Saturday, January 25, 2014

Damping: Essential

My key problem with Linn products is that their eschewing of damping ruins their potential.  I believe the Linn Sondek LP 12 is a fair turntable, but it could be a good one with additional, even user applied (if done correctly) damping.  If one thinks of the LP 12 as a Scottish made and somewhat ineptly copied AR turntable (Linn got the suspension objectively wrong in at least one way, according to my friend Tim, they did not put the center point in the trajectory of the stylus, as the AR correctly did), then, AND ONLY THEN, does one have the right ideas of how to use it.  Not following the Linn anti-damping religion, which virtually everyone else in audio realizes is wrong.  Everywhere else you go, eliminating resonances through clever use of damping is being done more and more.  Everyone else brags about it.

Now I suspect the AR was better damped as well…but generally with less costly products, and likely even the venerable AR turntable, less damping (or most likely, none at all) is used than would be desirable.  (I think the AR may have been made with more fundamentally damping materials than the Linn, but probably additional damping would be useful even for the AR.)

So generally one expects with a lower cost product to have to do some rework, such as applying damping.  But in the case of the Linn, it is an expensive product, already perfected as much as it can be, so you are told by the dealer.  There is no damping not because Linn is cheap, you are lead to believe, but because damping ruins the sound.  (No doubt it does remove the "Linn" sound, added brightness and other resonances.  But that's exactly what I want to remove to have a product I could enjoy!)

Now the Linn has a practical problem with such rework.  It is a highly tuned device.  Even a small amount of user added damping is likely to throw off the suspension, thereby requiring a suspension adjustment.  The suspension adjustments have no readily accessible controls, and in fact they may be best leaved to a trained and experienced Linn dealer anyway.

I may (or not) keep my LP 12.  I'd keep it because they really aren't worth much anymore.  I have a product that may have cost the original owner $3000 or more if they started from an earlier version and added upgrades.  I'd be lucky to get $800 out of it (arm and table) I think now, even if it were working. It's almost worth keeping just as a museum piece.  It's actually minty beautiful.  It's finely made in many ways even if wrongly designed.  It's a pleasure to look at and fairly nice to use.

Now for that $800 I might buy a better sounding player, but maybe not.  And if I could overcome it's weaknesses a bit by damping resonances…all the better.  I'm sure with user applied damping, and perhaps other imaginable modifications, it could exceed the sound quality of a stock AR, Thorens, etc., many fine and highly regarded tables.

Though chassis damping is a bit unimaginable, as described, I might get away with a bit of arm damping.  I see Arthur Salvatore says the Ittok arm is quite good, better than the table actually.  Well I blame much of the added brightness I hear to the arm, which is about as light and undamped as it could be made (since those are Linn's goals, which are not inconsistent with making a cheaper product either).  I think with a bit of removable hockey tape, my friend Tim's favorite suggestion, this arm could be made into a contender.

I think even that small change might make this table satisfactory to me sonically, and otherwise (though I will note in a future post how many ways I dislike the LP 12).  Still, I think it could be reasonably good sounding.  It's basically an AR copy, with high quality manufacturing.  It's universally agreed that the AR was a landmark product, and partly because it was a good sounding product, though it WAS compromised to achieve a far lower price than the Linn.

It's the religion that ruins the LP 12 (though one can also think about the cheapness…and profitability to them…which all the religion is consistent with).  But a used one could be good spare parts, more than it's worth trading for.

OTOH, there are a lot of other decks below $800 that I'd find interesting, and just above that.

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