Linn Sondek LP12 Power Supply Upgrade
Class Record Collector Review
Classic Record Collector Review by Christhoper Breunig
Intro & Description
The history of the turntable has seen many innovations: back in the 1950s most records were played via an autochanger, stacked LPs crashing down the spindle one after the other. More discerning listeners had the Pye Black Box with its single-play Collaro motor. Then with the dawning of a new interest, 'high fidelity', we had transcription decks from Lenco, Thorens and Garrard – whose venerable 301 still keenly sought today.
But in 1972 a new Glasgow-based company, Linn Products, made bold claims for a turntable that 'sounded different': the Sondek (or LP12) was a well engineered single-speed turntable unit, belt-driven, with spring-suspended chassis, sturdy plinth and a controversial felt mat atop the platter. Linn also preached an upgrade priority of turntable–arm–cartridge, flipping the prevailing view on its head.
The company evolved its products over time, with the LP12's basic circuit board gave way in 1981 to the more sophisticated Valhalla, which is still current. the company also introduced an outboard power supply, Lingo, providing a 45rpm option absent from Linn's early turntables, alongside substantial improvements in performance.
Over the years Linn's mechanical excellence has tempted others to introduce modifications for the LP12 – largely focused on speed accuracy and reduction of unwanted vibrations. Notable among those manufacturers are Pink Triangle, Russ Andrews and Naim Audio, whose Armageddon power supply for 33rpm only is slightly noisy under some mains conditions but eminently dependable.
The LP12 remains a classic piece of equipment, albeit with a mild, not unpleasing coloration; it takes a bold man to seek to change its character. But as I recently discovered, upgrade kits by Origin Live can bring a vast improvement to its performance. The company offers several possible choices, all centred on replacing the standard AC motor with a DC unit, which the competent enthusiast can fit and fine-tune to provide exact, switchable 33/45rpm settings. A DC motor is intrinsically less quiet than an AC synchronous type but does not suffer from 'cogging' since the brushes make contact all the time with the armature.
Put To The Test
Although I relate my experiences with these options with the Linn LP12, Origin Live's website, www.originlive.com, lists more than 30 makes of belt-driven turntable suitable for modification. Note, however, that it excludes the Garrard 301 transcription deck, which has direct drive.
The kit is in three parts, each with a superior, interchangeable alternative at higher cost. The Advanced kit, at £339, comprises the 26mm diameter DC100 motor, control box and plug-in transformer unit (the familiar wall-socket type) supplied as either 240/230V 50Hz for the UK or 110V/60Hz. In silver anodized aluminium finish, the voltage regulator box has a power-on fascia LED and rotary switch: off/33/45.
Installation involves disconnecting the mains, removing the existing motor, associated internal circuit-board and cabling. Note that with a Linn LP12/Valhalla combination, you must leave time for lethal voltages to leak away before working under the top-plate! The replacement motor may then be bolted in place using one fixing only; this simplifies adjustment of belt tension by rotating the assembly slightly. The pulley centre should be 127–129mm from the turntable spindle with the Linn.
Origin Live gives full instructions for each turntable model, including adjustment details to minimise any vibration noise between the motor and its mounting plate. A tiny quantity of Blu-Tack damping may be applied at this interface, better still, I think, Faber FIMO (an upmarket plasticine available from artists' materials shops). Subsequent to my tests, Origin Live has introduced a gasket. The motors are also damped with a heat-shrink sleeve.
Using the 33/45 strobe disc supplied, the two speeds must be independently set under artificial lighting, with a fine screwdriver adjustment through the base of the switch-box. This should be done after the new motor has been well run-in and has been driving the platter at each speed for six to seven minutes (it will be slightly fast at switch-on), with the cartridge playing in the centre of a vinyl disc to allow for stylus drag. The good news for some CRC readers is that, since the motor speed is widely variable, it could be set at ±78rpm, provided that you have a suitable strobe disc. (I seem to recall the older Deutsche Grammophon LP label incorporated an edge motif which was actually a 78 strobe pattern.)
In day to day use, Origin Live recommends leaving the platter rotating whilst changing records, so as to reduce wear on the belt. Obviously this manouvre requires caution with regard to one's precious cartridge.
Going up the scale, for £570 one can run the DC100 with the Ultra box, which has superior components and is highly tuned. Case size is the same, at 50x110x180mm (hwd); finish is black anodized. Another £109 buys the more powerful 29mm DC200 motor. I strongly recommend this if funds allow, as its performance is strikingly better. Finally, there is a larger, purpose designed transformer (which has a captive mains lead and may be remotely sited); this adds £160 to the Ultra power supply cost, but again provides a further leap in terms of music reproduction.
You may baulk at these figures, but they compare favourably with the Linn Lingo or Naim Armageddon power supply upgrades (the latter currently £775) where the existing synchronous motor is retained. And for those without the DIY bent the company has a network of dealers who will supply and fit – Londoners might try Walrus Systems in Quebec Street, W1 (020 7724 7224).
Opening The Window
Readers who have persevered thus far must be wondering: what difference can the motor possibly make to a good deck? Well, as Quad used to say of the original electrostatic speaker, it is like opening a window wide to the music. Almost any familiar LP will do, as the change is dramatic rather than subtle. Subjectively, the dynamic range seems wider, the details and soundstage more sharply etched, and low-level information becomes apparent. The classic Curzon/LSO/Szell Brahms D-minor Concerto, recorded by Decca but transferred by Speakers Corner (SXL6023), provided my first revelation when, in the slow movement, I began to hear both soloist and conductor singing out the phrases, and pedal thumps within the Kingsway Hall ambiance. Other beloved discs on this label brought out the different characteristics of London orchestras working in the hall, allowing one to switch focus on instrumental sections just as one would at a concert.
Another favourite test of mine is the last movement of Bartók's Fourth String Quartet, as recorded by the Juilliards in the early 1960s (issued here as a CBS Classics disc: 61119). This can sound unremittingly strident but the upgraded LP12's clean sound shows not only the finesse of the string playing but a grasp of the idiom which I never felt this group really had.
The final proof of the pudding comes when you start trying passages previously un-trackable: Ashkenazy's Schubert Sonata in A, D664, has one notorious sequence of repeated ff chords in the finale (Decca SXL6260) which, for the first time, my van den Hul moving-coil sailed cleanly through. Holst's 'Song of the Blacksmith' on Telarc 10038 was another example, with its anvil blows; and voice distortion in the 'Abschied' in Kathleen Ferrier's recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, with VPO/Walter was another – I have a well-cut Dutch pressing, Decca DDX 190 042 – which showed how previous vibration transfer from the standard motor assembly had affected the stylus/microgroove interface.
Even with such notable improvements, these motors prompt further tweaks to the system, such as modifying tonearm rake and downforce or looking at isolation of the electronics. The Ringmat system is, I would say, an essential complement for anyone still using a felt or rubber turntable mat.For those still enjoying analogue replay, these Origin Live components are well worth considering.
Spring 2004 edition "Classic Record Collector'