Linear Flow 1 Interconnect
Stereo Times Review
I don't follow gurus and I've long outgrown the need for heroes. Bob Dylan's "Don't follow leaders," and the Buddhist "If you meet the Buddha on the street, kill him!" pretty much sum up my attitude. Throughout the 29 years of my audio career, however, a few designers and companies have caught my interest and won my respect. The late Stewart Hegeman, Linn's Ivor Tiefenbrun, Rega's Roy Gandy, and Peter Bath, designer of the original NAD products, come readily to mind. Musically moved by one of their designs, my ear became open to all their products, figuring that if they got it right once, they were likely to get it right again.
Among recent discoveries, the English company Origin Live continues to grow in my estimation. Mark Baker's designs and products, 5 of which I've now reviewed, are consistently musically satisfying: adroit rhythmically, tonally, and in revealing the artistic intent of the music. Slightly eccentric from the standpoint of the dogmas of high-end audio orthodoxy, Baker's designs work. Admirably, Origin Live eschews the boutique pricing of the high-end, thus allowing music lovers of all incomes to reap the benefits. I rue the coining of the phrase "high end." Despite its attempt to connote the highest performance, it most often reverts to its wider original meaning and denotes the merely high-priced, though much of the audiophile world routinely (and naively in my opinion) automatically equates the two.
The Linear Flow 1interconnect cables are the top of Origin Live's interconnect line. Priced at $192.42 per meter they are still very affordable, especially when compared to the prices of many high-end cables. Cosmetically they mirror the Ultra interconnects; same plugs, black flexible jackets, and unpretentious packaging. Decidedly not erectile pythons, their flexibility allowed easy mating with the Aurios Media Isolation Bearings and Townshend 3-D Seismic Sinks which float my system.
First impressions were encouraging. Fresh out of the box and at the beginning of their recommended 6-hour break-in, I inserted them at the output of my CD player. I don't ordinarily use CD in my evaluations because the format still fails to produce sound that allows me a convincing referent to live music: I am too aware that what I'm listening to is an artificial computer model of music, rather than the music itself. As my LP playback system has evolved and improved over the last years, I find myself listening to CD less and less. And CD listening always strikes me as a fatiguing chore. Yet my attention was immediately captured; something extremely right was going on. There was an organization and sense to the sound that allowed the easiest formation of gestalts I've yet experienced with standard CD's. This augured well for future auditioning. First impressions can be deceiving, but here was one of those "AHA!" experiences that lets you know you're on to something.
I've reviewed Origin Live's less expensive Ultra interconnects and found them an excellent balance of tonality, rhythmic coherence, dynamics, and ease of listening. While lacking the finest detail and a bit diffuse in presentation, what they do offer is a very coherent and organic whole, and the price is almost too good to be true. Particularly striking, like many excellent UK products, was their conveying of the pulse and drive of music.
The Linear Flow 1interconnects are far better than the Ultras in the articulation of rhythm and drive, and offer significant improvement across the musical bandwidth. Resolution, clarity, dynamics, and focus all gain markedly. If the Ultras are a little forgiving and diffuse, the References are clear, focused, and transparent. Bass is tighter and better controlled, the acoustic "air" around instruments is clearly drawn, and instrumental outlines are more clearly differentiated and physically placed in space. Overall, the improvements can be summarized as better resolution in the tracking of the dynamics of each note. The References excel in passing the initial transient attack, the harmonic coherence of the note, and its decay. Improvements in this area result in greater clarity, better identification of instrumental timbre, better musical punctuation and phrasing, and better soundstage placement of the instruments. Rhythm and dynamics also improve markedly. Increased resolution of low-level information makes the whole sonic event more accurate, clearer to perception, and thus more believable and natural.
The Linear Flow 1interconnect cable can be understood then as a much higher resolution version of the excellent Ultra interconnects. Considering that they're near twice the price, it's gratifying to hear that they're more than twice as good. While never etched or analytical, the Reference's high resolution does allow warts to come through, so pop music's penchant for vicious vocal EQ is obviously apparent. Lyric intelligibility was excellent; no need for a lyric sheet anymore. I even found myself able to parse foreign lyrics in languages I didn't understand. Variations in recording quality and engineering faux pas are apparent, but the References allow one to experience what's both good and bad about a particular recording and threaded the line between revealing flaws without spotlighting them very adroitly. I found it easy to shift attention to what was important in each listening session - from general aesthetic immersion into the music, to reflective comprehension, to critical evaluation of performance and recording quality.
I had excellent results when used as output from my 2 CD players, hearing a new found coherence and musical sense (made more obvious by the Townshend 3-D Seismic Sinks which floated the CD players.) Used between my preamps and amps, neutral speaker cable choice was necessary to achieve optimum results as flaws in speaker wire became quite apparent.
The $200 per meter and up price point is filled with many players in the US interconnect market. The References easily hold their own, offering a balance of strengths that thankfully include the musically fundamental ones of rhythmic brio and drive. Factor in their transparency, resolution, and detail and some $1000 per meter interconnects will blush with shame in comparison. The References offer a whole cloth improvement over the Ultras, which is as good a definition of a genuine upgrade as I can think of. Their ability to organize the sound coherently and to make musical sense is first-rate. Priced as an easy purchase rather than an investment, and including Origin Live's offer of a money-back guarantee, the Reference interconnects are a must listen to anyone needing a high-resolution, easy to live with interconnect. Highly recommended and another winner from this innovative firm: the Origin Live tradition of superbly musical and affordable products continues. Perhaps it's time for new heroes after all?
Paul Szabady, February 2002