The Perfect Hi-Fi

Some people are interested in just the facts, just the measured performance of their hi-fi gear so they can be assured the sound they hear is as accurate as possible. Some suggest that there is a direct correlation between accuracy and enjoyment and if you feel comfortable and reassured with this approach, I've got the perfect hi-fi for you.

Here's your shopping list:

  • Linkwitz Lab Analog Signal Processor (ASP) Orion-4 speakers ($14,750 assembled or in Kit form starting at $3,500 + $1,295 for the Analog Signal Processor)
  • 1x Amplifier Technologies Inc. AT-1806 ($2695)
  • Benchmark Media DAC2 HGC ($1995)
  • Cables from Monoprice (less than $80 for everything)
Total Cost: $19,515

I have not included room treatment since the requirements and cost vary from room-to-room. While there are a number of companies to choose from, my recommendation would be to look at the products from GIK Acoustics. I'm also assuming you will use your computer as source to feed the Benchmark DAC.

I cannot write about the sound of this system because I've never heard it.

COMMENTS
rbrooks's picture

The Orion3.4 loudspeaker has been superseded b:
LXmini
LXstudio
LX521.4

www.linkwitzlab.com

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...not a kit. The Orion 4 is still available through Wood Artistry.
rbrooks's picture

LXmini, LXstudio, and LX521.4 complete speakers are available from:
www.magicLX521.com

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I did see that but they only available from Germany. Just to note, the shipping charges to the USA are 340€.
A. Hourst's picture

There is some testimonies that this system’s sound is astonishing. http://www.biline.ca/audio_critic/audio_critic_web1.htm#321
There exist no inherent conflict between the subjective emotion given by a system and its objective value. People who have a scientific approach simply try to link both together, instead of just “enjoying the sound system”. That’s not a “comfortable and reassuring” approach. It implies that you make the effort to understand. Linkwitz Lab have been doing that, and even if they are being snobbed by the “big magazines” (they don’t sell through retailers), reviews have reported that this is a totally different experience. Loudspeakers are the components that bring the most distortion. A sound system of this caliber could not have come from an ex-dentist playing with MDF on his spare time. I recommend Siegfried Linkwitz’s blog to every audiophile.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
As far as "...instead of just 'enjoying the sound system'", that's what we all do, ideally. How we get there is a purely personal matter.

I find it curious that people who appreciate the above approach find it difficult to communicate their preference without resorting to condescension, i.e. "A sound system of this caliber could not have come from an ex-dentist playing with MDF on his spare time."

A. Hourst's picture

"if you feel comfortable and reassured with this approach"
and this was not condescending?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
What about being comfortable and reassured with this approach do you find to be condescending?
A. Hourst's picture

Well, you, assuming that people who seek accuracy are doing it because it’s “comfortable” and “reassuring” is a way of saying you know better than us what are our motivations.
But enough pettifogging about the tone of the conversation. I don’t care if you’re condescending, I can be myself. My point was that Linkwitz’s loudspeakers are a demonstration that "designing" loudspeakers only by ear and feeling has a very limited potential compared to what a scientific and methodical approach can achieve.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"Some suggest that there is a direct correlation between accuracy and enjoyment and if you feel comfortable and reassured with this approach, I've got the perfect hi-fi for you."

Who designs loudspeakers by ear?

A. Hourst's picture

Well, I don't know. Those who believe there's not a "direct correlation between accuracy and enjoyment" in loudspeaker design. You tell me. Who are they?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...who designs solely by ear.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
You used my quote which refers to hi-fi buyers to characterize speaker designers. Of course I'd never make such a claim regarding designers. Perhaps this misunderstanding helps explain the tenor of our back 'n forth.
A. Hourst's picture

If all the loudspeaker designers you know use measuring instruments to evaluate the accuracy of their design, why point toward Linkwitz Lab in particular to fit the demand of a rational audiophile?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The Linkwitz Lab speakers are very well regarded.

But I see you and I are getting nowhere in terms of an understanding, e.g. ""rational audiophile", which is too bad since I doubt there's as great a divide as you seem to believe exists.

A. Hourst's picture

By rational I meant an audiophile who has a cognitive and cerebral understanding of hifi instead of just an emotional one.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I've never met an audiophile who does not employ their cognitive and cerebral abilities when shopping for a hi-fi but I suppose the possibility of such an all-emotional hi-fi human may exist out there in the wilds ;-)
A. Hourst's picture

You must be joking.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Are you?
garrettnecessary's picture

I own GRIMM LS1 speakers, which might be the ultimate in this vein (or at least as ultimate as the system above). I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and my ideal system is one that allows as much different music recorded under different conditions to sound as different in a good way as is possible. This involves accurate dynamics, tone color, rhythm, etc. But it's not out of an accuracy fetish, it's because I have found this is the way to open my listening up to as many genres, styles, musicians, etc. as possible. That said horns and a tube amp might do this just as well -- I don't know. But I've found that many systems that I found to be initially very beautiful in the end restricted the kinds of music I wanted to listen to. That's what I want to avoid.

garrettnecessary's picture

I do think there is a correlation between flat measurements across a wide audio spectrum and measured dynamic capacity and the likelihood a system will do what I want. BUT I don't think it's the only way to do it. And a lot also depends on how systems are measured, for what, by whom, etc.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...are a very interesting approach as they eliminate what can be a difficult piece of the system puzzle.

In terms of what we end up buying, I find speakers to be the most personal of choices; some like horns, others panels, open baffle, etc, etc. I imagine we could find examples from each type that perform very closely on the test bench according to certain parameters. But one difference is how a speaker energizes a room, which obviously depends on the room they are in, and my guess is different people react to these room-loading characteristics differently.

garrettnecessary's picture

I agree. But I do think that there's an aspect of both speaker and electronics purchase that can't be settled by subjective listening. Let's say I love trio jazz at the moment almost exclusively. I've never heard a rig that better presents my beloved Bill Evans than X. But although this rig makes my trio albums positively glow in my room, I don't realize at the moment that my future self would take enormous pleasure in opera that is not well rendered by this rig. I conclude I do not like opera based on my beloved rig. But my future self could have loved this and all sorts of other music. I think there are two steps out of this. First is to listen to as many kinds of music as you can when you audition a set up, including many things you don't presently like. The problem is I still think you will be presently biased by what you now so happen to like. The other is to also look at the measurements as assiduously as you can and buy something like a very good studio monitor in that it is made for this kind of flexibility. This corrects present subjective bias which may not be good for future listening.

I also think that what sounds good to us initially does not on a lot of listening. We have to learn to listen to certain set ups.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
As we know from John Atkinson's speaker measurements, we cannot always go by the manufacturer's numbers. There's also the issue of 'the room' which can color the sound if not dealt with.

Since I do not review in-room speakers, this is more of a personal approach but I research the heck out of speakers, and their manufacturers, and spend a lot of time listening prior to purchase. I took many months, probably nearly a year, auditioning the Auditorium 23 Solovox before I bought them. I wanted to hear them in a number of rooms with different amplification prior to purchase so it took time. I also listen to a wide variety of music when auditioning speakers because I listen to a wide variety of music.

I've told this story before but it's worth repeating. Many years ago, I was at an audio dealer in NYC auditioning speakers. We were comparing two different speakers, and two guys came in during the A/B'ing. They'd brought a CD with them of music they'd just recorded. It turned out one of them was a performer on the CD and the other was the engineer who made the recording. We all listened to their music through both speakers a number of times, along with other music. After a while the performer guy said he liked speaker A because he felt it conveyed the gist of the music. His friend responded he preferred speaker B because it captured the sound he heard during recording.

garrettnecessary's picture

That's why I take John Atkinson's measurements so seriously, and the judgments of reviewers like Robert Green and manufacturers like Grimm. They are all sufficiently knowledgeable of the studio and interaction that they are aware of the many problems of measurement.

Regarding that great anecdote -- one might be split over a particular piece of music BUT the capacity of a rig to play a wide-range of music is different.In those cases I trust the engineer who has engineered a lot of music under a lot of circumstances.

BTW, and speaking of room interaction, you might enjoy this http://importantrecords.com/imprec/imprec419download

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I think this is an important part of this discussion and it exists outside measurements, which is why I like to learn about the people behind the products. I also go back to how different speakers load a room differently as an area where listening informs one's preference.

I've heard the Grimm speakers at a few different shows and would love to be able to spend more time with them. Another speaker that I find very intriguing is Bruno Putzeys Kii Three speakers. If you read their Acoustics page, you'll find a discussion about what I'm referring to as room loading.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...now that's a cool barn.
garrettnecessary's picture

Indeed! I don't have a barn but I do have a Bertoia chair between my speakers.

avpassion's picture

Michael,

I normally very much enjoy your writings but I don't understand your snide slight of Linkwitz speakers or the condescending nature of this article.

You admit you haven't heard them. If true, then why slam them? What did he do to you? Refuse to advertise in your magazine or your website?

Having met Seigfried and after auditioning his speakers at his home less than a month ago, I can only say that I was deeply impressed with his speakers, his approach and thoughts on sound reproduction, and even more he himself as an individual.

Frankly, I think you are better than this and I expect better from you.

rappahannock's picture

I don’t get it either — it does sound atypically condescending. But you know this is a weird medium and sometimes a blogger can come across differently than he/she intended. In any case, I’d have thought that subjective reviewing was well established at this point, certainly since Gordon Holt’s emergence onto the scene, and that audiophiles or others who consult Audiostream or its sister publications do so precisely because they’re already unconvinced that measurements tell the whole story. Anyway, if this was a slip by Michael Lavorgna, let’s cut him some slack. He’s a truly thoughtful reviewer and a real pillar of the community.

24bitbob's picture

Cut some slack? Nope, this is straight out of the school playground.

I agree that much of what can be read here is thoughtful, well articulated and stimulating, especially (but not only) the music recommendations, but too much of it comes across as "It's my ball and I'm going home"

Music is about emotion; journalism is hard headed. The wires have got crossed somewhere.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'm recommending a system based on measured performance. What aspect of this is "straight out of the school playground"?
Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'm recommending the Linkwitz speakers based on their measured performance.

But I'm curious, what did I say that makes you think I slighted them?

rappahannock's picture

It was just a drafting/tone thing. The closing line was somewhat telegraphic so when facial expression, tone of voice, body language are all missing — which is just the nature of things when communications are mediated by the web — it’s easy for readers to project on to your comments an attitude that you obviously weren’t intending to impart. And normally your writing is so nuanced, regular readers could probably be excused for this misinterpretation. Anyway I don’t think it’s a big deal. Or even a little one! Let’s move on.. am very eager to read your review of the Aurender.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...approach. But I agree with you that I could have been clearer.

The Aurender review is live ;-)

Tulkinghorn's picture

If what you want is accuracy, you can read the specs in the literature and put together a system which you will love, WITHOUT EVER HAVING TO LISTEN TO IT.

Michael has done that for you. A service, free of charge.

And, by the way, you probably will like it. I'd rather listen to "Help me, Ronda" on a transistor radio myself, but feel free to condescend to me.

deckeda's picture

And my friends and I enjoy talking about it a great deal. But one of them wondered if something else might be just good enough.

pranabindu's picture

to describe the tone. The only evidence of such tone is the placement of the last sentence (not its content). Perhaps Michael's seeming implication of disagreement with the idea of choosing a system without listening to it aroused the sensitivities here simply because he did not just come out and state that disagreement explicitly.

However, I suspect that those sensitivities would have been aroused by a wholly express statement of that disagreement. It hurts our feelings when we are reminded that our opinions are rejected by some, especially by those for whom we otherwise have esteem. Also, it is a call to defend those opinions, which is inherently an offensive act.

I thought it was hilarious (haven't laughed out loud at audio talk in a long time). I prefer to judge by what I hear, and that's why I laughed at the apparent challenge, but I have to acknowledge that such judgment is inherently compromised. Those who value measurement must acknowledge that it is also an incomplete way to judge equipment.

However, such acknowledgements don't dispose of the dispute. The ideas behind the disagreement can still be attacked and defended. I don't think Michael's (apparent) jab was malicious. Clever? Yes.

All straw gods must burn, and their worshipers with them, no?

(BTW, I just signed up for an account here, based on this discussion, and this is my first post, so let me apologize if I'm throwing gas on a fire as my first act here. This community seems to be generally free from nastiness, and I don't wish to change that.)

Davey's picture

For those interested: The Orion system was introduced nearly 14 years ago and subsequent modifications/improvements have taken place along the way. The Linkwitz LX521 system is Siegfried's latest full-range system...introduced four years ago.
I can assure you that more than measured performance was considered in these designs and that users are enjoying them in spite of the excellent measured performance. :)

Regarding room treatments: Linkwitz doesn't recommend them as he considers their usage necessary only for poorly designed speaker systems.

There is much information at the Linkwitz Lab website for those interested in understanding the concepts at work with these designs.

Dave Reite.

geickmei's picture

Measured performance? How do you measure the spatial characteristics? Accuracy? Accuracy of what to what? What we hear about loudspeakers is the radiation pattern, and that is affected by the speaker positioning and the room surfaces nearby. The realism of the sound depends on how the speakers put the sound into the room, which is an acoustic problem, not an accuracy problem. Measuring the direct sound output tells you NOTHING about the spatial characteristics of speaker and room. Only listening can judge that. Finally, no, you do not want to kill the reflections. Stereo is a field-type system, not a head related system. The function of the loudspeakers is not to radiate the sound directly to the ears, but to set up an image model, or reconstruction, of the sound fields in your room in front of you.

Gary Eickmeier

monetschemist's picture

I'm going to avoid the whole "ulterior motive" thing and point out that in many places there isn't a great alternative to buying a system based on its specs or based on someone else's review. The days of having a wide selection on demo at a nearby store are fading fast in the rearview mirror.

RubenV's picture

I have a pair of LX521's for over two years now and they are truly exceptional. All I can do is recommend you take a look at http://oplug-support.org/ or www.magiclx521.com to schedule a listening session in the audition thread in order to hear it yourself. Such a wide soundstage, such precise imaging and a delightful tight bass. I could be here talking in superlatives all day but go out for an audition is best. And yes, Linkwitz takes a scientific no-nonsense approach when he designs his speakers.

Linkwitz won a ALMA titanium driver award and even Joachim Gerhard (Audio Physic) decided to built a LX521 clone after hearing the original at Linkwitz.

Here is his comment:

Nothing prepared me for what Siegfried had in stock.
The LX521 fullfills all my wishes and some...
The sound is now totally free from the speakers. I could not hear sound comming from the baffles, even in close miked pans. That is really unusual and welcome. They totally " disappear ". OK; this has being said many times in reviews, for example in Michael Fremers Review in the 90th of my original Virgos and it is true. I can only tell you that they even " disappear " more then i have heard before in a dynamic speaker. Another feature is also at work here that gives the illusion of the speakers not present : there is absolutely no preasure on the ears.
There is much more to say and i will later.
At the end of the session Siegfried encouraged me to build a pair myself.

Peter Aczel aka TheAudioCritic his comment:

The precise phantom images produced by the LX521 create the most solidly three-dimensional soundstage of any stereo system in my listening experience. In the end, that is more important in producing a you-are-there effect than the superior definition of instruments and voices, the “texture” of the sound, where the LX521 may perhaps be equaled by other loudspeakers using advanced drivers.

I have not tested or even briefly listened to every high-end loudspeaker out there, but of all the speakers known to me none equals the Linkwitz Lab LX521 in my opinion. I have been to a few audio shows fairly recently and auditioned the most highly touted speakers there, and after each listening session I just shook my head, wondering how they could charge so much money for such obviously canned, unlifelike sound. It’s as if the designers had never heard live acoustic music in a concert hall. Siegfried Linkwitz has not only established a new paradigm but has also proved that throwing money at each component of a speaker design, and then charging the consumer with a huge multiple of the cost, is not the way to go. Instead, the simple and cost-effective principle of the “spectrally neutral radiation pattern” rules!

What I really like is that Linkwitz made this design available for the diy community. I never could have dreamed of a speaker performing this well, that fitted my budget. Even when you are not a woodworker you can order the woodpackage (and even the entire speaker completely finished) from www.magiclx521.com. Dr. Frank Brenner has been a great help to help me realise this speaker project. I never had done any diy and Frank helped me with every question I had. Assembly of the LX521 was very simple, and once completed it does not even look like a diy-speaker. Frank offers the highest quality wood and finish, even the bulletproof "Panzerholz" which is very difficult to work with.

Having this speaker even resulted in new audio buddies, in the form of people that came to listen for an audition and who I am still in contact with. One word summary: awesome!

AudioDoctor's picture

I see no point here at all... Perhaps I am missing an inside joke or internal argument going on here, but this seems really pointless.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the point of this article varies depending on the reader.
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