Thorens is back!
Review sample supplied by LookenListen, distributor for the Benelux
Retail prices in the NL, including 21% VAT:
TD1600 – 2.499 euro
TD1601 – 2.999 euro
Although there seems to be a belief that Linn more or less invented belt-driven turntables it was actually the Thorens TD150 issued in 1965 that inspired Linn to create their LP12. Thorens and Linn subsequently both popularized the suspended belt-drive principle and particularly Linn had a lot of influence in the UK for promoting the belt-drive at the expense of the Japanese direct drive. The Thorens TD150, however, was in turn inspired by the AR-XA, a suspended, belt-driven, sub-chassis turntable designed by Edgar Villchur of Acoustic Research in 1961.
The principle behind the suspended sub-chassis is that the platter, sub-chassis, armboard and tonearm form a mechanically-coupled unit that sits on top of (or hangs from) dampers (usually three springs) which isolate the sub-assembly from the motor and the base. The motor, which is mounted on the top plate, drives the turntable platter via a belt. To this day, this principle is unchanged.
Back in the day, while the principle was the same, the main differences between Thorens TD150 and the Linn LP12 were that the Scottish player used better materials made to tighter tolerances. Still, even if the Thorens TD150 and TD160 and their derivatives were very cost-effective, they were so well-designed and robust that these turntables became world-famous. And as I can confirm from personal experience, these turntables are pretty much indestructible. With very few exceptions, they all play as well now as they did 40+ years ago. No doubt in part due to their robustness, but also thanks to their fantastic price/performance ratio, these classic turntables remain popular to this day.
TD1601 sub-chassis where the blue part is a solid metal connection between platter and arm.
TD1601 arm and frictionless optical sensor underneath
While there is no doubt that a current Linn LP12 is built more solidly and to higher overall standards than the classic Thorens turntables, the new TD1601 absolutely sets new standards for the brand. Also, personal preferences also come into play. There is something to the sound of a TD160MkII or a TD125MkII that makes me like these players even in comparison to more flashy and much more costly current high-end designs. With the recent introduction of the TD1600 and TD1601, Thorens has taken the classic, proven, designs and meticulously made improvements in key areas to arrive at two instant new classics. Priced at an absolutely reasonable 2500 and 3000 euro, and now having heard the latter, I can say with full confidence that Thorens is back!
Thorens History in brief
Thorens was founded in 1883 in Sainte-Croix in Switzerland. The product portfolio initially included music boxes, phonographs, gramophones, and harmonicas, but later the company would focus only on electronic record players. The year 1957 is an important turning point in the history of the company. At that time the Thorens TD 124 came on the market and established the reputation of the Thorens brand among vinyl lovers around the world. Another important milestone followed in 1965 with the TD 150 model, an inconspicuous, inexpensive small turntable that used a hitherto unknown manner of suspension. This model became an example for entire generations of record players.
Above: TD160 Super; below: TD125MkII
With the TD 150 model, the production was relocated from the Swiss Jura to Baden in Germany. In Lahr, a factory was purchased together with studio manufacturer EMT. The “Thorens” brand, however, remained in Switzerland. In the following years, the sub-chassis principle was further developed in other models such as the TD 125, the TD 160 series with its derivatives and the TD 126 models. In many ways, these turntables form the technical “DNA” of the Thorens brand, the basis on which the brand’s reputation is based. In addition, these models were always accompanied by a very good price-performance ratio. Sound technology and good sound for a fair price.
A parallel line of models was added in the 1980s, which now used leaf springs instead of the proven conical springs. This resulted in the TD 520, TD 2001 and TD 3001 models. Both lines were produced in parallel and each found their respective enthusiasts. When the CD started its triumphal journey and the world of vinyl became ever smaller, Thorens also felt the change and despite several rescue efforts the brand had to say goodbye to the market in the late 1990s and the factory closed its doors. Previous attempts to diversify with electronic components, such as CD players and amplifiers, unfortunately also failed. The brand was taken over by a Swiss trader and in the following years, several new models came on the market. The focus of the product portfolio was on cheap automatic players and the classic Thorens DNA was only reflected in some of the products.
In May 2018, Gunter Kürten, an old acquaintance from the German audio industry, took over the Thorens brand with a small but very dedicated team. Since then, it has been of great importance to him and his team to breathe new life into the old, genuine Thorens’ DNA. It was the desire to revive the old virtues in new models without ignoring the past. Within a year, a series of new Thorens models was designed and developed. The all-new models that were presented during the High End 2019 in Munich are a visual reminder of the successes of earlier times and series. Technically proven classic techniques have been combined with new ideas. Proven belt drive, a sub-chassis, regulated power supplies and a more than excellent tonearm, combined with a fair price-performance ratio, form a solid basis for contemporary vinyl pleasure.
This short Thorens history was sourced in part from the LookenListen website, translated from Dutch and edited for conciseness.
Upon first unpacking the TD1601 and lifting it onto the reserved spot on the audio table, I was immediately struck with a “must-have it” sensation. Why? It’s a combination of things. The proportions, the weight, and solidity, the appearance of the buttons, feet and connections and the looks of the arm, everything about this turntable is just right. It breathes a very distinct TD160 air but simultaneously makes it very clear that this is not just a classic player in a new jacket. This feeling is further substantiated when lifting the platter from the sub-platter as the fit is now very noticeably tighter and both the platter and sub-platter are finished to a substantially higher standard. The motor is a 16V DC model that sits in an oil-damped bath within a rubber enclosure and to my relief, the belt is exactly the same as the one that is used for the entire range of classic players and therefore fully and easily exchangeable.
External regulated power supply
Changing the speed between 33 and 45 is now done electronically meaning that the belt always remains in place. A new feature is that the sub-chassis now sits on top of 3 conical springs rather than hanging off them to enable easier leveling. A potential downside of spring suspension is that the sub-chassis can tend to wobble laterally in addition to the intentional vertical movement. As a first in Thorens history, the TD1601 very cleverly counteracts this by means of a string that is tensioned between the sub-chassis and the cabinet. In use, this very effectively makes for a steadier sub-chassis while introducing no audible artifacts that I can detect. The mat is also upgraded, now of a more compliant rubber and supporting the entire record rather than with the two concentric rings as it was with the classic rubber mats.
The sub-platter is now locked in place, in order to prevent transport damage and potential damage by uncareful removal or reinsertion of the steel axle or the bronze bearing. The latter sits on a Delrin disc, which is a brand name for Polyoxymethylene or POM. The load on the bearing is very low and the bearing is essentially maintenance-free. Thorens expects the oil does not need changing for at least 10 years.
Above and below: tighter tolerances and a more refined finish are evident on the platter and sub-platter
While the diameter is the same, the differences between the classic platter and the newly designed one are obvious.
The new arm lift works via a Thorens-developed mini-motor which is also activated automatically at the end of the record. As the detection is done via an optical sensor there is no way that this could interact with the free movement of the arm.
For 500 euro less, the TD1600 is the very same turntable as the TD1601 minus the electronic arm lift and the auto-shutoff function. Although there’s nothing wrong with manual cueing of the arm, the beauty of the classic Thorens designs was always that the knob for this was mounted on the main chassis and not on the sub-chassis which allowed rock-steady arm-movements. The electronic button on the TD1601 achieves the same effect. For the manual TD1600 design, however, the arm lift lever is mounted on the arm itself, meaning that there is the potential to make the arm and platter wobble up and down when cueing. This may also be a reason to opt for the TD1601 over the TD1600.