The Linn Sondek is the stuff of legend. Ian Peel teams up the company’s current mid-range turntable with a set of complementary separates to create a £30,000 dream system…
Additional equipment: Linn Krystal cartridge & Phonosophie Bi-Amp 1-4
Linn has three ranges of turntable: at one end, there’s the Majik, for those rediscovering vinyl. At the upper echelon, the Klimax, its ‘ultimate’ deck. And in the middle, focused very much on those who have moved into the world of sonic excellence – and want to experiment with different upgrades, parts and modules – is the Akurate.
To test it out, we built a dream system at our test track at Winchester Hi-Fi, pairing the Sondek up with a Bi-Amp 1-4 amplifier (from Phonosophie, £6,950), a two-part phono stage (Attwood’s Concert Stage, £695 and Stage Power, £795), and speakers from Wilson Benesch (a pair of Vectors, £8,095 and a Torus sub, £6,420). That’s a near-£30,000 system right there.
The Akurate goes one up on other turntables in its bracket, in that it has its own power supply, the Lingo, and it plays at both 33 1/3 and 45 RPM (the Majik needs an adaptor to take it up to 45). Speaking of which, the speed operation is very cool on the Akurate – you get both speeds off the one button. Press once for 33 RPM, press and hold for 45 RPM and watch the red operation light switch to green.
Unlike the more entry-level Majik, which has an aluminium sub-chassis with mounting for a laminate armboard, this deck has its own custom ‘Kore’ aluminium sub-chassis bonded to a “machined from solid aluminium” armboard. Sitting above it is the baseboard, and what strikes you is the suspension. Linn has named it ‘Trampolin’: it really is incredibly bouncy like a trampoline and provides almost complete isolation from outside forces or movement.
There are five wood options for the plinth: oak, cherry, black ash, rosenut and walnut. And, for our money, the darker the wood the better, to show off your records and to show just how classy a system this is.
There are two important elements to note which added to our anticipation as to how vinyl might sound on this deck: the aluminium/steel tonearm (Linn’s Akito) and the Linn Krystal cartridge. Both are included with an Akurate, but the Krystal is also available separately for £1,190 and the Akito for £1,550.
All hands Sondek
First off, we tested the Sondek deck with a very well-worn copy of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, kicking off with Changes from the start of Side One. When I say worn, quite large chunks of the groove were either missing or damaged, but the needle was not thrown once. Come the chorus of Changes, incredibly, the crackles gathered since 1971 were almost completely inaudible. The toms jumped out, and the delightful middle eight sounded utterly lifelike. Hunky Dory wasn’t a wall of sound anymore. Instead, it sounded like a quartet playing live right in front of me. Or a quintet, when you add Bowie’s self-played, delicate little saxophone solo from the closing bars, which I’d never heard sound so rich.
Next up, a near-mint condition original pressing of Talk Talk’s magnum opus, The Colour Of Spring. Starting at the beginning, Happiness Is Easy was brought almost completely back to life, compared to the muddy and/or flimsy CD reissues this album has endured over the years. The snares were almost aggressively powerful, and subtle stereo separations became noticeable for the very first time. It also became possible to discern what was keyboard-based in the mix versus what was coming from acoustic instruments.
That’s an additional layer of subtle separation I wasn’t expecting to get, but which this Sondek delivered faultlessly. Claves, fills and rolls in the rhythm track sounded new to me, to the point that the combination of Danny Thompson’s acoustic bass and the school choir in Happiness became an almost threatening combination.
Is this the dream turntable? Yes, quite possibly. In fact, we now regret awarding 33 out of 33 1/3 to Wilson Benesch’s Circle 25 last issue, as this is even better, making that in hindsight feel more like a 28.
Of course, if you have £30,000 to spend on a hi-fi, I’d like to think your time spent listening to music would be torn between this and a streaming system in your pad in the Hollywood hills, and personal performances from Beyoncé on your yacht in St Lucia. But if ever any of us found ourselves in such a position, surely our first love would still be vinyl. And when you came off the beach and your attention turned to 7″s and 12″s, this would almost certainly be the turntable you would use.