Listening #102 Page 2
Linn's recent upgrades for the LP12 have, in some ways, streamlined and demystified the setup process, and the Radikal continues in that direction. By eliminating the need for an onboard PCB, it undercuts those setup gurus who would waste time getting all the nylon standoff clips pointing in the "correct" direction, or other such silliness. And, like the Lingo kit before it, the Radikal doesn't require running an AC ground lead to one of the main crossmember bolts. (In fairness, I should point out that Naim Armageddon fans, in whose formation I used to march, would say that the ganging of multiple ground lugs on that boltfrom the AC cord, from the Naim Aro tonearm cable, from the subchassis, et alis actually a good thing. For all I know, they may be right.) I also can't oversing the praises of how neatly the Radikal parts fit together, or of their high level of finish. This well-engineered kit provides plenty of evidence that someone at Linn has thoroughly thought things through from the user's perspective.
A final note: For whatever reason, I've found myself doing lots of tonearm swapping on my LP12 in recent monthsmy performance observations this time around are mostly based on its use with my Rega RB300 and, remarkably, my crazy old RS Laboratory RS-A1and so my setups have remained fresh. That's a good thing, because I broke with tradition while installating the Radikal and resisted the urge to tighten or adjust any parts of my LP12 not directly related to the task at hand. I wanted to ensure that, if I heard an audible change, I could confidently say it was caused by the upgrade kit and nothing else.
Before sitting down to listen, I set up my Linn Speedchecker kit so I could perform that most obvious test. After giving the Radikalized LP12 the prescribed 10 minutes for a first-time calibration, I checked the speed: dead on and steady at both 33.3 and 45rpm. On subsequent power-ups, the modded Linn got to speed in about two seconds.
Then I placed a 10" LP atop the Speedchecker disc and lowered the stylus to the groove: The platter slowed, then correctedalso a two-second project. Similar results were had when I slowed the platter more coarsely, with my thumb. In every instance, the Radikal control unit was quick to notice and correct.
The first record I chose to audition with the Radikalized LP12 was a collection of six Chopin Polonaises recorded by my favorite Chopin stylist of the stereo era, Witold Malcuzynski (Angel S35728). From the soft yet intense opening chords of Op.40 No.2, in C minor, it was obvious: This was the best music-making I'd heard from an LP12. Early in the piece, when the home key switches to G major, the Linn signaled the change in mood with uncanny ease, following every melodic line like an elastic train. And later still, Malcuzynski's powerful chording was put across with greater force and ease than an LP12 had managed before in my presence.
Yes: It was one of those saying-holy-shit-out-loud-in-an-empty-room moments.
If anything, the strengths brought by the Radikal were more striking with pop music. Having recently unearthed my original copy of Paul McCartney's Band on the Run (Apple SO 3415), I was struck both by the presence of instrumental and vocal sounds in this recording, and how the modded Linn played to that strength. In particular, the surprisingly up-front ride toms in the last portion of the title song were remarkably more tactile and forceful with the Radikal than with the AC motor. Replayed with the Radikal, subtler recordings revealed subtler touches: a clearer sense of the rhythmic pattern in Cat Stevens's fingerpicked guitar throughout the great Teaser and the Firecat (Island ILPS9154), greater clarity and resolution throughout Esben and the Witch's engagingly spooky but annoyingly murky Violet Cries (Matador OLE-939-1).
In their promotional material for the upgrade kit, Linn says they've measured lower levels of noise from the Radikalized LP12 compared with the older, more konservative one, thanks to the decreased electromagnetic emission of their new DC motor. It isn't difficult to imagine how a reduction in noise can make very subtle pitch and timing cues all the clearer to the listenerand pave the way for a more satisfying and altogether easier listening experience.
My newfound fondness for the old Garrard 301 turntable is well documented in these pages. The Radikal didn't transform the LP12 into one of those, but it did push it further in that direction while maintaining all of the Linn's signature strengths. The upgrade took away nothing that I already enjoyedthe deck's natural warmth, its generally forgiving way with record imperfections, and, of course, its superb musical flow and timingand merely added more: more force, more momentum, a little more sheer grip on the notes.
The Linn Radikal is revelatory: the most significant step I've heard in the LP12's evolution. But revelations are seldom cheap, and so it goes here. When I received my review kit in December 2010, the Radikal upgrade was priced at $3900. On the day I submitted this column for publication, Linn announced a price increase and a performance enhancement. The Linn Radikal kit now costs $4250, and includes a somewhat different-looking power supply that's been upgraded with the latest version of Linn's Dynamik power supply technology. Pleasantly, owners of existing Radikals can upgrade their power supplies (technologically but not cosmetically) for a mere $700. You read it here first.
Which brings us to the matter of value. I forget what I paid for my LP12 brand-new, in the late 1980s, but it surely wasn't much more than $1000. And heaven knows I've since spent more than thatseveral times that amount, in all probabilityon various upgrades from Linn and others. (Of course, that's not counting all the tonearms I've bought for it over the past 20-odd years, from the nicely designed but poorly made Syrinx PU-2 to the brilliant and, I dare say, important Naim Aro.) But the idea of spending more on a turntable upgrade than on the turntable itself isn't something I find terribly shocking.
As long as the upgrade is good. And this one is very good.
I'll probably be skewered in some corners for saying this, but here goes: If I had just bought a nice new Linn Majik LP12 for the sum of $3750which includes the LP12 turntable itself, an elemental onboard power supply, a plain composite base board, an imported Project tonearm, and a very decent Linn Adikt moving-magnet cartridgeI would skip every other upgrade for the time being and proceed straight to the Radikal. There are few better ways of spending $8000 on a brand-new turntable, especially when you consider that it'll still be spinning records in another 40 years.
Now let's return for a moment to the evergreen topic of customer service in the mail-order LP business. Not long ago I bought, from one of my favorite mail-order specialists (footnote 2) a new copy of Yes's Time and a Word, reissued on 180gm vinyl by California-based Friday Music (FRM 8273). As with most such things, I didn't get around to auditioning it until weeks after its arrival. When I did, I was disappointed to hear a considerable degree of wow (the cyclic speed variation, not the blissed-out exclamation) in the title song. On closer examination, it appeared that side 2but not side 1had been pressed off-center. Even the spinning label was hard to look at.
I contacted Friday Music by e-mail, and their response was prompt and friendly: Please return the LP and we'll send you a replacement at once. Which they did.
The replacement also had an off-center side 2, but the flaw was distinctly less severe and thus more listenable than on my original copy. That tells me two things: The stamper pretty much is what it is; and someone at Friday Music went to the trouble of finding and dispatching the best-sounding replacement they had at hand. I'm both disappointed and impressed, the latter beating the former by a few lengths.
Friday Music specializes in CD and LP reissues of albums that were staples of the FM rock scene of the 1970s: Journey, Boston, Meat Loaf, Heart, Toto, R.E.O. Speedwagon, and, yes, Yes are all well represented. Friday's selection also contains a few less-traveled roads, including the late, great Solomon Burke, key albums from the Renaissance/Annie Haslam catalog, and an exclusive series of "official bootlegs" by Texas blues legend and tattoo pioneer Johnny Winter. You can order their titles from your favorite domestic specialist or via Friday Music's own website; either way, you're likely to be well served.
Footnote 2: I'm not being coy: I don't remember which one!