Listening #49 Page 2

Back into the setup jig went the cherry LP12. I stripped it to the plinth once again, then removed the platter bearing from the stock Linn subchassis. (No, I couldn't find the red rubber cap meant to seal the bearing well; yes, I spilled some of the oil; yes, I was wearing off-white trousers at the time. Much hilarity ensued.) The Vector Link kit came with a nice set of machined aluminum rings that are adaptable to either Linn's Cirkus or pre-Cirkus bearings, and are intended to safely and evenly distribute the torque of the mounting bolts. The remarkably light subchassis combines a balsa core with upper and lower layers of carbon fiber: tough stuff—but I was nonetheless careful not to damage it by making those bolts too tight. The old Linn suspension springs and rubber grommets fit the subchassis well—at some points of contact, the Funk subchassis is deliberately milled down to just the upper layer of carbon fiber—and, thanks largely to the fact that all of the parts were well finished and made to fit precisely, the whole job took less than an hour.

With the new mechanicals installed—and the wires for the new DC motor properly dressed, clamped, and emerging like a caddisworm from the plinth—I repositioned the LP12 on my Mana table and connected the Funk Firm K-Drive power-supply unit: a DC source that uses a current-feedback servo system to control the kit's low-inertia motor, for the ultimate in speed stability. The front panel of the K-Drive PSU sports a three-position rotary switch, plus two speed-adjustment screws, one each for 33.3 and 45rpm.

The performance of the LP12 with the full Funk kit was nothing short of brilliant. Musical timing, freedom from pitch uncertainties, and overall emotional effectiveness were at least the equals of those of any other source component I've had at home, and the sonic presentation was wonderfully open and clean. Interestingly—make of this what you will—the tonal balance of the Funked Linn was closer to my recollection of the Pink Triangle Anniversary than that of the LP12 itself. Well-loved recordings seemed clearer and more transparent than ever, as if lit from within. And while I freely admit that the change caught me off guard, and even today I'm still not sure how the small, frightened, woodland-animal part of my brain really feels about it, the LP12's upper-bass emphasis and warmth were gone. Completely.

What's more, my LP12's ability to suggest a spatial dimension to the sound of two-channel stereo recordings—to portray, howsoever fancifully, the locations of various musicians within that space—got a real shot in the arm. The end result was a turntable that did a good job with both the music and the sound, not unlike that fondly remembered Anniversary. Nothing wrong with that!

It was the sort of change I'd expect to hear from an entirely new and entirely superior record deck. The Byrds' "Here Without You," from Mr. Tambourine Man (in this instance, the superb Sundazed reissue of Columbia LP 5057), sounded startlingly clear, open, and musically involving. It was as if, in previous listenings, there had been some noise or interference going on in the background, like a headache I didn't know I had until it went away. Suddenly, I was hearing only what was on the record. And the spatial aspect of the recording sounded impressively big and deep—much more so than I'd ever heard from this album.

Similarly, Chris Stamey's endearingly offbeat recording of John Lennon's "Instant Karma," from his Instant Excitement EP (Coyote COY 007), was simply clearer with the full Vector Link, the guitar, electric keyboard, and drums all seeming to be played with more force. The spooky guitar chords on the next number, "When We're Alone"—done here in an altogether nicer and more atmospheric way than the version that came out on 1987's It's Alright album—had more in the way of pitch stability, and a greater level of cool, clear listenability, than on any other LP12 incarnation.

I then went even further: I added the Funk Firm Achromat, which combines a light and porous polymer fill with two sides of rigid skin, to form a record support that's intended to act as a nonreflective sink for the excess resonant energy thrown off by transduction. I'd actually tried the Achromat once before—with my still-unmodified LP12, when the Funk kit first arrived—and hadn't really cared for it. But now, the Achromat's strengths and those of the rest of the Funk kit seemed to pull in the same direction. With all the bits in place, it seemed as if one last impediment had been removed—and I could now hear virtually every aspect of the musical content, and the sonic presentation begin to jell.

Set up is a verb
Still, I was curious: How would my Linn LP12 sound with only the new top plate and the DC motor and supply—and without the new subchassis and Vector pulleys? What would I get from just the Stage 1 Funk Link mods? It wasn't easy, but I think I've found out.

Assuming that no one would mind if I removed the Vector Link's DC motor from its carbon-fiber subchassis—no parts were discarded or destroyed in the process—I went ahead and did just that. Then I fashioned a rigid motor mount out of a thin strip of metal, and installed the Funk Firm's DC motor in my LP12 in such a way that its plastic pulley was just high enough to drive the subplatter without also causing the rubber belt to "hunt" up or down for the right position.

Out came all the new bits—except for the carbon-fiber top plate, of course. Back to Linn's original steel subchassis went the platter bearing. (No oil spill this time.) By now, I could dress a tonearm cable in my sleep.

The result was one of the least decisive, most ambiguous comparisons I've ever made—which, I suppose, may be the same as saying that the Stage 1 kit, in and of itself, is the Funk Firm's most cost-effective LP12 mod.

As of this writing, my Linn is still holding at Stage 1—and I'm completely happy. In direct comparison with the combination of the stock LP12 and Naim Armageddon power supply, the LP12 with the Funk Link remains superior in terms of its openness, spatial performance, and detail, while being no less capable of getting the notes and the beats dead to rights. And now I'll confess: I also think that the Stage 1 Funk Link kit retains more of the Linn's innate upper-bass warmth than the Stage 2 Vector Link kit. For that reason alone, some LP12 enthusiasts may want to go for the less expensive approach and pitch camp there indefinitely.

I saw in the news recently that the world's first pet-cloning service has closed its doors, owing to a lack of paying customers. Evidently, not enough people thought that Snowball II would be worth $50,000. I missed my chance to get a Pink Triangle Pink Link when the getting was good—not to mention the Pink Triangle Anniversary turntable. And I admit that I went into this current project hoping for a sort of Pink Link II and all that would follow: Better music. Better sound. Perhaps even my hairline would be restored to its 1996 borders.

It would be virtually impossible to say how the Funk Link or Vector Link compare with their long-gone predecessor. I know I liked the cosmetics of Pink Triangle's old wood-wrapped power supply better than the new one's alloy extrusion. I'm not sure how I feel about the look of the carbon-fiber top—but if I buy one, I could always paint it.

But the sound is amazing. Right now, the fully Funked LP12 is my favorite LP12—and I think that the Stage 1 Funk Link kit is the most cost-effective approach to modernizing any much-loved Linn. The specifics of marketing the Funk Firm kits in the US are being finalized, but Clark Williams, director of sales for Acoustic Sounds, says that the kits will be available from a number of retailers who have been selected as much for their turntable-setup skills as for anything else. Anxious—and ambitious—LP12 owners who already have at hand a couple of Posi-Driv screwdrivers, a hollow-shaft 5/16" nut driver, and a setup jig (or at least two piles of books) can use these pics as a guide and get a head start. Either way, the Funk Firm kits are heartily, effusively recommended.