Linn Ekos SE tonearm, Keel LP12 subchassis, & Trampolin turntable base Page 2

During the review period I separated the retrofits into as many combinations as possible: the Trampolin with the standard subchassis and tonearm board, using my own Naim Aro tonearm; the Ekos SE with the standard subchassis and tonearm board (Linn standard, of course—I still had a fresh one in my parts box); the Ekos SE with the Keel, but without the Trampolin; and, of course, all three new products, taken together. I had returned my sample of the original Ekos just one month before, making a direct comparison impossible—although I dare say I know the sound of that product quite well, and the differences in performance were mostly unambiguous and easy to hear. The Keel, of course, can be used only with a Linn-standard arm, and the only such thing I know of that isn't made by Linn is the long-gone Zeta from GB Tools. (An effort to borrow one of those, admittedly half-hearted, met with failure.)

I also used a variety of power supplies, including a newly reborrowed Linn Lingo, along with my original (1991) Linn Basik board, which is really just a motor phasing circuit. Consequently, in the past month I've also had both 50Hz and 60Hz motors on my LP12. Phono cartridges included Linn's own Akiva and Adikt (the latter is a moving-magnet type), as well as my usual Miyabi 47.

The point being: As much as I enjoy it, I'm looking forward to a bit of a break from turntable setup. For their part, the screw openings on my LP12's plinth all need to be refreshed with a bit of sawdust and wood glue before embarking on the next 16 years of service—and it's time to discard my Aro armboard in favor of the fresh one I've salted away somewhere.

The Ekos SE tonearm arrived beautifully packaged with a selection of tools, a Linn T-Kable interconnect, and, best of all, a new iteration of Linn's oft-misunderstood cable clamp. Needless to say, switching from a Naim Aro to the much heavier and altogether different Ekos SE involved a fair amount of work, but the likelier scenario—going from an Ekos or even a Linn Ittok arm straight to the SE—should be, as our English friends say, a mere doddle.

The Ekos SE was beautifully finished: an unmistakably serious piece of gear in which every part fits together with evidently great precision. The titanium armtube was very slightly darker than the machined-aluminum headshell to which it was bonded; otherwise, the parts appeared as one. As supplied, the Ekos SE was ready for Linn's top-of-the-line Akiva or similar "flying-lead" cartridge, given that the arm's internal wiring terminated in a quartet of gold-plated pins, snugged into a polymer plug at the tube's business end. As with the original Ekos, flexible wire leads were supplied for use with more traditional cartridges. Unfortunately, that proved difficult: The leads were so bulky, and the sleeves protecting their solder joins were so large, that there was scarcely enough room for them between the pins of the arm and the pins of the cartridge—even Linn's own Adikt. The only way I could scoot the Adikt far enough back in the headshell to achieve proper alignment was to trim most of the aforementioned sleeve material away from the leads. I don't think it would be difficult to devise a more accommodating set of leads without compromising the Ekos SE's performance. I hope that Linn will set about doing so.

The Linn Keel, for its part, required a nearly full rebuild of the LP12; happily, the Keel comes with an excellent 12-page installation manual—the only one of the three new products to arrive with any documentation other than a warranty application. As with the Ekos SE, tools were included with the Keel, as well as a new grounding wire, a couple of Torx-head grounding screws (the chassis ground and tonearm ground can now be fastened to the subchassis independently of each other), and a few other bits. Installation was straightforward, and anyone who's ever set up an LP12 will rejoice to know that the Keel's overall mass and center of gravity are the same as those of the three components it replaces, taken together: Adjusting the suspension was made no easier than before, but neither was it made more difficult.

Another reason to do it yourself: That may be the only way to really understand where your $3250 has gone. To see the underside of the Keel is to appreciate the challenge in machining such a thing: an aluminum honeycomb in which most of 26 different pockets differ in size and depth from one another, which I conjecture is to smooth out resonances without mass damping. The Keel is anodized in the precise same shade of black as the wood-laminate tonearm board it replaces, although I couldn't help wondering why Linn didn't seize this opportunity to offer a choice of colors. (Then again, no one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction why Linn has yet to offer accessory platter mats in various tartan plaids.)

A final touch: The threaded opening for the arm collar's locking screw has been machined at an angle, allowing the appropriate Allen wrench to be applied from above—rather than from the side, where it is bound to scrape away some finish from the plinth over time. Nice.

And what can I say about the new Trampolin? If you know what your existing LP12 baseboard looks like, then you've got a bead on this, too—except that this baseboard is made of metal, painted black, and has larger, nubby-looking feet. A grounding lead has been pre-attached (to a portion of the surface where the metal appears to have been masked before painting), and the feet are actually threaded onto bolts that have remarkably large, flat heads; those in turn push into circular rubber diaphragms after the baseboard is weighted against them, while supporting the player itself: simple, and seemingly effective.

Listening
Ekos SE: Many hundreds of words could be spent in an effort to describe the sound of the Ekos SE tonearm, but one quality in particular has come to the fore in recent weeks: The newer arm was clearly better than its predecessor at allowing phono cartridges to perform at their best.

That was apparent even before I began listening: After installing and setting up the Ekos SE, I removed my LP12's platter, set the downforce and bias dials to zero, and watched carefully as the floating armtube responded to my slightest touch with a thin strip of lens tissue—yet, in the vertical plane of movement, it always returned to precisely the same position, indicating that there was virtually no residual friction in those bearings. That was confirmed by one quaint test record after another: Mounted in the Ekos SE, the Linn Akiva cartridge in particular was better able to cleanly track difficult passages than when installed in the original Ekos.

COMPANY INFO
Linn Inc.
8787 Perimeter Park Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL 32216
(904) 645-5242
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