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Inter.view with Ivor Tiefenbrun, Managing Director at Linn

by Lucio Cadeddu

[Italian version]

LC >
1) More than 20 years ago you designed a landmark HiFi component: the Sondek LP 12 turntable. It has been improved during the years but basically the main idea has been left unchanged.
Which were your ideas when you started to design your reference turntable?

Dear Dr Cadeddu,
I am very pleased to answer the questions you asked over the web and as you are not the only person to make such enquiries, I will make my answers as general as possible to satisfy other similar enquiries.

For background on the Linn LP12 you and your audience should consult our Linn web site.
We are in the process of changing this so they should take notice of the fact that, over the next month or two, we are adding a lot of extra background material to explain more about Linn; our beginnings, our objectives, our philosophies, our products and plans and, of course, a lot more about the people at Linn and how they make the company work and who are the most important element in our operation.

LC >
2) It is sad to admit but, despite every attempt to make it survive, the vinyl seems come to an end. We vinyl lovers try to buy as many LPs as we can but things are getting harder every day.
There are rumours that even your glorious Linn Records label is stopping the production of LPs, such as OMR and Chesky.
May you explain how's the situation right now?
Do you think that, nowadays, vinyl is a nonsense?

As for the latest information on Linn records, Linn continues to release some material in vinyl but nothing lasts for ever and so we do have to anticipate that issuing new releases in vinyl will, unfortunately, come to an end eventually.
However this only helps to make the material already released on vinyl irreplaceable.
To allow people to better access this material and to preserve the precious quantity of music and performance unique to this format, Linn continues to develop our turntable sound components and, in particular, we continue to improve the LP12 with our latest and most advanced, upgrade kits with the Cirkus and Trampolin upgrades and, of course, our Lingo power supply, Ekos and Akito tonearms and our Arkiv and Klyde moving coil cartridges.
Our extraordinary new moving coil cartridge pre-amplifier is called the Linto. Information on all these products and in particular on the latest and newest Arkiv with its new boron cantilever and on the amazing new Linto are available on the Linn web site, along with details of our cartridge rebuild scheme, so you will see that Linn remains committed to supporting people who love and cherish and wish to maintain a precious record collection.

LC >
3) If vinyl has come to end, the Compact Disc format is undermined by the new media such has the DVD.
Do you believe it's time to abandon the 44.1 kHz sampling frequency in favour of the (promised) 96 kHz (with 24 bits)?
What do you think of the DVD?

The original Linn Sondek LP12 was introduced some 15 years or so after the launch of stereo long playing records. It took that long to find the way to do justice to the music captured on LP.
It is now some 15 years or so since the introduction of CD and Linn engineers now feel that we have learned enough to contemplate launching a Linn Sondek CD player.

We believe this latest innovative Linn technology will offer as revolutionary an experience as its Sondek name would suggest and, just as the original Linn Sondek LP12 transformed peoples' understanding of vinyl and hi fi systems, we believe the new LCD12 will transform peoples' perception about what is now going to become possible with the current CD format.
The new Sondek CD12 is designed to let people get the most from their CD collections (and the current CD format which will be the dominant high quality music format over the next 10-15 years), in the same way that the Sondek LP12 was designed to get the most music from LP collections (even although compact cassettes had been already launched and would clearly, one day, supersede the LP).

Every day brings a new proposal for a new Digital recording or play back format or standard.
Until the market can decide which one will succeed, Linn cannot address every single new idea as, unlike other specialist companies, Linn engineers only deploy innovative original circuit configurations, we do not merely implement standard design applications available from other major manufacturers.
We also write our own core software at Linn so the investment we must make in a new product is far too great for us to do anything other than to wait until we see which format or standard is proved to be the most successful.
Only when a new standard is established and shows it can stand the test of time and if it also meets our quality and performance requirements can we then begin to attempt to add extra value with Linn precision engineering.
This attitude is something that we share with our customers who normally are reluctant to invest in every new idea. Instead they prefer to place their emphasis on the enjoyment of their programme material and in building their software collections.
They also, like us, want high quality sound from products and formats which will stand the test of time.
So while Linn is very positive and enthusiastic about DVD we will not simply re-package a mass produced player from dismantled finished components and neither will be just implement a standard design from a mass market manufacturer.

For Linn to address DVD both we and our customers will want us to do something original and before we can attempt to try to do this we will have to see the final successful DVD format become established with a suitable compatible product, widely agreed, adopted, implemented and sold in a way that meets the regional requirements of industry and consumers around the world and plays all the discs formats and densities available.
DVD offers the potential for a much improved home cinema medium but it is not yet offering a music player that can outperform music on conventional CD.

We do not believe that simply increasing the sampling rate it or increasing the number of bits will, on its own, improve performance.
Whilst we would be very pleased to see a new superior Digital music playing standard agreed and accepted this process will take many years and we think that meanwhile there is no reason why existing CDs cannot be enjoyed to a much higher standard.
In conclusion we have a open approach to everything and welcome all ideas and await the end-user customers' decisions with interest.

LC >
4) Which kind of ideas that underlie beneath a good turntable design can be recycled for designing a good-sounding CD player?
In other words which are, according to you, the main drawbacks of the Compact Disc standard?

For technical information on the similarities between the CD12 and the LP12 or the way ideas and principles originally developed for Linn mechanical products were then applied to our other electronic products your readers should consult the article I wrote for the Institute of Electrical Engineers which will be posted on our web site within the next month.
This article gives you all the details. Information on our new CD12 will be released early in 1998.
At the moment we have only shown a technology demonstrator which we have built to prove to ourselves that we can realise the dream we have for this product in technical terms.
The judgement of customers and critics must await a demonstration of production products which are anticipated to cost around 12,000 per unit so this new technology is not cheap and it may well be 5 years before we can deliver significantly lower cost products that can use and benefit fully from the same technology.

LC >
5) Speaking of new technologies, it seems that Linn strongly believes in the Audio Video integration and in multiroom systems.
May you explain your views and plans regarding this issue?

The issue of audio video integration is a very complex one. In our view 90% of the cinema experience depends on sound quality.
The Linn web site information on our AV51 system gives customers ideas about our thinking but this question is such a big one that I would prefer to deal with it as a separate issue in a future interview that concentrates on this aspect of sound reproduction alone, so with your permission I will leave this subject at this time and will be pleased if I have your agreement to discuss this in the future.

LC >
6) The '90s seem the years when every old idea can be recycled to make new HiFi components. I'm referring to tubes and even to old turnatbles.
Old Garrard turntables seem all the rage today as well as some '50s and '60s tube amplifiers.
According to you, how much of this is just *hype* and *fashion*?

As the discovery of electro-magnetisim and the thermomionic valve owe so much to the Scottish geniuses Maxwell and Fleming, we are loath to criticise any product that uses valve technology! However I hope you will understand we have many reasons, including modern safety regulations, that mean that we do not feel their use is appropriate in modern Linn equipment. As the company that invented solid state switching and the first to institute micro-processor control, surface mount and low noise switching power supplies, we are focused on making our products and circuits more highly integrated with short and more direct signal pages. Customers who are interested in this very technical area should read the owners hand book for the Linto which I will have posted on www.linn.co.uk in response to this interesting question. I think this will help explain Linn's engineering objectives on these issues.

LC >
7) How do you consider the current trend of coupling high efficency loudspeakers with low power tube amps?

There are many ways to pursue a better sound. High efficiency loudspeakers have always been desirable and of course were essential in the past with low power tube amplifiers.
Linn products are not for everybody. We welcome and respect every opinion and in the tradition of the Age of the Scottish Enlightenment we welcome competition and believe this is healthy.
As a specialist company Linn addresses a particular niche in the market and satisfies iconoclastic customers who are looking for a specialist alternative.
Our customers are those who want innovative and precision engineering product executions that represents the very best that new and modern technology can offer, because they wish to access every ounce of musical information and exploit every last scintilla of innovation for maximum enjoyment from their home music reproduction and home cinema entertainment experience.
However Linn is not for everybody nor has it ever been and it never will and so we respect the fact that Linn customers are different and that other customers will prefer other approaches.

LC >
8) Finally, may you reveal some of your *new* ideas (products you're going to design or products you would like to make)?

The next new product from Linn will be a Linn offering of an integrated power amp and CD player similar to the Legro 3 product that Linn designed and made on an OEM basis for Loewe, the German manufacturer of superlative digital TV sets and systems.
The Linn version of this product will give customers a compact, powerful and simple to use system for the bedroom or kitchen at a very competitive price that can also be used as a main system or be connected to a multi-room system or act as a peripheral to an AV51 03 system controller to extend the range and scope of a Linn cinema system beyond the home theatre room to throughout the rest of the home.

Courtesy Ivor Tiefenbrun for TNT.

Copyright © 1997 Lucio Cadeddu

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