Products of the Year 1993 Editor's Choice of 1993

Editor's Choice of 1993

Linn Sondek LP12 turntable ($1395–$2745 depending on finish and power-supply option; reviewed by Larry Greenhill, Vol.7 No.2, Spring 1984; Martin Colloms, Vol.13 No.3, March 1990; John Atkinson, Vol.14 No.1, January 1991, & Vol.16 No.11, November 1993; and Corey Greenberg, Vol.16 No.12, December 1993 Review)

I first heard the Linn Sondek in the fall of 1976, having recently given up my musician career (it's probably more accurate to say that it gave me up) and exchanged my Fender bass for a typewriter and the lowly position of copy/news editor at England's Hi-Fi News & Record Review magazine. I was new to the industry, and knew nothing about high fidelity other than what I had gleaned from my listening and reading. So it must have been a kindly Fate that ensured that one of the first rooms I went to at a small hi-fi show at a hotel near London's Heathrow airport was the one shared by Naim Audio and Linn Products.

One of the things I did know in 1976 was that direct-drive was the way for modern turntables to go 'round. So when this bespectacled, T-shirt–wearing Scot with a Scotch in one hand and a filterless Capstan cigarette in the other waved at a hi-tech Technics SL-110 direct-drive turntable and told me what a bunch of "craaaaap" it was compared with the Linn, I was mildly amused. After all, the belt-drive, sprung-suspension Sondek looked like nothing more than a refined version of the Thorens TD-150 I'd purchased back in 1970 to replace my rumble-prone, semiautomatic Garrard. Then Ivor Tiefenbrun, for it was he, told me to shut up and listen.

To say that the big Technics was trounced would be an understatement: it sounded like noise compared with the Sondek, even though it was fitted with an identical arm and cartridge (a Grace 707 and Supex 900E, I seem to remember). All the small troughs and peaks in the music's pitch structure seemed to be filled on the direct-drive turntable, whereas the Sondek allowed you to hear the music breathing.

I would have stayed and listened all afternoon, except that Naim's Julian Vereker spotted my Hi-Fi News & Record Review press badge and proceeded to berate me for a negative review of the Sondek by one Frank Jones in the then-current October 1976 issue of the magazine. Frank had pooh-poohed the idea that the turntable could have any effect on the sound at all other than introducing rumble, wow, and flutter, and had apparently performed listening tests with this in mind. He had accordingly dissed the Linn in favor of a now long-discontinued model, the Fons CQ-30, which featured more than the LP12's one button. I now knew that Mr. Jones was sadly blinkered, but that didn't stop me from being speedily ejected from the room.

Time passed; Linn and Naim became major players in first the UK, then the international high-end scene (not without a certain amount of political infighting and inspired, born-again–type marketing), and Frank Jones became a VP of something-or-other at KLH/Infinity (both brands were owned by the Japanese Kyocera company in those far-off days). I didn't forget the lesson I had learned, and in January 1978 bought—from, ironically enough, Julian Vereker—the first of the three LP12s I have owned.

The LP12 was a pig to tune in the late '70s: for no apparent reason at all, it sounded magnificent on some days, only average on others. Various improvements to springs, grommets, and subchassis stabilized the setup, but the biggest improvements to its already superb performance came with the addition of frequency-synthesized power supplies, reducing the LP12's synchronous motor's dependence on what came out of the wall. Corey Greenberg reports elsewhere in this issue on his experience with the LP12 in its three differently powered guises—Basik, Valhalla, Lingo—but to briefly summarize, the effect of the Valhalla, then the Lingo, is to progressively deepen and tighten the turntable's bass performance and render the silences more silent.

The latest modification—actually more of a rebuild—the Cirkus, is controversial in that it removes the last vestige of character possessed by the Linn: its fat, generous upper-bass region. "It doesn't sound like a Linn anymore," goes the refrain. But that's progress, fella. Once a radical Scottish outsider, Ivor Tiefenbrun now looks comfortable in a business suit, is a pillar of the British business establishment, has been honored by the Queen with an MBE, makes his products in a Richard Rodgers–designed computerized factory, and sits at the wheel of a leather-upholstered, Tom Walkinshaw–tuned Jaguar XJ-S rather than the turbocharged Ford he drove to meltdown in the '70s. Similarly, the mature LP12 now needs to compete with CD rather than other vinyl spinners, and must be judged accordingly. (Many other turntables have been introduced since the LP12's debut in the early '70s, most said to be better in one or more ways. Nearly all have gone the way of all vinyl.)

I applaud Linn Products both for keeping the Sondek's basic design consistent for what is now more than 21 years, and for supporting their LP12 customers with updates, seminars, clinics, and plain good old loyalty. Almost a complete definition of why the Linn Sondek LP12 is the Editor's Choice for 1993.

smargo's picture

who cares about the products of the year in 1993?

Anton's picture

Your umbrage is an easily remedied first world problem.

Seeing that list makes me wonder just how far we've advanced in the intervening years.



cgh's picture

That was my thought too Anton. I think the visual appearance of the speaker is probably what did it. (The speaker of the year would be $6783 on an inflation adjusted basis today.)

Staxguy's picture

Not been in the hobby for long?

For me, seeing that photo was gorgeous. The Theil. The CEC. The SL-1 (still being made) by CAT. The CP-1 (Lexicon).

Just look at that Mark Levinson. I don't care much for the Linn LP, for many reasons, but reading about the Kimber PB+J and Sumiko's Blue Point Special brought at tear to my eye.

What especially caught my eye when reading was the price of the Symphonic Line RG-8 ($5000) - 1993.

Over at TAS, they're recommending the Symphonic Line based Odyssey Audio Khartago (and Stratos) amps by Klaus Bungee.

You can get Symphonic Line from him as well.

In the news, Symphonic Line (Germany) just came out with the Kraftwerk Reference Integrated Amplifier, which was covered by Wizard High End Audio Blog, no less.

The collector in me now wants all these 1993 products! :)

To explain the emotive or reading interest, take a footballer.

Down at the pub, you might just get into this same conversation but any hard core Manchester United fan, like the carpenter from Dublin who just came into my home, might look back to 1993 with the same sort of enthusiasm.

Are you or I going to be buying a belt-driven transport like the CEC? Likely, not. I've had just about enough of belt driven turntables, re: wow and flutter, and breaking $5000 MC cartridges installing a new belt (one was enough...), but my what a list of items.

Don't tell me that you wouldn't mind a Krell KSA-250 or 300?

For everyone else,

Look the Bryston 7B was in it's 7B-NRB-THX stage back then. Bryston just realeased their 7B 3 last week (well, it's review came out, anyway). Amazing!

smargo's picture

its funny how much we have a concept of someone - I have been in the hobby for 24 years - i still think products of the year from 1993 are a waste of time to read.

Id rather see a review of something or an article that applies to the hear and now!

cgh's picture

I unwittingly blew future income listening to Beveridge electrostatics and DQs before 1993... so no, not new to it all. My nostalgia is easily trumped by my interest in music.

Staxguy's picture

I was just trying to guess the reason underlying your comment, Smargo. No offense, intended. :)

Whether it be nostalgia, or a cetain love of architecture, certain products bring a smile to my face.

Take the cover of Stereophile's 1992 Recommended Componets: The Mark Levinson No. 30 DAC.

To me, it is a thing of beauty, that to my eye exceeds most Hi Fi products built today.

The CEC looks great to me too, or the ol' Threshold T2 Preamplifier of yore: certain things of beauty.

Certain products today get design right, to my taste.

The Lumin S1 Streamer

Sort of a computer + DAC. :)

Now take a computer like the Cray 2 Supercomputer. You wouldn't likely want one today, but look at the design!

Pievetta Opera Only ($2M) sort of copies it or plays homage (not to cop a Sonus Faber)...


Certain products like that Theil (3.6) had something beautiful or at least interesting to it - like that curved baffle along with it's flat front and over-all slope to it.

Look at Thiel Loudspeakers today (not to be Thiel / Small):

Their sort of interesting and decor friendly (in the same way the 3.6 was and is today if in good condition) and yet...

my mind's eye says they're just ...

given that Snell is no longer in market, today.

I've never been one for history, but there was one graph (Adbusters, I believe) which showed the decline of Earth species, left to right (falling line) and the increase in consumer products (more brands of toothpaste, etc.), correspondingly...

and this immediately made me interested in the history of technology and it's evolution from sort of the British do-nothing in it's heyday Empire free-man perspective.

That's one side.

On the other, certain objects are just to my eye, intrinsically beautiful.

The Devialet Expert 1000 today may be the more competent product of the two, but to my eye the circuit board of the original D-Premier is much more lovely.

[off-topic content deleted by John Atkinson]

cgh's picture

Working on my PhD I recall executing massively parallel Fortran on Crays (and IBM SP3s) from the Unix shell to solve certain classes of partial differential equations. Even screwing up a password involved getting on the phone to the Sys Admin at Lawrence Livermore or Berkeley who didn't differentiate between me and the guy doing top-secret nuclear simulations. Today I (rather, the kids that work for me) run CUDA on GPU grids and write to a cloud. While I have a certain nostalgia for sitting in my basement waiting hours for QBasic programs on, at best, a 486 to produce fractal images (which I my iPhone could do in a second now), which is similar to my nostalgia for listening to really bizarre music at all hours on those ESLs, I have zero nostalgia for those old Crays.

dalethorn's picture

The old stuff makes me think, if I could go back to the 80's, I'd get a better amp for the DQ10's and a more suitable room as well. Then I could build better memories. The lessons of history are valuable things.

Anton's picture

It's not as if Stereophile just spent time writing an article that could have otherwise been written about 'something new.'

Perhaps other people think surround sound articles area waste of time, or vinyl, or CD players...

Hopefully, they won't now waste all that time writing up articles about gear from 1992 and can focus on 'new stuff!' ;-D

Christian Goergen's picture

Do yourself a favor, compare the prices, for example, of the loudspeakers of the year. High end audio stuff is the only industrial branch I know of, that was able to prevent it's own extinction by introducing prohibititive prices.

Chakenheimer's picture

Sorry to be off topic but lost your email. Do you intend to review The Co-Op lp?

Chakenheimer's picture

When may we expect posting?

readargos's picture

I agree those Thiel speakers have a certain visual appeal. I also liked the similar-looking Hales tower speakers from this era. I remember seeing the Hales at a dealer in Indianapolis for the first time, and found the appearance arresting. The aesthetics of the current Mark Levinson gear is a pale imitation of the chunky art decco glory of the stuff from the '90s.

Moreover, much of the gear remains relevant, and could be the basis of a good second system, or even first system. Replacing passive components that age, like capacitors and resistors, with more modern designs can keep older gear refreshed, and in many cases, sounding better than it did when it premiered.

The Levinson gear from this era was also heroically overbuilt, and like a number of other luxury class goods (I'm thinking of automobiles, in particular) continued to compete with newer designs for many years. If I recall correctly, JA was using the Mark Levinson Reference digital processor until it died on him a few years ago, and I believe some of Stereophile's other reviewers (LG?) are still using Levinson amps of this vintage. We have higher-specification DAC chips now, and higher-resolution digital, but the analog output stage and overall design and attention to detail have almost as much to do with ultimate sound quality, and long-term listening pleasure.