Lenco is currently a Dutch owned brand of audio & video equipment and part of the STL Group of brands. However, when audio hobbyists refer to Lenco, especially Lenco turntables, they are typically referring to the defunct Swiss firm Lenco AG (from Oberburg, Burgdorf that was founded in 1946), a turntable manufacturer prominent during the 1950–1980s. This article will discuss why vintage (used) Lenco turntables are of interest to audio hobbyists.
Turntables are electromechanical systems used to extract musical signals cut as modulations into vinyl or shellac records. As a system, a turntable typically consists of a platter and drive system (mounted on a plinth), a tonearm, and a phono cartridge. The platter provides the rotational energy to the record placed upon it via the platter drive system, energy which the phono cartridge transducer (held above the record by the tonearm) needs to trace and convert the modulations into electrical signals. These electrical signals are then amplified and re-equalized, and finally converted into musical sound-waves by loudspeakers. A key functional requirement of a turntable system is the consistency of the platters rotational velocity, especially when high level modulations (loud sounds, typically with low frequency content) provide greater friction to the phono transducer, creating a dynamic load on the platter drive system. Various techniques are used to rotate the platter and to generate the required rotational energy; an "idler" rotation system was made by the now defunct Swiss turntable manufacturer Lenco.
Vintage Swiss made Lenco and Lenco OEM/re-badged Barthe, Benjamin, Bogen, Goldring, Grundig, Komet, and Voxon turntables used a vertical "idler-drive" to rotate the platter, as opposed to a belt drive or more recent direct drive turntables. This idler-driver directly couples the rotating motor force to the platter via a solid rubber disc or rubberized wheel. When coupled to a heavy platter (early model Lenco's have cast non-ferrous metal platters of almost 4 kg), and modified , the idler-drive can provide steady rotational consistency, even when heavily modulated passages are tracked by a phono cartridge. Many audiophiles believe that this "rotational consistency" translates into bass "slam" (audiophile jargon for impactful bass) and rhythmic fidelity.  As a system to impart the needed rotational energy to a vinyl record, the idler-drive is something of a brute-force technique, and the engineering that Lenco used, especially in older models, was both simple and cost effective.
Idler-drive turntable systems are not, however, without drawbacks – coupling the platter directly to the motor means that vibrations from the motor can be passed to the platter, where they can be picked up and amplified by the sensitive phono cartridge transducer. As an example, small variations in the concentricity of the rubberized idler wheel can cause small speed variations and rumble. This will color and degrade the musical signals being amplified. Moreover, the fabrication techniques used to build Lenco turntables exacerbated problems with vibration control, as the idler-drive motor was housed in a "cavity" that allowed resonance reinforcement, and the motor was not sufficiently damped or decoupled from the plinth to prevent certain colorations.
Modern day hobbyists have addressed these short-comings in vintage Lenco turntables by modifying them, eliminating the cavities and providing a high mass chassis/plinth for the turntable, and by refurbishing the idler wheels, using precision machined idler wheels with engineering grade o'rings. The results can be satisfying to these hobbyists, especially as the cost to refurbish and modify a used vintage Lenco turntable can be small in comparison with the cost of buying a new turntable (provided that one has invested in the tools needed to tackle such a project – chief among these a table-saw and router). Subjectively, these turntables are often compared to "Audiophile-grade" turntable systems.
In addition to the above, it should be noted that despite being a mass-market product, the Lenco idler system enjoyed a unique system of engagement when compared to most of its contemporaries. Unlike the proliferation of internal rim-drives, the 4.3KG platter (in the case of the L75) was/is driven by the idler against the flat, horizontal underside. This had, and continues to have two inherent advantages:
1) – inconsistencies in platter formation, be it in casting or machining which inevitably affect rim drives are no longer effectual in terms of mechanical engagement. 2) - as a result of the non-linear protraction of a circularly finite contact medium (not confined to the engagement with a specific radius) a totally variable/infinite speed is selectable.
Lencos, simple in their format, lend themselves easily to modification. Such modifications, when taken to extreme using state of the art modifications such as top-plate, plinth and bearing modifications/replacements have on unbiased listening easily out-performed contemporary state of the art commercial offerings.
The idea that idlers are noisy is a mere artefact from 1960's advertising – simply look at the underside of an idler; any idler: compare it to a belt drive. It will become immediately apparent as to why the leading manufacturers switched to belt drive as soon as 78's (which by definition could not use any means other than idler-drive owing to the obvious speed variation incumbent with massive groove modulation) became the fading fashion. Idlers are far more expensive to build than belt drives.
In later years, Lenco also included a line of belt drive turntables which became well known and were widely used in dance studies. Since LP's were likely to have needles skip if there was movement close to the turntable, Lenco built a special suspension which isolated it from any vibrations carried through the floor. The L-85 was the best known of these models.
Lenco turntable models
Goldring Lenco GL75 (re-badged Lenco L75) The ubiquitous Lenco model that many Lenco lovers modify. Lenco L85 was known for its reliable performance and high degree of isolation from acoustic vibrations and floor vibrations.
- "STL Group bv Homepage". Retrieved 2007-11-16.
- Brady, Chris (2008-10-06). "Teres MicroPrecise Speed Technology PDF". Retrieved 2009-01-15.
Dealing with stylus drag is another important aspect of a quality turntable drive system. It would seem that the tiny forces exerted by the stylus would fade into insignificance. However, given our extraordinary sensitivity to micro speed variations, the uneven force from stylus drag is audible and degrades sound reproduction. With a microscopic view, loud passages slightly slow the platters rotation. Contrary to popular beliefs platter mass changes how stylus drag affects speed but does not counteract the effects of stylus drag. A massive platter will reduce the magnitude of the variation but extends it over a longer period of time. A light platter will conversely allow a larger speed variation but it enables more rapid recovery. Heavy vs. light platters exhibit quite different sounding degradations but they are still degradations. We find the longer shallower variations that result from a heavy platter to be more benign. However, there are others that prefer the degradations from a light platter. The point is that stylus drag causes degradations that are changed but not eliminated by platter mass. The only effective mechanism for truly reducing stylus drag effects is application of torque from the motor. Increasing the available motor torque makes stylus drag proportionately smaller and therefore will result in a net reduction in the effects of stylus drag. However, increasing torque usually will at the same time increase cogging. Once again we are back to the need of finding a balance between two competing objectives. To further complicate the situation a compliant coupling between the motor and platter reduces the motors ability to control platter speed. Any compliance between the motor and platter causes a delay in the delivery of torque. When a rubber belt is used additional torque from the motor will cause the belt to stretch. This energy will eventually be delivered to the platter but only after a time delay making it impossible for the motor to compensate for short term effects of stylus drag.
- "More Lencos -". 13651847. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
- "The Weekly Grove" (PDF). 2006-12-01. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
- "A Lenco motor controller to solve everything". 2007-11-10. Retrieved 2007-11-22.[dead link]
- melomane, Music-Lover-Audiophile-in-Canada (2005-02-10). "Re: Vintage Turntables (EMT, Garrard, Thorens) Opinions please". Retrieved 2007-11-18.
Anyway, as a representative of the idler-wheel technology which majors in slam, powerful bass and musical excitement, the Lenco has also easily beaten the tricked-out Linn LP12 (Cetech carbopn-fibre subchassis etc.) in every area including detail, and in all the usual audiophile categories.
- Steinfeld, Richard. "An article by Richard Steinfeld (Cartridges)". Retrieved 2007-11-17.
The cast platter machines bring the Lenco design very close to the audiophile realm, and can make for a very satisfying turntable.
- Ebaen, Srajan (2007-03-01). "6moons audio reviews: Lenco L75". Retrieved 2007-11-18.
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..