Building high-end 'tables cheap at Home Despot II

“For those who want the moon but can't afford it or those who can afford it but like to have fun and work with their hands, I'm willing to give out a recipe for a true high-end 'table which is easy to do, and fun to make as sky's the limit on design/creativity! The cost of materials, including 'table, is roughly $200 (depending, more or less), and add to that a Rega tonearm. The results are astonishing. I'll even tell/show you how to make chipboard look like marble and fool and impress all your friends. If there's interest I'll get on with this project, if not, I'll just continue making them in my basement. The next one I make will have a Corian top and have a zebra stripe pattern! Fun! Any takers?”

The Lead in “Da Thread” as posted by Johnnantais - 2-01-04

Let the saga continue. Sail on, oh ships of Lenco!
Dear Jean, I know that I sound like a nattering nabob of negativism (thank you, Spiro Agnew's speech writer), but very widely experienced analoguistas like Raul have written on this site that the tonearm/cartridge combo has far more to do with the "flavors" of the resulting sound from an LP than does the table per se. I take Raul very seriously in this instance since he owns a staggering array of tables, arms, and cartridges and seems to play with different combinations of them ad nauseam. Therefore, the experiment conducted by you and Rick is at least as much a comparison of the respective tonearms and cartridges as it is a comparison of two turntables, if not moreso. (I will disagree with Raul to the extent that I heard a huge difference when I moved my one and only Triplanar and Koetsu Urushi from my Notts Hyperspace to my giant direct-coupled Lenco.) Would it be possible at least to swap the two cartridges between the two set-ups and re-evaluate?
I thought I would take a minute or two and write up a brief summary, in my own words, of my experiences with the vintage Lenco vs. SME 30/2 discussion. With all due respect to Jean, I think I’m being misquoted and somewhat misrepresented so I want to set the record straight for anyone who might be reading this.

I’m not a dealer and I don’t sell SME or Lenco products. Actually, I don’t sell any products at all. I’m just an audio hobbyist and have been for years. Simple.

I do have friends who own or have owned Lenco turntables in the past who wanted to hear this comparison in my personal system. Many are familiar with it and have been invited over before.

What I really I wanted to hear is what a vintage turntable would sound like in a modern, state-of-the-art stereo system. If anything, I wanted to believe that the Lenco (or any vintage turntable) might compare favorably with the SME 30/2.

So is the Lenco superior to the SME 30/2 in any way? In a word - no. Does it match the SME for pure truth in musical reproduction? Again, no. The Lenco is a fine turntable but it’s not really as honest as the SME 30/2. Why should it be? The differences between the two tables are vast.

What the Lenco is is a very good vintage turntable that has very pleasing musical colorations that deviate significantly from the very neutral and musical presentation of the SME 30/2.

Here is one test we did that was very significant to this conclusion. I have beside the SME 30/2 a fully restored AMPEX ATR-102 with Aria electronics from ATR Services in the USA. This is used in mastering facilities throughout the world and is state-of-the-art in tape reproduction. I also have a subscription to The Tape Project, which I highly recommend. The music and the reproduction are extraordinary and the closest to the live musical event I have yet experienced. We played TP-003 Arnold Overtures - The Smoke from the 1/4” dub from the 1” running master tape from Reference Recordings. It is breathtaking. Audiophile terminology simply doesn’t apply here. It’s as close to live as you are going to hear.

Once we had this as our aural benchmark, we shifted to the identical recording on 180 g audiophile vinyl from Reference Recordings on the SME 30/2. Differences were present but absolutely minor and many were due to the inherent limitations of vinyl. The SME 30/2 presents itself as a neutral platform, neither adding nor subtracting sonically to what is on the recording. It’s sonically as close to the tape as you might want and very close to the musical event captured on that tape. This is what the SME 30/2 does exceedingly well. It is an honest musical turntable that is able to give you the most that your vinyl has to offer. That is why I bought it.

We then turned our attention to the Lenco and this is where we begin to hear how the Lenco differs from the master tape and the SME 30/2. It is not a neutral platform and it does have some rather significant colorations. These colorations are pleasing to some and may play very well to certain systems. I would imagine that the Lenco would fair extremely well in a vintage system playing either with horns, Quads or speaker systems that are not full range.

The Lenco has a pronounced bass boost that is a little fast and heavy, a warmer, livelier midrange that may cause snare drums and percussion instruments to leap out in stark contrast to the background music, and a pronounced rolled off top end that tends to take some of the life out of the music and reduces the subtle room interactions that are present on the recording. This provides slam, impact, and a snap to every recording you might want to throw at it but it is not an honest reproducer. These issues may also be arm, cartridge or set-up related. It’s not an exact science here.

To address the obvious value concern, the SME 30/2 is an expensive table but worth every penny in my system. I think it represents fine value for the money and allows me to hear the music recording as honestly as possible. I’d like to believe that a turntable costing thousands less might give me that experience, as I’m sure, would many others however, it’s simply not the case. If you are considering the SME 30 (or the 20 - I’ve owned both) buy the SME. You will never be disappointed.

If you are considering the Lenco, buy the Lenco, or better yet, build a Lenco as Jean suggests. It’s a fun table and a very musical player, colorations and all. It’s relatively inexpensive and you will learn a great deal about vintage audio. It would be a very fun table to listen to against any current offering. You would begin to hear that almost every table has a sound and you might find one that you like.

Enjoy your hobby and have fun.

We have another week with this table and Jean has taken it back to his shop to fit it with a JMW tonearm and to repair some obvious speed-stability related issues the table has had since it arrived in my house.

Please remember the opinions expressed by this broadcast may not necessarily be those of this station or its affiliates.

Thank you.

Hi Lew, no you don't sound negative at all: my answer to you is that we take what we can get. Rick is an incredibly generous fellow, and who knows, maybe he will even be willing some day to transfer his tonearm/cart to my Lenco, I'll have a blank armboard ready and a drill-press!! But, I totally understand him if he doesn't want to start discombobulating his pricey SME to further the experiment. I have no cartridges which can compete with the Benz LP and Clearaudio Concerto in my arsenal which are not tapped and so useable with the tapped RS-A1, I will have to finally strip the threads in my RS-A1 and make it useable with tapped cartridges: THEN we will be able to perhaps simply plunk the RS-A1 on one turntable and simply swap it over to the other for a fair comparison (but given the SME 30's suprisingly compact dimensions, this necessitates complete removal of the Graham Phantom). He is certainly curious, so who know? But, our neutrality vs musical truth dichotomy continues, and so is the Shootout which continues for Round Three next week!

It turns out my Lenco has a faulty idler-slide mechanism, too loose and no way to fix it without replacing it, seems there was some variation in these and we must be careful in swapping parts from one Lenco to the next (there is also some variation in the length of the idler-wheel arms as I recently discovered as well). The result of this will be further improved speed stability and even better sound. We also discovered that the Concerto was MUCH happier in his system on the JMW tonearm than on the SME IV tonearm, which was killing the highs (this may be due to the complex wiring arrangement for the SME, as his preamp accepts only balanced Neutrik connectors, which necessitated complex connections, some of them plain cheap and bad (no way to find special female RCAs for cable termination). This in turn meant: SME tonearm cable to cheap female RCAs, in turn soldered to three-conductor balanced cable to Neutrik. Perhaps the changeover too from SME cable to Cardas via the cheap RCA created a high-frequency barrier. Or the JMW is quite simply the better tonearm ;-) (in my system however, the SME was superior, but this with the cable direct to preamp). The cable I made for the JMW, however, goes direct from the RCAs at one end to the Neutrik at the other. Incredible that Rick lets me take care of these various issues and come back with a fresh Lenco next week! In the interim, while the Lenco is still more powerful and "musical" (in terms of dynamics/punchiness, gestalt and PRaT) - which some dismiss as a colouration/distortion and so of no consequence and in fact a negative (I believe that PRaT and gestalt, the sense of all the musicians being on the same page rhyhmically, IS viable, neutral information, and that this information is far better conveyed by the Lenco/idlers, than by even the mighty SME or any belt-drive, due to the differing drive systems); and some don't question as anything other than musicality and so viable and acceptable "information" (so overall in terms of witnesses we have a bit of a draw) - it was discovered that the Benz LP improved quite a lot when loaded at 47K (while the Concerto barely changed...again might be due to the complex cabling), and a change in VTA made it even better, so it was time to attend to properly setting up the fab Clearaudio Concerto and recover its quickly fading high frequencies (in relative comparison), which is simply THE most musical cartridge I've ever heard (and it's a high-end MC!), and in terms of the usual audiophile area stupendous. More next week when all is attended to!

And speaking of blogs, I AM working on setting up my own website, where I will continue my Rants into the Void, at some point this summer, and continue to report on and share various experiments with various 'tables and other equipment, and more Idler Conquests, Conversions and Competitions! The Firewall will be provided by Raid ;-). Have fun all!!
Sounds like the Plains of Abraham redux. The master tapes don't lie. But whether more like Odysseus vs. Cyclops, Ali vs. Frazier, or Jimmy Superfly Snuka vs. Don Cage, all such pitched battles in Lenco-land are addictive to seekers of the analog Grail.
Thanks for the words of sanity Rick!

A DIY Lenco is without a doubt very good value for money and a very satisfying path to follow.

But it will never be able to do what an SME 30 can do. That's pure logic. Just look at the insanely elevated level of craftsmanship and fit'n'finish!

The only way to compare the 2 tables is to use the same arm and cartridge on both (into the same phono pre).