Linn’s Exakt concept is arguably the most 21st Century take on the audio system in production, and the Akurate Akudorik Exakt is the most attainable of the current Exakt systems. This makes it one of the most important takes on high-resolution and ‘next generation’ audio available today, and any review of the system needs to reflect that.
As such, this is not one review, but three: a discussion of the mechanics of Exakt, how this system functions (both as an ambassador for the Exakt concept, and in a wider context as an audio system in its own right), and what Exakt implies in a wider audiophile concept.
Linn broke with the Exakt concept as part of its 40th year celebrations back in 2013. While all the public attention was focused on the Highland Park whisky hook‑up and the anniversary turntable that ensued, the real story was Exakt, and its claim of, ‘The Source is in the Speaker.” Linn has, in fairness, long been an advocate of both active loudspeakers and networked audio systems, so creating an extension of both is a logical next step for the company.
Exakt works by eliminating sub‑systems in the distribution and replay chain. The idea is that an uncompressed high-resolution recording is passed from studio to drive unit (well, almost) in the digital domain, avoiding any kind of deleterious effects from the traditional audio signal path along the way. In this case, the four 100W Linn Chakra monolithic amp modules (driven by a Dynamik switch-mode power supply) built into the stand of the four way, rear ported Acudorik standmount loudspeaker are the first point at which the signal is converted to analogue, and from there it’s straight to the drive units. Crossover, level, DSP, and any other form of signal wrangling takes place in the digital domain in the Akurate Exakt DSM. The Akurate Exakt DSM also acts as a UPnP media player, and includes a range of analogue inputs (including a very good phono stage), which it doesn’t dismiss as ‘legacy’.
King of Konfiguration
The Exakt system runs along Ethernet, albeit with the two loudspeakers running their RJ45 connectors through the Akurate Exakt DSM. At this point, there’s not a great difference between the Linn system and that of, say, Meridian’s DSP speakers. Where the Linn system gets really clever is those amplifier-stands are set‑up by using Linn’s Set‑Up Wizard and Konfig programs. You enter the serial number of the stand, the serial number of the loudspeaker, and whether you are using it as a right or left channel. The Konfig program sends this data back to Linn, and a few minutes later, the DSP‑based crossover is configured for the parameters in the four drive units in each loudspeaker. Not general parameters… the specific demands of the drive units in that particular loudspeaker. Careful matching of drive units can get a loudspeaker accurate to within about ±1dB of a ‘Golden Reference’ loudspeaker in the factory; Exakt essentially makes each loudspeaker its own ‘Golden Reference’ by this method. It also means that if a drive unit is damaged, a new Konfig file can be drawn up to reflect and compensate for the replacement unit. This is not an excuse to use cheaper drive units, but it’s the way to make the loudspeakers as accurate as possible.
Linn also allows a significant amount of room treatment in the mix. Rather than measuring the room’s acoustic properties (a la Trinnov), this works by entering the length, width, and height of the room into Konfig, then adding the position of the listener relative to the speakers, and the speaker position, and letting the system add some tailoring to suit the room itself. The loudspeakers should be set in the optimum position out in the room (as determined by ‘tune dem’ listening tests), but that may frequently clash with interior design criteria, and the system can be adapted to accommodate a high-pitched whine from the upper regions of your partner, moving the loudspeakers to more domestically-chummy positions without significant sonic sacrifice. This sounds trivial, but is increasingly crucial; not all of us have the ability to have loudspeakers placed in the optimum positions, but compromise frequently means dreadful sound. The Exakt system allows some wiggle room, in the living room. You can also tailor the extent of the Exakt DSP room mode optimisation, using a graphical interface on Konfig, but be warned; first, always remember to store your original room mode optimisation file before you tinker, and it’s best to wait until you begin to acclimatise yourself to your new DSP sound for a while. In truth, Linn suggests only a handful of Exakt users have ever experimented with the room mode settings, finding the basic Konfig setting good enough.
The way the system works needs some explanation, in a wider sense. As discussed, it runs on Ethernet, with the two Akudorik stands connected to the Akurate Exakt DSM controller. The Akurate connects with a single Ethernet cable to an Internet Router or network switch. If you have stored music on either a computer or a network attached storage device, which also needs to connect to the same network. Your computer or tablet needs to run Linn’s own Kazoo music control point software, with either Kazoo Server, MinimServer, or Twonky running on a computer or NAS device (this may limit the choice of NAS drive to a QNAP model, although things are improving here), and in an ideal world get a Tidal account to stream high-quality music through the internet. The Linn system currently supports most music formats up to 24‑bit, 192kHz precision, but at this time no DSD or DXD support (this too may change soon). If all that sounds like gobbledegook, Linn’s dealer-centred approach means all this ‘back office’ stuff is taken care of by an expert; you just end up with a black or silver box, a pair of loudspeakers, and an iPad that controls and navigates everything.
Linn has a very unpretentious open-source approach to the software used with the system, and although there are certain aspects currently only provided by Linn itself (most notably the set‑up and configuration packages), use of alternatives is rife through Linn’s own active forum. The company also has some of the best documentation on networked audio in the business in its LinnDocs webpages.
Kool, Kalm, and Kollekted
Aside from wearing down the ‘k’ key on my keyboard from Linn’s quirky nomenclature, the system itself has a heck of a lot going for it. It’s a complete joy to use. If you can operate an iPad (and given there is an iPad app for cats to take selfies, that’s a pretty low bar to admission), you can learn to operate the configured system in about 30 seconds flat, it’s beautifully made in a kind of very obviously high‑tech cool kind of way, and has the sort of sophistication of interface that the likes of Apple and Bang & Olufsen do so well. I can perhaps have some sympathy with solder-sniffing box swappers, who might find the lack of things to change and fiddle with a source of frustration, but those who just want damn good sound without all the existential angst will just love what Linn has on offer here.
The system as a complete package also sounds good, too; but not in the conventional audiophile sense. Linn systems have long gone for a sense of directness and precision to the sound that reminds you why Linn was considered one of the Rhythm Kings back in the Flat Earth heyday of the 1980s. It’s an up‑beat, clean, and focused sound, and with the Exakt system in place, that sense of focus is even more, er, exacting. This is not like DSP of old; no more, “the operation was a complete success, but the patient died” presentations: Exakt is a subtle blend of mathematical room correction and precise driver alignment that makes it sound like speaker and room are performing at their respective bests, with no obvious downsides. It’s an uncanny sound, surprisingly deep for a standmount system, and like music is being direct injected into your auditory cortex and by‑passing system, room, and even ear. Music is exceptionally lithe and articulate, here. This makes the system preternaturally good with vocals – Domingo’s tenor had an presence and authority that was almost unnerving on Opern Gala [DG] – but also surprisingly adept across the board. Dynamic range in particular is worthy of note, because it doesn’t have the explosive dynamic range found in some systems, but when listening to the Linn Exakt, you start to wonder whether that edge-of-the-seat dynamic range is all show. The Linn system is not tremulous in the face of dynamic range, be it Solti’s visceral interpretation of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony [Decca] or AC/DC playing live to a thousand hormonal teenage boys [If You Want Blood… Atlantic]. It’s just not showy or flashy in its dynamic range.
In a way, what Exakt does is give you the performance of really good headphones, in free space. This is a more important thing than many well-dipped enthusiasts might parse. Headphonistas are now starting to come out from under their cans and listen to music played in the listening and living room… and sometimes don’t like what they hear. They are not used to the kind of bass overhang we have learned to live with in conventional audio systems. This became all the more obvious when experimenting with the room correction by turning it off. Suddenly, that taut, dry bass took on a ‘flubby’ character; more like conventional systems, in fact.
I think this directness of sound might run counter to the perceived demands of enthusiasts who have spent the last few years searching for the ultimate soundstage machine. Note the word ‘perceived’ here; I feel Linn’s more direct connection with the music would appeal to many enthusiasts, were they willing to put their preconceptions on hold for an hour or two. In fact, the Akudoriks are not bad at producing a soundstage, but they do so with that distinct Linn ‘dryness’. This works best with slightly forward-sounding mixes; close mic’d, upfront music like ‘Royals’ by Lorde [Pure Heroine, Universal], and is less successful with big soundstage audiophile works like Rutter’s Requiem [Reference Recordings]. This is not a scaling thing, because the system scales well, keeping small recordings small and big recordings big, but it’s simply a dry acoustic.
In a way, one of the big questions is how do you deconstruct a system like this to the point where you can point to an individual component in the system. In truth, it’s difficult. Hearing the Kudos loudspeakers in their Exakt set‑up at Bristol helped, as it can remove the Linn speaker from the system, and from there a lot of aspects of the character of this system (especially that dryness) can be directed toward the Akudorik loudspeakers, but truthfully, I think the performance of the system should be considered as a system in its entirety.
Computer pundits frequently discuss the ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘IoT’, where every device with a plug is Internet enabled. This doesn’t mean you can surf the net from your electric shaver, but it means your shaver can send a message back to the manufacturer if there is a fault, or new blades are required, and so on. The Akurate Akudorik Exakt system truly creates an ‘IoT’ infrastructure for your audio replay chain. Today, few people buy a new car without sophisticated on‑board diagnostics and fault-finding systems, and Linn applies the same logic to the audio system, to a level unheard of in other manufacturers. This may seem like gilding the lily today, but I think this will be an expectation from all good audio systems before too long. It’s the way things are going, why should audio be any different?
This is perhaps the most important aspect of the Linn Exakt system, even over and above how it performs. It’s a glimpse of a possible (probable, even) future for audio in the home, one that would have seemed like sci‑fi a decade ago. The Akurate Akudorik Exakt system, then, is a trailblazer; and a damn fine sounding one at that.
Linn Akurate Exakt DSM
Type: Multi-source digital stream player with Exakt Link
Supported file types: FLAC, Apple Lossless (ALAC), WAV, MP3, WMA (except lossless), AIFF, AAC, OGG
Audio Sample rates: 7.35k, 8k, 11.025k, 12k, 14.7k, 16k, 22.05k, 24k, 29.4k, 32k, 44.1k, 48k, 88.2k, 96k, 176.4k, 192k
Word Depths: 16–24 bits
Analogue Inputs: 1× Balanced XLR (pair) 1× RCA Input pair (Line Level)
1× RCA Input pair (Line Level/MM/MC Configurable)
Digital inputs: 4× HDMI (Type A), 3× S/PDIF (RCA), 3× TOSlink, 1× RJ45 (100Base T Ethernet)
Digital outputs: 1× HDMI (Type A), 1× S/PDIF (RCA), 1× TOSlink, 4× RJ45 (Exakt Link)
Control Protocol: Compatible with UPnP™ media servers, UPnP™ AV 1.0 control points
Finishes: Silver, Black
Dimensions (HxWxD): 91×380×380mm
Linn Exakt Akudorik
Type: 4‑way bass reflex stand-mounted Aktiv loudspeaker with Exakt technology
Drive Units: 13mm silk‑dome supertweeter, 25mm PU dome tweeter, 75mm PU dome midrange, 165mm doped paper cone bass
Frequency range: 40Hz–33kHz
Crossover points: 400Hz, 3.61kHz, 8.82kHz
Operating volume: 12 litres
Exakt Dorik stand amplifier power: 4× 100W (4Ω)
Connections: IEC power, 2× Exakt Link RJ45 (in/out)
Finishes (loudspeaker): Black Ash, Rosenut, Walnut, Cherry, Oak, and White as standard. Piano Black, Rosenut, Walnut, Cherry, Oak, White and over 200 RAL Classic colours in high gloss
Finish (stand): Black
Dimensions (HxWxD, on Exakt Dorik stand): 958×304×388 mm
Weight (on Exakt Dorik stand): 23kg per speaker
Price: £17,500 (for complete system)
Manufactured by: Linn Products
Tel: 0500 888909 (UK only)
Tel: +44(0)141 307 7777
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