When I was a much younger man, a Thorens turntable never quite made my turntable shortlist. Why? They always tended to be just beyond my financial means. Nowadays Thorens produces a wide range of turntables, including some verging on entry level in pricing, a good selection of mid-priced models and, at the higher end, modern takes on classic models.
One of those modern takes is the Thorens TD 1600, which harkens back to the TD 160 of the 1970s, which itself replaced the TD 150 of 1965. The TD 150 was in turn based on the 1961 Acoustic Research XA turntable, which also heavily influenced the development of the Linn Sondek LP12.
Happily, these days the Thorens TD 1600 could and did make my shortlist, and so the subject of this review is the one that I purchased.
- Belt drive turntable with massive (3.2kg) platter and stabilised sub-chassis on three conical springs
- Two speed, push-button selected, with electronically controlled motor
- Separate speed trim adjustments for 33 1/3 and 45 rpm of up to 6%
- Fitted with 9-inch Thorens TP 92 precision tonearm
- Arm adjustable for vertical tracking angle and azimuth in addition to tracking force and antiskating
- 11 grams effective mass for tonearm, <=110pF capacitance
- Unbalanced outputs via RCA, balanced outputs via XLR, earth connection
- Off board ±16 volt DC power supply
- <=0.05% DIN/RMS Wow & Flutter
- Weight: 10.95kg (turntable) and 1.72kg (power supply)
- Dimensions: 454mm wide by 360mm deep by 177mm tall (turntable with lid closed) and 111mm wide by 238mm deep by 79mm tall (power supply); more depth required for both units to allow for cable connections
- Made in Taiwan
- The Thorens TD 1600 turntable is a magnificent piece of precision engineering. It’s extremely well built and beautifully finished. I could not help but be impressed by the extraordinary tolerances between the mating parts, something I’ve never before experienced in reviewing consumer technology over a quarter century. The tone arm is very flexible in cartridge support. In operation, the turntable offers a platform as quiet and stable in speed as it gets in the field. The only weakness is the effectively uncalibrated antiskating which, due to the use of magnets, is extremely sensitive to correct adjustment. But get that right and the sound is flawless. I expect to be using this turntable for the rest of my life. And I’m hoping that a quality phono preamplifier with balanced inputs becomes available at a relatively reasonable price within that period.
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division here
A bit more about the Thorens TD 1600
In choosing the TD 1600 for purchase, I read several online reviews. That’s something I rarely do with stuff I’m reviewing because I seek to avoid participating in the groupthink that so often informs this field. But, hey, I was putting up a stack of my own dollars, so I wanted to make sure that at least the TD 1600 hadn’t been universally panned. And indeed it hasn’t. All the reviews were extremely positive.
But I did notice that in all the reviews I read, the subject was not the TD 1600 but the Thorens TD 1601. Further, the review was generally conducted with a pre-installed cartridge. There aren’t many differences between the Thorens TD 1600 and the TD 1601, but in operation they are quite different. And there were some interesting things to find when installing a cartridge yourself.
Those differences are that the TD 1600 is fully manual, while the TD 1601 is semi-automatic. The TD 1600 is equipped with a cue level in the usual place near the tonearm pivot. You place the stylus above the grooves you want to play and lower the lever. The damped cueing function gently lowers the stylus. At the end, it’s up to you to get out of your chair and raise the cue lever. Fail to do that you’ll simply be wearing your stylus unnecessarily. The TD 1601 does not have a traditional cue lever. Instead, it has a powered lift and a control button. It also uses a frictionless optical system to detect when the tonearm has reached the end of the record and lifts the arm and switches off motor.
In all other ways the two are identical. They use an external chassis with a sub-chassis joined principally by three carefully chosen springs. The platter, subplatter and bearing share the sub-chassis with the board on which the tone arm is mounted. The motor is fixed to the main chassis, of which most of the top plate of the turntable and of course the outer casing forms a part. So, for all practical purposes, the turntable platter and tonearm are connected to the outside world only by springs and the flat turntable belt. The controls are on the solid top plate: three buttons for 33 1/3 rpm, off and 45 rpm. This arrangement provides marked isolation from environmental vibrations and some resistance to a stylus skipping due to physical shocks.
Power supplies and balanced outputs
There’s also considerable attention to electrical isolation. First, the TD 1600 is provided with a substantial separate power supply which turns AC into ±16 volts DC, fed via a three-pin cable with locking collars at both ends. Second, while the usual RCA connections are provided, so are XLR balanced outputs. That’s a quite unusual feature, but kind of a no-brainer when you think about it, because phono cartridges are inherently balanced source devices. Unfortunately, phono preamplifiers with balanced inputs tend to be stratospherically priced, but it’s nonetheless good to have this feature for who knows what the future may hold.
The turntable platter and subplatter are both made from gorgeously-machined chunks of aluminium. The former goes over the latter’s 135mm width with, it seemed to me, absolutely no play whatsoever. This is true precision manufacture. The total weight of the two sections of the platter is 3.2kg. The platter is covered in a traditional-looking rubber platter mat of the kind I remember from Thorens turntables of yore.
The plinth is available in gloss walnut or gloss black. I chose the former. It is beautifully finished.
As you can see from the pictures, the main top plate is aluminium in look while the arm board is black. Various materials are sandwiched in these panels to provide this and that and the other acoustical improvement. I’m not competent to judge on this stuff, except to note that in my experience weight is a good proxy for quality in high fidelity equipment, and at almost 11 kilograms (plus the power supply) this turntable is weighty.
I also did notice that the styling is actually more reminiscent of the original TD 150 than the replacement TD 160.
The tonearm is one of Thoren’s own design, the TP92. This has an effective mass of 11 grams, making it suitable for most of today’s cartridges with their medium compliance. It uses the usual adjustable counterweight to set the tracking force, although the weight is underslung, presumably to keep the centre of mass as low as possible. It uses a magnetic antiskating system, which you adjust with a small knob on the side.
If I might be robotically utilitarian for a moment, one aspect of this turntable that attracted me was the ability of its tonearm to accommodate just about all cartridges. You can raise the height of the tonearm or rotate it a little to adjust the azimuth.
The turntable is supplied with a cover. It can be tilted up in the conventional way but can very easily be removed just by sliding up from the two slots at the back. Thanks to the sprung sub-chassis, I found that I could slip it out even when an LP was playing. Which means that whatever your position is on the lid-down/no-lid debate amongst phono enthusiasts (I gather the latter are winning), you can enjoy your preference. And then put the lid back after a session to keep things dust-free.
Setting up the Thorens TD 1600 turntable
As is usually the case, the turntable was supplied in parts in the cardboard box. For the most part the manual guides you quite well through assembly – add belt, add turntable platter, add rubber mat, attach hinges to cover, attach cover, wire up power supply and so on. The only wrinkle I had in this part was placing the turntable platter cleanly over the subplatter. I mentioned that the tolerances were tight. Indeed, virtually zero. For a few moments I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to get the top platter to settle down fully into place, but a little wiggling finally achieved that goal. Be warned, any tiny amount of grit that gets into there could interfere with this. Make sure the contact areas are clean of everything.
Where the manual fell down a little was when it comes to installing the cartridge. It covers things like balancing the arm were described well, but there was just about nothing about actually attaching the cartridge to the tone arm. Just a few words would have been useful to settling the nerves of the anyone unfamiliar with Thoren’s somewhat unusual arrangement. As the photo on this page shows – sadly, there isn’t a clear picture of this in the manual – the cartridge attaches to kind of minimalist headshell which is itself attached to the tone arm by means of a single screw. This can be slid forwards and backwards by several millimetres to set overhang – and if this provides insufficient fore-aft range, the whole tone arm can be slid as well. However I suspect that latter would upset the geometry of the arm a little.
You see, there is no ability to adjust the cartridge angle because the holes through which the mounting bolts are placed are bolt-sized circles, not slots. So you can’t twist the cartridge either way. Clearly Thorens has worked out the geometry such that if you set the overhang correctly, the angle will also be right. That makes the usual angle gauges unnecessary. But I’ve always found setting stylus overhang very tricky, often requiring vague estimates of things like parallax and such. So, noting that Thorens specifies a 17.8mm overhang for this tone arm, I made up a paper “tool” consisting of two concentric circles. One is the size of a turntable spindle, while the other is centred on that one and has a radius of 17.8mm. I printed it out, made sure the resulting print measured correctly, cut out the spindle hold and placed it on the turntable. That in place, it was quite easy to set the stylus to the correct overhang past the spindle.
The tonearm wiring was startling in the hairlike thinness of each wire. The first time I attached each to a cartridge pin, quite a bit of force was required to get the contact over the pin. Subsequently cartridge changes required less force. There’s a fifth wire (coloured black) for attaching to a pin on the cartridge mount. This would be an earth connection in case the screw connection isn’t performing cleanly enough.
Balancing the tonearm was done in the usual way – twist the counterweight until the arm is dead level, then set the freely rotating calibration ring to zero, then turn the counterweight to the designated stylus tracking pressure. For the most part I used the Grado Timbre Series Opus3 cartridge (Grado Opus3 review here) for the purposes of this review and set it at 1.75 grams. According to my Rega digital stylus pressure gauge, balancing in the usual way brought it within 0.02 grams of that tracking pressure. Thorens also tosses in a plastic gauge, but I didn’t try using this. I think you can be confident with the turntable’s setting.
Antiskating, or the trickiness of magnets when it comes to controlling things
Then we come to the antiskating control. The various reviews I read said you could set this to one of the markings, without noticing what I’m about to say. The manual tells you which way to turn the little adjustment knob and says that the “white dot above the adjusting screw serves to display the current settings.” Um, well, maybe. There is a scale of sorts, with six evenly spaced notches. But there are no numbers attached to them, so they’re meaningless, except to note down in order repeat a setting in the future. With a 1.75-gram stylus pressure (tracking pressure is one of the big influences on the amount of antiskating required), which notch to choose?
Well, I always go to a grooveless test record. It’s far from a perfect way to set antiskating since there are other influences on the amount of skating (the force towards the centre of the record experienced by a stylus) including such things as the level of modulation of the grooves. Still, it’s better than nothing. Which is kind of what is offered in the way of calibration with this turntable.
So, I span up the record with the grooveless section, wound up the antiskating to about the second notch from the outside (further out to the right means less antiskating force, to the left means more). I figured 1.75 grams is fairly low, and that maybe one notch was one gram. I dropped the stylus, and on making contact it immediately scooted towards the centre of the record. Which means a lot of skating force, and insufficient antiskating. Up with the cue lever. I wound it up to the fourth notch – maybe each notch was half a gram. Scoot. The sixth notch? Scoot, but perhaps not quite as much. I wound until the “white dot” was to the left of the calibration marks, almost as far as it would go. Ah, now the stylus remained in the middle of the grooveless section without swinging either way. Hoorah!
This got me to thinking. What could be the cause of this miscalibration? Thorens has been in the business of producing music devices for 148 years (they were music boxes back at the start.) I figure it knows what it’s doing.
Maybe magnets aren’t the answer
Actually, I think it made a mistake in the design of the antiskating. I noted that it uses magnets for this task. Magnets would seem tailor-made for this application, when you think about it. No friction, action at a distance, almost magical. Gets rid of those complications of alternative mechanisms, such as a weight on a string, or a good old-fashioned spring.
Unfortunately, there’s something called the inverse square law. The amount of magnetic force falls off according to the square of the distance between the two magnetic objects. Double the distance and the force reduces to one quarter. If the magnetic element on the end of the antiskating calibration screw is linearly attached to said screw, then the marked notches on the antiskating control are linear, not inverse squared. Basically, the antiskating does pretty much nothing unless it is at least somewhat to the left of the leftmost notch. And to set it, you’ll need a test record with a grooveless section. If you don’t have one, do wind it most of the way to the left, at least to the left of the left-most notch, and it will be at least in the right region.
Or here’s another way. For some reason I’d started fiddling with this control after I’d already set it, and then decided to see if I could get it right without going back to that grooveless section. When I had the setting on the leftmost notch, and even a twist or two further, the stylus had a strong tendency to skip in past the first few grooves into the first track when lowering the arm. That’s a marker of insufficient antiskating force with a low tracking weight. So I tried winding it further to the left. Even after the “white dot” stopped moving, there was a little more that could be wound in before there was any resistance indicating the end of the adjustment range. I went there. No longer did the stylus skip in at the start of an album.
But when I was playing the second side of an ancient album, Survival by Grand Funk Railroad, and all seemed well enough until “I Can Feel Him In The Morning” finished, and the album was supposed to go into the band’s rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. But instead it started skipping back by a groove on each rotation, never getting to the track. That suggested too much force towards the outer edge of the record. I backed it off a little and replayed the transition between the two tracks. Perfect. When the album finished I spun up another ancient disk, the Schtschedrin (different spelling, I know, but I’m being faithful to the label) ballet version of Carmen and when the stylus dropped into the lead-in groove it stayed there and played properly. Which suggests the antiskating was more or less correctly set. I checked with the grooveless track, and yes it was.
The reviews I’d read, remember, were for a version of this turntable with the cartridge already installed. And, I’m guessing, balanced and with antiskating set. So of course this issue never arose for any of them.
The Dark Side of the inverse square law is that it has a very narrow range of effect. Just a turn of the screw can make all the difference. If you don’t have a grooveless track, then gradually wind up the antiskating (starting at the leftmost notch) until the stylus behaves in an orderly fashion when dropped at the start of an LP. If it exhibits a tendency to jump into the first few bars of the first track, add a little more.
And if Thorens happens to read this, I’d strongly recommend a switch to a spring-based or, better yet, a weight-and-thread system. You see, both of those are linear, not inverse-squared, so having evenly spaced markers would make sense.
Speed and noise
I’ve seen various reviewers over the years “use an app for that!”. In this case, for measurements of the absolute rotational speed and speed stability of turntables. I have some doubts, in principle, about this test. The app measures rotation using the sensors in a smart phone. You place the phone on the platter, as close as possible to the centre, and turn it on. A phone typically weighs somewhere between 130 and 200 grams. And by its nature, this mass is placed off-centre on the platter (does your phone have a hole in its centre?) It’s not hard to see how the measuring device could itself detract from the speed accuracy. On the other hand, since there’s no stylus in place in a groove during this test – varying drag according to the level of modulation can also affect rotational speed – perhaps this test understates real world wow.
Still, others do it. I installed RPM Speed on my Huawei P30 Pro phone and put it on the platter.
The out-of-the-box speeds were, measured in this way, so very close to perfect I’d not be inclined to try adjusting them, and the wow for 33 1/3 was a really impressive 0.07%. At 45rpm, the app reported wow at 0.1%. Here’s the readouts from the app:
As for audible speed variations? (And I’m coming from the place of years ago having an expensive-ish turntable from a reputable brand that developed a wow that I tried to deny for quite a while – maybe the record was off centre! – but eventually the audible evidence exceeded my abilities to deny reality.) There were no detectable speed variations. And if you do happen to think you here some, play a digital version of the same material and you’ll here exactly the same thing there.
Now to noise. Noise produced by a turntable can come from several sources. One part of that is inevitable: record surface noise. The noise that a turntable can add to that is primarily from things like the motor and bearings. And in that regard, the Thorens TD 1600 was utterly silent. Oh, no doubt if you had a pristine measurement disk, you’d probably measure unweighted noise levels around the -80dB level. But in the real world, this turntable’s background was --- what do vinyl aficionados call it? – utterly black.
Using the Thorens TD 1600 turntable
- Grado Timbre Series Opus3 phono cartridge
- Simaudio Moon 310LP phono preamplifier
- Schiit Audio Freya S preamplifier
- Schiit Audio Vidar power amplifier (with)
- Lenehan Audio pure copper ribbon speaker cables with gold-plated spade lugs with
- Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers (and)
- Cambridge Audio A1Mk3 Special Edition integrated amplifier (with)
- Dynaudio Emit 20 loudspeakers (used near field)
First, a little bit that’s on the borderline of setup and everyday use: my record clamp. Since the 1980s I’ve been using where possible a “G.B. Record Clamp” to make sure that the LP is firmly placed on the platter, won’t move, and has any warps minimised. I was going to provide a link to that, but I can’t find any significant mention of it on the Internet, so clearly I purchased what turned out to be a dead-end product. But it does do the job.
I was worried that the additional weight on the suspended part of the turntable might upset the tuning of the suspension. However, it weighs only 121.2 grams and since Thoren’s own optional Stabilizer Weight weighs 515 grams, I figured it wouldn’t be a problem.
Now, the Thorens TD 1600 turntable looks after its part, as we’ve established. It provides an accurate and consistent rate of spin (3.2kg of flywheel tends to do that) and if it feeds any noise at all into the platter to be ultimately picked up by the cartridge, it’s at such an incredibly low level as to be totally inaudible. And that is actually a relatively rare ability.
I briefly got carried away by the suggestion I’d read somewhere that suspended turntables of the nature of Linn Sondeks and Thorens TD 1600s were better placed on relatively light, less rigid stands. The only thing I had around to test this theory was a cheap four-legged coffee table. Um, no. The turntable became quite sensitive to movements in the floor (my office is on the second floor of my home and apparently has chipboard over wooden beams under the carpet). I soon returned the turntable to its original place on a solid entertainment unit against a wall where it was virtually impossible to induce stylus skips.
And, for the most part, I guess I declared my position on the lid-closed vs no lid controversy by leaving the turntable lid off. But it was very convenient to slip it back into place at bedtime, protecting whatever vinyl was in place at that time.
So, sound? As I said, the Thorens TD 1600 does its part. The sound was entirely determined by the cartridge and the rest of the system. What I can say is that when you set up the Thorens TD 1600 properly and install a cartridge appropriately, it will deliver the best that the cartridge can produce.
I spent a lot of time listening to music using this turntable. The music came from a mixture of newly-pressed LPs of rock and pop stuff, plus my collection of albums purchased mostly by the mid-1980s. Once I’d got that antiskating thing sorted, I found the delivery simply wonderful. As I’m writing this paragraph, I’m playing the CBS Half-Speed Mastered version of Bridge over Troubled Waters I purchased around forty years ago, and it’s pretty hard to think of any aspect in which performance could be improved.)
Now, would a phono preamplifier with balanced input improve things even further? Hard to say. But with my near field system and my room-filling system, the vinyl experience was a delight.
Except of course when it wasn’t. A lot of vinyl is sub-par, especially when the format was dominant, right out of the factory. Don’t expect miracles. But with quality disks the Thorens TD 1600 is simply superb.
Recommendation? Hell yes, so long as you’re prepared to spend a little time fiddling with that antiskating control.
The Thorens TD 1600 will accommodate just about any quality modern cartridge and allow it to deliver its best sound. What more can you ask for? (Well, maybe the semi-auto convenience of the 1601.)
Oh, there is one more thing. Reliability. A long life. One of the problems of reviewing equipment is that I’m nearly always (with rare exceptions) looking at shiny new stuff, so I don’t really know if it will still be working properly in a year, let alone a decade. So, to finish off, I shall mention that my brother did indeed find a Thorens turntable on his shortlist way back when, a Thorens TD 160 Super. That was the last iteration of the TD 150/160 line before the near-death-experience of Thorens and other turntable manufacturers before it’s return with the TD 1600/1601.
My brother tells me that he bought it in June 1982 with a Rega RB300 tone arm and an Adcom high output moving coil cartridge (total price: $848, the wages of inflation!) And now, almost forty years later it’s still fine. The fact that I bought the Thorens TD 1600 tells you what I think: this is a keeper. A keeper for decades.