March 31, 2011

10 Qs For David Williamson, Senior Product Design Engineer, Linn Products Limited.

As usual, I'll give my 10 Qs to any visiting hifi industry guest, David gets his turn, so we may get to know more about him and get up to date with the latest Linn news, as we sip over a cup of coffee. Here goes:

David Williamson, tasked with improving the Linn Sondek LP12 in the last few years.

Big E: David, welcome to Malaysia, from your presentation, you don't quite sound like Scottish of origin, but yet have some of the accents of a Scotsman?

DW: Well, that's because I am technically English, but have some Scots, Welsh and Irish mixed in to the family blood lines! Ha! Ha! However, if one lives in Scotland long enough, it's easy to pick up a bit of local accent without realising it.

Big E: That's true, but back to some Linn news up date. I hear that Linn has down sized and lay off some staff in the past few years, what happened?

DW: All that happened just before the current financial crisis, which started in 2008. Linn as a company got a little over stretched as it grew rapidly over the years and a series of unfortunate incidents happened over a very short period of time. It was a painful decision that Gilad Tiefenbrun and the management took to shut down a few of the non core divisions, which resulted in some staff lay offs. However in hind sight now, it was probably a good thing too, because by taking the painful measures to down size the company, we managed to re-focus in to our core business, and in the process became a leaner and stronger company, ready to face the challenges of the financial crisis in 2008.

Big E: So, what's Linn's staff count like now?

DW: We employ 190 staff or so covering all our businesses and divisions.

Big E: Wow! That means Linn is still a very big company in the hi-end hifi industry. What about your department, which is design?

DW: We have nearly 40 engineers working in various areas of product design. I am in the mechanical design area, which is where the Linn turn tables and speakers comes to mind. I also work on most of the product's metal casing and chassis design. We also have a section of designers dedicated to digital products, a sub group of GUI(Graphic User Interface) engineers, where they dabble in software development that forms the basis of user interface experience. We also have power supply design, and electronics design departments. Then there's production, logistics, marketing and sales departments. We try to keep everything in house, and local where possible. That's what make a Linn product exceptional, in quality.

Big E: What about speaker cabinets, do you make them in house too?

DW: We do everything, including designing and building most of the speaker drivers in house. However, the speaker cabinet is the only thing that's not made in house, they're made in Denmark, but once the cabinets come in to the factory, all the final assembly and QC is done in house.

Big E: With so many departments and divisions within Linn, who calls the shots when it came to the final product design approval?

DW: Most of the time, we'd come to a decision by consensus within all the departments/divisions involved. The final version of the product would then be presented to either Gilad or Ivor, just to get their feedback and perhaps final input, prior to signing off for production.

The latest fully version decked version of a Linn Sondek LP12, with the new smooth design, plinth, which is technically more rigid. The Linn Sondek LP12 has been in production since 1972, would there be a 40th Anniversary version next year???

Big E: We now come to the Linn Sondek LP12. With the world wide vinyl resurgence lately, what are the sales figures like? And where are the biggest markets for Linn turn tables?

DW: When I joined Linn 11 years ago, we were like building 5 units of Linn LP12s a month. Today, we're building them at a rate of 5 or 6 units a week. Our biggest market for the Linn LP12 turn tables are Japan and China! Last month, we shipped a batch of 40 units of LP12s to China.

Big E: There seems to be a preference for the old style ribbed plinth in the previous LP12 turn table. What's your take on that?

DW: Engineering wise, the new style smooth plinth is more rigid than the previous version, due to the extra thick corner bracing comparatively. However, on the aesthetic front, I can understand why some might prefer the old style ribbed design. It's called nostalgia! We get request from the Japanese market for the old style ribbed design all the time, and they call it the Linn Sondek LP12J(or something like that), which is really popular with the collector's market there.

My old style Linn Sondek LP12, which dates back to 1984, recently refurbished to original specs. The older stlye ribbed designed wooden plinth is a favorite amongst Japanese collectors.

Big E: It's been nearly 40 years since the first Linn Sondek LP12 is produced, when is the Linn Sondek ever going to be completed, up grades wise?

DW: As I said to Lam(Seng Fatt, of Hifi Avenue) earlier, the Linn Sondek LP12 will continue to evolve, as newer materials become available and new way of doing things become possible. This is due to the Linn Sondek's modular design, that makes it so flexible, and up grade able. Look at the latest Ekos SE tone arm, which the tube is made of titanium, an exotic metal which was not available for industrial use until recent times. Another example is the Keel sub chassis/arm board integrated design up grade, which was something Ivor wanted to do when he did the Cirkus bearing kit back in the late 1980's. It was only thru the availability of CAD/CAM(Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing) design and production systems in the last few years which made the Keel up grade possible. Some times, analog also benefited from the advancement of digital products, such as the Radikal DC motor/ power supply up grade. We had learnt about a new quartz clock which is so accurate, that we decide to try it on the turn table DC motor/power supply design, which we could hear immense sonic benefits, due to lowered noise floor, and a more stable speed rotation of the platter. So the Linn Sondek may never stop evolving, after all!

Big E: You're an engineer by profession, are you a music lover too?

DW: Yes, when I am working I look at things from an engineering perspective, but when I am home, I put down my engineer cap and just enjoy my music.

Big E: Are you a digital or analog music guy?

DW: I have some CDs which I used to play on my Linn Ikemi CD player. But ever since I've started working on the LP12 a few years ago, you can say that I've gone mad, as I've amassed a collection of nearly 2500 LPs in a very short period of time. My CD player came so neglected, that I did not missed it when my brother took it for a long term loan. And yes, if you have ask, I'll tell you that I have an all Linn system! They are mostly bought from the pre-owned market, due to the fact that I have a family to take care of.

Big E: What's your take on the latest Linn Klimax DS streamer, coming from an analog guy?

DW: I think the Linn Klimax DS streamer with Linn Studio Masters recordings sounds very much closer to analog playback, compared to a CD player. Despite being accused of killing off the CD player prematurely, I think Gilad did the right thing. Gilad was instrumental in the design of the Linn Klimax DS streamer, and also the Linn Studio Masters hi-rez music catalog.

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