Banner
Banner
cookie-banner

Funk Firm Ittok

(from Hi-Fi World, March 2009 issue)

READ ON-LINE

BUY THE MAGAZINE (back issues subject to availability)

 


Blak Magic

 

funkfirmlinnittokblue1

 

Andrew Harrison thinks many will conjure up the cash for Funk Firm’s F•X upgrade package for the classic Linn Ittok tonearm...

 

Legend tells of a race of people from Mondas who challenged the mortality of their weak flesh with technology. As organs and limbs degenerated or wore out, they replaced them with artificial parts made of metal and plastic – until little was left of the original organic tissue. Not only did these new cybernetic parts give the Mondasians longer life, they also made them superior in performance, giving them the strength and resilience of supermen. They also bleached away all humanity and emotion from themselves, leaving a race of cold, unfeeling automatons with a large silicon chip on their collective cyber shoulders...

 

So maybe the extraction-of-feeling aspect is where the analogy breaks down. In my experience to date, the Funk Firm’s relentless driving out of original flesh from the Linn Sondek has if anything allowed more of the emotion of the music to rise through, not less.

It’s unlikely that the Funk Firm has been taking notes from the mythology of Doctor Who, but when I look at my once-original Linn Sondek, with almost every part replaced by new technology, I do wonder when the CyberSondek will take on the aspect of grandfather’s spade; a totally original example with ‘only’ the handle, blade and shaft replaced. And 'Cyberdek' would certainly roll off the tongue more easily than The Funk Firm Vector Link-modified Sondek LP12 turntable!

 

As detailed in the January 2009 issue, there are various levels of modification available to the classic Linn Sondek from the Funk Firm. And by the time you reach the full smash of all available Funk mods – that is, to replace subchassis, top plate, armboard, motor, power supply and platter mat – there’s little of the Scottish deck left that can claim north of the border ancestry! Or to spell it out, we’re left only with Linn’s wooden plinth, a two-part metal platter, its bearing and the suspension springs.


ARMS ON DECK

A standard fitment for the LP12 Sondek throughout the eighties was Linn’s own pickup arm, the Ittok LVII. Given its ubiquity, it seemed the ideal candidate for another piece of Funk alchemy. The burly Ittok used high-quality bearings, has a useful amount of adjustment of the key parameters of arm geometry, and is a good supporter of heavier moving-coil cartridges, making a fine starting point for revision. But it does have some coloration of its own, in part contributed by peaky arm resonances set off by energy from the cartridge.

 

The Funk Firm has tried to address this by rebuilding the Ittok using a wholly new armtube. This is a carbon-fibre affair of the same diameter as the original, braced internally by a full-length insert that makes a cross shape when viewed end-on. The resulting mod is termed F•X, pronounced "F dot cross". At the same time the internal wiring is replaced, so that you’re presented with cartridge tag-terminated wires instead of four pins that require short tag links to be fitted. It’s not a cheap upgrade, mind. Funk is charging £700 to rebuild your original Ittok using space-age carbon-fibre.


SOUND QUALITY

Time for a recap on the Funky sound so far: lean and very clean, with lightning speed on transients when the music calls for them. It’s not all sprint to the finish though. A Funk’d Sondek will be slow and measured when elsewhere required. Multitracked recordings show their multilayered compositional ingredients, with a mastertape-like revelation of what’s in the recording.

 

A cooking analogy may help illustrate the effect. Take one ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ from Yes’s 1971 album ‘Fragile’. Add in one fully modded Funk LP12 Sondek. Use a stock late-eighties vintage Linn Ittok LVII, and garnish said tonearm with an over-achieving Ortofon Windfeld moving-coil cartridge. Sit back and enjoy the course: an impossibly fast guitar/bass riff opening, punctuated by Bruford’s technician drumming, flies into the room with insane speed and head-scratching precision. Just how did guitarist Howe and bassist Squire lock their instruments’ fretboards so synchronously?

 

Then as the group get the opening gambit off their chest, they slide into a slow, languid wander while Wakeman’s Mellotron chord shapes rise and reverberate from the distance. Anderson gets lost on a wave, counting the broken ties and then decides to step back from vocal duties as the band go hell for leather into the next riffing verse. The rich colour and atomic clock timing of a rock group playing at their peak is brought to life from the Funk’d deck. A regular-tune Sondek sits in the sidelines, unable to reveal the pitch of inventive Rickenbacker basslines that underline the track, at least not without getting a bit soggy and boisterous in the bass. And the AC motor-powered LP12 also somehow gets in a tizz over high-speed hi-hats, mixing them into the overlapping snare strikes.

 

So what happens when the Funk-fit Ittok is let loose on the Cyberdek? The first impression hits before the music even starts, as there’s more record surface noise evident from the lead-in groove. This is not necessarily a black mark, more a sign that the groove is being read more profoundly, perhaps more impartially. And thankfully, once the notes start, so does the tell-tale evidence of your record collection’s seedier past fade away below the music.

 

What may be more difficult to ignore is the presence of pre-echo on certain recordings, now somewhat more noticeable. Which suggests that you sometimes have to be careful what you wish for – namely more detail retrieval from the vinyl grooves. Sometimes you might just get it.

There’s an easier quality to the lower midband, making a standard Ittok now sound a little forceful in comparison. With that slightly reduced emphasis on the midrange comes a tangibly superior separation of instruments, and more natural tonal colouring. Unamplified instruments benefit well in particular. Acoustic guitars are the biggest giveaway here, as the Funk Ittok made a better job of describing the differences between a steel-strung acoustic and a classical guitar with nylon strings. Where a stock Ittok makes them both sound a little, well, steely, the classical instrument was that much more convincing once a carbon-fibre tubed Ittok was put in place. Singing voices also exhibited improved segregation. Where a solo singer has multi-tracked their voice, or a low-level harmony part is present, these tricks are now more obvious to the ear.

 

Before we get all excited that the new arm is the panacea for every sonic vice your ears can imagine, I should point out a couple of reservations about its new slant on sound. This may not necessarily be an issue with the upgrade engineering though.

 

Bass swing was not always so compelling, so that the meter of the music took more effort to follow. Music still flowed nicely, but the instinct to snap your fingers was calmed a little. And at the top treble end, I felt hi-hats lost a modicum of their focus and were not so clean, nor a ride cymbal so bell-like in its extended harmonics. With reference to the ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ test piece, for example, Chris Squire’s bass lines were deprived of some of their slam and punch, and with that the depth and definition I’m used to from the metal-tubed Linn arm. The pinpoint imaging of a hi-hat was subdued so that there was more a cloud of shimmering bronze.

 

My question mark about the top-end trade-off in particular is due to the age of the upgraded tonearm supplied for review. Where the standard Ittok LVII B I’m used to is a well-preserved 1988 example that I’ve owned from new, the Funk-supplied sample started life as a 1982 model, and one that’s seen somewhat more use, to judge by its outward finish. And that reduced focus in certain areas is not untypical for an Ittok with less than pristine bearings. But returning to the benefits of the upgrade, there was a universal tendency – or at least option – to play louder, as the sometime shouty quality of the Ittok had been impressively reined in. Midrange again was the major recipient of play without strain.

 

In total, Funk’s mechanical revision of the Linn Ittok showed great promise, even if I had some minor reservations about what I heard at the very top and bottom. The more open midband and improved revelation throughout make this an appealing option to wring even more performance from the classic Sondek-plus-Ittok combo. And even if you don’t have an Ittok to offer for rebuild, look out for Funk’s rethink in its own new arms, or for the Rega tonearm.


verdict four globes

Effective upgrade to Linn’s classic pickup arm, bringing significant extra insight.


FOR

- increased transparency

- superior pace

- improved clarity


AGAINST

- expensive

- most effective with mint condition donor arms


FUNK F•X ITTOK UPGRADE £700

The Funk Firm  +44(0)1273 585042

www.thefunkfirm.co.uk

 




TIK-TOK: AN ITTOK TIMELINE

Linn Products’ first breakthrough in the 1970s was convincing an initially sceptical audience that turntables made a difference. This was in an age where the loudspeaker was king, and was seen as the highest distortion component of a system (which it still is). Those same days would often see the Sondek fitted with a Supex cartridge on a Grace tonearm.

 

Then in 1979, Linn challenged the status quo with its heavier Ittok LVII arm, a straight-arm design when the characteristic S-shape was the norm. Compared to standards like the SME 3009, the Ittok was a battleship with its thick, unwavering armtube and chunky bearings. Design was by Linn Products in Glasgow, but the arm was built in Japan. The following year in 1980, the vertical arm pillar was thickened, from 20mm to 25mm, and the latter version (serial number 3000 onward) is sometimes – but not by Linn – referred to as a Mk 2.

 

In 1983, the bearing shafts saw a material change (s/n 12,000), and the armtube material was revised in 1986 (s/n 20,000). With the introduction of the Linn Troika cartridge in Sept 1986, Linn enlarged one of the lightening holes in the headshell to allow for the unusual third fixing screw. This mod occurred at serial number 23,000. The Ittok remained unchanged through most of the rest of the 1980s, save an occasional appearance of sought-after black examples, denoted Ittok LVII B. An important revision was made in January 1989 with the replacement of the three headshell clamping screws by special glue, an aircraft adhesive. It was also at this time that the arm was renamed the Ittok LVIII.

 

In 1991, the LVIII/2 was introduced, using the same integral armrest as the flagship Linn Ekos tonearm, and the headshell was strengthened. Linn then reset the Ittok’s serial number sequence to 0001. The Ittok remained in production until September 1993. In its latter years it approached the performance of Linn’s top Ekos arm, an all-black affair launched in 1988. The gap in price between the Ittok and Ekos models had also closed up, leading Linn to consolidate its line-up by keeping just two models – the Ekos and budget Akito – in its portfolio from 1993 until the present day. Today, a cared-for Linn Ittok remains a desirable item. Condition varies widely, but expect to find a good clean example for anywhere between £200 and £400 second-hand.


funkfirmlinnittokwhite2-f

 

Search

Hi-Fi World, Powered by Joomla!; Hosted by Joomla Wired.