Initial contact

A few months ago, I advertised a pre-owned but virtually new stereo product online, and someone called me about the unit. We started chatting and it turned out that he was looking for a LP12. I told him that there were many pre-owned units in circulation, but one had to be careful, and inspect the unit before committing to the sale. Most of the LP12 turntables shown here on the website are older models, some going back to the late 70s. Some may have been upgraded as far as logic and finances dictate, but most have been left in their original specification. This is what the Linn Sondek LP12 Support website exists for – to assist existing and potential new owners of this classic turntable.

What do we look for when buying an older LP12? Obviously the unit should switch on and the platter spin. A red power indicator but no spinning platter could mean the motor or power supply is history (or there is no belt fitted). It is going to be fairly difficult to test the arm’s bearings, but unless there is visual evidence of rough handling, it should be in order. Plinths can be restored, usually requiring only a bit of teak oil TLC, especially on the Afromosia plinth. The Valhalla power supply, if present, can be recapped so that the supply is as good as new. Mostly, the suspension will have sagged in time if not checked regularly. This is easily fixable, but by someone with the necessary experience. [ See this article for more information. ]

There are many unloved (divorced and beat up?) LP12s out there. I have seen some advertised online that look horrible and I cannot believe someone would do this to an expensive item. Most beg to be loved again and find a new owner. We here on LP12 Support want to help you be that new owner. Maybe it is a newly reignited love affair with your own long-forgotten LP12, now out of long-term storage.

For this client we managed to track down a mid-80’s LP12, with a serial number in the late 50 thousands, in absolutely mint condition. The plinth is one of the first units with the extra corner bracing (visible through the gap between the armboard and plinth), the pre-Cirkus bearing is still in excellent condition, the platter is perfect, and the armboard looks as good as new. What stands out about this unit though, is the Ittok arm. Many if not most LP12s here have Ittok arms, but this one is a limited edition black version, easily mistaken for an Ekos from a distance. The black Ittok arm looks absolutely gorgeous. The unit was serviced by the seller and a new Hana MC cartridge installed. The seller is one of our LP12 fundi’s. The unit was delivered at the client’s home ready to play. I had to go and listen for myself.

I need to stress than other than some guidance initially from my part, the owner's turntable as it is now is the result of combined efforts of at least three extremely knowlegeable enthusiasts. In a world where is it mostly about money and a quick way to sell a product and get the customer out the door, there are those few individuals who walk the extra mile to ensure a client is happy with their purchase, and a long association is formed. I am very grateful to them.

Classic LP12   Ittok arm in black

First Impressions

On arrival, I realised again that there are many turntables that may and will perform better (or maybe just sound different) than an LP12, but there is that something about the classic Sondek design that sets it apart from most others. The unit looks undeniably classy – I cannot think of a better word, compared to some newer designs that look way too high tech.

Classic LP12   Ittok arm in black

Taking a first spin

The new owner waited for me before playing a record. From the word go, he was stunned by what he heard from one of his Pat Metheny albums, which he knows well and had just finished playing on his other turntable. He commented that there is a presence delivered by the LP12 that his other deck just could not match. He offered me a seat in the sweet spot, which I declined as I believe a good setup will allow you to enjoy the music from anywhere in the room. Few rooms are ever going to be perfectly set up. For me it is important that my family enjoy my music with me, and we cannot all sit in the centre. Off-centre seating beats centre-seating by about five to one in most rooms and seating arrangements. From where I sat, what I heard was music, not the turntable or the rest of the system.

Classic LP12   Ittok arm in black

A Futile Quest for Perfection

Is this the perfect turntable? Not by a long shot. There are cheaper turntables out there that will outperform our older LP12 decks, but it’s not about this one being better than the other turntable. It’s about enjoying what you have. There is plenty one can do to improve the sound by adding newer components, or so the manufacturer and others will make you believe. But then, do you really improve the sound with an “upgrade” or does it just sound different? Today’s top specced LP12 Klimax sounds very different to the older units. Over the past 50 years the LP12 has been in production, its presentation has changed, but the basic signature Sondek sound is still there. Better? Maybe, and for what a new Klimax costs in South Africa, I would sure hope it sounds a lot better. Then again, apart from the look of the older fluted Afromosia plinth, available as an option on new units, nothing on a modern LP12 is the same as the original. Most LP12 owners I know are more than happy with what they have. Given how difficult it is in this country to obtain support and spares for the LP12, the majority of us just enjoy what we have. We live in an imperfect world after all.

Classic LP12   Ittok arm in black


My recommendation to the owner was to take his time and get used to his LP12. (See our article Take it Easy for more information.) It is quite different from his other turntable and requires different approach. My first advice, after I had seen how he switched off the turntable to turn over a record, was to tell him to leave it running. A quick demo to turn over a LP while the platter was spinning was enough for him to get the idea. His other turntable is a direct drive unit, and with most of them, stopping the platter to turn over or change a record is normal.

Classic LP12   Ittok arm in black

Since the Hana MC is new, it will take some time to break in, but it sounded excellent out of the blocks. What I like about the Hana is that the cantilever and stylus are hidden below the body, reducing the risk of a finger slip causing a bent or broken cantilever. I dread the day something like this happens to me as my own cartridge’s cantilever sticks out as if it is claiming its bragging rights.

Classic LP12   Ittok arm in black

I also told him to take the lid off as it just serves as a boombox to trap soundwaves and induce unnecessary vibration. There are no little fingers to fiddle with the deck and so having the lid off is less of a risk. By all means put it back on once you are done listening though, just to be safe.

Possible Upgrade Paths

Just for interest sake, what can one realistically do to improve this gem? Various options are available, and opinions abound, but most will work well, and some could be seen as overkill:

  • Power supply: Move on from the 33 rpm-only Valhalla power supply to a 33/45 option. This will require either Linn’s Lingo, at a huge expense, another manufacturer’s external unit, or sourcing an internal unit similar to the Valhalla power supply from the UK that allows 33/45 rpm switching. The new owner says he is not interested in 45 rpm LPs, so the 45 option is not important.
  • Main bearing: If the current bearing is worn, then one could consider upgrading to the later Cirkus bearing. There are various opinions as to what extent it actually improves the sound. If the current bearing is maintained well, it should continue spinning for some time still. The thing is, the availability of a Cirkus bearing locally is dependent on someone upgrading to a Karousel, Linn’s latest iteration. It is so insanely expensive that most owners will just stick with their Cirkus or earlier bearings meaning few of them will be in circulation as pre-owned units. Note though that the Karousel upgrade includes the bearing, a new inner platter, and new springs and grommets, which accounts for the cost.
  • Sub chassis: There are many options available, including Linn’s own, but expensive, options. A local supplier manufactures a sub chassis, and a top plate and bottom plate. From what I have heard, these work well. I myself am looking at getting a new bottom plate to replace the wobbly hardboard cover on my own LP12, but then just because I believe it will improve the structural rigidity of my own unit (it has none of the newer corner braces) and allow easier access to the three suspension points and the tonearm’s cable connection.
  • Tonearm: Upgrade the arm. This is debatable but Linn designed its turntable and arms to work together. The Ittok is such a great arm that upgrading it to an Ekos results in the law of diminishing returns – the more you spend, the smaller the incremental improvements are. An Ekos is going to be difficult to get and will be hideously expensive. I am not slating it as I would love to have one too, but since I have an Ittok, an upgrade to an Ekos offers a minor improvement. Of course, if you have a Basik tonearm, then an upgrade directly to an Ekos will make more sense.
  • Bits and pieces: Look at the belt and replace if it has become too worn or stretched. Many owners do not like the black felt mat and may want to replace it with something else. It is a matter of personal choice. I am more than happy with my felt mat. Other changes and/or upgrades I have heard of include better feet to improve isolation, and armboards made from other materials. I have even heard of owners who have done away with the sprung suspension but to my mind this completely defeats the purpose of the design. Some replace the top plate and armboard with carbon fibre. I saw one such unit earlier this year at a dealer I visit often. It looked terrible.

Final Thoughts

My closing message to every new owner of a LP12 is this: Just enjoy the music. The turntable itself is not what your music experience is about. It is simply a way to produce it for you, but a beautiful one at the same time.

For now, this LP12 is what the owner had always dreamt of owning and his response to hearing the unit for the first time was classic. The unit is in mint condition, the main bearing is quiet and the inner platter spins freely, the belt is brand new, a new felt mat is on its way, the Ittok arm works perfectly, and the suspension is set up to a T. This is really all the unit and the owner need. I left with a sense of satisfaction that I was in a small way able to assist the new owner towards getting his first, and probably last, Linn Sondek LP12.