Linn Ekos tonearm Page 2
That leaves none of the most neutral tonearms. So how about the Ittok? Mechanically, it mates perfectly with the turntable, as is to be expected. Setting it up is a breeze—its begetters foresaw all the problems arm installers meet and designed the solutions in. Its effective mass is pretty much optimal, giving a good interface with any medium-compliance, average-mass cartridge, the LF resonance being placed in the appropriate part of the infrasonic spectrum. Its bass is clean, tight, and extended. In fact, its only sonic weakness, in my opinion, is a rather forward quality to the upper midrange compared with the above tonearms.
The $1995 Ekos (so christened after the French name for Scotland, Ecosse—ha!) is considerably more expensive than the Ittok LVII ($965); superficially, it resembles the black version of the Ittok that was available for a while by special order. The arm-base even uses the same three-bolt mounting arrangement, but the arm is otherwise almost totally different. Whereas the Ittok is manufactured in Japan to Linn's specification, with only final quality control taking place in Linn Products' Glasgow headquarters, the Ekos is manufactured and assembled in Scotland, the only Japan-sourced item being the lift/lower device. The most obvious external difference is the absence of the separate arm clip on the tonearm board, which some UK audiophiles had long proclaimed to be a source of coloration. The same audiophiles had also pointed the finger at the lift/lower device; this remains, but is now damped in both directions, and its support gantry is extended along the arm axis to provide a solid clip arrangement similar to that used by the SME V.
The arm-tube remains the same thin-wall, wide-bore aluminum design, but is about 8mm longer than that of the Ittok. The geometry remains the same, the aluminum-alloy headshell being shorter, but this is now machined from solid for maximum strength rather than being cast. Machining would seem appropriate, Linn having a large collection of some of the most modern computer-controlled industrial tools in the UK; machining also gives the designer a wider choice of alloys to choose from. In addition, whereas the Ittok headshell was fixed to the arm-tube with screws, the Ekos uses a modern adhesive, the same as used to glue the Sondek's subchassis together. This is said to give a stronger, more consistent joint. The arm-tube is also glued to the rear body that carries the counterweight. The undersurface of the headshell has a line enscribed on its rear to allow for easy set-up of pickups with square rear faces.
The gimbal bearings are also something special compared with the Ittok. These are manufactured to a tolerance of 5µm (approximately 0.2 thou'). Then, because, as one of Linn's senior engineers, Martin Dalgleish, puts it, "It's easier to measure than it is to make," the bearings are measured and matched to a tolerance of just 1µm. Not surprisingly, I could feel no play in any direction.
The tracking downforce and bias force are still set with springs, but these are said to be to a tighter tolerance than the Ittok. The final difference concerns the tonearm leads. Yes, these are still the same coaxial type, fitted with good-quality phono plugs, but the 5-pin arm plug is now metal and can be fixed tighter. It is also shallower, allowing a little more clearance between the dressed cable and the turntable baseplate.
Audiophile Systems' Steve Daniels visited Santa Fe to install the Ekos on a Linn turntable for me; he also changed the springs for the latest type, which are wound in the opposite direction. (Linn Products, of course, saves all the old ones for use in the Southern hemisphere.) For those who panic unnecessarily over the mystique of setting up Linns—I think these people, like me, have owned LP12s from those far-off days in the '70s when they did seem to go off song when you looked at them—it was reassuring to witness Steve's common-sense approach, particularly concerning the iterative spring adjustments. I still think it best that you allow your dealer to set up your Linn—the continual series of improvements such as the glued subchassis has rendered the turntable set-up stable, though you still need a degree of empathy to set it up optimally—but with someone like Steve training dealers, it should now be rare for a Linn owner not to get the best performance possible from his or her deck.
The Sondek sat upon the $150 Sound Organisation stand, an accessory that I have come to regard as a necessary purchase for any Linn owner. The cartridge used was the now well-traveled sample of the Troika that I reviewed in Vol.10 No.6—though it must have been dragged past many hundreds of miles of groove by now, it has yet to show signs of senility. (I keep the stylus clean with Linn's abrasive green stuff—always brushing along the cantilever axis away from the pivot point, of course.) The Ekos headshell has the necessary three holes to mount the Troika. Amplification was the Vendetta Research SCP2 phono preamplifier feeding a Mod Squad Line Drive Deluxe AGT passive control unit. Power amplification was provided by a pair of VTL 100W Compact Monoblocks, their high sensitivity essential in view of the Vendetta's relatively low output. Interconnect between Vendetta and Line Drive was 9" lengths of MIT MH-330, with 1m lengths of Audioquest Lapis between control unit and VTLs. Loudspeakers were many—all the models I have reviewed in the last couple of issues of the magazine, in fact—but for serious listening, I used Celestion SL700s, Vandersteen 2Cis, both bi-wired with Monster M1, and Thiel CS1.2s.
I admit from the outset that I find reviewing good tonearms harder than almost any other kind of hi-fi component. In the main, you actually have to listen out for things that are not there: resonant colorations, any tendency to lose control in the bass, any indications that the cartridge is less secure in the groove. A long listening period is necessary, therefore, to reach an ultimate value judgment. However, right from the very first moment the Troika stylus hit the groove, I knew that the Ekos was perhaps the most musical tonearm I have used on the Sondek.