Warp back to Glasgow, 1987. Linn Products, which had made its fortune manufacturing the Sondek LP12 turntable, was aware that the new-fangled Compact Disc format was beginning to encroach on its sales. The company’s response was to beef up its range of loudspeakers, as well as progressing them from the original first generation of boxes (Kan, Sara, Isobarik) to a newer, more modern line…
Enter Dr Rod Crawford. Born in Tasmania, Australia, he had an illustrious academic career with a first-class honours degree in Applied Science at Melbourne University, majoring in physics and metallurgy, and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the Department of Materials Science at Oxford University. He responded to a job advertisement in a British hi-fi magazine, then four months later found himself working for Linn designing an upgrade to the Sara loudspeaker, later to be called the Sara 9.
The Nexus LS250 (the number denoting the intended retail price), was the first of Linn’s new generation of speakers, and the first that Rod was project leader for. Designed to compete directly with mid-price Mission boxes, it was also the first to use reflex loading, reputedly on Linn boss Ivor Tiefenbrun’s orders. This was a big issue because all previous Linn speakers had used infinite baffle cabinets, chosen for the fast, propulsive sound compared to ported boxes. And just to make life more interesting, not only was the Nexus radical but it had to be done in a short space of time…
The speaker took around four months to develop, which included much burning of midnight oil. A two-way design featuring a Japanese-sourced 203mm Tonegen mid/bass unit and a new 20mm tweeter was the result. Much listening was done during the development process, with a panel of people including Ivor, head of marketing Charlie Brennan, and two sales team members. In the first year of its life, it underwent four modifications, and went on to sell around five thousand pairs a year during its four year production run. This, Rod Crawford proudly recalls, was more than twice as many as Linn’s previous best-selling speaker.
The Nexus looks strikingly different to all previous Linn loudspeakers, which were heavily rooted in the nineteen seventies in terms of styling. It is obviously built down to a price, although £250 was still a tidy sum when released back in 1988. It may be hard to believe now, but on launch it looked ultra-modern with its grey painted front baffle, stretch-over grille and matching Ku-Stone stands which had been designed with the speakers rather than after them. By today’s standards, the 255x540x290mm Nexus is large for a standmounter, although it seemed less so at the time. It weighs a hefty 25kg per box, and has bi-wirable speaker terminals on the back. Power handling was quoted at 150W RMS, which was impressive back in the day, and nominal impedance was said to be 6 ohms. This was the nineteen eighties, so the Nexus isn’t the world’s most sensitive speaker, but was still far easier to drive than any of the previous generation of Linn designs.
Sure enough, despite having quite different drive units and cabinetry, this speaker still sounded distinctively like a Linn, which means tight, fast and punchy. Despite being reflex-ported, the Nexus catches the leading edges of notes with real zeal, giving the music a great sense of purpose. It is good dynamically too, able to convey phrasing convincingly. The downside is that the Nexus isn’t the world’s most tonally accurate loudspeaker. Critics might call it a little grey and papery, because it is unable to convincingly reproduce the full flavour of acoustic instruments, for example. This is a criticism you might level at every Linn loudspeaker since its first generation, and even Dr Rod himself later went on record to say that it was voiced in a certain way for a certain type of customer, optimised for use in a Linn system.
These days the Linn Nexus pops up occasionally on eBay for under £150, complete with matching Linn stands. A well preserved pair is still well worth considering if you like the Linn sound. It’s a little piece of history too, marking the brand’s transition into the modern world – in terms of loudspeakers at least. After going on to design a whole series of Linn loudspeakers – including the Helix, Index 2, Tukan, Kaber and Keltik – Rod Crawford is now back home in Australia, running Legend loudspeakers.