Aside from its ubiquitous LP12 turntable, Linn has always worked with other companies to make its analogue products – the original Ittok tonearm was of course named after one Mr Ito, the Japanese co-creator, and most early ones were made in Japan. The cartridges have also been outsourced; the latest Linn Kandid moving coil is a joint venture with Japanese-based Lyra, and previous Linns were Goldring and Audio Technica based…
The K9 moving magnet was Linn’s best selling and most famous moving magnet, and was ostensibly a modified Audio Technica AT-95E. The AT cost around £13 at the time of the K9’s launch back in the mid nineteen eighties, and the Linn was £59. However, the K9 wasn’t simply the same cartridge with a different paint job; basically Linn took the plastic body off the ’95 and put an aluminium alloy one in its place. The result was a gain in weight of 1.3g, but a more rigid and precise assembly which gripped the stylus better, and also the headshell too – you could tighten up a K9 in the headshell to a point where the AT-95E’s body would simply crack then fall to bits, but with the K9 the same could happen to the headshell! The stylus was also improved, with a Vital stylus profile replacing the standard elliptical diamond.
In other respects the cartridges were the same, with identical copper coil wire for example. The superior stylus gave slightly better channel separation figures (1dB at 1kHz as opposed to 1.5dB), but the output was identical at a healthy 4.5mV, with 47k Ohms recommended load, 100-300pF. Tracking force was specified as 1.7g, and the same robust aluminium cantilever was fitted.
The K18 arrived at the end of the eighties, and was a further modded K9. It sported PC-OCC coil wiring and a specially modified stylus enclosure that bolted on to the body, giving maximum rigidity. It upped the weight to 7.7g, but in other respects was the same. Selling for around £150, it was a very expensive moving magnet back in the day, and didn’t quite achieve the popularity of the K9.
Finally, a K5 was launched soon after, which was essentially a rebadged Basik and sold for around £30. It was a better specified AT-93 with K9 coils, wire and shielding and an elliptical diamond stylus. It got a grey stylus assembly, and the K9 did too, which looked a bit swisher than the original yellow.
Sonically, the Linn K9 was a mixed bag. It sounded like a cheap Audio Technica moving magnet on steroids, which is to say fun, fast, lively and detailed. Although it would never win prizes for delicacy, finesse or sophistication. It’s ‘up and at ’em’ character matched the slightly (back then) warm and relaxed tonality of the Sondek very well, and as with so many Linn Products, it made for a fine synergistic combination. It was also good enough to use in Linn’s top tonearm, demonstrating very well Linn’s mantra that a bad cartridge in a good arm is better than the other way round. The K18 added a bit more punch and detail, but struggled against similarly priced moving coils.
These days, K9s are cheap and cheerful; most will be worn out but a well preserved one with a good stylus is still a satisfying listen. Like a Ford Sierra family car, it’s one of things that’s still surprisingly good by modern standards yet still you’d rather have the modern version. A quick peek down a microscope will tell you whether the stylus is on its way out, or simply listening to how it sounds at the end of an LP side. Pay between £25 and £50 depending on condition and provenance.