Hi all,


Thought I'd let people know what I've been up to in the last week or so
(and for once doesn't include Naim tweaks!). 

Basically James Ker bought a pair of old Linn Kans recently, and at the
weekend we got them active using a couple of Naim 140s and a Naim
crossover tweaked by me to operate from a 4 channel power supply board (oh
well, not much Naim tweaking anyway). Anyway, James will post something to
aa I'm sure about his findings, so see that for the low down. Suffice to
say I was impressed with what the Kans were doing. 

I have had 2 sets of Kans previously. The first pair went because my
system wasn't really up to them. The second pair went because although my
system was much improved, the Kans didn't deliver enough deep bass for my
liking. And that might in fact describe Kans pretty well for a lot of
users ie, they are complete pigs to drive (ie, need good, big amps),
unforgiving of turntable shortcomings, and are not boom boxes (after all
they are only about a foot high). So why bother with them? 

Well, they have an extraordinary sense of musical correctness. The sheer
essence and feeling of a performance is conveyed with such efficacy that,
for all their shortcomings, most people find themselves becoming seriously
hooked on the speaker. They also offer excellent dynamics and resolution
in the mid/treble region, and their rather forward midband make them ideal
for a good vinyl system. For most people that fall in love with Kans, the
quest to find a speaker which offered the same virtues but with more bass
generally led them to the Linn Isobarik speaker (I was forced to Sara 9s
as I wasn't flush enough for Bricks!).  However, the Isobarik still
doesn't really beat a well setup set of Kans for mid band articulation. In
fact I have heard a few dealers saying that a well setup pair of Isobariks
sound like Kans with bass. Testament perhaps to the Kan's ultimate
ability. 

However, getting to this ultimate ability is a touch tricky. A poorly
setup pair of Kans, driven by the wrong amp (say for sake of argument a
small integrated) can sound truly awful. I mean really really crap (I
tried some 1986 Kans on a NAD 3020 once......oh dear).  Obviously this was
something I wanted to avoid. And one way to avoid it is to drive the Kans
actively. 

Having gone from Linn Keileidhs passive to active, and now the Kans, I have
become the world's number one fan of active systems. Speakers just
blossom. It might be true that speakers with very simple crossovers would
not benefit as much (as Pete Wood suspected with his Epos speakers) but
I'm not so sure. The Keilidh's crossover was pretty simple (a resistor and
cap on the treble unit for example) and they were transformed by going
active. 

Anyway, I wanted what I thought would be the best Kan possible for the job
(ie, not bothered about their passive crossovers, just about drivers,
cabinets etc). Kan lovers, or potential Kan users, might find the
following main applicable changes interesting if ever they foray into the
secondhand market place: 

 Pre 1982   Old Scanspeak tweeter. Also original unmodified Kef B110
            bass drivers. Cabinet essentially made of chipboard. The 
            speaker used 4mm binding posts.
     1982   Changed to Medite cabinet and began doping the B110 with
            some sticky black mastic for damping purposes.
 May 1984   Change to Hiquphone tweeters, which gave a flatter response.
            These are identified by having the Linn logo printed on the 
            front plate, along with "LINN PRODUCTS" written there also.
            The plate also has 2 concentric circles printed on it.
            This change was from serial number 24077 onwards.
 Feb 1985   Changed from binding posts to the new style 4mm sockets.
 May 1985   Change to new long throw low freq driver Kef B110B.
 Jan 1989   Kan II introduced - this involved a change to a biwirable
            crossover (with 4 sockets) and a move in the tweeter
            positioning (mounted 7mm more forward than before on an
            substantially improved front baffle).
 Sep 1991   Cabinet is damped with KuStone and drive units are mounted
            with discrete gaskets instead of mastic. This was the final
            incarnation of the Kan and went from serial number 48489
            onwards.

There were various crossover changes throughout the Kan's history too,
though obviously that doesn't affect the active speaker. 

As an aside for potential secondhand Kan buyers, I would recommend the
1985 vintage onwards to ensure you get the modern drivers. Basically any
speaker with the new style speaker sockets will do (you'd be pretty
unlucky to get a pair made in the 2 months Linn supplied the speaker with
the new sockets but with the old bass driver). The Kan II in passive form
is quite a different beastie. Linn totally changed the crossover (a 4th
order thingie on the bass in fact) which made the speaker much more
civilised and refined and a better all-rounder. There's no doubt that the
Kan I could be more "exciting" and forward. More "edge of seat" - in the
same way the Sara and Sara 9 compared really. But I know from experience
that the smoother, flatter, refined performance of the newer versions do
the business when you live with them long term at home. 

OK, so basically my choice was easy. I wanted the last incarnation of the
Kan II, incorporating the KuStone damping. I wanted them in black. And I
wanted them in basically mint condition. A touch optimistic perhaps? 
Well, incredibly enough, my local Linn dealer happened to have exactly
that (a 1993 pair in fact) with Kan II stands supplied with brand new
spikes. Lucky sod I hear you say. (Hmmmm.....time for a lottery ticket
perhaps?). 

So I swapped my Keilidhs for them, ripped them apart, converted them to
active operation, and stuck them in my system. The system by the way is a
LP12 Lingo/Ekos/Arkiv, a Naim 42.5 with my 6 channel power supply and
various other tweaks, a Naim Naxo 2-4 active crossover again modded for
use with a 4 channel power supply, and 4 of my homemade Naim 135
monoblocks. Hopefully, if the Kans are going to have a chance of
performing at their best, then that little lot will deliver the goods. 

OK, so how does it sound? Well pretty damned good. I am really quite
shocked at how these little unassuming speakers can sound. They perform
with such clarity and resolution when active, but do not lay bare nasty
recordings in an unpleasant manner. I find digital recordings which
sounded dire on the active Keilidhs sound very listenable on the Kans
(shock horror). 

Being small and very rigidly built, you don't hear a box contributing at
all - and I think the KuStone damping stuff is actually working! If I sat
down someone blindfolded in front of the system and asked them how big the
speakers were, I suspect they'd get it wrong every time. The bass coming
from these diminutive boxes is excellent, and goes amazingly deep. The
pitch of a bass note is clear and there is absolutely no overhand or
bloom. Just clean and tight and surprisingly powerful bass. The real
strengths though is the midband. Voices are some of the most clear and
articulate and understandable I have ever heard from a dynamic
loudspeaker. The detail is just on a different planet to what it was with
the Keilidhs. Everything in the mix is audible it seems, and it stays put
within the soundstage. Linn speakers used to have a reputation of lacking
imaging (partly I'm sure as they were designed to go against a wall). But
believe me the active Kans imaging is excellent, and the projection
forwards of a voice is impressive. 

So that's about it. Sorry for rambling on. However I think it is
interesting to hear once in a while just how good small loudspeakers can
be. And also how good active operation can be. In doing James's Kans (with
140s remember) I have convinced myself that, with Kans at least, using
them actively with a pair of Naim 140s is preferable to using them
passively with a pair of Naim 135s. This is interesting as old Naxo
crossovers are quite easy to come by. It is also worth noting that the
modern SBL crossover is close enough to the old Kan/Sara crossover that it
can be used no problem, and in fact this is what I use. I talked to Naim
on this point, and they say that they have always gone for the 18 dB per
octave approach as they felt this is best, and that they feel matching the
channels is very important, but that the actual crossover point isn't too
critical. Whether it is 2.8KHz, 3.0KHz or 3.2KHz makes bog-all difference.
As long as it's within spitting distance of 3KHz then it's ok. And of
course if you are already using a homemade power supply for a Naim preamp
(a la McBride enterprises!), then powering the Naxo is dead easy (ie, just
make another regulator board and power it from the same psu). 

And that's definitely it. I only have to waste a couple of more hours at
work and I can get back to the serious business of Kan worshipping. 

Cheers

Neil McBride