Linn 40th Anniversary Factory Tour
Linn is doing a fine job of embracing new technology whilst keeping true to their design philosophy
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4Forty years is a long time in Audio. When Linn was founded, the Apollo program was ongoing, the Escort Mexico was a pretty hot car and Dark Side of the Moon was still a year away from release.
Founder Ivor Tiefenbrun had a view that (at the time certainly) was fairly singular. Musical information lost at the source had a seriously detrimental effect on audio reproduction as a whole. Within this overarching philosophy were a number of smaller ones that set Linn apart from a number of other companies and continues to define them to this day. Ivor is now slightly removed from day to day running of the company but his son Gilad still oversees the firm.
As such I was invited up to the factory outside Glasgow and given a tour of the building before being shown how Linn has been taking their original philosophies to a new and potentially very exciting conclusion. I was also shown a little something that suggests that the company hasn’t forgotten its roots.
Linn has been in their present location since the early nineties and produce the vast majority of their equipment and products in house (the main exceptions being speaker cabinets and their phono cartridges - specialist skillsets that can be disproportionally expensive to get right). Manufacturing is effectively split into three main areas with a number of sub areas off them for specialist undertakings.
Linn makes all their metalwork in house and to this end has a fabrication and paintshop section. This produces pressings for baseplates, chassis, casework and front panels and also features a full metal dip and powder coating process as well. This is used for the vast majority of the company’s output and interestingly even the low volume colours - like blue Kiko speakers - are handled here as well as the more mainstream items. The Majik and Akurate lines are made from assembled aluminium sections (the higher spec range being somewhat thicker) while the flagship Klimax line (for those of you that don’t know, Linn lurve K’s and their range is positively krawling with them) is milled from solid aluminium billet.
Also separated from the main floor is the machinery to populate circuit boards. Linn equipment is fairly distinctive in this area as they tend towards the use of a single large board instead of several smaller ones. This confers a number of advantages but does tend to mean that any errors in the production process can tend to adversely affect the unit as a whole. To this end, the process that Linn has evolved to populate and check the boards is extremely impressive. Two substantial machines can add multiple components ranging in size from items smaller than a grain of rice to sizeable processors at once, matching their work to a master template. All boards are then checked by a different machine that compares dozens of photos of the board to a master example. Errors that are completely imperceptible to the human eye (this human eye certainly) are flagged and allow for the board to be corrected. This is only one of several tests run on the components to ensure their reliability.
The process that Linn has evolved to populate and check the boards is extremely impressive.The final area is the largest and it is here that general assembly takes place. The tasks undertaken here include putting non standard items on circuit boards where it is more effective to do the work by hand and then ensuring they are soldered and added correctly. The CNC machines that produce the Klimax casework and other milled items are on this floor as well and a large portion of the space is taken up by assembly ‘pod areas.’ These are used by a single employee to produce a complete item and differ from product to product. When they are not in use, they are pallet loaded and placed back in the warehouse and different ones extracted. Worth noting are the machines that help do this. Completely unmanned, they bimble around the space in predefined areas making a variety of noises while they do so. They have a very slight Doctor Who prop feel to them which is due in part to their surprising age - they are as old as the building they work in.
Finished items are given another test to ensure they are all working correctly and then placed in the warehouse - which is completely automated - for no more than 72 hours before being shipped out. The entire process is designed around building small quantities of items for immediate dispatch rather than building up stock items held indefinitely. A majority of items are exported and after being collated items can leave the warehouse and make the short journey to Glasgow airport for distribution around the world.
Having seen how Linn go about making their products, it was time to be introduced to their latest offering. One of the most defining aspects of Linn’s approach to system building over the years is their use of active systems where the crossover for the system is placed in front of the amplification meaning that the drivers receive the correct frequency spread and with less potential signal degradation than would be the case with a conventional crossover.
At the same time, the company has been one of the most vocal advocates of streamed audio. Aided by the fact that the Linn has its own record label, the company has been producing streamers since 2009 and made national headlines when it very publically stopped making CD players a few years ago. It has been possible to buy active speakers fronted by a Linn streamer pretty much from the moment they went on sale but the new Exakt system takes this a stage further. An Exakt system is a UPnP client but instead of performing digital-to-analogue conversion on board, instead sends the signal to a pair of speakers fitted with what Linn refers to as their Exakt Engine.
The Engine performs three different functions. The first is that the signal is decoded from the digital. The second is that this signal has crossover functions applied to it for the six drivered five way crossover speaker. With this happening in the digital domain, the time alignment of the process is perfect and coupled with jitter purported to be 7.6 picoseconds (or ‘sod all’ for those of you of a less technical bent), the technical accuracy of the signal is exceptionally good. This means that the signal is as unmolested as possible at the point it hits the amplification for the drivers.
The third function of the Exakt engine is the most significant. Linn has designed the system to be adjustable in the context of the room it has been placed in. They are careful to refer to this as room optimisation rather than room correction as the system is designed to be relatively benign in approach and focus mainly on addressing the bass response and the positioning of the speakers if they are not placed in the ‘ideal’ location (a phrase that means rather different things to different people) can be adjusted to try and perform as if located in this position.
There are two interesting facets to this. The first is unlike the EQ systems we are more familiar with in AV terms, the optimisation is done entirely by algorithm and not via microphone. Linn envisages that dealers will largely undertake this process but owners will have the wherewithal to tweak as well. The second is that Linn is considering making elements of this process a licensed one so that other manufacturers can potentially make use of it (although at the moment no final decision has been taken on this).
This could be something of a boon because there is no question that Exakt is extremely impressive in use. I’m afraid that I have to be completely honest and admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of Linn speakers in the past but there is little doubt in my mind that the Exakt is capable of some incredibly impressive results when given material of any quality. The sound is incredibly clean and free of any sense of congestion or overhang and tonal accuracy seems to be exceptional. Headroom is to all intents and purposes unlimited and in the form of the Kinsky app, Linn has one of the very best control interfaces on the market which further aids how cohesive this system feels. You can also add extra sources to the system which are treated in the same way as the UPnP front end. Given the last product of the day, this is probably just as well.
Only one product has been part of the Linn inventory for the entire time that the company has been around. The LP12 turntable is something of a living legend in audio terms and has been the subject of more column inches than almost any other audio product. Love it or hate it, it is a talisman of British audio and still a benchmark product for many.
To celebrate forty years in production, Linn has teamed up with Orkney based distillery Highland Park to produce a limited run of LP12’s for the 40th anniversary. The decks are specced as top flight LP12SE models that mean that they have the usual refinements such as Radikal DC motor, Urika phono stage and Keel one piece sub chassis (see, I told you they loved their K’s). The difference is that the plinth is made from the top section of Highland Park whisky casks to give a unique finish. Only forty of them will be made and each comes with a forty year old bottle of Highland Park single malt that is a significant sum of money on its own and comes with a sentence of life imprisonment if you’re found drinking it with coke.
The plinth is made from the top section of Highland Park whisky casks to give a unique finish.If you want one, I have two pieces of bad news. The first is that you’ll have to root around for the not inconsiderable sum of £25,000. The second is that all forty units have been sold through to dealers and it is unclear how many remain unsold. The good news is that a normal LP12SE is readily available and any LP12 sold in the company’s forty year history can be brought up to this specification if you choose. If you are a vinyl fan, it is probably worth owning an LP12 at least once so be sure to consider it. A brief listen to one of the 40th anniversary models via the Exakt system suggests that while the basic design might be forty years old, the Sondek still has considerable ability to engage and given that my system always sounds better after a drink, you could do worse than a forty year old scotch.
All in all, it was a very interesting day at Linn and suggested that the company is doing a fine job of pushing forward and embracing new technology while keeping true to their design philosophy and maintaining their classic designs. Here’s to another forty years.
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