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