Highend LP12 @ Lotus Hifi

The Linn Sondek LP12 has been there all of our adult lives. A hugely lovable legend in its own right it is also a deck that has evolved steadily through the decades. The last time I personally owned one was way back in 1991 when it was looked after by Chris Thomas from Audio Venue in Crystal Palace. Back in those days he (along with Derek Jenkins) was the very best person in the country at setting one up. Since then of course through the earlier days of Lotus Hifi I have literally sold hundreds of them secondhand, possibly more used examples than any other dealer in the world (a few of which you can see in the collage below).

Tidal Audio with Linn LP12 @ Lotus Hifi

As many of you may already know a significant part of Lotus’s work here in the UK is upgrading customers from a typical British system to a more highend sound so we do encounter LP12’s an awful lot. Some customers we come across prefer to move to a Brinkmann turntable which we know works superbly with the electronics we sell and the entry deck the Brinkmann Bardo in all fairness starts approximately where the full specification Linn ends. Some customers also trade in their LP12’s to afford the best digital sources which can be so good now that they comfortably eclipse an expensive deck. I do try and stress though that neither of these options are strictly necessary. Many people are very emotionally attached to their Sondeks and if they can be altered to keep pace with their new system then that will be their preferred choice.

The good news is that they can, quite simply as well. There are a number of things that very seriously hold an LP12 back and these can be addressed fairly easily so in this article I will explain my three-fold strategy for moving your LP12 into a much more senior league. At the end I will also present the options for moving out of an LP12SE altogether and into a very high performing true Highend deck.

LP12_collage @ Lotus Hifi

The Linn Keel and Radikal upgrades did much to eradicate most of the questionable workmanship of the original Linn. Now in LP12 SE guise you have a deck with fairly sound structural underpininngs and a lot of the historical resonances and colourations have been thankfully ironed out. Whilst the build won’t match the precision and craftsmanship of many other highend designs and the pitch stability is not quite up there with the best belt drives and the direct drive decks, you have a turntable that essentially has a great bearing, a good level of resolution and as ever a usefully tuneful presentation. Holding it back though massively is three key areas. Let’s explore them individually and see what we can do to help.

Highend Phonostage

The first and possibly very largest bottleneck on the LP12 is the Urika phonostage or indeed any of the popular phono preamps that we see customers pair with it (Superline, Uphorik, Whest etc.). To be fair these are good stages in the context of many system and with respect to when they were designed many years ago now. The thing is much has progressed in the world of phonostages in the last 5 years or so and so much more is now possible. Since the design of things like the Urika, it is now a very wide open race with a huge breadth of ability, technology and asking price.

At the very sharp end of this race you have – at least in the Lotus portfolio – the Vitus MP-P201 at £40,000 and the world’s only direct heated LCR tube phono the Allnic H5000 DHT at £25,000. A quick google will give you some indication of what sort of reputation these units have, they are without doubt 2 of the finest phono preamplifiers the world has ever seen.

Consider that Allnic for example makes a further 3 phono stages below that flagship model with even the cheapest (the H1201 at £2500) being comfortably clear in terms of performance of something like a Urika. Similarly Vitus sells 2 other phonostages below the MP-P201 and their basic reference model is many many levels above the cheap Allnic. So I hope that clearly illustrates that what you have now is a very tall ladder of performance in the world of phonostages which from my own portfolio begins where the Urika ends and then goes upwards through many higher and higher echelons.

Allnic H1201
Allnic H3000

Now in the context of say a typical Linn or Naim system one could argue that a phono stage much better than a Urika is overkill and won’t pay dividends and to a certain extent you’d be right but in the context of a highend system with much lower levels of distortion and a far greater degree of resolution, neutrality, dimension and tonal accuracy, we would advise budgeting a more equal amount of money on the Phono as you have invested on the deck.

The Lp12 with keel/radikal and a good tonearm has pretty high resolution. When you go to a top draw £5000 or a £10,000 phono the deck’s full performance will be realised and amplification from the likes of Allnic/Vitus/Tidal etc. will do full justice to that much better signal. The result is you will get a very large jump in performance. So much is won or lost at the phono stage point in the chain, I really can’t stress this enough. It is a component that makes an enormous difference.

I have done many phono demo’s with Linn LP12 owners and the width of the grin and initial shock of disbelief is nearly always the same. So what we do is remove the Urika, fit a regular Trampolin and then the customer buys an Allnic H1201, or an H1500, an H3000, one of the excellent Vitus offerings or wires the deck straight into the inbuilt phono of his Tidal Preos preamplifier. This then is the single biggest moment of of unleashing that you can do to a good LP12.

Highend LP12 @ Lotus Hifi

Tangerine Stiletto Plinth/Top Plate

Maintaining our intense scrutiny of the LP12 SE the next thing we come across is the flimsy metal top plate and the wood plinth. Once the deck is Keel’d with a decent subchassis then these are the last structural areas of the deck which can be drastically improved with a better machined product capable of better rigidity, better controlled resonances and quite simply, a more suitable platform from which the motor can do its job of spinning the platter around at the correct speed and as free from noise as possible.

Now there are some other supercharged separate top plates already available in the marketplace for the LP12, one of which is made by Tangerine themselves (the ‘Karmen’) and another which seems to divide opinion a little, but the Stiletto goes the whole hog and takes the deck to another place altogether as it is a completetop plate and plinth replacement machined ntirely from one piece.

Developed by Derek Jenkins and marketed by Tangerine Audio the Stiletto is a huge upgrade and will place the deck into Brinkmann Bardo/Spyder territory. Blacker backgrounds, greater resolution and air, more order and flow to the music, the Stiletto is a fabulous product and we give it every endorsement here at Lotus. Priced at £4900 we can supply and fit, using of course the services of none other than Derek himself. At the same time Derek will go over your Linn with a fine toothcomb, addressing every nook and cranny and this can be a decent upgrade just in itself.

Also from the team at Tangerine is their latest subchassis the Plateau. The Plateau is another very well designed and machined piece priced at a very respectable £1500. Performance is at Keel level with very little to split it from the official Linn item so it really does represent superb value for money. If you’ve not Keel’d your deck then the Plateau in conjunction with the Stiletto makes the most sense.

Tonearm cable

The next bottleneck to bring to your attention is the LP12’s tonearm cable. The later Mogami wired T-Kable (or indeed the older Linn silvers variety) is even more restrictive than the Urika. I would place this interconnect below the quality of a very basic TelluriumQ black interconnect for example.

We are working on a replacement solution using a very open transparent wire and when it’s available I will be sure to shout about it. If you do run a Urika though then you can already benefit by using a really highe quality RCA interconnect from teh Urika into your amplifier. TelluriumQ silver diamond or Statement woudl be a very good option.

One thing we can achieve of course is fitting a really good interconnect out of your Urika into your amplfier. This is easily achieved as shown in the picture. In this case an HFC CT1-E replaced the customers Chord Sarum TA. This will be a very good upgrade if you have to keep the Urika for whatever reason but, as above, we do recommend moving to a much better phonostage whenever funds permit.

MOVING INTO A NEW DECK

So what if you just want to make the jump into a proper Highend deck and trade in the Linn altogether. Well the good news is there are a good number of options here and in addition, your LP12 retains good value and I give full retail price on part exchanges (I don’t build profit into used equipment) so you will get a very nice credit note from Lotus when it comes to paying for your new deck.

In short all the new turntables I offer here at Lotus will outperform the LP12SE with Radikal/Keel and Ekose SE or ARO, and even if fitted with one of the improved top plates like the Karmen or Khan. The direct drive Brinkmann Bardo at £9890 has more resolution, is more dynamic, more neutral and has far better pitch stability and precision. The same applies to entry belt drive Brinkmann the Spyder at £13,890. I would say that an LP12SE fitted with the Stilleto starts to approach the performance of these two decks but for me I would definitely still favour the more neutral Brinkmann decks. The Stilleto’d LP12SE by that stage also costs well over £20,000 !

For a and even bigger upgrade, customers should look to the Brinkmann Balance or the Spiral Groove Revolution both at around the £21,000 mark. The Spiral Groove is a very dynamic and precise/fast sounding deck whereas the Balance is grandiose, majestic and very composed sounding, almost slightly laid back but also with fantastic dynamic range.

After these decks we then get into the super league. For this highest tier level you need extra technologies like vacuum hold down, very sophisticated suspension and/or isolation, floating air bearing etc. These technologies afford the deck a higher level of performance over what traditional isolation, resonance and damping and motor drive know-how can manage. The Spiral Groove SG1.2, Dohmann Helix 2 and Helix 1 can trade blows with the very best Turntables in the world regardless of how many telephone numbers are attached to their retail prices. These decks give you even greater pitch stability so imaging and focus, dynamics, noise floor, resolution all get even better again. They are many levels above what a fully blown LP12 can offer.

Are these decks “musical” and “tuneful” like an LP12. Yes ! Absolutely. More so, a lot more so if truth be told. You are a lot closer to the sound on the vinyl, the music is much more immediate, a lot less veiled, it is a lot more dynamic, emerges from a much blacker backgrounds, is far better organised and coherent so more together and intelligible, imaging is much better with sounds locked far more rigidly in space and the soundstage is just far bigger left to right, front to back and with way more air between everything. In experiential terms the sense of performance, expression, emotion, power, energy is just much greater. More musical and much more enjoyable.

I have moved many LP12 owners in to my range of decks (mainly though the cheaper Bardo) and none of them reversed back or thought it was even remotely sideways as a progression. Not one of them ever complained because of a lack of ‘musicality’ or ‘toe tapping’. The old idea that a Linn Sondek has a monopoly on “musicality” is I’m afraid nothing more than a myth. What it is though, is a very loveable deck and something quite historical and emotive so it’s nice in this day and age, to have the option of holding onto it as well.