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 Bardo in fairness start approximately where the 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.

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.

Now whilst we sell TelluriumQ here its a budget option for the most part and our most popular highend cables are HFC and Entreq and these begin at a level much higher than TQ Black or Ultra black. Most customers who buy Vitus or Allnic systems with me for example, are connecting the boxes together at the Highfidelity Cables CT1-E or Entreq Challenger level or higher. This grade of cable is many many tiers above the likes of the mogami that you get in a T-Kable. Far far more open and transparent with much greater levels of realism, neutrality and dimensionality. They are not even on the same page.

Now once again you could argue that this type of expensive cable is overkill in a typical LP12 fronted system and you may have a point but once you are piping your LP12 through a low distortion and very high fidelity system of the kind sold here at Lotus, then a better cable emanating from the Tonearm will pay off handsomely.

I am afraid that I can’t completely conclude this issue just at the moment though. The problem with an Lp12 tonearm cable is it also needs to address various other spatial and form factor requirements if it is to work successfully inside the plinth of a Sondek. Whilst maintaining the thickness of the cable is easily solved, utilising a compact right angled din connector is not quite so simple. I have been in talks with both Rick Schultz of HighFidelity Cables and also Entreq and neither are able to create a bespoke LP12 phono interconnect because of the necessary Din plug.

Watch this space though because we will have a solution very soon for you and once released, it is sure to be represent the end of another big LP12 bottleneck.

HFC Phono CT1-U @ Lotus Hifi

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.