World Exclusive Review!
Linn pitches the new Linn 360 floorstanding loudspeaker as 'audibly invisible; visibly remarkable', and the company has a point. This is Linn's girthy flagship – roughly the size of the outgoing Klimax 350, the former head of the clan. It's available in passive form with 'Aktiv' bass or Exakt digital active to slot in a Linn DSM system.
The Linn 360 is a good blend of the conventional and the innovative. It retains several important styling cues of previous high-end Linn speakers. But look closer, and you'll notice the complexity of the cabinet. Look even closer; you'll see that new Beryllium tweeter with a Linn logo protection cover. You might even see the trim pieces with concentric arcs cut into them. These remind listeners of Linn's place in the turntable hierarchy with its eternal LP12. But clever curves and elegant grooves are not enough.
An Exakt Science
The loudspeaker driver array is met by Linn's new 'Power DAC' in the lower bass. This Exakt system keeps the music signal in the digital domain until just before the bass driver cones. It also features 'Adaptive Bias Control' in the 360 array of tweeter, midrange, and upper bass. This adapts to the speaker's demands, using real-time correction. Think of it as an engine management system... for loudspeakers.
Used with an appropriate Linn digital front end like the Klimax DSM, 360 takes advantage of a suite of bonuses. The most notable is Space Optimisation+, designed to dial the effects of the room out of the music. Few will get just how significant the changes are to the cabinet design. At face value, the 360 looks like any other boat-backed, slightly back-swept design. A closer examination of the front baffle reveals complex curves, with shaped radii matched to each driver. This lets each drive unit live its best life in dispersion terms, each driver in its ideal baffle.
I've known Linn loudspeakers for decades; I even used to sell them in the late 1980s. And they have come a long way since the days of the Kan, Sara, and Isobarik. They retained the sense of fun of those early models. But they became more accurate and detailed with each generation. But there was always one thing missing... imaging. Even the top Klimax 350 was at most 'fairly good' in presenting a good soundstage.
It was as if Linn never considered soundstaging a priority in sonic performance. Each generation of Linn loudspeaker would get successively more detailed, more refined, and more capable in so many ways. But not stereo imaging. The Linn 360 floorstanding loudspeaker changes all that. It has excellent imaging. Better still, it has excellent imaging for more than one listener. The combination of wide dispersion and Space Optimisation+ room cancellation work well together. They create the sort of stereo soundstage more commonly associated with omni-directional designs.
Harking back to those days sitting in the back and side of a demonstration room, it was clear that the sound the demonstrator was getting and the sound heard in the 'hot seat' were very different. In a way, as it should be; the guy selling the equipment isn't the person buying it! But those days in a demonstration room were more than 30 years ago and things should have moved on... but often didn't. The Linn 360 changes that and even those in the furthest parts of the room get almost all the sonic benefits of those sitting in the sweet spot. That might seem like a relatively obscure benefit until you think what people do with music in real life; they move around. Maybe they get up and dance, maybe they want to fill the room with high-quality sound while sitting off-axis and doing something important. Or maybe it's because there might be more than just one person in the room hoping to enjoy music.
The importance of this aspect of sound highlights changes in audio appreciation. Back in the Before Time, in the Long, Long Ago, hi-fi was more of a group enjoyment event. People used to go to one another's houses and listen to the latest music on the latest audio gear. Then, audio became a very solitary pursuit, and the system was removed to 'the man cave'.
An unintended benefit of the post-pandemic world is people are less keen to enjoy pursuits that remind them of their months of solitary confinement during 2020 and 2021. People still want to enjoy good music in the home, but are increasingly looking at communal listening sessions with friends. And it's here that the Linn 360 truly excels.
Normally, such designs are either omni-directional or are loudspeakers with seemingly wide directivity at the expense of the main listener. Here, thanks to that clever cabinet design, the driver array, and the DSP Linn uses so well, the listener in the driving seat gets a fantastic sound with very high-grade imaging and soundstaging (something that sets the 360 way beyond any of its stable-mates and places it in amongst the Great and the Good of audio loudspeaker brands), while those elsewhere in the room get extremely close to the same degree of stereo performance.
This comes over in almost everything you play, but is especially noticeable in recordings of jazz trios. This is probably because those who enjoy a spot of jazz have been to clubs and bars where trios and quartets have been playing and are used to occasionally getting up and moving around during a set, whereas in classical concerts, getting up to get a drink or take a comfort break mid way through a concerto is frowned upon! The fact the trio stay in their physical spaces as you move around makes Waltz For Debby by The Bill Evans Trio [Riverside] that bit more 'real'.
Martinis All Round!
We in the audio world sometimes forget that those who buy these products are not necessarily 'dunked' in the social mores of high-end audio. They might want to play music at a wider range of volume levels than most conventional audio loudspeakers can handle, and the Linn 360 is one of those rare devices that can handle both whisper quiet for late-night listening sessions and something disturbingly close to PA levels for the occasional Bacchanalian Saturday night.
In part because every part of the Linn ecosystem is a known entity, there's little risk of finding your beloved loudspeakers as a smoking ruin after your teenage kids got hold of the controls. Of course, they are not a PA system and I don't advocate playing music at ear-splitting levels, but everyone has to wig out from time to time... and the Linn 360 won't turn a hair while you are doing so.
I feel I am painting the 360 in too broad a set of brushstrokes. This is hugely capable loudspeaker, both in extremes and in daily use. It's easy to get carried away by the extremes (its dynamic and volume headroom, the walkin soundstage, etc.) but where it shines is in its subtlety and grace, the kind of elements that makes you want to play music for its own sake, not to show off what the system can or can't do.
Once you are through the 'bombast' stage when you show the loudspeaker off to yourself and your friends (be it with Mahler and his symphonic hammer or Rammstein's gently graunching drop-D guitars), the Linn 360 is a graceful and deft, low-distortion loudspeaker, with the right amounts of dynamic range and detail to suit any level of output. But, in listening to the 360 you realize that all of those descriptive things I get paid for are secondary concerns to the overall performance of the loudspeaker; you are pulled into the music in a wholly satisfying way, no matter what that music is. Even Miley Cyrus or K-Pop!
Get Out Of The Way!
In past Linn loudspeakers, the character was the overarching component of the sound. It got very close to the musical intent of the musicians, but always with a Glaswegian accent. With the 360, no such concession needs be made. This is an honest, neutral, dynamic and detailed sounding loudspeaker, but one that singlehandedly manages to retain the rhythmic drive that previous Linn flagships were noted for with a sense of high-end clarity and finesse that gives the Linn 360 a place at high‑end's top table. That deserves a lot of praise!
It also means the company's pithy 'audibly invisible' tag-line lives up to the hype. The Linn 360 is a big step forward for the company. Linn Klimax 350 owners looking to upgrade might also find that a big step up in price. Linn joins the high-end with the 360; a product that deserves to be taken seriously.
This is Linn shifting up. The company's high-end credentials started with the LP12 turntable 50 years ago. It's grasped the nettle of top-notch streaming. And now, with the 360 when used in the full Exakt Integrated configuration with Space Optimisation+, it's a credible and modern high-end loudspeaker system. You get super-low levels of distortion, unparalleled levels of dispersion, and a sonic performance that produces desperation in its rivals.