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Christmas = Linn Sondek LP12

Posted by Scott

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Every year around this time I like to pretend I have a rich uncle or something and then think about what they would get me for Christmas. This year rich uncle would get me a Linn Sondek Limited Edition Retro LP12 with the walnut finish. I’ve been thinking a lot about home stereos lately, I really want to build a solid system for listening. For a long time I’ve lived by a rule that I’d only spend money on things related to making music or graphic design. This means I have a great set of monitors in the studio, but in my living room I listen to music on a $200 set of Logitech speakers. For some reason I never really thought about how ridiculous this was, especially considering how much enjoyment I get out of listening to music.

So I was walking down Market street the other day and stumbled in to San Francisco Stereo & Theater Systems where they had a pair of B&W 683′s on the floor. I plugged in my iPhone (I know, MP3 is not worthy of a hi-fi system, but it’s all I had), cued up Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve’s rendition of Midlake’s Roscoe and proceeded to melt into the seat. I’ve never heard sound like this. Yes, I have Adam’s in the studio, but that’s a near-field system designed for professional use. They’re meant to sound very flat and honest, they’re not necessarily supposed to sound pretty and warm and they’re certainly not designed to fill up a large room.

So this all got me thinking, I need to build a proper hi-fi. I have an old (but powerful) Denon hand-me-down amp in storage that I could dust off, just add some B&W’s and I’m set. But then I started thinking that I couldn’t bring myself to play MP3′s through a system like that so I would have to start rebuilding my music collection based on FLAC and WAV, which could take some time. Finally I realized this would still involve D/A conversion at some stage (which I was thinking could be handled by a spare MOTU 828MKII) so it still wouldn’t be ideal. This is when it finally occurred to me that I need to get a proper turntable and expand my vinyl collection.

Enter the Linn Sondek LP12, which apparently sounds incredible and — as you can see from the photos above — is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately it’s about $2500 so it’s never going to happen. There’s got to be some less expensive alternatives out there, guess I’ll have to dig around a little. At any rate, if my long-lost, wealthy second cousin is reading this, you can ship it all direct or I’ll take a personal check.

35 Comments Leave A Comment

3

Joaquim Marquès Nielsen says:

December 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Happy holidays from Catalunya (Malgrat de Mar). If I had a turnable like that connected to the right gear, I’d throw on my LP with The Eagles and crank up Hotel California! Hmm, I think I’m gonna invest in some quality headphones soon. I’m getting really tired of using the default iPod headphones. I aint treatin’ my music the way good music oughta be treated.

4

S.Lemon says:

December 24, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I second the pro-ject recommendation. The pro-ject line was one of the first that came to mind when I read your post. They have a good range in terms of cost and across the board stellar performance. Also, pro-ject has surprisingly good customer service.

5

greg says:

December 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

maybe i just dont have golden ears or something but i have AV-123 LS6s (retail for $5,000 and are huge) and i play a bunch of mp3s that are at minimum 192kbps VBR and they sound fine. i wouldnt get hung up over ripping all your music to FLAC, 320kbps VBR is more than enough. my music all comes straight out of my motherbard via optical into an onkyo 807 to an emotiva XPA-3. I dont use any fancy DACs.

I think people worry far too much about having a good quality bitrate. ive done comparisons for myself using incubus flacs (not the greatest band but well mastered especially in the vocals) and i could not tell the difference between 320kbps and flac in a blind test.

What really makes the difference once you reach the realm of 320kbps vs FLAC is how well somethings produced, chesky ultimate demonstration discs are proof of this.

If i were you i would go audition speakers at dealers with songs you think are a good “test” of a speaker and that youre very familiar with (meaning the stuff you actually listen to, not audiophile junk). The roscoe magic wizard sleeve remix is a good enough example.

B&W is good but i think theres better out there for the price, namely dynaudio, dali, jm lab, monitor audio, PSB, and quad. Make sure the dealer gives you at least a 10-15% discount on the speakers. If you want the best bang for the buck and zero hassle well just buy some jamo C80x series from amazon (out of stock though), or these from vanns
http://www.vanns.com/shop/servlet/item/features/542073797/energy-rc50?s_c=site_search

Ive only been an audiophile for about 4 years now but i can safely say you should spend the most on your speakers, they are 99% of the sound. A sufficient amp should be neutral and let the speaker do its thing, a sufficient dac will make the last 1% difference.

As for turn tables i dont have any vinyls and have no experience with turn tables, but cambridge, music hall, and pro-ject all make great looking and well built stuff for around $500

6

greg says:

December 24, 2009 at 4:45 pm

oops i have an onkyo 805 not an 807. The 805 has a separate pre-amp section if im not mistaken which is a plus but i dont think the dacs are anything special inside of it.

9

ssp says:

December 24, 2009 at 5:12 pm

My Hi-Fi dealer let me try his high-end system (LP-12 + amps and speakers in a similarly high-end price range) even though it’s an order of magnitude beyond what I bought. And it certainly does sound amazing.

Send along one of those rich relatives when the opportunity arises.

10

Julian says:

December 24, 2009 at 5:17 pm

I never understand people and record players. Do people just like record players because they think their “cool” or is the sound better?

11

GFE says:

December 24, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Fuck vinyl. It’s an obsolete format and its entire ability to create sound is based on friction. Meaning, they will wear out, and each listen will be a little less perfect than the last. Vinyl is only good for 1) nostalgia 2) awesome big album art + packaging 3) Making other people feel inferior at your obviously elevated (also: dated) appreciation for music. Might as well get a vintage Nakamichi Dragon while your at it and start collecting cassette tapes.

12

S.Lemon says:

December 24, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Julian-

The debate over whether records sound better than cds, mp3s, etc has been gone over time and time again. Any person who listens to records will tell you that they think vinyl sounds better, in large part because it is analog rather than digital. Also, people do “just like” record players, as well as records.

13

Scott says:

December 24, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Ha, sorry…. didn’t mean to dig up this old dead horse for a christmas beating.

I’m not here to say one thing is better than the other, for a long time I didn’t understand the whole audiophile world, but after 10 years of producing music your ears get trained to focus on certain things that may have not been so front and center before. I am assuming the audiophile people just had that ability naturally and they’re hearing something we’re not.

As for formats, I think vinyl is just about preference. You can argue with someone all day about vinyl or CD being better, but there is no disputing the fact that they are different, and any time you have two different things people are going to have a preference, and then tout that preference as superior to the alternatives.

At any rate, the argument is pretty much moot these days, almost all music is recorded digitally so unless you’re going stright from an analog console to 2″ tape and then to the vinyl pressing plant, digital artifacts will be introduced and then transferred to the vinyl. You can argue whether this defeats the purpose or not, but take the latest Tycho single for instance. I recorded it digitally and then had it pressed to vinyl. I honestly prefer the vinyl version better; the pressing process adds a sonic character to the music. If you happen to be into that character, you’re probably going to say you prefer vinyl.

Yeah, at the end of the day, vinyl is a very impractical format, but it’s like the newspaper. Sure, I could read it online, but there is something about holding the paper, it’s the smell and the feel of it in your hands that make the experience something else. It’s the ritual of removing the vinyl from it’s sleeve, placing it on the turntable and hearing the initial static that makes the experience for me. It almost makes the music more important, something to be paid attention and appreciated in a different way. We’ll always have ipods and car stereos for casual music consumption, but I like to think of having a hi-fi system as a totally different activity. Sort of like the difference between going to a movie at the theater and watching a DVD at home. You can argue the merits of both, but you can’t argue that they’re different, and that’s the point.

My personal ideal would be 24-bit FLAC, but those are hard to come by. I also notice a big difference listening through the onboard DAC’s on my Macbook and the DAC’s in say a MOTU 828 or RME box.

14

devin says:

December 24, 2009 at 9:06 pm

there are many things that i’ve only been able to find on vinyl, such as the cvj/am-boy 7″ split, so there’s a plenty good reason right there.

i wouldn’t say that i prefer CD or vinyl more than one another, but rather that certain formats are better suited to certain albums. EP’s and 7″s are especially fun to listen to on vinyl.

to each his own i suppose.

15

John Helmuth says:

December 24, 2009 at 9:34 pm

For me one of the big things of preferring vinyl over digital is what the music genre is. I feel like the type of music you want to listen to can have 2 different sounds weather being played on vinyl or tape and in the end i have favorites that i only play digital or on vinyl. Both have advantages over the other in many ways.

17

Lincoln says:

December 24, 2009 at 9:49 pm

what a deck. its long been the best deck on the market. A friend just got an SME and that is taking it up a level. I have a Rega5 which has a nice sound and I couple that with a Cary 300 SEI for a warm, liquid sound of tubes and vinyl.

18

S.Lemon says:

December 24, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Just a quick note in regard to people who feel that vinyl is an obsolete medium. A few years ago the Smithsonian started buying up all of the vinyl they could. The reason for this is because they found out that vinyl, as a medium for storing media, actually lasts longer (in ideal conditions) than a cd. Cds deteriorate quicker than vinyl.

19

Henning says:

December 25, 2009 at 3:23 am

I dream of the LP12 as much as you, but here’s a piece of advice: Now matter how much money you will spend on your stereo, make sure you put the most money into your speakers. This is where it counts. In record decks, $100 price difference is pretty much nothing. In speakers, the same amount is a world of difference.

20

GFE says:

December 25, 2009 at 9:49 am

Alright, cool. Everyone made really good points, and I pretty much agree. Sorry if I seemed like I was standing on a soapbox, waving my fist. I do love the ritual of playing vinyl…and there are recordings, old and new, that exist in no other format. There have been moments when listening to a good record on a great set of headphones has given me chills…But I’ve also gotten the same feeling from a 320kpbs VBR MP3.

I do consider myself an audiophile, having produced music professionally for much of my youth, spending countless hours on research, and spending significant amounts of money…all in search of that perfect sound. Eventually, I found it, and it didn’t matter to me as much. I think it turned out to be the “thrill of the hunt” that got me so involved. My imagination carried me away with how great I knew it was going to be, when really the difference was rather negligible.

Greg made a lot of great points in post #5

While seeking out “the best” sound may be a little silly, building great sound is easy and only requires spending a few dollars on quality speakers and DAC’s.

And if vinyl, CDs, or digital files deteriorate or last longer, they’re all probably going to outlive you by at least a hundred years anyway. So whatevs.

Merry Christmas // Happy Holidays
Scott, thanks for making such beautiful things this year.

21

Greg Vickers says:

December 25, 2009 at 11:19 am

I have a pair of B&W’s and i have to say i think they’re the best entry-level audiophile-quality speakers on the market — vastly superior in sound to similar level speakers from JL Audio, Polk, Paradigm, etc. Pair it with a decent amp and a good turntable and this is all you need. (And that Retro TT looks sweet, i must admit — tho a mid-level Thorens is quite serviceable, at half the cost). Forget mp3′s … in fact, forget digital as the source all-together. You can run your iPod through your amp, it will sound great, but it will only go so far. CD’s sound clear and wide, but even they cannot reproduce the sound of vinyl. The difference between a 180-gram record and a CD — even an SACD — on a good system is very, very noticeable. Once you hear it you won’t go back, and you’ll join the rest of the vinyl junkies and their dedication at the black altar! … ps: played your new 12″ this morning while opening Xmas gifts with the wife, sounded terrific. On vinyl!! ;-)

23

cmh says:

December 26, 2009 at 8:51 am

I had the opportunity to listen to vinyl and cd on system that must have easily reached the 150K zone. The speakers were Avantguard Trios and there was a Hovland preamp in there (gorgeous looking amp and preamp btw you should look these up just for how stylish they are). The Cd player was 20,000 dollars the record player was modest by comparison at $7k and $4k for the needle. It was astonishing how good everything sounded. It is what I hope music sounds like in heaven. It really was that much better than ordinary you have no idea.

I remember asking Rick, the owner of the audiophile store in Fort Collins, if the trios (which were at his house) sounded 22,000 dollars better than the duos which I was listening to in the store and up until that moment were the best things I had ever heard. He looked at me and sadly said how he wish they didn’t sound that much better or he’d just own the duos. He was right.

25

Alexey says:

December 26, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Hi, Scotty! I`d like to say you, that vinyl sound – is happines for soul, and whole playin` music by turntables – is the process for really soulrich peoples. This is right way!
Now we can see, that Hi-Fi systems, which standin` in a shop – is a plastic and light weight components. Lookin` for components of 70th-80th, therefore it`s realy quality products…
And thank you for all, that you do in network)

26

JD says:

December 26, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I’ve had a pair of B&W 685′s to go with a music hall entry level (2.2) for about a year now. Its a good place to start because you can add a speed box, upgrade the cart, and so on as budget allows. I’ve been having a lot of fun, and getting the perfect system immediately wouldn’t leave anything to look forward to.

27

Christopher says:

December 26, 2009 at 11:47 pm

That is a beautiful turntable, the Pro-Ject 1 Xpression III Classic also looks pretty nice though.

The thing about the digital analog debate is that more often that not people bring in personal bias as a statement of fact. I get most of what I hear, and I know a load of people that collect vinyl because its cool and you can tell they don’t care about audio quality because they play them on shit stereos. But for me, there’s just a warmth to the sound of a well produced record on a good system or a nice pair of headphones. but beyond that, it is an experience, as listening to music should be. I found, over the last few years, that the access to my music collection of two decades is convenient, but at times I feel disconnected from the music, pointing and clicking just isn’t as satisfying as pulling the record out of the sleeve, setting it on the table, and putting on my headphones.

This is my preference, and so long as you enjoy the music in whatever way you take it in, it’s all good.

Cheers.

28

espy says:

December 27, 2009 at 6:53 am

I have a small entry-level Pro:ject myself and am very happy with it, would reccoment it anytime. And because I like old things, the amp is an NAD 3020e (ebay! Get one!) and the speakers are old hi-fi/monitor thingies from the GDR, one of the few products so good they were exported to the West. There’s great deals to be had with equipment that’s 20-30 years old, a bit of research and patience can net you an excellent system with lots of character and history for a couple of hundred Euros. And that’s much more fun and rewarding than just buying something new, in my opinion. The whole idea of listening to vinyl is a bit anachronistic and irrational anyway, so you might as well buy vintage equipment as well :)

31

Vance Bell says:

December 28, 2009 at 12:06 am

I think Espy is on the right track — Ebay is definitely your friend. I’ve bought and restored several old NAD receivers and amps (7000 and 7100s, and 2100 amps mostly). That 3020e is no shabby piece of gear either for being more compact. You can find the occasional gem in the speaker dept. too — JSE Infinite Slope 0.6 or model 1s from the 80s, Thiels, even older B&Ws (if you like that type of thing).

Thorens makes a pretty nice deck as well, not a Linn mind you, but hey…

32

Alphonse says:

December 29, 2009 at 9:03 am

I’m not an audiophile, but I listen to vinyl. Why?

Because I’m cheap. Granted I’ve paid over $20 for some new releases, but for most stuff I pay under a dollar.

The great quality is just a plus.

33

Bob says:

December 31, 2009 at 5:10 am

We have several b&w speakers, including some MASSIVE prototypes, given to us by my girlfriend’s dad who helps designs them. The sound and build quality is impressive, but i do find it amazing someone would spend so much money on these things. For instance I can’t discern hardly any difference between the $600 Zeppelin and the $5000 804s.

34

Howard says:

January 4, 2010 at 5:12 am

Hi,
I used to sell Linns in the early 80s in Cambridge UK, I still have the original I bought for myself back then. The Linn is a wonderful piece of engineering but some think the continued tinkering has altered the ‘Linn’ sound… it depends what you want but there are a lot of good decks out there still and some unsung classics that have been re evaluated over the years. Make sure though if you wish a true transparent un coloured sound that you construct from the source up. Large flash speakers are all very well but you are only projecting what the source gives you. Start with the best cartridge you can afford then the arm, deck, amp with a good phono stage and lastly the speakers… I have heard systems with relatively inexpensive speakers outperform systems with large impressive ‘name’ speakers due to the mismatch in a system…

try Audio Technica or a Grado… Buy a moving-magnet cartridge if you plan to spend less than $400 on a cartridge or if your phono pre-amplifier will not support low-output moving-coil cartridges.Choose a moving-coil cartridge if you have heard moving-coil cartridges, prefer their sound quality, and can afford the initial and ongoing costs.

try a Systemdek, Pink Triangle, Thorens, Goldring, Rega etc… try second hand and be ruthless… leave some spare capital for renovation.

The classic Audiolab 800A is hard to beat as a starting point… great phono pre and i knew the guys that designed it… they are relatively affordable SH.

speaker wise the EPOS ES11 is a good match with the Audiolab 8000a… a little more modern Quad 11L Bookshelf Speakers mounted on good stands (Patrington Dreadnoughts) also match the Audiolab 8000A well and the Harbeth Compact 7ES3.