Naim ARO tonearm & Armageddon turntable power supply
The kind of stuff you don't hang on the wall/
Stuff that's real, stuff you feel/
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.
Guy Clark's paean to dependability, "Stuff That Works," almost always makes me take a mental inventory of my own most favoritest things: my wife and helpmeet, one or two friendships, my best pocketknife, and my Linn Sondek LP12. You may laugh at how short the list is or at how skewed my priorities seem, but don't you dare laugh at any of my choices—over the years, time after time, they've proven themselves. They've stood by me; I'll, by God, stand by them.
I hear you snickering, you put your wife and your turntable on the same list—you're a dead man. Hey, I'm not absolutely stupid, I never said I cherished them equally. But I do think of the LP12 as an old and reliable friend—and in the fickle world of high-end audio, its longevity in my system borders on miraculous. I find it reassuring that, after 20 years on the market, Old Reliable still stands among the best out there. But as with an old friend, I'm not blind to the LP12's faults; I wouldn't mind if it were even better.
Linn obviously feels that way too; one reason the 'table is still a contender is that the company has continually offered improvements and upgrades that have kept its customers loyal. Indeed, when Linn offered the Cirkus bearing upgrade, I thought of the LP12 as the proverbial "grandfather's knife"—as in: "This is my grandfather's knife—my father replaced its handle and I replaced the blade, but it's still the knife my grandfather owned." My venerable LP12/Ittok, however, has remained pretty much stock—no Ekos, no Lingo, no Cirkus, no Trampolin, although I have listened to all of those versions extensively. And enjoyed them (although my initial enthusiasm for the Cirkus has tempered somewhat).
But I'm an audiophile, and curious by nature, to boot. What about someone else's vision of the perfect Linn? What about Naim's power supply, the Armageddon? And just to make it even more interesting, what about upgrading the tonearm to Naim's ARO? To sweeten the pot, it occurred to me that a state-of-the-art LP12 was sitting in JA's listening room and that a comparison between the two differently configured 'tables would offer an opportunity to get together and listen to some vinyl. How could I resist?
Fascinating bits & clunky pieces
Naim's Armageddon offers a very different approach to powering the LP12 from Linn's own Lingo (see JA's Lingo review in Vol.14 No.1). The Lingo utilizes a low-jitter crystal oscillator to create a pure, low-noise, low-jitter sinewave that's then amplified to 120V and fed to the motor. The Armageddon, on the other hand, resembles nothing so much as Naim's Hi-Cap power supply for their preamplifiers and amplifiers—except without the DC regulation. A 430VA transformer directly powers the motor, effectively isolating it from AC-line-derived noise and contamination. I asked Naim Audio North America's Chris West why they employed such a massive power supply to drive a dinky little 60Hz synchronous motor. "The problem with synthesizing sinewaves is that, while clean, they tend to be rather gutless," he explained. "They do not exert the same amount of control over the motor—it is rather like the difference between a wimpy amp and a powerful amp controlling a speaker cone. We use a 430V/A transformer powering up the motor—that's a serious low-impedance supply, and you can't get that sort of control from a silicon chip creating a sinewave.
"The fact is, there's a certain amount of noise in the 120V power lines that gets passed through to the motor, which creates mechanical jitter, unless you use an isolation transformer. If one uses an isolation transformer, which is essentially what the Armageddon is, you benefit from filtering out the high-frequency changes in the incoming waveform.