Linn Sondek LP12 Turntable
First published March 25th, 2006
This machine slowly spins a vinyl 'long playing record' (LP) on a platter, dragging a stylus (diamond needle) at a constant speed along a continuous spiral groove that starts at the outside of the LP and ends near the centre. The inscribed insides of the groove cause the needle to vibrate microscopically, creating a magnetic field in the cartridge that holds the stylus and inducing a current - a signal - which is sent along a tonearm to an amplifier for boosting as sound played through loudpeakers.
Mechanical precision is essential. The speed of the original signal must be exactly reproduced in the spin speed of the platter. Also, unwanted vibration can damage the critical relationships from the record to the tonearm, upon which 'high-fidelity' reproduction depends, and can come from the electric motor that spins the platter, the motor's power supply, the platter bearing, the drive mechanism, and the external environment: the loudspeakers, people moving, traffic, etc.
For nearly 35 years the Linn Sondek LP12 has been the epitome of precision in the constancy of rotational speed and the elimination of unwanted vibration. In 2004 it was voted "Analog Source Component of the Year" by Stereophile magazine.
Analogue (analog) and digital signals
LPs produce analogue (analog) sound, in contrast to most other contemporary sound reproduction media: compact disks, computers, MP3 players, etc, which produce digital sound.
Although all sound begins in analogue form, each time it is copied-on there is a slight loss or resolution of signal quality. And each time a vinyl record is played, the needle erodes the groove slightly. Digital technology offers perfect copies no matter how many times one copy is used to make another, and the original medium is much less prone to wearing out with regular use.
There remains a debate amongst hi-fi enthusiasts as to whether analogue or digital reproduction gives the best sound quality. Analogue is said by some to be 'warmer' and ultimately more musical, with digital tending to be edgy, hard-sounding, and dimensionless. Others argue that the very best digital audio equipment (which is getting better all the time) is inherently more accurate than analogue, with better purity of tone.
The grooves of a vinyl record contain more information than a compact disc of the same recording. A CD may hold more minutes of music, but what is contained on the disc is a digital representation of the musical signal. Missing are nuances that give music depth as well as the sense of a live musical experience (Popular Mechanics Magazine, 2003).
Either way, there is still a following for analogue equipment and the Linn Sondek LP12, first introduced in 1972, is still in production. Of course, continual improvements have been made to the turntable's materials and components but the original 'suspended' design remains the same. And Linn's 'first source' approach to audio reproduction is now an industry standard.
The Linn turntable
The Linn company was founded by the Scotsman Ivor Tiefenbrun in Glasgow, Scotland, to manufacture the new turntable. At the time, hi-fi buffs regarded the loudspeakers as the most important part of a high-fidelity audio system. Tiefenbrun challenged this view, arguing that sound quality lost at the 'source' - on the turntable - was, by definition, unrecoverable. This not to say that the turntable always make the most difference to the sound of any particular system but rather it was a statement that assumes the amplifier and speakers are capable of doing justice to the source signal.
At the heart of the LP12 system is a patented single-point platter bearing to eliminate unwanted noise. The bearing, together with the armboard and its mount, are fixed on a subchassis suspended on 3 adjustable springs attached to a stainless steel baseplate which in turn is attached to a kiln-dried hardwood outer plinth. The motor is fixed to the baseplate, not the subchassis.
The platter bearing and the tonearm are thus isolated from any vibration produced by the motor or other sources beyond. Also, the low-mass construction of the LP12 is, compared to other high-mass systems, less prone to microvariations in the rotation speed of the 'suspended' belt-driven platter caused by slight changes in the precise distance between it and the 'non-suspended' motor. Such changes could be caused by a warped LP, or slight external 'knocks' coming through the base.
Linn Products Limited practises a manufacturing method where one person is responsible for the entire process of assembling a product. As well as a turntable the Linn LP playing system also includes the Lingo power supply, the Ekos tonearm, and the Akiva low-output moving-coil cartridge. All up, a complete system (new) retails at around $8,500 (£4,880 approx.).