The Musical Heritage Society edition of Boccherini’s Cello Concerto N. 2 in D Major [MHS 4740T]—originally recorded on the Erato label, performed by the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Armin Jordan and featuring Frédéric Lodéon on cello—seemed a fitting choice to round out my selection of unamplified music. The music comes a bit earlier in the classical period, written around 1776. In this performance, the composition is for string instruments. The Lino C 2.0 does a wonderful job of displaying fundamentals while preserving the individual harmonic structure of each instrument. Boccherini has the cello playing mostly mid-to-high in its register, and the ability to follow the instrument when the violins are doubling it is, in part, due to the excellent performance of the Lino C 2.0 (along with the remainder of the analog playback components). It’s a delight to hear such a three-dimensionally cohesive presentation where one can also follow an individual string instrument in a virtual sea of string instruments.
TAS readers may be wondering why the three pieces of music mentioned were chosen for this review. Quite simply, they are similar (unamplified classical music) but different (venue, recording, composition, artist, composer, etc.). A good phonostage (with accompanying ’table/’arm/cartridge) will parse and display the unique identity of each piece of music while helping to reveal what is special about the individual performance. Using these three pieces of music gets directly to that point mentioned above by showing that all performances of this type of music do not sound the same. Instead, the message of each performance comes across clearly and distinctly in a way that invites the listener to engage and appreciate each piece for what it is. This point could have been made with select pieces of jazz, rock, soul, R&B, folk, etc. The bottom line is that the Lino C allows such exploration within a genre of music.
For female vocals, I played Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New. The separation of Ronstadt’s vocals, the band, and the orchestra from front to back in the soundstage was unmistakable. Overall, the bass was subjectively a little fuller and cymbal strikes a bit farther back. Ronstadt’s dynamics and vibrato were clear while sibilants remained completely controlled. Ella Fitzgerald on the Pablo label’s Speak Love album provided a vocal/guitar duo that sounded clear and dynamically wonderful. Ella’s voice was powerful, as it should have been, when she goes from pianissimo-to-forte on the track “Speak Love.” How this track sounds is owed as much to the phonostage as it is to the cartridge used. Variations in cartridge and tonearm have a subtle effect on dynamics as well as the perception of timbre. These cartridge/’arm characteristics were still evident with the Lino C 2.0.
Listening to “I Tried to Leave You” from Leonard Cohen’s Live in London revealed an opening crowd chatting and laughing with excellent depth of stage. From a cartridge perspective, the Etna (SL) played this track with a bit more warmth than the Atlas (SL), which is one of the characteristic differences between these two cartridges. Through the Lino C 2.0, individual instrumental solos were portrayed very well. Vocals came across distinctly and occupied their own spaces on stage. The duo “solo” performed by the Webb sisters can sound a bit hard and rough on cartridge setups that are not given proper care and attention during installation/alignment. Concurrently, a phonostage that isn’t able to parse the two singers singing in tandem in a harmonically complete way will present the performance with a heavy dose of haze. The cartridges used with the Lino C 2.0 maintained harmonic completeness, and presented the Webb sister duo as expected, with no hint of haze, undue sibilance, or roughness. Thumbs up.
Overall, the Lino C 2.0 is a winner of a phonostage at its $2699 price, with features that are not usually available in this range of products (internal high-current AGM battery, current-mode input, meticulous circuit layout, surface-mount components to produce low-noise, direct-coupling, and balanced operation available from input to output). Additionally, if one has a really low-output moving-coil cartridge that is difficult to amplify via a conventional voltage-mode phonostage, the Lino C 2.0 will most likely handle that duty with ease.
The Lino C 2.0 is worth an audition by anyone looking in its price range and above. It will most likely be a contender based on price/performance ratio alone.