January 2012 Issue

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The Linn LP12 is a magnificent machine and fully deserves its iconic status, says Mark Knight.




Reading Steve Baty’s letter in the September issue of Hi-Fi World I was reminded of my meeting and conversation with Ivor Tiefenbrun at the Linn factory back in the 1980s. On being introduced as Professor of music – which I’m not – he was scathing of musicians and their abilities to evaluate high fidelity equipment, but gracious in his observation that I was rather rare among musos in showing any interest at all in the subject.

In Linn’s listening room, towards the end of my visit, I was played a recording of a clavichord, a hybrid harpsichord/fortepiano from the late 18thc, obviously using a Sondek LP12 and almost certainly at the highest specification available. I regret I recall nothing of the amplifier but the speakers were, if I remember correctly, Isobariks.

On being asked my reaction I tentatively opined, and I was extremely careful to be as clear and yet understated as possible in view of my earlier bruising encounter with the great man, that the clarity of the reproduction was extraordinarily clear but that I felt my head was inside the sound box of the instrument.

There was a pause, and I felt sick in the pit of my stomach, but his response was surprisingly muted and appreciative. From what I remember he said that it was the leading edges of notes which conveyed the essential character of the music being reproduced which was absent in almost all high-fidelity equipment available at the time. Other aspects, such as timbre and spatial information (stereo image) he felt were subservient and in any case covered by other manufacturers.

At this point he asked me what I was using, and again that inner sickness welled up as I listed items in my system at the time: a Trio 2055 turntable, Grado F+ cartridge, Yamaha receiver (amp/tuner) and Spendor BC1 speakers on the Spendor supplied stands complete with castors (to assist in Hoovering, you understand; but I did have them connected with QED 79 cable!). His observation was that the system would sound hard (and it did) but that the Spendors were excellent and so prevented it from being a total disaster.

I wrote to Ivor following my visit thanking him for spending time with me, especially as on the day of my visit stocktaking was in full swing, and he replied most courteously and at length (I still have the letter – oh, those lovely days of pen and paper!) outlining his philosophy on the reproduction of recorded music.

I need not go into details but subsequent events in my professional life bore out Ivor’s observations with a vengeance and I decided I had to experience the Linn philosophy in comparison to the equipment I owned at the time.

I sympathise with Steve Baty’s view of the approach of Linn/Naim sales personnel during that era. I, too, was told how only a Linn could reveal the presence of the piano in a recording of Tchiakovsky’s Sixth Symphony (there isn’t one)! As a professional musician being told how to listen or what to listen for is extremely irritating; and it wasn’t what Ivor Tiefenbrun had been saying anyway...

Eventually I found a Linn dealer with a sales person who wasn’t a total prat, in fact he was sensitive and very patient. Whilst I spent a couple of hours listening to my receiver and speakers, which I had with great effort taken to the dealer, fed by my Trio turntable and a Linn, my wife went shopping. I had also recollected Ivor saying that the non-enthusiast hi-fi wife was always better than her husband discriminating music reproduction, so her return to the listening room was eagerly anticipated.

And she didn’t disappoint. Among the LPs I had taken to the comparison/demonstration (all of which I knew intimately) was that of Beethoven’s String Quintet in C, an American (RCA) recording by the Guarneri Quartet with Pinchas Zukerman playing the second viola part. The playing is magnificent but the disc was poor, very thin with little depth in the groove, a severe task for the turntable. Add to that the denser tonal texture in a string quartet that the second viola adds then the infrequency and frustration felt when I did try to listen to this performance at home can be understood.

My wife duly arrived and after reminding me that she was perfectly happy with a wind-up gramophone, especially as she enjoyed changing and sharpening the needles, we settled down to listen to the Beethoven, first on the Trio and then on the Linn. The former was pronounced as “what’s wrong with that and sounds fine to me?”. Then the Linn (and Steve Baty won’t like this) – it’s faster, I didn’t know the second violin was over there! Aren’t the two violas gorgeous, melting together yet each so clear and, the cellist is right bang in the middle! (as he was, as is usual in an American string quartet)...

The salesman’s face was a picture, at least what I could see of it behind his hand. I wrote the cheque, packed my gear, the dealer’s staff safely secured the Linn in its box and gave me clear and full instructions how to install having offered to do it for me, an offer I refused because I had to get it home and in my system that very day.

Since then I have been a Linn/Naim user. I am now fortunate to have a dedicated music room in which my wife (also a professional string player) and I work and listen. The system is LP12/Lingo/Ittok/Dynavector 17D3Karat recently factory upgraded Naim 32.5 Hi-Cap/NAP250 driving those same Spendors but upgraded to SP1 status by Spendor and all of it supported on appropriate stands (without castors) spiked, and connected via Naim cables, as are all the interconnects.

Listening to music being performed live is central to my work. I train students of university age to become professional performers. They have to trust my judgements and come to rely on my aural and visual analysis to develop their talent and skills. Some of them have listened extensively to my system and have been able to relate to, and re-evaluate, the principles I strive to represent in classical string playing.

Any questions of pitch stability, location of players or timbal inaccuracy never arise. The issue of image and tonal accuracy I have found depends largely (perhaps not entirely) on how well the system is supported, its environment, and obviously how well the components are matched.

Some say the type of music to be played is a factor but I have to say Bob Dylan sounds wonderful on my Linn/Naim set-up (a not-so secret vice of mine)! It is obvious that a would-be hi-fi purchaser of today has a far greater choice of genuine high fidelity equipment than in the 1970s and 1980s, and Linn and Naim have a much tougher competitive market to content with. I have heard other systems over the years, some of which I enjoyed, some I have found indifferent, others I thought dreadful, but I have never been troubled to think I need to change anything fundamental in my system although, of course, improvements can always be achieved.

I have added a Naim CD player and use a Sony CD recorder for my work, allowing students to hear repertoire or performers that they would otherwise be unaware of and for which the source component, usually my LP12, is, of course, crucial. Radio 3 for classical musicians is also essential; hence I own a Naim NAT01 FM tuner which is simply wonderful.

So, Mr. Baty, a fellow professional musician totally disagrees with you. The Linn LP12 is a magnificent machine and fully deserves its iconic status, as do the products of Naim Audio. These companies changed the world of hi-fi forever, and for better, and have since surely stimulated and inspired others in the field to strive for comparable standards of recorded music replay. They remain in the highest echelons of products dedicated to serving the music lover in his /her home environment.

Mark Knight



Professor of Violin and Viola Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London and The Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.



Thanks for your broad, insightful and generous views Mark. We sent them to both Linn and Naim, to cheer them up a bit! As you say, they face far more competition these days; how the market has changed. NK



Spendor BC1 loudspeakers were upgraded to SP1 status in Mark Knight's system.




I felt I had to put fingers to keyboard in response to Steve Baty’s (in my view) unreasonable letter in the September 2011 edition. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Yes, I own a Linn LP12 c. 1993, Valhalla, pre Circus, Akito and Adikt MM cartridge. This feeds a Creek OBH8SE phono amp, Linn Kairn Pro pre-amp, 2 x LK100s bi-amping Monitor Audio Silver 5s. I also have an Arcam CD73T and Denon TU260L as other sources.

There are a couple of issues I wish to oppose in Steve’s anti LP12 rant. Firstly, as far as I’m aware in the LP12’s 40 odd years it has undergone very few upgrades. The Nirvana springs and Valhalla power supply in the 80s, the Cirkus bearing upgrade in the 90s, the Lingo outboard power supply also in the 90s and then virtually nothing until the Keel sub-chassis in the last couple of years or so. This hardly seems an excessive number of upgrades. It is my recollection as an avid reader of magazines since the age of 15 (now 49) that it has often been wished by many a contributor that the LP12 was upgraded and recent products from Vivid, and before them the Funk Firm, have been long awaited.

I have had my Linn on cupboards and latterly a wall shelf in two houses and in two different locations within the house. Never under any sound pressure levels have I suffered Steve’s claimed ‘speaker howling, nor arm bouncing off the record, suspended floor or not! Also during that time I have had it checked twice. Once whilst moving house I had it routinely checked on re-siting it 1994, and once around 2003 when upgrading the cartridge and it had a replacement belt. Hardly regular tinkering or the need to be setup frequently.

I cannot argue that it is the last word in imaging depth or width, nor that it isn’t the best defined in the bass either. I am sure any number of others will out do it in all aspects of reproduction. However I have had 18 years of many happy hours of listening to music, which is after all what it’s all about isn’t it, or have I missed the point?

Steve’s anti LP12 rant is as unwelcome as those who insist that the Linn is the only way to go! It isn’t! It is just one that many people find very satisfying, as do those who enjoy their Mitchell, Roksan, SME, Project, Avid etc, etc.

If we are going to have critical letters in our hobby then let them at least be based on reasoned argument and not prejudice. The very fact that the LP12 is still going after 40 years, with very little change, is testament to the fact that it must be doing something well, unless in Steve’s arrogance as a classically trained musician the many thousands of us sheep who very much enjoy our LP12s have all been led to the Linn alter and slaughtered to their marketing gods? I don’t recall the Alphason lasting this long. Hmmm!

Andy Troth

West midlands




Beneath the modern Linn LP12 lies electronic speed control.

Our measurements show it contributes to excellent speed stability,

better than that of most belt drives.

Well Andy, I think it’s very hard to argue with that. I’m a great believer in that old aphorism “different strokes for different folks”, and there are a great many – including our very own Tony Bolton, who own and love their Linn LP12 turntables. Heavens, even Adam Smith has just bought one! There’s no doubt in my mind that they do some things very nicely indeed – almost peerlessly, in fact. They’re lovely and smooth and gently, beguilingly musical. There are other things that Sondeks aren’t as good at, as we all now know – imaging and stage depth being issues. But people aren’t stupid, and if they tire of their Sondek sound they’ll go elsewhere, whereas others audition the latest ‘flavour of the month’ and then come back to their Linn. Fair enough. People such as yourself show that the deck can be superb value for money – if you stick with it year on year then your investment pays off, despite the high prices for the LP12 and some of its mods. Few expensive pieces of furniture last as long as your Linn! DP


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