4th November 2015
How did Linn, a hi-fi manufacturer come under the radar of ROX? Ken Kessler explores how a childhood friendship, engineering and watchmaking built its roots in Glasgow and developed into something to celebrate music.
“Grant Mitchell and I grew up together, around the corner from each other,” says Linn’s CEO, Gilad Tiefenbrun. It explained in part how a high-end Scottish hi-fi manufacturer came under the radar of ROX: a long friendship with one of ROX’s founders. There’s more to it, than that, however. Linn’s roots are in engineering, to standards recognisable by watchmakers, so the connection is not that abstruse. Neither is the pure Scottishness of both companies, which defines their obsession with excellence.
“Scotland has a tremendous engineering heritage, and Glasgow itself was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. The ships, the ocean-going liners were produced here, Glasgow University goes back 500 years with a great engineering tradition, and that’s the background to Linn. The Clyde-built ethos is the engineering heritage of Glasgow and Scotland.
“On the east coast you have Edinburgh, which is more commercial and financial, it’s the capital and more like London. On the west coast you have Glasgow, which is more industrial, with a huge history in textiles, a huge history in trade, a melting pot. So the creative energy of Glasgow would be more around engineering, bringing together the people and the ideas to create innovation.”
Castle Precision Engineering, from which Linn Products sprang, was founded over 60 years ago to manufacture machines for the textile industry. It diversified so that, in the middle of the hi-fi boom in the early 1970s, the company was positioned to manufacture luxury turntables. The Linn LP-12 – still in production – changed the way hi-fi enthusiasts regarded the “source” component, the piece of equipment that feeds the music to the amplifier and speakers. Gilad’s father and Linn’s founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, demonstrated unequivocally that the sound of a hi-fi system can only be as good as what goes in at the beginning.
What goes around comes around: the LP-12 remained in production even during the years of the LP’s decline due to digital playback, especially Compact Disc. Now there’s a vinyl revolution, reaffirming Linn’s belief in the LP as a premium music source. So, although the company today manufactures electronics and loudspeakers, the engineering element that defined the orignal LP-12 remains a core part of the brand’s profile.
“From our point of view, the role that an engineering company plays in a community is vital. When Britain gave up its manufacturing base over the years because of lower-cost competition, what it failed to do was establish a base in high-value manufacturing, which is a sustainable position as shown by Linn. The whole German economy is hanging off sustainable high-value manufacturing.”
Linn is firmly in the high-value sector, eschewing the disposable, entry-level electronics that satisfy those who don’t care enough about music to want “high end” performance. Linn’s products are designed as much for longevity as they are for performance or prestige, attitudes not unfamiliar to those who love watches. No-compromise engineering is the difference between Linn and the mass market, and not solely for the products themselves.
“If you think about it, the employment Linn brings to the community and has done now for over 42 years, it’s a phenomenal number of families whose lives have been positively impacted by Linn. And that’s to say little of the continuous flow of school kids who come through here on tours, who do their work placements here, who get their first taste of work experience here – teenagers, university students, internships. A lot of people benefit from Linn’s engineering who don’t even work here.”
Regarding Scotland’s engineering future, Gilad participated in a four-year European research project into sustainable, high-value manufacturing right across Europe. “I’m inherently optimistic about engineering in Scotland because we have all the raw materials that we need: you need brain power, an egalitarian society, which we really have here.
“This is our real advantage over the Chinese in our ability to have men and women from any background, any race, within this city, or within Scotland in particular – people are truly egalitarian here so it is very easy to get people to work together and be creative together. And that’s what you need to stay at the high end of manufacturing and engineering.”
Linn has made the transition from pure mechanical engineering to advanced electronics over a span of four decades, even creating its own computer operating system at one point. Embracing digital technology was a prescient mode of behaviour to ensure its survival, even with the threat of low-cost manufacturing from Asia. “We started as a mechanical engineering company, and we’ve remained one, but we’ve added in electronics, electrical engineering and more recently software has become a bigger and bigger part.
“The software part now includes The Cloud – there are so many different aspects now to what we classify as engineering in this company, and the number of engineers at Linn as a proportion of the total employees is growing all the time. The reason being, unless you integrate new skills into this business, you don’t stay at the high end.
“So if you really want to compete with the best from a base in Scotland, then you have to commit 100 per cent. That means you have to invest a lot of money and keep adding to your skills, because if, in Linn’s history, we’d said, ‘Let’s just stay as a turntable maker’, we probably wouldn’t be here today.”
To celebrate one of the biggest names in popular music, our guests embraced the sounds of David Bowie with Linn Records at our George Street boutique in the heart of Scotland’s capital. We enjoyed a trip down memory lane learning all about the musical genius of Bowie including his most famous character, Ziggy Stardust.
At our second Linn Records event, our guests this time were provided a deeper insight behind Rock legends Pink Floyd, once again allowing us to hear exactly how the music sounded just as it was recorded. Linn were fantastic in providing guests with the opportunity to discover the incredible legacy of Pink Floyd and what spurred them on to record their original tracks.
At our first Linn Records event, our guests enjoyed an evening of iconic music and a deeper insight into the lives and motivations behind Rock & Roll legends Led Zeppelin. Guests were treated to hearing each Led Zeppelin song exactly how it was recorded all those years ago.