Hands-on review: Lenco L-400 turntable
Image credit: Lenco
With vinyl album sales back in a bigger way than at any point in the last 20 years, record players are enjoying a tandem parallel renaissance. We lend an ear to Dutch audio company Lenco's latest.
Whether you’re a music-loving millenial or a returning old hand, if you find yourself tempted to enjoy the superior sonics of vinyl and you don’t already own a turntable, you may be surprised at the sheer range of units available, in terms of style, spec and price.
Budget ‘suitcase’ record players with speakers built-in can be had for under £100, if you only want to dip a cautious toe back into the analogue waters or occasionally revisit your teenage 7" collection. At the other end of the extreme, audiophiles with bat-like hearing, impossibly high standards and bottomless wallets can insist on 3D-printed tone arms, magnetic bearings, electronic speed control, acrylic platters and such like.
Most people, however, will be happy to eschew the big-ticket, esoteric feature set and settle for something that looks good, has been intelligently designed (to a price point), manages to tick at least a few of the key tech spec boxes that a decent turntable should have, but which can still be acquired for a modest amount of cash. This is the Lenco L-400’s wheelhouse.
While not quite a household name in the UK, Lenco has nevertheless been successfully plying its Netherlands-based hi-fi trade for 70 years. The L-400 is its latest product offering for the vinyl record market, available from Amazon (there’s also a new L-30 turntable, retailing for half the price of the L-400, which presumably delivers a commensurate amount of end-user satisfaction). The L-400 plants its flag firmly and squarely in ‘good vibes, good value’ territory, with a fistful of features that are compelling enough to turn any mid-range shopper’s head.
First and foremost, the Lenco L-400 is a direct-drive turntable. This is typically a step up from a belt-driven turntable, as a direct-drive motor should spin the platter with greater stability and precision during playback, the motor being attached directly to the platter. It should also provide greater durability and longevity, as rubber belts can stretch and slacken as they age, affecting playback performance. Of course, a poorly implemented direct-drive motor system could send unwanted vibrations up to the needle, but thankfully there was little of this in evidence with the L-400.
The L-400 also has an integrated stereo pre-amplifier section preinstalled, which can be switched on or off, and the tone arm is fitted with a premium Audio Technica moving magnetic cartridge. If you have an existing hi-fi set-up, the L-400 can plug in either directly via its RCA outputs - or even directly to a pair of powered speakers - or it can be hooked up to a more elaborate preamp/power amp set-up.
The L-400 offers the standard twin-speed settings of 33.3rpm or 45rpm and has a mechanical arm lift to raise and lower the stylus to the vinyl sitting atop the aluminium platter. Variable pitch control +/-10 per cent is provided with a slider on the right-hand side of the black MDF deck.
There is also a direct USB output, so the turntable can be connected directly to a computer, enabling you to record your vinyl collection. Download cards or streaming services are all well and good, but only if that obscure B-side you love is already available in a digital form. If not, you could now rip it yourself. The loving art of crafting an old-school mixtape from analogue vinyl but recording the result to a digital iTunes playlist is a pretty cool blend of both worlds.
All the necessary cables for the L-400’s functions are included in the box and there’s a removeable smoked-effect dark-grey plastic lid, too (even including an antistatic microfibre cleaning cloth). The lid is a reassuringly hefty hunk, but it closes gently. Some people prefer the ‘open’ sound of a turntable with the lid off; some prefer to close the lid to enhance the bass effect. With the L-400, it’s your choice.
The black and chrome aesthetic of the L-400 veers more towards the traditional ‘serious hi-fi deck’ side of things, rather than apeing the exposed wood/bamboo look fashionable amongst some other decks in this price range. Dressing to impress like a more heavyweight piece of kit is, of course, an old design trick, although in the case of the L-400 it isn’t a case of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. This is a good-looking hi-fi separate and its reassuringly professional appearance suggests that it means good aural business - which, by and large, is exactly what you get.
Once you’ve successfully set up the tonearm counterweight - which takes a little bit of careful trial and error - you’re ready to put on your first record. Being a ‘proper’ record player, the L-400 has a start/stop button, rather than any auto-start trigger mechanism in the arm, so the act of listening to a record here is a thoroughly hands-on affair from start to finish. Place record on turntable; position the tonearm; press the button to start the turntable; lower the needle; enjoy the record through to the end; lift the tonearm and return it to the side; press the button to stop the turntable. Actually, with practice, you can simply lift and nudge the tonearm to the side and then whip the record off the still-rotating turntable, deftly flipping it over to play side two.
During our listening (and enjoying) tests, we were comparing the L-400 to our regular workhorse NAD 533 turntable, a belt-driven model from the late 1990s which also has an Audio-Technica cartridge and which when new cost approximately the same as the L-400 does now (albeit with the L-400 having a direct-drive motor, of course). Both turntables were connected to a Naim power amp and played through a pair of (gigantic) cherry-wood Naim speakers. This Nad+Naim has been our go-to combo for a very good vinyl playback experience for some years.
Switching back and forth between the NAD and the L-400, there wasn’t much to choose between them: both sounded great. Perhaps the L-400 sounded a touch ‘livelier’, with more presence, delivering the more attractive sonics of the two, being a brand-new model, with a new direct-drive motor and a new stylus. There was certainly nothing lacking about the overall tonality of the L-400, no disappointments, whatever style of music or weight of vinyl we put on it. There was a pleasing warmth and dimensionality to the sound, with good definition all across the spectrum from bass to treble and a clear, accurate stereo picture, revealing the many subtle layers of a multitrack recording. The music felt like it was coming across just as its original creators intended.
While there is a lot of competition at this price point, the Lenco L-400 punches well above its weight in terms of both its features and - most importantly, naturally - its sound quality. This record player will unquestionably do your vinyl collection justice. It doesn’t hurt that it looks good either. Accepting that it falls into the ‘budget’ category, as defined by the market, nevertheless this is unquestionably a very good turntable choice and one which, for many people, will deliver such satisfying results that they might never feel any need to upgrade.
The Lenco L-400 is available from Amazon for around £199.