For close to five decades UK-based Linn has been incorporating subtle changes into the Sondek, both externally and internally, in their ongoing efforts to improve the design as applicable technologies have advanced.
The design mimics those seen in early ‘60s Acoustic Research, and both late ‘60s–early ‘70s Ariston, and Thorens turntables. Much like Rega Research’s renowned Planar 3 and its lightweight plinth is globally recognized, Linn has championed and continued the LP12 for so long that many casual audiophiles and analog music lovers would consider this type of suspended turntable configuration to be solely Linn’s bailiwick.
A transcription turntable designed by Ivor Tiefenbrun in 1971 and first introduced in 1972, the basic LP12 Majik configuration – reviewed here – utilizes a suspended, three-point sub-chassis design (isolating the platter and laminate tonearm board). It incorporates an onboard power supply, and 110V synchronous AC motor which drives an alloy subplatter via a flat rubber belt. It has a direct-coupled alloy main platter, and solid aluminum base board all secured within a reinforced, perimeter-style solid wood plinth. Higher-end LP12 configurations (Akurate and Klimax level) feature separate power supplies, and built-in phono stages, upgraded sub-chassis, higher-spec’d tonearms, bearings, cartridges, base board, etc., and because of the modular nature of the ‘table, all these options and upgrades can be explored at an owner’s leisure while climbing the Linn LP12 ladder over time – or all at once. The main mitigating factor, as in all things hi-fi, is the cost of those upwardly-mobile rungs.
Contrary to popular belief, the suspended design is susceptible to skips and bounce from footfalls on most types of flooring other than concrete. Why? Because the springs oscillate at a constant frequency (usually between 4Hz and 6Hz) – which is dependent on load – and most footfalls oscillate floor boards between zero and 3Hz. Weird? Yeah. A lot of these types of suspended sub-chassis designs bounce if not wall mounted or placed on some type of isolation platform, since oddly, they are not specifically tuned for isolating the Sondek solely from ground-borne vibration. They are built to also isolate the ‘table from airborne sound waves, seismic or building vibrations. So, while it’s one of those ‘it can’t do everything’ engineering solutions – and a lot of people I know who have them get driven crazy by the fact that they can skip when someone walks into the room – owners remain fiercely loyal to the brand. Why? It’s a uniquely warm, composed and accomplished sonic signature with far more fans than detractors that's enjoyed notable popularity for half a century.
One thing to remember; all LP12s need to set up by a qualified Linn technician as the adjustment of the suspension requires a specialized factory-supplied jig.
The entry-level LP12 Majik model comes with a supplied AC cord, a pair of Linn interconnects hardwired from the tonearm, a dust cover, a Linn built static-balanced Majik tonearm with ‘one-point cross’ bearing, a Linn Adikt moving magnet cartridge (rigid plastic body, 6.5mV output, Gyger II replaceable stylus) and an oversized 45rpm adaptor pulley (which involves removing the platter, and forcibly slipping the adaptor ring over the stock pulley to facilitate speed change). This adaptor dance is really my only gripe against the Sondek as I tend to jump between LPs and 45s fairly regularly. You can of course change speeds with a push of the chassis-top toggle power switch too, but this requires the requisite outlay for a separate Lingo power supply/speed controller. Plinth finishes range from standard ones like oak, cherry (provided) black ash, rosenut or high-gloss white and piano black. Linn is also providing high-gloss finishes in pretty much any colour you want.
One thing to remember; all LP12s need to set up by a qualified Linn technician as the adjustment of the suspension requires a specialized factory-supplied jig. The preferred ‘pistonic’ action of the properly-tuned springs for the suspended sub-platter and armboard assembly is not an easy task to achieve, so buying from a dealer is definitely preferred.
Having previously owned a Majik spec’d LP12 several years ago – albeit with a Koetsu mounted – it didn't take long to dig the sound of the supplied Adikt cartridge. The Adikt needed a bit of time to fully bed-in and open up, but open up it did. First around the 25-hour mark, and then again around the 100-hour mark. This second break-in further smoothed-out violin, cello and guitar bodies in the midrange, increased detail retrieval up top and added grunt and tautness to the bottom end. I’ve heard this cart described previously as “cheap and cheerful,” but with a current price around $600 USD it's not particularly cheap, and I’d not describe it as cheerful. Adroit, yes, dynamic, yes – and a shade more neutral than warm. Warm-ish. It is noticeably quiet in the groove, is low on sibilance, and tracked very well, even on those tightly-packed albums that are truly long play. That current MSRP puts the Adikt in range of some very capable MM designs like the Ortofon 2M Black and Rega Exact 2. Both of these carts excel at articulation, dynamics and bass. If pressed, I’d say from memory, that they both come across as smoother in the midrange than the Adikt, with the bass of the Exact sounding more ‘juicy’ and the 2M lifting more information from the groove than either. As always with hi-fi, YMMV. Overall it proved to be a cartridge that fared well with spectral bloom, timbre and tone, and most importantly, conveying a cerebral and emotional connection with the music. Buyers can jump to an moving-coil model (as the Majik tonearm is more than capable of handling higher-priced carts), but that could involve the addition of a separate, active moving-coil phono stage or step-up transformer (SUT) to your current phono rig.
I played the Majik in its stock configuration (other than having the optional Trampolin base board replace the stock one and swapping the Linn-supplied wool mat for an Audtorium 23 standard mat) into several different integrated amplifiers and preamplifier/power amp combos (Naim, Audio Note, Devialet, McIntosh, Goldnote, etc.) with both solid state and tube-based phono stages, and while there were always changes going from one setup to another, the underlying musical bones of the ‘table – the foundational sonic attributes that form the basis for the LP12 – were never diminished. In fact, in certain combinations they became so apparent as to make me clearly remember why I bought one previously.
Listening notes were made with the LP12 connected to the valve-based moving-magnet phono stage of the Audio Note Oto Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier, which was powering a pair of Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE two-way loudspeakers. All cabling was Audio Note, with AC power being routed through a non-limiting SuperWiremold power strip.
Above: The Linn LP12 at rest in its natural environment.
British singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading’s 1976 S/T album was her third, but it was the first to be entirely recorded in London at legendary Olympic Studios. It’s my favourite of her many LPs with her six and 12-string guitar work exquisitely mic’d and deftly sewn into the mix by producer and engineer Glyn Johns. I grabbed a ’97 Speakers Corner re-issue to replace a beat up ’76 US pressing and in listening to the two the re-issue doesn’t seem to be screwed with. The Linn managed to capture all the elemental vocal emotion and laid back swagger Armatrading imbued many of the cuts with. “Love and Affection” is without doubt the most artfully constructed recording on the album, with not only rich bass licks courtesy of Dave Markee, but the big, wide-open and lush string arrangements that Brian Rogers deftly wrapped around Jimmy Jewel’s wailing sax. Imaging here allowed for a wide, deep sound stage mimicking the classic stereo image holographically floating between the speakers – where the recording allowed. Old stereo Blue Notes had hard panning just as one would expect. There’s a lot going in the “Affection” mix and the LP12 Majik never loses any instrument threads that weave through this funky ballad. Every subtle nuance of Armatrading’s vocal inflections are rendered with detail and real flesh-and-blood presence. Skins are punchy, intensely percussive and one is convinced of the power of Dave Mattacks’ calves as the kick drum thumps. Rim shots, and high hat are crystalline with sweet cymbal splash decaying beautifully behind the backing vocals.
“Prelude to a Kiss” and “Willow Weep for Me” off Ellington Indigos (an Impex numbered remaster from 2012) have some of the biggest-sounding sax solos I’ve ever heard Johnny Hodges blow; the playing sounds cavernous, showing off the size and scale of the recording space. On the right system this LP delivers goosebumps and almost sounds like some of the artists were routed through gated mics. “Shorty” Baker’s trumpet answers Hodges’ long, drawn-out notes off these two cuts and drips with brassy blaat and masterful, consistent pitch control. Here the LP12 excels at conveying not only the rock-steady timing of the cuts, but the timbral and tonal shadings of Ellington’s weighty pedal pushing that articulates every felt-hammered hit of the keys. This is an timbrally and tonally rich LP that on certain cartridge/tonearm combos can sound like cream and sugar in coffee – where dead neutral is black. That’s what makes it enjoyable and also tricky to play back without an over sweet tinge. Here the Linn Adikt displays its more centered voicing by passing along that sentimentality, without tipping into saccharine. That slight neutrality I mentioned earlier was nicely balanced through this album and showed once again how certain LPs play to the strengths of different vinyl front ends. Early Police LPs like Zenyatta Mondatta? Not so much in my experience, but the Linn still managed to make even those sound energized.
Philip Glass is iconic and Beck is well on his way there, so when I came across a colloboration 2xLP titled Rework_ while bin diving at a local record store before the pandemic hit, I came to a full stop and pulled out my phone to find out more about the album. It features several Glass compositions literally ‘reworked’ by artists such as Beck, Amon Tobin, Dan Deacon and Pantha du Prince to name a few. This is a big-bodied recording with a dense skeletal framework. A familiar genetic makeup if you’ve been buying Beck’s albums for the last 10 years (Sea Change, Morning Phase in particular) where his focus has been on immaculate production and recording along with in-the-room close mic’d vocals and affected electronic instrumentation. Bass extension on this LP is excursion friendly for loudspeakers, so be prepared to bother your neighbours if they share a wall, floor or ceiling with your listening space. The Majik/Adikt combo didn’t get ruffled by the fast, synth-heavy electronic nature of the vinyl, nor did it take away from any of the fun on this LP. In fact, the more articulate nature of its frequency response in the mid-lower treble allowed a lot of the digital programming to retain a crisp, easily delineated presence without drifting into the artificial; it was able to retain a more organic flavour as opposed to plastic. A neat trick for an album with a lot of processed samples and effects layered throughout its wide-ranging electro-acoustic tracks. Despite numerous instruments, vocals, textures, breaks, and arrangements, one could easily follow individual performances within a cut without feeling disconnected from the overarching whole.
As visually iconic and sonically compelling a turntable as one is likely to come across in a lifetime of looking and listening, with a long history and legions of acolytes, the LP12 could be seen as the aspirational everyman’s record player. Needing nothing more than a standard moving-magnet phono stage to deliver an memorable LP playback experience and as close to plug-n-play (once it’s been properly set up) as a turntable of this sonic calibre can reasonably be, the LP12 Majik delivers on the expectation of emotional engagement. It is a firm handshake to enter upon an agreement of playing every record you own with conviction, a high level of detail retrieval, sufficient midrange jam, bottom-end weight, percussion impact and non-fatiguing treble. All things I hold in high regard for any manufactured piece of music playback equipment and like sense, something that I would not consider common. Trumpets sound like real trumpets being played, violins and cellos sound like real, wood-bodied instruments and piano has weight and physical presence. This record player does what one is supposed to do: it delivers dynamic, compelling and lifelike performances, not approximations of them. The fact that Linn can swap out practically every component on the LP12 to turn it into an altogether far more serious, five-figure reference-level turntable thanks to its modular design gives one an analog partner to spend years traveling the upgrade path with.