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.