Linn Sondek LP12D

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Gramophones, 7" discs where manufactured as far back as 1894. From 1918 countless companies produce them and they over took the popularity of the cylinders. The play back speeds ranged from 60 to 120 rpm settling on 78 rpm in 1925. The discs where made of shellac from 1898 until being replaced by vinyl 33 1/3 and 45 rpm records in the late 1950s. The LP was invented in 1948 allowing up to 30 minutes playing time on a 12" disc. Vinyl dates back to 1931. The 7" single arrived in 1949.

The first stereo recordings where issued in 1958. These had to be compatible with mono systems which still dominated the sales into the early 1960s with record players developing into music centres from the likes of Dansette and Pye.

 To reproduce the fidelity of the vinyl record people began to buy separate turntables, amplifiers and speakers. The thinking at the time considered that the speakers where of prime importance, then the amplifier and the source last. Magazines often recommended a budget divided three ways. Then, in 1972 Ivor Tiefenbrun of the Glasgow based scientific company threw out that thinking and set out to proof that the most important component was the source. Just as Rolls Royce made a better car simply by engineering the technology to the highest possible standards the LP12D utilises a suspended sub-chassis design and a patented single-point bearing machined to extremely tight tolerances.

When the central part of the patter is lowered the massive weight sinks down as if it where a feather. Many platters where rough underneath, but the Linn has a completely balanced and a polished finish. The early LP12D provided a single speed of 33 1/3 rpm and a platform for a third party tone arm.

To play back 45rpm singles the platter had to be lifted and a cylinder slipped over the pulley of the belt drive to increase the pulley's diameter.

The LP12D today looks very much the same as the first model. The changes in appearance are subtle with changes at the component level such as rubber feet, baseboard, arm board, suspension springs and grommets and reinforced plinth. The Valhalla (from 1982, as shown here, serial number 82187) changed the power supply and since 1990 (series number 87600) the power supply (Lingo) is external.

The Cirkus upgrade to the LP12 in 1993 improved bearing performance. The Keel in 2006 is replacement subchassis machined from solid aluminium and the Trampolin Mark 2 baseboard was made from MDF.


In 1978, having purchase a hi-fi system for my parents in 1974 and upgrades regularly there after, I set out to acquire a system of my own. I read all the magazines, the articles,  reviews and attended hi-fi shows. My first system consisted of a Cambridge P60 amplifier, a matching T55 tuner, a Transcriptor Skeleton turntable with vestigial arm, an AKG P7E cartridge and a pair of JR149 speakers which roughly divided the budget three ways. Whilst none of these components were bad they were not performing together as well as they could. The Transciptor could have performed better with a Ortofon VM30 cartridge or a Decca London. The point system to suspend the record reduced static but lack the bass when a GA glass mat was added.

I visited several Hi-fi shops. Graham's Hi-fi suggested I bring along my equipment and arranged a one to one comparison with what they suggested would make improvements. The first to be eliminated was the turntable with the Linn and a competent but cheap cartridge easily out performing the Transcriptor. It was then proved that the P60 did match the renown A&R P60 but drove Kef 104 much better than they did the JR149s. The JR149s where then powered by a Meridian 101 and 105 mono power amplifiers, the source being the Linn Sondek. This proved to be a dream combination and the only time the JR149 sang to their best until the Meridian G55 arrived in 2009. The point was made and after being suspended in the lift for 30 minutes whilst calls of help got assistance to winch the lift back to floor level I returned home to investigate further.

KJ Electronics allowed me to set up and rematch turntables, amplifiers and speakers provided there where no other customers wishing to be served. I freely switched between the leading cult manufacturers of Naim and Meridian (amplifiers) , Meridian and Linn (speakers), SME, Grace, Hadcock arms, Grado, Ortofon and Stanton cartridges and a range of turntables including Dunlop Systemdek II, Thorens TD150, Mitchell's, Gale and direct drive decks from Technics and JBL. I even used some seriously expensive equipment, several times my annual salary.

It took many Saturdays to satisfy myself, with my own records, which system combination I liked best. The consensus was to match Naim to Linn Isobarik speakers with an all Linn source. In some ways I agreed, but on a wider range of music the Meridian M1 gave the impact and punch that I felt the more laid back and controlled Naim Linn did not. None of my friends or relatives could hear any improvements or if they did could not justify the cost over the budget Pioneer LP12D.

The Linn Isobariks speakers could be triamped with Naim or Meridian power amplifiers. The Meridian speakers where active, a novel idea at the time, but I became a firm fan.  For me this proved the right choice. The Meridian M1 keep their balance even at a whisper sound level and after living with them for 30 years I have heard as good, but never better.

I first purchased the LP12D (£340) with the Asak cartridge (£184) and Ittok tone arm (£230) in 1981. Lacking the funds to get an amplifier with a moving coil input it was a while before the Meridian 101 (£192)  followed and that was upgraded to 101B mod. Then the Meridian M1 active speakers arrived. The deal with the shop was that if I purchased all components from them they would refund the cost of the cartridge. I also established with them and Meridian that the cost of the M1 speakers would not rise during the following few weeks, otherwise I would have gotten a loan. When I got my order through the speakers where considerably more, £1510. I had not realised, as no one told me, that these where the Mark II versions but the shop and manufacturer agreed in response to my letters to split the difference between them. Thus I got a pair of Mark II M1 at the old price.  The final component was the Meridian 104 FM Tuners, £225.

 In January 1990 I returned to Graham's Hi-fi and took my Linn Sondek for an upgrade. After less than a minute listening to the latest Sondek (£579), Ekos (£975) and Troika (£669) I determined that the upgrade would be worth while. The best deal was for Graham's to purchase my Linn (£200+100+£58.85) and supply, for the odd couple of grand extra, a complete new black ash Linn Sondek (shown above with the Meridian 101B and 104 tuner).

Although I am sure the later upgrades would make an improvement and I might even be able to appreciate that improvement the higher cost is less justified over the purchase of more music, which after all is why I have a hi-fi system at all. The quality is such that I am not bothered if I can get better or not. Much of the time the music is back ground and when I want to sit down and listen seriously it delivers.

The Audio Files, in Cambridge serviced the Linn in 2008, a modest cost and a replacement belt assures me of good service for years to come.

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Last updated 29th January 2010