To quote a wise and aged observer of the high end (okay, it was ME): "the funny thing is that once an old piece of gear achieves 'Classic' status, it rarely falls from favor again". What does that have to do with today's entry? It means, don't expect to find $29 Lenco turntables again, anytime soon.
And who do we have to blame for this state of affairs? You, mostly; and you, and you, and you. Huh?? you ask, articulate soul that you are. Here's why....
I suppose there may be, somewhere in the bowels of the internet, a longer thread than this thread
in our own Forums, with roots back to 2004.
...but I suspect that that longer thread is discussing the relative hotness of Megan Fox and Jessica Biel (ooh--tough one!), not how to build a high end turntable from household scrap and a neglected no-name piece from Grandma's attic.
This isn't the first time that a no-name has become A Name in the strange world of retro audio. When Marantz and McIntosh tube amps became too scarce and too expensive, folks started looking at Eico and Scott (Dynaco, they already knew about). What do you do when EMTs, Garrard 301s and Thorens TD-124s are priced out of reach? You look around for something similar, but less-expensive. Like Lenco.
Since Sound Practices and Japanese 'philes drove up demand for 301s and TD-124s, citing their relentless dynamics and tunefulness compared to other tables, there has been a revival of interest in idler-wheel tables. Not all are the same: a few (Gates, D&R) drove the outer rim of the platter; most, like the 301 and TD-124, drove the inner edge or a sub-platter. And then there's the Lenco, in a class by itself.
Lenco was always an obscure brand in America; founded in Switzerland in 1946 by Fritz and Marie Laeng, its primary claim to fame was turntables with continuously-variable speed control, courtesy of an idler wheel running against a tapered driveshaft. This simple mechanism is the reason for the deck's dynamic performance, but in the eyes of '70's consumers (including me), it made Lencos seem old-fashioned and toy-like. Newer direct-drive and belt-drive 'tables dominated the market. Employing as many as 1,300 workers during the '60's (!!!), Marie Laeng's death in 1974 (coinciding with the world oil crisis) marked the beginning of the end, and in 1978, Lenco declared bankruptcy. The brand name survived; the quality products did not.
The Lenco that started all the fuss in the new millennium is the L75, the first of the so-called "heavy platter" models. The cast 8-lb. platter is indeed heavier than the stamped platter of earlier Lencos, and the additional mass gives the table an urgent, driving quality, reminiscent of the 301. In the A'gon Forums, Jean Nantais
took the idea of massive DIY plinths already explored by Garrard and Thorens fans, and described how to apply it to the Lenco. The result was a trend, a cottage industry and a whole corner of the internet devoted to Lenco, including this enthusiast site
Today, for those who prefer someone else to do it, bases are available in a variety of materials, veneers and finishes (like THIS one--ad). The primary idea is to provide a large, dead mass for the drive-system to work against. Peter Reinders in the Netherlands has even developed new heavy-gauge steel top plates to replace the zingy sheet metal Lenco piece. Other folks craft bases in granite, marble, even beautiful-but-not-cheap ones in slate (as shown here
The Lenco revival exemplifies for me all the best of the audio community:a sense of history, resourcefulness, ingenuity, generosity and cooperation. It reminds me of the Hot Rod world of postwar California, where junkyard finds were transformed into some of the most extraordinary vehicles to ever hit the streets.
So: what's next? Which overlooked future-classic will start the next underground movement in audio? The contrarian in me would love for it to begin with something totally unacceptable to the audiophile community, like Bose 301s, or a Pioneer PL12-D. Who knows? Check those attics and garages, kids!