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August / September 2008
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Funk Vector Link Turntable
The joys of updating one's Linn Sondek!
Review By Malcolm Steward
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Funk Vector Link Vinyl LP Turntable  Allow me to explain: for the past decade or more my Linn hasn't actually been a Linn as such, having been Pink Linked with a repositioned DC motor — replacing the original AC unit — on a special top-plate and being powered by a battery supply in place of the standard electronics. This hybrid confection has served me well over the years and my interest was, naturally, aroused when Arthur Khoubessarian — formerly the Head of Pinkness at Pink Triangle and now Funkster-in-Chief at The Funk Firm — called me to ask whether I'd be interested in hearing the latest iteration of the Plink, as it had come to be known in my home.

Quite predictably, I replied in the affirmative. So, when the courier subsequently delivered an enormous but incredibly lightweight box of bits, I hastily opened it to discover the reason for this seeming incongruity: it turned out that every part of the kit bar the motor and small electronic control box was fashioned out of carbon fiber and balsa wood.

 

The Teardown & Build-Up
The assembled LP12 Vector Link looks like a high-tech Linn but beneath the Formula 1-style exterior it is a very different beast from the standard Sondek. And that is despite the fact that the kit sets out to enhance the deck's original virtues rather than turn it into something that it was never intended to be. This is a quality that I, like most LP12 users, can, I'm sure, readily appreciate.

So, having stripped the deck until it was no more than a naked plinth, I began the transformation of my number 2 Linn into a fully-equipped Vector Link. Should you feel uncertain about so radically modifying your turntable, you can pick and choose from various constituent parts of the kit, but, frankly, why bother? If you're sitting, tools in hand, with your deck in a jig, why not go the whole hog? At $3200 for the complete kit, it isn't as expensive a move as bringing an older Linn fully up to its latest ‘official' specification, and, let's face it, what other turntable could you buy for that amount that would come close to competing with an LP12? You have nothing to fear but fear itself, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously proclaimed when once asked for a soundbyte.

First to be fitted was the $780 Clarity carbon fiber top plate. This, says Funk, improves on the steel original that it replaces because it more effectively filters vibration in the structure and simultaneously more neutrally supports the sub-chassis and platter. It no longer houses the motor because that is removed to the sub-chassis — of which, more later — although it is cut for the mounting of a motor for those who aren't going the whole way down the Vector path. The Pink Link kit repositioned the DC motor at the bottom left of the top plate to counter the cartridge wiggle problems that Pink Triangle initially identified with the original placement of the AC motor at the rear left of the Linn plate. You can read all the gory details at their website.

However, for those venturing fully into Vector-land, there's the $1290, two-speed K-Drive motor and drive kit, which is optimized to allow the motor be mounted on the deck's sub-chassis and drive the sub-platter through a belt supported by three pulleys. Unlike the Pink Link supply, this is not a battery design but a tiny box containing a Class A, single ended, low-distortion output stage to power the DC motor, and various circuits to provide frictional compensation, reduce mains interference and deliver current-derived servo operation.

All of which promises to deliver a smoother and more stable performance from the motor, which means that it can now be transferred to the $1260 Balsa and carbon fibre sub-chassis and armboard, the Charm, which the designer considers to be the ideal platform for it. Funk warns, however, that stiff tone-arm cables can effectively limit much of the good that the new sub-chassis offers, and offers an $800 Flexi-Link cable for use with arms such as the Ittok and SME. That wasn't a problem in this instance because I was using a Naim uni-pivot tone-arm which comes with a suitably flexible lead arrangement that took but a moment or two to dress so as not to influence the suspension movement.

The sub-chassis, in which an end-grain slice of Balsa is sandwiched between two sheets of carbon fibre and then CNC-machined into a tear-drop shape, acts as the housing for the motor and the main bearing, and provides pillars onto which one fits the additional ‘Vectoring' pulleys to provide the three-point belt drive system. Despite its lack of weight, the unit seems inordinately resilient while being able to damp vibration more effectively than any steel confection (say its makers — I'm not a materials scientist so I can only hope to substantiate such claims by listening. The closest I came to a scientific examination was rapping it with my knuckles and trying to bend it. It neither rang nor did it bend or break.) According to the Funk Firm, the stiffness of the carbon fibre holds all the attached parts firmly in their allotted places while the Balsa core provides the damping required in the system. Early sub-chassis were partnered with a separate arm board of a similar Balsa and carbon fibre construction. These were available cut for Linn, Rega, and SME tone-arms or could be bought as blanks for you to have cut to your own requirements. The Funk Firm discovered subsequently, however, that bonding the arm-board and sub-chassis together provided a radical improvement to the sound and so now only supplies complete Charm units cut for whichever arm the user specifies at the time of order. Apart from affixing your tone-arm rigidly to the sub-chassis and providing an element of damping for any vibrations trying to gain access through this path, the unit adds the final flourish to the racy appearance that all this kit imparts to your turntable.

All that is left to mention about this Vector arrangement is the asymmetric three-pulley belt drive system from which the design gets its name. To quote the makers: "Three pulleys mean that rather than being yanked from only one direction while  at the same time being pulled, the platter is now ‘encouraged' to spin from three contact points on the side of the sub-platter. This fundamentally new approach to driving a deck provides so much more control in two ways. Firstly it removes the yanking force and secondly it applies a large control force around the platter so resisting any wavering forces, which otherwise fuzzes up your reproduction." I know I have no wish to be yanked while I'm trying to reproduce so that all sounds like a good thing to me.

The final component in this high-tech assemblage is the $120 Achromat, which provides the all-important link (or ‘interface' if you're a sucker for marketing speak) between the record and the turntable. This replaces the traditional Linn felt mat and does away with the pleasures of trying to decide which way up the latter sounds best! I have been using this 5mm thick vinyl and air bubble confection on my Plink for the past year or two and feel no inclination to return to the felt mat. About my only reservation is that the one I had — an early sample — was a rather lurid shade of blue but that was no great problem as my Linn, when not in use, sits beneath a vintage smoked black cover, which hides all manner of ills. Regardless, I requisitioned the black review sample and returned the blue one in its place, because, as I'd been taught in school, fair exchange is no robbery.

Putting a Linn (back) together is usually a task for a trained retailer or someone with a fair degree of experience. It is not, as I've said many times before, rocket science but some familiarity with its principles and set-up can be invaluable. For instance, it's easy to waste a day chasing your tail trying to get the sub-chassis to bounce and never achieve that perfect oscillation when all that's required is a fresh set of top-grommets and changing perhaps one of the three springs. I'd say, if you're not experienced with the process then let someone who is do the job for you.

 

The Sound
So now, I guess it's time to tell you how it sounded in the context of my familiar Naim DBL tri-amp system, and see whether it lived up to its maker's claim of retaining the qualities of "one of the finest transcription turntables ever, at any price, against all comers" (Funk's description of the standard LP12, not mine) especially its ability to ‘follow the tune'. If it failed to live up to these promises, I at least had the comfort that what I'd done could be undone and my deck returned to its un-Funked state. And if it did what it claimed, there was nothing about which to worry.

A selection of piano recordings served to demonstrate that the platter was indeed rotating at the correct speed and with formidable stability. Notes had rock solid, secure pitch and delightfully exposed envelope shape that imparted a convincing sense of realism to recordings. Left-hand passages also revealed a total absence of the upper-mid-bass coloration for which the Linn was once criticised by its detractors: the Vector's lower frequencies — indeed, its entire frequency spectrum — displayed an outstanding clarity and freedom from coloration.

An acknowledged strength of the LP12 is its ability to ‘follow the tune' and the Vector preserved and, in fact, enhanced this. It displayed an amazing aptitude for tracking the melodic and harmonic development of music no matter how subtle that may be. It was particularly adroit at following delicate harmonies and making abundantly obvious the relationships between different instrumental lines. Aiding it in this respect was the LP12's inherent dexterity with timing and rhythmic information, which the overt ‘clarity' of the Funk Vector seemed again to augment and amplify. The modified turntable's lack of clutter and background ‘noise' laid bare every note, rendering the music with close to the lucidity of a master tape — a recognized attribute of the former Pink Triangle turntables, although these, I felt, never had the Linn's ability to convey timing information. The same qualities, furthermore, allowed the deck to provide genuinely realistic dynamic contrasts: this was especially noticeable when the music dropped rapidly to silence and the abrupt absence of sound was little short of startling.

The beauty of the Funk Vector LP12 is that it managed this type of high-resolution performance without ever sounding sterile or clinical. Its portrayal always seemed musically coherent and engaging. And therein is the appeal of this modification: it truly seems to make the LP12 more LP12-like, bringing its positive qualities fully to the fore while suppressing those that its detractors chose to focus upon. It still plays wonderful music but it has a good tidy round — thankfully without making Johnny Thunders sound like Johnny Mathis — before doing so.

All the above was apparent on the first listening session and I was, quite frankly, amazed by the deck's abilities. However, the following day, I sat listening with a friend and industry colleague and we were both completely transfixed by its masterly performance... after a twelve-hour session only interrupted briefly by an interlude to eat some dinner.

We began with The White Stripes album Icky Thump [Third Man XLLP271] and it was alarming just how heavy footed Meg White's drumming was. The fifteen-inch units in the DBLs were working overtime to convey the speed, slam and impact of her bass drum. The sound was not just a low frequency thump but an exercise in inflicting percussive damage. It was glorious in its control, though: the impact of the beater on the skin, the boom as air was violently propelled across the room, and then the rapid decay into silence before her foot pushed the pedal and again released that monstrous but thoroughly magnificent THUUUD!

This imperious weight, however, was confined solely to the bass drum: other parts of the kit showed appropriate energy, note shape and weight. For example, cymbals were delicate and could shimmer when allowed and the snare and toms exhibited fitting body and speed — both attack and decay. Jack White's guitars had that lovely, rich, vintage humbucker timbre thickening the sound on the tail of crystalline leading edges. His playing style came across as fluently as did the guitar's scratchy yet fat tone.

The shaker on "300MPH Torrential Outpour Blues" demonstrated that this deck conveyed subtle information just as successfully as it conveyed the momentous impact of a kick drum. Not only was it impressive in the way the instrument was rendered quietly with respect to other instrumentation but the manner in which it consistently held its position in the soundstage and maintained a near palpable presence throughout.

The next album hurriedly placed on the Achromat was Barry Reynolds I Scare Myself [Island ILPS 9713] and the first track played was "Guilt", which brilliantly showcases Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare's adroitness as a world-class rhythm section. The first thing we noticed was the contrast between Dunbar and Meg White's approach to a kit: even though Sly is a cool Caribbean dude, his playing appears far more technically measured, precise and controlled. The track begins with Shakespeare's sinuous, stygian bass, Sticky Thompson's delicate percussion and Reynolds' guitar playing chiming harmonics to lull the listener into a false sense of security before Dunbar lets out a fearsome, eye-watering crack on the snare drum, which he then continues to repeat throughout the song. Although you can them anticipate subsequent strikes each still comes as such a surprise that you nearly fall off your perch whenever they manifest. While all these blockbuster dynamics are happening, the bass and guitar provide contrast by weaving subtle melodic patterns around each other.

 "Times Square" perhaps best shows how well the turntable is musically grounded, with its perfect intonation and the sure-footed way it integrates the different instrumental lines and rhythms, along with the gracefulness with which it handles Reynolds' fragile but pitch perfect vocals. In truth, though, any track on this album would serve to demonstrate the magic that occurred at Compass Point when rock and reggae collided, and when the best of British session players encountered Sly and Robbie's gut wrenching riddims. Listening to the players bouncing off one another as they concoct this fascinating cross-cultural stew is sheer delight. What was perhaps just as impressive, though, in hi-fi terms, were the tangibility and three-dimensionality of the voices and instruments arranged in front of the listener. This type of staging precision was not what one typically ever expected from the LP12.

Some albums one plays not to intellectualize over but merely to decide whether the turntable sounds right or wrong. One such in my collection is Rockin' Jimmy and the Brothers of the Night'... by the light of the moon! [Sonet SNTF 857], in particular the track "Little Rachel".  This song either rocks or it doesn't: there are no two ways about it. On the Funk Vector it boogied like there was no tomorrow, the driving beats perhaps made all the more emphatic by the total lack of vinyl roar and surface noise that seems to be one of this turntable's hallmarks, and the crisp portrayal of the drums and bass that wanted nothing for realism.

Guitar exhibited similarly clearly defined leading edge information along with a full-blooded tonality and harmonic breadth. The track's timing was as tight as a nut and the music seemingly drove along at a far brisker pace than its written tempo might suggest. Again, though, the overwhelming sensation was one of quite staggering realism, of that rare ability to suspend disbelief and enable you to imagine that the band is playing mere feet in front of you.

 

In Conclusion
The Vector LP12's abilities with tunes and timing are exceptional, and when you mix that with the relevant hi-fi aspects of the performance it's not hard to imagine why the deck can nearly fool you into thinking you're at a gig rather than sitting at home. Its major strength, however, is that rather than make you think you're hearing sounds you've not heard before, this deck lets you hear music you've not heard before, even on albums you've listened to a hundred times. It promotes a deeper understanding, for example, of why a musician plays a particular passage or phrase a certain way. Ultimately the Funk Vector Link fulfils its manufacturer's objectives by making the LP12's performance much more LP12-like. It's very much a music rather than hi-fi driven presentation whose outstanding dynamics, clarity and resolution ought to help many listeners greatly "Enjoy The Music".

 

Manufacturer Comment
Modifying a competitor's design exposes one to many and various attacks: the original manufacturer won't be best pleased at the prospect of being upstaged; enraged owners might see such an act as sacrilegious and finally there are the skeptics who believe no one but the original manufacturer can coax improvements in performance.

Such considerations already raise the bar higher than would exist if the pretender merely created a fresh, new, in-house design. As if that wasn't enough, going back as it does over four decades, how many products, in any market, have achieved quite the reputation of the LP12, never mind had it guarded quite as jealously as LP12's manufacturer has?

Surely then such a move to tamper would be tantamount to commercial suicide?

Mitigation arrives if you, the designer, understand the ethos behind the product in question, apply your skills not only with sensitivity but also as if the design were your own and with absolute integrity. Do that and morally, at least, you can hold your head high. Except, of course, all that amounts to little for the acid test remains: Evaluated alone in the face of minute criticism and pernicketty scrutiny? How does it sound?

Well, Vector Link for LP12 is now some four years old. It has therefore stood the test of time.  It is the first and original 21st century mod for the LP12.

Without exception, it has received but one consensus of opinion from users and reviewers alike, which is encapsulated by the words in the conclusion to this review: "the music" keeps smiling through.

I'm glad you like the design so much. Thank you,

The Funk Firm

 

Specifications
Platter Mat: Achromat
Suspension: 3-Point-Subchassis as per Linn LP12 but using CHARM
Motor: 3-pullley drive and sub-chassis mounted DC motor
Power Supply: External K-drive supply delivering 33 and 45 rpm
Clarity: Carbon fiber top plate ready-cut for the Vector's 3-Pulley drive system but
            also accommodates AC / DC motors in the original position.
Charm: Carbon fiber and balsa sub-chassis and armboard available cut for Linn,
            Naim, Rega, SME, or blank for cutting to specific requirements.

Complete upgrade kit for Linn Sondek LP12: $3200
Clarity carbon fiber top plate: $780
K-Drive motor and drive kit $1290
Charm sub-chassis and armboard $1260
Flexi-Link tone-arm cable $800
Achromat platter mat $120

 

Company Information
The Funk Firm
The Scriptorium
63 Central Avenue
Telscombe Cliffs
BN10 7NB
United Kingdom

Voice: +44(0)1273 585042 
E-mail: info@thefunkfirm.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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