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Thorens TD 1601 suspended semi-automatic turntable

Thorens TD 1601 suspended semi-automatic turntable

As a teenager my close friend had a Thorens TD 160 with a SME Series 2 arm. I was jealous. All that I could muster from my meagre pocket money was a Trio KD1033B, and whilst that turntable was well respected in the hi-fi magazines of the day as a starter spinner it could never compete with the Swiss made Thorens, a turntable considered as one of the best in the 70’s. It and its forerunners, notably the TD 150 (1965) and TD 125 (1968) were the company’s first models to have a 3-point spring suspended sub chassis, an idea originally conceived by Acoustic Research and later also taken up by Linn and Ariston amongst others. Thoren’s TD 126 and its extensions the TD 127 and TD 226, plus the Reference from 1980 and Prestige from 1983 were also designed with this kind of suspension. At the 2019 Munich hi-fi show amidst retro designs from a number of famous manufacturers I was quite excited to see TD 160 look-alikes, in the form of the TD 1600 and TD 1601 (£2,299 and £2,799 respectively). They were being presented alongside the TM 1600, a reel to reel player of the same size, due out this year developed in cooperation with manufacturer Ballfinger. Thorens had a great reputation in the past for turntables – and I’m honoured to possess both a TD 124 and TD 135 – but it is the TD 160 that I always wanted to own. 

Thorens began its long history in 1883 by producing musical boxes and clock movements; it even made Edison-type cylinder players, harmonicas and cigarette lighters. Whilst most of its turntables were iconic there were a few ‘original’ ideas that perhaps the company would like to forget about; from the TDW 224 that had a record changer for eight discs sat next to the player so that they didn’t rest on the spindle, to even the development of a concrete plinth. The company was indeed prolific in terms of its designs and numbers of models. Whilst it effectively hit the bumpers a while back it has been given a new lease of life in the form of Gunter Kürten who took over in May 2018. His CV is impressive; former CEO of ELAC, General Manager of Denon and various roles at LG, Sharp and Sony. His acquisition of the company brings a desire to carry forward some of the company’s history into the 21st century and it is fitting to see a new incarnation of the TD 160 albeit with significant developments in the form of the motor, arm, suspension and also semi-automation in the case of the TD 1601. Gunter wants to reflect the original ethos of the brand; things like high performance, engineering innovation and good value. Indeed, there are a large number of models (17 on their website!) being made under the Thorens label.

The three-point suspension and damping on the TD 1600 and TD 1601 is important to mention, as rather than having the three conical coil springs suspended from above (as it is in the models mentioned earlier) it is now supported on the baseboard. This means that the sub-chassis doesn’t hang but rather it stands on these springs, and is free from wobbling using a clever system that stops lateral movement; a stiffening plate is there to ensure rigidity of the sub-chassis and ties the location of the main bearing precisely with the arm mounting point. A tension wire is in place to oppose the pull on the suspension from the drive belt and to lessen ‘suspension stagger’ by stabilizing the movement of the sub-chassis in the vertical plane, restricting any lateral movement specifically in the direction opposing the drive belt. 

Both new models come supplied with a tonearm, the gimball bearing 9” TP 92. Where the TD 1600 is a basic manual model the TD 1601 here for review is semi-automatic with motor stop and arm-lift at the end of the record, allowing you to fall asleep at the end of the LP without fear of wearing out the stylus or motor. The extra £500 for this turntable is simply for the addition of this mechanism. Setting up the cartridge weight requires plugging in the unit and pressing the “lift” button on the right of the plinth to lower the arm as there is obviously no traditional manual viscous cue. Placing the stylus on the record is easy; turn the motor on, move the arm to where you want it to be and press the ‘green’ illuminated lift button and when the record has been lowered onto the record it will change to ‘red’. Selection of 33rpm and 45rpm is made using buttons to the left. The exact point at which the arm raises at the end of the record can be adjusted internally, and the turntable has a separate and fairly quiet motor that lifts the stylus off the record. Both models also have balanced XLR output and come in a choice of piano black or beautiful high-gloss walnut variants. XLR outputs have a little ‘form’ with Thorens, having previously been used on the TD 900 series, which were released in May 2017. However, Thorens only released three such models (903, 905, 907) and they are being phased out this year, making the TD 1600/1601’s XLR output unique in the Thorens line. The similarity with the iconic TD 160 is evident in the classical wooden plinth, two-part platter with inner belt drive, thick rubber mat, the arm board and acrylic dust cover. That cover particularly makes the turntable look retro. 

 

The players come supplied with external power supplying +/- 16V to the turntable chassis mounted printed circuit board. A quartz referenced synthesized AC signal of low voltage of around 12v is then generated to power the synchronous AC motor of a type used by other notable turntable manufacturers. A stable and smooth AC signal is switchable between two frequencies which enables the player to play both the speeds. The circuit also allows fine adjustment of each speed via two trims at the rear of the turntable. Like the TD 160 this is a belt driven turntable with the belt feeding the inner of the two part-platter. The main platter fits carefully over the smaller one making for a very tight fit, so care must be taken in placing it on the smaller platter. The original TD 160 platter could ‘ring’ quite a bit but this platter is heavier and quieter. The plinth is also significantly better than the original turntable; the MDF base is thicker and the unit sits on three feet. The arm is an excellent improvement on the company’s earlier TP 82 unipivot arm, though the elder is still seen on other turntables in the current line-up. The TP 92 has a multilayer aluminium tube for increased internal damping, plus there is a non-moving damping ring added at the first bending node midway along it. This helped to maintain a very quiet operation with no noise created. The tube is terminated and clamped at the cartridge mount end making for a larger surface area of connection resulting in stable mechanical contact. Mechanical energy could therefore be dissipated from the stylus to the arm and then to the sub-chassis and stiffener plate. The counterweight is positioned at the height the stylus touches the record, therefore minimising changes in downforce if the LP is warped. Where my pre-production sample had a counterweight screwing into the back of the arm relying on my stylus scales to get the weight at the right point, the production model will have a conventional styled counterweight where you can balance to zero and then dial to your chosen weight. I always rely on weighing scales, whatever the counterweight says! The arm looked very good and worked very well with the supplied Audio Technica AT-OC9XML, an excellent cartridge with micro-linear stylus and boron cantilever. While Thorens has returned to Germany, a country steeped in record deck production, the manufacture of these decks is being performed in Taiwan. The standard of manufacture is very good, as is the separate power supply which has an on-and-off rocker switch at the rear.

I listened to a large variety of music for the review. Amplification was a Manley Steelhead EQ, a Music First Audio pre and Krell power. Firstly, I decided to play something appropriate for this time of year, the white-vinyl In Winter from Katie Melua [BMG]. Her voice and the relaxed and ostensibly quiet instrumentation allowed me to hear how silent and accurate the turntable worked. I needed to add a little force to the cartridge for the louder sections to get it sounding at its best; 2.1g. Once I had got things just right I could really hear the music start to breathe. The sound was very open and clear from top to bottom, though particularly good with the very low frequencies. Track 3 ‘Perfect World’ was very well defined and controlled, whether it be the vocals, guitars, piano or percussion. This is a natural and musically confident player.

Time for David Bowie’s Legacy album [Sony] so I could hear some of the music from the TD 160 era. Everything was clear and accurate covering all frequencies, especially the bass end, though I reduced that somewhat going up to 400 ohms load. Audio Technica only advise 100 ohms plus, so play about with your settings if you have them! If you want excessive excitement then look elsewhere, this turntable is all about accuracy and honesty. A bit like my old headmaster at school at the time of the TD 160; he wasn’t extravert, rather he was ‘to the point’, but he knew his stuff and was very reliable. Similarly, this turntable was honest and showed authority over the music being played with nothing sounding out of place, just perhaps a little too polite. Turning to a bit of excitement, Nielsen’s 4th symphony (DG, Herbert von Karajan), the instruments were clearly positioned in their designated seats with brass and percussion coming across precisely but still allowing the quieter strings to have their say. The turntable never felt strained and was detailed and dynamic, with the quieter sections as exciting as the louder, the arm showing no signs that it couldn’t cope. There were also no fluctuations in speed from this electronically controlled motor. Dr John’s City that Care Forgot [Diverse Records] was next to hit the platter. ‘Keep on Goin’ opened up the sound with lots more gusto and the AT-OC9XML allowed it to sound at its best. The cymbals came across as clearly as the bass. Headroom was excellent with no signs of panic from either the cartridge or arm. I can see why Thorens want to utilise an Audio Technica cartridge for their own brand. I have been using AT cartridges for years as they are excellent and certainly cost effective. The modified three-point suspension worked a treat, there was no noise making its way to the stand nor any vibrations to the stylus; I always tap plinths and tables to test for vibrations – a bit like folk kicking tyres when they go to buy a car, except that my tapping makes a point. It is imperative to have a turntable free from external vibrations as well as able to dissipate or quell internal energy from the stylus. Similarly, the effect of the motor pulling on the belt didn’t give any problems, that thread of steel doing its job. Mike Valentine’s Espana album [Chasing the Dragon] is one of my favourites, one that was directly cut to vinyl in one go, so any noises between movements can still be heard, such as the performers turning pages. This was a very realistic and ‘careful’ performance, not far from how I heard it when it was recorded at Air Studios. There was no colouration from the arm or platter, or from the substantial MDF base. The rubber mat is fairly thick and heavily damped and ‘branded’ and it worked well with all the records I played. There is no record clamp, since this would take away links with its DNA, though I did find my aged free gift puck (from Richer Sounds) that I was given at the same time as my friend bought his TD 160. It just gave slightly better contact between record and mat and on some records more command of the music. 

 

All in all, then, the sound quality was what I would expect from Thorens; both good control of all the music and an excellent control of the speed. The arm was also surprisingly good for a P&P turntable, with no colouration. Only on a few occasions did I find the arm wouldn’t lift at the end of the LP, though as mentioned earlier that can be adjusted. Performance of the TD 1601 was well controlled and refined, doing everything well, if perhaps just a little too well-behaved, but if you want a retro looking turntable with all the history to go with it then this is certainly a good choice. 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Suspended semi-automatic turntable

Suspension system: Stabilised sub chassis on three conical springs

Platter: two part aluminium with rubber mat

Belt: Polished precision, with adjustable tension

Motor: electronically controlled, with contactless auto shut-off

Arm: Thorens 9” precision tonearm (TP 92) with electrical lift

Finish: Black, aluminium

Price: £2,899

Manufactured by: Thorens

url: thorens.com

Distributed in the UK by: UKD

URL: ukd.co.uk

Tel: +44(0)1425 460670

Tags: FEATURED

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