The Steampunk Lenco is a TJN product (Turntables by Jean Nantais), 100 pounds of Constrained Layer Damping (CLD) wooden plinth (which means layers of different materials very carefully assembled and bonded for maximal effect, not simply birch-ply or simply mdf stacked and glued) and rebuilt, repainted, modified and greatly improved Lenco L75. The plinth, to which the Lenco itself is Direct Coupled, is coated in chalk paint, to which is applied silkscreening of the original Lenco blueprints and pages from the manual and the original protractor, a concept which has never been done before for any product. It's a further evolution of those machines I developed on “Building high-end 'tables cheap at Home Despot,” a thread started in January 2004 on Audiogon, under the moniker johnnantais, designed to prove the sonic superiority of the idler-wheel-drive system (which was then a dead issue except marginally in Japan and England) via a collation of overwhelming numbers of accounts of the defeat of various high-end belt-drives by their owners, by the then-forgotten and so cheap idler Lenco. In the process I reinstated the Lenco to the status of serious high end machine (which it had in the '60s and early '70s) ranking with, or above, the best. Over the years the thread's success (a complete surprise, a runaway train) spawned forums around the world, Lenco and idler rebuilding businesses, and variations on the idler theme.
In 2010 I submitted the first Reference Lenco (a 100-pound symphony of selected woods, wood products, plastics and metals) for review to well-known vinyl and audio expert Arthur Salvatore, on highend-audio.com. It became his new reference record player, supplanting his air-bearing belt-drive Forsell record player, earning his top Upper Class A rating. He announced his conversion to the idler-wheel drive system in an extremely detailed and careful review, from which the following introductory comment: “As it turned out, the Lenco's sound-floor was basically as low as the Forsell's (which has an air-bearing platter). In fact, I couldn't distinguish them. Since the Forsell had the lowest sound-floor I ever experienced, the Lenco's (highly welcome) achievement in this area is both surprising and unexplainable (at this time). In any event, with this highest of hurdles successfully breached, the next challenge was the Forsell's neutrality and/or lack of coloration/character. Once again, to my surprise, the Lenco matched the Forsell in this critical area (especially for those serious audiophiles who don't want a relentless "editorializing" or "bias" in what they hear). Further, in the area of transparency, the two turntables were also indistinguishable to me. In short, the two turntables sounded very similar in "the basics", which is something I hadn't experienced before at this high level. After this preliminary and requisite examination, the Lenco went into "new territory", where the Forsell was not able to follow it, and some of it was even "unchartered" for me.” It's Direct Coupling to a massive CLD wooden plinth which explains both the state of the art noise floor and the tonal correctness. This same technique is used in the Steampunk Lenco.
Mono & Stereo announced the arrival of my Reference Lenco MKII in 2012 with the following comment: “Jean Nantais Reference Lenco MKII turntable finally arrived at Mono & Stereo. This is another highlight of the year and a "killer" that brought down to the knees many upper echelon turntables like TW Acustic flagship etc. Stay tuned for more insights soon. The burl on the Lenco Reference is very special and pictures shows a bit of it. I've expected the large chassis, but this one is a massive monster. Stay tuned for more insights soon.”
Developments continued further with my Reference Lenco MKIII (reviewed) and currently Ultimate Lenco (not yet reviewed). The featured Steampunk Lenco starts life as a 100-pound Classic Lenco (Plain & Simple), which is based on my pre-Reference machines, but greatly evolved and improved as a result of my continuing development of the idler theme (with emphasis on absolute performance, not glitter). It is sonically superior to the Classic machines I built for Shootouts vs such heavyweights as the SME 30, EMTs 927 & 930, and the Forsell (which all took place before I created the first Reference Lenco), all of which they won to varying degrees, and for a small fraction of their prices. It has even greater bass, timing, coherence, speed and dynamics than those earlier machines (preserving, enhancing and building on traditional idler strengths), along with an even lower noise floor, and greater refinement, detail and imaging to outclass 'tables at multiples of its price, and is worthy of the most expensive tonearms, cartridges and associated equipment available.
The Steampunk Lenco exterior is sprayed with tough and thick textured chalk paint, the texturing allowing hand silkscreening. The rough texture guarantees that no two Steampunk Lencos will ever be identical, and the hand application of the silkscreening likewise, ensuring that each is unique and personal. It is then clear-coated with an extremely tough water-based coating developed for chalk paint prior to final assembly. The visual design itself has already been featured on the website of the American Paint Company (which produces the most intense colours for a truly striking Steampunk Lenco) and has already attracted the attention of a high end furnishing company (for which I am building a Greek Blue and White Steampunk Lenco). The Steampunk finish can also be applied to my upper machines, as has been done with an Ultimate Lenco Jr.
This particular Steampunk Lenco is finished in Graphite by Annie Sloan, over which the chassis, logo badge, footers, silkscreening and tonearm are all matching silver in colour. The matching footers are of cast iron, the most sonically-stable material in the world, used in heavy machinery for its abilities in damping vibration.
The price breakdown is as follows; 100-pound Classic Lenco (Plain & Simple) $2600 USD provided a heavy-platter Lenco is found and shipped to me (cheaper light platter Lenco also considered at a higher cost as I have a stock of original Lenco platters). The Steampunk Lenco finish $300 USD. The special cast iron footers, lacquered to prevent oxidation and with stainless steel fasteners, $200 USD. Used VPI JMW 10.5i, in excellent condition, is currently retailing for $2600 USD, this one included for only $1600 USD with options. The dealer demo Sumiko Blackbird currently lists for $1250 USD, this one included for $800 USD. Total package $5500 USD plus stock Lenco, plus actual cost of shipping (roughly $250 by land to the US; roughly $350 by air airport-to-airport anywhere in the world). Three upgrades also available, metacrylate platter mat $250 USD (only for my customers); Ultra-high-accuracy idler wheel $350 USD (only for my customers); matching silver HRS disc record clamp $250 (the best for sonic balance on my 'tables). Cartridge can be upgraded, sky's the limit; tonearm if you insist (but make it silver please). Motor can be changed to 220V for the rest of the world.
User letter comparing DIY rebuild guided by forums, to the Classic Lenco (Plain & Simple) 100-pound version:
"I have now lived with the Nantais Lenco for half a year and finally feel capable to describe my experience. It has been a challenge because it is like describing the most jaw dropping color you have ever seen but it is like nothing you have seen before. That is the Nantais Lenco for me. I have had a respectable Scheu Premier II (I am the Bob from Estonia on the 6moons review of the turntable - the reviewer published my full review because it matched up so well with his experience). I loved that table as it got me so close to tables costing several times the price of the Scheu.
That was until I lucked upon a Lenco L75 in a used hi-fi shop while living in Estonia. I had been following the Home Despot thread on Audiogon and thought it was too good to be true, so was doubtful as I began the project.
Reading through the Audiogon thread and following it up on LencoHeaven I began my Lenco build. I used birch ply, cleaned and oiled the bearing and built a thread and lead weight to replace the spring. This simple little table embarrassed the Scheu. The interesting thing was that tweaks that worked wonders on the Schue (Living Voice carbon fibre mat) made things worse on the Lenco. The Lenco was just doing things right. I immediately sold the Scheu and all the tweaks that went along with it. I was happy with this table for years.
But then last year I found myself moving back to the US. I sold my Lenco and air bearing arm to a friend and Hi-fi seller in Estonia. He noted on Facebook it was the best sound he had ever heard. He has heard a lot, he goes to many a Hi Fi show and has some amazing gear go through his showroom. This is now his home table.
I am in the US missing my Lenco. Lencos are hard to come by and my record collection is growing thanks to Craigslist and my need to play is great. I begin communicating with Jean Nantais. I would love to go for theUltimate but my budget is limited. We go back and forth and bang for the buck and we come up with the level of the Lenco that fits my budget. I believe this is now called the "Steampunk" level. Kind of the sweetspot of what he pulls out of the Lenco.
So now to the comparison of the Nantais Lenco with my build. I would say my build nailed percussion and timing, you could hear and feel this with the Nantais and know they were of the same blood. What I was not prepared for was the places this table went that I have never experienced in audio. Again it is hard to convey because there is nothing to compare it to. On thinking of it and how to convey it, the best I can come up with is the wholeness and rightness of instrument bodies/vocals in space.
I am not a musician, unless you count middle school marching band, so I do not have a deep understanding of music and how instruments work beyond common sense. When listening you hear and get details that almost seem like they cannot be coming from the groove of a record. It is auditory hallucinogenic. Now I have heard amazing systems where you get the goosebumps because the singer is in the room, or startled by the sound of dishes and cash registers clearly heard in the background of the small jazz club where the recording took place. What the Lenco brings is not these "tricks" but a realness a fullness, completeness. I find this most clearly on instruments I am not familiar with as my own judgements and prejudices are not able to cloud what I am perceiving. For example tambourines and harmonicas.
As I sit and listen there is a a tambourine that is fully formed in front of me. It is rotating in space I can understand the construction of it, the material, or maracas where I can count how many beads are falling or shaking, and how full is the maraca. So much of this information comes through. I never realized on a tambourine that some have two rows of cymbals, I can hear it on the Lenco as the sound is clearly coming from two rows of cymbals. The harmonica is perhaps the best at helping you be aware at what the Lenco does. The Lenco does not just present the sound coming out of the harmonica but also the sound going int the harmonica, it presents the whole instrument in space not just a point where the sound comes from.
I have no idea what is going on or how this information is there. I just know I have never come across it before this table and I consistently hear it on this table. I would say what is most impressive is that what I have described is done even handedly across the board. If it were not balanced then you would probably be distracted by specific detail, but this is not the case. I highlighted a few simple instruments because it is much harder to describe the information you get from say a cymbal; being able to "hear" again its is closer to hallucinatory, that the stick is hitting on the edge face, half way to the center etc. or that when listening to a violin you can "hear" that the strings are not flat across like a guitar but actually has a bridge, again not a musician here, never thought of this but I could "hear" it and then recalled yeah I think that is how it is built as violinists bend the bow around the strings. This curve was right there in front of me. So wrap your head around that I could "hear" and see strings that are millimeters apart in height. Now take that truthfulness and spread it throughout the entire recording and what you have is magic.”
Link to TJN website: http://www.idler-wheel-drive.com/about-tjn/