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Inter.View with Ivor Tiefenbrun, Managing Director at Linn HiFi

by Lucio Cadeddu

[Italian version]

LC >
It seems that Linn is totally involved in developing new products aimed to the new booming Home Theater market. The AV51 series is impressive. What is your point of view regarding audio/video integration? I mean, in which way can video help HiFi audio? Will we listen to our favourite Music staring at a video screen (for example Operas, live concerts...)?

LINN >
Since our industry started to move from mono to stereo we had to learn to maximise channel separation and equalise, match and balance channels with minimum crosstalk. So from the earliest days Linn has really always been involved in accurate multi-channel sound reproduction. A 2 channel stereo music system or a 16 source Knekt system going to 128 rooms or a 5.1 Dolby Digital 6 channel home cinema system are all simply different applications for our multi-channel sound engineers.
The key performance issues with analogue or digital and with audio and AV are often similar and engineering switching of audio or video or de-jittering a digital signal for audio or video are pretty similar, although the video bandwidth is often much wider, audio is more demanding in other ways in terms of dynamic range and noise and of course while the eye is slow and interpretative, the ear is fast and highly accurate.
The big bonus for integrated AV and Digital Cinema sound for music lovers comes from opera, rock concerts, ballet music and so on.

LC >
In which way can audio help video instead? I mean, do you believe that the mass market customers seriously need six loudspeakers (and tons of cables) into their living rooms?

LINN >
The movie experience is over 90% dependent on sound quality. The latest home cinema standards are differentiated by music reproduction standard such as Dolby Digital. In addition to the sound track, the sound effects and the theme music are responsible for the context, drama and emotion accompanying the picture and dialogue.
Now two channel stereo music can also be enjoyed through an AC3 system using the new Linn Limbik music in the round algorithm. The AV 5103 Limbik automatically selects the 3, 4, 5 or 6 channels connected and this will especially suit the many customers who wish to have one system address all their entertainment needs in their main living space. So whether you choose to listen to music on its own, watch a film or throw a party you can do it all in the same room.
The AV51 system is also the perfect solution in order to have a high quality neat installation and to integrate home cinema with dedicated stereo, conventional TV and other systems throughout a home, including multi-room sound. Customers are going to increasingly require a custom installation expertise to integrate seamlessly and install their systems with the minimum of visual intrusion.

LC >
Now that the AC-3 format SEEMS definitive for the new DVD medium, are you planning to design a DVD player?

LINN >
We are very pleased that Dolby Digital is the agreed mandatory standard for DVD AC3 and that Dolby Digital is now mandatory around the globe for DVD. We developed the AV5103 primarily to deal with Dolby Digital, as Dolby has the track record, combined with the market leadership and the guaranteed software availability and the sonic expertise to deliver the kind of performance that will thrill most customers. However, we did develop the AV 5103 product so that it can also accommodate other standards if and when this is appropriate and program software exists in sufficient volume and of a satisfactory standard.
Linn has a DVD development capability and we are very interested in this format. If we can add sufficient value we might very well enter this market but this is unlikely to be within the next 2 years because there are conditions that are particular and peculiar to Linn that we have not yet been able to satisfy. This is not a criticism of any other company or of any existing standard or format.
However, because Linn develops our own original circuit topographies and we write our own software rather than simply implementing solutions from bigger companies, we can only afford to make a commitment to something new when we are pretty certain that the format and standard will stand the test of time. Quite simply, we cannot afford to develop a new player for every new type of format or standard, doing it all by ourselves the way we do.
Customers who want a rapid implementation of a new technology from a specialist company usually have many other satisfactory alternatives from expert specialist companies at competitive prices.

LC >
While waiting for the *battle of formats* to come to an end, Linn has decided to introduce its own *Music in the round* format (the Limbik). May you explain something about the aims of this format? Which Linn records are already compatible with the *Music in the round* software? What if we play a Limbik-compatible record into a pure simple stereo system?

LINN >
The Linn Limbik music in the round algorithm processes stereo to suit 3, 4, 5 or 6 channel systems. Linn developed this algorithm so that customers could combine music, games, home cinema and music entertainment within the same system. Linn Records also specialise in recording original and authentic period pieces on original instruments and much music, prior to the age of the concert hall, was written for music in the round performance with, for example, musicians and singers in a minstrel gallery while others were placed at the base of oriole windows.
The modern concert hall came about when technology could deliver a roof span that exceeded that of a cathedral for less than 1% of the cost. The ability to create such vast open entertainment places transformed theatre and the concert and gave rise to the modern conventional and universal presentation of audience, performers and orchestra with which we are all most familiar. Where appropriate, in addition to engineering our records for conventional stereo release, Linn also record the material for possible future release in Dolby Digital or whatever.

LC >
Between AC-3 and DTS it seems that the best sounding one is the latter. Your AV5103 controller already includes a decoder for AC-3, are you going to add a built-in decoder for the DTS soon? What about the fact that these digital formats use (rather heavy) compression algorithms for the audio channel?

LINN >
Many AC3 Dolby Digital and DTS comparisons donít compare like with like. The AC3 format provides many degrees of freedom and while there is a large amount of Dolby Digital software available, DTS has not yet established a similar market presence. New high quality standards will do doubt appear for both cinema and music, but right now for cinema Dolby Digital is both the mandatory standard and the one with the biggest published software base.
It seems unlikely that the marketplace will wish to have two competing standards but, of course, if this is what customers want, the design of the AV 5103 enables both additional software and hardware upgrades or enhancements. We are not anti-compression in principle and some compression algorithms work better than others. For exclusive audio only applications we might prefer no compression, but right now for cinema sound it is required and companies like Dolby have a track record of success with well engineered compromises where these are necessary. The result is that that cinema experience with Dolby Digital sound is intensively involving and offers an advance over any previous standard.

LC >
Let's talk about the multiroom systems. Do you believe in a mass market success for these kind of systems?

LINN >
There was a time when people lived in one room in the home, with one carpet in the house and with only one fire lit in the kitchen for warmth and cooking. Today, we live in a world of fitted carpeting and central heating and people are beginning to take it for granted that they should have access to all their entertainment and information systems from throughout their home.

In other words, they no longer wish to be constrained by a single living room only system, they wish to follow a programme or piece of music and combine this with the freedom to move around the home while entertaining, minding the children or doing homework. People are now also beginning to expect that children can watch one movie while father watches the football game and mother enjoys her own independent simultaneous access to drama or music.

The freedom our Knekt system brings results in quite an extraordinary increase in opportunities to access music. So whether you are having a bath or shaving in the morning or cooking the dinner or doing the laundry or settling the household accounts or answering e-mails in the office or studying your reading material after work (to a musical accompaniment) or catching up on worldwide events or playing games or virtual shopping, modern technology allows instant access. Linn Knekt also provides the ability to re-configure a system at the touch of a button in a way that makes it a willing servant to save us both time and effort for a more relaxing, stimulating, entertaining and enjoyable way of life than was ever possible previously with stand-alone room solutions that do not have the ability or intelligence to communicate with each other or be networked throughout the home.

When I lie in my bath after a cycle ride, listening to classical music or the sound of the '60s or listening to the news when I am shaving in the morning, or showering or when dressing to go out in the evening, I can do so in a way that relaxes me, changes and improves my mood, keeps me up-to-date and saves me precious time. Until you have experienced a Linn Knekt multi-room system, it is hard to imagine how liberating and enjoyable it will be and of course, my wife appreciates it because in addition to all the things I do, she might also be doing the laundry, cooking the dinner, chatting to her guests and sending a fax, all to the accompaniment of good music, seductively reproduced with the finest sound quality.

Courtesy Ivor Tiefenbrun for TNT.

Copyright © 1998 Lucio Cadeddu

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