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Linn Akubarik

Linn Akubarik

The original Linn Isobarik was once the top dog on the flat earth. If you had a pair, driven by a Naim six-pack and with a fully loaded LP12 at the front in the 1980s, you could hold your head high and bathe in the certain knowledge that you had reached the apex of audio nirvana. Such certainty is less easy to come by these days; the audiophile has many paths to enlightenment and few (if any) are universally acknowledged as the true one.

Isobaric loading involves two bass units operating simultaneously driving identical volume enclosures. The advantage of isobaric loading however, is that you have twice the magnet power and the extra driver increases cone stiffness, effectively reinforcing the bass cone. Sonically, the result is that you need half the cabinet volume for the same bass extension. In the original Isobarik, the front baffle of the rear enclosure formed the back of the front enclosure, and the front of this enclosure was the lower section of front baffle of the loudspeaker itself. You might need to read that a couple of times!

The Akubarik’s twin bass units are face-to-face. Linn’s design team has placed the drivers in the Akubarik’s base, making them overshadowed by the cabinet itself; the lower driver’s magnet is just about visible if you peer underneath. There is a visual hint as to its existence in the plinth, which has been sculpted to reflect the rearward shape of a drive unit; this provides a sonic benefit according to Linn but they don’t know why! The face-to-face driver layout allows less volume of air between the cones compared to in-line designs, and this gives rise to claims of greater effective cone stiffness and lower distortion. Also, the proximity of the drivers to the floor boosts bass output by 3dB. The plinth itself is made from cast and machined aluminium and supports the cabinet on four legs, its outriggers providing very secure anchor points for the large spikes.

The Akubarik has an unusually sleek profile for a fully active (or ‘Aktiv’) loudspeaker. An aluminium extrusion that forms the rear sector of the cabinet houses five channels of Linn’s Chakra amplification; it’s switch-mode Dynamik power supplies help keep that profile slim. Unlike designs using conventional linear power supplies, switch-mode based amplifiers do not require substantial transformers, and the Chakra module runs relatively cool for its 600 watt rating, in part because the entire case acts as a heatsink. The problem with active operation in the cabinet is the loudspeaker needs to isolate the amps from enclosure vibration and vice versa, so Linn mounts the module on EPDM rubber, the resonance of which coincides with that of the bass port. In other words, the amplifier vibration does not influence the cabinet.

Build quality is extremely high, Linn is an engineering company at heart, and this is obvious in the Akubarik from every angle; the casting of the 3K driver array, the finish of the woodwork, and the detailing throughout are all top notch. Visiting the company’s Glasgow HQ reveals that this ethos is more than skin deep. The company goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure its products are mechanically and electrically consistent in order to provide long term reliability and performance. You only have to look at the value of used Linn products to see that this ensures their desirability in the long term – the LP12 being probably the strongest example in this respect, as its residual value is an important consideration with purchases at this level.

When Linn engineer Phil Budd installed the Akubariks he took some time to find an optimal position for them and it was a painstaking process involving a tape measure and much listening to Beth Orton’s ‘She Calls Your Name’ on Trailer Park [Heavenly]. My initial impressions were of a refined, clean, and controlled sound with the Akubarik – one that could be called tonally dark by the standards found with Bowers & Wilkins and PMC designs, but fairly typical of recent Linn models. This is not an ‘obvious’ sounding loudspeaker, and it probably wouldn’t fare well in a blind listening test, for example, because it takes a while for its qualities to become apparent. It’s a relaxed yet resolute loudspeaker that gives the impression of immense composure. It feels as though you could play at silly SPLs and never encounter the slightest sense of strain. This is largely down to the Aktiv operation; having the amplifier connected directly to the drive unit means that it has maximum control over what it sends to the drive units, yet you do not get the overly ‘grippy’ sound that many active designs produce. That, I suspect, is because Linn’s amplifiers are extremely clean sounding devices, rather than the vice-like bipolar types employed elsewhere.


The presentation does not sound as dynamic as similarly priced passive speakers and power amps, but I suspects this is because it has that much more control over the drivers. Another view is that they don’t embellish recordings, but show them in their true light. Play a good recording of acoustic music and you can hear an awful lot of what’s going on. Bass lines are always taut and timely and there’s loads of headroom across the board, giving the impression that bass extension is limited by the room rather than the speakers’ capabilities. And it particularly likes good recordings: on Herbie Hancock’s version of ‘Court & Spark’ on River: The Joni Letters [Verve], the piano, rather than Norah Jones’ voice, comes to the fore. This suggests the midrange is not as strong in the mix as usual, or that the original emphasis of the recording was at least equal between voice and piano (being a pianist’s album, this is entirely plausible). However, both voice and piano have a similar tonal range on this piece at least. So what the Akubarik is doing is giving both elements their own space and due deference.

You always know about the recording quality and style with the Akubarik. I put on ‘Shake a Tail Feather’ by Ike & Tina Turner and the vintage and nature of the compression used was obvious. It’s not their greatest work in sonic terms! Meanwhile, ‘Hit It & Quit It’ from Parliament’s epic Maggot Brain [Westbound] might be similarly grungy, but has a pace and solidity that is all too obvious by comparison. Moving over to contemporary material, Gregory Porter’s ‘No Love Dying’ from Liquid Spirit [Blue Note] is dramatically more real; it sounds rich and luxurious with wider dynamic range and plenty of power. The highs seem toned down, but they are still present, albeit not as obviously as usual. There is a smoothness to the Akubarik presentation, but that doesn’t always work with non-acoustic material for some reason, as this can sound lacking in attack.

Classical music, on the other hand, is simply remarkable. I could imagine my tastes veering more strongly in that direction if these speakers took up residence. Alfred Brendel’s rendition of Beethoven’s piano sonatas [Philips] work really well, as you can hear the recording and the room, but the music takes centre stage and carries you away. Ditto Jean Efflam-Bavouzet’s Haydn [Chandos], which is spirited, relaxed and effortless with none of the glare that so many speakers bring to a bright piano. I was inspired to look further into the classical repertoire and dug out Stravinsky’s Firebird, the Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra [Reference Recordings] version. This has real bass extension in a real ‘inky black’ background, and the Akubariks revelled in it. Scary stuff when it’s done this well, with acres of space, but all of it dark and menacing.

The Linn Akubarik is superbly engineered and has vanishingly low levels of perceived distortion. It’s capable of delivering serious sound levels in an effortless fashion. However, the Akubarik is not the most dynamically expressive or lively of speakers. But, if you are looking for a substantial sounding speaker that doesn’t dominate the room, it doesn’t have too much competition.

Technical Specifications

  • Type: 5-way, floorstanding integrated active loudspeaker
  • Drive units: 13mm dome, 25mm dome, 75mm dome, 150mm upper bass, 2x 200mm isobaric lower bass
  • Operating volume: 44 litres
  • Crossover points: 110 Hz, 318 Hz, 3.6kHz, 9.84 kHz
  • Input impedance: 7.5 Ohms
  • Amplifier power: 4x 100W (4 Ohms) + 1x 200W (4 Ohms)
  • Weight inc stands: 46kg
  • Dimensions inc stand (HxWxD): 1050 x 351 x 450mm
  • Standard finishes: black ash, cherry, oak, rosenut, walnut, white. High gloss finishes: piano black, cherry, oak, rosenut, walnut, white plus over 200 RAL colours. 3k Array finishes: chrome, black anodised
  • Price: £15,600

Manufacturer: Linn Products Ltd, Glasgow Road, Waterfoot, Eaglesham, Glasgow, G76 0EQ


Tel: +44 (0) 141 307 7777

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