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!
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).
Oops, simultaneous postings! Hi all, just to clear up what may appear to be incorrect conclusions, with all due respect (and more!: who else would sign up for this out there? Any takers??) to the incredibly generous and helpful Rick: what I reported on was Round One, no misprepresentations, and what - for fault of a better term - was Round Two (I don't really count Round Two as Round Two as this involved me, Rick and the fellow who acted as go-between to hear what 47K did to the contest in poreparation for the real Round Two, so this involved no independent witnesses). Since I did not attend the real Round Two and did not report on it or its conclusions, then I could not misrepresent it. During the not-actual Round Two, Rick did say the bass on the SME had improved (after changing the cartridge loading to 47K) and more closely approached the Lenco's bass in terms of reach and power, which implies the Lenco was the standard here and not the SME. I am guilty here of perhaps jumping the gun on this conclusion only in reporting on Rick, which evidently changed again in the actual Round Two, so sorry about that Rick.

I do look forward to doing and hearing the tape vs turntables comparison, which I will report on: I believe, all due respect to Rick, that had I been there, and some others from Round One, conclusions would have differed, as I (and they) hear some things Rick does not hear (i.e. such as the matter of 3D "presence" which Rick perceives as forwardness, which may be on the tape and communicated via the Lenco but not the SME, and the matter of PRaT/timing, and so on). Definitely no contest on the highs, but there are reasons for this. To expand on the matter of timing, while I agree with Rick on the matter of the bass being better via the SME on some recordings, and the matter of high frequencies (which I could clearly hear and so I knew something was up, as Lencos have never been criticized by others in the matter of high-frequency extension, including some who own either the same Sound labs or even the same Atma-Sphere/Sound Lab system as Rick); I DID hear, on every single recording (and this was agreed on by at least four of us in Round One), a very wide gap between the Lenco and the SME in terms of PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) and gestalt. By "gestalt" I mean essentially timing, it means all the musicians are following precisely the same rhythm at the same precise time, so that they are evidently in chorus/symphony on this point: one organic whole. So, on this score, unrecognized and perhaps simply dismissed by Rick and the others in Round Two, did the SME preserve its superiority to the Lenco vis-a-vis the Master Tape? Does Master Tape even have this "artefact", and do the electronics inside the tape machine convey it if it's there? There are no absolute standards in an always imperfect world. I'll find out and report on it honestly in Round Three and it precursor (the not-actual Round Three/set-up ;-).

So, in Round One, Rick's first and immediate reaction, after only one or two minutes was to exclaim "Man this is a good turntable!" (not precisely the right words I believe, but an honest reporting of the facts). So this can sink in, this is in context of Rick's living daily with his SME 30/Graham Phantom. There were five of us there, four of us preferred the Lenco (Rick preferring the SME), and I actually sided with Rick against the others on the matter of bass (which was pretty well uniformly preferred by the others on the Lenco, including what had been a professional musician/drummer, while I agreed with Rick that the SME favoured certain LPs while the Lenco favoured others) and the matter of highs (which again the others preferred on the Lenco I believe). We were forced to go back and forth again and again on certain recordings, which shows just how close the contest really was in audiophile terms (i.e. information and not music). All was as I reported in Round One, with the midrange via the Lenco having more presence, impact, snap and even better separation of instruments (of course Rick can disagree here), and that the highs via the Lenco were indeed rolled off as compared with the SME (pretty well only me and Rick agreed on this, as the others found the smmooooth Lenco highs still there and quite good/pleasing). The end result of that Round One was that all agreed, including Rick, that the Lenco was World-Class, that the SME was also World-Class, and that it was a close-run race, so no misrepresentation. This evidently changed in the real Round Two.

If one reads Rick's posting, our dichotomy as to "neutrality" (which I consider actually a colouration) vs musical truth is even more starkly highlighted, and progresses/expands as time goes on, as every single superiority the Lenco has over the SME is dismissed as an aberration. So, the Lenco's evidently debatable "superiority" in terms of the SLAM I always write about, transients, presence (a three-dimensionality I hear but which Rick describes as "forward"), and bass weight and power get described as : "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." Two opposing judgments of precisely the same sonic artefacts/experiences.

Musically-speaking, all present in Round One agreed the Lenco was superior, and even Rick found it pleasing, but we evidently have different definitions of "musicality/musical". I define this in what I consider the usual/normal way, as in the phrases "music to my ear" (which means the "pleasing colourations" Rick is talking about) and "music to sooth the savage breast" which again points to beauty and not information. The Oxford Dictionary defines it thus: "Having the nature or characteristics of music; tuneful, melodious, harmonious; pleasing in sound, euphonious." This closely parallel's Rick's own description of the Lenco: "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." Rick more closely ties "musical" to information and accuracy, such as pleasing definition of high-frequency detail and "neutrality," I believe. So a semantic disagreement as well, this hobby is a mine field! But, perhaps with the matter of the Lenco/?/Clearaudio's highs attended to and so a more balanced comparison achieved, this will change the descriptions.

So more and more the differences between the two, in strict audiophile terms (musicality aside), veer towards the matter of high-frequencies, already explained/described in my last post. Rick is going out of his way to help here with a proper Shootout: I actually relied on Rick's aural memory in our quick experiment to see if the Clearaudio's highs improved on the JMW (he said it did and it seemed so to me as well, and furthermore the bass changed too, seemed tighter to me, so expect new developments here too), and Rick actually held the Lenco top-plate for me while I examined and tried, unsuccessfully (because it simply didn't fit, first time in my experience so I never assumed/considered this as a possibility), to repair the faulty slide mechanism.

To end, we are both reporting honestly on the same series of events, but are in disagreement as to what it all means. Furthermore, there is the problem with the idler mechanism, which means the Lenco was not performing even near to spec (and yet this STILL forced resorting to Master Tape in Round Two, in order to decide, I leave it to the readers to recognize the implications of just how good the Lenco is in strict audiophile terms, i./e. detail, imaging, information and so on), leaving musical issues aside. And furthermore and added to that is the matter of the Clearaudio I took a chance on as it was the only one I could score (and I'm happy about that as it is my favourite cartrdige ever!), an unknown quantity, untested (I should never have sold the superb and neutral Ortofon Jubilee). The accompanying graph shows it drops off precipitously at a frequency of 14K instead of the 20K the factory says it should measure at (which makes one wonder why Clearaudio even released it), and me and Rick discovered that the Clearaudio favoured the JMW (which, to hand it to Rick, he predicted). Actually, this drop-off is a good thing in the context of the horn-loaded Electro-Voice system I am building. Anyway, Rick is very constructive, he suggested the Clearaudio would improve on the JMW and wanted this (so he does really want to know the truth of the matter of Lenco vs current Contender), and actually suggested on-the-spot remedies to the matter of the idler mechanism while I held it, and is looking forward to Round Three, where hopefully the matter of the high frequencies will really be ameliorated, and with correct speed with no wobbly-mechanism-induced speed variations we will hear the Lenco for real.

So, stay tuned to Round Three all, I'm sure the audiophile comunity is as divided overall as me and Rick are as to what constitutes "musicality" and what "neutrality" means and what we are aiming for in the construction/assembly of our sound systems!! Have fun all, and don't forget to thank Rick's endless generosity of time and effort, and the search for musical truth (and the different meanings attached to THAT ;-))!!
I say again, it would be interesting to try to make the comparison more "scientific" by using at least the same cartridge on the two turntables, granting that swapping tonearms is just too much of a pain in the arse to ask of Rick. (I know I wouldn't want to do it, were I the owner of the SME30.) Or, you could possibly swap cartridges and listen to see whether the differences you hear and ascribe to the respective turntables are indeed due to properties of the turntables or the cartrdidges. Having said all that, the differences you and Rick describe do pretty well fit with reviews of the SME30 (neutral, analytical, maybe a bit dry compared to some others) and the Lenco of my direct experience and as described by others, too.
Hi Lew, everyone seems to agree with you, including me! We'll see how curious Rick gets in the end, already this is a fabulous experience on all sorts of fronts, from straightforward audiophile experiments through philosophy to exposing the different ways people perceive and experience sound!! I couldn't give a damn about "neutrality" (beyond retreiving as much of the information as I can from the grooves with all its natural energy and timing intact, and actually proper tonal balance too which DOES contribute to the musical experience) as I focus on enjoyment/my definition of musicality which I consider paramount (I want that "frisson"); while Rick's Holy Grail is precisely the reverse in his main system, with a focus on revealing what is actually on the pressing and nothing else (we disagree on what is actually in the groove, as I believe these "colourations" are supposed to be there...once the high frequencies are attended to). Not that he doesn't intensely appreciate the "magic" of the Lenco as I witnessed, and so, as I understand it, is now toying with the idea of a specialized UN-neutral vintage system for this very reason, he just doesn't want it in his Reference System.

There's another area here too, as this high-frequency rolloff in Rick's system is quite pronounced, he reports measuring only 10K. Though the Concerto does roll off at 14K (and so highlights this loss), I also have a hard time believing this leads to the loss of air and high-frequency minutiae which I do indeed retrieve in my own two systems, but which disappears on Rick's. Where'd the missing 4K go? I have heard Lencos in almost-countless ribbon and electrostatic systems, in high-end dynamic driver systems, NOT vintage, all of which are said to extend well beyond 20K, and never a high-frequency rolloff reported or heard (in fact improvement), as those who have heard Lencos before or currently know VERY well. Lencos and Garrards in the same plinths have replaced all sorts of current high-end belt-drives, from the "usual" Linn LP12s and others at this size/price-point, also NOT considered rolled off in the high frequencies, through several VPI TNTs and, Platine Verdiers and various Nottinghams up through the top Dais (I think top), the top Der Plattenspeiler - also considered one of the most neutral belt-drives ever made - and throw in a SME 10. Are we to assume these are set up in frequency-limited systems which don't reveal the Lenco's limitations? No, since Lencos are set up in identical systems to Rick's, even with some improvements/upgrades. So, is this due to the Cardas cable I was forced to rely on as well? A cable burn-in issue? There's some mystery here, I'll need to do some research. I may in fact make balanced cables from scratch this weekend using my fave ultra-thin solid core, which is not rolled off, at least in comparison with Cardas, and burn it in in advance.

Evidently Rick's system is ultra-high resolution, enough so to make cable issues ultra-obvious. I went in, evidently overconfident, and didn't think any obvious bottleneck like crappy cables (but I did spend real money on the best I could get, hence the Cardas) would impede the Lenco's inexorable advance ;-). But, as written before the SME is a VERY serious Contender, as one would expect from a real engineering company's Statement on record player design, and one cannot be cavalier on ANY issue (and I Thank God I took it seriously enough to buy the Concerto, otherwise it really would have been a slaughter).

On the Lenco Front, I took care of the faulty slider mechanism (replaced it with another) and now it is solid, and the resulting sound is incredible (it was before, but now with CONTROL) via my Electro-Voice system: ultra precise and fast, with incredibly focused dynamics (meaning it is concentrated and controlled in bursts of intense energy). The highs are there, air in abundance, and high-frequency minutia obvious and precise, using my usual Petra/Music Boy interconnects (the VPI JMW has RCA's on the back). It's possible that the wobbly wheel smeared and exaggerated certain effects leading to Rick's current judgment, and of course switching to the fab VPI tonearm makes significant changes too, from the bass, which now sounds very precise and controlled, through to the highs, which sound extended, airy and delicate, in MY system. Let's hope this translates to Rick's. More and more I see no choice but to make new Neutrik balanced cables, home-made style, and burn them in using a tuner, in order to remove this possibility.

O, and Mario, sorry I forgot about your question: you have the process exactly right, I simply use a caulking gun (acrylic/fast-dry) to make dikes around the needed mechanisms, which I simply leave in place after the glue has hardened. I don't fill up to the rim as the threaded inserts for the bolts go only about half-way up, so I fill up to the rim of these inserts, after levelling (this is important). It takes about 12 hours for it to harden, 24 to cure completely, and I use the quicker dry (but given the amount, it takes much longer to harden). It's the marine-grade stuff which sells in litre bottles or bigger, not cheap.

Anyway, for all the nay-sayers out there, those who damn with faint praise, those who accused me for years of hyperbole, the Lenco has now duked out two rounds with the SME 30 for a draw so far overall (and this with a seriously faulty speed issue/mechanism I wasn't aware of until the Shootout), I defy you to throw in the ring your Well Tempereds, your VPI TNTs, your $2K-$20k belt-drives from whichever company, against the SME 30 and get even close to the same results. As reported, in terms of actual information-retrieval, the two were SO close it took days and days of back-and-forth A-B-ing in order to get a more precise idea of what was actually going on (even with a 10K rolloff), and led to a comparison with Master Tape in order to settle the issue (which in fact is not settled yet). I'm REALLY curious to see if Master Tape does indeed convey the PRaT and gestalt/magic I love so much (or is it an artefact of the Lenco/Idlers and possibly the vinyl itself), I have no doubt as to the results reported in terms of high-frequencies and their effects on the overall sound of the Lenco in Round Two, but I do have questions as to these particular aspects of musicality, which are my stock in trade ;-).

As always, I am SO grateful to Rick for enthusiastically signing up for this Great Experiment, more later on how the two drives systems impact information-retrieval: in a nutshell I had claimed that the Idler was quite simply the superior system, and here we have a mass-manufactured 15-pound Lenco with a minute so-so main bearing and 8-pound platter Direct Coupled to an 85-pound chunk of wood outperforming the SME (about 120 pounds of precision-machined and balanced metal by one of the premier engineering companies of analogue, with I think an 18 kg platter) in terms of what Rick considers colourations (dynamics, attack, transients, bass reach) and about equaling it overall in terms of detail (better in the midrange according to my ears and others', lesser in the high frequencies for now, a toss-up in the bass). Stylus Force Drag is an MUCH more serious problem than audiophiles assume, and it takes real torque of the sort offered by idler-wheel drives to overcome this; belt-drives in comparison loose the ball precisely at the moment of greatest groove excursion/transients/dynamic swings, regardless of platter mass (this is not the same as active torque), which is why Idlers, as this experiment shows so far, do a better job of transients and dynamics (though Rick believes this is due to the Lenco's top-plate resonances). Even if the final judgment goes to the SME, and given the improvements we'll see about that, I think I have already proven my point. And to give Rick even more credit, he is VERY interested in seeing what he perceives as this resonance problem taken care of via Reinderspeter's top-plate (and actually this is precisely what the top-plate will do), and sees himself as a help in the development of the Lenco, as indeed he is!

Now, to the soldering station :-)!!