LINN SONDEK & Turntables You Can Afford: Better Than CD

by W.A.J.

The Linn Sondek LP12 spring-suspended, belt-driven turn-table was the undisputed KING of all turn-tables anywhere on this planet. That is a fact, acknowledged by all, and beyond dispute. But I use the word ‘was’ cautiously as I risk the wrath of many thousands of Linn-lovers who believe it still is no.1 (and I really don’t blame them, it is that good). But honestly, judging from what I've seen, a few have surpassed it in overall performance, in my opinion, yet 'Linnies' may comfort themselves in the fact that those cost more.

A very good used Linn can be had for around a grand and a half, more or less and, good as it is, after-market and DIY mods can bring it to a level above even a brand new, factory modified version, some say. That new Linn, with its latest factory-mods/accessories, would cost somewhere approaching 20 grand. However, you could buy just the basic 'table, and upgrade, bit by bit, over time as your pocket allows. Of two I’d rate above it, the Walker Proscenium Black costs twice as much at 40 – with accessories, and the Continuum Caliburn costs 90 grand. Maybe there are a few more I could live with if I had that kind of money.

But of the several many Linn-bashers to would want place above it, I’d say; ‘Hog-wash’. Many of those are non-suspended, several use acrylic platters – two factors which contribute to a dry, sterile sound despite their claims of increased detail. Compared to the tube-like organic sound of the Linn there is no contest as far as I’m concerned. Two other contenders for the top spot in turn-tables today are, the SME 30/2, and the 79 grand Rockport Sirrius III. From what I’ve gleaned of their dry and analytical sound, I’d take them if they were given to me for free, but I’d likely keep the Linn and sell those others if I had to make a choice. The Linn Sondek LP12 is that good, in my esteem (that plus the fact that I have been lucky enough to own another source-component with which none of those ridiculously expensive tt’s can compete – not even the Continuum or the great Walker ‘Black’ – but we’ll get to that).

My own Linn Sondek is one of the two components that have made the biggest (night and day) difference in my current system to date. To say it blew away my CD player would be an understatement but, for the record, it did. The sound was/is bigger, instruments and singers seem more life-sized, singers sound more organic (human), more natural, more real, and so do the sound of instruments. The sound-stage seems wider, there’s more space between the performers, images are near holographic. The elusive lower mid-range body of notes is there in abundance, tiny details are revealed, dynamics are awesome, bass is thunderous, and treble is sweet.

This turntable has taken the performance of my system to a (whole) nother level. Several levels north, in fact. To say that I am very-extremely happy with it would be another gross understatement (not to mention bad grammar) but I am. A friend of mine questioned the wisdom if spending as much as I did on ‘just a turntable’ (he hadn’t heard it yet). I have no regrets, however, it’s worth much, much more, I know for sure, mine was a bargain. For the pleasure and satisfaction I’ve gained from having it in my system, the Linn Sondek is priceless. I refuse to say it’s a dream come true, but I did dream about owning one for a long time. You be the judge.

Turntables - The Better Alternative to CD-Players: For those interested in achieving much better quality, and considerably more realistic, sound-reproduction than the best of consumer-digital is currently able to supply, perhaps you could investigate the merits of a really good turntable. And don't let the above prices scare you, if you don't mind used equipment then this could be the most cost-effective way to go if you're interested in getting the very best quality at the least possible cost. $500 to $2,500, for instance, could net you a turntable comparable in quality to one which would cost over $5000 new, perhaps even over $15,000, if you're lucky and wise.

If you're buying new then the prices of good budget-turntables start at around $600 (for a Music-Hall budget-'table, for instance) and the sky is the limit at the top-end. Apart from those above, some brands to consider, both new and used (just to get you started) are: VPI, Pro-ject, Micro-Seiki, Wilson-Benesch, Forsell, Oracle, Rega, TW-Acustic, Kuzma, Well-Tempered, Thorens, Nottingham, Scheu, Verdier, Goldmund, Garrard, S.O.T.A., Teres, Redpoint, Basis, Versa-Dynamics, Townshend, Roksan, Origin-Live, Simon Yorke, Michell, Ariston, Clearaudio, and Pink-Triangle. The brands in bold are now either defunct, or have changed names, as far as I know. For instance, Garrard is now Loricraft, parts for Versa Dynamics products are now supplied by Versa Lab, and Forsell is now F O Development AB. Brands in italic carry very inexpensive new models, in addition to costlier units, so far as I'm aware. Used models of all the above may be found at places like e-bay and Audiogon, from time to time.

With this list I've provided, you don't have to worry too much about filtering out crappy gear, that has already been done for you. With the acknowledgement that I may have missed a few likely candidates, this list represents the cream of the crop for all price brackets of high-end turntable brands. Non of these brands supply, or supplied, crappy gear. (Garrard is perhaps the only exception, their models 301, 401 and Loricraft's 501 are the only models I'd recommend). Any unit from any brand above virtually ensures the best, or close to the best possible performance of any unit in the price-category you decide upon - rest assured! And don't worry, if I sound confident in my advice to you, that's only because I am.

The usual caveats do apply if you decide to shop for used gear, but the potential benefits in performance-per-dollar are manifold, and arguably worth the risk - be more careful there, though. My advice would be to enlist the assistance of a friend who's well informed on the subject of high-end turntables, if he's competent then you can't go wrong. By virtue of just reading this report, 75% of your work has already been done. But don't be lazy, do your own research within these parameters and find the unit which best suits you. Though all units are of the highest standard in their respective categories, all have their own sonic characteristics. Therefore you may, or may not, want to find a unit with the characteristics which suit you best.

Tone-arms are sometimes sold separately in the case of new turntables, but usually included with used units, however, you'll need to consider a good cartridge in any case. Even if one is included with a used turntable, it will eventually need to be replaced, and those cartridges that are sometimes included with new units usually need to be upgraded.

With even the least expensive of any new unit above, you're virtually assured of better sound than with the average CD-player. And with even a moderately expensive 'table (say, around $2,500) properly kitted and set-up, you'll blow-away any of the most expensive of all consumer-digital components - trust me. Furthermore, with a good cartridge, a used Thorens TD125mkII/SME (which you could pick-up for around $700, if you're lucky) for example, will also disgrace ANY mega-buck consumer-digital rig - modify it slightly, and it will not be too far off the performance of the most expensive turn-tables either. See the point?

Now, if you're so inclined, go and get that turntable and enjoy the music. I know I enjoy mine. But then that's, perhaps, because the Linn Sondek LP12 is STILL one of the best there is!

Copyright 2010

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