THE resurgence of vinyl records as a music playback medium has been nothing short of amazing. Long relegated as a dead media format, with progressive nails hammered into its coffin in the emergence of the ubiquitous CD in the 1980s and ultimately digital downloads in recent times, vinyl sales have seen steady growth beginning in the mid-noughties and have presently even outstripped digital downloads in some markets.
Vinyl is now pervasive and can be found almost everywhere, with specialist record stores mushrooming in most major cities, and can even be found retailing at the likes of Walmart. On recent trips, I found several bustling vinyl record store-cum-cafes in Sydney as well as Tokyo and Osaka. There’s just a certain attraction to vinyl where other formats fall short.
CDs are more convenient but the compact form factor pales in comparison to the visual appeal of a full square foot of real estate for album art, additional notes and paraphernalia for an LP. Then, there’s the visceral and tactile appeal of handling an LP which is decidedly more fulfilling than a 120mm CD in hand, let alone an intangible and formless digital download or rip.
That aside, there is the entire debate on the sheer sonic superiority of vinyl over digital. Many swear by their respective formats of choice. Truth be told, the ease and relatively low cost of putting together a decent digital-based playback system makes the binary option a simple one. However, for those with greater tenacity and deeper pockets, vinyl can be an even more compelling proposition.
From a personal perspective, why choose? Both formats have their merits and having listened to systems of various pedigrees, from rigs slapped together with mothballed equipment to six-digit highly-tuned ensembles, there’s potential and space for both.
That being said, anyone considering the vinyl route for music playback and enjoyment needs to consider various factors – vinyl as a medium is expensive. This encompasses the records and especially the turntables, let alone the associated equipment (cartridges, phono stages, preamps, etc) required for playing them.
Furthermore, the level of discipline and attention to detail required for vinyl care and storage would test even the most patient Zen-inclined. However, if configured properly, a vinyl-based music playback system can be very gratifying.
So, where does one start with playback gear? The simple all-in-one integrated turntables, with turntable, phono amplification and even speakers bundled in one enclosure, should be best left aside. Look further up the chain at the decent entry level tables available from the likes of Rega, ProJect, U-Turn, AudioTechnica and such. Any of these basic options should allow you passage to decent vinyl playback for not too much money.
However, there are other avenues available. Consider, if you will, the multitude of options in the used and classic gear space. Over the course of this series, several turntables and vinyl-related equipment will be considered as well as the steps necessary to bring them up to speed. First up, the illustrious Linn Sondek LP12.
The LP12 is by far one of the more storied turntables around which has reached iconic regard in many circles. First introduced in 1973, the LP12 is based on a single-point bearing design on a sprung sub-chassis to effectively isolate the mechanism from vibration and noise.
Over the decades, the LP12 has seen many revisions and upgrades but still maintains the same overall form factor with names such Valhalla, Nirvana and Trampolin denoting the major revisions with a plethora of tweaks and optional upgrades covering choices in tonearms, armboards, subchassis, bearing, suspension springs, footers, plinths, amongst others. The ultimate LP12 would package and include the latest incarnation as part of the Klimax range.
Linn Majik LP12 comes with all the bells and whistles. For optimal performance, an LP12 should be serviced periodically. Its imperative original replacements include original rubber belt, lubrication oil, springs and grommets. Further, the turntable will need to be checked thoroughly and all settings dialled back to factory settings during a major service or restoration exercise.
BS Lee – referred to as DocTT in certain circles – is a Linn LP12 specialist with a three-decade long practice in turntables, hi-fi and all sorts of electronic tweakery. Here is some advice from him.
What’s makes the LP12 special?
The LP12 is a precision transcription playback device built to exacting quality and tolerances. Held in high repute since the 70s, the LP12 has been progressively and incrementally refined with upgrades of various components and parts, and at its pinnacle in its current form.
What are the options available to a Linn LP12 owner?
The LP12 is fully supported. All spares and upgrade parts are available on order and in current manufacture from authorised dealers. There are also third party upgrade parts options like plinths, subchassis, and counterweight from various UK dealers. A few alternative third party tonearms other than from Linn are also suitable and work well for purpose, intent and budget. Owners may also choose a Rega RB or Roksan Nima tonearm which have been popular alternatives. Linn does offer the matching armboards on request through their dealer network. The LP12 is an excellent choice as a classic piece of equipment if one isn’t looking out for constant upgrades. Linn have packaged the turntable from the entry level Majik series to the fully loaded Klimax specification to suit different budgets and performance requirements.
What should someone thinking of a LP12 keep in mind?
1 – Unfortunately, it’s become a costly turntable, both to purchase and to maintain. A fully loaded LP12 Klimax can cost as much as a car. For example, a new replacement belt alone can cost up to GBP50.
2 – The upgrade path is limited to Linn-sanctioned parts. There’s no option for longer 12-inch tonearms or such variations.
3 – LP12 setup needs expert technical knowledge or a trained dealer to properly set up the rig out of the box and deliver a flawless ready-to-play deck to the customer. A new LP12 fresh out of the box isn’t ready to be plugged and played, requiring a specialist for proper set up and installation. Owner involvement should ideally be limited to cartridge and geometry adjustments only.
4 – Requires some specialised tools and Linn jig to set up and optimise the suspension properly. Any compromise will result in less than optimum performance.
What are the bits that usually go wrong?
If the turntable was setup properly from day one, nothing much does go wrong. However, the speed controller can fail due to age or long periods of disuse. If a LP12 has been stored away for a long period of time, it has to be fully serviced before playing. A lot more time and labour is required to completely strip and rebuild a long dormant deck to its former glory. Always, lube and belt change every five years, as recommended.
Note: DocTT is often preoccupied doting over his new grandson but can be reached here.