Physically, there are several changes between Lingo 3 and Lingo 4. The main circuit board now sits under the Sondek’s sub-chassis (LP12 aficionados with long memories might recall this as the place where the Valhalla power supply used to be mounted), the motor needs to be replaced, with the speed reference eye mounted close to the new 12V motor, and the old power supply box gets radically slimmed down to be just a nondescript switch-mode power supply that is designed to be hidden from view. Like every step in the development of the Sondek LP12, the Lingo 4 is entirely retrofittable, although it requires the work of a Linn-trained dealer to install and set it up. It’s also likely that if you turn up at said dealer with a fully original turntable from 45 years ago, there are other upgrades along the way that might be more practical. Like a whole new turntable. On the other hand, any plinth made after 1984 (unless it was left in a sauna for a few years) could be brought to 2018 specification… there are almost no other products anywhere in the consumer electronics world that could make the same claim.
As Linn has long made a big thing of not letting end-users mess around inside the turntable, describing the installation process is academic. Actually, it’s like taking the turntable to a health spa. Trained vinyl-spinning masseuses will take your LP12, upgrade its Lingo, re-set the deck, and it comes back looking (and sounding) invigorated. You just pick up the tab!
The thing about upgrades to the LP12 is there are so many of them in circulation. Linn has sold well over 100,000 Sondek LP12s over the years, and while there will be many that are no longer in use, or just acting like the vinyl equivalent of an old Mercedes 190E and still slogging on without repair or reset, there are tens of thousands still current, well-maintained, and being used in good systems. The Lingo 4 makes things easy for those tens of thousands of decks… it’s upgrade time! Unless the LP12 already has a Radikal, or has some fundamental flaws that need addressing first, the Lingo 4 is simply a ‘must-have’ addition to the LP12. Even if you have changed so many parts in the LP12 that it almost isn’t a Linn anymore, the performance of the Lingo 4 might make you think about returning to the Glaswegian fold. It’s that significant.
The weird thing about the Lingo 4 is that notionally at least all it does is make the turntable slightly more precise in terms of spinning at 33.33rpm and 45 rpm. On the one hand, this is not rocket surgery and we have been spinning records at their correct speed since the 1950s. On the other, spinning records at the correct speed is precisely what the LP12 is already very good at doing, so we should be gilding the lily here. We’re not.
Here’s how it works, take a dozen LPs to a dealer to compare two otherwise identical LP12s – one with a Lingo 3 and one with a Lingo 4. Play the first record on the LP12/Lingo 3 for a couple of minutes, replay the intro for 20 seconds or so, play it again on the LP12/Lingo 4. Take out the next LP, repeat the process going back from the Lingo 4 to the Lingo 3. Then wonder why you brought the other 10 albums.
Sonically, everything just gets that bit tauter and more focussed. ‘It’s All Right With Me’ by Marty Paich Big Band [The New York Scene,Discovery LP] was a perfect example of this. The horn section was just more impactful, more upfront, and more exciting. All the while, the rhythm section suddenly became that bit more easy to define (not a simple task; bandleader Paich on the piano, Scott Ledaro on bass, and Mel Lewis on drums are very much ‘in the pocket’ and play as a unit, and being able to tease out and separate bass from left hand piano is no mean feat). That holds from beautifully recorded string quartets to thin sounding Rolling Stones albums; what was on the album was not changed tonally, but presented with pinpoint precision. I can imagine some of the analogue die-hards holding out on this digitally-precise encroachment on their analogue replay system… but only until they audition the Lingo 4. This doesn’t fundamentally change the tone of the LP12, rather it extracts more from the records you play on the LP12; if you have spent the last decades not liking what the Linn Sondek does on ideological grounds, the Lingo 4 probably won’t be the tipping point.