in with more torque than I felt was ideal, but the cartridge ended up level and true.
For the duration of its stay in my system, the Adikt was mounted on the end of my Roksan Artemiz tonearm, which in turn resided on my Roksan Xerxes turntable. The phono stage was the Sonic Frontiers SFP-1 Signature, and the preamplifiers were the FT Audio LW1 passive unit and a Sonic Frontiers SFL-2. For amplification I alternated between EAR 509 tube monoblocks and an Orpheus Labs Three S 40Wpc stereo amplifier, all connected up with the excellent Acoustic Zen Matrix and Silver Reference interconnects and Satori speaker cables. Hales Transcendence Five and Wilson Benesch Discovery were the speakers.
We got what you need
Before I could install the Adikt, I had to remove my six-times-the-price Roksan Shiraz low-output moving-coil, and while doing so, I cast a few condescending glances at the plastic-bodied moving-magnet Adikt. Yes, I can be as snobbish as the next audiophile.
But theres nothing like being pleasantly surprised. As I lowered the Adikts pointy little snout on to the first record, I did a head-shaking double-take just like in the old Warner Brothers cartoons. That first album was Giant Sands Chore of Enchantment [Thrill Jockey, Thrill 079], and even without the slightest break-in, the Adikt instantly absorbed me into the music.
The first thing that hit me was the bass. Deep, authoritative, and dynamic, the Adikts low-end also proved tuneful, reasonably tight, and definitely rhythmic. There was just the slightest bit of bloat, but definitely not enough to invoke the term boomy. Giant Sand has been around for years, and Chore of Enchantment was their 12th album, so its a shame that Im only finding out about the band now. On "Bottom Line Man," the restrained and tasteful bass line is paramount to the songs sense of power and meaning. The Adikt portrayed this to great effect, but it didnt drown out the delicacy of the backing guitar or the ambient noise of the recording space, both of which add an incredible sense of presence to this track.
Due in part to its solid low-end, the Adikt portrayed music with strong rhythmic assurance. Miles Davis Filles De Kilimanjaro [Columbia PC 9750] takes some getting used to, as at first listen it sounds like a bunch of guys noodling aimlessly. If you listen deeper, though, youll begin to recognize patterns and melodies that are stretched out and buried like signals in the noise. The bass line syncopates with the drums and keyboard notes, and sometimes its quite a challenge to decipher which is which. But the Adikts sense of timing made this exercise redundant. The Adikts solid low end displayed a quickness and tunefulness that significantly added to the musical enjoyment of this album, so while at times it was difficult to delineate where each rhythm instrument started and stopped (no fault of the Adikt!), the musical message shone through in its entirety.
With a superb sense of ease through the midrange, the Adikt portrays stringed instruments such as guitar clearly and without strain. The slight bass richness in no way interfered with the range above it. Instead, it seemed to merely help take any aggressive edge off the midrange, which resulted in a well-defined tone that also refrained from any glare. The acoustic guitar on "Folsom Prison Blues" from Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison [Columbia CS 9639] had the requisite crispness that Im familiar with, and in fact gave up very little in the way of image definition and depth to my far more expensive Shiraz moving-coil. On a tonal and dynamic basis, the Adikt kicks butt. Its a lively cartridge, has great bass, and is neither bright nor recessed. It images well, and portrays the meaning of the music in a convincing manner.
Likewise on Cashs latest record The Man Comes Around [American 440 063 336-1], Ive been unable to listen to more than a side of this album at a time, as its evident from the first track that Johnnys not doing so well. In my opinion, this record shouldnt have been released, as it is brutally sad, painfully intimate, and verges on humiliating. (My colleagues at SoundStage! wouldn't agree, however -- it was named one of 2002's best recordings.) The Adikts detailed and accurate midrange rendered Cashs voice with a sensation of grit that perfectly portrays the up-front, close-miked sound of this record.
Up a little higher in frequency, the Linn cartridge still sounded for the most part sophisticated and edge-free. The massed strings in the Classic Records reissue of Iberia from the RCA Living Stereo LP of the same name [Classic/RCA LSC-2222] were three-dimensional in both tone and image, retaining their satisfying bite and textural richness. When the music got complicated, however, the lower treble could sound confused and instruments began to compress into each other. This congestion didnt happen all the time, though. Complex orchestral music and exceptionally busy jazz seemed to be the most affected. Curiously enough, slamming rock generally came through loud and clear, with absolutely no homogenization, and seemed particularly well suited to the Adikt. "Philipino Box-spring Hog" from Tom Waits Mule Variations [Anti/Epitaph 86547-1] is a very busy song, and it should by all rights mush up into a nasty mess. But the Adikt kept each instrument distinct in the soundstage, which isnt easy -- especially with Waits voice stomping over the entire mix.
It would be unfair to characterize the Adikt as a rock-only cartridge, however. Another Miles Davis record thats seen a lot of play in my system recently is In a Silent Way [Columbia CS 9875]. This is a dense album that also has a soothing sense of calm suffusing it. The Linn cartridge arrayed the instruments in a soundfield that was both broad and deep, providing in the process a musical experience that I associate with much more expensive cartridges.
Aiding and abetting this delicacy is the fact that the Adikt is very quiet in the groove, with surface noise, ticks, and pops at very low levels relative to the music. With a contact technology that relies on friction for its very functionality, fidelity is constantly fighting with noise, and some cartridges tend to be quieter than others. At my New Years Eve party, a guest dug out a Booker T and the MGs disc Back to Back - The Mar-Keys/Booker T and the MGs [Stax 720] that Id purchased at a garage sale. This record looks like a road map, and a quick spin on my record cleaner didnt help too much. But once I played it, the music still shone through, and it got people up and dancing. During a later listen, I found that the surface noise, while still intrusive, was lower than when I played the record using my Roksan Shiraz.
No self control
The Adikts flaws are of a subtractive nature, so going from my much more expensive Shiraz moving-coil to the Adikt moving-magnet didnt come as a shock to my audiophile sensibilities. The virtues of vinyl remained apparent, and I still had no difficulty in choosing a favorite between my CD player and my turntable.
Removing the Adikt and reinstalling my Shiraz was more instructive, however. While the Adikt has a great sense of space and detail, the Shiraz bettered it in one particular respect. While much is distinctly right with the Adikt, its ultra-low-level retrieval of detail isnt quite up to that of the Roksan cartridge. On "Black Coffee" from Let No Man Write My Epitaph [Classic/VerveV6 4043], theres a rich breathiness and grain to Ella Ftizgeralds voice. This texture adds a feeling of vintage richness to the album, in much the same way that gauze filters used in movies from the 50s added a dreamy quality to the women viewed through them, even though the result was reduced sharpness. The Shiraz added a more tactile feeling to this tubey grain, and beyond that a three-dimensional sense of space as well. It's these incredibly subtle cues that slowly make you realize youre listening to a more sophisticated transducer with the Roksan Shiraz.
On the same Ella Fitzgerald album, the Shiraz portrayed the high frequencies with a silky ease that the Adikt also couldnt quite match. This isnt to say that the Linn cartridge is grainy or abrasive. Instead its a matter of degree -- the Adikts highs are smooth, while the Shirazs top end is smoother still, with an added slice of refinement whose lack you dont immediately notice in the Adikt. Again, this is a subtractive difference. The lack of this extended richness in the Adikt doesnt interfere with the musical message or the enjoyment of same.
Down in the basement the Adikt is more full and less tight overall than the Shiraz, but, again, the differences dont jump out as a problem. One of my favorite bass workouts (for rhythm that is, not necessarily extension) is "Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel" from the Simple Minds album of the same name [A&M SP06-4928B]. The Adikt portrayed the bass line with a loping, juicy rhythm, while the Shiraz kept the start-stop transitions more distinct. The Shiraz was the more accurate of the two, but Id be lying if I said I didnt also enjoy the way the Adikt strutted through this song.
At first glance, comparing the Adikt to the Roksan Shiraz doesnt seem fair. The price differential -- $349 versus $2000 -- makes this seem like an apples-and-oranges comparison, but the fact that the Adikt held up so well to a much more expensive moving-coil speaks volumes about the quality of this budget-priced cartridge.
As a reviewer, I am always removing expensive components from my system and replacing them with ones of lesser expense. And more often than not, I am happy to get my own gear back into the system at the end of the review period.
But the Linn Adikt is very capable of producing a convincing and enjoyable musical performance, and I felt no pressing need to return to my Roksan Shiraz cartridge. And thats about the biggest compliment its possible to give to a product in the Adikts price range. Sure, you can do better at a much higher price, but if you can only swing $349, odds are youll be happy with the Linn Adikt in your system. I certainly was.
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