[Heres a challenge: how to interview Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn over in the U.K. without barnbusting expense. Ever the adventurous souls, the PF gang decided to do so via questions submitted via the Internet. Our fearless contributors would query in writing; Ivor would respond in like fashion. While not as lively as an actual meeting, such an approach did allow both parties to formulate questions and answers more thoughtfully with the results that you see below.....]
Bruce Kinch: Could you reprise the basic background of the LP 12s creation? Were there significant design influences from the Thorens 150, original AR or other decks? During design and development - or since, were other engineers/designers involved, or just yourself?
Ivor: Much background information can be found on our web site and we have recently posted an old article on our site which appeared in the UK press on the background of the LP12 (a copy of which is attached).
The LP12 used a suspended sub-chassis as per the AR and the Thorens. However, we used the sub-chassis not just to isolate the motor noise for shock isolation but to maximise acoustic isolation. The strategy for eliminating motor noise was to select a quiet 24 pole device, couple it to a large mass and ensure uniform distribution of residual vibration through the suspension and the drive belt to maintain the correct relationship between the cartridge body and the record surface.
The design benefited from the input of my late father who designed the patented single point bearing and from the key engineering staff at Castle Precision Engineering, my late fathers company, including John Cross, Bob Hamond, George Borthwick and the late Russell Christie and Edgar Clumpas who all enthusiastically helped me with this lunchtime project, along with many other employees at Castle.
Bruce Kinch: Its been said that the importance of the letter "K"as opposed to "C" in Linn product nomenclature is that Linn gear costs "thousands" rather than the "hundreds" conventional gear goes for. The new CD-12 might be a case in point. Your literature states it costs a small fortune, but also asks listeners to decide for themselves if its better than a LP-12. While technology does "trickle down", what do you see as the implications for the future of audio if "proper" reproduction of digital recordings is beyond the means of most music lovers?
Ivor: The Linn Sondek originally cost £36 as a chassis and £64 complete with plinth and cover and the K came from the idea of using the name sound deck simplified to communicate the revolutionary idea that the turntable would influence the sound. Thereafter the K acquired a kind of mystic significance.
We are confident that, although it costs to learn with every new technology and Linn always strives to be at the forefront of technical innovation in our field, as opposed to badge engineering leadership, we can improve performance at every price point we address.
Linn doesnt merely implement other established designs or technologies. Rather than being a mere implementer, we are an innovative precision engineering company who develop original circuit designs and technology solutions. Simultaneously with the launch of the CD12 we have introduced the Linn Classik at less than 10% of its price for a complete system with local speakers, and you can listen to this if you wish to judge for yourself how effective we are in our endeavours to deliver value and performance.
Bruce Kinch: Without compromising confidentiality, what would be the rough market distribution for Linn analog equipment today? Percentages to UK, US, Europe, Asia? Do you have any future projections for analog viability, even as a small segment of the industry?
Ivor: Half of Linns analogue business is in the UK and Europe. The US and Canada are less than 15% and Japan is around 10%. The figures for analogue products are not that much different from our total production. Retailers support and expertise is vital for analogue as is end user enthusiasm. We can only continue to support analogue sales and products if people wish to buy them, so the main interest today in Linn analogue components is for the very high quality components to preserve highly valued software collections.
Bruce Kinch: Do you have any comments on the UKs continued leadership in the analog section of the Hi-Fi industry, particularly with regard to turntables?
Ivor: The UK is one of the earliest sources of the hi-fi industry, and in Glasgow we have the oldest faculty of electrical engineering in the world. Fleming, Maxwell, Watt and so on, television, the fax machine and the thermionic valve attest to Scotlands unique engineering pedigree. In Glasgow obviously we are most excited by the prospect of competing on the basis of quality and performance.
One of the difficulties I have about commenting about other companies in our trade is that Linn tends to do things differently. For example, belt drive rather than direct drive, direct coupled tonearms rather than knife-edge or uni-pivot, metal bodied triple mount moving coil cartridges rather than the more conventional maintaining, replaceable stylus moving magnet and so on.
At Linn we think competition is healthy. We appreciate being part of a big industry and we understand that there is no fun dancing alone at the discotheque even if you own the discotheque! We also understand that no one makes records for LP12s or CDs for CD12s any more than roads are made just for Jaguars or Ferraris, and the healthier an industry is, the more competition there is likely to be.
Bruce Kinch: Are there further refinements possible/planned/abandoned to the LP 12, beyond Lingo/Cirkus/Trampolin level (including ones you cant talk about)?
Ivor: Linns motto Simply Better is an aspirational statement about our aim to simplify and improve. Continuous improvement applies to all the products we make including the LP12. The Linto direct coupled phono preamplifier is another very recent and large step forward by Linn for analogue sound reproduction.
Bruce Kinch: What is Linns current recommended base/stand for LP-12? Sound Organization tables, Mana Acoustics systems, and IKEA coffee tables have all been touted in the audiophile press in conjunction with the LP-12. How would you gauge the importance of mass, rigidity, isolation, and damping in the design of a turntable support? Does Linn have opinions about the use of pneumatic bases such as the Vibraplane?
Ivor: We make no recommendations on accessories that we do not manufacture. There are too many for us to monitor or assess, and their virtues are often room dependent and influenced by the expertise of the installation and the retailers expertise. We ourselves have developed the Trampolin suspension kit as a general purpose solution, although experimentally we got good results with pneumatic approaches in the past. However, each type of general purpose solution has its own limitations.
Bruce Kinch: Linn has at times in the past endorsed only dealers who demoed equipment in a "single speaker" environment, to avoid the unwanted contributions of additional, albeit passive drivers in the room. How does one square that concern with the marketing realities of home theatre and multi-room installations?
Ivor: The single speaker demo concept implies that only driven loudspeakers should be in the room during a demonstration. Un-driven loudspeakers will distort the sound by re-radiating unwanted and non-linear signals out of phase with the original. A single speaker dem room could apply to a 2-channel system or all 6 speakers in a Dolby Digital system. We have developed our Linn LIMBIK algorithm, to run on an AV 5103 System Controller played through a home cinema system to allow 2-channel sources to be enjoyed with maximum fidelity through all the channels in a multi-channel home cinema system.
Bruce Kinch: Linn has recently introduced a "circle of sound"recording format (the Tallis 40 part Motet, with singers circling the microphone, for example). Could you describe some of the technical parameters of this approach, how it compares with Quad Ambisonics, Dolby digital 5.1, and DTS? Is it discrete multi-channel or matrix? Are special decoders required? Are additional recordings planned?
Ivor: The Linn LIMBIK algorithm runs on the DSP within the AV 5103. It enables stereo recordings to be played through 3, 5 or 5.1 channels in a coherent way. No special decoder is required and we will licence our algorithm to other companies with suitable standards and products.
We do plan other recordings "in the round." As you know, much music was written to be performed in this way rather than being projected from a concert hall stage which is in fact a relatively recent innovation.
Lynn Olson: What breakthrough (or evolutionary advance) brought CD replay to parity with the LP12? Specifically, what advance in DAC conversion and the digital or analog interface to the DAC made this advance possible?
Ivor: We learned how important jitter was from our early work on professional digital recording with the professional Numerik recording system. With the original LK, Karik and Numerik, Linn introduced the Sync Link to slave the converter to the transport and minimise the jitter with a separate player and converter.
But we realised that vinyl reproduction still had a big edge with the introduction of the Linto, which improved vinyl playback to such an large extent and opened such an enormous gap between vinyl and CD playback quality that we were forced to re-examine the problems. It was clear that because there was jitter throughout the CD chain, we had to find some way of separating jitter, even jitter on the disc from the real music data, so we developed new techniques and exploited new high-speed processing technology that allowed us to implement an original algorithm in customised silicon to eliminate jitter from the CD playback process, and so eliminate jitter even when it was implicit in normal disc replay.
Lynn Olson: Do you think reduction of jitter is significant, or are other factors more important?
Ivor: Our work with jitter has established that even a few pico-seconds of jitter is most significant. Obviously all other aspects of recording and playback have to be addressed competently to optimise signal recovery and quality.
Lynn Olson: Do you feel that the slew rate of the interface electronics to the DAC is important, or are other things more significant?
Ivor: The I/V converter in Linn CD Players is by necessity, fast. Remember that the DACs current output is a waveform made up from a square staircase at quantization resolution. It is these very fast leading edges that can cause difficulty in some designs, when the input signal slew rate is faster than the I/V stage slew rate. The rest of the analogue audio stage is just as important. Filtering removes high frequency oversampling artifacts. The filter itself must be designed to have a linear phase response and have an industry standard 2V rms (full scale input signal). Finally, the pcb layout greatly affects audio performance. Meticulous attention to detail and the use of high density surface-mount techniques are the keys here.
Lynn Olson: What factors in designing power amplifiers make a good sense of pace and timing possible? Power supply design, circuit topology, parts selection, or what?
Ivor: A Power Amplifier is conceptually a very simple piece of technology. All it has to do is receive a small input signal and amplify it to be an exact, but much larger, signal. Unfortunately, only well designed power amplifiers are able to do this. Linn amplifiers are designed to deliver real power, that is, amplifiers that can increase output power into low impedances. It is this ability (amongst other things) to deliver current in a controlled manner to the loudspeaker that determines its audio quality. Linn-designed power supplies, audio input technology, driver topology, and output stages all contribute to this goal.
Lynn Olson: Any possible ideas why using an electronic reference improves the sound of the LP12 (and other turntables) so greatly? Is it the decrease in the phase-noise of the supply, elimination of slow frequency drift, a cleaner sine wave, or what?
Ivor: Poor quality AC power (noise and frequency fluctuation) affects the speed stability of the motor driving the turntable platter. Although in absolute terms these variations are small, they are audible, altering the pitch relationships of the music. The Linn Lingo improves the audio performance of the LP12 by generating a large level of electrical isolation from the incoming mains supply prior to generating a precision crystal referenced drive signal to the LP12 motor.
Clark Johnsen: Ivor, this is Clark Johnsen. Ive been called a tiresome nag on the subject of Absolute Polarity, but thats not what my questions today are about. Mainly Im interested in hearing what you think about two topics that are generally included in the category "Tweaks," but which I think have far greater impact than the name implies besides a lasting relevance to audio.
Linn was the first turntable maker to my knowledge to identify the suspension as a primary contributor to right sound. I even recall reading way back in the early Eighties, in literature from Audiophile Systems, how a loose stand underneath, such as an old shaky coffee table (going against all received opinion) could sound best. Which I tried, and it worked! at least, somewhat. Today, with our knowledge of the dire effects caused by seismic interference, especially the horizontal component, which Shannon Dickson and I have written about at length, and Harry Pearson too, more recently, do you see the Linn as having adopted to innocently, or perhaps *preternaturally* these then-unknown emanations? And what, if anything, has been done lately at Linn to deal with seismic vibrations?
And another question: Since Linn has got into CD, which many consider irredeemably harsh-sounding, I expect youre aware that several "unusual" procedures greatly ameliorate its enharmonic artifacts. I refer to so-called CD "degaussing" (which I first brought to light, thank you),optical polishing of CDs, green inking of CDs, etc. And not to dwell on this, but also the astonishing effects of seismic isolation on CD players. In fact, I be the only writer who counsels readers not to spend large sums on anything digital, until hardware and/or software makers recognize these obvious facts, figure out why they happen, and include proper compensation in their products. Thus obviating the tweaks! Isnt digital, after all, the ultimately manipulable medium? Tell us what Linn has done to address these problems, or what it plans to do.
Ivor: With the LP12 Linn set out to develop a turntable suspension that optimised acoustic isolation rather than a more common shock, and to this end we endeavoured to ensure that our suspension operated effectively over a wide frequency range. However, ultra-low frequencies do intrude to a greater or lesser extent and of course the design of all the other components in the system play their part in minimising or exacerbating any such signals and their impact on the playback chain.
Initially we relied on retailer expertise to properly mount the turntable in a way that met the end users requirements and the particular characteristics of the listening room and considered the floor and wall construction, type and behaviour.
We also delivered the option of the Trampolin base to make it easier to optimise turntable performance on furniture where a wall bracket was not appropriate. Whatever we have done has tended to stimulate ideas and over the years, although people initially did not believe that turntables could make a difference, we then saw the emergence of companies making feet, mats, clamps, cables, spikes, turntable mounting tables and so on.
Generally, although none of these manufacturers claim to know less about the LP12 than I do, I have found that few of these components improve matters overall. It is often argued that the sound people prefer is a matter of taste, but this is not my view or the Linn view. We believe that real music has certain definable attributes that can be readily identified and that have to be present in the final reproduced output. You can refer to Linn literature or our web site for background, see "The Tune Dem" and, "How to Judge a Hi-Fi System," papers that were originally published nearly 25 years ago, or read the literature on the "silent sound form" and "the silent repetition stage" characteristic of active as pposed to passive listening. The impact and claims of CD enhancing products are almost as varied and imaginative as vinyl playback enhancements, and in my view the same arguments apply.
At Linn we can normally perceive an alternative explanation to the advertised claims for such enhancement products, but we do acknowledge the fact that the process of discovery does require experiment, and anything we come across that we can reliably and consistently incorporate in our products because we understand the underlying mechanism and are convinced that it offers an overall improvement will be used.
I sympathise with your concerns and would be interested to learn of your reaction to the CD12. If we were not convinced that we could do justice to the task, we would not have introduced this new technology in such a "no holds barred and no expense spared" form. The CD12 represents our attempt to eliminate all the disconcerting variables that blight the enthusiasm of people who just want to get to hear all the music possible, and so require pitch accurate sound reproduction, so that is exactly what we try to deliver.
John Pearsall: On ambience recovery: Having been involved with the matrixed quasi-four channel circuits nearly three decades ago, Id like your views on a future standard that might finally get most things right for classics, jazz, and pop music. Is anyone working on a digital system that can make use of the higher storage density available today? If so, can we exceed the current DTS proposals out there? (I hope so.)
Ivor: Many companies are working on "high definition" digital audio technologies. The main "carrier" will be DVD related technology offering a maximum data rate of 10.08Mbits/sec. This is more than six times the data rate offered by CD. As can be seen from this comparison, the opportunity exists to offer for example, two channels of very high quality audio, or 5.1 channels of CD quality audio (in fact lossless coding techniques will improve the audio quality above standard CD). The only problems for the consumer are which one to choose, when and how much. Needless to say, Linn is heavily involved in this area.
John Pearsall: On the state of high-end audio: How can it survive when many in the industry treat the uninitiated like lunch-hour tire-kickers, and imply that they are the "great unwashed"?
Audio has to find a way to replace "geezers" like me as we die off, and they *wont* do it by declaring an audio boutique the local shrine for an elitist priesthood! Pardon my soapbox, but Generation-X thinks were from another galaxy, and the Boomers are doing the Stock Market. What do we do to prevent a meltdown of the customer base? What are your views of the next 10 years in technology and an ever-changing society?
Ivor: It is only natural that the acknowledged and informed enthusiasts and publications most interested in the industry will present a barrier to the uninitiated. New Hi Fi people start with the generalist publications, and as their interest develops, they will migrate towards the more specialist and technical magazines and retailers. Manufacturers can assist this learning process with a well-developed and comprehensive website designed to cover a wide range of interest and awareness, so at Linn we do what we can through our end-user newsletter The Record and our website.
John Pearsall: Ultimately, the audio industry will be forced to realize that instead of just cohabiting with video as it does now, quite soon the full nuptials will be performed! And then, sir, what will you and the other high-end manufacturers be offering? What are your views on this hostile conjoining of two large industries?
Ivor: My view is that on most occasions people will continue to prefer to listen to Beethoven without pictures. Music on its own without video can accompany work, dance, and a wide variety of leisure and other activities. Nevertheless, the opportunity to integrate music with video is useful even for a pure music enthusiast. Opera, ballet, rock and pop music, classical concerts and musicals can all be enriched by a video accompaniment and, of course, sound is 90% of the movie experience, because the dialogue, the sound effects and the atmosphere created by the soundtrack all contribute so much.
At Linn, we have always been engaged in the engineering and manufacturing of multi-channel sound systems. Whether it is two-channel stereo music, six-channel Dolby Digital Cinema sound or sixteen sources delivered to up to 120 rooms on a KNEKT System, it all boils down to using our core expertise in pitch accurate multi-channel sound reproduction and innovative precision engineering.
Precision sound engineering at Linn is about silent switching and accurate matching of signals and so on. Linn make a large variety of products and systems that can all be integrated using their advanced on board processors and communication links. Linn Hi Fi, Linn AV 51 Home Cinema and the Linn KNEKT Multi Room System can all be integrated seamlessly and now with Linn LIMBIK, existing stereo programme material can also be accommodated in a coherent way to enable compatibility between two channel music and multi-channel home cinema systems. An irreplaceable collection of LPs can now be integrated, accessed and enjoyed and, indeed, the experience can be enhanced through a multi-channel AV 51 System, so we welcome all the new opportunities that new technology presents.
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