The Linn LP12 is a belt drive, suspended record player… but there is a reasonable chance you might already know that. The LP12 has been in continuous production for 50 years and it is one of a small number of audio components that has a degree of recognition outside of hifi circles. The outline is frequently the one used in manuals and diagrams as the turntable illustration because this is how a record player should look to many people. The LP12 is something of an institution.
The thing is, Sound Advice is not given to acts of sentimentality so why are we looking at a living fossil? How can something that predates The Dark Side of the Moon possibly be relevant to modern audio? The answer is that the fundamentals of the LP12 are unchanged but the components that make it up are not. The LP12 that has turned up for review features parts that are entirely new and intended to keep it competitive with anything on the market. Linn refers to this as a ‘Selekt’ LP12 and it is the middle of three tiers of specification; Majik, Selekt and Klimax (Linn really likes the letter K). In more recent years, the three levels have become more granulated but the principle remains.
What makes this a Selekt LP12 is four specific areas. The first of these sits outside the main turntable itself. The Lingo power supply is a slim rectangular block that is designed to sit behind the LP12 in a rack and provides a stable and regulated AC feed for the on-board motor. This is electronically regulated and allows for you to change between 33 and 45rpm at the touch of a button. Press the start button and a (very bright indeed) red light will shine until the sensors are happy that the correct speed has been reached whereupon it dims.
Also tricky to spot because it is largely contained within the turntable itself is a device called the Kore. This is a subchassis that supports the platter and armboard and is constructed from two pieces of cast aluminium that are securely bonded together. Older LP12s had a rather more lossy connection between the subchassis and the armboard and the Kore makes for a more rigid assembly to improve performance.
The arm that is mounted to this particular Kore is new, called the Arko. This is a gimballed tonearm (that is to say, its movement on both the horizontal and vertical axis is via bearings) and is the result of a team of Linn engineers sitting down and establishing what the irreducible minimum an arm needs to be. The Arko is fully adjustable but, as it is designed to work on the LP12, it requires fairly limited effort to get up and running. Linn has elected to make the Arko from 7075 aluminium which is light and extremely strong. This is also the material used for the Kendo moving coil cartridge that this sample has which means that the two devices form an identical material match with further performance benefits.
The most important detail in all of this is that any LP12 you buy in any specification can be upgraded for any other specification in the range (you probably wouldn’t want to downgrade but technically you can). More importantly, any LP12 from any era can be updated too. This includes other refinements now fitted to all levels, such as the Karousel bearing which further lowers the noise floor of the turntable a positive contribution to the overall performance.
Key to the enduring appeal of the LP12 is the idea that there is an indefinable rhythmic joy to the way it makes music. Over the decades of development, the turntable itself has become more accurate in terms of its measured performance but some of these qualities remain. Play something with a consistent time signature on the Linn; it doesn’t have to be fast, merely consistent, and the Linn retains an extraordinary ability to draw you into the performance. Forget the cliches about foot tapping and the like; it’s a simple rhythmic rightness that is beyond even very talented rivals.
The clever part of this trait is that this ability is retained at the same time as the Selekt offers a level of performance that is an order of magnitude higher than LP12s of old. The single most noticeable element of this is the noise floor. To all intents and purposes, there isn’t one and even using a supernaturally quiet phono stage shows no evidence of it. Fine details that are so easily lost from the grooves of a record are worked effortlessly into the performance and the whole experience becomes more tangibly real as a result.
Neither are the improvements limited to this. The stereo image that the Linn creates is not as expansive as some other premium turntables but there is a sense of order and three dimensionality to it that ensures that it never feels cramped or confused. When you do push with large scale material, you will find the bass response on offer here to be a world away from LP12s you might have heard in the past. Not only is there physically more of it but there is a level of definition that greatly helps your feeling that what you are hearing is real.
Not everything is perfect though. The Kendo cartridge is a detailed and punchy performer and can deliver quite outstanding tonality but, in this configuration at least, it isn’t a very forgiving performer. With well recorded material, it is genuinely outstanding but it can sound a little hard and forward with less pristine pressings. Such is the adjustability of the Arko arm, you could easily choose a different cartridge if you wanted but you’d risk the very clear relationship that the Arko and Kendo have when used together.
With good quality pressings though, the Linn is truly effortless in the manner it makes music. There is an unforced rightness to how it takes even very dense and complex material, gently opens it out and delivers it without ever feeling forensic. Instead, the ‘essence’ of the LP12 that has sustained it for half a century, that the emotional content of the music is delivered above all else is completely intact and it makes it an exceptionally easy device to while away hours listening to.
Opinions on whether the Linn is hard to setup occupy thousands of pages of spirited online debate but the most important point to remember is that, if you are looking to buy a new LP12, this really isn’t your problem. A Linn dealer will perform the process, using training and experience that means they’ll do an excellent job and leave you to do the listening.
Once setup has been done, one of the elements that has made the Linn so enduringly popular is that it is utterly painless to live with. Get used to the little wobble when you move the arm out of its rest (accentuated by the Arko having a rather stiff example that needs a little force to move it) and it’s otherwise no more intimidating than a much more affordable design. Crucially, it’s also no larger than those more compact models and has a lid supplied as standard that gives it a fighting chance against children and pets.
As well as being elegantly proportioned, the Linn is superbly finished too. There are five wood finishes, a piano black option and custom paint options for the plinth that mean you should be able to match your LP12 to just about any room. Something else that is also available after many years is that all the wood-finish plinths can be ordered with ‘fluting’ that puts parallel strakes into the sides, as with our review sample, for an extra £200. All LP12s used to have this and it’s an intriguing nod to the past. For me, it would be standard flat sides in either walnut or piano gloss, but there will be something that takes your fancy because there are very few turntables at any price that have the amount of choice that the Linn does.
The single most important thing to convey when talking about the performance of the Selekt LP12 is that not one iota of consideration needs to be made about the design being around for fifty years. The performance it offers is absolutely competitive with anything else I’ve tested at this sort of price point and this has been achieved without affecting the ability to engage at an emotional level. This is a formidable turntable that is able to mix it with anything at the price point.
The Steve Miller Band Fly Like An Eagle
Immaculately produced from the golden age of studio recordings, the Linn luxuriates in the quality of the record but captures the effortlessly funky presentation that made this the breakout album from the band.
The Beastie Boys The In Sound From Way Out!
A showcase for the quite exceptional musical and compositional chops of the Beastie Boys and a sensational pressing, the Linn has a whale of a time with the wide selection of tempos and styles, all the time delivering a spacious and tonally superb presentation.
Dodie Build a Problem
Almost impossible to categorise (singer songwriter? Chamber pop? Folk?), the Linn’s ability to get to the heart of the record is never more appropriate than it is doing justice to this curious but utterly wonderful collection of songs.
The key aspect of the Linn is the ease with which it can be upgraded in the future. If you are fairly sure you will want to take your vinyl replay further, the amount of ‘stretch’ that the design has is not really matched by any other piece of audio equipment. The Selekt version achieves this while delivering performance that is completely competitive with anything else at the price point.