JPGPDFPNG?zip

Blog

Get the latest from the team

The LP12 top-plate, a key component in one of the world’s most loved turntables

Posted by Peter Swain February 4th, 2014

Well, our beloved LP12 has evolved in many and various ways over the past 40 plus years. Over this time, many of us have heard the sonic improvements that have resulted from improvements to the main bearing, power supplies, sub-chassis, arms, cartridges, plinths and baseboards etc as Linn continue with their policy of continuous development and improvement. Yet over this time the stainless steel top-plate has changed very little!

Yes, it’s fractionally thinner now than in the early days. The suspension bolts are better. The threaded holes for the speed adjustment screws evolved to M3, and a stud was added to the top-plate in the motor corner to help with consistent set-up and hence performance.

But why?

Well, it turns out that controlling vibrational energy in that part of the top-plate is critical to performance. In the early days, the only way to ensure correct fit of the top-plate to the plinth was to bend the top-plate in such a way that when the central bolts were secured underneath against the wire strap (cross-member), the top-plate pulled down against the plinth and rattles around the edge of the top-plate and plinth were minimised. However, for the motor corner minimising rattles was not enough. To realise the full performance of the deck, no rattles there could be tolerated. And so it’s fair to say there’s a bit of skill, and maybe there’s a bit of an art to the correct dressing/bending of the top plate to achieve this.

Karmen_1

The corner stud came about to enable more uniform, reliable, reproducible dressing of the top-plate in this area so critical to performance. The stud in itself, in my opinion, does not make the LP12 sound better, merely facilitates a reduction in the likely variability in set-up due to a rattling top-plate.

So, the stainless steel studded top-plate has been with us a long time and because it is such an elegant and effective solution, it has remained virtually unchanged.

There have been attempts in the past to improve on it. Funk produced a carbon fibre top-plate with other modifications many years ago, but really there have been no significant alternatives until the Tiger Paw Khan came along a couple of years ago. As many of us know, this development has caused much debate and interest on internet forums, with many owners deciding through demonstrations, that they preferred it to the original stainless steel top-plate. I myself have been a major advocate of the Khan with its additional mounting points and machined from aluminium construction and its bead blasted finish. However, there were a few instances where opinions varied, and also as just with the stainless steel top-plate; set-up is key to the Khan’s performance. The Karmen is no different in this respect.

Karmen_2

Set-up/dressing of any LP12 top-plate is just so important. What initially appear to be on the face of it, insignificant changes in dressing of a particular top-plate, really can greatly affect the sound of the LP12, and so this is why there is huge interest amongst owners as to the differences between the original stainless steel top-plate and other more recent offerings such as the Khan and the Karmen. This interest is elevated still further because, and I think it is fair and reasonable to say, they share some considerable history and consequently DNA!

I will also say at this point, that I know, respect and get on well with both companies concerned here. Tangerine the manufacturer of the Karmen and Tiger Paw who manufacturer the Khan. I merely wish to offer an objective opinion and observations of what I saw and heard when I compared the Karmen and Khan.

The Karmen comes in a well presented box and complete with all the mounting accessories; studs, metlock nuts washers, Loctite and a pin tool for tightening the studs into their threaded sockets. Also included are two broadly triangular clamps which secure to the top-plate support strip in a small and consequently well defined area. It almost looks as if the clamps have lands.

Derek Jenkins from Tangerine took me through the set-up process which was little different to that of the Khan. However, it was apparent that the clamping forces used to hold the Karmen to the top-plate needed to be absolutely minimal and just enough to secure the top-plate without rattles or deformation of the top-plate itself.

Karmen_3

Once the Karmen was installed to Derek’s satisfaction, he stepped back and I continued the build of the LP12 in my normal way.

Once fully built, with the speed, suspension, arm and cartridge correctly adjusted, the LP12 with its run-in Dynavector 10X5 and Akito 2B was set side by side next to my fully standard and equally run-in 10X5, Akito 2B Lingo 3 LP12, otherwise identical excepting its stainless steel top-plate.

The system I’d chosen to make the comparisons was the Linn Uphorik, feeding a Linn Klimax Kontrol via Silvers interconnects and then on to a Linn Klimax Chakra 500 Twin. Chord Odyssey and a pair of Kudos Cardea C20s.

I believe both Mark also from Tangerine and Derek were taken a back as to how good this system sounded. It was perfect for the job and we were playing the standard LP12 with its stainless steel top-plate!

Karmen_5

We played a couple of things to warm up and then I decided to settle on the Keb Mo album, using the first two tracks: Every Morning and Tell Everybody I know for most of the comparisons. Muting the Klimax Kontrol I switched the LP12s and listened to the Karmen deck. Hmmm! Well, it was clear there were substantial differences: I felt the diction and detail was improved, somehow I felt closer and the vocal seemed more real, more as if he were in the room, the musical flow was really good and my foot was tapping (a good sign). The pace and timing particularly in the bass seemed better, more coherent…. This deck was definitely boogieing!

Now to the most eagerly anticipated comparison, a straight run-in between the Tiger Paw Khan and the Karmen: The same cartridges, same tracking weights as verified by my just calibrated Clearaudio Weightwatcher, the same Akito 2B arms, same sub-chassis and even the same wood finish plinths. The very same Lingo 3 and matted mat were swapped/transferred for the bake off. So, effectively about as a level playing field as one can possibly get. Both decks had been played to warm up their respective cartridges etc and so there was absolutely no place to hide so to speak. – I said to Derek and Mark, that I’d tell them exactly as I found the differences, no holds barred and may the best top-plate win.

Karmen_6

Starting with the Khan, dear old Keb Mo was just singing and bopping along really nicely, very enjoyable. Great presence and very musical indeed. It’s really surprising sometimes how good a Lingo deck can sound!

Muting the volume having listened to the test tracks, I then settled down to listen to the Karmen deck…….. How does one put this in to words! Well, Keb Mo was more in the room, I felt I was able to hear the depth and detail in his voice more clearly. It appeared to me that more information and more music was being resolved from the grooves. His diction seemed better, it was even easier to listen to, follow and enjoy the lyrics, and yet none of this detracted from the musical flow, which was even better. Bass notes were more clearly defined. They just seemed to start and stop more faithfully! The tune was just so easy to follow. One has to say that the Karmen I heard yesterday was uncommonly good. Above what I had expected!

Is it worth the extra money? Well, the asking price of the Karmen at £1395.00 is £600.00 more than the Khan’s asking price of £795.00. Its surface finish is superb and it is available in anodised black which closely resembles the front panel finish on the XS, Classic and 500 series Naim equipment. There is also silver for the more classic look. Very nice, but this could buy a lot of vinyl of course! However, overall I feel that with its looks and sound it is very much worthwhile investigating and I recommend that anyone interested should come and have a comparative demonstration and judge for themselves.

In summary, all three top-plates can and do sound fantastic when properly fitted, and given that there have been a few doubters of the Khan when compared to the stainless steel in the past, the arrival of the Karmen is a perfect opportunity for those who wish to re-evaluate their top-plate to do so now!

Best regards,
Peter

Peter Swain

Peter Swain is the owner and founder of Cymbiosis. He has been in the Hi-Fi Industry over 35 years and spends much of his time tweaking turntables, setting up systems and is involved with every part of Cymbiosis life.

9 comments on this post

  1. David Haslett says:

    The question has to be will Peter be upgrading his personal LP12 ?

  2. Richard Olsen says:

    Nice review Peter and the end results in either black or silver look stunning.

    Richard

  3. Stewart Elliot says:

    Is a non-stainless steel Linn top plate likely to be produced in the near term future?

    I am happy with my steel top plate and I agree with Richard,the Karmen looks very nice leaving aside any sonic differences.

    Interesting article on the merits of all the options Peter.

  4. Peter Swain says:

    Thanks for your comments gentlemen. I’m pleased you found my little piece interesting.

    Stewart, I’m unaware of any Linn top-plate developments currently. However, I’m sure they are fully aware of the Karmen and Khan.

    BTW. I’ll post some pictures on the Linn and Naim Forums later, of an LP12 I built with a Karmen and Harban/Woodsong plinth yesterday. In context with my client’s system it sounds and looks stunning!

    Peter

  5. Chris Dolan says:

    Hss anyone preferred the SS yet?

  6. Ian R says:

    Hi Peter Begs the question – is it not time for a Khan Too (2) – I’m sure TP can MK2 the Khan….

  7. Stewart Elliot says:

    Further to my March 1st entry, I now have a Karmen,in black,fitted courtesy of Peter last week.

    It was immediately apparent the music had a clarity missing from the Linn top plate fitted LP12.A bit of Brubeck and Malia was sufficient to convince my ears that I was getting the bounce and drive LP12’S are renowned for but with a heightened degree of clarity.

    Stewart

  8. James Mather says:

    Interesting stuff Peter, as usual. For those on a budget, which first. Linn Kore sub-chassis/armboard or Tiger Paw Khan top plate? Ultimately, a Kore + Khan isn’t that much more than a Karmen alone. Good wishes and hoping you’re settling into your we gaff!

  9. Nicholas Lakoumentas says:

    It will be interesting to see (hear) how the Stiletto does in comparison, plinth and top plate in aluminium might be a paradigm shift for our favourite table.

Leave a comment

Please enter a name Please enter a name
Please enter a valid email address Please enter a valid email address
Please enter your message