Lenco L-85

FOR En­joy­able sound; user friendly; price; fea­tures AGAINST Ri­vals of­fer sub­tler, more dy­namic sound

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“Thanks to the built-in phono stage, you can plug the L-85 into the line-level in­puts of your stereo am­pli­fier, or di­rectly into ac­tive desk­top speak­ers”

Re­mem­ber the DUPLO blocks you played with as a child be­fore grad­u­at­ing onto proper LEGO sets? The Lenco L-85 re­minds us rather of them: a prod­uct that gives you all the ba­sics with the prom­ise of more ex­cit­ing things to come, while still be­ing en­joy­able in its own right.

This is a semi-au­to­matic, belt-driven turntable with a built-in phono stage. It sup­ports USB record­ing. And it costs just £120. The bar­gain price may in­spire mis­giv­ings, but the L-85 sur­prises us. And could sur­prise you, too.

Lenco has tried to make the turntable ex­pe­ri­ence as easy as pos­si­ble, and this is one of the best plug-and-play ma­chines we’ve come across at this bud­get price.

De­cep­tive ap­pear­ance

At first glance it looks and feels like a toy. It’s made pre­dom­i­nantly of plas­tic, and is very light. But af­ter a closer look, we can con­firm that we have no com­plaints with the ac­tual build qual­ity. The plinth, plat­ter and ton­earm are all nicely made and all fit to­gether neatly, and once we start us­ing it there aren’t any wob­bly or creaky parts – it’s an en­cour­ag­ing start.

The plas­tic but­tons for chang­ing the speed (33⅓ and 45rpm) and record­ing are re­spon­sive. Our re­view sam­ple is a vivid green, but there are five other fin­ishes: red, yel­low, black, white and grey.

The ana­logue out­puts are tucked away at the back, next to the power switch. Lenco help­fully in­cludes a pair of RCA ca­bles in the box, so you can get started straight away. Thanks to the built-in phono stage, you can plug the L-85 into the line-level in­puts of your stereo am­pli­fier, or di­rectly into ac­tive desk­top speak­ers such as the Wharfedale DS-1S.

The L-85 also comes with a re­mov­able plas­tic dust cover that sits back neatly on its hinges. Our one small gripe is that there’s no LED telling you when the turntable is switched on.

Child’s play

The Lenco L-85 is de­signed to be as user-friendly as pos­si­ble – and it suc­ceeds. Ev­ery­thing comes pre-fit­ted, in­clud­ing the mov­ing-mag­net car­tridge, and there’s no need to set the coun­ter­weight, ad­just the bias, or weigh any­thing.

The only ad­just­ment you have to make is to set the auto-re­turn mo­tion. Move the arm to the end of the record and let go: it will cal­i­brate it­self and re­turn to its arm­rest in one smooth mo­tion.

If you want to stop the record play­ing in the mid­dle of a song, you don’t have to phys­i­cally move the arm your­self ei­ther. Just press that big ‘Re­ject’ but­ton on the front and the arm will au­to­mat­i­cally rise up and re­turn. Neat.

Lenco has an­other lit­tle trick up its sleeve: con­vert­ing your vinyl into MP3 files so you can listen to your mu­sic when you’re on the move. It’s all done via USB as well, and couldn’t be sim­pler.

There’s no need for spe­cial au­dio software or tricky lap­top hook-ups – just plug a mem­ory stick into the front panel’s USB port, hit the record but­ton when you’re ready, and voila – you have an MP3 ver­sion of your vinyl record that you can play on your lap­top or copy onto your smart­phone. You can also sep­a­rate the tracks by press­ing the split but­ton.

It’s a shame that it will record only as MP3 files, but re­mem­ber this is a £120 turntable and the short­com­ing be­comes a lit­tle more ac­cept­able. If you like the record­ing fea­ture but want high­erqual­ity files, we’ll have to point you in the di­rec­tion of the ex­cel­lent Sony PS-HX500 (£450).

Sonic sur­prises

Time to find out how the Lenco L-85 ac­tu­ally sounds, and we ten­ta­tively put on Alice in Chains’ MTV Un­plugged record­ing. It’s pretty good – in fact, it’s a sur­pris­ingly de­cent per­for­mance. A pleas­ing so­lid­ity clings to the midrange in par­tic­u­lar, get­ting one over on the sim­i­larly priced Au­dio Tech­nica AT-LP60-USB. In fact, voices are the deck’s strong­est point, with Layne Sta­ley’s strained and pierc­ing singing on Down In A Hole com­ing through clearly – you can re­ally dis­cern the emo­tion he puts across in the song. The sharp twang of the acous­tic gui­tar cuts through the hazier sound­track of the rhythm gui­tar and drums in the back­ground, which gives us a rea­son­able sense of the song’s struc­ture.

It’s not the most de­tailed or ar­tic­u­late per­for­mance though, nor does the rhythm charge along with the pre­ci­sion and agility of the more con­trolled and or­derly Au­dio Tech­nica. It’s this that marks the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. Hav­ing said that, we should be clear: the Lenco’s sound is in­of­fen­sive

Play Michael Jack­son’s Beat It and the drum hits are too gen­tle and the bass is woolly, but the bal­ance across the fre­quen­cies is pretty even and there are no coarse edges at the top end. Play those Usb-recorded files on your com­puter, and you’ll find the sound char­ac­ter is ex­actly the same as the Lenco’s vinyl per­for­mance.

Get­ting the ba­sics right

Lis­ten­ing to the L-85 is equiv­a­lent to lis­ten­ing to MP3 or Spo­tify streams on your smart­phone us­ing £50 head­phones. You know you can achieve much bet­ter sound qual­ity, but this method gets the song’s es­sen­tial struc­ture right. The Lenco L-85 is a fine start­ing point for you or your kids to get into vinyl, or if you’re on a bud­get and want some­thing de­cent yet af­ford­able on which to play records.

“Voices are the deck’s strong­est point, with Layne Sta­ley’s pierc­ing singing com­ing through clearly – you can re­ally dis­cern the emo­tion he puts across”

Ev­ery­thing comes pre-as­sem­bled so you can just plug in and play

You don’t need to con­nect to a PC to record to dig­i­tal a mem­ory stick will do the job

the USB port Plug a mem­ory stick into of your track to cre­ate an MP3 ver­sion

record a Pick your plat­ter speed, tracks dig­i­tal ver­sion and split the

power The ana­logue out­puts and the back switch are tucked round

in­clud­ing Ev­ery­thing’s pre-fit­ted – the mov­ing-mag­net car­tridge

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