LP12MF Listening Test: SSP12 Inner Platter

Here I evaluate the effects of Edmund Chan’s SSP12 inner platter, a cheap and easy upgrade for the LP12. This test is part of my LP12 Modification Frenzy, for which you can see a Summary of Effects. You can also check out my testing methodology.

tl;dr

Before beginning this test, I was feeling pretty frustrated. My Lingo 4 motor was noisy, and despite running it in for several weeks, it wasn’t getting any quieter. It was the most expensive upgrade I’d yet made to my turntable, and it had made it sound worse. I had no choice but to remove it and reinstall my Hercules II/Mose/Airpax setup. While I swapped motors, I also popped in the SSP12 inner platter.

Although the SSP12 is a cheap and quick upgrade — although I hadn’t heard a lot about it before trying it myself — the SSP12 made a very large positive improvement on my setup. Every one of my test tracks sounded better, by between 5-10%, for an average improvement of 6.25%. That’s the second-largest improvement of any upgrade I’ve made to this point: larger than either the Tiger Paw Khan or the Audio Desk ultrasonic cleaner, both of which cost several times as much as the SSP12. I also noticed a big improvement in casual listening. My notes consistently show me praising the “springy,” energetic, colourful presentation with the SSP12 installed. I was hearing my favourite records in ways I’d never heard them before — even getting a little bit emotional about it, at times (see below)! There was no question at any point that things weren’t sounding a lot better. For a component that costs $280 on eBay, it’s quite a stunning improvement.

Like, actually stunning. At points I’ve had to wonder if something else wasn’t responsible for the large improvement in sound. I wondered, for instance, if in uninstalling the Lingo 4 and reinstalling the Hercules/Airpax, I hadn’t somehow improved the setup of the table in some small but important way (I didn’t adjust the cartridge, so it’s not that). I did find a thread on pinkfishmedia in which several people discussed their similar reactions to the SSP12, so I knew I wasn’t totally crazy. But I wanted to understand the SSP12 a little better to understand how it might actually be responsible for such a big improvement. I’ve provided some details below, as well as all my track-by-track listening notes.

What is this “SSP12”?

The SSP12 in place

The SSP12 is one of several products for the LP12 made by Edmund Chan, who is based in Hong Kong and sells on eBay. I bought a Hercules II/Mose power supply from Edmund way back in around 2005. Apparently I was one of the first ever customers for this excellent product (still going strong, still in use in this round of testing) — and he remembered me when I ordered one of his Mober subchassis in the fall. When I posted my review of the Mober on this site, I emailed him a link and he offered to send me some products to review. Full disclosure: he sent these to me for free, shipping them at his own expense, with no expectation that I send them back. My SSP12 was a freebie — the first thing I’m reviewing on this site that I didn’t pay for.

The SSP12 is a replacement inner platter for the LP12. It differs from the stock LP12 platter in two ways: materials and contact point.

Materials

SSP12 on the left; stock Linn inner platter on the right.

The stock Linn inner platter is made of a zinc alloy with a stainless steel shaft; the SSP12 is made entirely from stainless steel, except for a brass insert in the platter.

For what it’s worth, from my years of messing around with guitars, I know all about the massive acoustic differences between certain metals. In particular, I’m aware of the huge tonal differences between a guitar whose bridge and saddles are made from from zinc, brass, and steel. Zinc is the worst-sounding of the bridge/saddle materials; the nadir of Fender production is generally acknowledged to have come in the 1970s when they switched from steel to zinc for their Strat bridges. Why did they do it? Because zinc is cheap. Why do Linn use zinc for their inner and outer platters? Presumably because it is cheap and also heavy (important for platters). They probably also determined it didn’t sound appreciably worse than more expensive metals like stainless steel… Because it’s not like LP12s are very cheap, and I don’t think they’re trying to cut corners in the way Fender were in the 1970s. But I digress…

Edmund told me prefers stainless over zinc for the way it sounds. But why the composite materials — why the brass insert in addition to stainless steel? I thought it might be for some exotic reason (vintage Fender Telecasters famously use brass saddles on a steel base) — but Edmund told me that he just uses brass to add some extra mass at the centre of rotation (brass is a little heaver than stainless steel). See his answer below.

I weighted the SSP12 and compared it to my stock Cirkus Linn inner platter, and found the SSP12 was slightly heavier (100g), but close enough that I didn’t need to make any adjustments to my suspension. (For reference, the outer platter weighs a few kilograms and the differences between individual records can be in the region of 100g.)

SSP12
Stock Linn

Contact point (and the origin of the Linn logo)

The more important difference between them, according to Edmund, is the contact point that the central shaft makes with the bearing. The stock Linn inner platter is machined to a rounded point; the SSP12 has a ball bearing welded onto the shaft, and it is this ball bearing that contacts the bearing. You can see the difference in this photo:

SSP12 ball bearing contact point on the left, stock Linn on the right

Since posting the first version of this review, I’ve had some interesting feedback on the pinkfishmedia forum — the most interesting of which came from the user @peterm and related to this business of ball bearing tips. According to @peterm, 50 years ago it was very common for turntables like the Ariston RD 11 and Thorens 150 to use bearings — captive or free — as the contact surface on their inner platters. (As another user,  @sq225917, pointed out, this was a practical thing: unless you have access to expensive equipment, sticking a nicely smooth ball bearing at the end of the shaft is the easiest was to get a perfectly radiused smooth surface.)

One of Linn’s initial claims to fame was their abandonment of the ball bearing as the contact surface. As @peterm explains, “When Linn Products released their LP12 … they applied for a patent on the basis of their ‘single point’ thrust bearing, this being a machined ‘point’ at the base of the spindle which was supposed to offer greater accuracy than the ‘flat’ surface of the tangent to a spherical ball bearing.” As he further explains, this “single point” is the origin of the inverted triangle of the Linn Logo. Pretty cool.

@peterm continues, though, that Linn never quite followed through with their “single” point idea, since a point as sharp as the one in their logo would cause problems. He says, “Since a ‘single point’ bearing [would] be so sharp that the pressure against the thrust pad would result in the ‘point’ friction welding itself to the thrust pad repeatedly, and instantly breaking that weld under the force of rotation, resulting in rapid erosion of the ‘point,’ Linn machined a radius on the end of their ‘point.’ Thus Linn’s ‘point’ bearing bec[ame] a ‘tangent to a radius’ bearing just like everyone else’s ball bearing (albeit of maybe a slightly different radius).”

So Edmund’s use of a ball bearing tip is actually a return to an older way of designing the platter/bearing interface. One that, incidentally, seemed to have worked better than the “solution” Linn created — and was so proud of as to build into their logo!

A Conversation with Edmund Chan

As you’ll see in this post, I found that the SSP12 made a big difference on my turntable. But I wasn’t at all sure why — I knew it was made from stainless steel, but not that it had a fixed ball bearing tip, and in any case I didn’t quite understand what sonic difference either would make. There aren’t a lot of details on the eBay listing for the SSP12, and Edmund doesn’t have a website, so I decided to ask him a few questions. (He told me that a lot of this had been discussed on the Linn forum before it was shut down. Indeed, he told me he was the reason Linn shut its forum down!)

Here is our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: What are the differences between the SSP12 and the standard Linn subplatter?

A: I happened to see that some turntables like the Ariston RD 11 had a ball underneath the shaft. But the ball was not fixed, which is not ideal. Therefore I welded it to the absolute center of the shaft. 

Q: Why do you use brass in addition to stainless steel?

A: I use brass in the center because brass is heavier than steel, so when it spins, it tends to create less centrifugal force. It has the same effect as a weight on top of the record.

Q: How did you develop the SSP12? How did you come up with the idea, how did you test it, how long did it take to get it sounding like you wanted it to?

A: I did my design of the SSP12 in 1-2 months. I tried it out with different sized balls: 2mm, 3mm, 4mm, and found I liked the 3mm the best. It was stunning the first time I tested it on my SSP12. My friends agreed; they said it was staggering.

Not much of an unboxing experience: the SSP12 in its original packaging.

Installing the SSP12

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t make a separate post on installing the SSP12, it’s because installation is ridiculously simple. You just remove the outer platter, remove the belt, pull out the existing inner platter, and insert the SSP12 in its place. (You will probably need to add some oil, though, since some will come out on the spindle you’ve just removed. Keep adding drops until replacing the SSP12 causes excess oil to spill out the top of the bearing. You can tell that it has done so by attaching a bit of paper towel to the outside of bearing with an elastic band, and waiting for it to become wet and oily).

In any case, I’ve made the following semi-humorous video to show you how to install the SSP12:

Notes on casual listening

I was in a pretty foul mood after the Lingo 4 fiasco, and losing a morning “downgrading” back to the Airpax/Hercules/Mose setup didn’t help things. And I wasn’t expecting the SSP12 to make much of a difference; at this point I didn’t know about the ball bearing tip, I hadn’t initially planned to have it in my upgrade path, and I wasn’t convinced that an inner platter made from slightly different materials would make any difference.

So I was very pleasantly surprised when I found the music sounding so great after getting things back together. From the first notes I heard, there was no question that things were sounding better than I’d ever heard them before. The first record I listened to happened to be Mingus at Antibes, a very nicely produced record. The music sounded wonderful — but what really stood out were the ambient noises: footsteps on the stage, music stands being adjusted, instruments bumped into. I was working at my computer as I listened, and I kept looking behind me to see if someone had come into the room.

My newly arrived copy of Graham Coxon’s The Spinning Top was an absolute revelation. I’d heard it a few times on the Lingo setup, but this was at another level. The funny droning instrument on the first track sounded amazingly lifelike: light and springy. The Blue Nile’s Walk Across the Rooftops — the first album released by Linn Records — was totally stunning, too. So was every album I listened to, basically. This included some of my favourite all-time records, ones I’ve heard hundreds of times before — but not like this! Most notably, Yo La Tengo’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out and my Japanese pressing of Kind of Blue. On both, the sounds I heard were best described as springy, energetic, and colourful. As you’ll see in my track-by-track comparisons below, my dominant emotion was one of gratitude for being able to hear these songs I love so much sounding this beautiful!

Test tracks

1. The Beach Boys, “I Know There’s an Answer,” Pet Sounds (1966)

Full vinyl. I decided to take my time and listen to the first track on the side, “God Only Knows,” which sounded really good. Now we’re on to “I Know There’s an Answer” — which also sounds beautiful — wide, soaring, sharp, sweet. The bass harmonica and the shakers are particularly lovely in their detail. Graceful, elegant, easy, natural. This is sounding terrific — a relief after the whole Lingo 4 debacle. Whether it’s better than pre-SSP12, though, we’ll have to wait and see…

Full digital. Back-to-back with vinyl, this sounds hard and harsh. There is lots of detail and it definitely sounds good, but I don’t have the same “easy, natural” feeling, and I’m not enjoying it as much. I really wonder whether the full comparisons, the slight delays, or the second-to-second tests are better. I’ve been favoring the second-to-second. But I wonder if you miss something by focusing on the momentary details rather than accumulated, continuous impressions. Also, when I’m doing the S-2-s tests my focus often shifts to getting volume levels absolutely equal, which might distract me from the actual sound… Anyway, I’m positive there’s a big difference between what I just heard on vinyl and what I’m hearing now. Let’s see what comes out in the direct comparisons…

Slight delay. Thicker, more satisfying bass on vinyl. More detail, more fine edges. There’s a chalkiness to digital that goes away when I switch to vinyl. Instruments are far more spaced out on vinyl. Vinyl is sweet, golden, sunlit. Digital is hard and boxy — lit by those pure-white LED bulbs that make everything look terrible. I wouldn’t be surprised it this was 15% or 20%. 

Second-to-second. The hardness of digital is the main thing that separates them. It’s a big difference. Vinyl is much more pleasant to listen to. Brian sounds screechy on digital, smooth-yet-sharp on vinyl. The bass harmonica has plenty of detail on digital, but it’s that cold-light LED effect; so much rounder and more pleasant on vinyl. I think “gross” might be a very slight exaggeration, but it’s like 17.5% or so. Let’s say 15% just to be conservative. I want to keep listening to this record on vinyl!

Verdict: vinyl sounds 15% better (5% improvement)

2. Charles Mingus, “Track B — Duet Solo Dancers,” The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)

Full digital. Good detail, some sharpness. Weird, I don’t remember the instruments being panned so hard-right and hard-left on this recording. There is an annoying tizzy quality to the cymbals dead-centre in the soundstage. It’s quite bright and sharp. Not particularly pleasant. Amazing detail on the quiet drums but still a relatively harsh experience.

Full vinyl (1963). Surface noise continues to annoy me, but things seem more detailed and enjoyable than usual, I think. Full, rich, wide. Bah-bah-bah fairly impactful and with good detail/texture. Oh, wow, the “cordy” sax sounds terrific. Pretty sure I’ve never heard this pressing sound this good. That cymbal is also tizzy here, but definitely less grating. Quiet drums sound incredible — detailed, round, alive. Again, pretty sure I’ve never heard this pressing sound so good.

Full vinyl (1972 Japanese). I’ve bought yet another pressing of this record, searching for an ideal copy. I have some incredible-sounding Japanese Impulses, so I thought I’d give this one a go. Okay, it’s dead-quiet (as expected). And, ooh, it really seems to combine detail, smoothness, soundstage width, low lows, high highs — all of my favourite things. The cymbal is absolutely without tizz — detailed, smooth, wide. Insanely present bah-bah-bah: edgy, sharp, gorgeous. I’m not entirely sure I’m getting as much “cordy” sax as I usually do? Thrillingly real in the slow drum section. A bit of pre-echo spoils some surprises here. But this definitely sounds the best of all the vinyl pressings I’ve heard, and definitely better than the digital. It’s detailed and smooth, full of life. 

Slight delay (1963). Digital has more detail and impact on the bah-bah-bah, for sure. The detail on the cymbal is smoother and more realistic on vinyl. Things are more confused, hard on digital, but more detailed. The harshness of the high end on digital makes it much less pleasant to listen to — I’d definitely rather be listening to the vinyl. Quiet drums are more detailed on digital. For overall pleasant presentation, I have to give the slight edge to vinyl.

S-2-s (1963). Less detail on vinyl, but so much “juicier” — so much more saturated with colour. Wow, the S-2-s really brings this out. So much color-loss when switching back to digital. Possibly closer to 10%, but again, for the sake of being conservative, and because digital still has the clear detail edge, we’ll say 5%.

Verdict: vinyl sounds 5% better (5% improvement)

Slight delay (1972 Japanese). Oh boy, piano sounds totally congested, boxed-in on digital. Total lack of sweetness on digital — and the vinyl is super-sweet, incredibly listenable, while also being amazingly detailed. Oh man, the vinyl destroys the digital on “cordy” texture. This pressing is incredible. Definitely pushing the “gross” threshold. The “tizz” disparity is enormous. Vinyl also wins on the quiet drum detail/slam sweepstakes. 

S-2-s (1972 Japanese). The vinyl is a little tiny bit thinner, but in all other respects trounces the digital: detail, impact, vividness, reality. Especially clear in the quiet drums part. Not in gross territory, but a solid 15%.

Verdict: 1972 Japanese pressing sounds 15% better (no prior comparison)

3. The Pentangle, “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” The Pentangle (1968)

Full digital. As always, very nice, one of the better digital transfers I’ve got in my test. I’m concentrating especially on the space and detail in the quiet part. Nothing to complain about here. 

Full vinyl (Reprise). Hey, wow, this sounds terrific. Jacqui’s vocals are bright, colorful, in focus. The guitar on the left is bright, too, but the bass notes are impressively rendered. The quiet part sounds even better: the triangle has amazing spatial precision and impact. Definite sense that this sounds better than digital, despite the surface noise.

Full vinyl (Transatlantic). Totally breathtaking. Space, detail, power — wow! This pressing is in its own league. The bass drum is incredibly lifelike — I keep thinking it’s coming from from somewhere in the room. I can very clearly separate the triangle and the rim-hits in space here, which I can’t do on the other sources.

Slight delay (Reprise). The digital is clearer, but the vinyl has more colour, life, saturation. The digital presents a very narrow band of sound, like a shallow depth of field. Vinyl is much deeper and wider. Definitely prefer listening to the vinyl. 5%-10% better.

S-2-s (Reprise). Much more life in the vinyl. Smooth but detailed on vinyl. Big improvement — I’ve never heard this sound so good. Not a subtle difference. 10% for sure, close even to 15%, but I won’t go nuts.

Verdict: vinyl is 10% better (10% improvement)

Slight delay (Transatlantic). Like hearing the song for the first time. In some cases literally: the pulse-like bass drum is inaudible on digital, beautifully palpable on vinyl. So rich, spacious, detailed, alive on vinyl. 20-25% better, for sure. 

S-2-s. Crazy to think a digital file that nice could sound “gross” in comparison to anything, but here it surely does. Oh my God, what sounds coming out of this piece of vinyl! Incredible. 

Verdict: Transatlantic pressing is 25% better (no prior comparison)

I’m not sure whether to do future tests with the Transatlantic or the Reprise pressing — or with he 1963 or 1972 Mingus records above — but since the “bad” records are still sounding better with upgrades, I guess it doesn’t quite make sense to abandon them. Maybe I’ll be stuck doing both pressings for both tracks…

As I’m typing these notes up, I’m listening to the rest of this incredible record/pressing and I am absolutely floored by the sound quality. The SSP12 really seems to have made a nice, positive difference here.

4. Mariah, “Shinzo No Tobira,” Utakata No Hibi (1983)

Full digital. Mmm hmm, it sounds great on digital. Nice full bass, nice rattle texture. As I often say when starting with digital on this track, I wonder how the vinyl could have sounded 15 or 20% better than this…

Full vinyl. Right, that’s how. From the first seconds, huge improvement in the impact, slam, “shading” on the rattles. The subtle “too doo, too doo” in the background is beautifully clear and nicely positioned here. Lots of impact on bass, vocals soar. Sounds amazing and I want to just keep listening. I’m sure it’s sounding better than it did with the noisy Lingo motor in there, and my sense is that it sounds better than ever… Oh man, the analog synths are just so crunchy, like running candy-sandpaper over my eardrums. 

Slight delay. No comparison on the rattles. Thuddy, dull, floppy, weak, flat on digital. Juicy, round, full of life on vinyl. The differences are even more apparent once the bass and the vocals come in. Constrained and flat. Unpleasant and hard. Gah. Digital is most definitely, unquestionably GROSS! and I just don’t want to listen to it. Same on the synths. On this slight delay test, it’s definitely in the 25% range. Pretty exciting to hear this song sound this good. 

S-2-s. Just amazing how much better the vinyl is. It has so much KICK. I’m actually tempted to reach for the 30% word, “appalling,” but I’m not positive we’re there yet. But definitely at 25%. The SSP12 strikes again! What a pleasure to listen to this on vinyl!!! (I’m now listening to the next track, which also sounds insane.)

Verdict: vinyl is 25% better (5% improvement)

5. Joy Division, “Atmosphere,” 12″ single (1980)

Full digital. Ack, after the sonic journey I was just on with Mariah, this does sound totally pedestrian in comparison. Not bad by any means — the drums are very realistic, I totally would have gotten excited about this before the LP12MF — but I am not filled with the excitement I’ve been experiencing since removing the Lingo 4 and adding the SSP12. This sounds good. It is not exciting. 

Full vinyl. WOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!! That’s just crazy. That is excitement! The impact of those toms is unbelievable. It’s now been a couple of weeks since I’ve heard this track, but I can’t ever remember being so blown away by it. Incredible. Mostly, it’s the impact of the toms, but the synth-shower, the synth-cloud that lurks in the background — all absolutely beautiful. Again, my dominant feelings here are excitement and gratitude at being able to hear this song I love so much reproduced so beautifully. (It does make me wonder how a nice MC cartridge, a fancy tonearm, a DC motor, could really make it sound any better than this…)

Slight delay. So hard to force myself to switch back to digital. It’s just so dull. The emotion of the song is so buried — it feels almost wrong to listen to it in its diminished state. Most evident in the the impact and heft of the drums, but definitely crystal-clear everywhere. No way I’ve heard this song sound this good. 30% for sure.

S-2-s. That’s what 30% sounds like. Incredible. 

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (5% improvement)

6. Low, “Just Make It Stop,” The Invisible Way (2013)

Full digital. Wow, this sounds really good. I just took a break to eat dinner, so maybe I’ve readjusted to mediocrity — but this sounds really nice: wide, full, with great impact on the low piano notes and palm mutes.

Full vinyl. Pretty amazing. Makes you take a second, stop what you’re doing, and pay attention. I definitely forgot I was doing a listening test there for a second and was drawn in my the music. Lifelike, natural, wide, balanced. I was having some trouble in the paragraph above remembering if it was piano or palm-muted guitar or both in the louder section. No such confusion here — I know exactly what’s where. Once again, I have the strong sense of never having heard this track sounding so good. 

Slight delay. We are in another category of comparison here. It’s just sad that digital should sound so weak — and that anyone should have to listen to it this way when the experience I’m having on vinyl is possible. What I’m experiencing here is pity; that’s a new one. Foggy, dead, lifeless, forced — devoid of emotion. On vinyl, easy, smooth, unforced, springy, alive. At least 25%, maybe more. I just want to listen to this forever, truly don’t want to switch back to digital…

S-2-s. Listen, I’m not into these sorts of descriptions, but the differences today seem more about emotion that anything else. I’m feeling the song so much more on vinyl. I’m just drawn right in… But to be a little less vague: on vinyl, there is more space, more empty space as well as more filled space, and more impact and colour. Especially on Mimi’s voice, which sounds pitifully constrained and flattened on digital, and totally free on vinyl. Definitely 25%, could be 30%, but we’ll call it’s 25% for now.

Verdict: vinyl is 25% better (5% improvement)

7. Yo La Tengo, “Stockholm Syndrome,” I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One (1997)

Full digital. Meh. Sounds pretty flat, boxy, unexciting. Nothing compelling about it, can’t wait for the song to end… (and I love this song!)

Full vinyl. The crackle and pop of some surface noise before the track and then… Aaaaaah! Just unbelievable: full of life, oxygenated, thick, full, gorgeous. Back when the differences were in the 5-15% range, I wouldn’t even really hear them until the slight delay/S-2-s tests. Now it’s incredibly obvious comparing the full listens. Totally beautiful and, once again, seems better than ever.

Slight delay. Come in, James! I can barely hear you in your digital incarnation! This is really crazy. The song sounds like it’s coming to me through subspace on digital, and like I’m right there on vinyl. Definitely feels “appalling” to switch from vinyl to digital. The acoustic guitars are so beautiful on vinyl that they almost physically tickle — like, I feel something in my stomach. I can barely hear them at all on digital.

S-2-s. I’m not just saying “gross” to myself as I switch from vinyl to digital; I seriously just felt the beginnings of a physical, actual, literal wretching motion. The vinyl BURSTS FORTH with freshness and life; the digital is covered in a big, wet, lukewarm washcloth. This is at least 30%, maybe more like 35%. It’s definitely a bigger difference than I heard with the Lingo, and I called that 30%. So to be consistent, I’ve got to call this 35%. I used to wonder what those numbers might mean; now I know. Just astonishingly different. 

Verdict: vinyl is 35% better (10% improvement)

8. The Beatles, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” The White Album (1968)

Full digital. One of the better digital files; this sounds pretty good. My standards have absolutely changed lately, especially since putting on the SSP12, which is just rocking my world. So I know music can sound better. But this is nice: bass hitting hard, lots of detail (“clippety clop”!), a fair amount of impact and slam from the bass…

Full vinyl. Yep: wow. On another level. Bass drum and bass guitar are amazingly natural, “juicy,” colourful, rich. The steely texture of the acoustic guitar in the background comes through very clearly, perfectly in focus. Definitely don’t want this song to end… 

Slight delay. Impact, detail, life, control, space: all massively in favour of vinyl. At least 25%. Not as big of a difference as with YLT, since the digital file is so much better. But there is an exuberant, overflowing quality to this — tones, textures — that digital doesn’t get close to. Feels like 30%.

S-2-s. Definitely 30%. Like watching a GIF image loading in the olden days: digital is the first pass, then all the details come into focus switching to vinyl. Soundstage widens, a haze/glare goes away. I’ve never heard this song sound better — I’ve never heard music sound better. Incredible.

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (5% improvement)

9. Dungen, “Panda,” Ta Det Lugnt (2004)

Full digital. Very clear how and why and where this will sound better in a second. Crashy, hazy, cast in glare… Always been one of the best-produced of my favourite songs, but I now know it can sound a lot better than it sounds here…

Full vinyl. Aaah! Wow! Oooh! Hooray! This is stupid-good. I want to turn this all the way up and destroy my hearing. A totally enveloping world of sonic perfection. What has this SSP12 done to my turntable?! Whatever it is, I’m loving it. All the excitement, madness, dynamism, exuberance of this track is conveyed with absolute perfection and reality. Definitely don’t need the slight delay/S-2-s to see the differences here…

Slight delay. So depressing to go from one to the other. Every instrument sounds massively different, but especially the drums (impact, roundness, decay) and the guitars (sharpness, bite). In the quieter, slower guitar solo, I feel like I’m playing the guitar myself on vinyl — so springy and alive. The fuzzy, woolly instrument cloud at the end crunches right down and together on digital, becomes a chicken nugget. 30%, 35%?

S-2-s. Just the drum intro: appallingly bad on digital. Again having to force myself to switch the source selector back to digital. I would be totally happy if my system never sounded any better than this. This is amazing. The differences are clearest in the drum intro and in the instrument-cloud at the end. Could be 35%, but let’s say 30% just not to go too crazy. Definitely better than ever before. 

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (5% improvement) 

10. Julee Cruise, “Rocking Back Inside My Heart,” Floating Into the Night (1989)

Full digital. As I’ve commented in previous listening sessions, this track is distinctly pleasant on digital: full, wide, delicate. Which makes me all the more excited to hear it on the SSP12’ed LP12. Really nice sounding here, though.

Full vinyl. Sounds much better — but I’m not quite having the paroxysms of jubilation I was experiencing with the last two tracks. The bass has more punch, the palm mutes are more defined. The sax breakdown is pretty thrilling, no doubt. More in the 20-25% range, I’d think, than the massive gaps of the last three tracks…

Slight delay. Clearer on direct comparison. Much fuller, richer, wider on vinyl. Definitely 25% between them. Snaps, claps, palm mutes — all the “sharp” sounds — are buried and muffled on digital, crisp on vinyl. The sax breakdown is a full-body experience on vinyl, pretty boring on digital. 

S-2-s. Man, this is fun. Sounds so amazing on vinyl. 25% gap at least: colour, detail, impact. It really does make the digital sound BAD. Could be 30%, but I’ll be conservative…

Verdict: vinyl sounds 25% better (5% improvement) 

11. Can, “Halleluwah,” Tago Mago (1971)

Full digital. Drums are exciting, dynamic — but squishy around the edges, harsh, chalky. Okay, but somewhat grating, tiring.

Full vinyl. Better: much less harsh, much fuller, more natural. Damo Suzuki’s voice is much clearer, has a little pocket in space all to itself. Guitar is sharp and piercing. Wowwww, the drum breakdown that comes when Damo stops singing sounds HHUUGGEE, really amazing. Ensuing drum breaks equally amazing and impressive. Major, immediately discernible difference on full listens often means 25-30%…

Slight delay. Even though the start of the song on vinyl doesn’t sound particularly great, still much, much better than digital: far more dynamic, extended. Then the drums after Damo’s first break: immense gap. 25% at least. Snap, slam, excitement: so much more on vinyl. “Tickle sounds” totally stale on digital. 

S-2-s. This is a song where, for whatever reason (might be the volume difference? digital is louder), the differences are clearer on full and slight delay listens. Switching back and forth second-to-second, they don’t sound so far apart. But then if you listen to one for 10 seconds and switch back to the other for 10 seconds, the differences are again apparent. Anyway, the harshness, the glare, the brittle quality: all very apparent on digital. Especially big differences in the presentation of drums, which are round, dynamic, lively, beautiful on vinyl and tiring and harsh on digital. 20-25% in S-2-s, but based on the above we’ll go 25%.

Verdict: vinyl is 25% better (5% improvement)

12. Bill Callahan, “Javelin Unlanding,” Dream River (2013)

Full vinyl. Vinyl first this time. Kind of a dull-sounding recording until BC’s voice kicks in, then you see that all the dinky the little sounds that introduce the song are supposed to be dinky. Electric guitar on the chorus is nice and sharp, with lots of space away from all those dull little dinky sounds. BC’s voice really slaps the ears when it goes low. This sounds great: almost certainly the best I’ve heard it. Smooth, springy tone. Lots of nicely-controlled bass.

Full digital. Good bass, but a weird 8-bit pixelly quality to the acoustic instruments and even to BC’s voice itself. I can’t hear the contrast between the “dull, dinky” instruments and the ones meant to stand out in full relief (guitar, vocals, shaker). Not particularly pleasant. (It’s definitely better doing worse —> better for full listens, since I can get an initial impression of a % difference. Hard to tell going backward here.)

Slight delay. The digital transfer here is clearly just a terrible one. Cloudy, dead, muddy, gross. The vinyl sounded good on its own but sounds incredible in comparison: 25% or better. All the usual things: impact, detail, clarity, focus, spaciousness, “springiness.”

S-2-s. There are instruments I literally cannot hear on the digital transfer, most notably a little steel-string instrument right around BC’s vocals. Gotta be 30% better — again, in large part because of how horrible the digital transfer is here. 

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (5% improvement) 

Next steps

Well, that was unexpected. A $280 inner platter has me totally reinvigorated for the LP12MF after the disastrous and expensive experience I had with the Lingo 4. My next steps will be pretty exciting, now. First, I’m going to replace my Adikt cartridge with a Dynavector XX-2. This should be a huge upgrade — it’s certainly an expensive one! — from a fairly pedestrian MM to a fairly exotic MC. The limiting factor will be the Nima arm, which might not quite be up to “controlling” the fancy XX-2. So my next step will be to replace it with a Linn Ekos 2, which will also involve changing the subchassis from the Mober to the Linn Kore. I’m looking forward to what should be some big improvements — but also remain a bit dubious that my setup can sound any better than it’s sounding now, which is pretty stunning.

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