Unsatisfied with the performance of the hi-fi system he purchased shortly after getting married, Ivor started to experiment and discovered that that the turntable was being adversely influenced by the changes in sound pressure of the loudspeakers. He established this fact simply by putting the turntable outside his living room and listening with the signal leads passing under the door. It sounded much better and much more musically accurate and involving than when the turntable was located inside the same room.
At that time he was working for his father Jack Tiefenbrun’s engineering company, Castle Precision Engineering Ltd., so he set out to use that resource to make a turntable that wasn’t adversely influenced by the loudspeakers. With the assistance of his father, who designed a very quiet-running central bearing, and a group of skilled colleagues, he succeeded in making an LP record playing turntable that was immune to acoustic feedback from the loudspeakers. It was also precision-engineered to a very high standard to enable more music information to be extracted from the record groove
The turntable, which he eventually named the Linn Sondek LP12, looked the same as most other turntables, but almost every component had a different purpose. Crucially, the suspension was optimised for acoustic isolation instead of shock resistance. With it, Ivor proved for the first time that a better turntable improved the sound of any hi-fi system. Obvious in retrospect, and taken for granted today, the notion of “garbage in, garbage out” (also called “source-first”) in a hi-fi system was a challenge to the conventional wisdom of the day, which held that the loudspeaker was the most important part of the hi-fi system.
Aware of the great scope for loss in the record playback process, and the impossibility of ensuring a perfect result, Ivor designed his turntable in a modular way, so that all the key elements could be developed and improved over time, taking advantage of new innovations and technologies, and retrofitted. This meant that both existing and new customers could benefit as his company Linn’s knowledge and capability improved. A modular, upgradeable and expandable system architecture fostered sustainable long-term relationships with customers and enabled the LP12 to have the longest possible model life. It is in fact still in production at Linn today, although virtually every part has been improved and upgraded from the original design.
In 1974, Linn launched the Isobarik loudspeaker, and patented its isobaric loading principle, which allows a cleaner, lower-distortion and extended low frequency response from a much smaller speaker cabinet. It also offered Linn’s first Aktiv Speaker System, meaning the audio signal was separated, and matched to each individual drive unit within the loudspeaker by an active crossover before being amplified by its own power amplifier. This allowed each amplifier to work far more efficiently because, thanks to the removal of out-of-band signal from its input, it only amplified what was necessary for a particular drive unit. The amplifier had a direct, low impedance connection to the drive unit, providing greater control over the drive unit’s motion. The result was audibly far superior to the prevailing passive crossovers of the day, which split the audio signal after it had been amplified using physically large and electrically lossy filters and, as a consequence, introduced cross-band interference that bled treble to the bass drive units and bass to the treble drive units in the loudspeaker. All subsequent Linn loudspeakers allowed customers to follow or upgrade to the Aktiv design approach.
From the very start, Linn pioneered A/B demonstrations to enable fair comparison of hi-fi components. For example, in comparing two turntables, every other component in the hi-fi chain was retained, and only the turntables under comparison were swapped in and out of the system. Often-used comparator devices, which were inserted into the system to allow easy switching between products, were banished as they were found to introduce their own characteristics and distort the performance of the products under comparison.
Around the same time Linn also invented and introduced the concept of single speaker demonstration for hi-fi retailers, as un-driven loudspeakers present in the room re-radiate in sympathy with the driven loudspeakers, distorting the music. Single speaker demonstration was intended to replicate the reality of a person’s home listening environment, and so judgments made in a hi-fi retailer would bear out when products were purchased and taken home.
In 1978, Linn started selling its first moving-coil cartridge for the LP12, the Asak, followed by the Ittok LVII tonearm and its first moving-magnet cartridge, the Basik.
The early 80s saw Linn purchase a cutting lathe and begin to cut its own acetate masters at ever-higher precision, in order to test and improve the quality of the LP12 turntable and vinyl records. The next step in this journey saw Ivor start a recording label, Linn Records, taking his quest to improve the quality of reproduced music into the recording studio. The Blue Nile’s A Walk Across the Rooftops and Carol Kidd’s eponymous first album were among the label’s earliest recordings.
In 1985, Linn introduced the LK1 pre-amplifier becoming the first company to deploy solid-state switching and microprocessor control in the hi-fi system. The former allowed the removal of movable knobs and buttons, which pass the audio signal through moving contacts that tend to collect dust, wear, and degrade the signal. Linn’s solid-state approach had no moving parts, was non-wearing and allowed distortion-free switching and control for the first time. Microprocessor control enabled remote control which for the first time didn’t degrade system performance, unlike the remote control systems used at that time.
With the introduction of the LK2 power amplifier in the same year, Linn now became the first specialist company who made products for every stage of the hi-fi chain; turntable, tonearm, cartridge, pre-amplifier, power amplifier and loudspeaker. And so, with Linn Records, Ivor Tiefenbrun had all the ingredients of his vision for Linn to become world leaders: “From the microphone to the ear”.
A continuous series of innovations and upgrades for the LP12 turntable were released over the years, including its first electronic power supply, the Valhalla and a metal-bodied cartridge called the Karma. In 1986, Linn modified its “direct coupled” Ittok tonearm to support a new metal-bodied cartridge with a triple-point mounting. Dubbing this innovation the Troika, the extra strength and rigidity of the cartridge and mounting system eliminated signal distortion caused by unwanted mechanical movement and vibration. Linn’s 1988 model, the Ekos, was the first tonearm to be built in-house. More affordable turntables, called Axis and Basik were launched in 1985 and 1989 respectively.
In 1990, Linn introduced an external power supply for the LP12 called the Lingo, providing more precise motor-speed control, and eliminating distorting effects of housing a power supply within the turntable body.
In 1991, Linn introduced its first FM tuner, the Kremlin, following it later with an FM/AM tuner, the Kudos.
Ivor Tiefenbrun, who had been Chairman of the Federation of British Audio, was awarded MBE (Member of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II for Services to the Electronics Industry in 1992.
By 1992, Linn had introduced its first digital music system capable of playing Compact Discs; the Karik / Numerik. In doing so, it proved that the reduction of jitter — small timing variations in the digital-to-analogue conversion process — made a substantial improvement to the audio quality of the output, challenging the prevailing perceptions that all CD players sounded the same.
Linn designed its first bespoke switch-mode power supply for its products in 1993, recognising the complex demands of the audio signal, and the inevitable resultant audio improvements by tailoring a power supply precisely for the needs of music. Unlike conventional power supplies which use large, heavy, copper-wound transformers, causing noise, vibration and heat, Linn’s Brilliant switch-mode design was smaller, lighter, silent and, crucially, more efficient at delivering power as demanded during audio reproduction. In becoming the first company to deploy switch-mode power supplies in pre-amplifiers and tuners for five or so years before using them in power amplifiers, Linn demonstrated that it had made them smaller, quieter and less power-hungry than conventional alternatives.
In 1994, Linn introduced the Knekt multi-room system, using balanced, line-level audio distribution to achieve a new benchmark of audio quality in a distributed audio system. Linn’s system was the first to allow multi-user operation thanks to the deployment of microprocessor-enabled keypads in each room, called RCUs (Remote Control Units) with an LED display providing instant two-way communications between the user and the equipment. And so for the first time it was possible to choose a radio station or select a CD track on a Knekt-enabled tuner or CD player from any room of a home and to receive confirmation and status updates in real-time. Linn augmented the Knekt offering with small in-room amplifiers and in-wall loudspeakers.
Linn entered the emerging multichannel audio / video market in 1996 with its AV5103 system controller, the first specialist multi-channel processor which was able to decode the Dolby Digital surround sound format, and also introduced loudspeakers specifically configured for use in home cinema applications with centre channel and bass reinforcement units.
In 1997, the Sondek CD12 set a new benchmark in CD player performance and build standards. Linn designed and manufactured its own loading mechanism in-house for the first time in order to make it completely silent and therefore improve the audio quality; the chrome-plated drawer was machined from solid aluminium. Another unique feature was the ability to control the player by simply pressing the drawer front. The cavity inside the product to house the circuitry was machined out of a solid cuboid billet of aluminium, using precision machining centres, by Castle Precision Engineering, providing a new level of mechanical, electrical and acoustic isolation for the signal path within the player. The audible improvements were such that Linn created a flagship range of products, called Klimax, using the machined-from-solid approach.
Although Linn had previously made the Intek integrated amplifier, the Classik (later called Classik Music), introduced in 1998, was its first product to also integrate a CD player with pre-amplifier and power amplifiers in one chassis. An FM/AM tuner was incorporated the following year. An additional model, the Classik Movie, integrated a CD / DVD player, FM/AM tuner, multi-channel processor and surround sound amplifiers in one chassis.
Linn introduced its flagship power amplifier, the Klimax Solo in 1999, delivering up to 500W of power in a compact, cool-running machined-from-solid chassis with a switch-mode power supply.
Taking advantage of the increasing capacity of computer hard-drives, Linn introduced the world’s first full bandwidth music server in 2001, the Kivor, capable of ripping, storing and streaming CDs losslessly. Up to 16 independent audio streams could be selected concurrently, providing a flexible new source for the Knekt multiroom system.
Also in 2001, Ivor Tiefenbrun was named Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young. Linn became the first hi-fi specialist manufacturer to make an in-car audio system in 2001, for the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, which shipped as standard fit within the car, and later provided a range of three systems for the Aston Martin DB9. The relationship between the companies continued until 2007.
In 2002, Linn began the introduction of array technology into its loudspeaker range with the launch of the Komri flagship loudspeaker. The array of drive units, covering the most directionally-sensitive part of the audio spectrum (mid-range, high frequency and super-high frequency), was integrated within one machined metal enclosure and isolated from the speaker cabinet in order to replicate a single-point source most closely, and therefore provided a more uniform sound to the listener. Such was the audible benefit, that such arrays have featured heavily in Linn’s subsequent loudspeakers. The Komri also saw Linn become the first company to use an accelerometer servo system in a fully active loudspeaker, providing greater control and accuracy on the bass drive units that matched the higher frequency accuracy.
Also in 2002, Linn was awarded the Royal Warrant by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales as suppliers to the Royal Household.
With the advent of SA-CD and DVD-Audio high quality audio disc formats, and a looming format war between them, Linn sought to take advantage of the increased performance potential and, at the same time, remove potential customer confusion by launching its Unidisk range in 2003 — disc players capable of playing both SA-CD and DVD-Audio discs, as well as the prevailing CD and DVD-Video discs. The Kisto and Kinos system controllers, capable of switching both audio and video inputs, were designed to partner the Unidisk players. The Unidisk SC model combined player and system controller.
Gilad Tiefenbrun, Ivor’s younger son, joined Linn as R&D Manager in 2003.
Linn developed new amplification technology in 2004, called Chakra, combining the speed and precision of highly integrated monolithic power amplifiers at low volumes with the ruggedness and smoothness of ultra-linear bipolar transistors at loud volumes. Chakra’s unique approach in ensuring a seamless transition between the two topologies within one amplifier circuit merited a patent, and the design was deployed in a range of Linn power amplifiers.
The Artikulat 350A loudspeaker (later upgraded and renamed Klimax 350A) incorporated both the array and Chakra technologies in the company’s first fully-integrated Aktiv loudspeaker. Housing the active crossovers and all the power amplifiers close to the drive units, inside the body of the loudspeaker, was an efficient design that all but eliminated signal loss via transmission, as external runs of speaker cables were no longer required.
A foray into recording studio equipment saw Linn introduce the 318A and 328A professional monitors in 2004.
In 2007, Linn launched its first Linn DS network music player, the Klimax DS, taking as its input a digital stream over a home network rather than from a physical disc. This was its first product to support the playback of studio master quality recordings natively in up to 24bit resolution and 192kHz sampling frequency, significantly exceeding the specifications of the older Audio CD format (16bit / 44.1kHz).
At first, availability of studio master tracks was limited to Linn Records, which was the first to sell them as DRM-free downloads from its new website, www.linnrecords.com, but other record labels soon followed.
New models of Linn DS players followed from 2008; the Akurate DS and Majik DS, as well the Sneaky Music DS — a combined streamer and amplifier. Linn then launched its own control application for browsing a music library, building playlists and selecting music for the DS players called Kinsky. Initially running on Windows desktop and PDA, subsequent versions for iPhone / iPod Touch, iPad and MacOS were introduced.
In February 2009, Gilad Tiefenbrun was appointed Managing Director; Ivor became Executive Chairman.
Later in 2009, Linn announced its decision to stop making CD players altogether, instead focusing on the superior-sounding network music players as its highest quality digital source components.
The Majik DS-I in 2010 was the first Linn DS player to combine a pre-amplifier, thus enabling connected sources to be streamed onto the network to be received by any other Linn DS players in the home. At this stage Linn retired the Knekt multiroom system, and formally announced its replacement by Linn DS, whose functionality had, by now, superseded the capability of Knekt.
In October 2010, Linn Records was awarded Label of the Year by Gramophone Magazine, who cited the label’s ongoing commitment to improving the quality of the recording process and distributing music online at studio master quality.
Linn incorporated HDMI inputs into new Linn DS players in 2011, which it called Klimax DSM and Akurate DSM, and the Majik DS-I was renamed Majik DSM. At this time it introduced Songcast, an application for Windows or Mac allowing any Linn DS player to act as the sound card of a computer. In 2012, Linn received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation, the most prestigious accolade available to a British business. Approved by Her Majesty The Queen following the recommendation of the Prime Minister, this award recognised the engineering prowess and passion for music embodied within Linn’s industry-leading range of DS players.
In July 2012, Linn launched the Kiko System, notable for being Linn’s most compact system to date and being sold only as a complete system comprising DSM player and speakers. Songbox, Linn’s own media server software for Windows or Mac, was provided initially to allow Kinsky to browse iTunes libraries from an iPad or iPhone. Linn’s first Android version of Kinsky launched later that year.