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Linn Products

Linn Products is a Scottish company, based in Glasgow, that manufactures hi-fi, home theatre, and multi-room audio systems. It is the manufacturer of the renowned Linn Sondek LP12 turntable.

Company history

Linn began as an offshoot of Castle Precision Engineering (Glasgow) Ltd., a company now specialising in CNC machining, and many of the methods and processes of precision engineering form the philosophy behind the production of Linn's audio components. It was founded in 1973 by Ivor Tiefenbrun to produce the Sondek LP12 turntable, which utilises a suspended sub-chassis and an innovative "single-point" platter bearing machined to extremely tight tolerances. Suspending the platter- and tonearm-bearing subchassis from springs, an innovation pioneered by the US company Acoustic Research, was extremely efficient in isolating the system from loudspeaker and floor-induced acoustic feedback. The Sondek's subsequent success was also instrumental in reestablishing the superiority of belt-driven turntables, which were then thought to be old-fashioned compared with the supposedly more modern direct-driven ones.

Hamish Robertson designed the Ariston RD11 in 1971 with Castle Precision Engineering Ltd machining many of the parts. Robertson left Ariston, which had been taken over by Dunlop Westayr Ltd and reorganised as Ariston Audio Ltd. In 1973 Linn Products was born and marketed their own turntable manufactured by Castle Precision Engineering. There were claims, and even patent litigation at the time, that the first Linn Sondek LP12 was a carbon copy of the RD11, and many parts interchangeable..

In February 1973 Linn Products Ltd. was formed to sell turntables made by Castle Precision Engineering. This was officially announced in an advertisement in Hi-Fi News & Record Review, with the following text: "The turntable previously available under the name Ariston RD11 is now available under the name Linn LP12. From its introduction in 1973, there have not been any radical changes to Linn's turntable design, which remains in production. However, the LP12's sound quality has been improved through retro-fittable upgrade kits. The successive upgrades consist mostly of refinements in materials used and improved manufacturing tolerances. It is often used by hi-fi reviewers as a reference turntable.

In 1975, Linn patented its isobaric loading principle, and launched the Isobarik loudspeaker.

Initially Linn manufactured the LP12 itself, but not any other components such as tonearms and cartridges. This gap was filled with a largely complementary range from, amongst others, Naim Audio. As the LP12 became more successful, Linn began to design, and later manufacture, these components internally. Many were initially designed by Linn (and in particular by Bill Miller, who led the R&D effort for over two decades) and manufactured by major industry players (such as Goldring). As Linn's own manufacturing capabilities grew, the higher-end offerings were eventually manufactured in-house. Later, the range was extended to include electronic components in the early 1980s.

In an unusual departure from hi-fi products, a subsidiary company, Linn Smart Computing was formed in 1984 to develop the innovative Rekursiv object-oriented computer processor and its Lingo programming language. This was used in a number of university research projects in the UK but was not a commercial success. Another off-shoot company, IST Marine was formed specifically to sell a speedboat concept that had been designed by Ivor Tiefenbrun but, despite heavy investment by Linn in creating and promoting this marine platform, only one vessel (called SKORPION) was ever built for Tiefenbrun himself.

Linn's first CD player, the Karik, was released in 1993—11 years after the CD format itself. Linn claim that it took this long to produce a CD player that offered comparable performance to the LP12. Its flagship compact disc player, the CD12, pioneered by Alan Clark, was launched in 1997 and discontinued in 2005 because some OEM transport components could no longer be obtained from the supplier.

Further flagship additions to the range of award-winning components included the Unidisk series of silver disc players (again with cutting edge electronic design from Alan Clark), as well as the visually and sonically stunning Kisto and Kinos AV processors. These latter two, the result of highly innovative design work by Andrew Barnes and Ian Wilson, set new standards in audio reproduction and continue to be considered at the pinnacle of digital audio processor design. Since then, a new range of audiophile-quality, digitally-networked components has been released, based on the DS (Digital Stream) concept providing a much needed replacement for the aging Knekt system.

Tiefenbrun gained much of his standing and influence today within hi-fi circles when he promoted his turntable in the early days of the company by hawking retailers and personally demonstrating the difference the LP12 made when it replaced a turntable in their own system in an "A:B Comparison". The company continues to value this approach, rejecting the use of technical specifications to judge a component, citing the fact that these figures are often inconsistently measured and purposefully misleading.

Although now in his 60s, Tiefenbrun remains a controversial figure who has gathered as many detractors over the years as he has supporters. An out-spoken critic of the UK Labour government, he has continued to beat the drum for manufacturing in the UK, and even more specifically Scotland, at a time when many companies have chosen to manufacture in China and other emerging economies. This approach certainly seemed to pay dividends in the mid 1980s and late 1990s when the company experienced periods of healthy growth and expansion. However, the 21st Century has been less kind to Linn, and 2007 saw the company experience considerable redundancies. Many of the company's longest-serving directors also left Linn at this time.

System Hierarchy and "Tune-Dem"

Before the launch of the LP12 vinyl record player, conventional wisdom in the hi-fi community was that the loudspeaker was the most important part of a hi-fi system. Linn championed a "source-first" doctrine, arguing that, whilst a system was only as good as its weakest link, the most important part of any system was the source: Linn marketing cited the computing analogy "Garbage In, Garbage Out" - information which was lost at the outset was gone for good and could not be recovered, however good another component along the chain was, and that the it was therefore better to devote attention (and money) to devices earlier in the chain than later. The hierarchy has the following main stages:

- Source: the device extracting the music from the media (turntable, CD or radio). This device must carefully extract all possible information from the media; if this is not done, then musical information is permanently lost and cannot be recovered by the amplification or loudspeakers.

- Control: a device for providing control over the sources, originally switching between sources, and volume, but latterly including surround-sound processing and other system control functions. The control device must faithfully deal with incoming signals and pass the best possible signal along the chain to the playback components.

- Playback: components which convert the musical signal into audible sound: essentially amplifiers and speakers. The best that these components can do is to reproduce the incoming signal from the Control component, and cannot improve the sound.

Linn holds that within the source stage, turntable components have its own hierarchy. The turntable itself is said to be the most important component, as it must provide mechanical stability and accuracy. The tone-arm is next, followed by the cartridge.

Through use of the "tune-dem" - a method for hearing differences between components by attempting simply to follow the tune - Linn emphasises the importance of this system hierarchy. The launch of improvements to Linn's turntable, the LP12 SE upgrades (Keel, Ekos SE and Trampolin 2) have seen a resurgence of the tune-dem in demonstrations, since lesser tone-arms are said to outperform the previous flagship tone-arm, the Ekos, when used with a Keel-upgraded LP12, showing thereby the importance of the source-first approach. However, this "tune-dem" approach has proved controversial with retailers and customers because it involves repeatedly playing only very small sections (no more than ten seconds) of music to the listener, and many have criticised Linn for their insistence that this approach is adhered to.

Linn states that the most important job for a hi-fi system is to reveal the music, and the system's success in practice can be judged by how well the tune is revealed. Whereas many hi-fi companies have promoted electrical specifications as indicative of their products' performance, Linn has focused on its products' ability to reproduce the elements of music as judged subjectively - sometimes referred to as "PRAT" for pace, rhythm and timing - or, in Linn's terminology, "pitch accuracy".

Partnerships

During much of the 1970s and 80s, Linn adopted a symbiotic relationship with Naim Audio. Their product ranges were complementary, and their names were often mentioned in the same breath. During this time, the Linn/Naim system was a preferred combination for many audiophiles. The two companies had almost the same sales and marketing strategy, and shared many of the same retailers/dealers. Since many of the principles the two companies subscribed to were thought to be heretical, or flying in the face of conventional wisdom, Linn/Naim aficionados were nicknamed "flat earthers", sometimes affectionately, sometimes derogatorily. The two companies diverged during the 1980s, at the dawn of digital audio.

In 2002 Linn formed a brand partnership with Aston Martin to supply audio systems to Aston Martin cars. Linn supplied amplification and loudspeaker systems for the Vanquish and DB9 models but was subsequently replaced by Alpine Electronics, the previous incumbent, allegedly as the result of a dispute over reliability and cost. Although now defunct, Linn's Chakra amplifier technology was derived from technology required to develop high-efficiency amplification powerd by a 12V vehicle electrical system.

Controversies

In the early 1980s, Linn launched many adverts in various Hi-Fi magazines in an attempt to mock the arrival of the Compact Disc player, which was predominantly Japanese and technologically superior to conventional turntable mechanisms, due to the fact that digital laser technology gave a better frequency response and dynamic range than vinyl.The ads suggested the CD format was doomed to fail alongside other formats like 8 track stereo. Linn was to launch its own CD player a decade later.

Technology and supply chain

From its engineering roots, it is now a fully-fledged hi-fi company, having gained significant expertise in electronics manufacturing through heavy investments in computer technology since the early 1980s. The company has embraced surface-mount technology, and promotes the "single-stage build", where one person is responsible for the entire process of assembling a product. It controls all the key processes from design. Linn also controls distribution in their key markets UK, USA, and Germany.

Market positioning

Linn has tried to position itself at the luxury end of the home entertainment marketplace through its work in the superyacht market and with partners such as Aston Martin. However, it is still very much a hi-fi company with a very strong and loyal following of audiophile and enthusiast customers. A recent downturn in market performance in 2007, possibly caused by the loss of the LOEWE distribution business and some product reliability issues, caused the company to shed approximately 75 employees (almost one third of the workforce) and raised fears for the future of the company. The return of Ivor Tiefenbrun to an active role within the company has seen a return to core values of mainstream home audio systems, with less focus on high-profile partnerships and marketing relationships. The re-emergence of an entry-level Majik product line is seen by many as Linn's continuing interest in developing a wide-ranging customer base.

Milestones

  • 1972, Sondek LP12 Transcription Turntable
  • 1976, Isobarik DMS/PMS loudspeaker
  • 1979, Ittok LV II tonearm (made by OEM supplier from own design)
  • 1981, Linnk, Moving-Coil Phono Pre-Amplifier (Manufactured by Naim Audio)
  • 1984, Basik LV X budget tonearm (made by OEM supplier from own design)
  • 1985, first moving coil cartridge Asak (made by OEM supplier from own design)
  • 1985, LK1 pre-amplifier and LK2 power-amplifier introduced
  • 1987, budget turntable Axis with [Basik +] tonearm
  • 1988, own-made tonearm - Linn Ekos
  • 1989, budget Akito tonearm
  • 1990, budget turntable - Linn Basik
  • 1991, First CD Player & DAC converter - Karik/Numerik
  • 1994, embraces multi-room - launch of Knekt multi-room system
  • 1997, first Linn separates phono MC preamp - Linto
  • 1999, Sondek CD12 4D Transcription compact disc player - wins many design awards even before launch, first product to use satin-finished machined Aluminum solid ingots for casing
  • 1999, embraces AV - launch of AV51 system
  • 2001, Ivor Tiefenbrun - voted Scottish entrepreneur of the Year
  • 2001, Kivor Index Tunbok hard-disk storage system
  • 2002, Royal Warrant, HRH Prince Charles
  • 2002, achieved ISO 9001:2000 certification
  • 2003, Unidisk 1.1/2.1 multi-format disc player
  • 2003, Kisto AV Processor - Top-of-the range analogue and digital pre-amplifier, wins accolades from audiophiles and press alike
  • 2003, Akurate loudspeaker range for music and home cinema use
  • 2003, New extension is added to Linn's Waterfoot factory, doubling production capacity
  • 2004, granted ISO 14001:1996 certification
  • 2005, Classik Movie
  • 2005, Kinos and Kinos+DSP - Modular upgradeable system, with stellar analog and digital audio performance. Received Gold Award from prestigious international home audio magazine.
  • 2006, Majik system - Majik CD, Majik Kontrol and 100W Majik Chakra 2100
  • 2007, LP12 33 1/3 birthday present - the Special Edition upgrades: Keel (replacement subchassis, armboard and arm collar machined from a single ingot of aluminum), Ekos SE tonarm, and Trampolin (Mark 2) metal isolation baseboard
  • 2007, new Akurate system - Akurate CD, Akurate Tuner, and pre and 200W power amplifiers rebadged as Akurate range
  • 2007, Klimax DS (digital stream) solid-state digital music network player
  • 2007, Downturn in business performance results in almost one third of workforce being made redundant
  • 2008, Akurate DS
  • 2008, Sneaky DS (DS player complete with pre amp, power amp and multiroom function
  • 2008, Artikulat speakers upgraded and rebranded as Klimax. The LP12 also given a Majik, Akurate and Klimax specification
  • 2008, Majik-I released - first integrated amplifier since original Majik-I discontinued in 2001.

Linn operates its own record label, Linn Records to which artists such as Claire Martin, Carol Kidd and Martin Taylor have signed. Its subsidiary Linnsight used to distribute LOEWE Televisions until Loewe decided to set up their own division in the UK in early 2007.

In March 2002 Aston Martin and Linn Products announced a partnership that has resulted in 'unique' audio systems for the V12 Vanquish and DB9 models.

Awards and recognition

  • Ivor Tiefenbrun was awarded the MBE by HM Queen Elizabeth II in for "his and his company's engineering achievements and outstanding service to the electronics industry."
  • As of 1st January 2002, Linn Products Ltd has been awarded The Royal Warrant of Appointment as a Tradesman to His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, as a provider of Entertainment Systems.

Products and trademarks

Linn have a number of trademarks for their products, many of which have the characteristic "k" in place of a hard "c". The origins of this practice have been relayed in a number of ways during Linn's history. Ivor Tiefenbrun said stated its a contraction of both 'sound deck' and the word soundex as all designs have their own unique recognisable sound. Many of the names have Scottish origins, e.g. Kairn, Keltik or Ekos (cairn, Celtic, Ecosse), some have relevance to the function they perform e.g. Knekt (a system to connect many rooms together) or Klout (a powerful amplifier), while the origins of others are rather more obscure.

Isobarik

Name from the original loudspeakers that first used the design. The bass driver sits at the front of a tunnel of identical shape, a second bass driver is at the rear of this. As both drivers move in unison, the front driver gets the impression the speaker cabinet is about six times larger than it actually is, resulting in that equivalent amount of bass performance.

Products which bear the name:

  • Linn Melodik Active Isobarik Bass

Legacy products no longer in production :

  • Linn Isobarik Sara
  • Linn Isobarik Sara 9
  • Linn Isobarik DMS/PMS
  • Linn Keltik

References

External links

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