Running the TD160HD with the Argo mounted and a Crystal arm cable (chosen to match the rest of the cabling in the system rather than the deck specifically) the performance delivered was frankly astonishing for the money. Like its principal competitor, VPI’s Scout, the TD160 completely redefines your expectations as to just how much music you can get from a basic analogue set-up. Compared to the more affordable offerings from Rega and ProJect this is definitely the real deal. The dynamic envelope, bandwidth, transparency and range of expression available puts many a high-end CD player to shame – and quite a few wannabe turntables too. There’s an attractive pace and momentum to music that demands it, a more relaxed ease and expansive fluidity to more introspective material. So KT Tunstall’s ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’ has an infectious bounce and drive that picks up effortlessly from the more reflective, stretched-out tempo of ‘Under The Weather’. Rock solid drums propel the track, easily bridging the hesitations and breaks that keep things interesting across the length of this perfectly shaped mini-pop statement. Yet the music slips just as effortlessly into the tactile, almost reggae bass line of ‘Miniature Disasters’ with its deep, deep thuddy bass drum. Too many decks roll the rhythms of these successive tracks together, making them sound same-y when in reality they’re far from it. It’s this chameleon quality that underpins the stellar musical contribution of the Thorens, that allows it to put the music so firmly first. It has an innate, almost preternatural grasp of music’s rhythm and tempo, and an ability to match its pace – and shifts in pace – that allows it to live and breathe. This should come as no surprise to anybody who has heard the Clearlight turntables – but here, combined with the cost benefits of (relatively) large-scale production we discover the benefits at a previously undreamt of price-point. And there’s more: couple the deck’s plug-top power supply into something more sophisticated like a mains regenerator feeding the rest of the system, and its temporal grasp becomes absolutely front-rank, matching any ‘table I’ve heard in this important respect – making for a compellingly enjoyable listening experience.
The only record I’ve referred to is a bog-standard commercial pressing of a far from great recording. The best thing about the TD160’s inherent honesty, its reluctance to step forward in the process, is that it allows records to speak for themselves rather than standing over them, pointing out their shortcomings. Likewise, as wonderful as the Argo sounded, the DV-20X, at almost a quarter of the price, was allowed to strut its stuff, sounding well-balanced, grainless and sweetly solid. With the Dynavector installed the ‘table took on a smaller, slightly more polite and more constrained quality. It didn’t sound sat-on or shut-in, it sounded complete and satisfying. Reverting to the Argo, the benefits were hard to miss, it’s just that they made much more sense, were far more apparent going up the scale than down – which is another way of saying that the Thorens will generally deliver as much as it can. So the catchy energy of ‘Suddenly I See’ has a propulsive integrity with the DV-20X that pushes things along, a coherent flow. With the Argo the carefully woven strands and textures, the overdubs and changes in density are teased out, more apparent, adding interest and subtlety to the song. But this isn’t just about the cartridges; it’s about the deck allowing them to do their job.
This evenhandedness is a mark of the deck’s inherent, almost studied neutrality. It imposes so little of itself on the process that its partnering equipment and the recorded content dominate proceedings. Again it’s a case of the RDC hallmark, with a naturally effortless separation of instruments and overall clarity that sets out a convincing soundscape without paring away the instruments to etched outlines of their solid selves. That is in turn down to the tonal and textural distinction the deck brings to individual instruments and notes, its harmonic patterns underpinned by micro-dynamic integrity and the even nature of its energy spectrum. There are no bands of unwanted colour to clog proceedings, no excess weight wobbling embarrassingly free where it’s least expected. Instead, the picture presented is clean and unadulterated, what sins there are being subtractive in nature. These are apparent in a subtle greying of the tonal palette, although not one that diminishes instrumental separation or identity. Instead it serves to mute the more vivid aspects of their tonal character. This and the limits on absolute low-frequency resolution and transparency (a lack of acoustic boundaries and the air below bass instruments, only apparent when compared to far more costly ‘tables) and some congestion or lack of poise on the most complex and energetic material are I suspect, more a product of the tonearm than the deck. Of course, a better arm alters the cost and value balance, but the inherent dynamic, bandwidth and tonal limitations of the Rega beg the question as to just how good a platform the TD160HD provides? Hopefully, it’s a question we can investigate further via the BC model, but for now, it’s the Thorens/Rega pairing that concerns us, and at the asking price the failings are frankly trivial.