High-end audio design is rarely iconic. It can be ‘striking’ but often lacks the Bauhausian simplicity of form and function that helped make products like the Apple iPod meaningful. Linn’s Sondek LP12 turntable is a notable exception. And that classic turntable was an unaffordable object of desire for a British design undergraduate in the 1980s.
That student was Jonathan Paul Ive. Sir Jony Ive (as he’s better known today) is one of if not the best-known industrial designers of this century, whose ‘hits’ include decades of iconic Apple products and – more recently – his new design company, LoveFrom, designed the coronation emblem for King Charles III and now works with Ferrari. Ive was considered the most influential person in British culture in a 2004 BBC poll and is the incumbent Chancellor of the Royal College of Art.
Having Jony Ive contact Linn’s CEO, Gilad Tiefenbrun, to say how much he likes the turntable design is one hell of a validation. But it went deeper than that, with the two striking a partnership to release a strictly limited version of that Linn turntable, the Sondek LP12-50. The 250 models celebrating 50 years of the Linn LP12 cost ￡50,000/$60,000.
Unleashing an industrial designer with such a portfolio might result in a very different product from the original. But, as a testament to the upgradable Sondek LP12, Ive couldn’t find much to change. Starting with a Linn Klimax LP12, LoveFrom’s most prominent changes are to the switch (now flush with the top plate), dustcover hinges (now able to hold the cover at any angle) and rounded-off edges to the top plate and arm plate. The plinth moves from the traditional solid hardwood plinth to a highly compressed layered beech called Bedrok. On paper, at least, Bedrok reads like Panzerholz. The Linn Sondek LP12-50 can have a natural dark wood or pure white finish. The back plate of the plinth sports an aluminium commemorative panel.
I have yet to gain experience with the Linn Sondek LP12-50. I cannot say how it sounds or even how it sounds relative to the existing Klimax LP12. In reviewing my reviews, I’ve not logged that many hours with the latest version of the Klimax LP12, so any such impressions of its performance I could produce would be wildly inaccurate renders of a previous top-spec version of the turntable.
I also don’t know how many of these changes will filter to future versions of the Linn Sondek LP12. It is pure speculation, but the flush aluminium switch, hinges, and Bedrok plinth are all elements that could be a part of the existing Sondek LP12 upgrade path. However, the rounded-off top plate, arm plate, and matching plinth might be harder to retrofit to older designs. ?One of the great benefits of the Linn Sondek LP12 is updating it to the latest standard and upgraded. That is unlikely ever to change.
Updating early Sondeks is a Ship of Theseus/grandfather’s axe/Trigger’s Broom thought experiment, but it’s still possible. If updating a 1973 turntable requires changing every part, is it still a turntable from 1973?
That Sir Jony Ive should pick the Linn Sondek LP12 as his first piece of post-Apple industrial design is telling. And it says the Linn Sondek LP12-50 is a love letter to an iconic turntable by one of the most influential industrial designers ever. The strictly limited run means it costs almost twice the cost of the current top-end Klimax LP12. However, this is recognition far beyond the high-end audio world. It puts one part of the hi-fi world on a design par with the Eames Lounge Chair or the Braun ET66 calculator. It’s an iconic product already so well executed that even an industrial designer who helped turn Apple from a moderately successful computer company into a half-trillion-dollar brand could only ‘tickle up’ the Linn Sondek LP12.
However, all that inspires little more than extra saltiness among audio’s many gatekeepers. They only want to replay the 1980s over and over again. The Linn Sondek LP12-50 isn’t for them. Given their track record, they will be the first to buy products inspired by the Linn Sondek LP12-50 anyway. They don’t admit to this publicly.
Instead, this introduces quality turntables to a design-led community that will find a lot to like here. The Linn Sondek LP12-50 has already appeared on The Financial Times, Wallpaper, Fast Company, and The Verge sites. This alone opens the audio world to new markets and potential new customers. That hasn’t happened in audio for decades, and that’s a good thing for all of us who love good sound.
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