Company continues policy of integration by discontinuing its remaining preamplifiers, concentrating efforts on DSM player range, and claims it’s part of a bigger picture
Linn’s announcement that it’s to halt production of all its standalone preamplifiers, and concentrate efforts on the preamp functions built into its DSM players, should hardly come as a surprise. After all, with its Exakt and SPACE Optimisation technologies now being incorporated into these network music models, allowing them to be used straight into power amps or even active speakers, there’s no longer any real need for standalone preamps in the Linn range.
Then again, who outside the ranks of the Linn aficionados even knew the company still made preamplifiers, so great has been its concentration of late on integrated solutions? From the entry-level all the way through to the flagship Akurate line,
Linn’s line-up is now built around a closed-loop way of thinking when it comes to playback and amplification – albeit with concessions to those not wanting to use the Scottish company’s speakers, in the form of a growing number of third-party models with which its SPACE Optimisation will work.
But let’s get this into some kind of perspective: this is a change for Linn, not the end of the preamp as a species, no more than the company’s much-reported 2009 decision to stop making CD players in favour of its DS streaming solution signalled the end of the silver disc, physical media or indeed the world as we know it.
You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, however: Linn’s press release says it ‘is again forecasting the demise of a long-term hi-fi stalwart by announcing that the company is to end production of all stand-alone pre-amps – having previously, accurately predicted the demise of the CD player back in 2009.’
OK, so CD player sales have declined, as more people embrace streaming and local music storage, but if Linn’s 2009 prediction was an accurate one, it’s taking its time to come to pass: six years so far and counting, and I’m still receiving CD players to review, such as the model from French company Métronome – the emphatically-named Le Player (above) – I cover in the July issue of Hi-Fi News and Record Review, now on sale.
Still buying CDs
What’s more, from my perspective as Audio Editor of Gramophone, I still see plenty of interest in CD from the readership of that title: true, some classical music enthusiasts have embraced ripping, downloading and streaming, but many are still playing discs not as some kind of anachronistic hold-out against the inevitable, but because a collection of physical discs is what best suits their requirements.
CDs are readily available – is there really that much difference between an instant download and a CD dropped through your letterbox the day after you decide you want to buy it? –, reliable and a proven technology; for many users, computer music storage and streaming, be it over the Internet or via the home network, is still too prone to pitfalls.
And as I write this I’m just getting myself organized to go off and have another listen to the forthcoming Marantz SA-14SE/PM-14SE system (below), first seen at the Munich High End show a couple of weekends back – yes, a system based around a disc player, the SA-14SE handling both CDs and SACDs.
I’m not starting a campaign here: almost all of my music listening is now served up from a NAS and routed to one of a range of network players around the house, and having just bought a new car that’s the first I have ever owned without any means of playing either CDs or – back in the old days – cassettes, I now realise I never actually used the player provided in the vehicle it replaced.
But I still buy CDs – lots of them – and still receive just as many discs for review as ever I did.
So, just as the CD player is showing no sign of vanishing any time soon – although these days it may also function as a Blu-ray machine or a means of ripping discs to hard-drive storage –, so I think it’s also somewhat early to write off the idea of a standalone preamplifier, and by association even the idea of having a separate amplifier in your system.
Fishing for enthusiasts?
Hi-fi enthusiasts – and yes, there are still plenty of us out there, thank goodness! – share with those into fishing or railway modeling or whatever an enthusiasm for the technology of their hobby. The greatest pleasure is building the ideal system for our room, music and listening tastes using this player, that preamp, another power amplifier and of course carefully selected speakers – just as our fishing friends will carefully select rod, reel, line, bait and hook to suit the prevailing conditions.
We may be a shrinking minority in the great scheme of things, but we enthusiasts enjoy the hobby as well as the music, taking pleasure in the chase and then even more in the results. And given how many hi-fi companies now operate in what is a fairly niche sector, I’d argue that ignoring one’s core market is something to be done with caution, not a sense of swagger.
After all, enthusiasts and their spending power are what built up some of today’s well-known hi-fi names, and while there’s nothing wrong with these companies expanding their appeal and seeking new markets for their products, a long-term customer alienated now is likely to be one lost forever.
And right now, the specialist audio industry needs to put as much effort into keeping its current customer-base onside as it does into winning new buyers.
Written by Andrew Everard