The Linn Sondek LP12 was once the be all and end all of not only turntables, but serious hi-fi as a whole.
In the late seventies and early eighties your masculinity was certainly in doubt if you didn't own an LP12. That's assuming that you believed the hype in magazines and from Linn dealers.
The LP12 was, in fact, so successful for a relatively expensive turntable that it went on to launch thousands of Linn/Naim systems – many of which are still around today. But in the last ten years or so the LP12 has become just another turntable in a hotly contested market place.
It's also pretty expensive in the general scheme of things – a full monty version will set you back £4,480 and that's without the arm or cartridge.
The new super-affordable Majik version is a full LP12 turntable with the standard armboard and solid base as well as the "extremely low-noise patented main bearing" and Mazak 8 platter.
It has a three-point spring suspension system and a folded steel subchassis that connects the main bearing to the wooden armboard.
The main body of the turntable is solid wood and comes in a variety of types and is surmounted by a stainless top plate which seats the on/off switch. Majik elements include the internal power supply and a Pro-Ject 9cc carbon fibre tonearm.
This is surprising, because Linn used to sell its own entry-level tonearms (most famously the Basic).However, the company has a history of using third-party tonearms such as the Grace, so the Pro-Ject is not such a radical choice after all.
The 9cc is the top Pro-Ject tonearm and retails for £450 when sold separately. It has inverted bearings and a conical carbon fibre tube that morphs into the headshell.
It can be adjusted for both VTA (armbase height) and azimuth (the tube can be rotated) and comes with an arm cable that plugs into the base and could be replaced if you fancy juggling with the insides of an LP12.
Unlike most turntables, this is not something that is encouraged – the LP12 is a difficult design to set up – those springs are inclined to go out of alignment if knocked or twisted and getting them back in place is a kerfuffle even if you've had the training.
We managed to lure Linn's Roger Whittingham to do the set up that a dealer would usually carry out and it took him a good two hours.
The final piece of the package is Linn's Adikt cartridge, the only moving magnet in its range has a Gyger II replaceable stylus poking out from its shapely belly and threaded inserts for easy mounting in the top.
Linn supplies a metal plate which sits atop the headshell to stop the bolts marking the relatively soft carbon fibre.
The Adikt usually costs £275, add that to the £1,540 that a standard LP12 costs (which does not include the Lingo power supply at £990) and then factor in the tonearm and you can see that there is a good saving to be had in the Majik LP12 package. The standard LP12 does include a lid, however.
The LP12 is also probably one of the most upgradable turntables on the market: the Majik package can be modified, one element at a time, all the way to fully-blown status.
Linn recommends starting with a Lingo power supply (£990), then a Trampolin base (£140), Akito tonearm (£720), Klyde MC cartridge (£725) and silver tonearm cable (the T. Kable from £280).
You can go further, of course, the ultimate system is to add the Keel solid aluminium sub-chassis and arm board (£1,950), Ekos SE tonearm (£2,950) and Akiva MC cartridge (£1,980).
Linn has long been an advocate of 'being able to follow the tune', which seems a fairly obvious aspect of musical appreciation, but nonetheless makes a change from holographic imaging or bone-crunching bass as an audio goal.
This tune deal comes directly from the LP12 which does, indeed, seem to place a lot of emphasis on the rhythmic qualities of whatever you play. Taj Mahal's Cakewalk Into Town has a tuba playing the bass line which seems more timely than usual.
It doesn't seem quite as deep in tone as it can be and nor do you hear the difference in level between it and TM's voice and guitar – which may be why its contribution is that much more clear cut. This comes down to relatively compressed dynamic range, there isn't the same difference in the volume of elements within the mix as other turntables reveal.
With some material this can be quite appealing. Keith Jarrett's usually rather quiet, but magical moment on Meaning of the Blues (Standards, Vol 1) is rather more clear-cut and substantial than we are used to, which means you can hear more of the attack and decay of each note.
It does not seem an overly neutral nor accurate reflection of the disc, however, and whether it's a price worth paying for the tunefulness of the result is going to be a matter of taste.
The treble could also do with some extending, you don't hear a lot of the air and shimmer in cymbals for instance, which might be why the overall result has a slightly cuddly feel.
Treble plays a large part in defining notes across the band as the upper harmonics come from that end of the spectrum. The Majik LP12 does, however, deliver high levels of detail.
You can hear right into the mix, in a way that the turntables in our group of £1,000 designs could not. It also has an assurance to its sound that makes even the most challenging material seem coherent and approachable.
It doesn't take out the bite, but it's a bit smoother through the midband than you usually find with a moving magnet cartridge.
We used a Trichord Dino+ phono stage with the Adikt, which seemed to work well, but most of the Linn two channel amps and preamps have built-in phono stages that are equally appropriate.
The LP12's undamped spring suspension provides a good degree of isolation from external vibration, but not so much that you can't hear changes in support.
We started off using a glass shelf on a Custom Design Icon stand, but replacing the glass with CD's aluminium shelf brought about a significant increase in definition and contrast within the music.
This allowed a rather greater appreciation of the reverb soaked soundscapes of Felix Laband's Dark Days Exit, which offered up highly-textured bass notes in the turntables grasp.
While the bass isn't as solid as some heavyweight designs, it goes down low and is very well articulated, hence the resolve of the tuba on the Taj Mahal track and the crunchiness of the synthetic stylings of Mr. Laband.
Out of interest, we swapped the Adikt cartridge for a rather more exotic van den Hul Canary to see if this would counteract the shortcomings perceived.
It did enhance dynamics and delivered a considerably more luxurious and finely detailed sound, but not one that could compete with the aged SME Model 20A that we call a reference.
High quality build
This is a rather more expensive turntable and arm, but one as old as ours could probably be had for close to the Majik LP12 price so it's not an unrealistic comparison.
It brings scale, resolution and wide bandwidth to the party, but does not, however, have the propulsive quality that makes the LP12 so musically engaging.
Which goes to show that with turntables you pays your money and takes your choice. The Majik LP12 is a very enjoyable and musical turntable with high build quality and a solid upgrade path.