Yesterday I met my son up at our KEF dealer so he could pick up the new Q500's I'd bought for him. He got there 20 minutes before me (excited much?) so I told him to ask our salesman for a demo on the Linn Majik 140 speakers they have hooked up to a Linn Majik DSM and Exaktbox amp. When I arrived I found my son sitting in front of those relatively inexpensive towers (about $3 list, $2600 street price) and he was mesmerized. Like me, he was struck by the incredible detail of the tweeter-supertweeter combo, but also by the deep range in low frequencies.
Sitting on matched stands next to the Linn speakers was a pair of KEF Reference 1's. I asked if we could hear those too. Now I'd heard them before and was impressed, but it was one of my first trips into that shop with my reborn interest in hi-fi and just a brief listen. The salesman said "sure, but not in this room." There was no other amp in the room and it's not possible to take the digital crossover DSM and 8 outputs of the Linn amp and connect to a traditional speaker. We moved them to the larger room next door and hooked up the Ref 1's to Plinius Kaitaki preamp and SB-301 power amp...it's a big one.
Streaming HD tracks through this setup to the Ref 1's and giving them a worthy workout, I was "not wowed" and told the salesman so. Yes they sounded really good, but the detail and richness of the Linn system really did appeal to us more...by a LOT. While we were driving back to our own homes, my son called me to thank me for the Q500's so I asked him what he thought of the Reference 1 and the Linn setup. He said the Ref 1 "sounds way too close to your R500 to be worth an upgrade." I had to agree, as that's exactly what I was thinking. He then offered that "I wish I hadn't heard that Linn system." What? He said he'd never heard such and expensive system before and that he's spoiled. I explained that the money in the Linn system is in the electronics, about $9500 of it, and the speakers cost only the same as my R500 (at list price, I didn't pay anywhere near that.)
My discussions with the dealer have centered around what would the Linn digital crossover and 8 channel amp do with higher-end speakers if it can make $3000 speakers sound like $10,000 speakers. Of course he suggested it could make $10,000 speakers sound like $30,000 speakers.
I know Linn has at least two levels higher in speakers that are thoroughly integrated with their electronics, but has also mated Linn Exakt system to the B&W 802D3. What he didn't know is that Linn has also paired with a Reference 5. Now that's something I want to hear! I love my KEF R series and have no regrets, it's just that as my ears and tastes have evolved, there are systems with other characteristics which also appeal to me. I'm more surprised by that than anyone, being a die-hard KEF guy.