Listening #48 Page 2

Which brings us to the present day, and to Funk Firm's brand new Vector Link. Like the Pink Link, the new modification kit uses a DC motor, in this case a decidedly expensive European jobbie with an ironless rotor. But the old-style Pink Link power supply and its chunky battery have been done away with, in favor of a new electronics design called the KR-Shunt control. As Khoubesserian explains, the new motor is so steady and noiseless that it eliminates the need for a relatively complex charging/isolating system.

The metal top has also been replaced—by a very sleek-looking plate made of carbon fiber. As with the Pink Link, this one is equipped to hold the drive motor at the 7 o'clock position, but there's also an opening for a motor pulley at 9 o'clock (along with a few other interesting details). The improved motor position is provided only as an intermediate stage, for LP12 owners who wish to take a more gradual upgrade path. The Funk Firm's ultimate modification is centered—almost literally—around an entirely new subchassis of carbon-fiber laminate, on which the DC motor is intended to sit (!), for reasons I'll explain by and by. The Vector Link subchassis also comes with a set of "load distribution" rings for mounting one's LP12 platter bearing (both Cirkus and pre-Cirkus turntables can be accommodated), and a pair of stationary bearing axles for mounting a pair of idler pulleys .†.†. but let's come back to those later, lest we get too far ahead of ourselves.

Black top
I decided to exploit the Vector Link's multifront approach by applying the various mods incrementally rather than all at once: If nothing else, it was a good chance to learn what sorts of mechanical changes have the most or least impact on the player's electrical output. It was also a perfect opportunity to tweak my LP12s' setup—and, no, that apostrophe isn't misplaced: I have two of the things, and decided to rework them both, building up one as a single-speed, AC-only "control" sample (footnote 4), and using the other as a platform for the Funk Firm's suite of mods. (I've always rather enjoyed working on Linn LP12s, although I admit it's become more of a chore with increasing age: I have to lie on the floor, face up, under the setup jig, with my glasses removed so I can see the parts clearly from a few inches away...)

The first step was to tear down each LP12, labeling the various fasteners as I went along. (After my Quad ESL rebuilds of last year, I'm surprised there were any Ziploc bags left in Cherry Valley.) I began by unplugging the power and signal leads, removing the dustcover, outer platter, and mat, and carefully removing the Naim Aro tonearm. Then I secured the plinth in my setup jig and removed all of the following, in order: the subplatter and bearing axle; all of the various nuts, washers, and ground leads that were fastened to the frontmost of the two main bolts; the nuts, washers, and tonearm cable clamp fastened to the rearmost main bolt; the tonearm board; the AC cable clamps; the four wood screws holding the main strap in place, and the strap itself; the nut that holds the left-rear bolt to that corner's wooden gusset; and, finally, the nuts, washers, and grommets that hold the three suspension springs in place—and, consequently, the subchassis itself. The stainless-steel top plate was the only thing left, and I got rid of that by removing the two wood screws that secure it from above.

That done, I exposed the two hardwood blocks, each held in place with two screws, that support the top plate—and virtually all of the Linn's working parts. In every LP12 I've worked on, of any vintage, at least one of those screws has been loose, so I gave them each a good talking to with the Stanley screwdriver and Posidriv bits I found at Sears years ago. (The armboard screws and the two top-plate wood screws require a No.1 Posidriv bit; everything else requires a No.2. I won't say it can't be done, but I've never found a regular Phillips-head screwdriver that fits those screws quite as neatly.)

Next I attached five 2.5" bolts to the Vector Link's carbon-fiber top plate. The Funk Firm supplies hex-head bolts as a replacement for the Posidriv bolts that Linn uses, and the newer ones required a 4mm Allen wrench plus a hollow-shaft 5/16" nut driver—the latter needed for a dozen other tasks in setting up the LP12. After that, I installed my AC motor in its regular (left rear) corner, using the original Linn mounting hardware: two bolts, two nuts, and four domed spacers, with the smallest surfaces of the latter facing the motor flange. Getting the motor and spacers back together correctly is harder than hell to do with the top plate in situ, so I enjoyed my one chance to take the lazy way.

Then I snugged the new top into place—it fit like a glove—and tightly secured it with the two wood screws. Because my Vector Link was on loan, I chose not to take the Funk Firm's advice and hold the left-hand edge of the plate down with a bead of contact cement—a mostly cosmetic consideration that Linn apparently got around by using a bit of force to "dish" their own top plate. (Carbon fiber, of course, is not as malleable as stainless steel.) From there, it was a simple matter of reversing the disassembly procedure—except, of course, that I had to pay strict attention to the Linn's various adjustments. In particular, I took care that the suspension bolts were centered in their grommets; that the tiny armboard screws were tight but not too tight; that the tonearm cable was dressed and tightened just so and did not foul the suspension; and that the motor pulley was tilted away from the center just enough that the platter turned at exactly 33.3rpm, according to Linn's battery-powered Speedchecker strobe. I attached fresh 3M polymer "bumpers" in the corners—I don't use Linn's bottom cover or screw-in feet—and reinstalled the player on my freshly leveled Mana Reference Table.

I sat down to listen—knowing, of course, that I had changed two things: The top plate was now made of carbon fiber instead of stainless steel, and the setup was freshly (re)done. Because the latter is an unavoidable part of any change to an LP12 that's been in service for more than a few months, I elected to change nothing else for this go-'round.

I heard what I more or less expected to hear: a slightly more engaging, tuneful version of the record player I already loved.

I lived with it that way for a day, just to make sure; then I moved the motor from the left-rear corner to the left-front corner. (The lead wires exiting the original motor's casework are just long enough to reach the terminal block, fixed to the main strap, without being so taut that they foul the suspension.) I readjusted the speed and checked the suspension: Everything was fine. I came. I saw. I listened.

I was all but stunned: The small act of moving the drive motor from 11 o'clock to 7 o'clock made a remarkable difference for the better. The music was louder—noticeably so—with the motor in the Funk Firm position. Beyond that, records were now simply easier to listen to: I found myself less fatigued after listening to records for two or three hours at a stretch, and more interested in carrying on. The new motor position didn't give me deeper bass or higher highs or a deeper "soundstage" or anything like that: It just gave me more music.

The only downside was an ergonomic glitch: The Vector Link top plate had no provision for attaching the standard Linn belt guide, and on a few occasions I powered up the motor only to have the consequent "torque shock" dislodge the belt from the pulley entirely. Mild cursing followed, after which I removed the outer platter and put the belt back on. No big deal.

Blue skies
Arthur Khoubesserian had my attention. I would have carried on happily with my much-improved LP12—if not for the carbon-fiber subchassis, DC motor, and high-tech control circuitry still sitting on my bench. And I haven't mentioned the one element of the Vector Drive kit that (literally) caps it off: a high-tech platter surface called the Achromat, said to provide an even better match for your vinyl records than the machined acrylic platter that Pink Triangle pioneered almost a quarter century ago.

All right, then: I had my work cut out for me. In next month's installment, I'll tell you what it was like to install and enjoy the benefits of the Funk Firm's remaining modifications, including the very unusual Vector Drive system. In the meantime, dust off your setup jig, root around for those Posidriv screwdrivers, and buy an extra vial of bearing oil. Just in case.

Footnote 4: I have two outboard power supplies that are suited to such a thing. One is the Naim Armageddon, which adds only an isolation transformer—albeit an extremely good one—to the bare necessity: a phasing circuit to get the motor spinning in the right direction. The other is the Artiegeddon, a homemade box that contains only a phasing circuit.