The versatile Majik Kontrol preamp is—first, last, and always—transparent. I tried the Kontrol both with the Majik CD player and with Rega’s excellent Saturn CD player, and it made child’s play of delineating the sonic differences between the two. But as a much tougher test, I also fed the Kontrol from both the vacuumtube and solid-state output stages of my reference Musical Fidelity kW SACD player. The differences between the two output stages are sufficiently subtle that I think many mid-priced components might miss them, but the Kontrol made them plain as day. For example, the Kontrol revealed that the Musical Fidelity’s solid-state outputs offer a certain crystalline purity and produce very big soundstages, while the tube outputs convey a slightly broader spectrum of harmonic information, do a somewhat better job with extremely low-level details, and produce soundstages that are slightly deeper and wider than their solidstate counterparts. In short, the Kontrol is sufficiently transparent to be used with higher-end source components that cost much more than it does.
To appreciate the Kontrol’s effortless clarity, try listening to the delicate percussion details and soft solo piano passages heard in the opening minutes of Movement 2 of David Chesky’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” [Urban Concertos, Chesky, SACD]. In those passages, the Kontrol lets you hear the razor-sharp attack of notes being struck on various percussion instruments, and the gently modulated envelopes of those notes slowly decaying. The Kontrol also shows how Love Derwinger’s piano remains clear and pristine, even when played at very low volume levels. As I see it, these are the kinds of small details that mark the difference between good preamps and those that offer a step up to the next level of transparency. Another bonus is that the Kontrol offers a line-level input that can be set up as an mm or mc phonostage. The only catch is that the phonostage comes preconfigured for use with mm cartridges, and can only be reset for mc gain levels by a Linn dealer (it would be nice if the gain settings were user adjustable). I tested the Kontrol’s mm phonostage with a lowoutput Shelter 7000 cartridge that was run through a Supex step-up transformer, and came away impressed. The Kontrol’s phonostage sounded fast, clean, and articulate, and provided rock-solid bass. On the Wes Montgomery Trio’s debut album [Riverside/Analogue Productions 45rpm LP], for example, the Linn captured the deep, round tone of Melvin Rhynes’ electric organ pedal notes, even as it nailed down subtle variations in dynamics and attack as Montgomery shifted chords during his solos. I found the Majik phono section performed better than many sub-$1000 standalone phonostages I’ve heard, though it could not quite match the $1000 Sutherland Ph3D in terms of three-dimensionality and overall subtlety. My point is that the Kontrol’s phonostage is genuinely good, and not just an element tacked on as an afterthought.
Many of the things I’ve said about the Kontrol preamplifier apply to its companion 2100 power amplifier as well, but with one caveat. At the end of the day this wonderful little amplifier produces only 56Wpc, which means it can—and sometimes does—run out of dynamic headroom. The 2100 features Linn’s famous Chakra amplifier technology, which uses “an array of large bi-polar transistors as ‘boosters’ around a monolithic (single-chip) amplifier IC (integrated circuit).” Linn notes that “when output current is less than a few amps, all the power output comes from the monolithic IC,” which is said to offer excellent speed and linearity. At higher current output levels, however, the bipolar transistors come into play, allowing the IC to stay within safe operating levels, and freeing it “to correct any error instantaneously.” In practical terms this means that at low to middle volume levels—which is where I did the lion’s share of my listening—the 2100 sounded delightfully fast, clean, and energetic, much like the Kontrol preamplifier. The amplifier’s great strength is its almost uncanny ability to tease out rich textural details. Let me provide a concrete illustration to highlight this point.
TAS Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley recently loaned me a beautifully remastered CD of Chick Corea and Return to Forever’s Light as a Feather [Polydor]. I put on one of my favorite tracks, “Children’s Song,” and was struck by three things. The song opens with a simple phrase played by Corea on a Fender Rhodes electric piano—an instrument that, unlike many synthetic-sounding electric keyboards, presents a rich, chimelike voice whose delightful, “singing” tone floats delicately in the air. The 2100 caught the sound of Corea’s Rhodes piano just perfectly. As the song unfolds, Corea’s opening phrases are followed by a series of assertive accent notes played by Stanley Clarke on an acoustic bass. Clarke’s tone and articulation are extraordinary, so that as each bass note launches you hear a sound reminiscent of a sharp, yet very low-pitched intake of breath. The 2100 reproduced that “intake of breath” quality as well as any amplifier I have ever heard. But what really put things over the top was the sound of a delicate chime, which enters about 30 seconds into the song. The perfect “ping” and lingering sustain of the chime sounded drop-dead gorgeous through the Linn, making the Majik 2100 seem worth every bit of its not inconsiderable $2350 price.