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.
Playing better recordings simply plays to the deck’s strengths. The Carmen Fantasie on Decca? Space, air, focus, a calm assurance and mid-band transparency combine with the delicate precision of Ricci’s playing to captivate the listener. Dynamic contrasts may fall short of the TNT 6 carrying the Titan i, but only by dint of extreme familiarity or direct comparison, while the subtle shifts in tempo and beautiful phrasing of soloist and strings are given full rein. The confident swagger in Ricci’s bowing never runs away, transforming itself into hauteur or vivid drama at the demand of conductor and score. This ability to embrace the emotional compass of a performance is exactly why you should invest in analogue in the first place. The Thorens delivers a more immediate return on your investment than any other deck I’ve tried near the price.
Nor does it favour one genre at the expense of others. Listening to the likes of KT Tunstall or The Cure you could be forgiven for concluding that its pace and drive make it a rock or pop orientated product. But nothing could be further from the truth. The restrained tempo of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, the elongation of the phrases, is never hurried or clipped. Music, all music is allowed to breathe; yet that that should be breathless is breathless indeed. It’s a little like watching a great middle-distance runner going through his paces. A perfect blend of balance, grace and honed, athletic power, there’s a sense of contained energy waiting to respond or explode as required. Think of the poise and effortless acceleration of Seb Coe in his prime, all that potential performance contained in such a slight frame, yet combined with the vivacious life and graceful bounce of a ballet dancer. That’s the surefooted musical response you get from the Thorens; and some of Coe’s World Records still stand today!
Just how good is the TD160HD’s motor unit? I’ve yet to discover, but I’ve also yet to push it beyond its limits. Even a combination of Connoisseur phono and line stages driving the VAS amps and Wilson’s Duette/WATCH Dog combination failed to disturb its balanced enthusiasm or calm restraint, simply extracting more and more performance from the player. Likewise, the way it responds to external upgrades, be they a cartridge, a power supply or a support, further suggests the mechanical integrity of the essentially simple but beautifully executed design. And all at a price that is distinctly Real World. I’m pondering where to go in terms of a matching arm: the Naim ARO is an obvious contender, as is the Kuzma Stogi Reference, whilst VPI’s JMW 9.0 also appeals. Then there’s the Brinkmann 10” if that would fit. Choices, choices…
But let’s try and put the Thorens into some sort of context. As appealing as it should be to anybody looking for a high value record player, just consider the special fascination it will hold for all those who owned, once aspired to own, or still own a Linn. Just think; you could buy a Keel sub-chassis upgrade for an LP12 or, for around half the price, a whole new deck to mount an existing or new arm on – leaving you around a £1000 to spend on peripherals, and we know how this deck responds to those! Am I really suggesting that the 160 is a viable alternative to a fully loaded Linn? I don’t know, not having heard the latest LP12, but I’m confident that the Thorens will give any of the previous Linn incarnations a run for their money. Yes, the TD160HD really is that good. In fact, this Thorens has to represent one of the biggest analogue bargains of all time. Given the dedicated following that still clings to the Linn and the stratospheric price rises on that product, let alone all the analogue newbies and born-agains, the TD160HD could (and should) be the most significant analogue product launched in the UK this year. Suddenly, being sensible seems almost… sensible!