“I know nothing stays the same…” at least, so sang Carly. But in hi-fi, as in life, there are touchstones, ever-presents, whose constancy both reassures and marks our passage: they may develop or evolve, fade from our affections only to re-emerge later, often reminding us along the way of a reality we’d perhaps chosen to forget. And let’s be honest, wanton disregard for the facts is pretty much a prerequisite for audiophilia nervosa. Which tends to make products that are just downright sensible, that deliver simple, honest performance, sadly unglamorous. But how often do we come back to them, rediscovering the solid qualities that somehow escaped our notice (or didn’t seem quite so important) when we were busy selecting our last flight of sonic fancy?
Thorens supplied my first ever, suspended sub-chassis turntable (at a time when suspended sub-chassis construction was de rigeur if you didn’t want the staff in your local audio store sniggering at you behind your back). That TD160S, complete with an SME 3009 served me well, whilst encouraging a (probably unhealthy) interest in the history of the deck’s development. As a result I also acquired a TD160BC, various TD150s and a couple of AR XAs, all for peanuts on the secondhand market. It was an interesting voyage of discovery, along the path of which I learnt that appearances can be deceptive and newer doesn’t necessarily mean better. But it also taught me considerable respect for Thorens’ engineering and their place in the hi-fi firmament, importers to Europe from its roots in the US, of the structural approach that was to sweep to prominence in the audio equivalent of jihad.
Ironic then, that just as the suspended deck seems finally to have had its day, the latest TD160 incarnation should arrive. But just as Thorens themselves have been through a major transformation, changing ownership and revisiting the electronics market with some really rather impressive power amplifiers, the TD160 you see before you today, whilst sharing a basic concept with its various ancestors, employs materials, engineering and execution that have changed out of all recognition. Look a little closer and you find a deck that whilst superficially similar is technologically far more impressive. But the best bit of all: it’s simpler, even more sensible, but the performance now needs no apologies. Add that to all the techy stuff you can wax lyrical about and the dear old TD160 has become downright sexy.
So what have we got? Outwardly the TD160HD employs similar, compact plinth dimensions and the same moulded lid as the original. That’s where the material similarities cease. The lid no longer even comes with hinges – removing the lid whilst playing being one of the standard tweaks in ages past. The sub-chassis is now constructed from RDC material, and suspended on sophisticated polymer grommets that provide exceptional isolation coupled to good mechanical stability, meaning speed stability is also improved. Drive is from a slow-speed synchronous motor, fitted with a large diameter, crowned profile nylon pulley and fed from an external, plug-top supply. This uses the standard Thorens flat belt to drive a one-piece acrylic platter, possibly the biggest single change from the original design with its two-part aluminium platter. You even get a nifty little device that enables you to position the belt correctly. The platter sits directly on the new, larger-diameter bearing shaft, supported by a large cir-clip. The top of the platter surface is recessed to accept a two-piece, course cork mat, similar in design to the Loricraft ones, the large cut-out in the top layer forming the label recess. A large switch on the front corner of the plinth allows electronic selection of 33 and 45 (although personally I’d have loved to see the old, almond-shaped knob retained, perhaps in acrylic to match the platter.
The deck comes supplied with a Thorens-badged Rega RB250 mounted on its now circular armboard. This is moulded from RDC and incorporates a locking collar to allow arm-height adjustment. The armcable is terminated in a pair of phono sockets mounted in the rear of the plinth, although no earth terminal is provided. One final change that’s definitely for the better; the deck stands on three RDC cone feet, which sound better than the old rubber ones as well as allowing precise levelling. The factory-set suspension and clear instructions make set-up as simple as any solid-plinth design and the biggest dilemma will be choice of cartridge and mounting surface. Although the Thorens is less affected by its support than some suspended designs, it will still benefit from some care in this regard and I got excellent results from Cambre Core and finite-elemente racks as well as the (completely overkill but I just had to try it) Grand Prix Audio wall shelf. The Rega arm will be at home with anything from budget moving-magnets up to sub-£1K coils from Lyra, Ortofon or Dynavector. Again, I got great results using a DV-20X but the player really deserves (and rewards the use of) a better cartridge, and I employed the Lyra Argo for much of my listening – although I’ve a sneaky suspicion that the DV-17D3 could work really well too.