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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Ancient Audio Lektor Primer; Raysonic CD128
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Melody Hifi I2A3; Supratek Cabernet Dual
EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz on Zu Definition Pros
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; Eastern Electric M-520; Yamamoto HA-02
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby with Omni Harmonizer; WLM Diva Monitor with WLM Duo 12 subwoofer, Pre/Passive Control, Bass Control and Alto Mac 2.2 amp
Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra complete wiring loom, Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and step-down transformer
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room
Review Component Retail: $1,300 - $3,000 depending on condition and level of upgrades ($3,000 as reviewed)
|Who'd give a shit? Those were my thoughts, precisely, when Jean Nantais suggested I review one of his rebuilt classic Lenco idler-wheel turntables. I was binary boy, an unrepentant vinyl heathen without so much as a single record. Who should care what I had to say about any table without prior context or experience? On staff, Jeff Day in fact was the perfect man to do the honors. Having spilled detailed ink on his Garrard 301 Project, he's presently in the process of doing verbal damage on a Mike Paschetto-furnished vintage Empire loaner. But let's start at the beginning. Reader Bob Olson wrote in hipping me to one Jean Nantais, uncrowned guru of the Lenco faith in the 21st century and his personal guide to the glories of these vintage tables. Our readers really deserved to know about this one. Bob was certain of it.
Indeed. I just wasn't the man. Jeff was and I said so. Imagine my surprise when I received the first of many Nantais emails. "Jean here (French, as in rhymes with Hee-Haw). There certainly are lots of logistical challenges involved, but it certainly also puts a whole new spin on my usual drifting around the globe like a ne'er-do-well. Also a whole new twist on a review: digital man's first exposure to vinyl spinning, a fascinating experiment. Especially as perhaps the great sonic advantage of digital is speed stability (no major mechanical forces to deal with), which a properly set-up idler-wheel drive (and this means married to a heavy plinth) matches, making it a true high-rez source.
"I've been to Cyprus often, jumping off on my many forays from Greece to Israel/Egypt and back again. Miss the Keo beer in liter bottles and fried halloumi sandwiches in Limassol. Always thought I'd settle in Greece some day. For music, I would send over/bring some of the Windham Hill collection and similar pieces. I would send/bring a tonearm and cartridge. I would likely build the plinth here and have my lady friend in Berlin send a Lenco to your address for the finishing touches and assemble the whole there, or simply ship the whole thing entire via Germany to bring costs down. Assuming it ever gets that far.
"Really busy these days building Lencos, preaching and spreading the Idler Gospel behind the scenes and the last thing I thought about was providing a Lenco for review. But I do plan on heading to the Mediterranean this year as I do every year for several months and make an adventure of it. There are things I want to see in Egypt, having been there often as well and being something of an amateur archaeologist/historian. Would, once again, be a very interesting twist on my usual travels to mix it up with analogue, kill two birds with one stone. So, virtual handshake back, thanks very much for considering me and for the offer of hospitality. Lenco or not, I may stop by and say hi."
I was still pleasantly shocked that anyone should be motivated to enlighten me about vinyl's merits. About which, incidentally, I'm acquainted enough to not need conversion. My favored world and crossover music has simply never made the retro transition into vinyl appealing. I own no prior Classic Rock, Jazz or Classical in analog form. Neither am I really drawn to building up a collection thereof. Nor do I consider pops and clicks attractive, nor protracted cleaning rituals, dust covers, flipping sides or not being able to jump tracks from the seat or reshuffle a sequence. But as a self-styled journalist of sorts, I smell a good story as well as the next guy. Lack of experience hasn't hindered me yet to pursue uncharted terrain so I signed on for the proposed deed.
But it's only fair to turn off true vinyl connoisseurs right quick to any serious notions. This report won't contain anything useful for them. It's nothing more than one guy's experiment in culture shock -- between two delivery media -- and a description of what might compel a contented CD-only listener to embrace or at least consider the addition of vinyl. Or not. Those interested in the Swiss Lenco tables, their models, what to watch out for, how to refurbish them, should reference the website Lenco Heaven. Its contributors include Jean Nantais, Malcolm Coulson, Stefano Pasini, Freek, Richard Steinfeld and Fred Johnston who introduce themselves with: "This website is all about the vintage turntable made by Goldring Lenco, the L/GL75. Built in the 70s by a Swiss manufacturer, the 75 has long been overlooked by audiophiles and even in its heyday, it was much maligned because of its idler-wheel technology.
"At the time, belt drives were pretty much the 'new thang' and anything with an idler wheel was snubbed by the hi-i press. The L75 differed from its competitors though because the idler wheel didn't drive the outer rim of the platter like other turntables. It drove the underside of the platter - and a very heavy platter at that (8lb).In addition to the benefits of this unique drive method and the heavy, speed-stabilising platter, the unit was fitted with a very high-quality, high-speed, cogless motor. The only downside of the whole package was the rather poor plinth upon which it sat. It was no different to the other myriad record players available at the time. This had a significant impact on the quality of sound reproduction and was the main reason that the deck was not recognized as a truly great turntable. Luckily, for a very small outlay, enthusiastic owners are now rebuilding these tank-like decks and turning them into what is arguably an audiophile's dream machine. On this site, you will find the story of a few such rebuilds and hopefully, you'll have a mind to try it yourself."
The referenced Goldring connection points at the UK distributor for Lenco at the time. Lenco further badged the L75 as the L13 for Leak to give Lenco hunters another equivalent model to pursue on eBay. The VinylEngine too has pages dedicated to this deck and here's another how-to PDF on refurbishing it. But the most loaded information on the subject was the Nantais-driven "Building hi-end 'tables cheap at Home Despot" threat on AudiogoN, purportedly the longest on record (3700 posts over a 2.5-year run) which eventually got deleted during a hacker attack but has since been resurrected to continue. And I said threat rather than thread deliberately. At its onset, it was highly uncouth and contrarious to challenge the sanctified hierarchy of TTdom - belt-drive best followed by direct-drive, with idler drive dead last of which the Lenco was supposed to be the deadest and lastest. But a growing number of DIYers were spurred on by Jean's cost-effective evangelizing on Lencos. They followed his detailed instructions and helpful feedback on how to roll their own. Then they went public with the results. More followed whose progress and issues encountered during their rebuild projects were shared openly. Some of these folks already owned hi-cred tables. Their hi-mass'd Lencos either stomped their modern decks or pulled even - for a lot less money. Today, there's a veritable underground movement around rebuilt Empire, EMT, Garrard, Leak, Lenco and Thorens decks. Idler wheels are cool again. What was old and discarded is hip once more. And, it seems to be performing. It's this AudiogoN thread that led Tom McQuiggan to start Lenco Heaven on August 25th, 2004 and since then, the Lenco Lovers Forum has appeared to cover the phenomenon yet further. There's plenty of team spirit and support structure for Lenco addicts to tap into.
Upon hearing that I might be getting a Lenco loaner to review, Roger Hebert of Wyetech Lab e-mailed in: "I heard that you are getting a Lenco turntable from Jean Nantais here in Ottawa. I've got one from him, custom built and weighing in at about 70lbs or 32kg. Well, with good recorded LPs, I can have a live band in my room now. It has made things come to life. I don't have words like you do to describe it but it is uncanny how real life the sound is with it. You are in for an -- opposite of rude -- awakening!"
My current descent to awakening status is summed up in Jean's most recent e-mail: "Well, up here I'm slowly assembling the ingredients for a rebuilt Cypriot Lenco, and for my still-theoretical adventure voyage over to your end of the Ball. In case you're curious and want to Google up some info on what's coming, here are some details so far. Should it actually happen, we'll be throwing you in at the deep end of the pool (so far), with the weird and wonderful RS Labs-A1 tonearm, likely the strangest tonearm currently on the market, and the Eselab phono stage from Slovenia, also a strange device. Of course, this all suits the very strange and controversial Lenco turntable! Don't know what cartridge is yet planned as the designer of the Eselab phono stage has very definite ideas on what will and will not work with his phono stage. Never heard it myself, though I own an RS-A1, which is sonically superb but looks like it is made of parts with hooks indiscriminately thrown into a box, shaken up and poured out as randomly snagged into shape. All this theoretical until actually boxed and successfully shipped to Cyprus, waiting for me to wave the checkered flag. I dance the Dance of Actualization! Back to the Deep Freeze." The closing reference to cold Canada explains the Club Med attraction my present residence holds for Jean who used to run a bar in the old town of Rhodes.
Even if this adventure doesn't happen as planned, there's plenty of useful information at the Lenco Heaven site to warrant today's notice. At least one chap some googling dug up has gone on record saying he sold his prior Garrard 401 in favor of a Lenco L75. This suggests that folks embroiled in the current Garrard frenzy which has driven up prices might want to get sidetracked and pursue a Lenco instead. They're still said to be plentiful and coming up on the used market for very reasonable coin. If you don't hear more from me on the subject, you'll know where to start digging now. Because, regardless of my unimportant opinion on the matter, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that you should - give a shit.