turntable - Inspire HiFi
Idler-drive turntable with mechanical speed control
Made by: Inspire Hi-Fi Ltd, Derbyshire
Supplied by: Inspire Hi-Fi Ltd
Telephone: 01246 472222
Web: www.inspirehifi.co.uk
Inspire Hi-Fi Enigma (£2130)
Inspire Hi-Fi is aiming to repeat the success of its Technics-based Monarch turntable by
resurrecting an idler-driven classic to form the basis of a new model, the Enigma
Review: Adam Smith Lab: Paul Miller
hereas the belt-drive versus
direct-drive debate has been
running for many years, it is
only relatively recently that
the discussion has taken a new turn, as
the world once more starts to re-embrace
idler-drive. After all, it was felt by many
that this was a best forgotten technology,
and mention of it merely served to
awaken dormant memories of huge mono
transcription units of the 1950s with
tracking weights well into double figures,
or lightweight rumble-prone autochangers
that did your records no favours at all.
While British audiophiles were
embracing belt-drive, the Japanese
devotion to the UK’s Garrard 301 and 401
models finally made people realise that
a seemingly out-moded drive system has
many merits when properly implemented.
Unfortunately, the problem faced by
a turntable manufacturer today is the
same as that of the potential direct-drive
developer: tooling-up for a new design
would be prohibitively expensive because
of the relatively low production numbers.
Oswalds Mill Audio in the States has a
Lenco-based deck, the Anatase, but has
also taken a ‘hang the expense’ approach
with its Saskia idler turntable, built from
scratch and phenomenally expensive: idler
decks by their very nature require heavy
platters, solid mechanical linkages and a
sturdy motor – the 24V DC item found in
many a belt-drive simply wouldn’t be up to
the task.
Whittlebury Show, its new deck is called
the Enigma and it comes in a range of fine
paint finishes – currently, red (as here), blue
and black are available.
One of the most enduringly popular
turntable units through the 1970s, the
GL75 – in 1968, £5.15s. 5d in chassis form
with arm! – quickly became established
as a competent performer that won over
buyers with its simplicity and fine build
quality. As a result, Inspire Hi-Fi has made
good use of another classic with a long
production run and has felt the need to
do comparatively little to the deck’s basic
mechanical componentry in order to
extract its maximum replay potential.
So, what does your £2130 (if you take
up Inspire’s introductory offer, valid until
Mar ’13 but £2500 thereafter) buy you?
The basis of the deck is a torque-y 240V
synchronous AC motor which lies on its
side under the deck plate. The rotor of this
is a single piece cone-shaped item over
Once again, though, Inspire Hi-Fi has
stepped up to the challenge of providing
a more affordable solution and, as with its
Technics SL1200-based Monarch flagship
[HFN Oct ’12], has chosen to use a plentiful
classic design, the evergreen Goldring
Lenco GL75, as the basis for its new vinyl
spinner. Launched at the September
RIGHT: Removing the alloy platter reveals
Inspire’s fully re-conditioned idler drive wheel
(top left), motor, bearing and clutch mechanics
from the Goldring Lenco GL75 donor chassis
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2in long. Drive is taken directly from this
to a vertical idler wheel that runs on the
underside of the platter.
The arrangement gives rise to the deck’s
most versatile feature: that of continuously
variable speed from 16rpm to 80rpm. The
speed lever slides in a slot alongside the
platter to locate in four movable detents
that each have their own fixing screw –
loosen this, set the lever in the slot and
move both together until the desired
speed is reached, then tighten the screw.
Repeat and you have your four nominal
speeds of 16, 33.3, 45 and 78rpm set,
which is a neat arrangement but can be
prone to drifting, especially if the deck is
moved. Certainly the 33.3rpm position of
the review sample had to be re-set both
when the deck arrived for measurement,
and then subsequently for auditioning [see
PM’s Lab Report, p37].
So, Inspire strips the donor deck,
re-sprays the top-plate in a very smart
metallic finish, as described, before
servicing the motor and bearing thoroughly
and re-assembling with a sprinkling of
brand new parts. All mechanical items are
checked and re-machined as necessary and
the platter is polished to a mirror finish.
The old arm is removed and the deck’s
top-plate cut out to accept a new armmounting plate that can be configured for
any 9in template the customer likes.
This also addresses an important
weakness of the original when it came
to making tonearm changes: namely,
that the platter level is very low, making
appropriate arm height setting difficult –
most arm pillars are simply too tall, even on
their lowest settings.
Finally, an Inspire ACRI mat and Puka
record weight are added and this is all
popped into a beautifully finished solid
wood plinth that can be veneered to
the customer’s requirements, be these a
traditional wood appearance or something
glossier. Should a 12inch arm be required,
or even multiple arms, Inspire can provide
a suitably larger plinth with mountings set
on it accordingly. The quoted price of the
deck is without arm, but Inspire can also
arrange pre-fitment of a wide range of
models before delivery.
The review sample was supplied with
an SME M2-9 and Ortofon Cadenza Red
MC, and the deck was inserted into my
reference system alongside my Michell
Gyro SE. I used an
Atacama Equinox
Celebration LE rack,
which allows adjustable
shelf levelling – although
the Enigma’s sturdy plinth
and sorbothane feet
mean that it is tolerant of
the surface on which it is
placed, it has no levelling facility of its own.
I also had to hand my own Garrard 301,
dating from 1964 and currently residing
in a heavy multi-layered wood plinth, very
similar to that of the Enigma.
ABOVE: Chunky controls add a pleasing sense
of solidity to the Enigma’s operation but the
speed change lever can be prone to drifting out
of alignment and should be checked regularly
Is it, then, as good as a Garrard, as
Inspire has suggested? With the SME and
Ortofon later transplanted to my 301, I
have to say that I was surprised at just how
well the Enigma compared to Swindon’s
finest, offering a touch more fluidity and
litheness to the upper midrange and treble.
However, it falls short
of the sheer power,
impact and almost
instantaneous start and
stop that the Garrard
gives a bass line. Don’t
misunderstand me: the
Enigma is good in this
respect, very good in
fact. And unless you too have owned a
Garrard for the best part of 25 years, it’s
likely you wouldn’t notice…
Listening to a deck like the Enigma
for the first time can be an illuminating
experience for many people, as the overall
tonal balance of an idler-drive deck is often
quite different from that of a belt-drive.
A perfect example was found on the
eponymous title track from Beth Hart’s
album Bang Bang Boom Boom [Provogue
PR7393-1]. Each section of the rhythm
behind this track ends in two low piano
notes and, whereas I am used to the
first, slightly higher frequency one, being
emphasised by the Gyro SE, the Enigma
clearly picked out the second, lower note
each time it was played. It is for a good
reason that idlers are so favoured by the
bass-loving fraternity as they really do dig
deeper and the Enigma showcased this to
great effect.
With all the tracks that I chose to play
that featured a firm underpinning bass
‘Idlers really do
dig deeper, as
Inspire’s Enigma
showed to effect’
The Goldring Lenco GL75 was introduced in 1967 as a range-topping design and
marked the first instance of the ‘heavy platter’ Lenco models. The deck used
a higher quality bearing and idler wheel, a thinner but heavier platter and it
was fitted with the new, higher quality L75 tonearm. The GL78 model followed
later, adding a lighter headshell and an auto-stop facility, and this was also
the inspiration for the G88 and G99 models, which were motor units only and
required fitment into a plinth, exactly like the Garrard 301 and 401 [see HFN
Jul ’10]. The drive system of the Lenco is well engineered and robust, and the
deck was chosen for use by a wide variety of companies in badge-engineered
turntable units and high-end music centres. This means the GL75 and its variants
are very plentiful so, once again, Inspire Hi-Fi has chosen its donor wisely. As
standard, the GL75 is a competent performer that can perform well, once the
inevitably worn ‘V-block’ bearing seats on the arm are replaced, but it is the arm
that is the deck’s weakest point. G88s and G99s make more sense in this respect
but struggle to match the performance or reputation of the mighty Garrards.
www.hifinews.co.uk | REPRODUCED FROM HI-FI NEWS
ABOVE: The new IEC mains inlet at the rear is a wise step, as the operation of the
suspended motor can be adversely affected by poor power cable dressing
line, the Inspire made everything
seem more solid and better
anchored within the soundstage –
although this was one admittedly
narrower than I am used to from
the Gyro. Nevertheless the Enigma
set up a fine sense of front-to-back
spaciousness around a firm central
image and gave performers plenty
of space to work in as they played.
The underlying pace of the music
was very well captured by the deck,
too, and it worked perfectly to
counteract the slightly hesitant bass
that the otherwise superb SME M2-9
tends to exhibit.
Higher up the frequency range,
I found that the Enigma has a
pleasingly neutral character. The
real strength of the M2-9 for me is
its gloriously velvety midband and
sweet treble and the Inspire Enigma
let this through beautifully.
Charley and Hattie Webb’s vocals
on the track ‘If It Be Your Will’, taken
from the Webb Sisters’ new album
Savages [Diverse Records DIV036LP]
sounded highly emotional, and
the slightly tremulous undertones
rang out beautifully to fully realise
the event. Equally, the orchestral
backing arrangement was subtle yet
vivid, despite its being tucked away
at the back of the performance.
Throughout my time with the
Enigma I found it to excel at pulling
the minutiae from the depths of LP
recordings: nothing was missed.
Despite this alluring performance,
the underlying nature of the deck
meant I found it difficult to move
away from anything rhythmical
for too long and so next under the
stylus was the 12in single of ‘The
Crown’ by Gary Byrd and the GB
Experience [Motown TMGT 1312].
The Enigma once again cheerfully hit
top gear: it lapped up the bass line
with enthusiasm, laying the track
out in all its funky glory.
Working my way steadily through
more material like this, it seemed to
me that the Enigma pulls off the old
idler trick of making records seem
just that little bit louder than before.
But its rhythmical alacrity sometimes
made me wonder whether it was
running a little fast too. It wasn’t – I
This sonic character therefore
would put the Enigma right at the
top of a potential shopping list if
low-end action is your main thing,
but I continued to be impressed
by the way in which the Inspire
deck will turn its hand cheerfully
to absolutely anything you care to
throw at it. The bass surefootedness
worked a treat when it came to
thunderous orchestral material,
allowing enthusiastically pounded
timpani to crash around my listening
room with great verve. Equally,
though, its fine detail retrieval
meant that softer acoustic material
sounded lifelike and natural,
without any signs of artificiality or
unnecessary embellishment.
Comfortable with all kinds of
source material then, the Enigma
comes across as a neutral and stable
platform for your chosen arm and
pick-up cartridge.
Every product is lab tested before review in Hi-Fi News, not only
to ensure it’s worth featuring but also to offer some last-minute
fettling where required. Turntables with adjustable speed
are a perfect example as I’m able to fine-tune 33.3/45rpm
options more effectively with a precision spectrum analyser
than a reviewer (or manufacturer) with strobe and lamp. This
Enigma deck was supplied with the cavaet that its mechanical
adjustment may have drifted during transit, but the –9% speed
error recorded on setup demonstrated ‘drift’ on a continental
scale! Significant mechanical adjustment was required before a
mere +0.35% speed error was realised prior to Adam’s review.
This is reflected in the slight right-hand shift from centre of the
wow and flutter plot [see Graph 2, below] which, while showing
the low 0.03% peak wow, clearly highlights complex flutter
sidebands at ~±23Hz, amounting to 0.06%. Regular readers
might want to compare this with the Garrard 401 [HFN Jul ’10].
The same speed variations are indicated as peaks of noise
on the unweighted rumble spectrum [Graph 1]. The rumble
spectra also show a cluster of peaks between 40-50Hz, noise
from the idler drive, that are further indicated at the edge of
the W&F skirt on Graph 2. The DIN-B weighted through-groove
rumble is perfectly good enough at –69dB, nevertheless the
damping offered by Inspire’s own acrylic mat is clearly best
realised with the record weight in place – note the reduction in
noise between red (no weight) and blue (with weight) traces,
below. Readers are invited to view a full QC Suite report for the
Inspire Enigma turntable by navigating to www.hifinews.co.uk
and clicking on the red ‘download’ button. PM
ABOVE: Unweighted bearing rumble from DC-200Hz
(black infill) versus silent LP groove (with weight, blue;
without weight, red) re. 1kHz at 5cm/sec
Inspire Hi-Fi has again chosen
a wise path in giving the world
an affordable modern idlerdrive turntable, as the Enigma
modifications strike a balance
between subtle modernisation
and maintaining the performance
and quirkiness of the original.
The donor Lenco is a highly
competent device that really only
needed some careful fine-tuning
and Inspire has brought it right
up to date in one deft move.
Sound Quality: 80%
- 100
ABOVE: Wow and flutter re. 3150Hz tone at 5cm/sec
(plotted ±150Hz, 5Hz per minor division). Wow is low
but note flutter sidebands at ±23Hz
Turntable speed error at 33.33rpm
33.45rpm (+0.35%)
Time to audible stabilisation
Peak Wow/Flutter
0.03% / 0.06%
Rumble (silent groove, DIN B wtd)
–68.7dB (–69.0dB with weight)
Rumble (through bearing, DIN B wtd)
Hum & Noise (unwtd, rel. to 5cm/sec)
Power Consumption
Dimensions (WHD)
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