FOR vinyl aficionados, its products have been the Holy Grail of record players for more than four decades.
Now, a Scottish firm revered by generations of audiophiles has devised the world’s most exclusive turntable in conjunction with another of the nation’s most historic brands.
With a product aimed not only to wealthy music lovers, but those who cherish their whisky, Linn has launched a limited edition run of record players made using Highland Park casks.
In an age when increasing numbers of people are listening to music via compressed digital downloads on mobile phones, the two iconic brands hope the luxury product will allow an elite few to enjoy the best possible sound from their 33s. Those behind the turntable claim the use of the distillery’s Spanish oak casks offers a density to the overall design of its Sondek LP12 model, ensuring stability and reducing distortion.
The author Ian Rankin, a long-standing Linn fan, said the hi-fi was a “beautiful” object which would be sought after worldwide, but cast doubt over whether it was truly better than any of the firm’s other turntables.
The machine, limited to an exclusive run of 40, is a far cry from Linn’s humble beginnings. Founded in 1972 by designer Ivor Tiefenbrun from a factory in Castlemilk, the company soon hit upon the revolutionary Sondek LP12, which became coveted by major recording artists like David Bowie, as well as Prince Charles.
The model set in motion a business approach, which, to this day, aims to produce hi-fi systems for “discriminating people for whom sound quality matters”.
Whereas the East Renfrewshire firm sold its players for an affordable £80 in the early 1970s, those wishing to pick it up its latest model may require a small mortgage. Each of the limited edition Sondek LP12 turntables cost £25,000 – a price which includes a custom-made bottle of 40-year-old Highland Park single malt.
Angus Lawrie, Linn’s marketing director, said: “The wood from the casks is lovely, with lots of little nail marks and blemishes – it’s just fabulous looking. When we used it for a plinth, it sounded great.
“We use oak normally, and the Spanish oak gives the same performance as the oak we currently use, but sonically it’s interesting. When it first came along, we were really interested in how it would work, and our engineers were glad to confirm it was equally as good, if not slightly better, than other wood. The density of it helps that.”
He added: “The interest has been absolutely huge so far. We’re just back from the US where there was a lot of excitement over it, and retailers from Japan and China have been entranced by it.”
Gerry Tosh, global marketing manager for Highland Park, said: “Not only have we helped create a great looking piece of kit, the density of our hand-selected Spanish oak casks has also added to the already impressive sound quality.”
Rankin, the Rebus author and a former deputy editor of Hi-Fi Review, has used the same Linn turntable since 1988.
He believes the latest iteration of the company’s famous product will generate significant interest abroad, but said he remains unconvinced how the use of casks impact on the sound quality.
“I’ve had the same Linn for 25 years, with the same arm and very possibly the same cartridge, I’m not sure,” he told Scotland on Sunday.
“When I worked on the hi-fi mag, I used to champion vinyl over CDs, and we all had Linns – that was the reference deck. That’s why I bought mine.
“The new special edition is a beautiful thing which comes with all kinds of extras, and it will get Linn noticed in major markets overseas.
“You have two iconic products, and if you put them together, you have something you can take out to Japan, China, Russia and the US as the best of Scottish.”
He added: “The proof is in the listening. Unless you put two turntables side by side and do a blind listening test it’s hard to say.
“There are so many other factors that make a system sound better before you get to the type of wood.”
Vinyl is continuing to enjoy a resurgence with new generations. The Official Charts Company has reported that in the first six months of 2013 the British public bought almost the same number of vinyl albums sold in the whole of 2012 – around 324,000 vinyl records.
“It’s still a tiny, tiny proportion of overall music sales, but what is gratifying is that more turntables were sold last year than CD players,” said Rankin. “A younger audience seems to be coming to vinyl, so when the Arctic Monkeys or Franz Ferdinand release a new album, it’s pressed on vinyl as well as other formats.
“When you go into record shops now, it’s not just old fogeys like me – there are 18 and 19-year-olds as well when they’re not raiding the attic looking for their parents’ vinyl from years ago.”