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January 2013
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Enjoy the Music.com Special 20/20 Award
Tripping the Linn LP12 Fantastic
A radical makeover of the LP12 with off-the-shelf components from Boston Audio Design, SoundDeadSteel, Stillpoints and TTW Audio.

Review By Rick Becker

 

Please Note: With TTWeights Audio exiting the industry and the unavailability of their extraordinary periphery rings, the feasibility of recreating the maximum results of this project is nil. There is still something to be learned from my experience with this project that may interest readers, but you should be cautioned to "take what you like, but leave the rest." The good news is that I am closer to embarking on Stage 2 of this project which will include more permanent and sometimes irreversible modifications. Stage 2 will simplify the "ritual" of playing records and most likely take the LP12 to yet a higher level of performance.

 

 

Linn LP12  We are all tweakers. Some of us are macro-tweakers, swapping components in and out of our rigs on what has been called an endless merry-go-round. Others get down into the nuts and bolts of it with capacitors and soldering iron. All of us are seeking "that mighty, evasive stone" of music that moves us. The analog pathway is a trail many of us have traveled, and to which many of us are now returning. Back in the 1990's I was captivated by Corey Greenberg's LP rants in Stereophile and amassed more garage sale records than I will ever listen to in my lifetime. I also bartered a king size mattress for a Linn LP12, serial no. 0409xx, circa 1984 with a Valhalla power supply and Sumiko MMT tonearm. It has served me well for more than two decades as my system improved. The record collection moves slowly like a tide from bookcases full of un-washed and unheard LPs to bookcases full of those I've cleaned and enjoyed.

 

Getting Started
It didn't take long to figure out a wall mount would help and allow me to walk across the floor without causing the stylus to skip across a groove or two. Taking a cue from the industrial grade shelving units at the video center where I worked at the time, I built my own using solid oak tops from night stands scavenged from my father's furniture store. The rack also held my tuner and preamp. Being able to listen to LPs and walk across the floor was liberating. I could wash my LPs in the kitchen sink, dry them on the kitchen table and carefully lean them against the walls of the townhouse to dry completely. This worked fine when I was buying records at flea markets for $1 apiece and bringing home five or ten each week. I would just run the newly acquired LPs through this laundry routine once a month and be set for quite a while.

The problem came when I discovered I could bypass the vendors at the flea market and buy directly from the source at garage sales for ten cents or a quarter. Soon I was collecting records faster than I could wash them, bringing home 20 to 40 a week. Each one was carefully removed from the jacket and inspected before purchasing. A pocket-size loose-leaf notebook carefully cataloged the cancerous collection so I wouldn't duplicate my acquisitions — unintentionally, at least. With stacks of records leaning against the walls of nearly every room in the house, it became apparent that I needed a record cleaning machine to keep up with the influx. The VPI 16.5 machine did a much better job than hand washing but the real benefit was the miracle of random access to my collection. The kitchen sink routine was only efficient if I blocked off time to wash a large batch of LPs. The VPI allowed me to clean a single LP right before I played it. As a side benefit, I could now organize my records without washing them. This led to the bookcases which I purchased shortly after Linda and I moved from our townhouse to a nearby tract home. It had a generous listening room for me and a dream kitchen for her. Yes, contrary to the flow of our generation, we upsized.

With a dedicated listening room came the opportunity to expand my role from covering the Montreal audio show to reviewing actual products. At Montreal I witnessed a demonstration of Symposium Acoustic's roller ball type footers which planted a seed of curiosity about the effects of vibration absorbing technology on audio equipment. And as Dorothy Parker purportedly said:

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity".

But I urge a modicum of caution as animal studies indicate that curiosity has also killed the cat.

 

Vibrations — Platters, Footers and Plates
One of my earliest reviews was the Boston Audio Design's Mat 1. This is a carbon graphite disc turned on a lathe from a huge rod of the material. A special coating keeps graphite dust from getting all over the turntable and LPs. The center section is slightly recessed to compensate for the additional thickness of the LP label and the diameter is just right for nesting inside the outer lip of the metal platter of the LP12. The ridge at the outer edge of most LPs falls just beyond the circumference of the graphite allowing the entire grooved surface of the LP to contact the Mat 1. The graphite material is said to have virtually the same transmission property as vinyl so micro-vibrations in the vinyl pass freely into the graphite. Once inside the Mat 1 the vibrations are reflected and ultimately absorbed by the molecular structure of the graphite. If you haven't read the review, you've probably guessed by now that it works superbly. So much so that I gave it a Blue Note Award that year.

Early on I also reviewed the Symposium Rollerballs and while they were not a prime candidate for footers under the LP12, the original Stillpoints and later, the Boston Audio Designs TuneBlocks proved much more stable. Both did a superb job of draining vibrations out of the chassis of the LP12 when placed beneath the Masonite board on the bottom. Care was required to not push or lean on the wood frame of the Linn as it would slide across the balls that contacted the Masonite. The benefit, quite simply, was greater focus across the audible spectrum and it was easily recognizable.

Not long after the Mat 1 review I got wind of another mat from England from a company whose name sounded like a punk rock band, Sound Dead Steel. The heavy metal end of their business is in sound abatement — making sound deadening enclosures for noisy industrial machines and processes. They also do a fair amount of work for the military, I suspect. They manufacture and use a special material comprised of two dissimilar thicknesses of metal separated by a layer of visco-elastic polymer. The head man there, Les Thompson, happens to be an audiophile at heart and he developed a turntable mat, the Isoplatmat, as well as a large plate on which to set a component. The Isoplatmat was very successful at improving the focus of the music and lowering background and surface noise. The original one was aluminum with a black paint which worked marginally well on the Linn but its weight threw the platter somewhat out of balance. A second version using stainless steel rather than aluminum was even heavier and it really rocked the boat. On a non-suspended turntable this would not be an issue, but on the Linn it was problematic. Problems, naturally, are food for curiosity. The Boston Audio Mat 1 had the advantage of being lighter weight and sounding a little warmer than the Sound Dead Steel mats, so the Mat 1 became my reference.

The large SDS Isoplate was useless as an isolation platform since the feet of most components are relatively ineffective as absorbers or drains of vibrations from within the chassis. The material itself worked, but the large plate didn't. I urged Les to develop 3" squares of the material and he sent me a bunch of hastily cut prototypes to play with. I had to file the edges by hand to prevent scratching the bottoms of my components but that was a small price to pay for the adventure. Adding the SDS squares between the ball bearing of the Boston Audio TuneBlocks and the bottom of the Linn chassis made an even greater improvement. By this time (September, 2006) I had learned and expounded my findings that using footers under all the components in a system had a synergistic effect. And so it was with the Linn, too. It was a little nerve wracking at first, as the squares provided a smooth surface that would allow the turntable to slide more easily than when the balls contacted the textured Masonite directly. With the Linn just below shoulder height on the wall mounted rack it was easy to accidentally lean into the chassis when I was cleaning the cartridge, for example. I suspect with the turntable at a lower height this would be less of a problem, though perhaps more difficult to clean the cartridge. Life has its trade-offs and I soon learned to be cautious because the payoff was large. There was no arguing with the improvements brought about by the Boston Audio Mat 1 and the combination of the Boston Audio TuneBlocks and SDS squares.

As an historical aside, I also reviewed the Boston Audio Designs Mat 2 and found it to be quieter than the Mat 1, but the additional weight lent a greater tilt to the platter/armboard structure so I stayed with the Mat 1. I had also been talking with Austin Jackson of Boston Audio Design about the 3" squares since Les Thompson did not seem to be taking up the ball and running with it. (That's what they do in rugby, isn't it?) Well, Austin whipped them into production quite readily, though I found the two plates seemed to creep out of square over time when used under speaker spikes — another very effective use for them if you have a joisted floor. This isn't an issue under a component where the plate is out of sight up against the bottom of the chassis, but under the spikes of a loudspeaker it is a little untidy. The squares from SDS do not do this since the material is made under high pressure with large sheets of metal and then cut down to size.

Shortly after Boston Audio Design came out with their stainless steel TunePlates, I received a package from England, out of the blue, with the official new SDS IsoFeet. Not only were the edges smoother, but a thin foam layer was glued to one side to protect a floor or shelf. They were handsomely finished in a textured black paint. For my purposes the foam was only a slight hindrance since the ball bearing of the footers quickly squished it out of contention. The metal side was used against the bottom of the chassis being careful that it was flat on the bottom and not riding up on any screw heads.

Somewhere along the way I had upgraded to a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood moving magnet cartridge, feeding it to the phonostage of a pre-owned CAT Signature Mk 3 preamp that had replaced the EAR 834 Line and Phono stages. While the cartridge and preamp upgrades were significant, it was the addition of the Mat 1, the TuneBlocks and the SDS IsoFeet that raised the playback quality much higher than you would have expected. The HRS Analog Disk I reviewed also made a contribution to lowering the noise floor commensurate with its affordable price. It also helped to level slightly warped LPs a bit. All these gains were happening at the cost of hundreds, not thousands of dollars, and it was fun!

 

A Seed Is Planted
One of my favorite rooms at the Montreal show every year is the AuDIYo.com room. It is always filled with parts and tweaks they distribute, but also serves to showcase new products, sometimes from upstart Canadian companies. Some years their space spills out into the hallway and this is where I discovered Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility. Another time I stopped to watch a demonstration of turntable mats by Larry Denham of TTWeights (now known as TTW Audio) and marvel at the beauty of his jewel-like record weights. At one point he picked up the platter of a mid-fi turntable and rapped it with his knuckles to demonstrate how loudly it rang. Noise from the platter reflects upward into the LP and causes distortion, he claimed. It seemed quite intuitive at the time. The exaggerated physical demonstration and the loud ringing faded from me ears, but not from my curiosity. I also noted a very handsome LP ring with an ingenious plastic disc that allowed for easy centering of the ring on the outer edges of a record. My subsequent correspondence in search of review samples floundered. Like Les Thompson, Larry was head of a much larger business, one that produced precision parts for the aerospace industry. Not only that, but Larry had bigger plans under his hat.  Over the course of the next year or two various TTW mats, weights and rings came and went and sometimes became completely unavailable. I feared that an uptick in his larger company might spell doom for his analog products. The emergence of a complete turntable of his own design and manufacture quelled those fears. He was charging full speed ahead.

It was probably on a Sunday night in winter. I might or might not have been sipping a scotch, but I was certainly staring at my Linn LP12 intently. There was music in the air, but maybe or maybe not from an LP. It might have been a CD or Hearts of Space on National Public Radio. I was staring at the Linn, but thinking of the elegant design of the Simon Yorke S7 turntable which Michael Fremer had praised in 1998. It was a perfect setting for an "Ah-ha" moment. What if I removed the donut of the LP12 platter? I've often said that nothing ever changes until you get your butt out of the listening chair (aside from tubes and transistors warming up). So I got up, removed the Boston Audio Mat 1, removed the outer alloy ring of the Linn, gave it a rap with my knuckles (It rang loudly.) and put the Mat 1 back on the inner belt-driven hub of the platter. Without the weight of the outer platter the Mat 1listed heavily toward the West Coast. Not even the additional weight of the HRS Analog Disk helped very much. I played a record anyway.

 

Holy Batman, Dorothy, Elvis LIVES!!!!!
 
(A publishable facsimile of what I actually said)

It didn't look very pretty, but the focus improved significantly and the noise floor fell right off the shelf. Somewhat like the Wright Brothers, who didn't make it out of North Carolina on their first flight, clearly, I was on to something here. I tried the much heavier SDS stainless steel IsoPlatMat which improved the tilt of the platter somewhat, but the suspended platter/armboard was still out of kilter. The donut of the Linn platter weighs over five pounds, after all. So I added the Mat 1 on top of the Isoplatmat which brought it back into the ballpark, but still not properly level, even with the HRS Analog Disk in place. In fact, with the two mats and an LP on the inner hub there was barely enough spindle showing to seat the Analog Disk. With shims under the TuneBlocks I was able to level the armboard/platter surface to keep the tonearm tracking properly, but the suspension was still not properly balanced. Luckily, the MMT tonearm has adjustment for VTA to compensate for the additional height of the two mats.

What I really needed was a heavier record clamp and one of the newly introduced Outer Record Clamp rings from TTW Audio. Larry's ring had evolved from a precisely machined single layer of metal to a precisely machined flat ring with additional brass weights mounted on the underside of the overhanging part of the ring. More mass at the periphery would certainly help compensate for the loss of the outer Linn platter. I contacted Larry again, but to no avail. I sensed he was obsessed with his new turntable designs and the rings and clamps were not cost-effective for him to produce any longer. The Linn project sat idle for another year.

 

My Rig Evolves
I was in need of a phono stage at this point as I sold my CAT preamp to help pay for the outstanding Coincident Statement Line Stage I had reviewed and purchased. After much searching I ordered the companion Coincident Statement Phono Preamplifier which then forced me to purchase the new Dynavector Karat 17D3 cartridge since the Coincident only works with moving coil cartridges. The phono stage is every bit as good as the Line Stage and the Dynavector cartridge was a definite step up from my well-worn Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood. I wasn't thrilled with the cartridge being gold — too much bling for my taste, but the music coming from my vinyl never sounded better. While I normally don't recommend buying by the label as I did with the phono stage, the Statement Phono Preamplifier sonically mates with the Statement Line Stage to create a world class solution at a very fair price.

September, 2011, was the premier TAVES show in Toronto, nurtured by some of the folks who run the Montreal Salon Son-Image. Being just a short paddle across Lake Ontario, it was natural for me to cover it. I was really impressed by the organization of the show and the venue at the King Edward Hotel. Not only was there a large turnout of manufacturers, distributors and dealers, but the annual Nuit Blanche multi-media outdoor arts festival that ran from dusk until dawn on Saturday night was icing on the enchilada. Among the participants at TAVES was Larry Denham premiering his turntables in a large room with large prototype carbon fiber speakers provided by another Canadian entrepreneur. After Larry gave me a knob-by-knob tour of his magnificent turntables which can be either belt or rim driven, I finally had a chance to sit down with him and have a face-to-face talk about this Linn project. I came away feeling like we were at least on the same page.

 

TTSuperRing (Outer Record Clamping System)
Not long after the show, a TTSuper Ring, weighing 675 Gram/1.5 Lbs. arrived. It still wasn't all I needed to balance out the platter but the project was up and running again. Or so I thought. First, let me say the ring is very nicely made. (It comes from an ISO 9000 company, after all). The finely machined aluminum ring complements the stainless steel plinth of the Linn and the brass weights complement the gold finish of the Dynavector Karat 17D3 cartridge. Getting the ring concentrically seated on the edge of the LP is greatly facilitated by the plastic centering tool that comes with the ring. With a turntable closer to waist high it would be a cinch to use, but with the table almost at shoulder height, it took a little practice to get it right. Even to this day I visually check the seating of the ring with the platter in motion to be sure it is centered and running true. Basically, you put the record on the platter, fit the ring inside the plastic tool, flip it over and place the plastic tool and ring together over the spindle and onto the LP. Then with a little flex of the plastic tool the ring releases and the plastic tool can be lifted clear of the turntable. The outer edge of the ring clears the Sumiko MMT tonearm nicely, and the ultra-short diamond stylus of the Karat cartridge is long enough to keep the body of the cartridge from touching the ring when the arm is lowered. The top surface of the ring is microscopically higher than the lip of the LP. We're talking serious aerospace precision here.

Functionally, the periphery ring made three major contributions. First, it added mass to help balance out the suspended platter/armboard combination and bring them into the same plane as the plinth. Second, it flattened records with minor warps and forced the bottom surface of the LP into complete contact with the record mat. And third, it added rotational mass at the periphery of the mat to reduce wow and flutter. Even better, with this ring being about 7/8" wide with the center of mass about ฝ" beyond the outer edge of the LP, the mass it contributes is even more effective than the mass it replaces on the outer Linn platter. As I understand the physics, the farther from the spindle the mass is located, the more effective it is in reducing wow and flutter and in reducing the noise floor. This is at least part of the rationale for having platters larger in diameter than LPs as are seen on turntables in the ultra-High End, as well as vintage turntables from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Not having a ring for all these years, I didn't really know what I was missing until this point. The noise floor of the music and the surface noise of the record both diminished. Pace, rhythm and timing picked up much of what was lost when the Linn outer platter was removed. How much, you ask? Well, how can I answer that? The music simply flowed with greater ease which probably means my brain was working less hard to correct the flaws. Given that my collection is largely garage sale gems, most of these LPs benefit from the removal of minor warps and the greater contact now being made with the Mat 1 and Isoplatmat.

Trouble ahead, trouble behind (Casey Jones, you'd better watch your speed)  -- Grateful Dead

But the ring brought to light another problem. From the earliest days of owning this particular LP12 I had to give the outer edge of the LP a 1/8 turn nudge to bring the platter up to speed. This is not uncommon for Linn owners, I'm told and I merely accepted the task as part of the ritual. But with the periphery ring in place, I couldn't exercise that nudge as it would have dislodged the ring. Instead, I learned to push straight down very slightly on the HRS weight and give my wrist a slight twist. It worked, but I was worried about the long-term effects on the bearing. Then I noticed that the belt was slightly contacting the belt guide attached to the plinth near the motor pulley. I talked to some people and did some reading on the web. Since I was using the original belt that came with the table 20 years ago I decided to order an inexpensive belt from TurntableNeedles.com to see if a fresh belt would bring it up to speed and hold alignment properly. The correct size didn't help, so I ordered a second one, a size smaller, also to no avail. Maybe I needed new bearing oil? More reading. There is certainly lots of advice out there. I asked my audio buddy's wife about sewing machine oil and eventually purchased an $8 vial of Bernina oil containing 12ml. It is specifically formulated for metal/plastic interfaces of sewing machine balls. If that seems expensive, consider the top of the line Bernina sewing machines from Switzerland go for about $30,000. Way more than what I need to repair my jeans, but the oil might be great in the Linn.

I don't recall the exact reason or sequence, but I ended up in conversation with Tom O'Keefe at Overture Audio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Overture is a big-time Linn dealer and unbeknownst to me at the time, many of the posts I had been reading on the web were Tom's. Upon hearing the age of my Linn he asked me to email some photos of the electronics inside. Since the oil had already been removed from the bearing, I was able to simply turn the Linn on its side and remove the bottom Masonite panel. Upon seeing the photos Tom immediately recognized that the caps in the power supply needed replacing with new ones used in current production. It didn't take long to realize I was talking with a real expert on Linn turntables. On a Tuesday night I drove to Ann Arbor with the Linn coddled in memory foam in the back of the Tracker. On Wednesday Tom replaced the caps, realigned the motor mount plate, installed a proper ground wire, put new oil in the bearing, put on a new belt and got it properly aligned, running at the proper speed. I considered upgrading the power cord while it was apart and was surprised to learn that shielded power cords actually sound worse than the unshielded zip cord on my unit. I opted to keep the cost down by not installing a newer, beefier Linn power cord since mine was in good shape and Tom suggested that the improvement would be very slight. I was so delighted with the work he performed at what seemed like a very fair cost that I drove home along the southern shore of Lake Erie and had my Linn blessed in the shadow of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Back at home on Friday night I was a little dismayed that the platter still needed a slight twist on the HRS record weight to bring it up to speed. But it came to speed with a much lighter twist and settled in quickly. It was much more livable. The improvement in sound quality, however, totally blindsided me. Pace, rhythm and timing were stunning, as was the increase in transparency. The attack of notes was Here and Now. The clicks and pops on worn and abused records were greatly diminished and the background grew even more silent than I remembered it. It was so impressive I was compelled to return the table to stock form to confirm that my mods were still making the kind of contributions I originally heard. (They were, but it sure helps to have the turntable running properly, too) The bottom line here is that my trip to Ann Arbor was one of the best spent days of the entire project. I felt like I was pretty close to wrapping it up at this point.

"It ain't over til it's over." — You know who.

 

Stillpoints LPI Record Weight
As I was getting ready to write this review I received an email from Paul Wakeen of Stillpoints with a link to a review of their new LPI record weight that incorporated five miniature damping plates that rest upon the record label. It was a rave review from Roy Gregory, a reviewer from England whom I respect very highly. I wrote Paul and told him I didn't think there would be anything I could add to the review, but that I would like to try one for my Linn project. The $550 price tag would push the project above my target price but I've had high regard for their original footers which I reviewed back in November, 2003. Moreover, it had mass and I still needed more mass to balance the platter/armboard. When a sample arrived I quickly learned the LPI was much heavier than it looked. Dropping it could hurt a toe and with its smoothly contoured body I had to pay more attention to handling it than the HRS Record Disk which has an upper lip for a more secure grip. It was exquisitely finished and the etched "Stillpoints" logo made it easy to see when the record was spinning in low light. Most important, though, it worked as well as Mr. Gregory claimed in his review. Which is to say superbly. Unlike other record weights the Stillpoints LPI is an "active" system with moving parts (albeit microscopically) that respond to micro-vibrations rather than a "static" system that simply relies on mass or physical properties of the material to absorb these vibrations. I'm not aware of another active record weight out there. To overcome my slight anxiety about the possibility of the SLI slipping out of my hand — especially with dry skin in the winter, I wrapped a thick rubber band around it. My anxiety was relieved, but it didn't escape me that they could really dominate the Canadian market if they disguised the LPI as a hockey puck. (That's a joke, Paul).

The Stillpoints LPI raised the bar but also presented another challenge. The platter/armboard ensemble was now too heavy and listed toward the East Coast. Another "Ah-ha" moment struck me. What if I removed one of the two record mats I was using? I tried the Boston Audio Mat 1, Mat 2 and the Sound Dead Steel separately along with the TTWeights ring and Stillpoints LPI. I pulled out my pencil and attacked the math once again. The combo with the Mat 1 was 29% lighter than with the Linn donut and stock felt mat, but the music was right there!  It was warm and inviting, but also slightly more recessed and the soundscape was deeply layered. Surprisingly, the resolution took a small step up over the stacked platters without any detriment to the music. Using the Mat 2, the combo was only 20% lighter and the noise floor fell even further. The music was even more seductive with the Mat 2. The SDS Isoplatmat with the TTWeights ring and the Stillpoints LPI, on the other hand, was more transparent with a more brightly lit soundscape. Focus was a bit better and the image was more forward, losing some of the depth that the Mat 1displayed. If your system is on the cool side of neutral and your room is very lively, you might prefer the Mat 1or Mat 2. In my case the tube amplification is just a hair to the warm side of neutral and the room is well damped. I also prefer to sit closer to the front of the stage so I prefer the SDS mat but I could easily live happily with either. Each of us has our own preferences, our own rigs, and our own rooms, so you will have to make your own decision. If you already own one mat or another, I'd say stick with it for starters. The cumulative effect of these mods is much greater than the individual contribution of one mat over another. From an engineering perspective, the combination of LPI, TTSuper Ring and SDS mat came in less than 3% lighter than with the Linn donut and felt mat — pretty close to a bullseye.

 

The Ritual
Rituals add structure to our lives and protect us from the chaos of the universe. Those of us who are not in military uniform, theological garb or law are left to our own devices to come up with rituals to structure our lives. Playing LP records does that nicely for many. From the selection of the record to the cleaning, right on through to putting the LP back into its sleeve and protective cover, there is a precise sequence or protocol to be followed. Sure, steps can be skipped and tumbleweed can be allowed to gather on your stylus, but in the esoteric realm of the audiophile, optimization and the ritual to achieve that magical music experience are to be savored. Handling that sixty year old record that survived the Cold War and contains the birth of a new genre of music is an experience to be treasured. The format practically commands you to put your multi-tasking life on pause while you sit and listen to the music, gazing at the photos on the jacket, perhaps. God and the RIAA forbid that you be caught in the kitchen with sticky fingers when the twenty minutes of Side One are up. This is a different game than the iPod. And the hot rodding I've done here has likely added a couple of steps to the ritual. The TTWeights ring requires careful handling and the use of a plastic centering tool. Eye/hand coordination is needed in close proximity to an expensive phono cartridge. But after the first couple dozen LPs you will start to get good at it. It's do-able. You may also want to give up the lid on your Linn, as the extra width of the periphery ring precludes lowering it when the record is playing. And if you've never used a record clamp, this will be a new adventure. I've come to like twisting the record clamp to start the rotation of the platter. It requires much less physical motion than nudging the record at the outer lip and it imparts much less imbalance to the suspended platter and armboard. The record comes up to speed and settles in much quicker. Liking this part of the ritual is a good thing, too, because using the ring requires stopping the platter to change sides. No more lifting the LP off the flimsy felt mat while the platter continues to spin! The ritual of the ring is also like framing a picture. In a way, you are blocking out twenty minutes of your life, committing yourself to the music in the groove and the artists that created it. It makes the music more special. Of course you can always commit the sacrilege of using the tonearm lift lever — we all do, at times.

 

Aesthetics
Unlike the legendary "Little Deuce Coupe" the Beach Boys sang about with a souped-up motor concealed under its hood, this LP12 lets it all hang out. The mods are all "off the shelf" and visible, though you will have to peek under the deck to see the footers and plates. It is technological, for sure, with the belt showing and with the metal periphery ring, platter and clamp. Yet the brass weights added to the ring complement the gold finish of the cartridge giving it a debonair touch of bling that I find a sexy contrast to the gleaming black vinyl. Leaving off the dust cover is like leaving off the hood on a hotrod car. Only the wood chassis of the Linn adds a touch of visual warmth. But where the hotrod is built for speed, this LP12 is all about the record. In fact, with the record spinning in place with the periphery ring on it, it looks like there is no platter at all — just the record hanging there in space spinning away. Ugly? Take a closer look at the next Harley Davidson that pulls up beside you. There are more than a few shades of Willie G on this Linn. And remember that for some audiophiles, just as for some riders on the storm, beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

 

Theory
One of the persistent themes that has occurred to me as I've tried various tweaks over the years is that the closer to the signal path a tweak or mod can be made, the more effective and the more cost effective it usually becomes. For example, high quality footers in contact with the chassis can do about the same job as setting a component down on an expensive high quality stand. Using ERS paper inside a chassis is much more effective than placing it outside. Putting anti vibration materials such as AVM directly on the circuit at solder joints, on DAC chips, on fuses and on small vacuum tubes is highly effective. Silicone works well on some of these parts and is even less expensive. And so it was with the Linn. The Boston Audio Design footers in combination with the SoundDeadSteel Isofeet drain vibration from the plinth by being directly in contact with the chassis. The BAD Mat 1, Mat 2 and the SDS Isoplatmat drain vibrations from the bottom side of the vinyl. The Stillpoints LPI absorbs vibrations from the top and adds mass to flatten the LP into more complete contact with the record mat at the center. And the TTW Audio periphery ring takes away minor warps, enhances record contact with the mat and adds rotational momentum to quell wow and flutter and lower the noise floor. Each of these mods to the Linn was removable so before & after comparisons could be repeated to validate the results more accurately. By replacing a large portion of the stock Linn platter (which rings like a bell when struck) with components that are designed to enhance the interface of the stylus with the record groove and remove extraneous vibrations from the vinyl, extraordinary results were achieved for a relatively modest cost.

 

Doing The Math
A lot of effort was made to keep the suspension in balance by replacing the weight lost when the outer Linn platter was removed. I came close, but not spot on.

Linn platter (donut only)            84.5 oz. (2395.5 gr.)                                                                                  

Linn felt mat                                                (20 gr.)

                                                                 2415 gr.

 

SoundDeadSteel IsoPlatMat  34.4 oz.    (1004 gr.) (Brushed stainless steel version)

Stillpoints LPI Record Weight  23.70 oz.   (672 gr.)

TTWeights TTSuper Ring  24 oz.              (675 gr.)

                                                                  2351 gr.  (About 2.2 oz. / 64 gr. Or 2.65% light)

If you really wanted the weight to match the stock Linn platter, you could take 18 pennies and glue them to the underside of the SDS Isoplatmat at 20 degree intervals at the perimeter. Adding mass there would be beneficial but this would take the project into the realm of modifying parts rather than just applying off-the-shelf, reversible modifications. I may go there in the future, but not for now. Using the Boston Audio Design Mat 1(13 oz., 369 gr.) would result in the platter being 29% lighter and using the Mat 2 (20.4 oz., 578gr.) would make the platter 20% lighter than the stock Linn platter with felt matt. You get to choose.

 

Doing The Dollars
The question of value inevitably arises and the total cost of the four pieces I used came to about $1500. This will vary somewhat depending on which mat and which footers and plates you might choose. You will also have to evaluate the condition of your Linn and factor in such benefits as the Circus bearing and whatever motor you have that would be better than the Valhalla in my old dog. Assuming I could keep my cartridge, I would estimate that I would have to spend 2x to 6x this amount to achieve this level of performance with a new turntable. I give myself this wide window only because I have not reviewed other turntables in my system. Those that I have heard at shows were in completely different systems (and rooms) and do not easily equate. But I think I can say without guilt that the hot-rodded Linn would not be embarrassed by turntables in the $10,000 range. Maybe not quite as good, but not embarrassed. And if you've got a better bearing, a better arm, a better motor, a better cartridge, you'd be that much further ahead of my rig and who knows how good it might sound? Finding out is part of the fun.

 

Believing Your Own Mods
My audio buddy, Tom Lathrop, sent me a note of caution about evaluating one's own modifications. He warned:

Watch out for Lathrop's law of equipment modification. If you modify your equipment it WILL sound better to you, regardless of whether the sound changed or not, or in what direction. The act of changing something will make you think that it sounds better, even when it actually doesn't. It's REAL easy to fool yourself with equipment mods, unless you are able to rigorously and objectively compare your modified equipment with a good reference. I'm speaking from experience. That's one reason why I lost interest in DIY audio 30+ years ago.  ...it is difficult to be objective about an equipment mod that was your own idea.

I replied to Tom, who after 30 years in this hobby has developed excellent listening skills:

Thanks for the warning, Tom. You certainly must come over for a listen to the Linn. A big clue to improvements for me is that I'm able to cognitively understand lyrics that used to fall into the "What's that lyric?" category. Of course I also listen for spatial dimensions, room tone, noise floor, PRAT, timbre, dynamics, etc. and pay close attention to my emotional reaction and involvement with the music. Fortunately, at the recent Salon Son-Image and TAVES shows I was able to hear my own LPs on a small number of rigs with fine turntables that make useful benchmarks, though they were not the same as my own reference rig, of course. Another factor is that the manufacturers are adept at improving their own equipment. It is rare for their newest creation to be a regression. I've shaken hands with many of them at shows, so maybe some of their magic has worn off on me.  8~)

Actually, I can easily reverse these tweaks to get back to the original LP12, so I have made the comparisons as this project has evolved. The exception is the addition of the new capacitors and proper grounding of the table on my trip to Ann Arbor that brought it up to current Linn standards. The one tweak I endorse that does not improve the sound is the little patch of white leather on the armboard that helps me locate the tonearm lift lever when I'm listening by street light in the middle of the night.

 

Where To Begin?
This is not an "all or nothing" adventure. If you already own BAD footers or another brand of comparable quality and stability, you can begin there. I use the 1" tall blocks to keep the overall height to a minimum. Likewise, if you already own TunePlates or IsoFeet, you could use small blocks of wood to lift the Linn off the shelf and sandwich the plates between the blocks and the bottom of the chassis. Whatever material you select will have a slightly different sound, but the net effect will be hugely positive. I find the BAD TuneBlocks to be neutral and synergistic with both brands of isolation plates, but there are other good footers out there, too. Likewise, if you already own a BAD Mat 1, Mat 2 or a SDS Isoplatmat, or can borrow one from a friend, you can remove the Linn outer platter and experience the transforming benefit, though you must be willing to follow up with a record clamp and periphery ring to balance the suspension for long-term use. Other rings or record clamps you might already own or can borrow will suffice in the interim, but the TTW ring and the Stillpoints LPI are state of the art designs in their own right and combine to bring the Linn suspension into near perfect balance. The added advantage to the Stillpoints LPI is that it works its magic equally well when placed upon the top of your CD player, DAC or tuner, so one stone works with all my sources.

And if you don't own a Linn LP12? Well, they are often available and affordable on the used equipment market. Probably 100,000 have been manufactured by now. Check your auntie's attic. Just be sure it is running in proper order, first. But you could also try these off-the-shelf components in with your current turntable. (A long-spindle version of the Stillpoints LPI will soon be available for VPI owners.) But think it through, first. Does the motor have the torque necessary to handle the extra weight? In most cases it will. If you can buy with a money-back guarantee there is little risk. And if you end up in a worse-case scenario — like you become terminally addicted to video games, all these items should be readily marketable through the proper channels.

 

Highest Value Tweak In The High End?
After submitting the text and photos for this article I thought it would be safe to merely enjoy the music again. No such luck. I began thinking about my theory of mods being most effective and least expensive when placed as close as possible to the signal path. How vulnerable the tiny tonearm jumper cables suddenly appeared — wide open, constantly bombarded by RFI and EMI — all the while carrying the weakest signal in the entire chain. Would ERS cloth work here? (I called it "paper" when I first reviewed it back in 2003, because it felt more like something you might write on than something you might wear, although in today's fashion world even that boundary is rapidly blurring.) I rummaged through my crap and accessories cabinet and came up with a piece about 2" x 1". Perfect. After listening to a familiar song I folded it in half, slid it between the wires and the headshell, then folded it back under the wires and taped the ends together, pretty much enclosing the wires completely. The music was over-damped and compressed. I sliced the scotch tape and pulled the ERS back, creating a little 2" wing wedged between the wires and the Sumiko headshell. The music opened up more, but was still compressed too much. I then cut the piece in half and slid it back in above the wires. The noise floor was still lowered, but the treble opened up and the high degree of transparency returned. Gone was the glare on hard rim shots to the drums and hits on the cymbals. Sibilance was greatly tamed, leaving just enough to let me know it was a real person singing into a real microphone. In the bass, more room-tone was evident making live recordings even more real. Like Joni Mitchell reminded my generation — you don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone. The music seemed totally enjoyable before ERS, but it was even better, now.

ERS is available from Stillpoints in both a non-sticky 8" x 11" sheet for $24.95 and a sheet with a pressure sensitive adhesive for $39.95. Maybe they should bundle this with their LPI? You could cut out a little rectangle for use under the headshell and lay the rest of the sheet inside the Linn under the power supply. I haven't tried that, yet. Sooner or later I will get around to it, but you can just about read the hand writing on the wall. If it doesn't help inside the Linn, there are plenty of other places in a rig where it will perform magic, so you won't be wasting it. If you've got a unipivot tonearm you might want to cut out a small square from a business card and see how it affects the azimuth. But aside from that caveat ERS rates right up there with AVM (Anti-Vibration Magic, or Blue Tube Goop as I call it) as one of the highest value tweaks in the hobby. Twenty five dollars applied right near the source of the music could well save you a thousand or two which you might have to spend on a new cartridge or a better phono stage to achieve comparable results. Think about it. And don't forget to check the tracking force.

 

Drawing The Line
The Linn LP12 is an iconic component in the realm of High-End Audio yet it is a dinosaur in the eyes of many. Linn works hard to keep it alive with ever more expensive upgrades, yet ignores its Achilles heel. Over a long and winding trail I have applied more affordable solutions and eventually fell into the rabbit hole where un-conventional thinking allowed me to take my vintage LP12 to unexpected heights. It is not a Be-All, End-All design, but points in directions Linn or other manufacturers may wish to explore. I drew the line at using only off-the-shelf components, but other modification and machining solutions come readily to mind. I'm not an engineer, but I'm driven by curiosity and the question "What if…?" The guiding principles have been those commonly encountered in audiophile analysis and each of the products employed in this design excel under such scrutiny. Together, with the LP12 these products embody synergy that allows the music to reach into my soul and play upon my emotions. It can bring me to tears; it can dress me in goose bumps. It can show me the harmonics and tonal color I did not know existed in the grooves. It can also tell me early on if I want to spend the next twenty or forty minutes of my life listening to the record I'm playing. This may be its greatest virtue. So much music, so little time.

Further reading:

Boston Audio Design Mat 1 Turntable Mat And Extreme Phono Speed Turntable Mat

Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks

Boston Audio Design TunePlates And TuneBlock SE World class tweaking!

Sound Dead Steel, Revisited

Stillpoints And ERS Paper

 

Specifications
Sound Dead Steel
IsoFeet (set of 4), ฃ30, plus postage to Rest of World
295mm Aluminum IsoPlatMat, ฃ75, plus postage to Rest of World,
295mm Brushed Stainless Steel IsoPlatMat, ฃ108.33, plus postage to Rest of World
Note: The 285mm IsoPlatMat available for the Linn is designed to fit within the ridge of the outer platter. The 295mm mat should fit just inside the ridge on the LP and provide optimum support for the LP when the Linn LP12 is used without the Linn outer platter. Use the 295mm mat if you intend to also use the TT Audio periphery ring without the Linn outer platter.

Boston Audio Design
TuneBlocks Series 2 Standard (tungsten carbide bearings): $159 (set of three - 1 inch high)
TuneBlocks Series 2 XT (tungsten carbide bearings): $199 (set of three - 1.5 inches high)
TuneBlocks SE (larger cryogenically treated tungsten carbide bearings):$299 (set of three - 1.5 inches high)
The Mat 1 - $199 + FREE shipping for USA and Canada
The Mat 2 – $279 + FREE shipping for USA and Canada
TunePlates (set of 3) $119 + FREE shipping for USA and Canada

TTW Audio
TT Super Ring, $479

Stillpoints
LP Isolator (LPI), $550

 

Company Information
Boston Audio Design
165 Washington Street
Winchester, MA 01890

E-mail: austin@bostonaudio.com
Website: www.boston-audio.com

 

Sound Dead Steel
Northumberland Business Park West
Cramlington, Northumberland
NE23 7RH, UK

Voice: +44 (0)191 250 0900 
Website: www.sounddeadsteel.com

 

Stillpoints
573 County Road A
Suite 103
Hudson, WI 54016 

Voice: (651) 204-0605
E-mail: info@stillpoints.us
Website: www.stillpoints.us

 

TTW Audio
Location: 1111-5 Gorham Street
Newmarket Ontario
Canada

Voice: (905) 953 7772
Website: www.ttweights.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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