The Reference Lenco MKIII

I had my machinist make me a new chassis which could be retrofitted to Reference Lencos (MKI and MKII), in order to be able to test my ideas for the coming Ultimate Lenco – which will require a new chassis with different geometry – on a known “control” (in order to be able to compare the new with what came before).  Both the Reference Lenco MKI and Reference Lenco MKII are built around the original Lenco chassis, and so the MKIII chassis is a faithful reproduction of the original Lenco chassis in terms of mechanisms and geometry, but with improvements.  In other words, the MKIII chassis can be retrofitted into any plinth built for/with the original Lenco chassis, but after-market chassis currently available will not fit into any plinth built for a stock Lenco chassis.

The concept of an improved chassis, or subchassis in the case of suspended turntables such as the Linn and AR record players, is not a new one, it is a proven and effective idea, similar to improved main bearings (I was first to improve the Lenco main bearing), platters, plinths and so on. These basic building blocks of a record player – chassis to hold the working parts, platter, main bearing, motor, drive system – are a necessity and so identical in basic function, but different approaches to these building blocks account for all the different record players and designs out there, and the different sonic results (i.e. 3-point suspension ‘tables for instance sound very different from manufacturer to manufacturer; AND SO TOO DO DIFFERENT IDLER-WHEEL ‘TABLES).  In other words, the simple fact of a new chassis does not mean anyone is imitating anyone else.  For instance, I created the Lenco market by teaching DIYs to build their Lencos into heavy plinths, and yet I do not take credit for the concept of “plinth”, which existed before me.  A chassis is a chassis….or it it?

In the specific case of the Reference Lenco MKIII, the chassis is based on the original Lenco chassis in order to be retrofittable to the Reference Lencos MKI and MKII plinths which were built for original chassis, as written so as to be able to accurately judge the sonic success and effects of the new elements on a known control, the Reference Lenco MKII specifically.  It is also designed to work with my MKII suite of modifications (themselves modified to suit the new specifications of the new chassis), specifically my new MKII slider/carrier for the idler-wheel arm, and of course my extremely effective TJN Mod replacing the spring with a weight on a string traveling through a hollow screw to below the motor, and my new ultra-high-accuracy idler wheel (which works with certain design features of the new slider and the TJN Kit). Given the new stronger and better-sounding chassis, the reinforcement ring can be dispensed with.

I proved with the state of the art noise levels of the Reference Lencos MKI and MKII (reported on by Salvatore, see Reviews page) that it was not necessary to separate the motor from the chassis: given that Direct Coupling to a wooden plinth does indeed drastically lower the noise floor to as low as and indeed below the best of belt-drive, this is a non-issue. So in this sense too the new chassis is a faithful copy of the original, with the motor fastened, via new and improved motor mounts, to the same plate carrying the main bearing and speed control.  Furthermore, many of the parts used for speed change on the original chassis, preserved for ease of use in the MKIII, are remanufactured to tighter tolerances in the unending quest for perfection of speed stability (i.e. any slop in the mechanisms leads to wander, so elimination of this slop leads to yet further improved speed stability).

Then, there is the issue of the sound of materials, a very LARGE component in ALL of my work: different woods sound different ways, and the same applies to metals (chassis, bearing, etc.) and plastics (mat).  My new chassis is indeed now separated into two parts: the business end of the chassis (bottom where the main bearing, idler-wheel and motor are fixed) is a self-contained single unit, completely separate from the aesthetic part of the chassis which sits above it (i.e. recognizable Lenco exterior rectangle, which also carries the speed tabs/positions), so that the transmission of any spurious resonances (from the decorative part/exterior) are greatly reduced, the only contact being the speed lever itself, a very small contact area. The design of the chassis is therefore based on the sound of materials, in this case a metal which provides superior sonic results for the bottom business end, on the greater strength of a thicker and so stronger chassis carrying the motor & mechanisms. I furthermore had the top decorative/speed part machined from solid, so eliminating the need to pour glass-epoxy into the voids of the original [very good sounding] chassis to further reduce resonances, while improving on it again. The exterior part is made from non-magnetic aluminium, another improvement on the original ferrous/magnetic chassis in terms of safety for the very magnetic phono cartridges.

This was married to a symphony of carefully tested and chosen metals and plastics, to achieve, together (plinth and modified and rebuilt machine) state-of-the-art noise floors and extreme accuracy of information, timing, dynamics and bass.

The original chassis’ speed control mechanism is retained, both because it is user-friendly and practical given the Lenco’s graduated motor spindle (effectively making fine-tuning of the speed infinitely perfectible), and also so that earlier customers can have their older-model MKI and MKIIs upgraded, and yet still retain all the familiar usages. It is also aesthetically improved, with a brass speed control plate with all options clearly marked. A special jig is designed into the chassis elements making lining up of the bottom-fixed motor and mechanisms with the upper speed control tabs (separated by a height differential as well) easy and quick (this more for my own use but might come in useful in for future owners).

The second important element of the MKIII designation is the new main bearing.  It is also a result of testing of new elements ultimately intended for the Ultimate Lenco which approaches fruition.  The new main bearing is a departure from the Reference main bearing, and is meant to deal with the increased stresses coming for the new Ultimate Lenco platter.  It is based on principles of lowering the noise floor and friction, and increasing accuracy, and its effect is astonishing.

The new chassis with all-Reference Lenco MKII parts and plinth made an appreciable difference across the sonic board.  The new Ultimate main bearing, when mounted in a Reference Lenco MKII (with original chassis) also produced an increase in refinement, control, speed stability/coherence, and so forth.  But the two together produced SUCH a great improvement across all sonic areas – detail, clarity, naturalness and ease, speed, focus of dynamics, bass detail, imaging and so on – that with the design work now done (and so now easily repeated by my machinist who now has templates, measurements and programs all worked out) – that I had to make official what was originally simply a test bed, the Reference Lenco MKIII, which also has superior aesthetics over the original, and is more user-friendly with helpful graphics. Furthermore, the original platter is remachined and modified to achieve even better sound quality.The Reference Lenco plinth, still proprietary as to materials and techniques, has remained largely unchanged throughout the years, and with my specific Lenco rebuilds  is still the highest-reviewed idler ever built (idler advantages/strent hs while being superior to belt-drives in terms of refinement and imaging), and can be considered the THIRD element in the Reference Lenco MKIII.   Price is $10,000.  Since the Reference Lenco MKII, at $7250, is normally compared with $40,000 ‘tables and above, then the Reference Lenco MKIII, a great improvement on the MKII, can still be considered great value.