Linn Selekt Sondek LP12 Turntable Review
Michael Evans auditions the latest, mid-range version of this iconic British transcription turntable…
Selekt Sondek LP12 Turntable
AUD $19,995 RRP
Few hi-fi products really live up to their hype, but surely the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable is one of them? That’s not just because of its sound, but the all-round package of upgradeability, dealer support and constant improvement that makes this deck a fully rounded high-end product. As many will know, 2023 chalks up half a century for this ubiquitous British belt drive – during which time it has revolved its way into the hearts of countless analogue addicts, mostly at a leisurely 33.33 RPM, of course!
When Linn founder Ivor Tiefenbrun first started Linn Products in 1973 – named after Linn Park in Glasgow, lest we forget – he not only set the standard required for a top-notch ‘transcription turntable’ of the nineteen seventies, but also changed the whole ethos of hi-fi itself, in the United Kingdom and beyond…
How so? Well, let’s not forget that the traditional way of looking at a hi-fi system was that the loudspeakers were the most important part of the chain, as that’s where the sound came from. Amplifiers were largely thought of – to use Quad’s Peter Walker’s old maxim – “a piece of wire with gain”, and all turntables had to do was spin records at a steady speed and not bounce when someone walked past them.
Ivor Tiefenbrun’s contention – one that I think he was absolutely right about – was that the source was the most important part of the chain. To that end, he deployed the old computer industry maxim, “garbage in, garbage out”. As he so persistently and eruditely pointed out, if you don’t retrieve the information from the record in the first place, then no matter how good your amplification and speakers are, you’ll never get it back later. This turned the received wisdom about hi-fi on its head.
Cynics pointed out that he would say that, wouldn’t he, as he sold turntables! Yet the outspoken Glaswegian used his growing dealer network to demonstrate the difference. He often compared an LP12-fronted system and a cheap integrated amplifier and cheap speakers, to a cheaper Rega Planar 3-fronted system with a more expensive pre/power amp and speakers. You could literally hear the difference, as the former almost always sounded better.
Following this philosophy to its extreme, the turntable sits at the top of the chain, the tonearm next, and then the cartridge; after these, of course, it is the amplifier and lastly, the loudspeakers. From this, you can infer that the most important part of the vinyl front end is the turntable motor unit itself, followed by the tonearm and cartridge. This logic has given Linn Sondek customers a clear upgrade path over the years, whereby various component parts can be interchanged and improved. Since the deck’s launch, Linn has been introducing new power supplies, suspension springs, bearings, drive belts and so on – plus new tonearms and cartridges – as part of a structured upgrade path.
That’s how we get to the LP12 Selekt, in 2023. Linn now offers what it calls ‘curated collections’, where you buy your Sondek as a specific collection of components of a certain quality level. The Majik is the entry-level, whereas the Selekt LP12 is the middle-range configuration. Think motor cars here with various levels of trim and specification available on the same model, and you have an idea of Linn’s marketing strategy.
The Majik LP12 may be the base model, but it still boasts the best bearing available, the Karousel, and a decent-quality bundled arm and cartridge. At the other end of the spectrum is the top spec, fully loaded Klimax LP12; this is the reference model with all the fanciest designer bits, and comes with an appropriately hefty price tag. Sandwiched between the two is the Selekt LP12 that you see here. Its brief is simple – it’s designed to hit the sweet spot in price/performance terms with a carefully chosen package of goodies to give the best value and sound combination.
By the way, Linn’s new Karousel bearing is retrofittable to older LP12s. It’s claimed to be a significant technical improvement over the previous Cirkus bearing, which was introduced in the mid nineteen nineties. Like all new LP12s now, the Selekt has this as standard – but is differentiated from the cheaper Majik LP12 by the fitment of the new Kore aluminium sub-chassis and machined-from-solid armboard. It also gets the Trampolin suspended base board, also made from aluminium alloy, and the latest Lingo power supply as standard.
The latter exemplifies Linn’s upgrade philosophy, as it’s the next most important thing to the turntable itself. The current version is a rather cool looking, slimline device which sends an exact, quartz-referenced 50Hz to the motor in order to give the best possible speed stability and lowest noise. A new Lingo on its own will set you back a fair sum, and there’s still an upgrade path here should you so wish, as the company also offers two considerably more expensive supplies in the Radikal range.
The LP12 Selekt also comes bundled with the new Arko tonearm, a very attractive looking new gimbal design with a focus on rigidity. It is designed and manufactured entirely in house, with the last Linn tonearm to hold that accolade having been discontinued almost twenty years ago. It’s meticulously put together with an armtube made entirely from high grade aluminium, and is pleasingly simple to use.
Mated to this is Linn’s own Kendo moving coil cartridge, one that bears more than a passing visual resemblance to Lyra designs with its naked body, boron cantilever and super fine line diamond tip. The body is made of the same high-quality aluminium as the Arko tonearm, and is not for the faint of heart as the cantilever feels very exposed. Putting the stylus guard on is a terrifying process and one which made me lose sleep at night!
Last but not least, the 445x140x356mm [WxHxD] plinth comes in a choice of standard or fluted styles, with a range of standard finishes including Oak, Cherry, Black Ash, Rosenut and Walnut. Special finishes including Piano Black, Alpine White or indeed any colour of your choice are also available. We’re a long way from when I bought my Linn Sondek back in the late eighties, when almost all of them came only in fluted Afromosia finishes…
It would be remiss of me if I did not mention that StereoNET’s Selekt LP12 review sample was supplied and expertly set up by Andy at Swindon UK’s Audio T dealership. All purchasers of new LP12s should be able to get their dealers to set their decks up if required; professional home installation is a hallmark of the company’s service. In my case, I partnered the deck with an Exposure 3510 pre and power amplifier combination, driving Linn Sara loudspeakers.
I believe the Selekt LP12 embodies the best of this venerable turntable, in its classical form. It lacks the bells-and-whistles of the super-expensive flagship Klimax LP12, and instead focuses on getting the best out of the design by way of good old-fashioned high-quality engineering. The result is that it delivers a quintessential Sondek sound, which is both similar to my older LP12 and noticeably better. It’s a highly emotional performer, and unlocks the music in front of the listener’s ears in real time before them. This makes for an extremely immersive sound, typical of vinyl LP at its best.
For example, Pink Floyd’s Animals was first up, as I had just purchased a copy of the 2018 remix box set. Initially, I was just going to play one track from the album but found myself flipping the record over to side two and playing it in its entirety. This was typical of my time with the Selekt LP12, as it was so easy to get engrossed in the whole record rather that listen to individual tracks.
This is the biggest compliment I can give a turntable, and I suspect I’m not alone here. My fellow vinyl junkies will surely relate to listening sessions where they’re constantly changing tracks mid-way through and seldom sitting back and listening to the whole record – but not so with this turntable, as it’s so engaging. I tried again with Supertramp’s classic Crime of the Century – I’d wanted to play only the title track at the finale of side two but ended up enjoying the entire album. It made me realise just how superb the songwriting and musicianship is on the whole record.
It’s hard to talk in terms of “veils being lifted”, or “pace, rhythm and timing”, as the Selekt LP12 isn’t something that’s easy to deconstruct. Instead, it just makes music in a holistic way, getting on with the job of retrieving the information from the record groove and offering it up to the rest of your system to reproduce. It’s a very fuss-free process, as this turntable is relatively small and compact by today’s standards, supremely easy to use and very nicely integrated with a tonearm that works hand-in-glove with the deck.
One of my favourite pieces of classical music is Sibelius’ Symphony Number 2, on Chesky Records. On this new LP12, it sounded quite magnificent, with the Selekt Sondek reproducing instruments accurately and melodically, whilst serving up a level of drama that befitted this piece. I loved the clean, open and easy sound of this turntable, tonearm and cartridge combination – there was no sense of the music being beamed out at you. Instead, it just lilted away in front of the listener in a wonderfully natural way.
I got precisely the same result with a completely different piece (and genre) of music. Pump up the Jam by Technotronic is a vintage slice of early house music, and via the Linn my living room cabinet shook so much that I had almost had to blu-tac the things inside it down! This confirmed to me, as if I needed such a reminder, that this grade of LP12 has really strong and taut bass – more so than the Majik I auditioned a year or more back. As the late nineteen eighties club scene seemingly came alive in my living room, I was awestruck by how much fun high-end analogue can still sound. Perhaps I have been listening to streaming for too long?
Indeed, this turntable shines with electronic music. It doesn’t quite have the sharpest, most crisply delineated attack transients – perhaps we should look to the Technics SL-1000R for that – but still, it’s seriously fast and impactful. In this respect, it puts older vintage Sondeks like mine to shame, I’m sorry to say. Kraftwerk’s Computer World was an absolute pleasure, as this excellent analogue recording came alive in my living room. The dynamic articulation, fine detail retrieval and space between the respective instruments in the soundstage were all first-class. Yet it was the seamless, natural way that it brought everything together that really impressed – it was lovely to hear this great music from over forty years ago effusing out of my loudspeakers. Unlike many of its rivals, this isn’t a turnable that deconstructs music – instead, it gels it together in a seriously satisfying way.
All of that added aluminium – in the sub-chassis, armband and base – hasn’t made the deck sound brighter, but it is certainly tighter. The LP12 always had a satisfying rhythm snap, but it’s more profound now in the Selekt LP12. The Majik is arguably just that little bit softer and more rounded, whereas this really jumps to the beat. It makes everything from classic to jazz to rock a joy. Tonally, it’s still slightly smoother than some rivals; the LP12 always sounded especially suave and sophisticated, and the Selekt retains this. It’s never boomy or bright, yet now appears to have a cleaner, more neutral midband. Think of it as being akin to an amplifier with its tone controls set to zero – nothing artificial is added, or taken away.
The Linn Sondek Selekt LP12 is a very expensive turntable and costs considerably more in real terms than my own Lingo LP12 of the late eighties. Yet it’s also far better sounding too, so continues to have huge appeal. Is it the best value Linn turntable on sale? I think it is, even though the Majik LP12 comes close in price/performance terms. It’s a good deal more expensive than its little brother, yet it sports major upgrades to the power supply, sub-chassis, armboard and base that all make a big difference. The flagship Klimax LP12 goes further still, but is way more expensive. Last but not least, the Selekt’s tonearm and cartridge combination is cracking, and the sum of these two parts alone is close to the overall price of the Selekt package!
Is the LP12 the best turntable that money can buy? That’s a tricky one, as there is so much choice now, with decks of widely varying strengths (and weaknesses) competing for attention. Yet I believe that in terms of musical enjoyment, it is – and that’s a bold claim. It’s ironic that when the Sondek was first launched in 1973, we were fast approaching vinyl’s sales zenith – in the UK, sales peaked in 1975. Yet the LP12 was one of relatively few high-end turntables on sale at that time – with the Garrard 401 and Technics SP10 mk1 being its main rivals. Now, fifty years after the first LP12 was made, there are umpteen high-end rivals to it, with some costing ten or twenty times as much money. Yet still, this iconic vinyl spinner makes great sense, so hear it if you can.
A music junkie who served his apprenticeship in UK hi-fi retail in the 1990s, Mike loves the simplicity of analogue and the complexity of digital. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject, he’s been on a life-long quest for great sound at a sensible price – and is still loving the journey…
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