Funk Vector Link Turntable
The joys of updating one's Linn Sondek!
Review By Malcolm Steward
here to e-mail reviewer.
me to explain: for the past decade or more my Linn hasn't actually been a
Linn as such, having been Pink Linked with a repositioned DC motor —
replacing the original AC unit — on a special top-plate and being
powered by a battery supply in place of the standard electronics. This
hybrid confection has served me well over the years and my interest was,
naturally, aroused when Arthur Khoubessarian — formerly the Head of
Pinkness at Pink Triangle and now Funkster-in-Chief at The Funk Firm —
called me to ask whether I'd be interested in hearing the latest iteration
of the Plink, as it had come to be known in my home.
Quite predictably, I replied in the
affirmative. So, when the courier subsequently delivered an enormous but
incredibly lightweight box of bits, I hastily opened it to discover the
reason for this seeming incongruity: it turned out that every part of the
kit bar the motor and small electronic control box was fashioned out of
carbon fiber and balsa wood.
The Teardown & Build-Up
The assembled LP12 Vector Link looks like a
high-tech Linn but beneath the Formula 1-style exterior it is a very
different beast from the standard Sondek. And that is despite the fact
that the kit sets out to enhance the deck's original virtues rather than
turn it into something that it was never intended to be. This is a quality
that I, like most LP12 users, can, I'm sure, readily appreciate.
So, having stripped the deck until it was
no more than a naked plinth, I began the transformation of my number 2
Linn into a fully-equipped Vector Link. Should you feel uncertain about so
radically modifying your turntable, you can pick and choose from various
constituent parts of the kit, but, frankly, why bother? If you're sitting,
tools in hand, with your deck in a jig, why not go the whole hog? At $3200
for the complete kit, it isn't as expensive a move as bringing an older
Linn fully up to its latest ‘official' specification, and, let's face
it, what other turntable could you buy for that amount that would come
close to competing with an LP12? You have nothing to fear but fear itself,
as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously proclaimed when once asked for a
First to be fitted was the $780 Clarity
carbon fiber top plate. This, says Funk, improves on the steel original
that it replaces because it more effectively filters vibration in the
structure and simultaneously more neutrally supports the sub-chassis and
platter. It no longer houses the motor because that is removed to the
sub-chassis — of which, more later — although it is cut for the
mounting of a motor for those who aren't going the whole way down the
Vector path. The Pink Link kit repositioned the DC motor at the bottom
left of the top plate to counter the cartridge wiggle problems that Pink
Triangle initially identified with the original placement of the AC motor
at the rear left of the Linn plate. You can read all the gory details at
However, for those venturing fully into
Vector-land, there's the $1290, two-speed K-Drive motor and drive kit,
which is optimized to allow the motor be mounted on the deck's sub-chassis
and drive the sub-platter through a belt supported by three pulleys.
Unlike the Pink Link supply, this is not a battery design but a tiny box
containing a Class A, single ended, low-distortion output stage to power
the DC motor, and various circuits to provide frictional compensation,
reduce mains interference and deliver current-derived servo operation.
All of which promises to deliver a smoother
and more stable performance from the motor, which means that it can now be
transferred to the $1260 Balsa and carbon fibre sub-chassis and armboard,
the Charm, which the designer considers to be the ideal platform for it.
Funk warns, however, that stiff tone-arm cables can effectively limit much
of the good that the new sub-chassis offers, and offers an $800 Flexi-Link
cable for use with arms such as the Ittok and SME. That wasn't a problem
in this instance because I was using a Naim uni-pivot tone-arm which comes
with a suitably flexible lead arrangement that took but a moment or two to
dress so as not to influence the suspension movement.
The sub-chassis, in which an end-grain
slice of Balsa is sandwiched between two sheets of carbon fibre and then
CNC-machined into a tear-drop shape, acts as the housing for the motor and
the main bearing, and provides pillars onto which one fits the additional
‘Vectoring' pulleys to provide the three-point belt drive system.
Despite its lack of weight, the unit seems inordinately resilient while
being able to damp vibration more effectively than any steel confection
(say its makers — I'm not a materials scientist so I can only hope to
substantiate such claims by listening. The closest I came to a scientific
examination was rapping it with my knuckles and trying to bend it. It
neither rang nor did it bend or break.) According to the Funk Firm, the
stiffness of the carbon fibre holds all the attached parts firmly in their
allotted places while the Balsa core provides the damping required in the
system. Early sub-chassis were partnered with a separate arm board of a
similar Balsa and carbon fibre construction. These were available cut for
Linn, Rega, and SME tone-arms or could be bought as blanks for you to have
cut to your own requirements. The Funk Firm discovered subsequently,
however, that bonding the arm-board and sub-chassis together provided a
radical improvement to the sound and so now only supplies complete Charm
units cut for whichever arm the user specifies at the time of order. Apart
from affixing your tone-arm rigidly to the sub-chassis and providing an
element of damping for any vibrations trying to gain access through this
path, the unit adds the final flourish to the racy appearance that all
this kit imparts to your turntable.
All that is left to mention about this
Vector arrangement is the asymmetric three-pulley belt drive system from
which the design gets its name. To quote the makers: "Three
pulleys mean that rather than being yanked from only one direction while
at the same time being pulled, the platter is now ‘encouraged' to spin
from three contact points on the side of the sub-platter. This
fundamentally new approach to driving a deck provides so much more control
in two ways. Firstly it removes the yanking force and secondly it applies
a large control force around the platter so resisting any wavering forces,
which otherwise fuzzes up your reproduction." I know I have no
wish to be yanked while I'm trying to reproduce so that all sounds like a
good thing to me.
The final component in this high-tech
assemblage is the $120 Achromat, which provides the all-important link (or
‘interface' if you're a sucker for marketing speak) between the record
and the turntable. This replaces the traditional Linn felt mat and does
away with the pleasures of trying to decide which way up the latter sounds
best! I have been using this 5mm thick vinyl and air bubble confection on
my Plink for the past year or two and feel no inclination to return to the
felt mat. About my only reservation is that the one I had — an early
sample — was a rather lurid shade of blue but that was no great problem
as my Linn, when not in use, sits beneath a vintage smoked black cover,
which hides all manner of ills. Regardless, I requisitioned the black
review sample and returned the blue one in its place, because, as I'd been
taught in school, fair exchange is no robbery.
Putting a Linn (back) together is usually a
task for a trained retailer or someone with a fair degree of experience.
It is not, as I've said many times before, rocket science but some
familiarity with its principles and set-up can be invaluable. For
instance, it's easy to waste a day chasing your tail trying to get the
sub-chassis to bounce and never achieve that perfect oscillation when all
that's required is a fresh set of top-grommets and changing perhaps one of
the three springs. I'd say, if you're not experienced with the process
then let someone who is do the job for you.
So now, I guess it's time to tell you how
it sounded in the context of my familiar Naim DBL tri-amp system, and see
whether it lived up to its maker's claim of retaining the qualities of "one
of the finest transcription turntables ever, at any price, against all
comers" (Funk's description of the standard LP12, not mine) especially its
ability to ‘follow the tune'. If it failed to live up to these promises,
I at least had the comfort that what I'd done could be undone and my deck
returned to its un-Funked state. And if it did what it claimed, there was
nothing about which to worry.
A selection of piano recordings served to
demonstrate that the platter was indeed rotating at the correct speed and
with formidable stability. Notes had rock solid, secure pitch and
delightfully exposed envelope shape that imparted a convincing sense of
realism to recordings. Left-hand passages also revealed a total absence of
the upper-mid-bass coloration for which the Linn was once criticised by
its detractors: the Vector's lower frequencies — indeed, its entire
frequency spectrum — displayed an outstanding clarity and freedom from
An acknowledged strength of the LP12 is its
ability to ‘follow the tune' and the Vector preserved and, in fact,
enhanced this. It displayed an amazing aptitude for tracking the melodic
and harmonic development of music no matter how subtle that may be. It was
particularly adroit at following delicate harmonies and making abundantly
obvious the relationships between different instrumental lines. Aiding it
in this respect was the LP12's inherent dexterity with timing and rhythmic
information, which the overt ‘clarity' of the Funk Vector seemed again
to augment and amplify. The modified turntable's lack of clutter and
background ‘noise' laid bare every note, rendering the music with close
to the lucidity of a master tape — a recognized attribute of the former
Pink Triangle turntables, although these, I felt, never had the Linn's
ability to convey timing information. The same qualities, furthermore,
allowed the deck to provide genuinely realistic dynamic contrasts: this
was especially noticeable when the music dropped rapidly to silence and
the abrupt absence of sound was little short of startling.
The beauty of the Funk Vector LP12 is that
it managed this type of high-resolution performance without ever sounding
sterile or clinical. Its portrayal always seemed musically coherent and
engaging. And therein is the appeal of this modification: it truly seems
to make the LP12 more LP12-like, bringing its positive qualities fully to
the fore while suppressing those that its detractors chose to focus upon.
It still plays wonderful music but it has a good tidy round — thankfully
without making Johnny Thunders sound like Johnny Mathis — before doing
All the above was apparent on the first
listening session and I was, quite frankly, amazed by the deck's
abilities. However, the following day, I sat listening with a friend and
industry colleague and we were both completely transfixed by its masterly
performance... after a twelve-hour session only interrupted briefly by an
interlude to eat some dinner.
We began with The White Stripes album Icky
Thump [Third Man XLLP271] and it was alarming just how heavy
footed Meg White's drumming was. The fifteen-inch units in the DBLs were
working overtime to convey the speed, slam and impact of her bass drum.
The sound was not just a low frequency thump but an exercise in inflicting
percussive damage. It was glorious in its control, though: the impact of
the beater on the skin, the boom as air was violently propelled across the
room, and then the rapid decay into silence before her foot pushed the
pedal and again released that monstrous but thoroughly magnificent THUUUD!
This imperious weight, however, was
confined solely to the bass drum: other parts of the kit showed
appropriate energy, note shape and weight. For example, cymbals were
delicate and could shimmer when allowed and the snare and toms exhibited
fitting body and speed — both attack and decay. Jack White's guitars had
that lovely, rich, vintage humbucker timbre thickening the sound on the
tail of crystalline leading edges. His playing style came across as
fluently as did the guitar's scratchy yet fat tone.
The shaker on "300MPH Torrential Outpour
Blues" demonstrated that this deck conveyed subtle information just as
successfully as it conveyed the momentous impact of a kick drum. Not only
was it impressive in the way the instrument was rendered quietly with
respect to other instrumentation but the manner in which it consistently
held its position in the soundstage and maintained a near palpable
The next album hurriedly placed on the
Achromat was Barry Reynolds I Scare Myself [Island ILPS 9713] and the first track played
was "Guilt", which brilliantly showcases Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare's
adroitness as a world-class rhythm section. The first thing we noticed was
the contrast between Dunbar and Meg White's approach to a kit: even though
Sly is a cool Caribbean dude, his playing appears far more technically
measured, precise and controlled. The track begins with Shakespeare's
sinuous, stygian bass, Sticky Thompson's delicate percussion and Reynolds'
guitar playing chiming harmonics to lull the listener into a false sense
of security before Dunbar lets out a fearsome, eye-watering crack on the
snare drum, which he then continues to repeat throughout the song.
Although you can them anticipate subsequent strikes each still comes as
such a surprise that you nearly fall off your perch whenever they
manifest. While all these blockbuster dynamics are happening, the bass and
guitar provide contrast by weaving subtle melodic patterns around each
"Times Square" perhaps best shows how
well the turntable is musically grounded, with its perfect intonation and
the sure-footed way it integrates the different instrumental lines and
rhythms, along with the gracefulness with which it handles Reynolds'
fragile but pitch perfect vocals. In truth, though, any track on this
album would serve to demonstrate the magic that occurred at Compass Point
when rock and reggae collided, and when the best of British session
players encountered Sly and Robbie's gut wrenching riddims. Listening to
the players bouncing off one another as they concoct this fascinating
cross-cultural stew is sheer delight. What was perhaps just as impressive,
though, in hi-fi terms, were the tangibility and three-dimensionality of
the voices and instruments arranged in front of the listener. This type of
staging precision was not what one typically ever expected from the LP12.
Some albums one plays not to intellectualize
over but merely to decide whether the turntable sounds right or wrong. One
such in my collection is Rockin' Jimmy and the Brothers of the Night'...
the light of the moon! [Sonet SNTF 857], in particular the track
"Little Rachel". This song either rocks or it doesn't: there are no
two ways about it. On the Funk Vector it boogied like there was no
tomorrow, the driving beats perhaps made all the more emphatic by the
total lack of vinyl roar and surface noise that seems to be one of this
turntable's hallmarks, and the crisp portrayal of the drums and bass that
wanted nothing for realism.
Guitar exhibited similarly clearly defined
leading edge information along with a full-blooded tonality and harmonic
breadth. The track's timing was as tight as a nut and the music seemingly
drove along at a far brisker pace than its written tempo might suggest.
Again, though, the overwhelming sensation was one of quite staggering
realism, of that rare ability to suspend disbelief and enable you to
imagine that the band is playing mere feet in front of you.
The Vector LP12's abilities with tunes and
timing are exceptional, and when you mix that with the relevant hi-fi
aspects of the performance it's not hard to imagine why the deck can
nearly fool you into thinking you're at a gig rather than sitting at home.
Its major strength, however, is that rather than make you think you're
hearing sounds you've not heard before, this deck lets you hear music
you've not heard before, even on albums you've listened to a hundred
times. It promotes a deeper understanding, for example, of why a musician
plays a particular passage or phrase a certain way. Ultimately the Funk
Vector Link fulfils its manufacturer's objectives by making the LP12's
performance much more LP12-like. It's very much a music rather than hi-fi
driven presentation whose outstanding dynamics, clarity and resolution
ought to help many listeners greatly "Enjoy The Music".
Modifying a competitor's design exposes one
to many and various attacks: the original manufacturer won't be best
pleased at the prospect of being upstaged; enraged owners might see such
an act as sacrilegious and finally there are the skeptics who believe no
one but the original manufacturer can coax improvements in performance.
Such considerations already raise the bar
higher than would exist if the pretender merely created a fresh, new,
in-house design. As if that wasn't enough, going back as it does over four
decades, how many products, in any market, have achieved quite
the reputation of the LP12, never mind had it guarded quite as jealously
as LP12's manufacturer has?
Surely then such a move to tamper would be
tantamount to commercial suicide?
Mitigation arrives if you, the designer,
understand the ethos behind the product in question, apply your skills not
only with sensitivity but also as if the design were your own and with absolute
integrity. Do that and morally, at least, you can hold your head high. Except,
of course, all that amounts to little for the acid test remains: Evaluated
alone in the face of minute criticism and pernicketty scrutiny? How does
Well, Vector Link for LP12 is now some four
years old. It has therefore stood the test of time. It is the first
and original 21st century mod for the LP12.
Without exception, it has received but one
consensus of opinion from users and reviewers alike, which is encapsulated
by the words in the conclusion to this review: "the music" keeps smiling
I'm glad you like the design so much. Thank
The Funk Firm
Platter Mat: Achromat
Suspension: 3-Point-Subchassis as per Linn LP12 but using CHARM
Motor: 3-pullley drive and sub-chassis mounted DC motor
Power Supply: External K-drive supply delivering 33 and 45 rpm
Clarity: Carbon fiber top plate ready-cut for the Vector's 3-Pulley drive system but
also accommodates AC / DC motors in the original position.
Charm: Carbon fiber and balsa sub-chassis and armboard available cut for Linn,
Naim, Rega, SME, or blank for cutting to specific requirements.
Complete upgrade kit for Linn Sondek LP12: $3200
Clarity carbon fiber top plate: $780
K-Drive motor and drive kit $1290
Charm sub-chassis and armboard $1260
Flexi-Link tone-arm cable $800
Achromat platter mat $120
The Funk Firm
63 Central Avenue
Voice: +44(0)1273 585042