Possible turntable upgrade....


Hi All,

So it started as a simple, 'buy some new speakers' impulse. Well, that escalated quickly!

Now, I am looking at my turntable as the possible weakest link. Would love your help/advice/input/experience on whether it's time to give up on my old, beloved c.1980's Linn LP12 that I have had since the mid 80s. The deck has Lingo 1 and Cirkus/Valhalla upgrades of note.

Details: LP12 as above, Graham Phantom arm, Clearaudio Concerto cart.

System: Aesthetix Janus (brand new) pre, BAT 250SE (w BAT-PAK) amp. Tara Labs throughout (recent upgrade) including phono cables, Vivid B1 speakers (Tara The 2 cables).

So, it seems that the Graham Phantom may be too much arm for the Linn (been told Linn is better with a lighter arm) so should I upgrade the deck to build the analog around the arm and take it to the level of the Aesthetix/Vivids etc? Basically, is my money better spent on a new deck as opposed to trying to upgrade an old design such as the Linn? Is the Linn now the weakest link in my system? 

If so, recommendations would be greatly appreciated. I know tastes come into it etc but hopefully my choice of Vivids etc give an insight. Especially love to hear from anyone with a Graham Phantom arm. Price range: as low as possible to make the necessary difference, definitely under $10k. Preferably closer to $5k. Of particular interest (but little listening experience) would be Clearaudio and Transrotor. Open to all ideas. All positive input is greatly appreciated.

Thank you all.  
Ag insider logo xs@2xdenjer1
Denjer

The best turntable we have found in 30 years of professional audio design and sales is the Merrill Wiliams Real 101.3

https://www.realturntable.com/

This table is a complete rethinking of the the problems in vinyl playback.

A turntable is a vibration dissipation system and must do two tasks:

Task Number One: is to isolate the groove from all the energy being fed into the system from the world, this includes any noise generated by the motor, and any airborne and or surface feed vibrations.

Task Number Two: is to take the extra contact energy being fed into the tonearm and dissipate that energy.

Task Number Three: is spin at precisily the correct speed.

The Merrill Wiliams REAL table is made out of rubber. The plinth is a composite of different rubber elasomers pressed into a dense energy absorbing layer.

The motor is isolated by rubber.

The support feet are isolated by rubber.

The outclamp is damped by rubber.

Event the main clamp is damped.

If you build your turntable to turn all excess energy into heat you are going to get a much cleaner sound.

This turntable is affordable and sounds absolutely remarkable.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ Merrill Williams dealer, Rega and Notthingham dealers


How is the Merrill TT isolated from the floor?
I would purchase a different turntable. The Linn can be upgraded, but the upgrades are expensive and it is not a great match with your arm.

You are probably going to receive a number of suggestions, some good and some not as good.

My recommendations in your price range are 1. Get a rebuilt Garrard with a high quality plinth. 2. A Turntable from Dr. Feickert 

I have a rebuilt Loricraft Garrard with Woodsong plinth and it one of the best changes I have made.
Linn is the prime example of the suspended isolation approach to turntable design. With all suspended designs but especially with Linn the whole thing is tuned to vibrate a certain way. They talk about isolation but need a stable platform as much as anything so really its more tuned to vibrate. Naturally the arm and anything else you put on there, a mat a record clamp or even a record, becomes part of that vibrating package and has to be accounted for and tuned for. I looked into this a lot and listened to a lot of Linns and others and have been forever since very happy to have not followed this path.

The limitations and compromises you're seeing now with your table are among the many reasons I'm glad I didn't go that way. If you love the Linn sound then of course its all worth it. No different than the guy with the electrostatics or the SET or whatever. If you love it then you'll do whatever it takes to get the most out of it and it'll be worth it to you. If you can't say that though then yes that would make the Linn the weakest link.

The other design philosophy is massive, solid, suspensionless. Usually these fudge and use a suspension to some extent but not to the point where you start worrying about cartridge mass and the whole thing is floating and bobbing around every time you touch it. The dividing line, none of these type tables cares what arm or how heavy. The best give you complete freedom in arm choice.

That's the way I went. In contrast to the Linn which already is limiting your options this way you are free to get the most table you can possibly afford secure in the knowledge its a "forever" component which with your arm you will probably already be able to enjoy forever but if not then wow, you upgrade that arm you won't believe how it can be even better.

That's what I did. Was very, very happy with my Graham 2.0 for many years. Eventually got to the point I couldn't stop thinking about all those extra connections in the very fragile micro-voltage signal path. Upgraded to Origin Live Conqueror, so much better its more of a new realm than upgrade. 

Which involved not one moments thought given to how much that arm weighed, if it would fit my table, etc. Because my table instead of being a limiting factor is wide open to upgrades.

Hope this helps.
Denjer I have owned two Linns over the years and I hated both of them but they were still the best table you could buy at the time. You have to trust me on this one. Get a SOTA Cosmos and stick your Graham on it.
You will never buy another turntable. You will be in Heaven. You will be able to put your sub woofer right in front of it and blast the crap out of it and nothing will happen. You will be able to jump up and down right in front of it and nothing will happen. It now has a magnetic bearing like the more expensive Clearaudio tables. They will drill the arm board and weight the chassis for the Graham. You get your choice of wood and a dust cover if you like! They are great people and you will have the best experience with them. You should consider a better cartridge. A Clearaudio Da Vinci would do perfectly. I love spending other peoples money. I have owned at least 20 tables and the only one that compares is the SME. 
Millercarbon the only way to isolate a table is to suspend it correctly. You are right about tuning the suspension and The SOTA  does this by adding and or subtracting lead shot to a well under the tonearm board. Any table on a fixed base is only as isolated as what it is sitting on. The problem with the Linn was that its suspension had a very low Q. All you had to do was sneeze in front of it and it would start bouncing. The SOTA and the SME will not do this. You can put them on a collapsible card table and they will be totally immune to anything that happens around it. Try that with any fixed base table no matter the weight.  
What don't you like about your Linn....  
Thank you guys. I'm getting the sense that there is a clear direction to go here. I'll look into all the recommendations. 

Mijostyn: Cartridge upgrade will be the final step. Not even considering options until later. 
Millercarbon: thanks for the really balanced advice and input. Def helps. 
Jperry: Thanks for the input & recommendations. 
Fair question Stingreen. It's not what I don't like, it's more about the fact that I have changed my entire system and wish to be open to seeing if a change would be the way to go. I really haven't even listened to it yet with the new preamp and speakers - hopefully tonight I'll be able to do that. It's more about planning  those next steps that will hopefully keep me happy for the next 10-15 years. When I bought it, I was young and it was a huge stretch for me. The mantra back then was always spend the money on the front end.... It took a while for the rest of my system to overtake the Linn. That's where I am now. 
Had a LP12/Ittok for years and one day tried a beat up Garrard 401 with an inexpensive Jelco 750. It so changed the presentation of music that I couldn't go back to the Linn. Few years later, I now have two rebuild and somewhat upgraded Garrard 401s. One in slate, the other in ply/walnut/maple at a cost of many average new belt drives. Yet with performance on par with five- figure tables. CTC in the UK sells completely rebuilt 301 for about $4000. Or AudioGrail, also in the UK sell refurbished original 301 for around $3200 and 401 for $2100. Source a plinth for $1000 and you are all set my friend.
PS. You can add massive bearing and brass platter to the CTC 301 for another $2500 for even better performance.
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I heard the MW REAL at AXPONA and it sounded great. I thought it would sound "rubbery" and damped from reading about it but it was detailed and very clear sounding. Impressive and it was in use by a number of dealers.
Everything is relative. Even great turntables can be improved by competent isolation. It doesn’t make sense that the Real TT is unsuspended. That’s why Kuzma is now offering isolation devices for their turntables and why other great turntables incorporate isolation into their designs, e.g., Walker, Rockport, Basis.
Recently I sold my 1987 Linn TT. Over the years I upgraded a Cirkus, Ittok vii arm and a Lingo 3. I now have a Luxman PD171-A. Just more clarity and dynamics. Built in strobe allows you to fine tune your speed. Comes w/a very nice dust cover. Also easier to change carts as it has an removable head shell.
I have had a Transrotor Apollon for years and never worried about vinyl playback issues that many others try to eliminate. Solid, 100plus pounds, Clearaudio Mont Blanc stand, and bamboo over concrete floors. Using an SME V, or two, or even three, is easy to setup too. I would definitely explore Transrotor options as they are not common in the US. The Fat Bob gained popularity years ago. I get the Transrotor does not look like a conventional turntable, but, man, does it sound good. I believe there are now two US distributors in the US now. At least call them and ask to to demo.
Thank you Luxmancl38. You know exactly where I'm coming from. Sounds as though there will be no looking back. 

audioquest4life, your setup sounds impressive. Yes, in my post I specifically mentioned Transrotor. This is of great interest. One of the dealers is local to me, Carl of Apex Audio. I cannot say enough good things about Carl and I trust him implicitly. He's been incredibly helpful with advice that truly benefits my system without ever pushing me in a direction I did not want to go. This is the reason I specifically said Clearaudio & Transrotor. Unfortunately, demo time is limited for me due to my work schedule so workibg with someone I trust means a lot. Plus, I do but have a clue what I'm doing when it comes to set up and things like that!

Anyone have experience here specifically with a Clearaudio Ovation? Thanks all for input. 
Stringreens, The Linn's suspension is not damped at all so the Q is very low. It is very tonearm sensitive. If you put too light a tone arm on it the resonant frequency of the suspension will get high enough to throw the arm right off the record. I made that mistake once. It was terribly sensitive to foot falls and any other disturbance near it. The tone arm board is crap. I made a laminated board for it which weighed more which fixed the problem with the light arm. Compared to the SOTA , SME and the Basis tables the construction quality is second rate. The SOTA is special because it achieves equal performance to the SME with less expensive and far more attractive materials and now has a better bearing than The SME. It is 1/2 the price because it is made in America. They will update any of their turntables and will even take them as trade ins. You can not find a better company to deal with. 
A little more perspective on Linn.

Everything like Linn that has been around a very long time you can be sure things back then were nothing like today. The earliest Linn tables were sold by going store to store demonstrating to disbelieving minds that the table really can make a big difference.

Now think about it. As skeptical as some still are today about the importance of quality power cords, or pick your pet thing you know that others still can't believe actually works, there was a time long ago when that was true for turntables. Linn was the first quality turntable to break through that barrier.

So Linn totally earned and deserves respect. Especially since it really was a good turntable. Is. It still is a really good turntable. 

And paradoxically, the better you understand this the better it is. Because everything mijostyn says is equally true. It is a flimsy poorly built (by modern standards) poc. From the point of view of a guy who wants to be able to actively build and upgrade the best system he can its The Royal Tennenbaums of dysfunction piled on faults covered with problems. But from the point of view of a guy who values not only music but history, tradition, and yes simplicity the Linn is hard to beat. 

Its like this. From one point of view the Linn is crap because you are stuck with Linn everything for now and forevermore. From another point of view though you understand what its all about, give in to the Linn, only pursue Linn upgrades, its just fine. Beyond fine. Which is why so many are happy with them. Love em to death.

You just have to know yourself well enough to know which one you are. Get that straight, its amazing how much that seemed hard just starts falling into place.
Crap, my Linn went on fire. Valhalla, smoke, smell, the lot.
I did have the opportunity recently to thump a SOTA and thump the stand upon where it stood, while it played, and it had no effect, impact, or disturbance upon the music. I've a concrete floor so I know not of the travails of those with bouncy floors. I imagine this SOTA table would be a good one for those.
Thanks millercarbon. For me, it is an emotional decision far more than a logical decision. My first system was the Linn (Basik/K9) with NAD amps, which in those days (in London) were the amp to have if you couldn't afford the Naims or the Quads, and a pair of Rogers LS7's. The system rocked. Then came the CJ tube amp and I entered a whole other world. Everything now is different of course, the Linn is the last of my audio youth. But in trying to put together a system that will please me for the next period of time decisions have to be made... I enjoy this as a hobby but don't have the luxury of permanently switching and trying new gear. I just want to be happy with my system and enjoy great music. OMG... Is it sacrilegious to suggest happiness with a high-end audio system??? I apologize if I offended anyone with such a bizarre suggestion. 
Actually noromance you can kick the stand under a SOTA and as long as you do not kick the stand out from under it will continue along as if nothing happened. But, not only is it insensitive to this abuse it is also insensitive to everything else that is happening in the room like the music, your sub woofer and your mother in law screaming at you. So, even on a concrete floor it will out perform most other turntables. I have not heard one with the new bearing yet but I can't see how it would not be even better. Why it does not get the press it deserves is beyond me. Back in the early 80s when the Sapphire was initially released it was the darling of the audio press. It trounced tables three time the cost. It still does that but it does not have the reputation it deserves. The SME is a great table. It sounds every bit as good as the SOTA as far as I can tell and I think I should know as I have both of them. The SME is not as easy to live with as the SOTA and it is no where near as handsome as a SOTA in Ebony. The only problem that some might see in the SOTA is that it will only accept a 9 or 10" arm. I got the SME 30/12 because I wanted a longer heavier arm for low compliance cartridges like the Air Tight and I wanted to be able to AB cartridges. There are many who think the SME is the best table made and I love mine but it is no better than the SOTA and is three times the money in the US.
I have previously owned a LP12 back in the day and enjoyed the timing end engagement it brought to vinyl. Have now upgraded to an SME 20-3 with the SME V Arm. Certainly an improvement with much better detail, instrument placement but retaining the all important timing and engagement. Certainly a more stable deck than the LP12. Seems comparable with medium weight arms too.
Thanks for the feedback Kinross 
In 2013 the Spiral Groove SG2 turntable with Spiral Groove Centroid Arm really attracted my interest, and kept my interest for a number of years while I was looking to acquire one and finally did. I posted some attributes of the table and arm and my thoughts comparing it to a VPI Classic 3, FWIW. Since you are a Linn guy I figured you would appreciate the understated look of the table and arm.
Link to audiogon thread:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/how-do-you-like-your-vpi-classic-scout-scoutmaster-prime-tnt/...

Thank you captain_winters. I am not familiar with Spiral Groove. Will check it out. However, I am trying to get away from that understated look. Since turning 50 I am starting to think of wood boxes in a less positive light! I want a turntable that also does it for me visually. 
A bit late to the party here, but I have direct experience with the Graham Phantom on a SOTA Sapphire.  IMO, it is one of the most synergistic combinations available at any price.  The arm is exceptionally well-suited to the table and the table is quiet, stable and isolated to the point that it simply disappears in the combination.  Get everything dialed in just so, and it's absolutely magical.  And well under your budget brand-new.  Leaves a fair amount of coin to get some more vinyl;-)

I'd also strongly recommend the SOTA Reflex clamp.  It will work on any table, but was specifically designed for the sapphire bearing system SOTA uses.

SOTA is a great company, makes their stuff here, stands behind it and services it forever.  I bought mine in 1984 and it's been one of the very best values in audio I've ever enjoyed.  The woodwork is beautiful, too.  

Good luck no matter which way you go and happy listening!