The Linn Sondek LP12 is perhaps the strangest example of a design exemplar. It first appeared in 1972, and looks pretty much the same today as it did then. It is functional, but I cannot really say it is beautiful. But that is not the point. It was at the time, and still is after 42 years, arguably the best sound-reproducing device on the planet. Yes, it plays vinyl records, and if you hear a Linn coupled to a half-decent hi-fi system, you will agree with me that it eclipses CDs and most downloadable forms of music in reproducing the music in the way that the original recording intended.
The Linn philosophy has it that the most important part of the music reproduction chain is that which is closest to the source. Thus it is the turntable — not the stylus, not the cartridge, not the tonearm, not the amplifier and certainly not the speakers — that make the most difference to the final sound. So Linn built a turntable that is very close to perfect.
Now, here’s the thing: if you buy a Linn today, you probably won’t buy a stock-standard Linn. Not because your dealer is cheating you, but because after four decades, other improvisers have come along with their own components for the Linn, and you may well decide that you like the sound of an alternative power supply, or someone else’s sub-chassis. No, I am not making this up; these things actually make a sonic difference.
You can also make aesthetic changes to the Linn. An American woodcrafter, Chris Harbarn, makes stunningly beautiful plinths for the Linn in various exotic woods. Some of these actually enhance the sound quality of the reproduction. No, I am not making this up.
So why do I think the Linn Sondek LP12 is an example of good design? Because the original design is still intact; the original design philosophy survives longer than most devices (do you think you will be using an iPhone in 40 year’s time?) but along the way others have been able to enhance and modify the experience to make, in the opinion of your humble blogger, the best device for reproducing recorded music. If you have never heard a Linn, find a dealer and beg for an audition.