LENCO LS-55 Review: Entry issue

Will the Lenco LS-55 turntable give you a decent entry to vinyl replay? Noel Keywood thinks not. Read our LENCO LS-55 Review.

so you have CD or a streamer, or hundreds of music files on the phone. You are a thoroughly modern listener, not at all interested – even wary of – the vinyl LP. All that religion and a stylus that will self destruct at glass of wine No 3.Would a turntable like the Lenco LS-55 I’m looking at here, price just £, be a good entry point?

The answer is “no”. Here are the reasons why, so you know what to expect at this end of the market and what you should buy instead, for yourself or others.

Down to the nitty gritty. Read the literature as we did and no tracking force for the cartridge is stated. Our limit, for the safety of our LPs, is 3gms:the Lenco came in at 4.5gms when measured.That ruled out the use of valuable test discs, as well as our high quality review LPs, to avoid damaging their grooves.We used sacrificial LPs instead.

 LENCO LS-55 Review

A light aluminium arm tube with flexible plastic headshell, carrying a clip-on ceramic cartridge. Tracking force nominally 5gm and not adjustable. Upgrade is not possible.

What the literature carefully avoids mentioning is that a ceramic cartridge is fitted, not a hi-fi moving magnet (MM) type. It dips into the arm and cannot be upgraded to something better with standard 1/2in fixing centres. And since there is no way of adjusting down force of the arm, there’s no point in any case!

A little bit of time spent on the ’net showed a wide range of budget turntables using this non-adjustable arm and cartridge combination. Looks like it is coming from one source, the Dongguan Ang Chung Electronic Technology Co (China) is quoted.

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 LENCO LS-55 Review

A small 3.5mm jack socket accepts analogue inputs from external players. Phono sockets provide output for an external amplifier where tone controls could be used to improve tonal balance.

Replacement styli for the cartridge come from many suppliers it seems. Styli are sapphire, downforce is 5gm, with a range of 4-6gms, but you will rarely see this quoted.You get what you’re given here.There are no options for improvement. See our box-out on Ceramic Cartridges for more detail.

“There are many other low cost turntable packages out there that use the same arm/cartridge assembly: beware of them all”.

Alternatives? For Lenco offer the L-3808 Direct Drive that is far above the LS-55 in ability. The arm has a conventional removable headshell with 1/2in fixing centres able to accept any hi-fi cartridge, but comes with the AT-3600 that has a fine performance.

If this turntable is too extravagant then look at alternatives with arms that accept cartridges attached by two screws set 1/2in apart – and ensure down force can be adjusted, usually achieved by rotating a rear counterweight.

The cheapest Lenco on offer with these features is the L-91 it appears. Sold out everywhere is the Audio Technica LP60XUSB and its variants, circa £. It has an Audio Technica dual-magnet MM cartridge that is likely to be decent, but again it is fixed into the head shell, tracking force appears non-adjustable and is not quoted – not a good sign. Let’s get back to the Lenco.

The LS-55 has an impressive range of features and ability at a ridiculously low price. Moreover, it looks and feels good in the flesh, even if the arm and platter don’t bear close inspection. It is a three-speed (33,45,78rpm) belt drive with auto-start at arm lift and optional auto-stop (but not lift).There’s an onboard stereo amplifier rated at 5W per channel, with small loudspeakers on the plinth’s underside.With a well built wooden plinth sitting on solid legs, the volume control is easy to use and it does not upset play, the plinth and arm sitting on a spring isolation system. Nice hinged dust cover too.

 

At rear lies an Aux input (3.5mm socket) to plug in other devices. Also, there is an input socket for the external 9V power supply, making this turntable safe for children as there are no high voltages.

The “phonograph” will record to a USB memory stick (flash drive) in MP3/WMA compressed formats, and recordings can be played from USB too.There is a Bluetooth transmitter to send LP sound to outside devices, like similarly equipped headphones. Also, there are audio output phono sockets.

Spinning Everybody Hold Still from the delightful Grace Jones (Living My Life) brought forth a very tinny sound with strong high treble but little bass. Measurement showed bass was -20dB below treble – a massive gain error.

 LENCO LS-55 Review

The one-piece removable plastic stylus assembly of the LS-55’s cartridge incor­porates a plastic cantilever, anchored by a thin, compliant hinge. The stylus is sapphire.

And this was from the Aux out sockets, not acoustic output from the small loudspeakers, showing just how unbalanced the sound was. It’s not a cost issue since getting equalisation right (it’s not RIAA) would simply be a matter of altering a few component values (there was plenty of spare gain): the amplifier stages are just poorly designed.

Speed accuracy was good, but speed stability mediocre, warbling and drunkeness being obvious on a test tone (W&F=0.4%).

So there you are.This budget turntable offers a lot and looks good. It even has auto-power off with a spoken warning that took me by surprise; there’s a woman in the house, where’s she hiding? Under the turntable!

But sound quality was poor, poorer than it need be even at the price: a bit of EQ would have helped put some body in the sound. And 4.5gm downforce from the cartridge is going to wear out LPs.

 LENCO LS-55 Review

Two small loudspeakers are fixed to the underside to make the LS-55 much like an all-in-one record player from the 1960s. Even 5 Watts of power is similar.

This makes the LS-55 not a good way to enter the realm of vinyl replay.There are many other low cost turntable packages out there that use the same arm/ cartridge assembly, possibly all made by the same company. So beware of them all.This is not hi-fi, it is budget audio – and differences are large our measurements show.

Such turntables, including the LS-55, are a poor choice as entry to LP, for the old or the young. Don’t buy grandad one of these to remind him of old times, nor your young daughter to hear Taylor Swift. Far better is available for little more, in Lenco’s own wide range and from others. As a rule of thumb, if it costs less than £ you have not got a bargain, but something with poor sound that will mistrack and damage LPs.

CERAMIC CARTRIDGE

The ceramic cartridge is a nightmare from the past, that isn’t hi-fi, so much as basic audio. And that was its status back in the 1960s when fitted to record players. Not a lot has changed.

This type of cartridge uses two small piezo-electric transducers to produce relatively high output. Trouble is they are incompliant so prevent the stylus moving eas­ily in the groove. To stop it jumping out high tracking force is required, around 5gm, and even then tracking is poor, meaning these things damage and wear out LPs.

Ceramic cartridges can be recognised by the small plastic bridge that cradles the cantilever, connecting it to the piezo-electric sensors. Higher quality moving­magnet (MM) cartridges lack this. Back in the 1960s the popular Acos ceramic cartridge had a distinctive flip-over microgroove/78 tip option, but today’s ceramics lack this, probably because 78s are not in common use. A microgroove stylus is too small for 78s.

Because ceramic cartridges don’t use a magnet and a coil of wire to produce a signal their output does not match that of the cutting lathe used to produce an LP, meaning the sound bal­ance is incorrect. They do not suit RIAA equalisation of phono stages and their high output can overload them, so are commonly run straight into an amplifier. But they still need equalisation, without it giving a thin, bright sound from LP by approximately reproducing its RIAA pre-equalised sound balance that boosts treble and cuts bass. All a bit of an ad-hoc mess in engineering terms but this is what to expect from a ceramic cartridge. You get sound – but that’s about all.

 LENCO LS-55 Review

The cantilever of a ceramic cartridge sits on a bridge that connects it to the piezo-electric sensors. The cantilever here is aluminium, the LS-55’s was red plastic. Lovely!

MEDIOCRE – unremarkable

VALUE – keenly priced

www.lencouk.com

VERDICT

4 Total Score
LENCO LS-55 Review

Bright thin sound, due to lack of electrical equalisation. Unpleasant.

PROS
  • low price
  • facilities
  • easy to use
CONS
  • scratchy sound
  • poor tracking
  • excessive tracking force
  • can’t be upgraded
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