SPH Parts for DIY Idler Drive TT Projects

Juice up your project

[SPH_spindle_models]

Product name: SPH Parts for DIY Idler Turntable Projects
Manufacturer: Sien Peng Hong (SPH Facebook page) - Malaysia
Cost: $345. CAN. for the spindle unit including shipping. (Currency conversion)
(YMMV)
Reviewer: Roger McCuaig - TNT Canada
Reviewed: September, 2022

Introduction

Last winter the thought of passing months at home trying to avoid Covid brought me to decide to build another Lenco. I have owned a donor L75 in very good condition for a couple of years, in fact it was in such good condition that I had it installed in my system as my second turntable and had been using it as a test platform for my tinkering with DIY mods for original Lenco tonearms.

Early on in this project, I decided to purchase a spindle assembly instead of rebuilding the one I had. My choice landed on the SPH unit based on reputation and what I perceived to be good value. SPH stands for Sien Peng Hong. In his spare time Sien, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, invents parts for DIY idler drive turntable builders. I believe that most of his inventions are professionally manufactured, however I don't have any official data on that. Sien does not have a web site that I know of so the best way to find out more about what SPH has to offer is from his Facebook page; search for Sph PH, or on the Lenco Heaven web site where he has an extensive presence. There are hundreds of posting on the LH site by or about SPH so it can take a bit of time to piece together the whole story. You can always message him from his FB page and ask for more info. Back in my early days of Lenco idler rebuilding, I was a very frequent visitor to the Lenco Heaven web site. I don't go there often anymore and discovered SPH Lenco DIY parts while reading the "Lenco Turntables, Restauration Group" page on Facebook, another great place to find out who is doing what in the wide world of Lenco idler rebuilders.

For the record, I purchased this spindle assembly and when I mentioned to Sien that I planned to write about this Lenco rebuild he threw in some extra parts. So, in all, he sent me the spindle/bearing unit (with a spare thrust pad and a syringe full of extra bearing grease, a copper collar, an idler wheel locking nut, a snap-on idler arm damper and a headshell damper.

Why Buy Parts?

So why did I decide to go with an aftermarket spindle assembly? Some people simply don't have the skills or the desire to undertake a restoration. Some do it because of the belief that new “special parts” will result in a significant sound improvement, that the original Lenco spindle unit can't be as good as a modern/expensive upgrade part. Also, we must not forget the “Bigger is always better” syndrome! Putting those arguments aside for a moment, in my opinion there are two basic issues with keeping the original Lenco spindle unit on a rebuild project.

  1. It's age: a heavily used vintage Lenco usually has some wear on the brass sleeves and may also have some wear on the spindle itself. Also, the Nylatron thrust pas will undoubtedly be dimpled, sometimes severely dimpled, something that definitely causes performance issues. (ref. The Rundown Test, see note below) My typical solution to this problem is to replace the brass sleeves, the thrust ball and the Nylatron thrust pad with new parts and to polish the spindle shaft. The sleeves and ball can be purchased at any good bearing supply shop for a few dollars. I make my own thrust pads from Acetron which is harder and slipperier than Nylatron. I make them quite a bit thicker just for insurance against dimpling. This work is not terribly difficult. In fact, it takes me more time to drive to Ottawa to pick up the parts than it takes to install them. All the instructions, with lots of photos, have been posted on Lenco Heaven for years.

  2. Oil leaking out the bottom: Dismantling an old Lenco spindle unit usually reveals that there is no oil left in it. Not surprising given that the bottom is not at all oil tight! The recommended solution to this problem is to apply a sealant. I have tried this a couple of times with no success!

So, to summarize, it is possible to recondition an old Lenco spindle assembly and recover the original performance but not so easy to fix the leaky bottom problem. For this project I decided to go with the SPH unit and bypass all of that. With respect to the newer/bigger is better argument, well, I was not convinced that this would be the case but if so, all the better.

Note: The Rundown Test

Temporarily disable the platter brake, run the platter up to speed, shut off the power and time how long it takes for the platter to stop. Pretty much everyone who has done this test will tell you that a spindle unit with a dimpled thrust pad stops much sooner than one with a new pad.

The SPH Parts Used

Spindle Assembly: The photos below show the dismantled SPH model and a top view of the copper collar. I used the Long Body unit (118 mm), the short one is for those who plan to keep the original Lenco plinth. Unfortunately, I don't have a side-by-side photo with the original Lenco spindle; the SPH Long Body model is about twice as long and twice the diameter of the original. Whether or not making everything twice as big produces a significant benefit when it comes to the sound is something that could be debated until the end of time, but it certainly can't hurt! There is no doubt in my mind that the Lenco (Swiss) engineers sized the original spindle perfectly for the application, however, they possibly didn't imagine that people would still be using them 50 years later. Note that the spindle has a screw in the top of it. This can be removed to add on a spindle extension for use with a double platter. I suspect that running a double platter would result in a reduced life expectancy for the thrust pad. Possible why SPH has supplied a spare one. The thrust ball is tungsten carbide. The brass end cap is a screw-on type. This allows for small height adjustments of the platter without having to do VTA adjustments on the tonearm. A 1mm adjustment is 1 full turn of the cap. Recommended maximum adjustment is 1mm.

SPH can provide a copper collar or a steel one. This collar improves the rigidity of the connection between the spindle unit and the top plate. Certainly a good idea. Of course, copper is much more expensive than steel. Personally, I have a great deal of difficulty imagining that the metal used for this collar would make any detectable difference in sound. Up to you to decide if it's worth the extra cost.

Installation of the spindle assembly is pretty simple however the large diameter does leave very little (in fact, almost none) clearance between the spindle casing and the motor.

[SPH_spindle_dismanled][SPH_spindle_copper_ring]

Idler Wheel Tweaks: The first thing that I should mention regarding idler wheels is that the diameter of the idler arm shaft is not the same on all Lencos. A fact that I learned while doing this project. I wanted to install a new idler wheel that I acquired in a trade with another Lenco owner only to discover that the hole was slightly smaller than the idler arm shaft. Just enough to cause a sticky fit. A trip to the local bearing shop remedied that problem. The reason I mention this is that you must give the right shaft size to SPH if you want to order his idler wheel locking nut.

The idler wheel locking nut is an excellent tweak that I would recommend to every DIY builder. It allows a much easier and much more precise adjustment of the play of the wheel on its shaft. The plastic (whatever it is) of the SPH locking nut sticks to the threads on the shaft no matter where you set it. Works great, bravo Sien for this simple and ingenious solution. I should mention that there is a collar that comes with the locking nut that I did not use because it wouldn't fit over the shaft. Possibly due to the above-mentioned shaft size problem. Live and learn.

[SPH_idler_nut]

Idler Arm Damper and Headshell Damper: Sien also sent me an idler arm damper and a headshell damper. The idler arm damper was not installed for two reasons; my idler arm already had my own damping material installed on it when the SPH parts arrived and secondly because I don't really see how this tiny snap-on piece of plastic can dampen anything! (Note: The photo above was taken using a spare idler arm, not the one used in this project.) The headshell damper has not been tested yet. I do intend to try it at some point in time. My experience with such devices is that they are tonearm and cartridge dependant. Not at all to be considered something that will improve any setup. In any case, SPH has one if you wish to try it.

Performance

The SPH spindle unit works perfectly. There is no reason why it shouldn't; any competent machinist could make one. But you don't have to go through all the trouble, SPH has done it for you. Ready to go and not terribly expensive. It is smooth, silent and robust. It should easily last another 50 years, and it comes with a spare thrust pad! What about the sound, the thing everyone is most interested in? I have not done a listening test by swapping the SPH spindle with an original Lenco spindle for the simple reason that I don't presently have an original spindle in good working order to do the swap. Also noteworthy is that it is not at all an easy task to fit the spindle unit in place once the turntable is completely assembled. Especially the bigger one. However, I did run the turntable side by side with another fully rebuilt Lenco (my 90-pound reference Lenco) that has a fully restored Lenco spindle unit in it. This one has the David W. Harris thrust bearing mod kit on it. Just type his name on the Facebook search box and you will find his stuff. I could not detect any difference at all between the two in several months of listening other than the obvious difference due to running different cartridges.

As for the Rundown test, well I can't do it on the turntable with the SPH spindle because it has no mechanical On-Off switch. It has been replaced with an electric On-Off switch and all of the mechanical parts associated with the On-Off system have been removed. This means that the idler wheel is always up in the nip between the drive shaft and the platter, not retracted as is the case when the mechanical Off position is selected on a normal Lenco. This is a setup that Jean Nantais has been using successfully for years on his TJN Analog turntables. If it's good enough for Jean, it's good enough for me!

One interesting and probably unimportant difference was noted between an original Lenco and the SPH spindle unit. The original Lenco design has a little screw on the side of the casing that fits into a groove on the spindle and stops the spindle from pulling up more than a few millimeters from its resting position on the thrust ball. The SPH does not have this and therefore the spindle can be pulled up a long way. If you pull up on the platter, the spindle will come up with it! I wouldn't recommend doing this, but I imagine no harm will come from it.

I should also mention here that I did not tinker with the vertical adjustment that is available via the bottom screw-in cap. I am not sure why anyone would have a need for this feature but it is there if you care to use it.

[sph_diy_lenco_parts_finished_project_nut]

I have thrown in a photo of the finished turntable for those who might be curious about how it all ended. The tonearm is an original Lenco unit with new brass V-Blocks, the armwand replaced with a woven carbon fibre tube and a new-old-stock Dual carbon fibre headshell. I also had to buy a cueing lever and fabricate a platform for it out of aluminum. The plinth is Baltic Birch plywood wrapped in Yellow Birch and African Padauk. If anyone is interested in the changes I made to this tt send me an email and I will send you the complete list.

Conclusions

There is a very long list of upgrades/modifications that I apply when I prepare a “Fully Rebuilt” Lenco in order to improve the drive system and reduce vibration propagation. It is a fairly simple matter to identify how each of the individual changes can (theoretically) contribute to improving the performance of the turntable but is quite another matter to empirically determine the exact impact each one, taken alone, had on the overall results. I doubt that anyone's ears are good enough to do that! What I am getting at is that “How did installing the SPH spindle assembly impact the sound as compared to a refurbished original Lenco spindle unit?” is an unanswerable question. All the changes made have a cumulative and probably synergistic effect. Installing the SPH spindle unit, and all the other SPH parts for that matter, should be looked at as part of the complete overhaul plan, each individual change contributing to the final performance.

The SPH spindle is well made, robust, will probably last for 50 years and does the job perfectly. On top of that it doesn't leak oil and the price is quite reasonable. What more could one ask for! The SPH idler wheel locking nut is a very simple and very effective solution to the problem of getting the perfect idler wheel adjustment. I will be using this little invention on all of my future projects.

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Copyright © 2022 Roger McCuaig - roger@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com